Monthly Archives: December 2019

Sub-Saharan Africa faces grave hunger challenges in 2020

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At the dawn of the next decade, a new World Food Programme (WFP) forecast of global hunger hotspots has revealed that escalating hunger will challenge sub-Saharan Africa in the first half of 2020.

According to the WFP 2020 Global Hotspots Report, millions of people in Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Sahel region will require life-saving food assistance in the coming months – the sheer scale and complexity of which will stretch the UN food relief agency’s capacity to the limit.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley spelled out: “WFP is fighting big and complex humanitarian battles on several fronts at the start of 2020. In some countries, we are seeing conflict and instability combine with climate extremes to force people from their homes, farms and places of work”, he elaborated. “In others, climate shocks are occurring alongside economic collapse and leaving millions on the brink of destitution and hunger.”

Against the backdrop of an imploding economy and when Zimbabwe is entering the peak of its lean season and food is at its most scarce, WFP observed that the country has more hungry people now than it has had over the past decade. WFP is planning assistance for some four million people in Zimbabwe.

“Last year, WFP was called upon to bring urgent large-scale relief to Yemen, Mozambique after Cyclone Idai, Burkina Faso and many other crises to avert famine,” said Margot Van Der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies. “But the world is an unforgiving place and as we turn the page into 2020, WFP is confronting new, monumental humanitarian challenges that we need to address with real urgency.”

[UN News]

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s wealth doubles in a decade despite generous giving

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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett may have pledged to give most of their wealth away to charity but the billionaire philanthropists appear to be engaged in a losing battle with that as latest figures show their wealth over the last decade has in fact doubled.

In August 2010, Gates and Buffett spearheaded a movement of the U.S.’ richest people to promise to give away most of their wealth to address problems in society. Known as the Giving Pledge, it now includes 200 people around the world with the aim of setting a “new standard of generosity among the ultra-wealthy.”

But The Bloomberg Billionaires Index released on Friday shows that the Microsoft co-founder can’t outrun the growth of his fortune, which is worth $22.7 billion more than it was last year, putting his total net worth at $113 billion. (Back in 2010, he was listed as having a net worth of $53 billion.)

Meanwhile, Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, according to the latest Bloomberg list, is worth $89 billion. (In 2010, he was listed as having a net worth of $47 billion.)

That the billionaires have been generous is indisputable. According to one estimate by Vox, published in April 2019, the founder of Microsoft had given away more than $45 billion through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, mostly to causes working to combat global poverty.

Buffett had made charitable contributions of $27.54 billion in the 10 years to 2017, according to USA Today.


More than 235,000 people fled their homes in northwest Syria in the past two weeks

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in northwest Syria have been displaced over the past two weeks due to an escalation of violence in Idlib province, the country’s last major opposition bastion, the United Nations has announced.

“As a result of hostilities, tens of thousands of families fled their homes in an effort to reach safety,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday. “Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria.”

The Syrian army, with support from Russian air power, has stepped up its attacks on the northwest province of Idlib, home to more than 3 million Syrians. The Syrian government has said that it is targeting terrorists in Idlib. But if the violence continues, even more civilians could be displaced in the coming weeks, international aid organizations have warned.

The mass displacement over the last two weeks has led to people being housed in mosques, garages, wedding halls, UNOCHA said. But it warned that “the capacity to absorb people in need may surpass available places” and their displacement in the height of winter “is further exacerbating” the humanitarian situation.

“People are leaving forcibly, you look at them and they look almost dead, they don’t know where to go,” Laith Al Abdullah, a White Helmets volunteer, told CNN in a phone call. “It is crowded now to the point where people are sleeping on the streets and under trees … People are terrified by the winter, we are getting a polar cold storm in few days, kids and women won’t be able to stand it,” he said.


Foot note from Refugee Aid team: Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people were displaced in northwest Syria, and many of them have fled to the border area where we work. We have been sending more and more clothing, blankets, and jackets to these refugees fleeing war. We do appreciate your prayers for continued safety and supply for those suffering. The pictures people are sending are horrific.

Uptick in violence and displacement in Syria

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In a statement issued this week, the UN chief expressed alarm over the scale of the military operation and reported attacks on evacuation routes as civilians try to flee north to safety. The military escalation has yielded dozens of civilian casualties and displaced 80,000 citizens, including 30,000 in the last week alone.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday that more than 500 children were injured or killed in the first nine months of this year, and at least 65 have been killed or injured in December alone. “Children are bearing the brunt” of the intensifying violence, said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Since December 11, escalating fighting has displaced more than 130,000 people, including over 60,000 children, from southern Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo, with many families sleeping out in the open. And making matters even worse, as temperatures drop – some nights falling to zero and below – fuel shortages have emerged as a key challenge, compounded by heavy rains that increase protection, health and other risks.

Nine years into the war, children in Syria continue to experience unspeakable violence, trauma and distress. And those living in camps are exhausted from multiple displacements and being exposed to the cold, illness and, in extreme cases, death.

Echoing the UN chief’s sentiment, UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to “cease hostilities and put children first once and for all.”

[UN News]

Christmas celebrates the birth of a refugee

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Jesus was born in a dirty, stank manger because there was no room in the inn. Shortly after, Joseph and Mary are forced to flee to Egypt with their young child. In other words, our scriptures say Jesus came to us as a refugee.

As a homeless rabbi he said, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus was homeless.

After a short 33 years, he is arrested and tortured, charged with all sorts of things, and eventually executed by the state, a victim of state-sanctioned murder dying on a cross with a condemned man on his left and another on his right. From the cradle to the grave, Jesus felt the pain of the human condition.

The world we live in, like the world Christ lived in, is ravaged with violence and poverty. Being a Christian in the current era should mean preaching good news to the poor … The Christmas story teaches that God is with us — if we are with the poor.

That is what Christmas should be … but it is easy to forget the story. Read more

Takeaways from the first Global Refugee Forum

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3,000 representatives of governments, the development and aid sectors, and civil society organizations gathered in Geneva this past week for the invitation-only Global Refugee Forum attempting to address what “burden-sharing and responsibility-sharing” look like when it comes to the needs of more than 25 million refugees and their host communities around the world. This is a tall order at a time when the numbers of displaced are swelling worldwide, fatigue and outright rejection among some donors and host countries is increasing, and some wealthy countries – notably the United States – are dramatically scaling back resettlement and asylum programs.

“Sharing responsibly, the foundation of our modern system for protecting refugees, is being replaced in countries with more resources by pushing responsibility on those countries less able to cope, and so refugees are pushed aside too,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi noted in the opening session.

Steps taken in Geneva included pledges of about $3 billion from states, $250 million from the private sector – with companies promising some 15,000 jobs to refugees – and several billion dollars from development banks, officials said.

Non-monetary pledges ranged from increased resettlement spots to giving refugee groups more input in policy-making. At the request of the refugee network, several states — including Australia, Canada, and Denmark — committed to giving refugees a more participatory role in policy-making.

[The New Humanitarian]

Life for civilians in Syria ‘worse than when the year began’

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OCHA’s Assistant Secretary General Ursula Mueller painted an “alarming” picture of Syrian Government forces attacking areas controlled by non-State armed groups, as they in turn, escalated assaults against Government-controlled parts of southern Idleb and Aleppo.

“Civilians on both sides of the frontline suffer the consequences”, she lamented, adding that “medical personnel and facilities have also suffered”.

Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has caused untold suffering for women, men and children and forced more than half of the country to leave their homes.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations are continuing to do everything possible to assist the most vulnerable, including with food assistance to newly displaced households and health and emergency protection services.

Across the region, costs projected at $5.2 billion will be required to assist some 5.6 million Syrian refugees, more than 70 per cent of whom live in poverty.

[UN News]

The ‘Christian left’ in America

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Holding pictures of migrant children who have died in U.S. custody and forming a cross with their bodies on the floor of the Russell Senate Office Building, 70 Catholics were arrested in July for obstructing a public place, which is considered a misdemeanor. They are visibly joining the growing ranks of progressive Christians who oppose President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and federal agencies’ negligent, occasionally deadly treatment of immigrants on his orders.

American Christianity is most often associated with right-wing politics, who have conducted extremely visible campaigns to outlaw abortion, keep gay marriage illegal and encourage study of the Bible in schools.

But there’s always been progressive Christian activism in the United States. Black churches were central in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and black Christians have continued to engage in advocacy and civil disobedience around poverty, inequality and police violence. American pastors and parishioners protested state-sponsored injustices like slavery, segregation, the Vietnam War and mass deportation.

The primary reason Christian groups are now focusing on immigration, I’d argue, is simply that the notion of welcoming strangers and caring for the vulnerable are embedded in the Christian tradition. In the Biblical text Matthew 25, the “Son of Man” – a figure understood to be Jesus – blesses people who gave food to the hungry, cared for the sick and welcomed strangers. And in Leviticus 19:34, God commands: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you.” They point out that Jesus often criticized the oppression of foreigners, widows and orphans by those in authority.

Faith-based support for immigrants is not limited to Christian groups. Jewish and Muslim organizations have both provided humanitarian aid to Central American asylum seekers and protested a federal ban on travel from Muslim countries. And 40 Jewish leaders were arrested in New York City on Aug. 12 for protesting the Trump administration’s detention policies.

[The Conversation]

Afghanistan attacks spur fresh concerns over aid worker safety

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Dr. Tetsu Nakamura was driving through Jalalabad, a vibrant city in eastern Afghanistan, when gunmen opened fire on his vehicle last week, killing his driver and four bodyguards and fatally wounding him. The Japanese doctor’s killing – and that of an American UN employee in Kabul a week earlier – has rattled the aid sector in Afghanistan.

Some 10 million people in Afghanistan need aid; yet local and foreign humanitarians are themselves a target in a conflict now killing or injuring more than 10,000 civilians a year.

At least 24 aid workers were killed between January and November this year, according to the International NGO Safety Organisation, which advises humanitarian groups on security. Of the 56 aid worker deaths the group has counted this year in 13 hotspot countries, more than 40 percent were in Afghanistan. There were also 37 abductions and 42 aid workers injured.

Some aid groups have kept their headquarters far from Kabul in provinces believed to be safer. Humanitarian groups are often relied on to provide basic services in rural areas.

For foreign aid workers in the capital, Kabul, life is spent in compounds and armored vehicles. In some organizations, workers are not allowed to set foot outside.

As in most conflict zones, aid groups rely on principles of humanitarian neutrality and behind-the-scenes negotiations with armed groups to ensure access and safety. But it’s not always guaranteed. There are also multiple factions and different armed groups vying for control.

A Taliban commander with strong links to al-Qaeda who didn’t want to be named, told The New Humanitarian that relationships between militants and aid groups are often “just fine” on the ground. “The command to attack an NGO comes from much higher,” he said in an interview.

[The New Humanitarian]

Top UN Envoy hails ‘shift’ towards peace in Yemen

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Will there be a historic outcome from the talks which marked the first time in two years that the internationally-recognized Yemeni Government and Houthi opposition leaders had come to the negotiating table to talk face-to-face? The Stockholm Agreement resulted in a ceasefire in the rebel-held but contested port of Hudaydah, on the Red Sea, vital for the flow of food and humanitarian aid into Yemen.  

At the time, the World Food Programme (WFP) called it “key” to importing roughly 70 per cent of humanitarian needs. 

Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, stated just ahead of a closed-door Security Council meeting on Yemen in New York on Thursday:  “People’s lives have been saved, the humanitarian programme has been protected, and I think it also showed that the parties could actually agree on a different way out of a crisis.” 

However, he reported that negotiations are still ongoing over re-deployments to “de-militarize” Hudaydah, where pro-Government and Houthi forces have continued to largely observe the fragile ceasefire throughout the year. The Special Envoy also expressed grave disappointment over lack of progress on prisoner exchange, one of the key elements under the Agreement.  

The conflict in Yemen has generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and has pushed the country to the edge of economic decline. Roughly 24 million people, or 80 per cent of the population, require assistance, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) further reports that two million children are out of school, including nearly half a million who had dropped out since the fighting began in March 2015. 

These are reasons why peace is so desperately needed in Yemen, Mr. Griffiths told UN News. “If there is any argument in favor of the need for speed towards a political solution to this war, it is those people, those families, who daily suffer from the effects of conflict: families whose children haven’t been to school for five years; families who have struggled to get food on their plates on a daily basis”, he said.  

[UN News]