Category: International Cooperation

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]

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]

Technology could promote growth in African countries

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Africa is closely watched as the next big growth market. There are many reasons for optimism: the African continent is home to some of the youngest populations in the world, it promises to be a major consumption market over the next three decades, and it is increasingly mobile phone-enabled. An emerging digital ecosystem is particularly crucial as multiplier of that growth.

Despite these reasons for optimism, the promise remains unfulfilled. Growth in Africa has stalled; both the IMF and the World Bank have cut their 2019 economic growth projections for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The World Bank projects that if poverty reduction measures and growth remain sluggish, Africa could be home to 90% of the world’s poor by 2030.

Despite these sobering statistics, the rapid spread of mobile digital technology [can] help various countries “leapfrog” ahead in economic development. Based on size (of economy and population), economic growth, median age, quality of governance, and digital momentum :

South Africa – South Africa is a regional leader buoyed by strong consumer demand for digital businesses and an institutional environment that offers supportive regulations, comparing favorably against key emerging market nations in Latin American and Asian/Southeast Asian regions. South Africa is also a regional leader in the deployment of several emerging technologies, such as biometric data and payment cards to deliver social security, drones in mining, which helps keep it at the innovative edge.
Kenya – Home to what’s known as a “Silicon Savanah” in Nairobi, Kenya has a growing, tech-savvy ecosystem. Thanks to the popularity of M-Pesa, the mobile payments capability, over 70% of Kenyans have a mobile money account.
Rwanda – Rwanda has been moving to transform itself into a digital hub.
Egypt – The digital technology sector is Egypt’s second-fastest growing sector. The country is also producing a large number of skilled graduates.
Nigeria – Nigeria has a powerful entrepreneurial climate, with innovative ventures, and Africa’s leading startup investment destination in 2018.
Ethiopia – While it has the most ground to cover among the six countries studied, Ethiopia is experiencing positive developments in several areas that can facilitate digitally enabled growth. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has a background in and understanding of the tech sector and has been implementing reform in a number of sectors.

[Harvard Business Review]

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]