Monthly Archives: November 2014

Nigerian refugee camps struggle with aid for the displaced

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More than 1.5 million Nigerians displaced by the militant group Boko Haram are flocking to relief centers across the country’s northeast, where they are met with overcrowded facilities and a shortage of supplies.

Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency continues to leave a trail of despair and desperation.

Nearly 10,000 people now stay in the Damare camp in Adamawa where there are not enough toilets and a persistent health threat looms.

Open defecation and unclean hands are issues that aid workers like Fidelia Joseph deal with regularly. “It is always a tug of war to tell the women to sweep the environment or to throw refuse and other garbage where they rightly belong to and if you insist that the right thing must be done, people will take offense,” Joseph said.

The increasing influx of displaced people worsens an already fragile situation. A glimpse from the entrance of Damare camp reveals gloomy faces, maimed fathers and tired mothers.

Towns that have been hit repeatedly by the Islamic insurgents, like Michika, and Chibok, where Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in April and struck again in November, can hardly provide secure shelter for residents. And more people may be coming.


UN says over 12 million Syrians in need of humanitarian help

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An estimated 12.2 million Syrians need assistance because of increasing violence and deteriorating conditions in the country, up from 10.8 million in July, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Tuesday.

Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council that the delivery of aid from Turkey and Jordan to rebel-held areas in Syria without government approval has “made a difference,”  and she urged the council to extend the authorization for cross-border aid which expires on Jan. 9.

Amos painted a grim picture of the worsening situation in Syria: a 40 percent contraction in the economy since 2011, three-quarters of the population living in poverty, a 50 percent drop in school attendance, and 7.6 million people displaced inside the country and 3.2 million who have fled to other countries, the largest displacement in any conflict.


Auditor General reviews Canada’s humanitarian aid

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Canada’s humanitarian response to international disasters has drawn mixed marks from the federal auditor general.

In a report released Tuesday, Canada’s Auditor General Michael Ferguson stated that it’s not often clear how the foreign affairs department decides what to spend on the projects. Moreover, while the department is able to respond quickly in times of disaster, its response times can vary significantly.

“Longer response times increase the risk that assistance to affected populations will be delayed, but the Department does not measure the overall timeliness of its own processes,” concluded Ferguson.

Ferguson wrote that the international community is routinely called upon “to save lives, alleviate suffering, and protect human dignity” in times of crisis. “Millions of people around the world affected by humanitarian crises rely on assistance from the international community, including Canada, when their governments lack the capacity or will to respond.”

He said the department should “reflect” on the delays already experienced to help mitigate “risks” for future spending and “help ensure short-term objectives are achievable.”

He wrote that the Canadian government has spent an average of $567 million annually over the past five years on aid, and that humanitarian need always exceeds resources. “It is therefore important that limited resources be allocated in a timely manner to where they are needed most, and that there is accountability for how they are used.”

[Ottawa Citizen]

Humanitarian news service IRIN

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The humanitarian news service IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks), after nearly 20 years as part of the United Nations, announced that it will spin off to become an independent, non-profit media venture, with the support of a major private donor.

IRIN is an important resource for humanitarian workers around the world,” said Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, adding that “this is the right time for the service to branch out.

She welcomed the generous commitment from Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation “which has helped to secure its future as an independent news service.”

The new headquarters will be based in Switzerland, with support from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group.

“IRIN’s transition presents a great opportunity for growth and revitalization,” said Jho Low, Director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation, adding that “IRIN has done fantastic work for nearly 20 years. It’s time to give it the place on the world stage that it deserves. I believe in the vision and am excited by the potential.”

IRIN covers parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. It started distributing humanitarian news about Central Africa by fax from a small office in Nairobi in 1995. Its readership includes UN decision-makers, donor governments, academics, media and aid workers in the field. Its work is syndicated, republished and cited by news outlets and journals from around the world.

[UN News Centre]

What does it mean to have a toilet?

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What does it mean to have a toilet? We in the West don’t spend much time pondering that question.

Geeta has no toilet near her home in northern India; she treks 2 miles in the dark to a field for privacy. If Vanessa’s school had private bathrooms, the 17-year-old wouldn’t have to miss class when she’s having her period.

In Ecuador, Reverside, 37, wouldn’t have to visit her brother’s house to use his toilet, which is shared by nine other people from different families.

These are some of the stories told (and shown) in a new exhibit called My Toilet: Global Stories from Women and Girls, put together by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), a London-based nonprofit and the Panos Pictures photo agency to mark World Toilet Day. The six-day-long exhibit, which opened Monday at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery in London, features images from 20 countries — Brazil to Kenya to the U.S. Each subject poses next to what she uses as a toilet and tells her story of why a latrine matters.

Among the 2.5 billion people without access to a clean and proper toilet — more than a billion of whom defecate out in the open — “women and girls are hit hardest,” Sam Drabble of WSUP says. That’s often the case in lower-income countries throughout South and Southeast Asia as well as sub-Saharan Africa.

A toilet may simply be a hole in the ground or a space in an open field. In some parts of South Asia, “hanging toilets” — bamboo huts with a hole cut out in the floor, suspended 3 feet above a pond — are common.


A Tribute to Peter Kassig a believer in ‘hopeless’ humanitarian causes

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Peter Kassig, 26, was a man known for his relentless commitment to improving the lives of other people, determined to provide as much care to the afflicted as possible – not so surprising for a man with a pastor grandfather who used the pulpit to promote a better understanding of the Middle East and parents committed to the education and health of their community.

A video posted by Islamic State (Isis) on Sunday purported to show he had been beheaded, just over a year the militant group kidnapped him in Syria in October 2013.

From 2011 to 2013, he attended Butler University in his native Indianapolis, Indiana. While at Butler, he visited Beirut where he was “consumed” by the Syrian conflict and the immense humanitarian crisis it bred.

Having already provided medical care to refugees in Lebanon, Kassig founded the humanitarian group Sera (Special Emergency Response and Assistance) at the age of 24. The small operation provides medical training, supplies and treatment in areas too difficult for other humanitarian organizations to effectively operate, including parts of Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

In article after article, Kassig’s friends and acquaintances praised his genuine and truly altruistic commitment to helping afflicted communities.

In June 2012, CNN profiled Kassig while he was providing medical care in Lebanon, primarily to Syrian refugees.

“We each get one life and that’s it. We get one shot at this and we don’t get any do-overs, and for me, it was time to put up or shut up,” he said. “The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.”

[Read full article in The Guardian]


Doors closing for Syrians seeking refuge abroad

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Syria’s neighbors Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq are cutting back sharply on the number of Syrians they allow onto their soil as they can no longer cope with the influx of refugees, reports two prominent humanitarian agencies,  the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have taken in more than three million Syrian since the conflict began in 2011, while countries outside the region have agreed to accept around 50,000, or less than 2 percent of the total refugee population.

“What we are witnessing now are the results of our failure to deliver the necessary support to the region. We are witnessing a total collapse of international solidarity with millions of Syrian civilians,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In October, Lebanon, which has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world at one in four residents, said it could not cope with more than one million Syrians and has asked for funds to help look after them.

NGOs called on countries outside the region to provide financial support to Syria’s neighbors and take in at least five percent of the total Syrian refugee population

How the world will look if Ebola goes global

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The Ebola epidemic is still roaring in three countries; two others have contained the disease, but it has now leaked to a sixth, Mali. The case count is 10,141, with 4,922 deaths.

I wanted to be sure I wasn’t over-imagining what might happen next with Ebola, if it is not contained at its source now. For a fact-check, I turned to Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman, two risk-communication experts who have been involved in most of the big epidemic threats of the past decades. I hoped they would tell me not to be too worried about Ebola becoming a permanent threat in West Africa.

Instead, they told me to be very worried indeed. Lanard and Sandman wrote an entire essay, stating in brief:

  • They address how unlikely it is that Ebola will be contained using the current level of aid and personnel. Here. they say, is what would have to happen for the disease to be stopped:
  • The people of West Africa and the governments of West Africa rise to the occasion, radically altering deeply embedded cultural practices, from political corruption to the way they bury their dead.
  • The world’s nations fill that gap, providing enough money, supplies, and people to outrace the epidemic.
  • Treatment, isolation, contact tracing, and contact monitoring reach the percentage of cases needed to “break the epidemic curve.”…
  • A spectacularly successful vaccine is quickly discovered, tested, mass-produced, and mass-distributed.

 [Read full article

Facebook and Google raise Ebola Relief

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Both Facebook and Google have launched Ebola relief fund-raising campaigns in the past week, calling on their users to donate money to the cause.

And the founder of Facebook is setting a high bar. Before the Facebook button debuted, Mark Zuckerberg donated $25 million of his own money to the relief effort. In a video on his Facebook page he said: “I’m optimistic that together, the Facebook community can help stop Ebola.”

Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles shares his optimism. Her organization has built Ebola treatment units in Liberia and Sierra Leone and is now setting up systems to support children orphaned by the disease. When Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, reached out to Save the Children about a possible collaboration, Miles jumped at the chance.

“The tremendous reach that Facebook has, and the voice that they have, gives us a chance to reach a much bigger audience,” says Miles. “A lot of countries, like the U.S., are just focused on what’s happening here about Ebola. Facebook wants to help us direct the focus back to West Africa.”


The humanitarian issue of Palestine

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[Excerpts of article by Syed Rizvi, writing in The Daily Texan]

This past Friday, the United Muslim Relief chapter at the University of Texas at Austin hosted its second annual “Let Palestine Shine” event, an apolitical charity dinner that provides direct relief to Palestinians in the form of sustenance, shelter, healthcare and education.

The Palestinian cause has been cast as anti-Semitic, anti-American, and, God forbid, pro-Islam. However, this should not the case. Palestine is a humanitarian cause, and events such as “Let Palestine Shine” should be able to bring people of diverse faiths and backgrounds together.

For this humanitarian claim to make sense, it has to be made clear that the fight over Palestine is not a religious conflict. Religion does play a factor in the conflict, but in the same way that religion plays a role in your everyday life. Religion is a moral driving force for many Palestinian-Muslims, as I am sure it is for Palestinian-Christians. The people of Palestine, which the United Nations recognizes as a state, are struggling for their basic rights every day. The region’s religious affiliations is irrelevant to the fact that we face a tragedy in Palestine.

The Palestinian conflict is political in part. However, as Americans, we should not forget the human element. The oppression and injustice against Palestinians violates the human conscious. There is a prevailing idea among Americans that the loss of Palestinians is a necessary evil and collateral damage that is executed by Israel for security reasons. This argument is dispelled by Israel’s disproportionate aggression, economic oppression, and invasive and illegal settlements, all of which independently go beyond sensible security measures.

Since Sept. 29, 2000, 132 Israeli children have been killed and 2,053 Palestinian children. In total, 1,185 Israelis have been killed and 9,100 Palestinians. The suffering of the Palestinian people extends beyond the graveyard. Israel has 5,271 Palestinian political prisoners detained while Palestine has 0.

Since 1967, 28,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed, and the state has an unemployment rate of around 25 percent.

[The Daily Texan]