Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Trump cuts aid to Central American countries, threatens to close Mexico border

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The U.S. government cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras on Saturday after President Donald Trump blasted the Central American countries for sending migrants to the United States.

Amid a surge in migrant detentions at the southwest U.S. border, Trump on Friday said he would also close the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) frontier, or sections of it, during the coming week if Mexico did not halt the flow of people. His threat to shut the U.S. border if Mexico does not halt all illegal immigration within its borders has exposed the limitations of the new Mexican government’s strategy of trying to appease the U.S. president as he gears up for re-election.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol projections are for over 90,000 apprehensions to be logged during March, according to data provided to the Mexican government. That is up more than 140 percent from March 2018, and a seven-fold jump from 2017.

Trump’s words were a slap in the face to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who has refused to answer back to provocative comments from Trump. Instead, the Mexican leader has worked to cement his powerbase by combating poverty with welfare handouts and lambasting his predecessors as corrupt.

Former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda saus Mexico faces “incredibly damaging” consequences if Trump does order “go-slows” at the border, which would pitch Lopez Obrador into uncomfortable new territory.

[Reuters]

US Congress resists proposed Trump humanitarian and refugee aid changes

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Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they are determined to block a White House budget proposal that would gut the State Department’s refugee operations and slash overall humanitarian aid levels.

President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget request proposes consolidating three separate humanitarian assistance accounts operated by the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. The White House proposal would not only cut funding but reshape humanitarian assistance, particularly in how it affects refugees.

While longtime humanitarian assistance practitioners say the proposal has some merits, they do not trust the Trump administration’s ultimate intentions and thus oppose it. That’s because the White House is seeking to cut the overall humanitarian funding for fiscal 2020 — from the fiscal 2019 enacted levels of roughly $9.5 billion to just under $6 billion, which critics say would eviscerate dedicated refugee programs.

“We all get it. He [Trump] hates the State Department. He hates humanitarian programs. . . . Congress doesn’t agree and so we’re going to go our own way,” Connecticut Democrat Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, a member of the Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee, said last week. “I’m not sure [Sen.] Lindsey Graham is even going to read it.” Indeed, Graham, the cardinal of the State-Foreign Operations Committee, was equally dismissive of the White House proposal, as have been other Republicans.

Under the budget proposal, the State’s refugee assistance account, which is managed by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, would be left with just $365 million, down from $3.4 billion in fiscal 2019 funding.

[Roll Call]

EU laments recalling ships helping in Med migrants-rescue-mission

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The European Union is lamenting a move by member countries to recall all the ships taking part in an EU naval mission helping to manage migration in the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU’s Operation Sophia has been working to reduce migrant smuggling, train the Libyan coastguard and enforce an arms embargo on Libya. EU commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said Wednesday that “without naval assets, the operation will not be able to effectively implement its mandate.”

Italy commands Sophia but the anti-migrant government refuses to allow any people it rescues to be disembarked in its ports, complicating the mission.

EU countries agree in principle to renew Sophia’s mandate for six months. For now, they want to recall its ships, but not its aircraft. A formal decision must be made by March 31.

[AP]

Humanitarian groups say sanctions placed on North Korea have created complications to secure funds and deliver assistance to the country

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Humanitarian groups are continuing to face complications, including funding shortfalls, when delivering aid to North Korea as the U.S. maintains its “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign on the country.

In order to deliver assistance in North Korea, U.S. charities need to secure approvals from the U.S. Commerce Department, the Treasury Department, and the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee, and American relief workers are required to obtain special travel passports from the State Department to travel to North Korea, according Foreign Policy.

With an estimated 11 million men, women and children lacking sufficient nutritious food, clean drinking water, or access to basic health and sanitation services, in 2018 North Korea received less than half of the $111 million that international humanitarian agencies deemed necessary.

Roy Wadia, spokesperson for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the Asia and Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok, said 1.4 million people in North Korea, including 190,000 kindergarten children and 85,000 acutely malnourished children, did not receive food assistance last year due to the shortage of funds.

“If humanitarian programs were to be forced to further scale back or draw down completely, the impact would be devastating on the lives of millions of vulnerable people, jeopardizing the access and results gained overtime,” said Wadia.

[VoA]

Extreme Poverty: Bad, but better

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The World Bank has used an international poverty line, originally the “dollar a day” line, since at least 1990 to monitor global poverty. In recent years, the line has come under criticism for being too low in value.

When the World Bank convened the Commission on Global Poverty in 2015, 10 percent of the world was living in extreme poverty. We might be entering the hardest stretch in the march toward the end of extreme poverty, which is increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

A recent World Bank report breaks new ground. To construct a more complete picture of poverty, it presents two new sets of poverty lines. The first are poverty lines at higher thresholds—$3.20 and $5.50 per day (in 2011 Purchasing Power Parity dollars)—reflecting typical national poverty thresholds in lower- and upper-middle-income countries. By these criteria, more than a quarter (at the $3.20 line) and almost half of the world’s population (at the $5.50 line) were poor in 2015.

The report also introduces a societal poverty line that increases in value as a country gets richer—a global poverty line that reflects the variation in national poverty lines observed across the world. It is a recognition that poverty is a deeply social and relative experience, so it cannot be detached from the social context of the individual. A refrigerator may be a luxury in a poor country, but it is essential to basic functioning in rich countries. When judged by the relative standard of the society in which they live, almost 3 in 10 individuals were living in poverty in 2015.

The new measures are not without flaws, and lack of timely, high-quality data to monitor poverty in all its forms everywhere remains a challenge. Despite these limitations, close observers of the World Bank would agree that the latest report breaks the mold. It stays centered on its core mandate of monitoring global extreme poverty, while offering a rich menu of complementary indicators that are relevant to a growing world and that encompass poverty in its multiple forms.

When asked about the state of the world, Hans Rosling, the data guru, was fond of quipping: “Bad, but better.” Similarly, this year’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report shows that while remarkable progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty, much remains to be done to eliminate poverty in all countries, in all aspects of life, and for all individuals.

[Brookings]

Oxfam calls for climate action, as children strike worldwide

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Our children are walking out of school today, saying we have failed them.

In a speech today, Oxfam’s Winnie Byanyima evoked the words of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who yesterday was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and today is leading another strike by school children around the world, protesting against climate change and our pitiful weakness to resolve it.

Winnie implored the UN to show the same clarity of purpose and energy exemplified by the 16-year-old Swede.

Yes, we abhor kids being out of school. But climate change means that one day many may not even have a school to attend. Anyone whose very existence is under threat should at least have the right to speak up about it. The right to protest, to mobilize and organize, to raise one’s voice and have it heard, is no less a right that it should be denied.

To our children, climate change is not an abstract idea but a frightening, threatening reality. Our children are seeing their leaders failing to tame our economy’s addiction to coal, oil and gas, driving our planet toward and over 1.5 degrees warming. We place economic growth on a pedestal and disregard its harmful consequences on people. So what if the factory that employs people in the village also emits pollution that creates health hazards and climate change? Or if the much-hyped oil plant also taints people’s drinking water and spews out greenhouse gases?

Nearly half of the world’s population lives on under $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s new poverty line for extreme poverty in upper and middle income countries. If we continue to tinker around the edges of our current system, we will need a global economy 175 times bigger for everyone to achieve life above the extreme poverty line. This would destroy our planet – so it is self-evident that the structure of our economic model must change.

We are the proverbial ostriches with our heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge that our system of pursuing development has not only given rise to huge inequality between the 1% super-rich and the rest – but it’s also been destroying our planet. We need to transform our economic system so that it redistributes income and wealth more fairly, and is powered in a greener, cleaner, more sustainable way. This economic transformation is entirely achievable and within our hands; we need a “New Green Deal” that both redistributes wealth and allows us a more sure and sustainable way to steward our planet.

We will be judged both by the environmental legacy we leave our children and how much we have prepared them to speak truth to power and take on the emerging challenges of a complex world.

[Oxfam]

Humanitarian crises severely under-reported

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According to a recent poll of aid agencies by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the most under-reported crisis of 2018 was the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Meanwhile, Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, commented that, ‘the brutality of the conflict is shocking, the national and international neglect outrageous… I have seldom witnessed such a gap between needs and assistance’.

Other ‘forgotten crises’, according to the agencies polled, include the Central African Republic, Lake Chad Basin, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria and, for the first time, Venezuela. Highlighting such ‘reporting gaps’ is important because international news coverage plays a key role in raising awareness of and drawing attention to humanitarian crises, in order to secure the funding needed to help.

Research makes clear that humanitarian journalism is itself in crisis. Our survey of over 1500 individuals involved in the aid sector revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of mainstream news coverage of humanitarian affairs. 73% of respondents agreed that mainstream news media does not produce enough coverage of humanitarian issues. News coverage was also criticized for being selective, sporadic, simplistic and partial.

Over 20,000 news outlets were examined to find out how many were regularly reporting on humanitarian affairs. Only 12 –including Al Jazeera English, the Guardian Global Development site, IRIN News, the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Voice of America– covered the four humanitarian events analyzed: The ongoing crisis in South Sudan, the 2016 Aceh earthquake, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the 2017 UN appeal for humanitarian funding.

Humanitarian issues were mentioned in only one in five (19%) items on the news bulletins of the BBC World Service.

[InterPress Service]

Dutch to introduce corporate CO2 tax as climate plans fall short

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The Dutch government announced on Wednesday a carbon tax for companies after a top advisory body said current plans to cut emissions will fall short of targets.

Proposals to fight climate change put forward in recent months will cost the Netherlands around 5.2 billion euros ($6 billion) over the next decade, but will fall short in achieving a 49 percent CO2 emission reduction goal by 2030, the CPB advisory body said.

The Dutch government is expected to decide by the end of April on a climate change policy program after a consultation led to a series of measures proposed by businesses, activists and other groups. The CPB advisory body said around 130 measures were put forward, including higher taxes on the use of gas for heating and on airline tickets, subsidies on electrical cars, increased use of wind and solar power, and incentives for industry to cut emissions and homeowners to better insulate their houses.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said new plans will include a tax on CO2 emissions for corporations, on top of the European Union’s current Emissions Trading System, to stimulate more efficient technologies and to make sure companies pay a fair share of the costs of the energy transition.

“This tax needs to be reasonable,” Rutte said without going into details. “It needs to deliver significant CO2 reductions, without chasing companies away.”

[Reuters]

Footage contradicts U.S. claim that Nicolás Maduro burned aid convoy

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The narrative seemed to fit Venezuela’s authoritarian rule: Security forces, on the order of President Nicolás Maduro, had torched a convoy of humanitarian aid as millions in his country were suffering from illness and hunger.

Vice President Mike Pence wrote that “the tyrant in Caracas danced” as his henchmen “burned food & medicine.” The State Department released a video saying Mr. Maduro had ordered the trucks burned. And Venezuela’s opposition held up the images of the burning aid, reproduced on dozens of news sites and television screens throughout Latin America, as evidence of Mr. Maduro’s cruelty.

But there is a problem: The opposition itself –not Mr. Maduro’s men– appears to have set the cargo alight accidentally.

Unpublished footage obtained by The New York Times — including footage released by the Colombian government, which has blamed Mr. Maduro for the fire — allowed for a reconstruction of the incident. It suggests that a Molotov cocktail thrown by an anti-government protester was the most likely trigger for the blaze.

The rag used to light the Molotov cocktail separates from the bottle, flying toward the aid truck instead. Half a minute later, that truck is in flames.

The same protester can be seen 20 minutes earlier, in a different video, hitting another truck with a Molotov cocktail, without setting it on fire.

Many of Mr. Maduro’s critics also claim that he ordered medication set on fire during the border standoff. For example, John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, posted on Twitter on March 2: “Maduro has lied about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, he contracts criminals to burn food and medicine intended for the Venezuelan people.”

Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition, has fervently maintained that the aid contained medicine and that it was burned by Mr. Maduro as well.

Yet this claim too appears to be unsubstantiated, according to videos and interviews.

After being contacted by The Times about these claims, American officials released a more cautious statement describing how the fire began:  “Eyewitness accounts indicate that the fire started when Maduro’s forces violently blocked the entry of humanitarian assistance,” the statement said. It did not specify that Mr. Maduro’s forces lit the fire.

[The New York Times]

8 tips to enhance fundraising and donor relationships

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1: Keep an eye on your donor retention rate

2: Know the factors of engagement

3: Know each donor’s history

4: Kick-start prospect research

5: Communicate using various platforms

6: Use effective language in communications

7: Use social media to show appreciation

8: Ask donors how they feel about you

[Read full article at GuideStar Blog]