Russia names actor Steven Seagal as humanitarian envoy

Russia has appointed action movie star Steven Seagal as a special envoy for humanitarian ties with the United States.

The Foreign Ministry announced the move Saturday on its Facebook page, saying Seagal’s portfolio in the unpaid position would be to “facilitate relations between Russia and the United States in the humanitarian field, including cooperation in culture, arts, public and youth exchanges.”

Seagal is an accomplished martial artist — like Russian President Vladimir Putin. The actor, who was granted Russian citizenship in 2016, has vocally defended the Russian leader’s policies, including Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and has criticized the U.S. government.

Last year, Ukraine banned Seagal from entering the country for five years, citing national security reasons.


IDPs the humanitarian crisis you don’t hear about

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that one person is forcibly displaced from their home every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. Worldwide, refugees—citizens who flee their own country for another—number more than 20 million. But that number is dwarfed by a more silent and devastating crisis: the over 40 million who are internally displaced.

People who have been forced from their homes but have not crossed an international border are called internally displaced persons, or IDPs. Unlike refugees, they have no protections or formally agreed-upon rules and no international resources or funding. The care for IDPs falls to the local and national government, where more pressing matters take precedence.

Over 85 percent of the world’s displaced people, both refugees and displaced persons, are in emerging nations, mostly in Africa. And there is often a cultural clash between IDPs and the people in the locales where the IDPs temporarily—or permanently—settle. Different populations are suspicious of one another and of their loyalties, especially when IDPs come from areas under terrorist siege. Other pressures hurt integration as well. Sudden population growth from an influx of IDPs strains access to food and water.

“Too often, IDPs are marginalized because of the mistrust,” says Kristen Wright, the director of advocacy at Open Doors USA, a charity focused on promoting religious freedom.

So why doesn’t the UN or any supranational agency coordinate assistance for IDPs? Part of the problem stems from how the structure of refugee law evolved after World War II when European nations constructed laws. These laws deferred to a state’s sovereignty over the welfare of its people, so long as those people did not cross international borders.

[Excerpts from CFR post by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School]

Your first job should be a nonprofit job

If you asked me my freshman year of college where I thought I would be in fifteen years — or even where I would be after graduation — I would not have said “working in the nonprofit sector.” But life often takes you in surprising directions.

My job has given me back as much — and more — as I’ve put into it. So to those college grads who are heading out into the world, allow me this piece of advice: think about taking a nonprofit job as your first job.

I know, it’s not the craziest idea you’ve ever heard. After all, research from Johns Hopkins University shows that, collectively, nonprofits are the nation’s third largest employer, behind only the retail and manufacturing sectors. Here’s my elevator pitch.

There’s plenty of room to grow. The best thing about working at a nonprofit organization is the relative lack of bureaucracy. It’s not that most nonprofit managers will let you take ownership of a project; in many cases, you’ll be expected to.

There’s no lack of opportunities to build marketable skills. When it comes to building marketable skills, new nonprofit employees often are surprised at how quickly they are thrown into the deep end of the pool — I’m talking about everything from writing and editing, to social media marketing, to budgeting, analytics, and project management.

There’s little chance of getting sidetracked. Working at a nonprofit is a good way to gain real-world experience while you are attending, or contemplating, grad school. One reason is that nonprofit employers tend to be more flexible than for-profits about part-time or non-traditional work schedules.

Whether it comes as a surprise or not, one day, like me, you might even wake up and realize the job you thought you would only have for a year or two is a job that you love and hope to have for years to come. 93 percent of survey respondents in the nonprofit sector — nearly three times the national average — saying they are highly or somewhat engaged in their jobs.

[Philanthropy News Digest]

Extreme global weather is ‘the face of climate change’ says leading scientist

Extreme weather has struck across Europe, from the Arctic Circle to Greece, and across the world, from North America to Japan. “This is the face of climate change,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, and one the world’s most eminent climate scientists. “We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change.”

Climate change has long been predicted to increase extreme weather incidents, and scientists are now confident these predictions are coming true. Mann said, “As a scientist [seeing our predictions come true] is reassuring, but as a citizen of planet Earth, it is very distressing to see that as it means we have not taken the necessary action.”

Prof Mann said that asking if climate change “causes” specific events is the wrong question: “The relevant question is: ‘Is climate change impacting these events and making them more extreme?’, and we can say with great confidence that it is.”

Mann points out that the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer is a statistical one, which does not prove every cancer was caused by smoking, but epidemiologists know that smoking greatly increases the risk. “For all practical purposes, there is a causal connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, and it is the same with climate change,” Mann said.

Other senior scientists agree the link is clear. Serious climate change is “unfolding before our eyes”, said Prof Rowan Sutton, at the University of Reading. “No one should be in the slightest surprised that we are seeing very serious heatwaves and associated impacts in many parts of the world.”

[The Guardian]

Climate change and farming: ‘Unpredictability is here to stay’

In many parts of the world, droughts are getting longer, more intense and more frequent. A climate and environment director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization discusses the risk to food security. Interview excerpts include:

Q: Could drought cause food shortages and famines in the years or decades to come, and what regions are most at risk?
Absolutely. The FAO estimate is that we have 830 million people who are currently food-insecure. They do not have enough food to eat without this kind of shortage. Obviously, decreasing production could be a major factor. We’re also looking at the issue of nutrient depletion. Climate change, CO2 changes in the air, are having an impact on the nutrient content of food. Some cereals have about 10 percent less protein, and they have less minerals and less vitamins. So it’s not just a question of how much food, but also the quality of that food.

Q: Is drought going to become the new normal for farmers?
Unfortunately, variability is going to become the new normal. Unpredictability is here to stay.

Q: The solutions are within our reach. But why aren’t they being tapped into?
Well they’re expensive, and farmers are already often very stressed in terms of barely making a profit. And of course in a bad year, where they’re probably going to lose money because of drought, if we were to come in and say: “Well, we want you to invest more money in limited tillage or zero-tillage equipment,” of course they’re going to say, “You’re crazy, I’m already in debt.”

What we need is to speed it up because we don’t have two decades to work on this. We really need to get results within a few years. Otherwise it will be too late.

[Deutsche Welle]

Biggest regret is failures of kindness

One useful thing you can do with an old person is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc.?

There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really.  Read full commencement speech

At least 10 dead after Indonesian earthquake

A powerful magnitude-6.4 earthquake has struck the popular Indonesian tourist destination of Lombok, killing 10 people and injuring forty, the country’s disaster mitigation agency says.

The quake damaged dozens of single-storey houses and taller buildings and was felt in a wider area, including in Bali, where no damage or casualties were reported.

It hit the northern part of Lombok island early on Sunday morning when many people were still sleeping.

The quake, which was quickly followed by an aftershock of magnitude-5.4 in the same area, was centerd 50 kilometres north-east of the city of Mataram, the US Geological Survey said.

Disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the number of casualties could increase as information is still being collected from across the island. Mr Nugroho said the earthquake also triggered a large landslide from Mount Rinjani, a popular trekking destination.


Greek government facing criticism over handling of wildfires

This weekend, Greece will begin burying the victims of a devastating wildfire near Athens which killed at least 88 people, and has prompted criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday took political responsibility for the tragedy as opposition leaders said the government had failed to adequately safeguard lives. Tsipras’ government has been criticized for failing to have an adequate evacuation plan in place for such a disaster. The government has announced a long list of relief measures and promised to tackle decades-old problems, including haphazard and unlicensed residential building, to minimize the risk of a repeat disaster and to cool public anger.

A deputy mayor in Marathon, which administers some of the affected area, on Saturday became the first official to resign over the wildfire.

Heavy downpours hit the region on Saturday, prompting fears that the work of rescue crews and efforts by locals to salvage what they can from the fire could be made more difficult.


One year after ouster of ISIL from Mosul

It’s been one year since the end of military operations by Iraqi security forces to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Mosul’s occupation by ISIL from June 2014 to July 2017 caused a humanitarian catastrophe with immense human suffering and enormous physical destruction. Close to one million people were forced to flee the conflict in Mosul.

“Almost 870,000 people have now returned to Mosul”, said Marta Ruedas, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq  Key achievements by humanitarians include:
The UN refugee agency has established six camps for displaced Mosul residents in Ninewa governorate and in the Kurdistan Region.
The UN migration agency (IOM), has established two community resource centres in Mosul to facilitate the reintegration of returnees.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has helped rehabilitate one-third of the 638 schools that have re-opened and enabled more than half a million girls and boys to return to local schools.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and the government has provided emergency school meals to 87,000 school children in 145 primary schools and four kindergartens in West Mosul from March to May.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed 53 ambulances in Ninewa governorate, and relocated two field hospitals to deliver emergency healthcare services to returnees in West Mosul.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) supported 16 primary health care clinics by providing almost 800,000 reproductive health consultations to women and girls, and deployed six mobile reproductive health clinics and teams.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has helped rebuilt infrastructure and is working to rebuild the electric grid that will keep the health, education and water supply running in Mosul.
The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has removed more than 43,700 explosive hazards, including 1,000 improvised explosive devices from roads, bridges, schools, universities, hospitals, clinics, water treatment plants and municipal buildings.
The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) has rehabilitated 257 conflict-damaged houses in West Mosul, allowing almost 3,000 people to return home.

Despite these achievements, extensive humanitarian needs remain in Mosul and across Iraq. The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for the most vulnerable 3.4 million people is only 54 per cent funded.


US freeze on Palestinian aid threatening coexistence of humanitarian efforts

Palestinian officials say that local humanitarian groups who work with the United States Agency for International Development have scaled back their activities in recent months and are preparing to fire employees and shut down projects as a result of the Trump administration’s total freeze of financial aid to the Palestinians.

The funding freeze has also hurt local companies that USAID uses as contractors for economic projects, as well as Jewish-Arab coexistence groups that rely on American financial support for their activities, according to the officials who spoke with Haaretz.

The U.S. Congress approved an aid budget of $250 million to the Palestinians for the current fiscal year. This money includes $35 million to support the Palestinian Authority’s security forces and $215 million intended for economic development, infrastructure projects, humanitarian assistance and an additional $10 million for coexistence programs that comes from a different line item in the budget.

This entire sum has been held up by the Trump administration, which has been conducting a “review” of Palestinian aid since the beginning of the year. It has no deadline for ending that review or releasing the money.

Western and Arab diplomats who spoke with Haaretz said they believed the freeze is meant to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end his boycott of the Trump administration, which started after the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December. The administration, these diplomats added, want Abbas to return to negotiations with Trump’s peace team – led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and special envoy Jason Greenblatt.