Monthly Archives: August 2018

The future of humanitarian water provision is solar

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For World Water Week, Oxfam Engineering Adviser Brian McSorley reflects on the achievements of the Global Solar Water Initiative and the potential of solar water pumps to transform lives:

Solar power offers so many possibilities for development and humanitarian aid, from lighting, to internet connectivity and water provision. Why rely on diesel fuel -which is expensive, difficult to source in remote areas, to power a generator, which is a complex piece of mechanics, that frequently breaks down with skilled expertise and spare parts hard to find?

Less than six years ago (2012), Oxfam installed the first solar water pumping system in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. At the time Dadaab was already 20 years old and recognised as the largest refugee camp in the world with a population of nearly half a million people.

Since then, a two-person team has visited 55 camps and communities, conducted training workshops in eight countries and addressed technical queries from 80 organizations, across five continents.

By analyzing 140 different water schemes, we have found that switching to solar will pay for itself within four years, and in some circumstances, solar is cheaper than a diesel generator from day one.

Over the life time of these systems solar will be 40-90% cheaper.


Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, the 2nd deadliest US storm in over a century

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Puerto Rico’s new death toll of almost 3000 casualties from Hurricane Maria has made the storm one of the deadliest hurricanes in US history, killing more people than 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which numbered 1,833 people.

By comparison, the September 11 attacks killed 2,996 people.

Authorities yesterday officially raised the death toll from last year’s Hurricane Maria (September 20, 2017) to 2,975, which surpasses:
– Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which is responsible for 1,833 deaths, and
– the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane in Florida, which killed 2,500 people.
– the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest recorded hurricane in US history, with estimates of 6,000-12,000 people killed.

News organizations and some members of Congress have raised questions about the official death toll in Puerto Rico, which had remained at 64 for months.

CNN reporters surveyed about half of the funeral homes across the island and found that funeral home directors identified 499 deaths they considered to be hurricane-related. In December, The New York Times estimated 1,052 “excess deaths” occurred after Maria. The findings of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health are nearly triple most estimates of the hurricane’s death toll.

Democrats in the House, including some Hispanic Caucus members, have requested an investigation into the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. The Category 5 storm knocked out power on the island, leaving much of it without electricity for almost a year. Meanwhile, residents struggled to get medical care, repair their homes, or even find food and water. Thousands have since left for the mainland United States.


Sharing the humanitarian story with an external audience

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Humanitarian work is challenging, complicated, and complex — and capturing those complexities for an external audience is a challenge in itself. For humanitarian communicators, it’s an opportunity to reach donors, policymakers, and the media, and to give them a chance to engage.

More and more humanitarian organizations are pivoting to a focus on individual stories, relatable entry points and, in some cases, more unfiltered and raw content from the frontlines.

A key driver of this trend is technology such as social media and video streaming. “Technology allows you the ability to bring these situations to people in an intimate way on their phones and computers,” said Erin Taylor, director of communications for humanitarian response at Save the Children. People respond and engage with more direct and personal content. It’s not uncommon for organizations to open a real time video stream from emergency response centers, refugee camps, or search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean sea.

In the days following the Lombok earthquake, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report that an unfiltered cell phone video uploaded in the first hours of the earthquake outperformed all other content on their feeds.

“There’s a sense that people are becoming cynical to highly polished and produced pieces of content,” Matthew Cochrane, media and advocacy manager and spokesperson at the IFRC, said. “There’s a real interest in authentic, ‘rougher’ content [of] what’s actually happening on the background.”


Something to encourage your heart

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Things are bad in the world and it feels like it’s getting worse, right?

Wrong! Step-by-step, year-by-year, things are improving for billions of people worldwide!

  1. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty has halved. This progress is absolutely revolutionary!
  2. The percentage of people worldwide who are undernourished has dropped from 28% (1970) to 11% in (2016).
  3. In 1950, the child mortality rate was 15%. (i.e. 97 million children were born and 14.4 million children died.) In 2016, the child mortality rate was down to 3%! (i.e.141 million children were born and 4.2 million died.) So we can rejoice there’s more than 10 million less dead babies per year than a relatively short time ago!
  4. Child deaths per thousand in Saudi Arabia have dropped from 242 to 35, in just 33 years. Countries like Sweden took 77 years to reach this same achievement.

Read more

Something to encourage your heart Pt 2

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  1. As of 2016, 88% of all the children in the world today have been vaccinated.
  2. The point above also means almost all human beings alive today have some access to basic healthcare.
  3. HIV infections are down to less than half of what there were 10 years ago. From 549 per million in 1996 to 241 in 2016.
  4. As far as literacy goes, the share of adults who have the basic skills to read and write is up from 10% (1800) to 86% (2016).
  5. Worldwide, 90% of girls of primary school age are now enrolled in school, whereas in 1979 only 65% were.

[Source: “Factfulness, Why things are better than you think” by Hans Rosling]


India politely declines relief assistance for flooded Kerala

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In late July 2018, the worst floods in a century impacted the southern Indian state of Kerala a result of unusually high rainfall during the monsoon season. Over 373 people died within a fortnight, and hundreds of thousands evacuated.

India on Wednesday rejected an offer by the United Arab Emirates government to give $100 million to the disaster relief fund for flood-stricken Kerala state. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that foreign money could only be donated through Indian-origin individuals or foundations.

Politely declining the offer, India had expressed appreciation for the countries who were willing to help Kerala. Among other countries who have offered to assist India with relief efforts in Kerala are Maldives, Thailand and Qatar.

Today, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his country stands with people of flood-ravaged Kerala who have suffered a devastating spell of flood and offered to extend humanitarian aid to the southern Indian state.

Trying to shed its long-time image as a poverty-wrecked nation, India has refused to accept aid from foreign governments since a 2004 tsunami, when New Delhi told potential government donors that India would contact them if it needed financial aid.

[The Times of India]

Things can be both bad and better

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There are a lot of good things happening. For example, academic education is within reach of far more people in poor countries, child mortality has dramatically improved, the number of malaria cases are down, and so forth.

Yet as long as things are still bad for so many people, we feel it’s heartless for us to say they’re getting better.  Everything in the world is not fine, but it’s ridiculous to not acknowledge the progress that has been made.

But things can be both bad and better.

Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator. The baby’s health status is extremely bad and her breathing, heart rate and other important signs are tracked continually so that changes for better or worse can be quickly seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better though she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical.

Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes!
Does it make sense to say her health is bad? Yes!

It’s both bad and better! That is how we must think about the current state of the world.


[Excerpt from “Factfulness – Why things are better than you think” By Hans Rosling]

Women and children most vulnerable in African crises

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The East and Southern Africa region is home to humanitarian crises that are having a devastating effect on the health, dignity and rights of women and girls.

Over a decade, an estimated 7.4 million people have been displaced by intercommunal violence and protracted armed conflicts. Of the 4.5 million of the total 7.4 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), up to 80 per cent of whom have been on the move for more than 10 years and are suffering from extreme poverty and insecurity. The majority of these are women, young people and children.

In the Horn of Africa region, more than 13 million people are affected, 9.5 million of whom are IDPs and nearly 4 million are refugees, mostly from South Sudan.

More than 44 million people in East and Southern Africa are presently food insecure, nearly 36 million of them severely so.

In all these humanitarian crises, women and girls are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence and exploitation. Their day-to-day activities – such as looking for food and water for the family, collecting firewood, attending the market, or engaging in other household duties – more often than not further expose them to abduction, exploitation, and abuse.

And humanitarian crises dramatically elevate risks to the lives of pregnant women and newborn babies.

[UN Population Fund]

Extreme heat events wreak havoc on marine ecosystems

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Scientists analyzed satellite-based measurements of sea surface temperature from 1982 to 2016 and found that the frequency of marine heatwaves had doubled. These extreme heat events in the ocean’s surface waters can last from days to months and can occur across thousands of kilometres.

If average global temperatures increase to 3.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, as researchers currently project, the frequency of ocean heatwaves could increase by a factor of 41. In other words, a 1-in-100-day event at pre-industrial levels of warming could become a 1-in-3-day event.

“Marine heatwaves have already become more long-lasting, frequent, intense and extensive than in the past,” says lead study author Thomas Frölicher, a climatologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland. He adds that these changes are already well outside what could be expected on the basis of natural swings in Earth’s climate: the study’s analysis determined that 87% of heatwaves in the ocean are the result of human-induced global warming.

Episodes include the massive warm water ‘blob’ in the northeastern Pacific Ocean that killed off sea otters in Alaska and sea lions in California, and disrupted fisheries off North America from 2014 to 2015. They also included the massive 2015–16 El Niño that ravaged coral reefs around the world.

Ocean heatwaves will become more frequent and extreme as the climate warms, scientists report on August 15 in Nature. These episodes of intense heat could disrupt marine food webs and reshape biodiversity in the world’s oceans.

[Scientific American]

Trump administration to attempt to kill billions in foreign aid

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The White House budget office believes it has found a way to cancel billions of dollars of foreign aid even if it is never approved by Congress, according to a Republican aide familiar with the plan.

Using an obscure budget rule, administration officials are planning to freeze billions of dollars in the State Department’s international assistance budget — just long enough so the funds will expire. The current plan involves about $3 billion, though officials are said to have discussed as much as $5 billion.

The White House plans to submit the package of so-called rescissions in the coming days, which triggers an automatic freeze on those funds for 45 days. The cuts would largely come from the U.S. funding for the United Nations, according to the aide.

With exactly 45 days left in fiscal 2018, the State Department wouldn’t be able to use those funds even if Congress rejects the request because those dollars will have expired by Oct. 1.

It would be the second time the Trump administration has submitted this kind of presidential rescissions package. The White House’s last request, which would have reclaimed $15 billion across multiple agencies, narrowly passed the House and was rejected by the GOP-led Senate. It was the first time a president had used the rescissions process since 2000.

[Washington Post]