Category: Humanitarian Aid

UN and Syrian Red Crescent delivering humanitarian aid to 40,000 displaced Syrians

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The United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) are carrying out their largest ever humanitarian convoy to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to more than 40,000 displaced people at the remote Rukban ‘makeshift’ settlement in south-eastern Syria, on the border with Jordan. The convoy arrived today, and the operation is expected to last approximately one week.

The joint UN and SARC inter-agency convoy consists of 118 trucks with humanitarian assistance and will deliver food, health and nutritional supplies, core relief items, WASH materials, education items and children’s recreational kits to people at the site, the vast majority of whom are vulnerable women and children. Vaccines for some 10,000 children under five-years-of-age will also be part of the convoy as a well as a needs assessments will be carried out.

“This large-scale delivery of essential humanitarian supplies to the extremely vulnerable in Rukban could not have happened a moment too soon. The humanitarian situation there has been deteriorating due to harsh winter conditions and the lack of access to basic assistance and services. There have been reports of at least eight young children’s deaths in recent weeks”, said the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator a.i. Mr. Sajjad Malik.

“While this delivery of assistance will provide much-needed support to people at Rukban, it is only a temporary measure. A long-term, safe, voluntary and dignified solution for tens of thousands of people, many of whom have been staying at the Rukban settlement for more than two years in desperate conditions, is urgently needed,” stressed Mr. Malik.

[UN]

2018 was fourth hottest year on record

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Last year was the fourth warmest on record and the outlook is for more sizzling heat approaching levels that most governments view as dangerous for the Earth, a U.N. report showed on Wednesday.

Average global surface temperatures were 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times in 2018, the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, based on data from U.S., British, Japanese and European weather agencies. “The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt – in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Weather extremes in 2018 included wildfires in California and Greece, drought in South Africa and floods in Kerala, India.

Last year, the United States alone suffered 14 weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion each, led by hurricanes and wildfires, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

[Reuters]

Forecast: Earth’s warmest period on record

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The forecast for the global average surface temperature for the five-year period to 2023 is predicted to be near or above 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels, according to the Met Office (the UK’s national weather service). If the observations for the next five years track the forecast that would make the decade from 2014 to 2023 the warmest run of years since records began.

Records for annual global average temperature extend back to 1850.

Professor Adam Scaife, Head of Long-Range Prediction at the Met Office said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level. The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Forecast patterns suggest enhanced warming is likely over much of the globe, especially over land and at high northern latitudes, particularly the Arctic region.

Professor Tim Osborn, director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, which co-produces the HadCRUT4 global temperature figures with the Met Office Hadley Centre, said: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.”

[EurekAlert!]

Venezuela’s Maduro shuns humanitarian aid while asking for sanctions relief

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Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro has an offer for the U.S.: If you want to bring humanitarian aid into the country, you must lift economic sanctions first.

The autocratic leader, who blames U.S. imposed sanctions for shortages of food and medicine that existed long before, said he will not allow the delivery of humanitarian aid expected to reach Venezuelan borders. The shipments are being orchestrated by Juan Guaido, who is challenging Maduro as the legitimate head of the nation, and an international coalition including the U.S. and Canada.

“You want to help Venezuela? Then let the blockade end,” Maduro said on state TV late Monday night. “We are not beggars. You want to come humiliate Venezuela and I will not let our people be humiliated.”

The looming showdown over aid represents a “lose-lose gambit” for Maduro as he will either have to allow the goods to enter the country, bolstering Guaido, or force the military to block the delivery, which would likely lead to more blow back in the streets, Eurasia Group Analyst Risa Grais-Targow said in a note on Monday.

Maduro, who has largely allowed Guaido to roam the streets with no restrictions to take part in press conferences, speak with foreign leaders and hold daytime rallies, sent a not-so-subtle warning to the 35-year-old lawmaker seeking to unseat him: “Until when is he going to continue his virtual mandate? Until 2025 or until he ends up in jail by mandate of the Supreme Court?”

[Bloomberg]

We are entering an age of mass displacement

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More than 68 million people are currently exiled from their homes by violence, more than at any other point in recorded history. By 2050, according to a recent study by the World Bank, at least another 140 million people will be forced to relocate because of the effects of climate change. Accelerating inequality, meanwhile, continues to drive inhabitants of poor regions to wealthier ones. While the most recent exodus of refugees from wars in the Middle East into Europe has peaked, such colossal population transfers will soon become routine.

In the midst of this unprecedented wave of dislocation, thousands of migrants disappear every year. These disappearances are a function, largely, of the imperatives of secret travel. Lacking official permission to cross borders, “irregular migrants” are compelled to move covertly, avoiding the gaze of the state. In transit, they enter what the anthropologist Susan Bibler Coutin has called “spaces of nonexistence.” Barred from formal routes, some of them are pushed onto more hazardous paths—traversing deserts on foot or navigating rough seas with inflatable rafts. Others assume false identities, using forged or borrowed documents. In either case, aspects of the migrant’s identity are erased or deformed.

This invisibility cuts both ways. Even as it allows an endangered group to remain undetected, it renders them susceptible to new kinds of abuse. De facto stateless, they lack a government’s protection from exploitation by smugglers and unscrupulous authorities alike. Seeking safe harbor, many instead end up incarcerated, hospitalized, ransomed, stranded, or sold into servitude. In Europe, there is no comprehensive system in place to trace the missing or identify the dead. Already living in the shadows, migrants who go missing become, in the words of Jenny Edkins, a politics professor at the University of Manchester, “double disappeared.”

Taken as a whole, their plight constitutes an immense, mostly hidden catastrophe. The families of these migrants are left to mount searches—alone and with minimal resources—of staggering scope and complexity. They must attempt to defy the entropy of a progressively more disordered world—seeking, against long odds, to sew together what has been ripped apart.

[Harpers]

Digital Technology to Empower Women

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If you own a bank account, chances are you are better off than a third of women worldwide. If that bank account comes with a nice app on your phone, you’re probably economically better off than 60 percent of women worldwide. And, as research suggests, you likely have more autonomy and agency.

Women’s economic empowerment is a holy grail for both policymakers and women’s advocates but is recognizably difficult to attain. Data from India, Indonesia, and Tanzania offer preliminary evidence that the smart offering of digital products to women, both mobile financial services (especially savings) and digital IDs, can be transformative. This offers cautious optimism that the ongoing revolution in digital technologies can help change entrenched social norms that keep millions of women in subordinate positions in the family.

Digital money makes it cheaper to provide financial services, and digital ID expands access to these services. When well-designed digital products target women as individuals (separate from husbands and family) and provide them with privacy to make financial decisions, they boost women’s economic independence and say in household decision-making, as evidence points out.

In both Indonesia and Tanzania, women microentrepreneurs who were encouraged to open mobile-savings accounts reported having greater household decision-making power compared to women who were not offered mobile savings. The empowerment effect in Indonesia was present for women who received financial literacy training and worked with branchless bank agents who received high financial incentives to sign up new customers (and were told that it was good to target women).

In Rajasthan state in northern India, a government mandate to designate women as heads of households to receive direct benefit transfers contributed to a major push towards their financial inclusion. Two-thirds of the women heads of households did not have a bank account before this initiative started in 2014.

Digital technologies can expedite financial inclusion policy goals—especially for women. But technology alone cannot close the gender gap. There must be continuous policy commitment to equality for equality’s sake and an aligned effort to leverage fintech for all.

[Center for Global Development]

Pakistani students taking the lead to protect their schools

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Government Girls Middle School (GGMS) located in the village of Araq in Swat District is one of the 137 schools that were destroyed by various natural and man-made disasters in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province over the past decade.

In October 2005, a massive earthquake hit Pakistan, and destroyed 8,000 schools, killing more than 17,000 children and 900 teachers in classrooms. This was followed by devastating floods in 2007, which destroyed countless homes and resulted in loss of livestock and livelihood, prompting some families to move. The province, which is located along the border with Afghanistan, has also faced human crisis and security issues in the past decade. forcing nearly three million people to move to other parts of the country.

The Government of Pakistan has now rebuilt all the schools. And to help communities be prepared to face disasters and mitigate their impact, UNICEF supports the Government of Pakistan’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programmes in three provinces, with generous support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

UNICEF and partners have trained committee members and provided them with DRR kits. The trainings focus on hazard mapping, first aid, firefighting and mock drills to develop an effective level of preparedness among teachers, students and communities. So far, UNICEF has trained approximately 68,000 children in 313 schools across the provinces of KP, Sindh and Balochistan. The project is expected to continue until the end of year 2019, helping more children, parents and teachers contribute to safe and resilient communities.

[PreventionWeb]

Strengthening women’s voices in land decisions

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Since the mid 2000s, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a land rush driven by factors such as rising commercial agriculture, mineral extraction and large infrastructure projects. This has increased pressures on land and the livelihoods that depend on it.

While investments in agriculture can potentially provide local benefits, they often result in communities losing their land due to exclusionary practices.

Women tend to lose out more than men. They are often excluded from decisions that determine land allocation. And with weaker tenure security, the land that provides their main source of livelihood is more easily taken away.

Over the past two-and-a-half-years, IIED alongside partners in Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania that seeks to strengthen women’s voices in local land governance. While local land governance differs by country, one similarity is clear: women have very limited influence on how land is allocated.

In Tanzania and Ghana this is largely due to a lack of legal implementation and patriarchal socio-cultural norms. Land issues are often perceived as a man’s issue because land is traditionally tied to family lineages and men are generally seen to have sole responsibility for land management and decision-making. Division of labor also plays a role: women tend to work longer hours making it harder to attend community meetings.

Discussions highlighted that Tanzania’s decentralised governance system – with its local government bodies, gender quotas (the minimum number of women required to be members of village councils) and clear democratic processes for allocating land – holds real potential for developing replicable locally-owned solutions to improve women’s participation.

In Ghana, local-level land management is governed by customary law and practices. Decisions on land allocation are usually made by traditional chiefs or family heads (mostly men) and rarely involve community members. Getting women involved would not only require navigating local customs but also establishing inclusive and participatory platforms.

[International Institute for Environment and Development]

Harsh winter threatens lives of millions of Syrians

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The people of Syria are suffering a cold hard winter, with freezing temperatures, snowfall and heavy rain resulting in flooding which is destroying shelters and forcing tens of thousands more people to move. Millions are living under tents or tarpaulins or in damaged buildings with no power or heating. There are severe shortages of all the basics.

The United Nations and its partners have been raising funds that have supported 1.2 million Syrians with vital winter items, including plastic sheeting to reinforce shelters, stoves and heating fuel, blankets, jackets and winter clothes.

The weather has been especially difficult for people in Idlib, where the risk of military escalation continues to loom. Three million people in Idlib and neighboring areas in northwest Syria simply have nowhere else to flee should there be a full-scale military incursion into the area. The September agreement between Russia and Turkey was followed by a significant decrease in ground fighting and airstrikes. However, January saw an increase in fighting between non-State armed groups.

Some 42,000 people remain stranded in Rukban along the Syria-Jordan border. A second convoy will include more than 100 trucks of relief supplies, focusing on food, winterization support and health, nutrition and household and water and sanitation items. Monitoring will be further enhanced, with some 250 United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent personnel accompanying the convoy. There will be a 5-kilometre buffer zone between the armed groups present in the area and the convoy to avoid any interference. However, protection for the accompanying personnel at the offloading point and the accommodation site, is still being negotiated.

[UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country]

5 insights from the UN humanitarian agency

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Here are five insights from an annual report from UNOCHA, the U.N. humanitarian agency, called World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2018 (The figures are from 2017, the most recent year for which the agency has complete data):

Humanitarian resources must be stretched even further for more and longer-lasting crises. –Since 2005, the number of active crises with internationally led responses has nearly doubled. On average, crises have also almost doubled in length from four to seven years. Funding appeals have also more than tripled, although only 60 percent of the 2017 appeals were funded. More than 80 percent of the funding required that year was for just eight “mega-crises,” as the report calls them, that have lasted five years or more, in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Traditional disaster response isn’t cut out for long crises. –Humanitarian responses are not designed to be sustained over a long period of time. The aim is to save lives and address the human impact of emergencies. Development efforts, on the other hand, address long-term issues like poverty and health, as well as building resilience and stability. As humanitarian crises drag on in the absence of political solutions, that distinction is beginning to blur.

It’s becoming more dangerous to be an aid worker. – In 2017, health care workers were the victims of more than 700 targeted attacks.

Water is causing conflict. –Pronounced swings in seasonal water supplies are threatening stability in some areas. The question of who controls natural water resources and water systems was a major trigger of conflicts in 45 countries, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa.

Technology is improving the quality of aid. –“It’s not all doom and gloom,” says Lilian Barajas, managing editor of the report. Even though the cost of humanitarian assistance has increased, people are getting higher quality and better aid. A large reason for this, she says, is because “the humanitarian community is also getting better at incorporating new technologies into our work.”

[NPR]