Warming puts millions more at risk from river floods: Study

River floods are one of the most widespread and damaging forms of natural disasters around the world.

Scientists now say millions more people around the world are threatened by river floods in coming decades due to climate change. German researchers say greater flood defenses are particularly needed in the United States, parts of India and Africa, Indonesia and Central Europe.

Using computer simulations, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say the number of people affected by the worst 10 percent of river flooding will increase by up to 156 million in Asia alone by 2040.

The study published Thursday in the journal Science Advances concludes that flood risks will rise regardless of efforts to curb climate change because of greenhouse gases already emitted in past decades.

[Economic Times (India)]

Seeds of hope for working women in rural areas

In Nganda, a rural community in remote Senegal close to the Gambian border, restaurant owner Aissatou Tisse is carving out a reputation for tasty homemade, locally grown food.

About 100km away in the village of Niakhar, handicapped Daba Dione feeds her family by raising chickens on a modest smallholding. Thanks to a training course in veterinary health, she is routinely consulted by neighbors about their own poultry. “Today, I’ve even forgotten the difficulties of the past,” Dione told AFP.

The two have benefited from schemes that seek both to support women’s empowerment and fight poverty in rural Africa, where male dominance, backbreaking labor and misery go hand in hand.

UN agencies like International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), both based in Rome, manage projects to help empower rural women, who account for at least 43% of agricultural laborers worldwide, according to an FAO report.

Why women? Women are more inclined than men to spend their revenue on food and education.

[Read full AFP article]

Improved seeds and better access to water a winning combination for Indian farmers

Hundreds of farmers from across 15 villages have arrived at Kisan Mela (Farmer’s Fest) organized by USAID. As names are called one-by-one, farmers queue to get their bags, each containing five kilograms of high-yielding rice seeds.

Munda collects his bag and rejoins his group, his face beaming with a smile that’s unstoppable. “I have heard so much about these seeds. Farmers in villages near mine have doubled their crop production since they got these. And even the drought last year did not affect them. It is my turn now,” he says.

Munda, like every farmer in Jharkhand, is trapped in a vicious and complex agricultural quagmire. The state has a mountain topography, which means that the land here is rocky, uneven and less fertile. Munda barely produces enough to feed his family beyond six months. Even though Jharkhand receives monsoon rains twice the national average, the state’s sloping geography means that 90 percent of the rainwater quickly washes away, leaving the farmers distressed with severe water shortage and periodic droughts.

To break this cycle of extreme poverty and food insecurity, USAID organized the first Farmer’s Fest in June 2015, selecting farming families from villages to receive high-yielding rice seeds along with training in modern sowing and farming methods.

But seeds alone couldn’t do the magic. “In India, farming is still rain-fed and rain-dependent. To cultivate a good crop, farmers need assured access to water during the months of shortage. That is why we began building dobhas or small ponds,” says a local USAID official. A dobha is a low-cost rainwater harvesting technique where a 10-by-10 foot pit is dug to trap the rain water.

Whereas before a farmer might produce barely 150 to 200 kilograms of rice a year, after utilizing the higher-yielding rice seeds and dobha irrigation technique, production can shoot up to 450 kilograms in only a year.


Widening budget gap forces UN to slash food aid to refugees

Beset by funding shortages, the U.N. World Food Program has reduced the daily calorie intake for the 650,000 refugees it feeds in Ethiopian camps by 20 percent, leaving them with an average allowance of just 1,680 calories a day. (On average, men need about 2,500 calories a day, women about 2,000.)

If new funds do not come by March, the refugees will see a further drop, to about 1,000 calories a day. Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 new refugees, mostly from war-torn South Sudan, arrive every day.

The problem is not restricted to Ethiopia. The operations of the WFP, by far the world’s biggest food provider, are under threat as global crises overwhelm donor countries’ capacity to give. With near-famines in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, as well as a string of protracted conflicts and refugee crises in places such as Syria and Ethiopia, the need is simply too great.

In Syria, where a six-year-old civil war is slowly winding down amid massive devastation and displacement, the WFP has been able to feed fewer people every month, dropping from 4 million in November, to 3.3 million in December and an expected 2.8 million next month.

In Yemen, where a civil war and a foreign blockade make it hard just getting food into the country, half of the 7 million people fed by the WFP are on 60 percent rations (1,260 calories a day). Similarly in Somalia, where 3 million people receive assistance, the WFP has had to suspend rations for many and reduce them for others.

[Washington Post]

10 ways basic living standards have risen for billions of people

  1. The International Energy Agency announced that nearly 1.2 billion people around the world have gained access to electricity in the last 16 years.
  2. In February, the World Bank published new figures showing that 20 years ago, the average malnourished person on planet Earth consumed 155 fewer calories per day than they needed. Today, that number is down to 88.
  3. Since 2000, life expectancy in Rwanda is up from 49 to 64, child mortality is down more than two-thirds, maternal mortality is down nearly 80%, and HIV/AIDS prevalence is down from 13% to 3%. Mail & Guardian
  4. In the last three years, the number of people in China living below the poverty line decreased from 99 million to 43.4 million. And since 2010, income inequality has been falling steadily. Quartz
  5. 275 million Indians gained access to proper sanitation between 2014 and 2017. Gates Notes
  6. In 1991 more than 40% of Bangladesh lived in extreme poverty. The World Bank said this year that the number has now dropped to 14% (equating to 50 million fewer people). Quartz
  7. The United States’ official poverty rate reached 12.7%, the lowest level since the end of the global financial crisis. And the child-poverty rate reached an all time low, dropping to 15.6%. The Atlantic
  8. Between 2005 and 2017, Afghanistan built 16,000 schools, the nation-wide literacy rate increased by 5%, and the youth literacy rate increased by more than 16%. USAID
  9. In October, a new report by the International Labor Organization revealed that global child labor has plummeted. In 2016, there were 98 million fewer boys and girls being exploited than in 2000. CS Monitor
  10. Global deaths from terrorism dropped by 22% from their peak in 2014, thanks to significant declines in four of the five countries most impacted: Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. ReliefWeb


Some of the best things that happened in 2017

If you’re feeling despair about the fate of humanity in the 21st century, you might want to reconsider. Among other things, it has been an incredible year for global health:

  1. This year, the World Health Organization unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers. New York Times
  2. Cancer deaths have dropped by 25% in the United States since 1991, saving more than 2 million lives. Breast cancer deaths have fallen by 39%, saving the lives of 322,600 women. Time
  3. Zika all but disappeared in 2017. Cases plummeted in Latin America and the Caribbean, and most people in those places are now immune. Science Mag
  4. A new report showed that the world’s assault on tropical diseases is working. A massive, five year international effort has saved millions of lives, and countries are now signing up for more. STAT
  5. Soft drink sales in the United States dropped for the 12th year in a row, thanks to consumer education and new sugar taxes aimed at stemming obesity and diabetes. Reuters
  6. Trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, was eliminated as a public health problem in Oman and Morocco, and Mexico became the first country in the Americas to eliminate it. NBC
  7. Meet Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin, two eye doctors responsible for helping restore sight to 4 million people in two dozen countries, including North Korea and Ethiopia. CBS
  8. Premature deaths for the world’s four biggest noncommunicable diseases­ — cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory — have declined by 16% since 2000. World Bank
  9. Global abortion rates have fallen from around 40 procedures per 1,000 women in the early 1990s, to 35 procedures per 1,000 women today. In the United States, abortion rates have reached their lowest level since 1973. Vox
  10. In July, UNAIDS, revealed that for the first time in history, half of all people on the planet with HIV are now getting treatment, and that AIDS deaths have dropped by half since 2005. Science Mag
  11. There were only 26 cases of Guinea worm in 2017, down from 3.5 million cases in 21 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986. Devex
  12. The United Kingdom announced a 20% fall in the incidence of dementia over the past two decades, meaning 40,000 fewer people are being affected every year. iNews
  13. Thanks to better access to clean water and sanitation, the number of children around the world who are dying from diarrhoea has fallen by a third since 2005. BBC
  14. Leprosy is now easily treatable. The number of worldwide cases has dropped by 97% since 1985, and a new plan has set 2020 as the target for the end of the disease. New York Times
  15. In October, new research from the Center for Disease Control revealed that between 2000 and 2016, the measles vaccine saved 20.4 million lives.
  16. And on the 17th November, the WHO said that global deaths from tuberculosis have fallen by 37% since 2000, saving an estimated 53 million lives.

[Read full Quartz article for more good news]

Collective action to amplify impact of Community Health Workers

Community health workers are not new. Since at least the 1950s, the potential of community health workers has been evident, with different models flourishing in different contexts—from “barefoot doctors” of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, to the Last Mile Health-trained frontline health workers who work in remote villages of Liberia today.

With the African Union calling for 2 million more CHW employed by 2020 to close Africa’s healthcare gap, now is the time to take a close look at what works in the field. Twenty-three countries have adopted principles for institutionalizing community health, and CHWs are highlighted as a key strategy by the World Health Organization. A collective process of reflection has resulted in a set of 8 “design principles that drive programmatic quality:

  • Accredited: CHWs must prove their competency before carrying out their work.
  • Accessible: point of care user fees should be avoided when possible.
  • Proactive: For active disease surveillance, CHWs go door-to-door looking for sick patients and providing training on how to identify danger signs and quickly contact a CHW.
  • Continuously Trained: Continuing medical education is not only available to but required of CHWs.
  • Paid: CHWs are compensated competitively.
  • Part of a Strong Health System: CHW deployment is accompanied by investments to increase the capacity, accessibility, and quality of the primary care facilities.
  • Part of Data Feedback Loops: CHWs report all data to public-sector monitoring and evaluation systems which improves programs and CHW performance.

[Skoll Foundation]

Trump slams Pakistan in first tweet of 2018

President Trump issued his first tweet of 2018 insulting Pakistan and building on his threat to cut off foreign military financing that is one piece of the massive assistance package that the US gives the country each year.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” trump tweeted Monday morning. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he added.

When it comes to Pakistan, it is true that US counter-terrorism objectives and a desire for stability in South Asia have largely tended to outweigh longstanding concerns over terrorist activity nurtured and supported within Pakistan’s borders. Despite specific periods of cooperation – and even hope that Pakistani leadership may have decided to shift gears and take strategic steps to address the problem, the US relationship with Pakistan has been deeply pockmarked by times of estrangement resulting from Pakistan’s unwillingness to root out its own bad actors.

The Trump administration has pursued a policy of using US foreign assistance dollars to bully countries to fall in line with the United States. In December, President Trump and Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened to cut off aid to countries that voted against the United States at the UN General Assembly.


Pakistan orders international aid organizations to end operations

The government of Pakistan has instructed at least ten foreign-funded aid organizations to wrap up operations in the country within sixty days, Reuters reports.

The Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), which represents sixty-three international aid groups in the country, told Reuters that at the end of November the Ministry of Interior had responded to applications from ten of its members with “letters of rejection.” “Wind up operations/activities of above said INGO within sixty days,” the letters stated, without giving any reason for the directive.

Pakistan has toughened its stance toward domestic and international aid groups in recent years, and has accused some of using their work as a cover for espionage, Reuters reports.

In a statement, Open Society Foundations (OSF) said its office in Pakistan is seeking clarification from the government. While the organizations whose applications were rejected can lodge an appeal within ninety days, it is not clear how the process will be managed.

South Africa-based ActionAid also received a “letter of rejection” from the ministry. “During the lengthy INGO registration process,” ActionAid country director Iftikhar Nizami said in a statement, “we provided all the information and documents required and are confident we comply with all necessary rules and regulations.”

Trump Administration’s threats to retaliate after UN Jerusalem vote concerning

CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, has voiced its deep concerned by the Trump Administration’s recent stance that countries should not receive U.S. development assistance because of their differing views on the location of the U.S. embassy in Israel.

While any such move will be subject to congressional checks and balances, CARE believes that American leadership is reflected by full funding for international programs, particularly where there is the greatest need.  U.S. foreign assistance has saved lives, reduced poverty and limits the spread of disease; and in turn creates a safer, stronger, and more prosperous world.


A solution for the world’s water crisis?

The impending crisis posed by water stress and poor sanitation represents one of the greatest human challenges for the 21st century. According to the United Nations there are over 750 million people that do not have access to an improved source of drinking water, and water demand from industry is expected to increase by 400 per cent between 2000 and 2050 globally. Estimates are that half of the world’s population will suffer severe water shortages by 2050. This will be compounded by the world’s population growth, set to increase from 7.6 billion at present to 9.8 billion by 2050. This indicates that the requirement for fresh water and management of wastewater will dramatically increase.

Meanwhile, two chemical engineering academics from Swansea University have written a landmark handbook which gives a clear picture of the current state-of-the-art developments in salinity gradient processes in desalination, which are being widely accepted as one of the most promising processes to improve energy efficiency in desalination.

Seawater desalination is poised to become one of the main alternative freshwater resources as almost 60 percent of the world’s population live less than 36 miles from a seacoast. Membrane based processes and desalination have emerged as technologies that will answer these challenges.

Professor Nidal Hilal, Director of the Centre for Water Advanced Technologies and Environmental Research (CWATER) at Swansea University and Editor-in-Chief of the International journal Desalination, and Dr Sarper Sarp (Lecturer in Chemical Engineering) both from the College of Engineering, Swansea University are the co-authors of the handbook titled ‘Membrane Based Salinity Gradient Processes for Desalination’. Students, scientists and engineers will be able to see, for the first time, in one reference work the process development for low cost desalination and membrane preparation for salinity gradient applications.

[Swansea University]

Six aid workers safely accounted for in South Sudan

The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou has today welcomed news of the safe return of the six aid workers who went missing four days ago in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal region.

The six aid workers, including one international and five national staff, working with Solidarités International, HealthNet TPO, and AFOD, are all accounted for.

Noudéhou reminded all parties of their obligation to respect the neutrality of on-going humanitarian operations and facilitate safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers providing life-saving aid to vulnerable people throughout the country.


Undocumented Afghans continue returning to Afghanistan

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is responding to a substantial increase in the return of undocumented Afghans from Pakistan and Iran. Since January 1, 2017, over 538,754 undocumented Afghans have returned to their country due to diverse factors, including deteriorating protection in Pakistan and Iran.

Most of those returning have lived outside of Afghanistan for decades, and will need support from the government and humanitarian actors both on arrival and as they seek to reintegrate.

This figure represents a significantly lower rate of return than in previous years, but another surge in returns could occur at any time. The rate of return is influenced by a number of political, security and other related factors both in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

The International Organization for Migration was established in 1951. IOM is the principal intergovernmental organization dealing with migration issues and the only global migration agency dealing with all aspects of migration.


South Sudan crisis enters fifth year “a children’s refugee crisis”

Marking four years since the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi appealed for urgent action by all sides to settle the conflict: “The world cannot continue to stand by as the people of South Sudan are terrorized by a senseless war.”

Noting that 63 per cent of all South Sudanese refugees are under 18, Grandi labelled the situation “a children’s refugee crisis” and stressed that: “many children are arriving unaccompanied, separated and deeply traumatized.”

The South Sudan conflict has created the largest refugee crisis on the African continent. The six countries neighboring South Sudan host two million refugees, while nearly seven million citizens inside the country are in need of essential humanitarian assistance. UNHCR estimates the refugee population could exceed three million by December 2018.

Refugees are hosted by South Sudan’s immediate neighbors — Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, which are struggling with instability and large-scale displacement of their own nationals. All six have continued to keep an open door, as growing numbers of refugees flood in against the backdrop of dwindling financial resources.

The High Commissioner called on the parties to the conflict to find a political solution. Brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a peace initiative in South Sudan is intended to revive a stalled 2015 peace agreement for the country.

[UN High Commissioner for Refugees]

Three months after deadly hurricanes hit Caribbean, thousands of children still in need of assistance

Three months after two category-5 hurricanes – Irma and Maria – barreled through the Caribbean, causing widespread damage and loss of life, thousands of children remain in need of support across the region.

Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, caused extensive damage to the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, Haiti and Cuba. Hurricane Maria then wrought additional damage across the region, with UNICEF estimating that the two hurricanes left 350,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance.

“Three months on, UNICEF is still on the ground in these countries and territories, working on programmes to support children and families in rebuilding their lives and returning to a sense of normalcy,” said Maria Cristina Perceval, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, challenges remain, with many of the most vulnerable families still feeling the effects of the storms. In Dominica, over 35 per cent of children – particularly those living in shelters – are yet to be enrolled in education activities. In Antigua & Barbuda, many children and families remain in shelters and are unable to return home.

“While life is returning to normal for many, children and families who have lived through these storms will need committed, sustained support to get their homes, communities and lives back on track,” added Perceval.

[UN Children’s Fund]

Major challenges to a complete bridging of the Digital Divide

If we visit a typical rural village in a developing country, we encounter these challenges to a bridging of the so-called Digital Divide:

  1. In most rural villages there is inadequate infrastructure to support tech. In many villages, there is limited or no electricity, which makes powering phones or towers difficult. Many villages have no signal to support mobile telephony. In places that do have a signal, it is typically 2G and thus does not support most fintech services, which require 3G or above to function properly.
  2. Among poor households, there are few smartphones, and even the feature phones are owned by the men. This leaves women with limited or no access. In addition, they also typically have hopelessly short battery life, screens that shatter easily, and a persistent problem with ‘fat finger error’ that makes them almost unusable. Furthermore, the cost of data needed to make fintech transactions is usually prohibitively expensive.
  3. Most villagers are “oral”. They – along with another 1 billion-plus people across the planet – cannot read, write, or understand the long number strings necessary to transact on mobile phones.
  4. Providers have made little effort to tailor interfaces or use-cases for the low-income market. The vast majority of fintech providers develop solutions for the affluent and middle classes. This makes logical sense – these segments have the money (and connectivity) to use the solutions.
  5. Furthermore, villagers value personal relationships – particularly when it comes to money. The idea of trusting technology that they do not understand for anything except very basic payments is out of the question.
  6. The regulatory environment and consumer protection provisions remain too weak to secure the poor. Many have already lost money in basic money transfer transactions. Millions are negatively listed on credit bureaus and in the databases of large banks because of digital credit.

Until we address these six fundamental barriers to the deployment and use of fintech by the poor, it will indeed remain irrelevant to them.  In fact, we risk exacerbating the digital divide and leaving the poor and vulnerable behind.


On slave auctions in Libya

In the wake of the CNN report on human auctions in Libya, there has rightly been a surge in concern for the thousands of Africans languishing in inhumane conditions in detention camps. Political leaders in Europe and Africa, including UN Secretary-General António Guterres and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, have condemned the situation. After years of flailing diplomacy and lonely advocacy, it seems the world is finally ready to talk about the humanitarian disaster in Libya.

But while this new wave of attention is welcome and necessary, it does raise key questions: Why did it take so long to have this near-unified voice of condemnation on a well-researched and well-covered issue that has been in the public domain for the better part of the last decade? Why now and not before? And more importantly, what does this delayed reaction say about race and racism in international humanitarian work?

This information is not new. International organizations, politicians, and journalists have all reported the dire conditions facing African migrants in Libya from at least 2010.

The vast majority of the world’s refugees and migrants today are Asian and African, unlike in the 1940s when the original instruments of protection were negotiated.

Bottom line: Countries only want “good migrants” – where “good” means primarily white and/or wealthy.  Helping black and brown bodies is couched in the polite language of  “helping them where they are”. Race and racism are at the heart of the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis, but, to date, humanitarianism has been reluctant to talk about it in stark terms.

[Read full IRIN article]

Trump calls on Saudis to immediately end Yemen blockade

President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Saudi Arabia to end its Yemen blockade immediately, citing humanitarian concerns.

“I have directed officials in my Administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water, and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it,” Trump said in a statement.

A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis — at one point allied with ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces in Yemen — since March 2015. The coalition has imposed a blockade on the country, with the aim of reinstating the internationally recognized government of Saleh’s successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Saleh was killed Monday by his former Houthi allies after moving to switch allegiances in the bloody conflict.

Yemen’s stalemated war has killed over 10,000 civilians and displaced 3 million. On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council warned of “the dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen,” saying the country “stands at the brink of catastrophic famine.”


The latest on the Rohingya refugee crisis

One hundred days after the start of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) has released a report on the overall status of the humanitarian response.

There are more than 830,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar: 625,000 of them have poured over the border since 25 August. These refugees are now living in ten different camps, and among Bangladeshi host communities. One of the camps has become the largest and fastest growing refugee camp in the world, where approximately half a million people are living extremely close to each other without access to basic services such as toilets or clinics.

The Government of Bangladesh is working in cooperation with humanitarian partners who are working to provide relief services for the refugee population and Bangladeshi host communities. Of the 1.2 million people in need, around half have been reached with assistance. There is not enough land to provide adequate living conditions for the more than 830,000 refugees that now crowd Cox’s Bazar. The risk of disease outbreak is high, and the impact of a cyclone or heavy rain would be massive.

Only 34% of the $434 million needed to provide assistance to 1.2 million people has been raised.

[International Organization for Migration]

On World AIDS Day 2017

Today is World AIDS Day.

The number of worldwide deaths from AIDS has gone down by 50 percent since 2005, though there are still more than 36 million people around the world who are living with AIDS, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Only half are receiving appropriate treatment, which makes the NGO’s global theme for the 30th World AIDS Day particularly fitting. This year, WHO declared the theme is “right to health.” Specifically, the organization hopes to draw attention to the need for universal health coverage.

“Under the slogan ‘everybody counts,’ WHO will advocate for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines, including medicines, diagnostics and other health commodities as well as health care services for all people in need, while also ensuring that they are protected against financial risks,” the organization stated on its website.