Category: International Cooperation

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]

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]

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]

Student climate protests snowballing

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Thousands of Belgian students skipped classes for the fourth week in a row on Thursday to protest against global warming, part of a growing youth protest around the world.

Beating drums, chanting and carrying signs, some 30,000 teenagers braved the cold in Brussels and other cities to call on local politicians for stronger action to prevent climate change.

“It’s our planet and the generation before us hasn’t done anything,” said Julian Rume, 17. “In 20, 30 years, we will all be migrants, we’ll all be moved out of our planet.”

The demonstrations are part of a broader grassroots movement started by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, 16, last year.

Students in Germany, Switzerland, France and Australia have followed her lead and also skipped classes to protest.

Thunberg took her protest to this month’s World Economic Forum in Davos to galvanize leaders meeting there to action.

[Reuters]

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]

Humanitarian investing gathers speed at Davos

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Finding ways to channel more private investment into humanitarian settings was a hot topic this year at Davos — the World Economic Forum’s 48th annual meeting in Switzerland — which included the tentative launch of a development impact bond to create jobs for Syrian refugees.

The IKEA Foundation said it will provide €6.8 million ($7.7 million) to fund the outcomes of the bond, which has been put together by impact finance firm KOIS, and aims to help up to 12,000 Syrian refugees and host populations in Jordan and Lebanon earn a living. 

New research by British think tank the Overseas Development Institute shows that job creation activities have the potential to offer a financial and social return on investment. But some delegates expressed reservations about the role the private sector should play in financing humanitarian efforts.

Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that while he sees a big opportunity for the private sector to come in where there are “investable activities,” it is important not to assume too much from investors and businesses that are ultimately profit-driven.

The development impact bond is part of a broader effort to attract new financing for humanitarian efforts in the face of an increasing number of protracted crises. Between 2005-2017, the number of active crises nearly doubled from 16 to 30 and the average length of active United Nations interagency appeals also increased, according to UNOCHA. Despite these growing needs, donor financing has not kept pace. Experts also say funding needs to be longer-term and to embrace the humanitarian-development continuum in order to reflect the extended nature of the crises.

Per Heggenes, CEO at the IKEA Foundation, said that financial tools such as development impact bonds could help bridge the funding gap. “The needs are increasing, and we can’t expect it all to be covered by donors; we have to look to involve the private sector partly on the funding side but also [for] their knowledge and networks which can be more valuable than just money.”

Speaking during a session Tuesday, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said aid actors tend to see fragile states as “places where it is impossible to do something.” While many organizations are working on income-generating activities, they tend to be “left alone by the international aid system,” he said.

[Devex]

Why more snow with climate change?

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Extreme winter weather often prompts a fresh wave of public skepticism from those who doubt the existence or severity of human-caused climate change. When the Northeast USA received 2 feet of snow earlier this month, President Trump tweeted, “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”

As experts point out, short-term variations in the weather—even when they result in extreme snowfall or record-breaking cold—don’t negate the long-term trend of global warming. Decades of data unambiguously demonstrate that average temperatures all over the world are on the rise.

But when it comes to winter weather, and specifically snow, teasing out the effects of climate change is a special challenge. It seems as though snow—arguably the most iconic feature of a cold climate—should be one of the most obvious indicators of global warming. But scientists are finding that it’s not that simple.

Climate change has conflicting influences on snow. In many places, rising temperatures may increase the chances that snow will turn to rain before it hits the earth or that it will melt faster once it’s on the ground. On the other hand, warmer air is capable of holding more moisture and producing more precipitation. That means in some very cold climates, where there’s still plenty of room for temperatures to stay below freezing, warming could actually cause an increase in snow.

Scientists broadly agree that snow will change in most places as the climate continues to warm, said David Robinson, New Jersey’s state climatologist and head of the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab. But exactly how and why, from one location to the next, may be among the most challenging questions about weather and climate change.

paper published last March found that about a third of all monitoring sites in the western United States are showing significant snowpack declines and that the total amount of water stored in the average April snowpack has declined by 21 percent since 1915. A 2011 paper said the recent declines are likely the most dramatic the region has seen for a thousand years.

2016 analysis of satellite records also pointed to a broad pattern of decreasing snow cover across the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in the spring, with the strongest effects seen in western North America and Eurasia.

But the researchers note that the coldest parts of North America—namely, Canada and parts of the northern United States—might be expected to actually see an increase in the amount of snow.

Gerard van der Schrier, a scientist with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, says that two seemingly conflicting snow trends can be true at the same time. Some of van der Schrier’s research published last year found widespread declines in snow depth across much of Europe. But in the very coldest places, he pointed out, the opposite appears to be true.

[Scientific American, as reprinted from Climatewire]