Monthly Archives: October 2014

Nordic humanitarian initiative in eastern Ukraine

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The Nordic foreign ministers decided to provide early assistance to Ukraine in the field of humanitarian reconstruction and energy efficiency. The aid is to be made available for the affected and vulnerable regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

“It is vital to assist the local population and internally displaced people, and thus to start a normalization process in these parts of Ukraine”, the foreign ministers of the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said.

In the first instance, the Nordic initiative will address key social infrastructure such as schools, kindergartens and health centers, and possibly also damaged housing in certain cases. Funding of EUR 2 million will be available for this purpose in 2014, with further allocations in 2015.

This Nordic initiative will cover only a small part of Ukraine’s reconstruction and energy efficiency needs. The intention is to start a process that may expand during implementation and that could be linked to Ukraine’s national programmes and other international assistance.

Pledges for African development by international banks

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The World Bank and other international lenders pledged $8 billion in aid on Monday for infrastructure development in eight countries in the Horn of Africa in hopes that an infusion of funds will help moderate the persistent food and water shortages and armed conflict in the region.

The advent of oil production in Kenya and Uganda will be a catalyst for “dramatic and lasting” change in the region, the World Bank said. Also, the search for exploitable oil reserves is under way in Ethiopia and parts of Somalia.

The construction and improvement of oil pipelines, transport links and health and education facilities are among the projects to be funded by the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the European Union, as well as the World Bank, the lenders said.

The announcement of the aid package to Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda coincided with the start of a five-day, three-nation visit to the region by a delegation of international aid officials led by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

[Wall Street Journal]

The Red Cross uses text messages to beat Ebola

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In an effort to contain Ebola, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has teamed up with a local cell-phone provider and the Sierra Leonean government to send health reminders via text message. Since the Ebola outbreak began last April, the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) system has sent out about two million text messages a month in Sierra Leone, reminding people to seek treatment early, avoid physical contact with others and not resist the efforts of community healthcare workers. The texts are delivered free so there’s no financial burden to the recipient.

Texting isn’t the only technology being used to combat Ebola. In West Africa, Twitter was abuzz with health tips and reassurance.

In countries where Internet access is not ubiquitous, cell phones play a vital role in communicating messages directly to a mass audience during health and other crises. Sixty-nine percent of Sierra Leoneans have a cell phone connection, but only 9 percent have a 3G or cellular Internet plan.

“Every mobile phone can do text messaging,” says Ken Banks, mobile technologist and founder of, a project that unites cellular technology with social change. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the cheapest model or the most expensive.”

The interactivity is appealing. Recipients can text back with basic questions about Ebola and get an automated response with information about treatment options, cleaning tips and medical help. And since the texts are sent to specific areas of the country, the messages, which are drafted by the IFRC and the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health, can be personalized with regional advice.

Even though the country has low literacy rates — 43 percent for adults — text-based services are effective ways to disseminate information. “In villages where there is low literacy, there might only be a few people with cell phones who can read these messages,” says Christine Tokar, West Africa programs manager for the British Red Cross. Tokar says those who can read share the information with the town crier, who would distribute it through town meetings.

The texts are intended to reinforce similar messages delivered via posters, radio and television ads. But a text can be preserved on the phone, shown to a friend and referenced later — say, when Ebola comes to a previously unaffected area.

The Red Cross is hoping to have TERA up and running in 40 countries across the globe in the next five years.


Texting can be a humanitarian relief tool

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Pandemics, like war, have a higher cost than their death toll. They erode infrastructures, threatening local economics and livelihoods.

One infrastructure that’s relatively hard to take down with disease, though, is the cellular phone system. Now, researchers are using it to check on the well-being of people living among the Ebola pandemic.

A poll was recently conducted by texting or “robocalling” questions to people who live in two districts of eastern Sierra Leone. This automated technique keeps researchers safe, and allows for multiple rounds of surveys to be sent out automatically over time.

“Our typical approach involves sending out roving teams of enumerators with clipboards (or handheld devices) to collect data through face-to-face personal interviews with respondents,” wrote Jean-Martin Bauer, a food analyst with the World Food Program (WFP) in an email. “The process delivers valuable detailed information, but tends to be cumbersome.”

Phone-based surveys reduce some of that burden, Bauer said, adding that the WFP can now bring in new data regularly and issue reports on the matter monthly without needing an army of enumerators.

Because cellular networks are set up in many developing countries—and landline or broadband networks are not—widespread polling is still possible in many places.

[The Atlantic]


A brief overview of US foreign aid

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A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, “When survey respondents are told that only about one percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, the share saying ‘the U.S. spends too little’ more than doubles (from 13 percent to 28 percent), while the share saying ‘we spend too much’ drops in half (from 61 percent to 30 percent).”

In fiscal year 2012, the United States paid out $31.2 billion in economic assistance and $17.2 billion in military assistance.

According to USAID, the top five categories for economic aid include aid for “global health and child survival, international narcotics control and law enforcement, and migration and refugee assistance. Other programs in the economic assistance category include the Peace Corps, international disaster and famine assistance, and disease control through the Centers for Disease Control.”

The last category, for example, would include funds for combating Ebola in Africa. (Some of the aid is funneled through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work to protect civil liberties, the rule of law, religious freedom and equality for women.)

It is hard to imagine a world — let alone aspire to one — in which the United States eliminated all economic aid. We would not send government resources or personnel, for example, to Hatti for a hurricane; to Japan for the nuclear accident; to any Middle East ally to cope with refugees from the Syrian civil war; to Ukraine for economic assistance in the wake of Russian aggression; or to our ally Colombia (which gets more than $660 million) for economic growth and restitution/reconciliation efforts for victims of previous governments’ abuse.

[Read full Washington Post blog]

The challenges facing humanitarian agencies and workers

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More than 250 representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have gathered in Beijing this week for their 9th Asia-Pacific Regional Conference to discuss new and innovative approaches toward meeting today’s humanitarian challenges.

Every day, the 47 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific are tackling human suffering in various forms. While we live in an era of incredible technological advances and major achievements in combating disease, we also live in a time of great uncertainty where conventional drivers of humanitarian crises such as natural disasters and conflicts are increasingly interacting with new forms of hazards.

About 89 percent of people affected by natural disasters worldwide are living in the Asia Pacific region. We are seeing changing patterns in disasters, where climate change is driving extreme weather events that are putting greater numbers of people at risk.

The escalation of protracted crises in the Middle East has had grave humanitarian consequences. More than 4 million people in the region have fled their countries of origin due to conflicts. In Iraq, recent waves of violence are creating a serious refugee crisis. In Syria, millions continue to rely upon the aid from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The security of our staff and volunteers is increasingly at risk – across the region we (IFRC) have lost almost 50 colleagues in the line of duty. It is unacceptable that so many people have lost their lives while trying to save the lives of others.

[Excerpts of China Daily op-ed written by secretary general of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies]

NY doctor with Ebola worked with Doctors Without Borders

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Craig Spencer, who tested positive for Ebola Thursday, is a New York emergency physician who recently worked with Doctors Without Borders treating patients in West Africa.

He is on the staff at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, which in a statement called him “a dedicated humanitarian .. who went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.”

Spencer, 33, describes himself on his Linkedin page as a “fellow of international emergency medicine” at the New York hospital. He speaks five languages including Chinese and studied language and literature at Henen University in China in 2006-2007.

According to his Facebook page, he left for West Africa via Brussels in mid-September and returned to Brussels October 16.

“Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders,” he wrote. “Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history.”

[US Today]

UN launches humanitarian appeal for Iraqis as winter approaches

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An estimated 2.8 million Iraqis lack food assistance while another 800,000 are in urgent need of emergency shelter, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned today as it launched an appeal for greater financial support to bolster its operations on the ground.

Neill Wright, OCHA’s acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, cautioned that the needs of some 5.2 million affected Iraqis had now become “immense” and urged the international community to step up its efforts through a $2.2 billion appeal. “This effort requires all of us – the UN, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector – to work together. All of us have a role to play.”

Iraq has been convulsed by increasing instability over the past several months amid an ongoing offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), unleashing wave after wave of internally displaced persons and refugees.

At the same time, the agency warned, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees escaping the ISIL onslaught on the Syrian border town of Kobane were expected to cross into Iraq from Turkey, citing civil unrest, the high cost of living, difficulties with aid, and the desire to join family members already living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq among their reasons for entering the country. They join the estimated 1.8 million citizens internally displaced throughout the country in 2014 alone.

In its latest appeal, OCHA also noted that with the onset of winter, 1.26 million people remain in dire need of some form of winterisation assistance, such as warm clothes, shoes, health services, and food.


How Millennials are reshaping charity and online giving

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Millennials are spending — and giving away their cash — a lot differently than previous generations, and that’s changing the game for giving, and for the charities that depend on it.

Scott Harrison’s group, Charity: Water, is a prime example. Harrison volunteered to spend two years in West Africa. What he found when he first got to Liberia was a drinking water crisis. He watched 7-year-olds drink regularly from chocolate-colored swamps — water, he says, that he wouldn’t let his dog drink.

He got inspired to start raising money for clean water when he returned to the states, but his friends were wary. “They all said, ‘I don’t trust charities. I don’t give. I believe these charities are just these black holes. I don’t even know how much money would actually go to the people who I’m trying to help,’ ” Harrison recalls.

So his one cause became two: He started Charity: Water to dig wells to bring clean drinking water to the nearly 800 million people without access to it around the globe. But he also wanted to set an example with the way the organization did its work.

“We’re also really trying to reinvent charity, reinvent the way people think about giving, the way that they give,” he says.

Demographic change is a huge reason for rethinking this. With around 80 million millennials coming of age, knowing how they spend their cash on causes is going to be critical for nonprofits. And their spending patterns aren’t the same as their parents.

[Read full NPR article

Flying into the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic

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On the flight from Brussels to Monrovia (Liberia), it literally was a “plane full of good Samaritans.” Almost everyone on board was going to help with the Ebola epidemic.

There were dozens of U.S. military personnel, a bunch of medical teams from NGOs and a few guys wearing hats that had “public health” written on them.

The two men sitting next to me were U.S. Army engineers coming to build an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia. One of the guys said he was happy to finally be using his engineering skills to build something instead of just searching for bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The three women sitting behind me on the plane were health workers coming to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. They had taken time off from their jobs for the trip and had just spent four days learning to treat Ebola patients at a mock Ebola treatment center in Brussels.

With the third Ebola case reported in the U.S. last week, we’ve been hearing so much about shutting down commercial flights to and from West Africa. Sitting on the plane to Monrovia, I was struck by how essential these flights are to stopping the epidemic and getting help to millions of people.