Category: Uncategorized

Disaster response projects could lose funding due to border wall

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Mexico won’t pay for President Trump’s border wall. But Northern Californians might. Many of them live near the country’s most flood-prone urban watersheds.

Houston residents could shoulder the cost, too, along with Texans along the Gulf of Mexico, where the Army Corps of Engineers is working on 10 disaster projects funded by Congress in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Florida might have to put beach nourishment projects on hold. And upgrades to the 60-year-old dike ringing Lake Okeechobee, which many consider to pose the state’s greatest flood risk, could have to wait.

Puerto Rico, still in tatters after Hurricane Maria, could lose funding for a critical flood project in the heart of San Juan, where rapid runoff from the Rio Puerto Nuevo Basin threatens 6,500 people and homes and infrastructure valued at $3 billion.

These are among the 57 construction projects totaling $13.9 billion that the Army Corps prioritized last year. The White House appears to have identified that funding as a potential source of cash for building a border wall if Trump declares a national emergency to circumvent Congress’ spending authority.

That disaster aid could be seen as a potential funding stream for Trump’s proposed $5.7 billion wall. Trump has raised the specter of a national emergency to prod reluctant Republicans and entrenched Democrats in Congress to accept his demand for wall funding which has resulted in the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

[Scientific American]

Life expectancy higher worldwide

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Worldwide life expectancy in 2016 was 72 years, up from 66.5 years in 2000.

The gain of 5.5 years in worldwide life expectancy between 2000 and 2016 was the fastest gain since the 1960s and reversed the declines of the 1990s caused by AIDS in Africa and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Child mortality rates for children under five years of age have fallen from 216 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1950; to 39.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017.

[NPR]

International humanitarian aid takes the form of more cash rather than goods

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In 2016, cash transfers and vouchers made up about 10 percent of international humanitarian aid, or $2.8 billion, up from 2.5 percent a year earlier.

Donors and big aid agencies have committed to supplying more aid in the form of cash. International NGO World Vision, for example, expects to provide fully half of its spending in the form of cash by 2020.

Cash aid offers an elegant solution for buying goods and renting accommodation, and injects funds into local economies.

As unconditional cash aid grows in scale, UN agencies and NGOs are having to redefine their raison d’être. Cash threatens the traditional “business model” of many aid groups: a highly specialist aid agency (focusing on supplying just food or shelter, for example) makes little sense if families make their own purchasing decisions.

Financial service providers are taking over a significant role – and a percentage of the value transferred. In Turkey, for example, the European Commission provides cash transfers for 1.3 million Syrian refugees, in collaboration with the Turkish government, state-owned Halkbank, the Red Crescent, and the UN. The two-year contract is worth €650 million.

Why not cash should be the first question asked before starting any aid project, a key 2015 study published by UK think tank the Overseas Development Institute urged. Yet institutional and technical hurdles linger, some based on misperceptions. Cash aid doesn’t succumb to more fraud than bags or boxes of goods. Fears that recipients will spend the cash unwisely – on tobacco and alcohol, say – have also proven unfounded.

[IRIN]

Massive storm bringing torrential rain and waves up to 16 feet high is pounding Thailand

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A tropical storm bringing torrential rain, high winds, and waves up to 16 feet high has slammed into Thailand in what could be the nation’s worst storm in more than 30 years. The national meteorological service warned of “severe conditions” still to come.

The storm made landfall over the Pak Phanang district on the country’s east coast, according to the Thai Meteorological Department. The department warned that “torrential downpours” would strike the mainland.

Forecasters expect the storm to slow as it moves over land, at which point it would be classified as a depression rather than a tropical storm. It could still cause significant damage in this weakened state.

Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said thousands of residents in coastal areas had been evacuated.

Thousands of tourists are trapped on some of the country’s most popular islands, including Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao, CNN reported.

The US and Israel have quit UNESCO

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The United States and Israel officially quit the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace. The Paris-based organization has been denounced by its critics as a crucible for anti-Israel bias: blasted for criticizing Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, naming ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites and granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.

[TIME]

Number of injured in Indonesia tsunami surges to over 14,000, with over 400 deaths

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The number of injured in the volcano-triggered tsunami along the coast of Sunda Strait in Indonesia jumped significantly to 14,059, as search and rescue operations continue.

The death toll from the Dec 22 tsunami, triggered by the eruption of Anak Krakatau volcano and the ensuing underwater landslide, has reached at least 437 people. The total number of displaced persons was put lower to 33,719, after reaching a peak of 40,386 on Friday. , The tsunami destroyed 2,752 houses and 510 ships.

The spokesman of national disaster management agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said search and rescue operations continued as many were believed to remain missing in the provinces of Banten and Lampung, with the emergency status being extended.

The strong eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano has reduced the height of the volcano to 110 meters from 338 meters, volcanologists said.

The Anak Krakatau volcano, or “Child of Krakatoa” volcano in English, is one of the 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, a nation home to 17,500 islands and which sits on a vulnerable quake-hit zone so called “the Pacific Ring of Fire”.

[The Star]

As the US debates Trump’s wall, thousands of migrants being dumped at the border

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As the high-stakes immigration debates rage nationally over walls, U.S. border troops, caravans and a federal government shutdown, crowded buses rolled into the downtown Greyhound station in El Paso. That’s where hundreds of migrant asylum-seekers were sent after federal detention centers hit full capacity as more and more people squeeze into ill-equipped border stations.

U.S. authorities released more than 1,500 migrants this week in El Paso alone, including 522 on Wednesday, the largest single-day release.  The scene in El Paso is being played out at many locations along the Texas and Arizona border.  Church shelters recently have been taking in about 2,200 to 2,300 migrants a week.

“I am really, really disappointed when my government does things like this,” Ruben Garcia, executive director of Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter that coordinates local migrant assistance efforts, said of the mass release. “The bottom line is you don’t release families with young children to the streets.”

But the churches that host people remain overloaded.  Without way stations like Annunciation, says newly elected U.S. Rep.- Veronica Escobar, (D-Texas), migrants who have been processed by ICE would end up on the streets homeless, hungry and without support.

Garcia said immigration holding facilities on the border were initially set up to hold men — not families. “It’s inappropriate to be holding families in holding cells.” Garcia added that he had heard that women, especially those pregnant, were being released due to crowding at the women’s detention area of one immigration detention center in El Paso. Read more

Migrant families are being dumped in US border cities

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Estela Tomas Felipe was one of the more than 1,500 migrants released in El Paso this week. At the Greyhound station, Felipe, with her one-year-old daughter strapped to her back, was in good spirits, and heading to Birmingham, Alabama, to meet her husband, who left Guatemala two months ago.

She left her poor farming community in Guatemala 21 days ago. There, “they take women and then they rape them or kill them,” she said as she explained why she and her daughter made the harrowing trip by truck and other vehicles through Mexico and into the United States. “That’s why I came here.”

Following the deaths of two Guatemalan children this month who were in Customs and Border Protection custody, advocates expressed concern that US immigration authorities were rushing migrants through the asylum process.

Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, who died Christmas Eve, tested positive for influenza B, according to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. 

Jakelin Caal, 7, also Guatemalan, died December 8 at an El Paso children’s hospital after being detained with her father and while preparing to travel by bus to a Border Patrol station in New Mexico.

The chaos at the border has also been complicated by the partial government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s insistence on including funds for a border wall in the federal budget.

[USA Today]

US refugee policy also puts a damper on Christians

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Laith Yakona wants only one thing for Christmas, the same thing he has prayed for the last four Christmases: To spend the holidays with his family.

War, bombings, kidnappings, death threats, and death squads failed to break up the Yakona family in their hometown of Baghdad before leaving for Jordan. Yet after a decade of their navigating the increasingly polarized war-torn Iraq and then a life in exile, one event has split the family in two: A new life in America.

“As soon as my parents left for America, our lives here have been on hold,” Mr. Yakona says from the sparse rented apartment he shares with his sister in Amman. “Our family is torn in two, and we have been given no reason why.”

Yakona is one of thousands of Christian refugees from the Middle East whose arrival on American soil has been put on hold indefinitely amid the Trump administration’s slowdown and downsizing of the US refugee program. With the policy to tighten the borders, the US intake of refugees has dropped dramatically. In fiscal year 2017, the US government accepted a quota of 110,000 refugees. Under President Trump, the ceiling was lowered to 45,000 for fiscal year 2018. But according to the State Department, the US only took in half that number, 22,500, in 2018.

The new Trump Administration policy has disproportionally impacted Christian refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The US intake of Christian refugees from across the Middle East was down 99 percent from 2017 to 2018, and for Iraqi Christians, down 98 percent, according to State Department statistics analyzed by World Relief, a Christian organization that advocates opening US borders to refugees.

“American churches, primarily evangelical churches, may not realize that there is a dramatic slowdown in refugee resettlement, and they definitely don’t realize that persecuted Christians have been so dramatically shut out,” says Mathew Soerens, US director of church mobilization at World Relief.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Child mortality continues to fall

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With the decline in extreme poverty. There’s been an overall improvement in global health. One such example: kids born in 2017 are much less likely to die in their first five years of life than kids born in 1990 were.

The global under-five mortality rate fell from 93 per 1,000 to 39 to 1,000, meaning it fell by over 58 percent!

We don’t have data for 2018 yet, but given the change just between 2015 and 2017, it’s likely there was a further decline.

In 2015, the under-five mortality rate fell from 42 to 39 worldwide, meaning overall deaths fell from 5.8 million to 5.4 million.

[Vox]