Category: Humanitarian Aid

U.S. Aid Agency staff for Palestinian projects being laid off

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Under orders from the Trump administration, the U.S. Agency for International Development is preparing to lay off most of its Palestinian aid workers in its West Bank and Gaza mission, according to U.S. government communications reviewed by NPR.

It’s the latest step toward shrinking a decades-long U.S. aid mission to build the capacity for a future Palestinian state.  The decision to dismiss the aid workers raises questions about how the Trump administration can implement the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan it vows to soon unveil — with an emphasis on major investments in the Palestinian economy, potentially funded by Gulf Arab states.

“It’s a huge mistake,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, who served during the Obama administration. “None of this makes any sense,” he said.

The move was seen as an effort to pressure Palestinian leaders to cooperate with U.S.-led peace efforts. The Trump administration said Wednesday that it will unveil its peace plan after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assembles his new government and after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in early June.

A former development officer at USAID choked up as he spoke with NPR about his former Palestinian colleagues. “I’m emotional about this. We meant to change people’s lives,” he said, speaking anonymously because he did not wish to speak out against his former employer. “People really believed this is doable. USAID [has been] putting in infrastructure for factories, building hundreds of schools, creating thousands of jobs. There was a real hope there might be a future where we could live independently. Now that hope is collapsing.”

For years, USAID’s Palestinian staff often faced personal risk during armed conflict or threats from Palestinian groups for working with the U.S. 


East Africa warned to brace for food shortages

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East Africa has been warned of imminent food shortages due to the delay or failure of long rains. The situation is likely to be critical in the next six months, Speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai warned in Arusha on Monday evening.

“We are seeing less and less rains this year, and this signals an imminent famine,” he said during the launch of the Eastern Africa Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (EAPA-FSN).

He told lawmakers from ten countries that are members of the alliance that should the trend remain unchanged, Tanzania is likely to face food shortages not seen in recent years.

“In northern Kenya, the situation is pathetic,” Mr Ndugai said, adding that the drought menace has once again hit the entire eastern African region.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said that this year’s April was likely to be the driest on record since 1981. “Rainfall levels through mid-April will likely be amongst the driest on record (since 1981) in some areas,” said Mr David Phiri, FAO representative to the African Union.

Dr Phiri said at least 7.1 million poor households in eastern Africa are expected to experience food gaps mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Food scarcity will especially hit 12 million internally displaced people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, and 5.3 million refugees in seven other countries, including Tanzania.

[All Africa]

How smallholder farmers increase productivity and mitigate climate change

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Across the globe, researchers and policy-makers are racing to inform ambitious climate change mitigation targets for agriculture and develop implementation plans that will allow us to limit climate change to 1.5 or 2 degrees. 104+ countries are building on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to climate action in agriculture.

And there is action on the ground: farmers are employing best management practices in agriculture that mitigate climate change. And because the benefits to the farmers are tangible, increasing numbers of farmers are adopting these climate-smart agriculture practices.

In the feature story linked below, we highlight five specific, scalable agriculture practices employed by farmers that increase productivity or profits and contribute to climate change mitigation.

These cases show that the transformation to low emissions agriculture can come with multiple benefits—for farmers, national food security, water, human health, biodiversity, and more. Read more

Red Cross aid to Venezuela to triple as Maduro stance softens

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The International Committee of the Red Cross is to triple aid to Venezuela, a day after the crisis-riven country’s leader approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The organization announced the increase in the face of mounting calls for the UN to recognize the scale of the crisis facing Venezuela, and amid continued moves by the Trump administration to persuade other countries to back its calls for the removal of President Nicolás Maduro.

With the health system in collapse, and food and electricity shortages now commonplace, the Maduro government has been accused of deliberately minimizing the scale of the problems facing the country even as millions have fled over its borders.

A joint report last week by Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health urged the UN to take a lead in what it described as a “complex humanitarian emergency” that demanded a “full scale” international response. The 71-page report documented rising maternal and infant deaths, the unchecked spread of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria, and sharp increases in the transmission of malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

Peter Maurer, the ICRC president, was in Venezuela this week, the first visit to the country by the organisation’s head in a quarter of a century. “I am satisfied with the willingness of the authorities to work with us to address the humanitarian needs we have identified in a consensual way,” Maurer said in the statement.

Announcing the aid increase, the Geneva-based organization said: “The ICRC has tripled its budget for operations in Venezuela from about $9m [£6.8m] to about $24.6m.

[The Guardian]

Poorest countries bear the brunt as aid levels fall for second successive year

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Experts have warned that the fight against global poverty has taken a backward step after new figures show foreign aid has fallen for a second successive year. Aid levels dropped last year by 2.7% from 2017, with the poorest countries worst hit, according to figures published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Bilateral aid – direct, country-to-country assistance – to the least developed countries fell by 3% in 2018, with support to the African continent down 4% and humanitarian assistance dropping by 8%.

Toni Pearce, Oxfam’s head of advocacy, said: “The overall fall in aid globally is a worrying trend that risks exacerbating poverty and inequality worldwide. Cutting aid to the poorest and most vulnerable countries is a step backwards in the fight to end extreme poverty.

“With refugee numbers at their highest since the second world war, disasters like Cyclone Idai devastating lives, and food crises looming in Yemen and elsewhere, the fall in humanitarian aid is particularly alarming. Vulnerable people across the world rely on this essential lifeline when disaster hits.”

Angel Gurría, the OECD secretary general, also expressed concern: “This picture of stagnating public aid is particularly worrying as it follows data showing that private development flows are also declining. Donor countries are not living up to their 2015 pledge to ramp up development finance, and this bodes badly for us being able to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals.”

Only five of the 30 development assistance committee (DAC) members met or exceeded the longstanding aid target of 0.7% of gross national income target: Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Turkey and the UAE donated 1.10% and 0.95% of their gross national income.

[The Guardian]

Life after Cyclone Idai

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When Cyclone Idai struck southeastern Africa on March 14, the storm destroyed more than 18,000 homes. The U.N. estimates that over 130,000 people are still in temporary shelters. The death toll is now 598 and expected to rise as officials reach remote areas to assess the damage. And in the wake of the storm, over 2,000 cases of cholera have been reported so far.

Some 148 people live on Rathmore Estate, a vast plantation in Zimbabwe that produces, timber and macadamia nuts for export. Only in the past week have medical charities and community village health workers begun to provide care for the farmworkers and their family members.

Matthew Chidambazina, 42, who lives on the estate, suffered severe arm and leg injuries after the roof of his home collapsed. It took seven days for medics to reach him. “I had deep cuts that went right to the bone and I needed stitches, but I couldn’t get to the hospital on time,” he says. “By the time the doctors came to the farm, they said it was too late [for stitches] so I’ve just been put on painkillers and antibiotics to reduce infection from the pus in the wounds.”

His co-worker, Tichanai Mutungwe, 38, bears both physical and emotional pain. He badly injured his arm while trying to save his 16-month-old child from being taken by the flood waters. The current was so strong that he couldn’t hold onto her. Days later, Mutungwe found his daughter’s body at the bottom of the slope from the farmworkers’ houses. Mutungwe’s right hand has deep lacerations and his chest hurts from being dragged by the muddy waters. He’s been improvising to treat his injuries. “I use betadine to clean my wounds, but we don’t have enough bandages or painkillers for my hand.” And he feels he must recover quickly: “I’ve lost so much, but as a man I have to get back to work as soon as I can to feed my family. They need me to provide,” he told NPR.

Maidei Masawi, the village health worker for the Rathmore area, told NPR, “I’ve been asking for simple things like painkillers, but we can’t get them,” says Masawi. “There are small babies who are coughing and have this flu that won’t go away, but there’s nothing I can do for them. I can only wait to see what we can get from the outside aid.”

Health providers are still struggling to reach people in remote areas. “We are making efforts to get to the patients in the field and we try to give them what they need, but the major challenge is accessibility,” says Farai Marume, the emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontieres). “We’ve tried to send some medications and team to assist at Chimanimani Rural Hospital, we have a list of the gaps and we’re still trying to meet those gaps with our other [NGO and government] partners,” he said.


NGOs blast US for undermining Criminal Court

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The US has already withdrawn both from the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris while, at the same time, it has either cut off, or drastically reduced, funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and for UN peacekeeping operations (by a hefty $500 million).

The most recent attack has been directed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague which was planning to investigate war crimes committed in Afghanistan, focusing both on the Taliban and US soldiers.

The US action to revoke the visa of Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, has not only triggered protests from academics and from human rights and civil society organizations (CSOs) but also left several lingering questions unanswered.

When the United Nations decided to locate its secretariat in the city of New York, the United States, as host nation, signed a “headquarters agreement” back in 1947 ensuring diplomatic immunity to foreign diplomats and pledging to facilitate the day-to-day activities of the world body– without any hindrance.

Is the revocation of the visa the shape of things to come, with political leaders from countries such as Iran, Venezuela and Cuba– blacklisted by the Trump administration– being refused admission when they are due in New York next September for the annual General Assembly sessions?

The protests against the US decision have come from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the World Federalist Movement- Institute for Global Policy (WFM/IGP). The letter from the three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) states “the purpose of the visa restrictions is to block and deter legitimate criminal investigation into serious crimes under international law”.

Dr. Tawanda Hondora, Executive Director of WFM-IGP, told IPS the Trump administration has been consistent in its reckless application of retrogressive policies that undermine a rules-based international order. He said its policies are seriously damaging the post-WWII system of international law and practice, and have exponentially increased the risk of armed conflict in a world in which many more states now possess weapons of mass destruction.

Dr Martin S. Edwards, Associate Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in the US, told IPS both civil society and other countries are right to be critical here. It would be ironic that a President that frames his accomplishment as a reassertion of American power would be afraid of what he would say from the podium, said Dr Edwards. But the hallmark of this US Presidency has been a singular focus on controlling perceptions and information, rather than confidently relying on our diplomatic prowess to produce results.

[Inter Press Service]

To solve the US border crisis, look to its cause

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When a problem is misdiagnosed, it is no surprise that it gets worse. The current “crisis at the border” is real, but one that results from flawed policy analysis and inappropriate policy responses. Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson recently stated that the Trump administration strategy at the border is not working because it does not address the underlying factors.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials overseeing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) project that they will have over 100,000 migrants in their custody for the month of March, the highest monthly total since 2008. As many border security experts have noted, these numbers are not unprecedented. Border apprehensions of all irregular migrants (including asylum seekers) remain lower than the peak of 1.6 million in fiscal year 2000.

The policy crisis we face is not one of the volume of migrants but the demographic mix of the migrants and the factors that are propelling their flight to the United States. Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy and former senior official in the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) during the George W. Bush administration, makes a compelling case that the current apprehension statistics are not comparable to those of the past: “In the past, nearly everyone entering the United States unlawfully attempted to evade authorities, whereas today’s border crossers are mostly turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents and seeking asylum.”

Making matters worse, DHS uses dated policy tools that were crafted in response to young men attempting to enter the United States to work. At that time, they most often were from Mexico and thus could just be turned around at the border because they came from a contiguous country.

Today, the migrants are families with children from the northern triangle countries. Rather than being pulled by the dream of better jobs, these families are being pushed by the breakdown of civil society in their home countries. As the Pew Research Center reports, El Salvador had the world’s highest murder rate (82.8 homicides per 10,000 people) in 2016, followed by Honduras (at a rate of 56.5). Guatemala was 10th (at 27.3). Many of them have compelling stories that likely meet the “credible fear” threshold in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

It is becoming clear that the harsh, capricious policies of the Trump administration are exacerbating the influx of asylum seekers from Central America. The Migration Policy Institute’s Doris Meissner, who served as the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration, explains: “Because people are uncertain about what’s going to happen. They see the policies changing every several months. They hear from the smugglers that help them, and from the communities in the United States that they know about, that the circumstances are continually hardening. And so with the push factors that exist in Central America — lots of violence, lots of gang activity — they’re trying to get here as soon as they can.”

[Excerpt of Opinion by Ruth Ellen Wasem, a professor of policy practice at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas in Austin]

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.


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]