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.”

[AP]

Scientists watch and wait as Bali’s menacing volcano rumbles

The question Indonesian volcanologist Devy Kamil Syahbana gets most is the one he cannot answer—when, or if, rumbling Mount Agung on Bali island will blow up in a major eruption.

The 3,000 meter (9,800 ft) Agung—a so-called strato-volcano capable of very violent eruptions—has recorded a sharp rise in activity that has raised worries.

In 1963, pyroclastic flows of lava and rocks poured out of the volcano, killing more than 1,000 people and razing dozens of villages. According to survivors, that eruption was preceded by earthquakes, volcanic mudflows, and ashfall—all signs that Mount Agung is showing again now, said Syahbana.

Authorities raised the alert status to the maximum after the volcano started erupting last month, spewing out ash over the holiday island and causing travel chaos by closing its airport for three days last week. While hot magma has produced an eerie orange glow just above the crater, and thousands of villagers have fled from their homes on the mountain’s slopes, Agung has, this time, yet to explode violently.

Syahbana, who studied volcanology in Brussels and Paris, said his team’s main job was to “increase the preparedness of the communities here in the event of a major eruption”.

Indonesia has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country.

[Reuters]

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.

[Newsweek]

Women as agents of climate change action

Arguably the biggest problem facing humanity—climate change—may have a surprising solution: legally recognize and enforce the land rights of rural women in customary tenure systems.

We already know that strong land rights for women reduce poverty and increase economic empowerment and personal agency. A growing body of research also suggests that when women have secure tenure rights, climate change resiliency increases for women and their communities. Women commonly rely on community lands that [collectively] hold at least 24% of the aboveground carbon found in the world’s tropical forests—a sum equivalent to almost four times the global greenhouse gas emissions of 2014.  This initial research suggests a dual approach: treating women—those hardest hit by climate change—as agents of prevention, while prioritizing women’s participation in adaptation measures.

At least 2.5 billion people derive their livelihoods from rural land-use economies, and communities hold and manage over half of the world’s land area through customary tenure systems in which land is held at the community level.  Those living under individualized and community-based customary systems are likely to be among the majority of those living in poverty worldwide. They are especially dependent on rural land for their livelihoods, yet they often lack legally recognized land rights under national laws. This holds especially true for people in the lowest income countries, and those experiencing the most extreme forms of poverty due to intersecting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, class, or caste.

These same populations are among those most affected by climate change. According to recent research, 52% of agricultural land worldwide is affected by climate-changed induced drought, just one example of a climate change-induced “slow-onset” disasters. Land degradation, another example, is estimated to affect 1.5 billion people.

Securing rural women’s rights to land may be key to the survival of our species.

[Landesa]

Partnering for the health of people and planet

Climate change has far-reaching impacts on human health and well-being. Changing temperature and rainfall patterns impact crop yield, food and water security, and nutrition. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme events can cause not only injury, but also increase the risk of water-borne diseases (diarrheal disease, Hepatitis A and E, bacterial diseases such as cholera), diseases associated with crowding (measles, meningitis, acute respiratory infections) and vector-borne diseases (malaria, dengue), as well as psychological and emotional distress related to traumatic events.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths each year between 2030 and 2050, just considering risks from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.

Health impacts from climate change are exacerbated in countries where health systems already struggle to manage existing health risks, and capacity to adapt to additional climate change-related health risks is limited.

Only through critical partnerships between governments, civil society, UN agencies, and global environment and health organizations, support can be provided to countries in responding to the health impacts of climate variability and change by working at the nexus of health, environmental sustainability and climate change, disaster risk reduction, gender equality, and poverty alleviation.

[UNDP]

Outcome of the abduction of 4 British missionaries in Nigeria

The British government says one UK missionary who was kidnapped in Nigeria last month has been killed but three others have been freed.

The Foreign Office said on Monday that Alanna Carson, David Donovan and Shirley Donovan have returned to their families, but Ian Squire “was tragically killed.”

The four were abducted in the Niger Delta region on October 13.

The missionaries had been operating a series of clinics in Nigeria for the past 14 years, despite the high risk across Delta State from kidnappers, armed robbers and pirates.

Friends of Ian Squire branded his captors “despicable” as they paid tribute to the optician who had set up his own charity to save people’s sight in Africa. The 57-year-old ran his own opticians in Shepperton, Surrey, and had been founder and chairman of the Christian charity Mission for Vision since 2003. He founded the charity to provide training and eye equipment for clinics in countries including Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique.

Monica Chard, a friend, said: “He was a lovely, quiet man who everyone knew and loved as the village optician. “He went out to Africa every year with the charity and his wife was also involved. He just wanted to help people see who otherwise would not have had any help.”

According to his website, Mr Squire had made 13 trips for the charity since 2003, accompanied by other opticians and volunteers, and in 2013 had joined forces with the Donovans on his first visit to Nigeria. Mr Donovan, a GP from Cambridge, and his wife, both aged 57, run their own Christian health charity called New Foundations, with a string of remote clinics in the Delta region.

[AP/The Telegraph]

Why Humanitarian Aid Matters

From an interview with Gregory Gottlieb, former acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance:

President Donald Trump has made it clear that foreign aid is not a top priority for his administration. His 2018 budget proposal includes steep cuts to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations. That policy change could have lasting impact on humanitarian efforts worldwide.

The United States has really helped to build the international system of humanitarian relief. We have been the biggest giver, the donor of last resort in many respects. And if you want to change that, you don’t do it by saying we’re going to cut our budget by 40 percent overnight. That is just going to damage the system. Right now, we—all donors—meet only about 62 percent of what we think humanitarian needs are. You can’t just cut our budget and hope that other nations step in to make up the difference.

“Soft power” like humanitarian aid can be very beneficial and serve as a tool for political advantages. After the tsunami in Asia in 2004, the fact that we supplied humanitarian assistance allowed our military to collaborate with Indonesia’s military. That kind of broke the ice and improved relations between our countries. If you looked at how people there viewed the United States, our ratings went way up. The same in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake—the military did a fantastic job of delivering things, despite what was going on in Afghanistan. Some of the people who did that work are still incredibly well thought of. In South Sudan, our humanitarian assistance opened up a better dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan as they were forced to negotiate about how to move food across the lines.

[Tufts University]

Widespread natural disasters threaten development goals

This year in the Caribbean, as well as on the American mainland, hurricanes have left millions of people in need of assistance. In Puerto Rico, 3.4 million people have been scrambling for basic necessities, including food and water. Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable and Dominica was hit hard for the second year in a row.

Floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have affected some 40 million people. Twenty countries have also declared drought emergencies in the past 18 months, with major displacement taking place across the Horn of Africa.

In light of such impacts, and the growing influence of climate change which is increasingly exacerbating them, one conclusion is clear: sustainable development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will remain elusive or significantly delayed so long as hazards are left unchecked.

As outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, we need to shift from managing disasters to preventing disasters by better managing existing risks. This means tackling risk drivers such as poverty, rapid urbanization, weak governance, the decline of ecosystems, desertification and climate change. These are all driving up disaster risk around the world.

[Inter Press Service]

Migrant situation in Libya and the Mediterranean area

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi, chaos-hit Libya has become a key point of departure for migrants heading to Europe.

A navy official said Wednesday thatLibya’s coastguard  rescued nearly 300 migrants including dozens of women and children from unseaworthy boats as they tried to reach Europe. The migrants, of different African nationalities, were plucked from two rubber dinghies without engines and brought back to the Tripoli naval base. They were given food and medical attention before being transferred to a detention center, the official added.

The UN refugee agency said more than 20,000 migrants, including pregnant women and babies, were being held either in detention centers or by traffickers, warning of abuse “on a shocking scale”.

Nearly 150,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the United Nations, and at least 2,826 others have died making the journey.

Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300km away. But migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped 69% since July, the European country said this week, as a deal with Libya blocks boats and would-be asylum seekers use other routes into Europe.

While the number landing in Italy is down by 30% compared with last year, arrivals in Spain, meanwhile, have more than tripled, with over 14 000 arrivals this year.

[AFP]

An app for impending drought?

Fostering and harnessing innovative technologies could significantly reduce the negative impacts from climate change, including drought, water scarcity and food insecurity in African countries.

According to the United Nations (UNCCD) by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 percent.

Drought caused as a result of climate change, a complex global phenomenon with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is causing more deaths and displacing more people than any other natural disaster.

According to UNCCD, adopting smart tech strategies would help Africa to address the drought challenges in many ways, depending on the action strategy and the technology and its application. For example, implementing early warning systems and new technologies by metrological agencies, use of cell phones to share climate information with local communities, the creation of climate maps and deployment of drones to collect climate data. For herders and pastoralists in the African drylands, for example, smart techs/mobile applications would help increase the security of pastoral zones by guiding them to the nearest water resources so as to ensure year-round access to grazing and water.

Speaking at a G7 Agriculture Ministers meeting on Oct. 14, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted that some 75 countries mainly in Africa … do not have the capacity to translate the weather data, including longer-term forecasts, data into information for farmers. “There is an urgent need to take the data which is available globally and to translate it to the ground level,” he said.

[IPS]

Promise for a HIV vaccine

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Duke University (UMD) have designed a novel protein-sugar vaccine candidate that, in an animal model, stimulated an immune response against sugars that form a protective shield around HIV. The molecule could one day become part of a successful HIV vaccine.

“An obstacle to creating an effective HIV vaccine is the difficulty of getting the immune system to generate antibodies against the sugar shield of multiple HIV strains,” said Lai-Xi Wang, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMD. “Our method addresses this problem by designing a vaccine component that mimics a protein-sugar part of this shield.”

Wang and collaborators designed a vaccine candidate using an HIV protein fragment linked to a sugar group. When injected into rabbits, the vaccine candidate stimulated antibody responses against the sugar shield in four different HIV strains. The results were published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology on October 26, 2017.

[Read full University of Maryland article]

Why do nations invest in international aid? Ask Norway. And China.

Norwegian aid and Chinese aid pursue widely different strategies. While Norway provides substantial funding for budget support and funds civil society organizations, China offers a combination of grants and concessional loans and prioritizes infrastructure development in poor countries.

Given its size and lack of military might, Norway has actively tried to promote the virtues of the Nordic model — a peaceful, rule-based, globalized and prosperous world. It has done this through offering a generous amount of aid, consistently giving away more than 1 percent of its Gross National Income. Such acts of generosity give Norway a seat at the table usually reserved for the bigger players in peace processes or efforts to promote development and reduce poverty around the world.

With China, little distinction is made between grants and loans, and it does not offer detailed information about aid disbursements at country level. In turn, it expects poor countries to offer access to such natural resources as oil, minerals, and agricultural products, which China needs for its own development. China’s approach is characterized by pragmatism. It does not believe in offering aid conditioned on improving local governance or combating corruption. Unlike Western donors, China controls the implementation process by bypassing the public administration of recipient countries, and awards contracts to Chinese companies.

[Washington Post]

Young people driving social change

Finding new ways to get young people excited about reducing food scarcity, and to improve access to decent and affordable housing are just some of the challenges that teams of young people from around the world tried to address as participants in the BeChangeMaker (BCM) initiative developed by the HP Foundation and WorldSkills International. Read about three such teams:

  • Team Sci-Kid Hub from Mexico designed a training program to help teachers make science lessons more exciting.
  • Team Terracotta from Indonesia developed a training program to support rice farmers and address food scarcity in Indonesia by improving the quality of rice crop yields.
  • Team T-Chan from Mexico created a business that offers decent jobs to lower-income people, so they can support themselves and build their own houses.

The three winning teams will have access to funding and training opportunities with business incubators and accelerators in their own countries so they can continue to refine their solutions.

“Getting young people excited about social entrepreneurship, and seeing it as a viable career option, is key to driving positive social change,” said Debby McIsaac, Executive Director of the HP Foundation. “Through BeChangeMaker, these inspiring young people have harnessed their skills and talents to help make life better for others by creating real-world solutions to some of society’s toughest issues.”

The HP Foundation’s free online skills training program, HP LIFE, was a key resource for the participants. HP LIFE offers access to 27 courses in seven languages, including courses on social entrepreneurship and design thinking, which help users develop the knowledge and skills they need to start, grow, and run successful businesses.

[SocialEarth]

Reducing youth unemployment in South Africa

South Africa is faced with a crisis of high and rising youth unemployment. Throughout the country, only 1 in 3 young people of working age is employed. This distressing statistic not only plays out through the limited earnings potential and future prospects of these youth, but also emerges within stymied business growth and unsustainable pressure on governmental social programs. The solution will take action from a variety of sectors and actors in order to turn the tide. According to a report funded by The Rockefeller Foundation:

  1. Throughout their lives, youth within South Africa are put at an employment disadvantage due to inadequate education and recruiting systems. Despite an estimated 500,000 entry-level vacancies throughout the country, young people often lack the necessary problem-solving skills, business acumen, technological savvy, and communication skills needed for the workplace.
  2. In order to place more youth in jobs, sectors can bring their unique skills to bear while complementing one another’s efforts: … training providers can focus more on skills, including job-readiness skills, that are directly demanded by employers and work with these employers for placement; and funders can strategically deploy grants to such programs and collaboratives.
  3. Youth who participate in demand-driven training programs and are then hired into jobs become valuable staff in short order: the youth were more motivated to perform well and assimilated quickly to the work environment.

Read about an innovative program in South Africa, Code for Change

New book highlights sustainable success stories

A new book from Columbia University Press offers social sector organizations a how-to guide on applying new and creative methods to solve complex problems.

Design Thinking for the Greater Good tells 10 stories of the struggles and successes of organizations from across the world working in industries from healthcare to agriculture that have applied design thinking, a human-centered approach to problem solving, in order to truly understand the problems they wanted to solve, generate testable ideas and develop solutions for vulnerable groups who actually adopted them.

One of the 10 stories in the book shows how the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture program (MasAgro) was able to launch a solution that helped smallholder farmers in Mexico adopt new sustainable agriculture methods. The authors conclude that MasAgro made innovation safe by relying on respected community leaders and innovation networks that develop, test and adapt agricultural methods and innovations that visibly outperform alternative agricultural practices.

[MasAgro]

India’s children deserve a solid foundation

India has made remarkable progress towards universalizing primary education, but learning outcomes are poor. Current efforts to address poor learning outcomes focus on improving primary education but ignore the preschool years. But, the preschool years are one of the most powerful levers to address this challenge.

The ages from 3-5 are particularly important as this is when a child learns critical pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills that are essential for a child’s readiness to enter primary school.

The impact of good early education is disproportionately high for children from low-income households.

86% of children from low-income families – who constitute 70% of urban India – attend affordable private schools (APSs). These families invest ~6% of their income per child on private preschools despite the availability of free public options because they believe them to be of better quality. Unfortunately, APSs use a rote based approach and learning outcomes are as poor as in Government schools (e.g. in Class 1, 78% cannot read 3 simple 3-letter words) but little effort is invested in improving APSs.              [Alliance]

Read about an innovative private pre-school system developed in Bangalore, Building Blocks India

The Digital Gender Gap

In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 45 percent fewer women than men have internet access. Improving women’s access to Information and Communications technology (ICT) represents a major opportunity, both from a business perspective and as a development imperative.

Industry research estimates that every 10 percent increase in access to broadband is correlated with a 1.38 percent growth in GDP for developing countries, and bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to $13- 18 billion USD.

Significant effort has been made to understand how to close this gender gap. Barriers range in nature from highly concrete, such as electricity and network coverage, to far more subjective barriers like social and cultural norms.

Mobile network providers and governments with an interest in the electrification of low-and middle income countries (LMICs) are best suited to handle the infrastructure issues of electrification and network coverage. However, NGOs with a deeper understanding of gender issues and companies who are dedicated to better understanding the female market across LMICs have a role to play in understanding the cultural barriers to access.

[Connected Health Quarterly]

On China banning foreign waste

For many years China has been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials, last year importing 7.3m metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.

However, in July 2017, China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year. The impact of this will be far-reaching.

China is the dominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the waste that China currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, will have nowhere else to go. So what will happen to the plastic these countries collect through household recycling systems once the Chinese refuse to accept it? Alternatives include:
– Plastics collected for recycling could go to energy recovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material and burn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricity and improve energy self-sufficiency.
– They could also go to landfill (not ideal). Alternatively, materials could be stored until new markets are found. This also  brings problems, however – there have been hundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.

The current situation offers us an opportunity to find new solutions to our waste problem, increase the proportion of recycled plastic in our own manufactured products, improve the quality of recovered materials and to use recycled material in new ways.

[Scientific American]

African agricultural transformation strategy

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has developed a new initiative called the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative, which includes 25 African countries that have confirmed their readiness to help transform their agriculture.

TAAT is designed to eliminate the current massive importation of food and transform its economies by targeting agriculture as a major source of economic diversification and wealth, as well as a powerful engine for job creation. The initiative should result in almost 513 million tons of additional food production and lift nearly 250 million Africans out of poverty by 2025.

The commodities value chains to benefit from this initiative are rice, cassava, pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut, cowpea, livestock, maize, soya bean, yam, cocoa, coffee, cashew, oil palm, horticulture, beans, wheat and fish.

“TAAT …brings together global players in agriculture, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Rockefeller Foundation and national and regional agricultural research systems, ” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, at a TAAT side event at the 2017 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

Adesina explained that TAAT would help break down decades of national boundary-focused seed release systems. Seed companies will have regional business investments, not just national ones, he said. “That will be revolutionary and will open up regional seed industries and markets.”

The African Development Bank, World Bank, AGRA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation intend to mobilize US $1 billion to help scale up technologies across Africa.

[African Development Bank]