Monthly Archives: April 2015

Amongst the challenges of aid workers

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Unni Krishnan spent hours on the tarmac in Delhi Sunday afternoon before he learned his flight would be cancelled because of a massive aftershock in Kathmandu. While the 49-year-old Canadian aid worker managed to catch a different flight to the earthquake-shattered capital of Nepal the following morning, several of his colleagues remain stranded at airports, waiting for a seat on a flight they hoped would be able to land.

One colleague’s plane touched down twice in Kathmandu before taking off again. “They need to find a balancing act between materials and people, because both are needed for the circumstances,” said Mr. Krishnan, who is Plan International’s head of disaster response and preparedness.

That backlog at the airport is one of many challenges for aid workers who are struggling to reach those most in need of help after a devastating earthquake shook the South Asian country on Saturday, killing more than 5,000 people. People in Nepal described chaotic scenes on Monday as thousands fled the capital and officials struggled to move supplies from the country’s main airport to those left homeless by the earthquake.

Ottawa has promised $5-million in aid to Nepal and says it will match donations from individual Canadians over a one-month period. The federal government also sent an assessment group from the military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, along with a search-and-rescue team and medical personnel. And Canadian aid agencies are moving into action, sending humanitarian workers and supplies to the damaged country of 31 million.

Francois Audet, a professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal who has studied the international response to humanitarian disasters, said co-ordination among agencies and with local officials is always a challenge after a major event such as an earthquake. Those challenges can be amplified, he said, if aid organizations begin competing for donations and facing pressures to demonstrate that they are achieving results.

Stephen Cornish, executive director for Médecins sans frontières Canada (MSF), said some of the biggest challenges in co-ordinating aid typically arise in the weeks after a disaster occurs. That’s because the organizations that arrive first – and those already working in a country – are more experienced at working with others and tend to have better local contacts.

Several Canadian aid agencies said the situation has improved since the introduction of the “cluster” system after the 2004 tsunamis. That system groups aid organizations into specific “clusters” of humanitarian aid – such as shelter and health – to ensure that the assistance being provided is reaching those who need it, and different groups’ efforts aren’t overlapping.

[The Globe and Mail]

Nepal death toll over 5200, with monsoons approaching

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The death toll from the devastating Nepali quake has risen to over 5200, and the United Nations said it has affected 8 million people across 39 districts, with a quarter of those in the worst affected areas. Some 70,000 houses were destroyed and another 530,000 homes damaged across the quake-affected districts.

Half a million tents are urgently needed for the huge number of people forced from their homes, a government minister said Wednesday, as rescue efforts continue in the stricken nation. The Nepali government has so far provided more than 4,700 tents and 22,000 tarpaulins to those in need of shelter. Aircraft loaded with tents are expected from India and Thailand in the next day, with a further 100,000 tents expected from Pakistan.

Heavy rain has intensified the hardships for the countless Nepalis who are sleeping out in the open because their homes were destroyed or they don’t feel safe inside buildings amid continuing aftershocks.

“We are staring down the barrel of the approaching monsoon across the subcontinent, and here in Nepal that typically lasts from May through to September,” Matt Darvas, an emergency communications officer for the humanitarian group World Vision, said. That can generally mean “heavy downpours every day — and extreme heat,” he added.

The US Geological Survey (USGS), which monitors earthquakes worldwide, reported that the Nepal earthquake measured at a magnitude of 7.8. However, the China Earthquakes Network Center (CENC), which hopes to provide a similar service, measured the same earthquake at a magnitude of 8.1.

A difference of 0.3 in the magnitude of the seismic activity may not seem like much, but the apparently small differences in magnitudes of earthquakes reported by different agencies around the world are, in real-life, huge. Because if we are to believe the Chinese data, the Nepal earthquake may have been twice in size than if we believe the US data.

Nepal quake death toll tops 4000

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As the death toll from Nepal’s devastating earthquake climbed past 4,000, aid workers and officials in remote, shattered villages near the epicenter pleaded Monday for food, shelter and medicine. The small airport in the capital of Kathmandu was congested and chaotic, with some flights forced to turn back early in the day.

Buildings in parts of the city were reduced to rubble, and there were shortages of food, fuel, electricity and shelter. As bodies were recovered, relatives cremated the dead along the Bagmati River, and at least a dozen pyres burned late into the night.

Conditions were far worse in the countryside, with rescue workers still struggling to reach mountain villages two days after the earthquake. Some roads and trails to the Gorkha district, where the quake was centered, were blocked by landslides — but also by traffic jams that regularly clog the route north of Kathmandu.

“There are people who are not getting food and shelter. I’ve had reports of villages where 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed,” said Udav Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the Gorkha region.

World Vision aid worker Matt Darvas cited a “disturbing” report from the village of Singla, where up to 75 percent of the buildings may have collapsed and there has been no contact since Saturday night.

Jagdish Pokhrel, a clearly exhausted army spokesman, said nearly the entire 100,000-soldier army was involved in rescue operations. Rescue workers and medical teams from at least a dozen countries were helping police and army troops in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.

Nepal’s Home Ministry said the country’s death toll had risen to 4,010. Another 61 were killed in neighboring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet. At least 7,180 people were injured in the quake, police said. Tens of thousands are estimated to be left homeless.

The quake was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 80 years. It was felt across parts of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet, and Pakistan.

[Yahoo News]

Minimum of 2500 deaths from Nepal earthquake

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After a 7.9 earthquake that struck near Kathmandu, Nepal authorities said Sunday that at least 2,430 people in that country had died in Nepal alone, not including the 18 people that the Nepal Mountaineering Association says died in an earthquake-triggered avalanche on Mount Everest, plus another 61 people in India and a few in other neighboring countries.

Canadian foreign aid to remain at 2003 levels?

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In the 528-page Canadian federal budget released Tuesday, there was one notable absence: any figure for foreign aid.

Aid groups can only hope that the foreign aid budget will remain flat. “We’re assuming that it’s currently frozen,” said Fraser Reilly-King, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. “It could be frozen, or it could continue to decline.”

Since 2011, Canada’s aid spending has dropped by $660 million — almost $200 million more than the 2012 budget projected, according to the CCIC.

The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calculates the foreign aid spending by 29 wealthy nations and reported earlier this year that Canada’s aid budget as a proportion of its Gross National Income has dropped to 0.24 per cent. Only three years ago, it was 0.34 per cent of GNI — a drop of almost a third.

The last time Canada’s aid spending was this low was back in 2003, just after the Millenium Development Goals were adopted.

[Toronto Star]

Hundreds feared dead as migrant boat capsizes in the Mediterranean

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An Italian patrol ship arrived in Malta on Monday with 24 bodies recovered out of hundreds feared drowned after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean. The boat was about 120 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, roughly 60 miles from Libya, when it capsized. The migrant passengers are often from a range of North African countries where war and strife rage.

The death toll from Sunday’s shipwreck off the coast of Libya is one of the highest yet. Officials said there had been at least 700 people on board, some reportedly locked in the hold. Estimates of the number of people who were on the 65-foot craft range from 700 to 950. 

NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports: “One survivor says there were 950 people on board, many locked in the hold by the human traffickers before departure.”

Another boat carrying migrants ran aground off the Greek island of Rhodes, with authorities saying that at least three people had died.

The European Union is holding an emergency meeting in Luxembourg as some 1,500 migrants are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year; more than 10,000 have been rescued.


Where Australian charities will be forced to cut programs

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Countries losing aid projects

Care Australia PNG, Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, West Bank (Palestinian Territories)
ActionAid Afghanistan, Uganda, Kenya
Oxfam Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Timor Leste, Vanuatu, Bangladesh, South Africa
World Vision Kenya, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, India, Laos, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Peru, West Bank (Palestinian Territories)
Plan International Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Uganda, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar
ChildFund PNG, Timor Leste, Laos and Sri Lanka

 [see following article for background]

Australian charities forced to scale back international programs after funding cuts

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Australia’s largest international charities are cancelling or scaling back critical programs in the world’s poorest countries ahead of next month’s budget.

“The whole of the aid sector is hanging on the edge, waiting nervously for the May budget when it will be revealed exactly which parts of the aid budget will be cut – a bit like a doomsday clock,” ActionAid Australia’s Holly Miller said. “It’s widely accepted that everything is on the table – nothing in the aid program is safe.”

ActionAid has slashed projects in Afghanistan, is likely to cut programs in Uganda and Kenya in the coming year, and will close entirely by 2016.

Care Australia says its very successful maternal and infant health project in Papua New Guinea, which reaches 22,000 people, is in the firing line. Other likely hits include programs in Cambodia and Malawi affecting more than 20,000 people. “We had long-term commitments from the Australian Government and we made commitments to communities in these poor countries,” Care Australia chief executive Dr Julia Newton-Howes said.

ChildFund Australia‘s Nigel Spence said it was hard to feel confident that there would not be further cuts given the broken promises that have already occurred. ChildFund scaled back 17 programs last year, predominantly in PNG and South-East Asia.

Oxfam Australia, which lost almost $1 million in government funding last year, was forced to cut back on projects in PNG and Indonesia.

[Australia Broadcasting Corporation]

UN seeks $274 million in Yemen humanitarian appeal

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The United Nations launched an appeal for almost $275m to aid 7.5 million people in Yemen over the next three months, as fighting intensifies in the south and air strikes continue in 18 of the country’s 22 provinces.

About 150,000 people have been displaced, 50 percent more than the previous UN estimate, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said on Friday, citing local sources.

The agency said health facilities had reported 767 deaths from March 19 to April 13, almost certainly an underestimate.

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes,” the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, said in a statement. “Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival.”

The fighting had destroyed, damaged or disrupted at least five hospitals, 15 schools, Yemen’s three main airports, two bridges, two factories and four mosques, as well as markets, power stations and water and sanitation facilities, OCHA said.

“Public water services covering 1 million people are at serious risk of collapse,” the UN appeal document said. “Hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties, including people who have been direct victims of violence and those suffering severe burns from explosions.”

[Al Jazeera]


International aid agencies call for sanctions on Israel over Gaza stalemate

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Dozens of aid agencies have called for international sanctions on Israel over its continued illegal blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip and the fact that six months after its deadly and devastating assault, there has been virtually no reconstruction in the territory.

The report, “Charting a New Course: Overcoming the stalemate in Gaza,” signed by 46 international nongovernmental organizations working in Palestine, says that Israel must lift the blockade and allow free movement between the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip or face punitive consequences.

It also names the deadbeat states – including Turkey, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – that have failed to deliver on the reconstruction aid they promised for Gaza.

The report’s signatories, including Oxfam, Save the Children, KinderUSA, Medical Aid for Palestinians, The Carter Center, Norwegian People’s Aid and Médecins du Monde Switzerland, also call for a suspension of arms transfers to Israel and revocation of arms export licenses.

“Operation Protective Edge – the codename used by Israel for the 51-day military operation and the associated conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups – has inflicted unprecedented destruction and human suffering in Gaza,” the report states. “Six months after the donor conference, little tangible change has taken place on the ground in Gaza and living conditions for women, girls, men and boys continues to worsen,” it adds.

More than 100,000 people whose homes Israel destroyed remain without permanent shelter.

[The Electronic Intifada]