Category: Humanitarian Aid

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!

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]

American music producer travels to Lebanon to record an album with refugees

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When Souzda fled the deadly shelling in northern Syria, she thought she was leaving behind more than just her home. The 22-year-old was studying music and had hopes of one day becoming a singer, but the bombs that drove her to escape also threatened to lay waste to her dreams. In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, Souzda not only found safety but also the chance to rekindle her musical ambitions. Since early this year, she has been writing, composing and recording songs with American producer and singer Jay Denton.

Denton, a musician who studied international relations and has traveled the world, believes music has the power to connect people from all walks of life. Equipped with a mobile recording studio that he typically travels with, he came to Lebanon to make an album with refugees.

“When I sat down with them the first time, they said one of the hardest things about life here is that they don’t feel like they have a voice,” says Denton. He is now working with a group of more than 10 Syrians and an Iraqi refugee, composing and recording various songs.

Souzda has written and recorded a Kurdish-language song about her hometown, Afrin, where an escalation in fighting uprooted more than 150,000 people from their homes. The song tackles themes of war and sorrow, but also of hope. “I wanted people, my people, when they heard us to feel that life has not ended, there is still hope and as long as you have a will you can produce something anywhere you go,” she explains. “Music is… the language I can express myself in.”

As soon as he finishes recording the music with the refugees in Beirut, Denton will go back to Los Angeles, where he is now based, to finish the album in collaboration with a number of American artists. He plans to release the record early next year.

Souzda says music has kept her going through conflict and displacement. “Music is life, the language I can express myself in. I can express my pain, my joy, I can speak in music. It’s the closest language to people’s hearts.”

Lebanon is currently host to around 920,000 registered refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria, as well as more than 14,000 refugees from Iraq.

[UN High Commissioner for Refugees]

Three-country crisis across central Sahel puts whole generation at risk, warns UN food agency

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Violent attacks by extremists “almost every day” in the Sahel nations of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have displaced nearly one million people and caused emergency levels of malnutrition, the UN has said.

Burkina Faso is worst hit, with one-third of the country now a conflict zone, where extremists exploit ethnic tensions and poor infrastructure. According to Government data, nearly half a million people have been displaced in Burkina Faso in less than a year, but that figure is likely to reach 650,000 before the end of 2019.

“A dramatic human crisis is unfolding in Burkina Faso that has disrupted the lives of millions. Close to half a million people have been forced from their homes and a third of the country is now a conflict zone,” said WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley. “Our teams on the ground are seeing malnutrition levels pushed well past emergency thresholds – this means young children and new mothers are on the brink. If the world is serious about saving lives, the time to act is now.”

David Bulman, WFP Country Director in Burkina Faso, said with extremists moving freely across borders, it was now a “three-country crisis” leading civilians to flee. “And for those populations that don’t particularly notice the border, they just see their safest route away from insecurity and they take it…When they’re displaced it means that they basically leave everything behind, and most of them are doing farming and some animal raising so they are really very dependent.“

While WFP has helped some 2.6 million people with food and nutrition assistance in the three Sahel countries, it has warned that in some areas, severe acute malnutrition is skyrocketing and affecting “thousands” of children, Mr. Bulman said. Among those displaced in Burkina Faso, levels of severe acute malnutrition are more than three times the emergency threshold, he explained.

[UN News]

So little aid money goes to preventing violence against women and girls

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Some 14 million refugees and displaced women and girls were subjected to sexual violence in 2019, according to a new report from the International Rescue Committee.

Still, gender-based violence is often seen as a “second-tier priority” during a humanitarian response, and the lack of funding to prevent it bolsters that reality. Of the $41.5 billion spent on humanitarian responses between 2016 and 2018, just $51.7 million – less than 0.2 percent – was spent on GBV prevention for women and girls.

Research shows that disasters and displacement exacerbate violence against women and girls. A 2017 study conducted in South Sudan found that 65 percent of women and girls had experienced violence in their lifetimes. Another 2014 study found that one in five women who had been displaced had experienced sexual violence.

Violence against women and girls in humanitarian or displacement settings is often used as a tool to push people out of their homes and communities; it’s used as a tool of warfare, and unfortunately is a very successful tool to break down communities and families.

It can also be a result of the way humanitarian aid is provided. For example, water and sanitation services may be set up in a way where women and girls may not use the toilet or shower facilities because they have to walk down a path that makes them walk by large groups of men. It could be that they don’t have locks on the facilities, so women and girls can’t secure themselves when they’re bathing.

Lots of food distributions are not set up in a way where women and girls are protected. Distributions may be too heavy for them to carry, and they may have to rely on men with carts to carry them to the place where they’re staying – there could be heightened levels of exploitation just in that moment.

[Read more at The New Humanitarian]

Charity to airdrop aid using fleet of drones

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A Dutch organization has successfully tested the technology for delivering aid. Wings For Aid has just used a test aircraft to drop 18 boxes from a height of 100m, including two boxes containing raw eggs – all of which survived intact. The test took place at an airbase in the Netherlands, as part of the charity’s development of the concept of providing essential aid to people cut off from terrestrial supplies.

Barry Koperberg, general manager of Wings For Aid, said his organization plans to “bridge the last mile” to reach people beyond the reach of conventional aid logistics. At the heart of the concept is a specially designed all-cardboard “delivery box” that can be dropped from a height of up to 500m without a parachute.  “We have developed a cargo drone with eight boxes of 20kg carrying humanitarian aid,” he said.  The boxes can contain food, water, shelter kits or medical supplies.

“With pinpoint precision we can deliver it anywhere worldwide. Anyone worldwide will be in reach of such a system. Think of Haiti, think of Somalia, think of the Nepal earthquake, where you are out of touch for a couple of days or a couple weeks.”

Wings For Aid, whose start-up has been co-funded by the Dutch government, calculates that while 100 million people involved in crises were provided with emergency supplies last year, an estimated 20 million in need did not. In past humanitarian disasters, essential infrastructure has been destroyed by floods or earthquakes. In some parts of the world, those in need may be located deep inside conflict zones, beyond the reach of aid trucks. While helicopters can sometimes be used, they are expensive and have limited capacity. In addition, pilots will not fly in areas where they believe they may be targeted.

Mr Koperberg said: “We hope launch our first aircraft, which is now being built, in 2020. Meanwhile we are testing the whole system. A very good application of modern technology, I think.”

[The Independent]

Powerful quake kills 13 in Albania as buildings bury residents

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At least 13 people were killed when the most powerful earthquake to hit Albania in decades shook the capital Tirana and the country’s west and north on Tuesday, tearing down buildings and burying residents under rubble. Residents, some carrying babies, fled apartment buildings in Tirana and the western port of Durres after the quake struck shortly before 4 a.m. (0300 GMT).

The 6.4 magnitude quake was centered 30 km (19 miles) west of Tirana, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, and was also felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia. Hours later a magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit Bosnia, with an epicentre 75 km (45 miles) south of Sarajevo, monitors said.

In the northern Albanian town of Thumane, Marjana Gjoka, 48, was sleeping in her apartment on the fourth floor of a five-storey building when the quake shattered the top floors. “The roof collapsed on our head and I don’t know how we escaped. God helped us,” said Gjoka, whose three-year-old niece was among four people in the apartment when the quake struck.

Five people were found dead in the rubble of apartment buildings in Thumane, and a man died in the town of Kurbin after jumping out of a building, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said. Seven bodies were pulled from collapsed buildings in Durres, the main port and tourism destination, the Defence Ministry said, adding 39 had been pulled out alive from under the ruins. Defence Minister Olta Xhacka said 135 people were injured.

Firefighters, police and civilians were removing the debris from collapsed buildings in Thumane. Most of the buildings that collapsed were built of bricks, a Reuters reporter said. Rescuers there used a mechanical digger to claw at collapsed masonry and remove a tangle of metal and cables. Others groped with bare hands to clear rubble.

Greece had sent emergency services for search and rescue operations, its premier’s office said. Albania is the poorest country in Europe, with an average income of less than a third of the European Union average, according to Eurostat data.

On September 21, an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude had previously shook the country, damaging around 500 houses and destroying some.

[Reuters]

Aid groups condemn Greece over ‘prison’ camps for migrants

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Greece is being criticized for adopting legislation in contravention of basic human rights. Under the new approach, land and sea borders will be reinforced with about 1,200 more guards, and extra patrol vessels and deportations stepped up, and closed installations will replace open-air camps. International aid groups have overwhelmingly condemned the measures. After criticizing asylum legislation also passed this month, they predicted the remodeled facilities would only exacerbate the humanitarian disaster unfolding on Europe’s frontiers.

Martha Roussou, senior advocacy officer for the International Rescue Committee in Greece, said: “The creation of closed facilities will simply mean that extremely vulnerable people, including children, will be kept in prison-like conditions, without having committed any crime.”

The Greek branch of Amnesty International called the plans “outrageous”. Likening Lesbos’s infamous Moria refugee camp to a “human rights black hole”, it said: “In reality, we are talking about the creation of contemporary jails with inhumane consequences for asylum seekers, and more widely, negative consequences for the Aegean islands and their inhabitants.”

With Greece being lashed by rainstorms as winter intensifies, groups have increasingly raised the alarm over what many are calling a humanitarian disaster. Officially, reception facilities on Samos, Lesbos, Chios, Kos and Leros have a capacity to accommodate about 5,400 people. About 37,000 asylum seekers are on the islands.

The number of men, women and children making the treacherous sea crossing from Turkey has risen by 73% this year, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. It said the vast majority are refugees fleeing persecution and war.

After visiting the camps last week, Médecins Sans Frontières’ international president, Christos Christou, said: “I’ve been truly shocked and devastated by the extent of the emergency. Men, women and children are trapped in endless drama … In Moria on Lesbos there’s one latrine per 200 people. In Samos, one latrine per 300. This human tragedy needs to end now and it can if Greece and Europe choose to enact a responsible migration system and end these containment policies.”

[The Guardian]

Arizona activist who gave migrants humanitarian aid acquitted in second trial

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Activist Scott Warren has been acquitted on charges he illegally harbored two Central American migrants, after facing two trials over what he insisted was simply helping people in need.

It was the second trial for Warren; a mistrial was declared last June after a jury deadlocked on harboring charges.

Warren was arrested in January 2018 by US agents who were staking out a humanitarian aid station in Arizona known as The Barn, where two Central American men had been staying for several days. The camp is run by a group No More Deaths that tries to prevent immigrants from dying in the desert.

Warren, 37, says the group’s training and protocol prohibit advising migrants on how to elude authorities. The group drops off water for migrants in the desert and runs a camp to aid injured migrants. He said his interest is in saving lives.

He and his supporters say Donald Trump’s administration has increasingly scrutinized humanitarian groups that leave water in the desert. The federal judge overseeing the trial barred Warren from mentioning the president.

[The Guardian]