Monthly Archives: June 2016

Addressing the multibillion food waste problem

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American businesses could save nearly $2bn a year by cutting the amount of half-eaten entrees, unsold milk and other foods that get tossed into trash bins across the US by 20% over the next decade, according to a new report. The report, Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste, lays out strategies that companies, along with governments, consumers and foundations, can implement to reduce the amount of discarded food in the country.

The report claims that strategies in the report, if implemented, would create 15,000 more jobs and provide 1.8bn meals of recovered food donations to nonprofits a year–double the current amount–as well as save 1.6tn gallons of fresh water, and cut carbon emissions by 18m tons per year.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that cutting waste by just 15% would provide enough food for more than 25 million people each year.

Every year, the US spends $218bn growing and selling food that gets uneaten and tossed away. That food waste amounts to 63 million tons per year and could serve 1.8 billion meals if it were donated to nonprofits.

The US isn’t alone in trying to eliminate the streams of throwaway food.

The European Commission is considering proposals to slash the 100 million tons of food waste generated annually in the European Union.

 [The Guardian]

US, UK, China, France and Russia called out for not attending UN Humanitarian Summit

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Irish President Michael D Higgins has hit out at the leaders of the UK, US, China, France and Russia for not attending a United Nations humanitarian summit.

In an address on the migrant and refugee crisis, Mr Higgins warned some countries are not living up to their pledges for aid and funding for war-ravaged regions such as Syria. But he singled out the five countries who have permanent positions on the UN Security Council, for not attending a conference in Istanbul last month organized by secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“When one considers the wider context of the stalled peace process in Syria, and the daunting challenges of resolving conflicts, restricting the flow of arms to war zones, and building peace in the long term, the absence of senior leaders from any of the permanent members of the Security Council was more than disappointing,” he said.

“The responsibility of the prosperous – especially those who have historically prospered through colonialism and domination – cannot be traded away,” he said.

Mr Higgins added: “We are at a critical moment in our history. The refugee and migration crisis is great in scale and is likely to remain at the center of the EU and international agenda for several decades to come.

[Belfast Telegraph]

Refugee statistics

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Nearly 60 million people around the globe are displaced from their homes due to war, conflict, and persecution.

That’s the highest number ever on record– one in every 122 humans on this planet.

And the responsibility of sheltering refugees disproportionately falls upon poor countries. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that 86% of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon.

Lebanon alone is single-handedly hosting around the same number of refugees who took shelter in all of Europe in 2015.

It is a complex and difficult situation: refugees arrive in countries already stricken by economic challenges, and the systems in place to process and integrate them are not equipped to handle so many people. There are legitimate security and integration challenges host countries must grapple with to ensure safe resettlement. And the resettlement process is made more complicated by widespread misinformation, racism, and apathy.

I have followed the “refugee crisis” in Europe from my safe and distant harbor in Los Angeles for the past year. I’ve wondered about the humans behind the numbers, the circumstances that lead them to leave behind home and kin, and what life is like in the camps. It was with these questions in mind that I decided to volunteer at two refugee camps in Europe. Read more

Refugees up close and personal

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I spent my first stint at Ritsona, a camp about two hours north of Athens. Nearly 900 people live there–about two thirds are Syrian, others are from Iraq and Afghanistan, others are stateless: Palestinian, Kurdish, and Yazidi. The old military base  has no running water or electricity, and residents live in tents with no flooring. Many have built stoves out of mud and dirt and tapped into a nearby power line to charge their phones. Volunteers from several non-profits distribute meals, clothing, and medical attention.

I went to help serve meals. The lead volunteer explained how meals work: Residents are given food and water according to their family size, which is noted on their meal card. Adults get a meal, bread, and plastic ware. Children get all that plus juice. If they ask for water, they get one bottle per family member. … It seemed simple enough.  I went to work, taking cards and distributing meals.

Midway into my shift, a woman with gentle eyes and a warm smile handed me her card. It read: 2 adults, 3 children. I did the calculation: 5 meals, 5 breads, 3 juices. I placed all the items in a bag and handed it back to her. She took it from me, then pointed at the bottles of water behind me.

“You want water?” She nodded her head. “Okay, one sec.” I told the volunteer hunched over the distribution papers the woman’s tent number. She traced her finger down the paper and found the correct tent.  “You’ve already gotten your water. I can’t give you anymore.” Another volunteer said something in Arabic to the woman, and then turned back to us. “She said she used the water to cook. She says she needs another bottle for her children to drink.” The lead volunteer glanced back at the dwindling piles of water bottles behind us. “I’m sorry. She’s had her water for the day.”

Yesterday, I arrived home to a spacious apartment in Venice Beach and watched Game of Thrones until I fell asleep. This morning, my young friends in Ritsona awoke on her palette in a dusty tent with no clear path to a safe and permanent home.

It was not until last night that I finally cried. I cried for the Syrian woman who watched her sister drown when their boat overturned on the way to Greece. I cried for the Palestinian man I met–just a few years younger than me–who had lived his entire life in refugee camps. I cried for the little girl who pressed her heart against mine, and the charismatic boy with the posh haircut. I cried because their situation is incomprehensible.

[Huffington Post]

UN hesitates on delivering humanitarian aid by air to Syrians

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The United Nations said it is focusing on delivery of humanitarian aid by road to millions of Syrians in need of help in the war-torn country despite an earlier announcement that it would formally ask Damascus to allow more costly and difficult air drops to besieged areas.

The U.N. had requested access to 34 locations to help 1.1 million people in June and Syria approved 23 requests in full and six partially, while rejecting five.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that the U.N. is now concentrating on continuing land-based deliveries rather than parachuting pallets of supplies to the needy or sending aid by helicopter.

“At this point the focus is on land deliveries,” he said, noting that safety and logistical issues make air drops less than optimal.

The 5-year-old civil war in Syria has killed some 250,000 people, displaced millions and left vast swaths of the country in ruins, enabling the Islamic State extremist group to take control of large areas of the country. A Russia- and U.S.-brokered truce began on Feb. 27, but fighting has continued in many areas.

[Associated Press]

World Humanitarian Summit kicks can down the road

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From an Opinion by Christina Bennett, research fellow with the Overseas Development Institute:

When the World Humanitarian Summit came to a close in Istanbul, a lot of people (myself included) felt conflicted. Was the all the expense, energy and intellect invested really worth it?  Were the interests of people in crisis served?

As expected, the Summit failed to secure a top line-up. The meeting failed to bring in political heavyweights. Angela Merkel was a stand-out presence but even the normally sanguine Ban Ki-moon expressed public disappointment that other G7 leaders were absent.

The meeting did deliver a Grand Bargain agreement on humanitarian financing. And its 10-point plan includes some important commitments including greater transparency, the increased use of cash instead of material assistance and making it easier to fund local responders. These are important steps in the right direction.

However, the woolly and qualified diplomatic language (‘The aim is to aspire to achieve…’) makes it unconvincing as a blueprint for reform. … We are no closer to ending the world’s most devastating conflicts than before the Summit began. So, as far as Summits go, the outcomes on the official front were underwhelming.

The Summit showcased the humanitarian system’s heightened focus on capturing the capacity and ingenuity of people and organizations beyond the old guard. It mobilized individuals and organizations – many of whom operate on the fringes – to take matters into their own hands and begin making the changes that have eluded the more established humanitarian sector.

But the Summit was long on rhetoric and short on action. Unfortunately, on the issues that matter most to refugees, the Summit only kicked the can down the road. Let’s hope it’s a new road.

The lost generation: Children in conflict zones

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A catastrophic by-product of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East is a lost generation of unschooled children. These children find themselves, through no fault of their own, not only displaced but lacking the opportunity for proper schooling and thus, denied a chance to learn and develop the necessary skills to become fully functional members of society. This lost generation is the tragedy of our time.

According to a 2015 report by UNICEF, conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region has driven 13 million children out of schools.

Unschooled children are not only a moral challenge, but also one that has negative short-term and long-term consequences both for the refugees, but also for their societies.

Besides providing an education, schools serve an important function by socializing children. In addition, children in conflict zones face severe trauma through the loss of family members to violence.

The lack of education, coupled with a sense of despair and hopelessness creates the perfect conditions for the radicalization of refugee children.  Children tired of working long hours in sweatshops for little pay tend to find the offer to fight at a salary of $400 a month particularly enticing.

Jordan and Turkey have absorbed an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 children respectively in their schooling system, which has put an incredible strain on their existing educational infrastructure.

[Al Jazeera]