400,000 people driven from their homes by ISIS since June

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With U.S. airstrikes keeping ISIS at bay and the help of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, thousands of Yazidis have been able to evacuate Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains, making a U.S.-assisted evacuation mission “far less likely,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told CNN’s “New Day” that while the operation is a success so far for Obama, it is a mistake to declare victory too early.

The United Nations on Wednesday announced its highest level of emergency for a humanitarian crisis, saying the number of people on the run from ISIS is of grave concern.

It estimates that more than 400,000 people have been driven from their homes since June, when ISIS swept across the border from Syria into Iraq. Of those displaced, more than 200,000 have poured into Dohuk province in recent weeks, where refugee camp populations have swelled since ISIS began its assault against Yazidis, Christians and Kurds.

Thousands of other refugees sought protection inside the northern Kurdish region of Iraq.

“To be blunt, we don’t have housing for all of them. We don’t have shelter,” a spokesman for the U.N. human rights commissioner, Edward Colt, told CNN at a camp near the Peshkhabour bridge where Iraqis are entering the area. “Thousands of tents are being erected as we speak.”


Conditions for Russian aid to eastern Ukraine

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A convoy of 280 Russian trucks reportedly packed with aid headed for eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, but Ukraine said it would not let the mission in because it is not being coordinated by the International Red Cross and could be a covert military operation.

The goods would be stopped at the border and transferred to other vehicles, Reuters news agency reported, citing Ukrainian presidential aide Valery Chaly.

Among the pre-conditions is that these much-needed supplies would be distributed by Ukrainian authorities.  Also, the convoy must cross at a point controlled by the military, not the pro-Russia separatists.

The Russian trucks departed Naro-Fominsk on Tuesday after an agreement was initially reached between Russia and Ukraine on Monday to allow a Red Cross-led humanitarian mission into the eastern region of Luhansk. Luhansk has borne the brunt of the fighting, and food and energy supplies are running short.

Russia has told reporters the trucks will be taking 400 tons of cereals, 100 tons of sugar, 62 tons of baby food, 54 tons of medical drugs and stock, as well as 12,000 sleeping bags and 69 power generators to the civilians of Luhansk.

[Al Jazeera]

Rescue for thousands of besieged Yazidi refugees in Iraq

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At least half of the 40,000 Yazidi people besieged by jihadists on Mount Sinjar had escaped by Sunday night, aided by Kurdish rebels who crossed from Syria to rescue them.

The refugees, all members of the Yazidi sect, began streaming back into Iraqi Kurdistan after a perilous journey past Islamic State militants who had vowed to kill them and had surrounded their hideout on Mount Sinjar after storming the area.

Fleeing Yazidis said their escape had been aided by the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish rebel faction, and by US air strikes on Islamic State, positions which had forced the jihadists to withdraw for around six hours on Saturday. Their retreat gave a window for thousands of Yazidis, all desperately low on food and water, to begin streaming down the mile-high mountain and north across the Nineveh plains.

Though many Yazidis have now reached safety, the siege of Mount Sinjar is not yet broken; many thousands more are thought to remain on the southern side of the 60-mile-long ridge, unable to reach the safe passage that the Kurdish fighters had secured towards the Kurdish north.

Britain said it had airdropped food and water to those still trapped. Iraq and Turkey, along with the US, had also delivered aid. However, Yazidis said much of the food and water dropped by the US using parachutes had disintegrated when it hit the ground.

One man who made the escape to Duhok, Ghassan Salim, 40, said: “The situation is critical. It is a human catastrophe. The children are in particular need of urgent assistance. And it is not only Yazidis – all the minorities, like Shabbak, Christians … need desperate help.”

“The drops didn’t reach more than 10% of those who need them. Helicopters and pilots were afraid to come close to the southern part of the mountain – thousands of people in that part received nothing.”

The past week has uprooted Yazidis, Christians, Turkmen and Shabak Shias from lands in which they had lived for several thousand years.

[The Guardian]  

Some humanitarian relief for Gaza

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The latest 3-day cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas militants allows some humanitarian aid into Gaza neighborhoods and the reopening of indirect talks on a more lasting and comprehensive deal.

On Monday morning, high school students in Gaza filed the streets as they headed off to pick up their graduation certificates. And people waited to buy fuel for generators as power and communication workers struggled to fix cables damaged in the fighting, while long lines formed at ATMs.

Turkey is pursuing a humanitarian aid corridor into Gaza, with the government’s plan to set up a hospital in Gaza.

Turkish aid organization the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) will attempt to send a humanitarian convoy to Gaza by sea in spite of Israel’s naval blockade, they have announced. The organization, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, said representatives from 12 countries had met in Istanbul over the weekend and would send ships loaded with humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip “in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza”.

The conflict that began July 8 and has left more than 1,900 Palestinians dead and nearly 10,000 wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, including three civilians, according to the Israeli military.

[Associated Press, Reuters]

Iraqi humanitarian chaos

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In Iraq, one of the most dire humanitarian nightmares has unfolded on Mount Sinjar, where tens of thousands of Yazidis have been trapped for over a week, after fleeing when ISIS fighters stormed the town of Sinjar.

On Sunday night, the U.S. military made a fourth airdrop of food and water, according to U.S. Central Command. In total, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 74,000 meals and more than 15,000 gallons of fresh drinking water, Centcom said.

Britain and France have said they will join the United States in the airdrops. A British C-130 cargo plane delivered aid to Iraq on Sunday, a Ministry of Defense spokesman said.

Iraqi security forces have been able to airlift about 100 to 150 people a day off Sinjar Mountain, said Marzio Babille of UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency. The Iraqi air force and fighters with the Kurdish peshmerga carried out a dramatic rescue mission Monday at Mount Sinjar, taking supplies to desperate Yazidis and bringing some on board the helicopter to make it safely out.

Teams hurled out bags and boxes of food, water, milk and diapers from as high as 50 feet before approaching the ground. “We landed on several short occasions, and that’s where — amid this explosion of dust and chaos — these desperate civilians came racing towards the helicopter, throwing their children on board the aircraft. The crew was just trying to pull up as many people as possible.”

It’s already too late to save dozens of children who’ve died of thirst. But for the 20 or so people rescued Monday, the relief was palpable. The crowd on board the helicopter burst into tears as it took off.


US responds to humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq

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ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) recently began an offensive on Sinjar, a city in the north western region of Nineveh in Iraq and home to at least 200,000 of the world’s 700,000 members of the Yazidi faith. While most fled to refugee camps in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, some 30,000 families ended up on Mount Sinjar, where they are now stranded, surrounded by jihadists.

U.S. military cargo planes airdropped 5,300 gallons of water and 8,000 meals onto Mount Sinjar, where it has been reported some Yazidi children had died from dehydration.

The British government said Friday it would support the U.S. humanitarian effort and planned airdrops of its own.

Meanwhile, the United Nations in Iraq was “urgently preparing a humanitarian corridor to allow those in need to flee the areas under threat,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the special representative to the U.N. secretary-general.

After the airdrops, President Obama then authorized “targeted airstrikes” against ISIS. The militant group’s new, abbreviated name, Islamic State, reflects its goal to establish a Sunni caliphate stretching from Syria to Baghdad. Obama made clear he had no intention of sending in ground forces.


Humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq as ISIS advances

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The advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Northern Iraq has displaced about 200,000 people, most of them coming from the Yazidi ethnic minority.

Iraqis displaced by fighting in the north-west of the country must be given urgent humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The appeal was made after hoards of civilians fled the town of Sinjar and surrounding areas following an attack by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which now goes by the name of the Islamic State. Tens of thousands are trapped without basic necessities or vital supplies in the Sinjar Mountain area south of the city, the human rights movement said in a statement.

“The civilians trapped in the mountain area are not only at risk of being killed or abducted by ISIS; they are also suffering from a lack of water, food and medical care, the organization said.

They are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who is currently in northern Iraq.

UN special representative of the secretary general for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, urged the country’s authorities to “work with the UN to ensure the delivery of life saving humanitarian assistance.” He has also called on the Kurdistan Regional Government, embattling the jihadists, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.


US, World Bank and businesses pledge billions for Africa

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President Obama announced that the U.S. government, World Bank and businesses will invest a combined $33 billion in Africa’s economy, showcasing America’s economic ties to a continent where trade and investment are increasingly dominated by China and Europe.

Obama said the United States will finance $7 billion in business exports and investments in Africa, while U.S. companies have inked $14 billion in deals with the continent.

And the World Bank, Sweden and private sources have pledged another $12 billion in funding for Obama’s Power Africa energy initiative, bringing the electrification program’s total funding to $26 billion.

U.S. food aid policy has shifted under the Obama administration. Rather than relying primarily on federal funds to support small farmers overseas, the administration has enlisted African companies and major multinationals to help address some of the development challenges Africans still face.

US-Africa Leaders Summit seeks to boost African trade

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Typically, people only look at Africa through the lenses of either humanitarian, health or security issues, says Amadou Sy, a senior fellow in the Africa Growth Initiative at the D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

That needs to change, says Sy, and a good start is the historic three-day U.S Africa Leaders Summit, which kicked off Monday and is gathering over 50 of Africa’s heads of state in D.C.

So-called hotspots of the continent often distract from how much has changed in Africa over the past couple decades, the economic gains it has made and why it’s important the U.S. fosters its continued growth, Sy says. “The bottom line is it makes sense,” Sy said. “After all, why did the U.S. support Europe after World War 2 and have the Marshall Plan? It was in its benefit to have a vibrant, economically strong Europe for trade. The same thing with Africa.”

The U.S. does not want to miss out on Africa’s growth potential. “You want to be part of that in terms of commerce, in terms of trade, in terms of investment,” Sy said. “And for strategic reasons also. Nobody wants to see a region of the world that is unstable.”

Africa still continues to struggle, and has some significant obstacles to overcome. More than 400 million people in Africa live in extreme poverty, one in three is malnourished, over 500 million suffer from water-borne diseases and 24 million are afflicted with HIV, according to George Ingram, a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Yet Ingram also notes that’s only part of the picture, writing in a recent blog. “It would be easy to focus on these statistics and see Africa as hopeless, as has been all too common. But a more holistic picture reveals trends that are cause for considerable optimism.”

From 2000 to 2010, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa, and Africa was the fastest-growing continent at 5.6 per cent in 2013, Ingram wrote.

Over the last 10 years, there have been fewer coups, more democratization, rapid urbanization, and some success stories, Sy said.

For example, almost everybody in Africa has a mobile phone, including those living in rural areas, Sy said. And a number of the biggest companies are already in Africa, including Microsoft, Wal-Mart and Google, which translates its pages into local languages.

China investment is well entrenched in the continent and has become the largest bilateral trade partner with Africa, surpassing the U.S in 2009.


Gaza misery heightened by latest war

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For the more than 1.8 million people squeezed into Gaza, a territory about twice the size of Washington DC, chaos has always infringed on the daily rhythms of life.

But the latest conflict with neighboring Israel has compounded the misery of many. Since Israel began Operation Protective Edge against Hamas on July 8, about 520,000 people in the small, impoverished territory have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations. That is 29% of the territory’s inhabitants!

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, an already crowded and impoverished territory.

And after Gaza’s only power plant was hit, residents are without electricity. Without refrigeration. Without water pumps and sewage systems.

At the main hospital, already stretched by weeks of fighting that left close to 1,900 people dead and thousands wounded, a pair of mega-generators powered crucial life-support equipment.

“We cannot supply electricity to hospitals or water pumps or sewage treatment or for domestic use,” Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza said. “People have to pump the water to the residential tanks but don’t have electricity.”

Jamal Derdsawoi, a representative of Gaza’s electric company, pointed at Israel. “By attacking the power plant and cutting the electricity, they’re killing the civilian life in Gaza,” he said.

The United Nations has said that a deliberate strike on the plant would be a violation of humanitarian law.