Pope Francis delivers TED talk

The annual TED conference is known for featuring impressive speakers. But on Tuesday evening, one unannounced speaker took the audience by surprise: Pope Francis.

At first, the pope’s subject matter seemed familiar: “As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: ‘Why them and not me?’ ”

But his message quickly moved to the conference’s core subject matter (technology and innovation). “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” Francis said. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”

“People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money and things, instead of people,” he said. “And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves ‘respectable,’ of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road.”

Nearly 400,000 people around the world have already watched the pope’s video and seen him tell the tale of the Good Samaritan, which he called “the story of today’s humanity.”

“Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude,” Francis said. “It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

[NPR]

Unsung heroes: Dr Tom Catena

I met Dr. Tom Catena in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains — the site of an African war and famine few have even heard about — in a hospital overflowing with children. I saw bombs had ripped away their arms, flying shrapnel had taken out a baby’s eye, anti-personnel mines had shredded legs to jagged bone and ribbons of gangrenous flesh, infants suffering kwashiorkor and the other horrors of malnutrition.

Inspired by St Francis of Assisi, ‘Doctor Tom’ has worked almost every day, all day, since he arrived as the only surgeon for the Catholic hospital in Nuba nine years ago.

I asked him: “Why do you stay?” He replied: “There’s no other option. You leave and abandon everyone here or you stay and keep going.”

Heroes like Catena convince me that giving to charitable causes in Africa is the right thing to do, because at least some of what you donate will help rescue children like those in Nuba.

[The Spectator]

Ivanka Trump acknowledges Syria a ‘global humanitarian crisis’

Ivanka Trump, a top adviser to her father, President Donald Trump, went further than he has when it comes to support for allowing Syrian refugees to enter the US in the face of their country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“I think there is a global humanitarian crisis that’s happening and we have to come together and we have to solve it,” she told NBC in an interview aired Wednesday morning.

Asked whether that would include opening the borders to Syrian refugees, Ivanka Trump, who formally serves in the administration as assistant to the President, indicated openness.

An executive order signed by the President in early March, currently held up by the courts, would ban immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, and temporarily ban on all refugees from entering the US.

The first daughter spoke to NBC following her participation in a W-20 Summit panel on women’s economic empowerment in Berlin at the direct invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel, her first international trip on behalf of the administration and a coming out of sorts.

[CNN]

A child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes

The head of the United Nations stood in front of a room full of global leaders Tuesday and made a plaintive plea: “On average, a child under the age of 5 dies of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes,” António Guterres said. “This means 50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference, and all of those deaths could have been prevented.”

Guterres is asking for $2.1 billion in funding to combat deepening hunger and disease across Yemen. “Only 15 percent has been met until the present moment,” he said at a fundraising conference in Geneva.

After two years of civil war, Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, is facing collapse. Its currency, agriculture, infrastructure, health care and even the most basic social cohesion have been destroyed by the war, and about 7 million people are on the brink of starvation, while two-thirds of the population relies on humanitarian aid to survive.

“We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation,” Guterres said. “We must act now to save lives.”

A half-million children are so severely malnourished that they are likely to die if they do not receive urgent care, said the U.N. children’s agency and the World Food Program.

In an irony, Saudi Arabia has made the biggest funding pledge, promising $150 million for Yemen. Much of the physical destruction in the country has been wrought by a Saudi-led air campaign — backed by the United States and others — that human rights activists say has indiscriminately targeted civilians. Kuwait, Germany and the United States have pledged lesser sums.

[Washington Post]

American aid worker leaves Egypt after being released

The Trump administration flew Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American aid worker, home to the United States after negotiating her release from three years of captivity in Egypt on charges of child abuse and human trafficking, two senior administration officials said.

Ms. Hijazi’s case had become an international symbol of Egypt’s treatment of aid workers, and President Trump had been criticized by human rights advocates for not publicly raising her plight during an Oval Office meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt early this month.

But the two administration officials said that despite the public silence, the United States had quietly secured a promise by Egyptian officials for her release before Mr. Sisi arrived at the White House, efforts that culminated over the weekend when a court cleared her. Ms. Hijazi, who grew up in Virginia, near Washington, returned aboard a government jet that landed at Joint Base Andrews, accompanied by her family and top American officials.

Ms. Hijazi, who has dual Egyptian and American citizenship and is a graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, was arrested in May 2014, along with her husband, Mohamed Hassanein. At the time, she worked at the Beladi Foundation, a nonprofit that she founded to care for street children in Cairo.

Egyptian officials had charged Ms. Hijazi and her husband with human trafficking and abusing children, and they faced years in prison. Human rights advocates had called the case “bizarre” and said that it lacked credibility.

[New York Times]

Who gives 0.7% of their gross national income to overseas aid?

Under legislation approved in 2015, the UK government is legally required to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on overseas development assistance (ODA), popularly known as foreign aid. And Microsoft founder Bill Gates has urged the UK to maintain its promise to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, warning that reducing the commitment would cost lives.

According to the latest figures from the OECD, in 2016 two G7 countries met this target: the UK and, for the first time, Germany. Other countries that spent at least 0.7% were Sweden, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Denmark and Norway.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May described the target as a “critical pillar” of the country’s foreign policy. But some Conservative MPs and newspapers have suggested that the figure is too high and should not be maintained after the election.

The top 10 country recipients of UK aid in 2015 were Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, India and Bangladesh. Humanitarian projects received the largest proportion of aid in 2015.

 [BBC]

Bulgarian humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria

The Bulgarian government approved the provision of EUR 300,000 humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, as reported by Focus News Agency.

The funds will be provided through voluntary contributions to the budgets of the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the World Food Program.

The aid provided will help in overcoming the humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, to rebuild the countries, and improve the situation of the local citizens.

[Novinite]

Top European givers

Despite budgetary constraints, the European Union and its member states have collectively managed to keep their place as the world’s largest aid donor. Below is a overview of six major European donors.

United Kingdom – One of the only major aid actors with a development ministry responsible for both policy and implementation, the United Kingdom is also the first country to enshrine in law the U.N. target to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid every year. U.K. aid is praised for its clear focus on the neediest. Out of the 28 countries it prioritizes, 21 are fragile and conflict-affected states.

Germany – These are promising times for the world’s third biggest bilateral donor. After undergoing major reforms in 2011, German foreign aid is seeking to be more selective and strategic in its spending priorities. But for the time being, Germany’s political commitment to focus on the poorest countries, especially in Africa, has yet to be reflected in its ODA allocations.

France – President François Hollande’s budgetary choices might have set the country back by more than a decade in reaching the 0.7 percent aid target, but France is expected to stabilize its aid budget. In the next few years, French ODA is further slated to increase the amount dedicated to climate change.

Sweden – Despite the global financial crisis, Sweden’s aid program has managed to stay the course.  Since 2006, the Nordic country has maintained its ODA at around one percent of its GNI. In line with its strong poverty focus, most of Sweden’s bilateral aid resources are directed to low income countries and fragile states. Three specific priorities drive Sweden’s aid giving: democracy and human rights; environment and climate change; and gender equality and the role of women in development. Sweden has also been particularly reactive to the critical situation in the Middle East.

The Netherlands – The Netherlands was one of the first countries to meet the ambitious goal of spending at least 0.7 percent of its GNI on ODA, but Dutch aid has plummeted in recent years.  Historically focused on social sectors, Dutch aid is now increasingly geared toward economic development and national interests.

Norway – Known for its long-standing commitment to high aid targets, Norway disbursed 1 percent of its gross national income in 2014 — making it the third most generous OECD DAC member in terms of its ODA/GNI ratio after Sweden and Luxembourg. In the future, ODA levels are likely to be maintained at this level. Norway is one of the world’s most committed donors to least-developed countries. Global education especially in conflict or disaster contexts — a topic which has been sliding off the aid agenda of many top donors — is another area where Norway is trying to lead the way.

[DeVex]

British Cabinet split over foreign aid spending

Government Ministers have urged British Prime Minister Theresa May to drop Britain’s commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on helping poorer countries, and have proposed diverting money to a new combined defense and security budget.

The UK, the world’s third-biggest donor, spends £13 billion per year on aid, and the Prime Minister has stood by the spending commitment despite pressure to reduce it following a series of scandals over where the money goes.

Some ministers believe Britain is doing more than its fair share when it comes to helping poorer countries, and point to the fact that the average spend by other wealthy nations is just 0.4 per cent of GNI.

In fact, the USA spends just 0.18 per cent.

Mrs May, however, has made it clear that she is a supporter of the 0.7 per cent spending pledge and remains “fully committed” to it. Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, also sees the commitment as a key part of the post-Brexit “global Britain” brand.

A Whitehall source explained: “A lot of the world’s biggest problems, such as disease, mass migration and terrorism, are incubated in countries affected by conflict, such as Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan.

[The Telegraph]

Why Trump should use Foreign Aid to make America great

Investing in global health is essential to the safety, security, and future prosperity of the United States. In addition to the humanitarian case for foreign aid, there are three very powerful reasons, which are aligned with President Donald Trump’s populist “America first” vision, why the administration should maintain and even spend more on global health.

  1. Deadly epidemics threaten US lives and prosperity – Over the course of the past two decades, we have faced numerous periodic crises stemming from infectious diseases, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), swine flu, Ebola, and now the Zika virus. Each of these cost US lives and billions of US dollars in response. By investing in health research to develop and stockpile new vaccines and drugs, and stronger health systems to deliver these preventive tools and cures, we will get out ahead of new infectious diseases before they become global disasters.
  2. Foreign Aid for health yields huge returns for the United States – Every US dollar spent on HIV prevention and treatment generates $10 in health and productivity benefits for the countries mounting large AIDS programs with our help, as a result of the infections and deaths averted; every dollar spent on tuberculosis generates $30 in societal benefits. US leadership in global health has helped produce remarkable improvements in global well-being.
  3. It strengthens US leadership on the global stage and counters our rivals – The United States launched its first international health programs in Africa after World War II out of Cold War ideological concerns. These early investments in health were motivated by the belief that training health professionals and controlling infectious disease would improve the population’s quality of life, and in turn, reduce their susceptibility to communism. Since that time, global health aid has continued to serve as an economically efficient way for the United States to promote its values and promote conditions that discourage turmoil around the world, from which the United States stands to gain in the long term.

If we cut our aid and leave a vacuum, it will be filled by US rivals, starting with China. Chinese foreign aid is growing fast, at an annual rate of more than 20 percent per year, and is rapidly catching up with US assistance. Chinese health aid to Africa in particular has grown rapidly. China is now one of the top ten bilateral global health donors to Africa and provided at least US$3 billion dollars in African health aid from 2000 to 2012. If our health support to developing nations … is severely curtailed, we should expect China to fill the void.

In addition, withdrawal of US support for health in areas affected by military conflict and military crisis could lead to the entry of non-state actors whose views are antithetical to those of the United States. Health aid can help fight the underlying causes of terrorism.

[Read full article at Health Affairs Blog]

Hillary Clinton warns President Trump of ‘grave mistake’ of cutting Foreign Aid

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that she thinks President Trump is making a “grave mistake” on foreign aid. In a speech on women’s rights at Georgetown University, Clinton said Trump’s proposed cuts to international aid in his budget would undermine American diplomacy.

“Turning our back on diplomacy won’t make our country safer,” Clinton said. “It will undermine our security and our standing in our world.”

Clinton’s comments about Trump came in a talk that was largely an impassioned call for advancing women’s rights around the world.

“Advancing the rights and full participation of women and girls is the great unfinished business of the 21st century, she said. “It is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue. A rising tide of women’s rights lifts entire nations.”

[TIME]

Humanitarians engaging with faith-based and faith-inspired organizations

Research conducted by Oxfam and the Harvard Divinity School finds much work to be done within the humanitarian sector.

Local humanitarian leadership is built upon the premise that humanitarian action should be led by local humanitarian actors whenever possible.

Yet this research, conducted with the Harvard Divinity School and with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, finds that secular humanitarian international NGOs do not engage systematically with local faith actors in their local leadership:

  • Faith-based NGO – A Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that has an explicit faith claim in its mission statement and/or is directly supported by a formal religious structure.
  • Faith-inspired NGO – NGO with links to religious institutions and communities. FIO is a broader term that includes FBOs but also includes organizations that operate independently from a formal religious institution.

Pakistan wants millions of Afghan refugees gone

Afghan refugees in Pakistan now live in constant fear of officials separating them from their loved ones or deporting them to their war-torn native country.

Last summer, Pakistan announced that more than 3 million Afghan refugees — some in the country since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 — needed to go home. Since then, about 600,000 registered and undocumented Afghans refugees have been repatriated to an unstable nation where there are currently more than a million internally displaced Afghans.

Rights groups and aid organizations have criticized Pakistan’s decision. Human Rights Watch has reported that the supposedly “voluntary” repatriation process is coercive and violates international law. The United Nations refugee agency warned that the mass forced return of Afghans could “develop into a major humanitarian crisis.”

More than 2 million registered and undocumented Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, but Pakistan officials argue it’s become too expensive and too risky for them to stay.

“In recent terrorist attacks in Peshawar and Lahore, it has been established that Afghan refugees have been used as facilitators,” said Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan at an Islamabad press conference late last month. “The Pakistani nation has been hosting Afghan refugees for the last 30 years and has looked after them despite its own problems.”

Afghan refugees crossing the border face a grim future back in Afghanistan. Security has deteriorated amid the rise of ISIS in the country’s east and the increasing gains of the Taliban around the country. Meanwhile, unemployment stands at 40 percent.

[PRI]

Trump White House wants to slash billions from international grants and aid

The White House is proposing $17 billion in spending cuts from levels Congress approved in 2016, focusing on medical research grants, scientific research grants, education and foreign aid.

Internationally, the White House’s 2017 proposal would cut $300 million from PEPFAR, an international program to combat HIV and AIDS focused mainly in Africa.

The White House would also eliminate or drastically cut its foreign aid programs it says lack a significant return on investment for taxpayers. These include international food aid and security grants, rural business grants, Community Development Financial Institution grants, the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps services programs, and grants meant to improve literacy and physical education.

Funding levels are ultimately set by Congress, not the president, and White House spending proposals are routinely ignored by lawmakers. Many of the proposed cuts are unlikely to end up in legislation.

[The Hill]

Humanitarian aid workers found dead after being kidnapped in the Congo

On March 12th the United Nations along with the Congolese government confirmed that six people including an American aid worker, Michael Sharp and his Swedish counter-part, Zahida Katalan were kidnapped in the Kasai Central province of the Congo where bloody skirmishes within the region graduated to near genocidal levels in February.

Three bodies have been found and among the dead are two white bodies. Unconfirmed initial reporting identified them as the Michael Sharp and Zahida Katalan.

Renewed bloody conflict broke out between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and DRC troops in the Kasai Central province in early February, prompting the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to send in U.N. aid workers to mitigate a peaceful resolution.

This was the first time U.N. aid workers had been kidnapped in the Congo.

[SOFREP]

Trump is about to make world’s “biggest humanitarian crisis” much worse

As Yemenis mark the two years of war that have claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and brought the country “to the brink of famine,” there are signs the United States’ already tainted role in the conflict may be set for escalation.

The Washington Post reports: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.” Getting rid of those restrictions “would enable the military to support Emirati operations against the Houthis with surveillance and intelligence, refueling, and operational planning assistance without asking for case-by-case White House approval,” the Post adds.

Trump’s State Department already gave notice to Congress that they have approved a resumption of sales of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis. Amnesty International urged Trump not to sign off on the sales, saying that new US arms could be used to devastate civilian lives in Yemen and could “implicate your administration in war crimes.”

Despite this context, the “shameful war now extends into a second presidential administration and a new Congress that seem even more enthused by it,” writes Micah Zenko, senior fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relation.

The reason why, journalist Iona Craig said to “Intercepted” last week, is because “it’s good business. … In the first year of the war, the U.S. sold 20 billion dollars’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia has been buying more and more weapons as a result of this war. At this rate, the U.S. is liable to be owning a famine in Yemen, and along with the rest of the international community, as long as they keep supplying Saudi Arabia with not just the weapons,” but also keep providing support by refueling aircraft—and without that U.S. support, she said, the Saudis would be forced to stop the bombing.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said in statement Sunday: “Man-made conflict has brought Yemen to the brink of famine. Today nearly 19 million Yemenis—over two-thirds of the population—need humanitarian assistance. Seven million Yemenis are facing starvation.”

“Twenty-one million Yemenis—82 percent of the population—are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

[Read full Common Dreams article]

Czech politician lauds Russia’s humanitarian efforts in Syria

Russia is planning and carrying out successful humanitarian missions in Syria’s city of Aleppo, but the media in the European Union focus solely on reports about the difficult situation in the city, Czech politician Jaromir Kohlicek, a member of the European Parliament, says.

“Russian Armed Forces are, firstly, ensuring air support and, secondly, providing humanitarian aid. That was surprising to me, as nobody says anything about it in the EU countries… European media publish only reports on the difficult humanitarian situation in Aleppo and on some organizations criticizing the state of affairs,” Kohlicek said upon his recent visit to Aleppo.

According to the parliamentarian, some units of the Russian forces stationed in Syria were charged exclusively with providing humanitarian aid. Kohlicek mentioned the de-mining mission and deliveries of food as two examples of Russia’s humanitarian efforts in the city.

Kohlicek said while he was shocked at the extent of the damage that Aleppo had suffered, he was surprised at the signs of the city slowly getting back to normal, such as children attending schools amid ruins.

The parliamentarian said that the Syrians were receiving help from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Serbia as well as from Russia.

[Sputnik]

South Sudan humanitarian coordinator condemns killing of six aid workers

The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, has strongly condemned the killing of six aid workers in an ambush on 25 March while the aid workers were traveling from Juba to Pibor.

The ambush –which represents the highest number of aid workers killed in a single incident since the conflict began– comes after two other grave attacks on aid workers this month. A humanitarian convoy was attacked in Yirol East on 14 March, while responding to a cholera outbreak in the area. Tragically, one health worker and one patient were killed and at least one other health worker was injured. Separately, during fighting in Mayendit town on 10 March, local staff of an international NGO were detained by non-state armed actors and released four days later. Already in March, there have been multiple instances of looting of aid supplies, including in two areas in Mayendit which are top priority locations for the famine response.

“These attacks against aid workers and aid assets are utterly reprehensible,” said Mr. Owusu. “They not only put the lives of aid workers at risk, they also threaten the lives of thousands of South Sudanese who rely on our assistance for their survival. For us to continue to provide life-saving relief to the civilians suffering immensely across this country, the safety and security of aid workers must be upheld, the impunity that has prevailed to date must end, and perpetrators must be held to account.”

At least 79 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since the beginning of the December 2013 crisis. Under International Humanitarian Law, intentional attacks against humanitarian relief personnel may constitute war crimes.

[ReliefWeb]

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]