Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

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]

Namibia rushes to drill boreholes as worst drought in a century bites

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Namibia’s dam water levels have almost halved from already low levels as the worst drought in more than 100 years pushes the desert nation closer to famine.

Dams nationwide were at 19.3% of capacity compared to 35.6% this time last year, water utility Namwater said, a drop officials blame on climate change and a five-year drought ripping through southern Africa.

On Thursday, the environment ministry told Reuters that drought had caused a third of Namibia’s 2.5 million population to go hungry, and that hundreds of wild animals in conservation parks as well cattle on farms were dying. The department is rehabilitating existing water points and drilling new boreholes as quickly as it could.

Minister of Environment Pohamba Shifeta said at a climate change conference in Madrid on Tuesday 700,000 Namibians were food insecure, and that the agricultural sector had contracted for the last half-decade, with rural households and small-scale farmers hardest hit.

In neighboring Zambia and Zimbabwe, plunging water levels at the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi have resulted in power cuts. South Africa has introduced rationing.

Namibia’s economy is set to shrink by 1.5% in 2019 after contracting 0.1% last year due largely to severe drought, the finance ministry said in October.

[Reuters]

Engaged youth = renewed hope for the future

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Excerpt of a report from a FCF Project Manager who works with Syrian refugees:

Last year while visiting Southern California to spend time with my family, I met 10 year old Trisha. Some friends had told me the family was interested in refugees and wanted to meet me.

After I presented a power point at her family’s home, Little Trish went upstairs, emptied her piggy bank savings, and brought it to us to give to the refugees. We were so touched.

While visiting the States again this summer, we looked forward to meeting Trisha and her family again. Shortly after arriving, Trisha brought us a pile of five and ten dollar bills. She had earned money to help the refugees by selling her art and coasters (ebru-style painted tiles to use as coasters under cups and glasses). She also had asked her friends, parents, and grandparents to not give her any birthday or Christmas presents, but to just give her money instead, so she could save up for the refugees. Her dad and mom then matched the same amount that Trisha gave, as they want their children to experience the joy of giving.

We asked if they would like us to direct these gifts to Tariq, to enable him to move his family to Turkey so his younger brothers can receive needed medical treatment. They had read his blog post on our Safe Haven website and were thrilled to have the opportunity to help with this. They went on to ask how much was still needed, and within minutes had gathered together enough for the remaining 40% of the total funds still needed!

I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these people I barely knew. To add icing to the cake, shortly after, someone else gave a gift for me to deliver to Tariq’s parents for when they arrive in Turkey, to help them get started.

Things like this help to restore faith in humanity, after absorbing news of so many children dying in Idlib, the continued mass shootings in the US, and other events which had been somewhat depressing. –Yet when you meet a 10 year old like Trish, you remember that behind the scenes God is sending little angels into this world to give us renewed hope for the future!

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is TIME’s Person of the Year

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Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who inspired millions of young people to take action against climate change, has been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019.

Thunberg launched a grassroots campaign aged 15 by skipping school every Friday to demonstrate outside Swedish parliament, pushing for her government to meet its ambitious goals to curb carbon emissions. Her actions quickly captured people’s imagination, and in September this year millions of people took to the streets in cities across the world to support her cause.

“In the 16 months since (her protests began), she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike,” the magazine said.

She is the youngest individual to have won the accolade.

Thunberg, who turns 17 in January, is currently in Madrid at a United Nations climate summit where world leaders are wrangling over how to implement a 2015 Paris agreement designed to avert potentially catastrophic global warming. She was typically blunt in her assessment of politicians’ efforts. “It seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition,” she said on stage, drawing applause from an audience that included dozens of her supporters.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a longtime environmentalist, said the magazine made a “brilliant choice” in choosing the reluctant celebrity. “Greta embodies the moral authority of the youth activist movement demanding that we act immediately to solve the climate crisis. She is an inspiration to me and to people across the world,” Gore said.

[Reuters]

UN chief urges governments to engage with young human rights activists

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Excerpts from UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks on Human Rights Day:

We are here today to celebrate the role of young people in advancing and protecting human rights. As someone who grew up under a dictatorship, I am deeply inspired by the energy and passion young people bring to the struggle for human rights. I know young people can lead movements that change hearts and minds and make history. That is an indelible part of my own past.

Throughout history and across the world, young people have been at the forefront of standing up for what is right. From Harriet Tubman’s antislavery activism, to the White Rose campaign in Nazi Germany, young people have risked everything to struggle against oppression and discrimination and affirm fundamental rights and freedoms. They have played a key role in the civil rights movement, the anti‑apartheid movement, the women’s rights movement and many anti‑colonial and liberation struggles. Today’s young human rights leaders are continuing this tradition. They are powerful torch‑bearers for a better future, and we all owe them our support.

The Universal Declaration established a special responsibility for the United Nations: to advance all rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social — for all people. Human rights are at the core of the United Nations and inform all our work. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, there has been massive progress. Billions of people around the world live safer, longer lives, with access to opportunities and hope for a better future.

But there is much more to do.

Our shared human values offer a way through; and once again, young people are in the lead. Everywhere, they are marching against corruption, repression and inequality and for human rights and human dignity. Young people are on the front lines of action against the climate emergency, which poses a serious threat to human rights and to human life. Young women are at the forefront, making the link between the denial of their rights and rising populism, xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds. Young people are rightly demanding that Governments listen to them and respect them. Their voices must be heard.

[UN]

UN emergency fund is one of the ‘most effective investments’ in humanitarian action

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The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), is “one of the most effective investments you can make in humanitarian action”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a high-level pledging event at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday.

“It is the only global emergency fund that is fast, predictable and flexible enough to reach tens of millions of people each year”, according to the UN chief, who maintained that the fund supports a “well-coordinated global humanitarian response system with an enormous network of partners to help the most vulnerable”.   

Since its creation 13 years ago, the fund has allocated over $6 billion to support life-saving assistance in 104 countries, protecting millions of people, sometimes within hours of the onset of an emergency.

Noting that the climate crisis is causing more frequent and deadly hurricanes, cyclones and droughts around the world, the UN chief spelled out: “CERF is on the frontline of our response”. He said  “CERF provides funding without the bureaucracy that can slow down our work, so the money is available within days, sometimes hours, of disaster striking”, flagged the UN chief, citing lifeline support to food insecurity-plagued Mali and Sudan, as well as helping children to stay in school in Cameroon, Chad, the occupied Palestinian Territories, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

With the contributions of 52 Member States “CERF truly a fund for all, by all”, upheld the UN chief, while noting that today it is “contending with a far greater scale of suffering” than when it was created in 2005.

Chairing the event, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that this year’s “unprecedented demand” for emergency funding enabled responses to “time-critical, life-threatening needs” for millions of crises-affected people across 46 countries.  Lowcock admitted that “significant challenges” lie ahead, saying “I fear the outlook for the year ahead is bleak:  One person in 45 around the world are expected to need our help. The highest number ever”, he said, which would require nearly $29 billion in funding.

[UN News]

Activist Greta Thunberg warns governments in Madrid that ‘change is coming’

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Teen activist Greta Thunberg took her call for bold action to tackle climate change to a U.N. summit in Spain on Friday, warning world leaders that a growing youth-led protest movement meant they could no longer hide.

 “The current world leaders are betraying us and we will not let that happen anymore,” Thunberg said in a brief speech to 15,000 protesters in Madrid. “Change is coming whether you like it or not because we have no other choice,” she said. Thunberg had earlier told an event at a cultural centre that she and her fellow activists would ensure that world leaders “cannot just hide away anymore.”

“We are really gaining momentum, we are getting bigger and bigger and our voices are being heard more and more, but of course that does not translate into political action,” she said. Unwilling to fly because of the pollution it causes, Thunberg had sailed the Atlantic to attend a U.N. summit in September, before returning to Europe by catamaran.

“We are in one of the most critical moments in history and it seems for the first time we are speaking with one voice,” added actor Javier Bardem, who also addressed the marchers.

The annual summit opened on Monday with a call from U.N. chief Antonio Guterres not to be the “generation … that fiddled while the planet burned”. By this meeting’s close on Dec. 13, negotiators hope to resolve remaining disagreements on how to implement an accord struck in Paris in 2015 to avert catastrophic global warming.

[Reuters]