Category: Humanitarian Aid

Aid to vulnerable Iraqis may come to a complete halt

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The UN’s humanitarian chief in Iraq, Marta Ruedas, said aid to vulnerable people in Iraq risks being completely blocked within weeks, as a result of the suspension of government documents allowing humanitarians to carry out critical missions.

On Thursday Ms. Ruedas declared that “our operations are at risk. Without predictable, continual access authorization, humanitarian aid is in danger of rotting in warehouses, putting lives in jeopardy and wasting badly-needed donor funds”.

Prior to November 2019, humanitarian organizations based in Iraq, including the UN and its NGO partners, were granted monthly letters, allowing them to pass through checkpoints unhindered. As of January 2020, almost all of these letters had expired and, with no alternative measures in place, the flow of aid deliveries in Iraq had slowed considerably.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says that, unless partners are allowed to immediately resume full, unimpeded movement of their personnel and supplies, humanitarian operations in Iraq “may come to a complete halt within a matter of weeks”, leading to the possibility of hundreds of thousands of people in conflict-affected areas going without food, medicine and materials to get them through the coldest months of the year.

[UN News]

Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record

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The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies.

According to NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office, last year was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850. The Met Office says that 2020 is likely to continue this warming trend.

The past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series, with the average of each one more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial. The Met Office says that 2019 was 1.05C above the average for the period from 1850-1900.

2016 remains the warmest year on record, when temperatures were boosted by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Last year saw two major heat waves hit Europe in June and July, with a new national record of 46C set in France on 28 June. New records were also set in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and in the UK at 38.7C.  In Australia, the mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost a degree.

“Each decade from the 1980s has been successively warmer than all the decades that came before. 2019 concludes the warmest ‘cardinal’ decade (those spanning years ending 0-9) in records that stretch back to the mid-19th century,” said Dr Colin Morice, from the Met Office Hadley Centre.

Researchers say carbon emissions from human activities are the main cause of the sustained temperature rise seen in recent years.

[BBC]

Lava gushes from volcano near Manila

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Red-hot lava spewed from a volcano near the Philippine capital of Manila on Monday as tens of thousands of people fled through heavy ash and frightening tremors, and authorities made plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands more for fear of a bigger eruption.

Clouds of ash from the Taal volcano reached Manila, 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, on Sunday, forcing the shutdown of the country’s main airport, with more than 500 flights canceled. The airport partially reopened Monday after the ashfall eased.

[AP]

EU’s Green Deal sets out trillion euro plan to avert ‘climate crash’

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EU budget chief Johannes Hahn said the bloc needs to invest dedicated funds to avert a “climate crash” as Brussels detailed how it planned to pay for a trillion euro push to cut net C02 emissions to zero by 2050 and protect member countries dependent on coal. The financial challenge for Europe is huge: Halving emissions by 2030 would require 260 billion euros of investment a year.

Hahn unveiled details using public and private money for this flagship project, the European Green Deal: Of the 1 trillion euros of the EU’s 10-year investment plan, roughly half is to come from the EU long-term budget. This will trigger more than 100 billion in co-financing from governments. Some 300 billion would come from private sources and another 100 from the EU’s Just Transition Fund.

All EU countries except Poland agreed last month they should transform their economies over the next 30 years to not emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb, so as to limit global warming and resulting climate changes. The deal came amid overwhelming support from Europeans who see irreversible climate change as the biggest challenge they are facing, more so than terrorism, access to healthcare or unemployment.

“I’m doing this in my grandson’s future interest,” Hahn, 62, said about his work on financing the EU’s shift to a green economy.

The Fund is to “benefit territories with high employment in coal, lignite, oil shale and peat production, as well as territories with carbon-intensive industries which will be either discontinued or severely impacted by the transition”, the Commission proposal said. The money will go to areas producing the most CO2 industrial emissions, where job losses and the need for teaching new skills and will take into account the overall wealth of the country so that a region in need of transition in the EU’s poorest Romania would get more money than a comparable region in Germany.

[Reuters]

Fires in Australia serve as wake-up call to climate crisis

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A new reality is taking place for Australians as catastrophic bushfires upend the lives of millions. Projections from climate scientists are now becoming the harsh reality and should serve as a wake-up call to other countries around the world to take action. 

Up to now, the climate crisis has been felt primarily by the most vulnerable, predominantly living in the Global South, while richer countries … have largely continued fueling the crisis. The impacts are now hitting the Global North, and the bushfires in Australia are just a glimpse of the future that the entire world will face if climate inaction continues.

International aid agency CARE calls on governments around the world to take more seriously their international responsibilities and increase efforts to fight the global climate crisis.

Louise Gray, Interim Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer, CARE Australia, stated: “Our country is in flames. Drought and increased temperatures have contributed to catastrophic bushfire conditions. The scientific evidence is indisputable – there is a link between the tragedy we are now experiencing and climate change. If a country like Australia can experience this scale of disaster, what risks are faced in countries with less capacity to respond and recover? We must take collective responsibility and action.”

“What starts as a decade on fire must become the decade of decisive and rapid climate action. Anything less than halving global CO2 emissions by 2030 may lead to a runaway climate crisis. The suffering of the Australian people and environment is a stark reminder for all signatories to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change that achieving its goals is a matter of survival and justice,” says Sven Harmeling, CARE’s Global Policy Lead on Climate Change and Resilience.

[CARE]

Yemen heads list of countries facing worst humanitarian disasters in 2020

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Yemen has topped an annual watchlist of countries most likely to face humanitarian catastrophe in 2020, for the second year running.

Continued fighting, economic collapse and weak governance mean that more than 24 million Yemenis – about 80% of the population – will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year, according to analysis by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which found that another five years of conflict could cost $29 billion.

Yemen has been facing a tragic and complex political military crisis since uprisings broke out in 2011, with grave implications for the country’s future and the whole region. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen was launched in 2015, in response to calls from the pro-Saudi president of Yemen for military support after he was ousted by the Houthi movement due to economic and political grievances, and fled to Saudi Arabia.

[The Guardian/Wikipedia]

Syrian civilians face ‘daily nightmare’ in Idlib

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Following a sharp escalation of hostilities in southern Idlib, “at least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes” since mid-December, the UN Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis said on Tuesday, voicing concern for their well-being.

“I am alarmed at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Idlib, northwest Syria, where over three million civilians remain trapped in a war zone – the vast majority of them women and children”, Mark Cutts said.

The downward spiraling situation is occurring in bitter winter temperatures that pose further risks to those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.  Moreover, many are currently living in tents and makeshift shelters, exposed to the elements in inhospitable places. 

This latest wave of displacement “compounds an already dire situation in Idlib – a densely populated governorate already hosting displaced people from all over Syria”, informed the official from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Every day we receive more disturbing reports of families caught up in the violence, seeking refuge and access to essential services in overcrowded camps and urban areas”, he continued, adding that many are sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings. In tandem, critical shortages of food, shelter, health and other basic survival services are being reported across Idleb. 

And humanitarian organizations are struggling to cope with the increased needs. According to Mr. Cutts, “at least 13 health facilities in Idlib have recently been forced to suspend their operations due to the security situation”, exacerbating the suffering of the local population and heightening levels of vulnerability. 

“This is but one example of the daily nightmare being faced by the civilian population of Idleb”, Mr. Cutts spelled out. “Airstrikes and shelling are now taking place in many towns and villages on a near daily basis”, he lamented.

[UN News]

Syrian civilians see no future in Idlib

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With nearly 300,000 people fleeing bombing and fighting in and around Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province since mid-December, civilians in the area told The New Humanitarian they had taken everything they own with them. Fearing the rebels will be unable or unwilling to resist the approaching forces, some said they had even torched their homes after emptying them, to deny President Bashar al-Assad’s fighters any extra benefits of taking over the territory.

This latest wave of displacement has been especially difficult. It has coincided with heavy winter rains that have drenched the already overcrowded camps that dot Idlib.

Abu Ghadir – a father of six displaced several times and now staying in the village of al-Bira in northern Idlib – saw no future for himself or the other three million people who find themselves increasingly trapped in Syria’s northwest. “This is our end; the end for Idlib and its people,” he said.

Accompanied by heavy aerial bombing, the Syrian army and Russian forces have been accelerating a months-long ground offensive on Idlib. The only adjacent border – with Turkey – is closed, and while more and more people are trying to smuggle themselves across it, others, particularly minors, are joining rebel ranks to fight what they see as a struggle for existence.

Tahrir al-Sham is listed as a terrorist organization in the United States, UK, Canada, and Turkey. Thus concerns about resources reaching the extremist rebels severely limit available social services and emergency aid to the region. Videos produced by a recruitment and fundraising campaign organized by clerics working for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham show children rushing the stage as preachers rouse locals to join the ranks of the “holy warriors”.

Minors are currently training in several locations in Idlib, according to an official with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.  The official said that training camps were underground, due to fear of coalition airstrikes. He said there were special training camps for “cubs”, meaning youth or teenage boys, but would not provide additional details. Another official with the group confirmed that children as young as 17 can join and undergo training.

There are various international prohibitions against the use of soldiers under 18. The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute defines “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities” as a war crime. 

[The New Humanitarian]

Flash floods leave dozens dead and missing in Indonesia’s capital

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Indonesian rescuers mounted a desperate search Friday for those missing after flash floods and landslides sparked by torrential rains killed at least 43 people across the Jakarta region. Health authorities were racing to prevent disease outbreaks.

Record rains which started on New Year’s Eve pounded the capital and left swathes of the megalopolis, home to some 30 million, under water and thousands homeless. Around 192,000 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters, according to authorities, with many unable to return to waterlogged homes in neighborhoods turned into wastelands of debris and overturned cars. In hard-hit Bekasi, on the outskirts of the city, swampy streets were littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other — with waterline marks reaching as high as buildings’ second floors. Using inflatable boats to evacuate residents trapped in their homes, including children and seniors, rescuers said they were targeting the hardest-hit areas of the city.

Indonesia’s health ministry said it deployed some 11,000 health workers and soldiers to distribute medicine, disinfectant hygiene kits and food in a bid to stave off outbreaks of Hepatitis A, mosquito-borne Dengue fever and other illnesses, including infections linked to contact with dead animals.

This week’s disaster marked Jakarta’s worst flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.

[CBS]

Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded

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Tens of thousands of holiday makers fled seaside towns on Australia’s east coast on Thursday as bushfires approached, and military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes.

Fueled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.

“It is hell on earth. It is the worst anybody’s ever seen,” Michelle Roberts said by telephone from the Croajingolong Cafe she owns in Mallacoota, a southeastern coastal town where 4,000 residents and visitors have been stranded on the beach since Monday night.

Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on the southeast coast, an area popular with tourists during the summer holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires. A navy ship, The HMAS Choules, is expected to make two or three voyages over the coming days, state authorities said. Elsewhere, long queues formed outside supermarkets and petrol stations as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape the fires, emptying shelves of staples like bread and milk. More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water.

“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”

Temperatures are forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) along the south coast, bringing the prospect of renewed firefronts to add to the around 200 current blazes.

[Reuters]