Monthly Archives: February 2018

Monsoon season could wreak havoc in Bangladesh refugee camps

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Since August 25, 2017, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled targeted violence and persecution in Myanmar to take refuge in makeshift shelters in camps in Bangladesh. The refugees ended up in densely crowded and overpopulated makeshift settlements in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar. Their shelters are mostly made of plastic and bamboo, packed closely together and with inadequate water and sanitation conditions.

All factors combined—the sheer size of the population, the densely crowded conditions, the inadequate shelter, and the apparently very low immunization status—create a perfect storm for the public health situation.

Something I am concerned about is fresh emergencies within the current emergency. For example, the upcoming rainy season, with the monsoon and tropical storms in an area that is prone to heavy cyclones, presents an obvious greater potential for waterborne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea, which is a significant concern.

Furthermore, there are very few settlements that can be accessed by vehicle—a lot of them still can only be reached on foot.

[Doctors Without Borders]

Drought-driven wildfires on rise in Amazon basin

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Intensifying droughts in the Amazon basin are now a primary determinant of increases in forest fires, a reality that will hinder Brazil’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions solely by limiting deforestation, according to a new study. Highlights:

  • Despite a 76 percent decline in deforestation rates between 2003 and 2015, the incidence of forest fires is increasing in Brazil, with new research linking the rise in fires not only to deforestation, but also to severe droughts.
  • El Niño, combined with other oceanic and atmospheric cycles, produced an unusually severe drought in 2015, a year that saw a 36 percent increase in Amazon basin forest fires, which also raised carbon emissions.
  • Severe droughts are expected to become more common in the Brazilian Amazon as natural oceanic cycles are made more extreme by human-induced climate change.
  • In this new climate paradigm, limiting deforestation alone will not be sufficient to reduce fires and curb carbon emissions, scientists say. The maintenance of healthy, intact, unfragmented forests is vital to providing resilience against further increases in Amazon fires.

[Nature Communications]

Violence leaves at least 200 dead in Syria

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It’s hard to believe that in a brutal civil war that’s lasted seven years, some of the worst acts of violence in Syria have come in the last 48 hours. At least 200 civilians have been killed in government shelling and airstrikes.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, is trying to bury the opposition on the outskirts of Damascus. After one airstrike, residents scrambled to find survivors and protect themselves from the next one. Even by the standards of the Syrian war, activists describe what’s happened in the past 48 hours in the rebel-held enclave of Ghouta near the capital as a bloodbath.

White-shrouded bodies lined the hospital floors, many of them children. Ghouta has been under siege for more than five years. Pro-government forces are reportedly preparing a new ground assault that will crush the rebels once and for all. All residents can do is brace for the onslaught.


The impact of climate change

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Of the top ten costliest hurricanes of all time in the U.S., nine have been since 2004. And half have been in the past five years.

In the past three years, the city of Houston alone has endured three so-called 500-year floods.

While there’s much we don’t know about climate change, here are three things we know for certain:

  1. Climate change increased the intensity and likelihood of storms – 2017 was a devastating year of natural disasters, by any measure, from wildfires in several western states to intense heatwaves in the Southwest to Harvey, followed closely by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

A recent study by hurricane experts in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences found that Harvey’s unprecedented 51 inches of rainfall in the Houston area, as well as wind speeds in other parts of the state, were three times more likely and 15 percent more intense than without climate change. The study even called the rainfall “biblical” – as in, it has likely occurred only once since the time the Old Testament was written.

In Texas now, the odds of another Harvey-like rainfall could be nearly 1 in 5 per year by 2100 – put another way, rain of this magnitude could hit the state 18 times more often by the end of the century. Storms that have more than 20 inches of rain in Texas are about six times more likely now than they were at the end of the 20th century, just 18 years ago.

Climate change did not cause Hurricane Harvey, but it certainly made its impact much worse. Like an athlete on steroids, climate change enhances the performance of an already powerful force.

  1. The costs are and will continue to be enormous – If we do not act to mitigate further damage, while adapting our infrastructure and our systems to the reality of climate change, we will face dire financial consequences that may prove impossible to work around.
  1. The impact on people is much deeper than numbers and dollars – Climate change isn’t just about studies and storm patterns, it means people are devastated.

After Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, “Three 500-year floods in three years means either we’re free and clear for the next 1,500 years or something has seriously changed.”

Unfortunately, the reality is the latter.

[Environmental Defense Fund]

Getting Lebanon’s water flowing

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The Syrian conflict has displaced at least 1.5 million people to Lebanon, putting pressure on water services and resources. Humanitarian agencies and the national government have drawn on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators to gather new data on access to water and water quality, to be able to respond more effectively to the water crisis.

UN-Habitat estimates that demand on water services has increased by 30 per cent since the crisis began. 3.7 million people – both Lebanese and Syrian are in need of water. The water crisis affecting Lebanon predates the arrival of the Syrian refugees. Decades of civil unrest and under-investment, followed by episodes of conflict driven by regional and sectarian tensions, have splintered towns and cities, damaging the country’s existing water infrastructure that delivers water to towns, cities and households.

Although Lebanon is rich in water compared to Jordan, Israel and Syria, the amount of renewable water in the region has dropped from 1,000 cubic metres a year per person – considered the threshold of water poverty – to around 700m3 per person since the refugees arrived.

Humanitarian agencies, national government and water utilities have been working to respond to the infrastructural and water resource challenges that underpin the crisis. UNICEF has been working with the MoEW to collect and support data collection on access to water linked to the new SDG indicator on quality.

[International Institute for Environment and Development]

Somalia ‘not out of the woods yet’ on drought relief efforts

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Despite Somalia experiencing over five failed rain cycles, drought-related famine was averted through the efforts of Somalis and their international partners.

The top United Nations humanitarian official in Somalia has commended the drought relief and recovery efforts of the authorities in the northern state of Puntland, while cautioning that the current humanitarian crisis is far from over.

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, said “We are not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.”

There are still 5.4 million people in Somalia needing life-saving humanitarian assistance. Work is being done in all regions to build and sustain resilience in all communities.

[UN News]

Yemen: The world’s worst humanitarian crisis enters another year

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Four years after the Houthi takeover of the capital Sana’a and the beginning of the Saudi-led military intervention, there is little to suggest that Yemen will find peace in the near future.

As of January 2018, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, causing widespread devastation to the country’s civilian and public infrastructure, including hospitals, airports, roads, houses and factories.

With more than 8 million people ‘a step away from famine’ (Al Jazeera, 10 December 2017) and a major cholera outbreak that has killed 2,000 people and infected almost 1 million (World Health Organization, 11 December 2017), Yemen has descended into what has been described as the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’.

The ongoing civil war in Yemen is the result of several local and national power struggles, aggravated by a regional proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


Gender equality and women’s empowerment unmet development targets

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Without speedy progress on gender equality and real action to end pervasive discrimination against women and girls, the global community will not be able to keep the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ on the road to ending poverty, protecting the planet and advancing prosperity by 2030, according to a new United Nations report launched on Wednesday.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women said: “As a world, we committed through the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] to leave no one behind,” but the report reveals many areas where progress remains slow to achieve the Goals by 2030. Even where progress is made, it may not reach the women and girls who need it most and the ones that are being left furthest behind.”

The report points out that a girl born into poverty and forced into early marriage is more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer childbirth complications and experience violence – a scenario that encompasses all the SDGs. Moreover, new data in 89 countries reveals that there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than $1.90 a day – much of which is explained by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work women face, especially during their reproductive years.

“It’s a problem in all countries, developed, developing, north, south, east west,” Shahrashoub Razavi, UN Women’s Chief of Research and Data, told UN News. “We have a long way to go to achieve gender equality universally,” she added, calling it “a problem that stymies the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

[UN News]

Bill and Melinda Gates accomplishments from giving away over 40 billion dollars

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It’s been 18 years since Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they intended to give away their fortune—now an estimated $91 billion—to better the planet, along with the lives of its most vulnerable inhabitants. Since then, they’ve hired over 1,400 employees and spent $40.3 billion to tackle some of the hardest-to-solve problems—like healthcare, poverty and education—in both developing countries and here at home.

“The human condition, by all key measures, has improved dramatically,” says Bill. “People are living longer and less children are dying; the death rate for children under five has been cut in half over the last 15 years.” Adds Melinda: “Last week I was in West Africa and Kenya. The amount of entrepreneurism and people lifting themselves up is palpable. The world is changing for the better and we want people to know that.”

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Bill: Global health is our biggest area, and it’s going well. With any luck we’ll have the last polio case this year.
Melinda: There are literally millions of children alive because of the vaccines that we’ve been involved with.
Bill: And there are things that are much longer term, like getting an HIV vaccine done, which unfortunately will probably take another decade. Eradicating malaria will probably be a 20-year quest.

Q: You often bring your kids on your humanitarian trips to the Third World. What have they learned?
Melinda: All three of our kids have spent a lot of time in the developing world, not just on nice safaris but sometimes living with these families. So it’s become central to our lives and, I’d say, has changed us all for the better. I think it will probably affect the path they’re each on in life. It certainly grounds us in what’s important.


Deterring emigration with Foreign Aid

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As waves of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and the US Southwest border, development agencies have received a de facto mandate: to deter migration from poor countries. The European Union, for example, has pledged €3 billion in development assistance to address the “root causes” of migration from Africa. The United States has made deterring migration a centerpiece of its development assistance to Central America.

Will it work? Development aid can only deter migration if it causes specific large changes in the countries migrants come from, and those changes must cause fewer people to move.

Evidence suggests that greater youth employment may deter migration in the short term for countries that remain poor. But such deterrence is overwhelmed when sustained overall development shapes income, education, aspirations, and demographic structure in ways that encourage emigration.

Emigration tends to slow and then fall as countries develop past middle-income. But most of today’s low-income countries will not approach that point for several decades at any plausible rate of growth. Because successful development goes hand in hand with greater migration, aid agencies seeking to affect migration must move beyond deterrence.

[Center for Global Development study]