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]

Charity to airdrop aid using fleet of drones

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A Dutch organization has successfully tested the technology for delivering aid. Wings For Aid has just used a test aircraft to drop 18 boxes from a height of 100m, including two boxes containing raw eggs – all of which survived intact. The test took place at an airbase in the Netherlands, as part of the charity’s development of the concept of providing essential aid to people cut off from terrestrial supplies.

Barry Koperberg, general manager of Wings For Aid, said his organization plans to “bridge the last mile” to reach people beyond the reach of conventional aid logistics. At the heart of the concept is a specially designed all-cardboard “delivery box” that can be dropped from a height of up to 500m without a parachute.  “We have developed a cargo drone with eight boxes of 20kg carrying humanitarian aid,” he said.  The boxes can contain food, water, shelter kits or medical supplies.

“With pinpoint precision we can deliver it anywhere worldwide. Anyone worldwide will be in reach of such a system. Think of Haiti, think of Somalia, think of the Nepal earthquake, where you are out of touch for a couple of days or a couple weeks.”

Wings For Aid, whose start-up has been co-funded by the Dutch government, calculates that while 100 million people involved in crises were provided with emergency supplies last year, an estimated 20 million in need did not. In past humanitarian disasters, essential infrastructure has been destroyed by floods or earthquakes. In some parts of the world, those in need may be located deep inside conflict zones, beyond the reach of aid trucks. While helicopters can sometimes be used, they are expensive and have limited capacity. In addition, pilots will not fly in areas where they believe they may be targeted.

Mr Koperberg said: “We hope launch our first aircraft, which is now being built, in 2020. Meanwhile we are testing the whole system. A very good application of modern technology, I think.”

[The Independent]

Powerful quake kills 13 in Albania as buildings bury residents

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At least 13 people were killed when the most powerful earthquake to hit Albania in decades shook the capital Tirana and the country’s west and north on Tuesday, tearing down buildings and burying residents under rubble. Residents, some carrying babies, fled apartment buildings in Tirana and the western port of Durres after the quake struck shortly before 4 a.m. (0300 GMT).

The 6.4 magnitude quake was centered 30 km (19 miles) west of Tirana, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, and was also felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia. Hours later a magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit Bosnia, with an epicentre 75 km (45 miles) south of Sarajevo, monitors said.

In the northern Albanian town of Thumane, Marjana Gjoka, 48, was sleeping in her apartment on the fourth floor of a five-storey building when the quake shattered the top floors. “The roof collapsed on our head and I don’t know how we escaped. God helped us,” said Gjoka, whose three-year-old niece was among four people in the apartment when the quake struck.

Five people were found dead in the rubble of apartment buildings in Thumane, and a man died in the town of Kurbin after jumping out of a building, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said. Seven bodies were pulled from collapsed buildings in Durres, the main port and tourism destination, the Defence Ministry said, adding 39 had been pulled out alive from under the ruins. Defence Minister Olta Xhacka said 135 people were injured.

Firefighters, police and civilians were removing the debris from collapsed buildings in Thumane. Most of the buildings that collapsed were built of bricks, a Reuters reporter said. Rescuers there used a mechanical digger to claw at collapsed masonry and remove a tangle of metal and cables. Others groped with bare hands to clear rubble.

Greece had sent emergency services for search and rescue operations, its premier’s office said. Albania is the poorest country in Europe, with an average income of less than a third of the European Union average, according to Eurostat data.

On September 21, an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude had previously shook the country, damaging around 500 houses and destroying some.

[Reuters]

Aid groups condemn Greece over ‘prison’ camps for migrants

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Greece is being criticized for adopting legislation in contravention of basic human rights. Under the new approach, land and sea borders will be reinforced with about 1,200 more guards, and extra patrol vessels and deportations stepped up, and closed installations will replace open-air camps. International aid groups have overwhelmingly condemned the measures. After criticizing asylum legislation also passed this month, they predicted the remodeled facilities would only exacerbate the humanitarian disaster unfolding on Europe’s frontiers.

Martha Roussou, senior advocacy officer for the International Rescue Committee in Greece, said: “The creation of closed facilities will simply mean that extremely vulnerable people, including children, will be kept in prison-like conditions, without having committed any crime.”

The Greek branch of Amnesty International called the plans “outrageous”. Likening Lesbos’s infamous Moria refugee camp to a “human rights black hole”, it said: “In reality, we are talking about the creation of contemporary jails with inhumane consequences for asylum seekers, and more widely, negative consequences for the Aegean islands and their inhabitants.”

With Greece being lashed by rainstorms as winter intensifies, groups have increasingly raised the alarm over what many are calling a humanitarian disaster. Officially, reception facilities on Samos, Lesbos, Chios, Kos and Leros have a capacity to accommodate about 5,400 people. About 37,000 asylum seekers are on the islands.

The number of men, women and children making the treacherous sea crossing from Turkey has risen by 73% this year, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. It said the vast majority are refugees fleeing persecution and war.

After visiting the camps last week, Médecins Sans Frontières’ international president, Christos Christou, said: “I’ve been truly shocked and devastated by the extent of the emergency. Men, women and children are trapped in endless drama … In Moria on Lesbos there’s one latrine per 200 people. In Samos, one latrine per 300. This human tragedy needs to end now and it can if Greece and Europe choose to enact a responsible migration system and end these containment policies.”

[The Guardian]

Arizona activist who gave migrants humanitarian aid acquitted in second trial

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Activist Scott Warren has been acquitted on charges he illegally harbored two Central American migrants, after facing two trials over what he insisted was simply helping people in need.

It was the second trial for Warren; a mistrial was declared last June after a jury deadlocked on harboring charges.

Warren was arrested in January 2018 by US agents who were staking out a humanitarian aid station in Arizona known as The Barn, where two Central American men had been staying for several days. The camp is run by a group No More Deaths that tries to prevent immigrants from dying in the desert.

Warren, 37, says the group’s training and protocol prohibit advising migrants on how to elude authorities. The group drops off water for migrants in the desert and runs a camp to aid injured migrants. He said his interest is in saving lives.

He and his supporters say Donald Trump’s administration has increasingly scrutinized humanitarian groups that leave water in the desert. The federal judge overseeing the trial barred Warren from mentioning the president.

[The Guardian]

Weighed down by economic woes, Syrian refugees head home from Jordan

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According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, 34,000 registered Syrian refugees have returned from Jordan since October 2018, when a key border crossing was reopened after years of closure. It’s a fraction of the 650,000 registered Syrian refugees remaining in Jordan, but a dramatic jump from previous years, when annual returns hovered at around 7,000.

Syrian refugees from the other main host countries – Turkey and Lebanon – are making the trip too. UNHCR has monitored more than 209,000 voluntary refugee returns to Syria since 2016, but the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher.

Many refugees in Jordan say they are simply fed up with years spent in a dead-end job market with a bleak economic future. Syrian refugees need a permit to work in Jordan but they are limited to working in a few industries in designated economic zones. Many others end up in low-paying jobs, and have long faced harsh economic conditions in Jordan.  Thousands of urban refugees earn a meagre living either on farms or construction sites, or find informal work as day laborers.

“I’m not returning because I think the situation in Syria is good,” said Farah, a mother of three who spoke to TNH in September – about a month before she packed up her things to leave. “But you don’t enter into a difficult situation unless the one you’re currently in is even worse.” 

Asked whether it is safe for refugees to go back to Syria, Francesco Bert, a UNHCR spokesperson in Jordan, said the agency “considers refugees’ decisions as the main guideposts”, but gives refugees considering or planning to return “information that might inform their decision-making”, to help ensure it is truly voluntary.

[The New Humanitarian]

One-third of Afghans need urgent humanitarian aid, millions suffer ‘acute food insecurity’

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Over the last three months, around one-third of the Afghan population required urgent humanitarian action, according to the United Nations, which declares that some 10.23 million people are living in a state of “severe acute food insecurity”.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which is monitoring a number of key food security indicators in Afghanistan, estimates that the situation is likely to get worse heading into next year, with the numbers of those experiencing severe acute food insecurity set to rise to 11.29 million (with 2.7 million in an Emergency situation, and 8.6 million in a Crisis situation), between November 2019 and March 2020.

A lack of opportunity in the labor market could, says the report, impact the livelihoods of vulnerable groups; as could the uncertain political climate and security situation, with upcoming elections affecting the outlook; food prices, which could rise in the Winter months; and extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods.

The November Alert from the IPC includes several recommendations to alleviate the food insecurity problems faced by the population. Providing humanitarian food assistance, in cash or kind, is one such proposal, as well as helping farmers to obtain quality seeds for the forthcoming season (most farmers do not have the capability to obtain seeds from any source).

Afghanistan has seen record-high levels of civilian casualties in the third quarter of 2019, stemming mainly from the violence between pro- and anti-Government elements. July documented the country’s bloodiest month on record, with the highest number of civilian casualties in a single month since the UN began systematic documentation in the country, in 2009.

[UN News]

Hurricane Dorian inflicted $3.4B losses on Bahamas

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Hurricane Dorian inflicted losses of about $3.4 billion on the Bahamas, an amount equal to one-quarter of the Caribbean archipelago’s GDP, according to a report released Friday.

The report by the Inter-American Development Bank also said there were 67 confirmed deaths and that 282 people were still missing as of late October. Nearly 29,500 people lost homes or jobs, or were temporarily displaced by the Category 5 storm that hit Grand Bahama and Abaco islands in early September, the report said.

The development bank said reconstruction will require big investments and will take many years. Dorian was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever to make landfall, unleashing a storm surge of up to 7.6 meters (25 feet).

Destruction of homes and other buildings as well as infrastructure caused damage amounting to $2.5 billion, with 87% reported in Abaco and the remainder in Grand Bahama, according to the development bank. Some 9,000 homes were damaged and seven schools destroyed, leading to the reassignment of 1,500 displaced students, the report said. It described damage to some tourism facilities as “catastrophic.”

Another $717 million in losses was caused by the storm’s impact on the production of goods and services provided, with the private sector sustaining 84% of that total, the report said. It estimated another $221 million in costs for the cleanup of an oil spill in Grand Bahama and debris removal and demolition.

Atisha Kemp, an activist in the capital of Nassau, said Bahamians are frustrated with the government and that many of the displaced are still living in tents, with power and water lacking in some areas.

[AP]

More than half the population of Syria in need of humanitarian aid

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Over 11 million people across Syria need aid — more than half the country’s estimated population — and the U.N. and other organizations are reaching an average of 5.6 million people a month, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Thursday.

Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that across northern Syria 4 million people are supported by U.N. cross-border deliveries including 2.7 million in the northwest, the last major opposition-held area in the country.

With the resolution authorizing cross-border aid expiring in December, Lowcock stressed to the council that “there is no alternative to the cross-border operation” and its renewal is “critical. He warned that without a cross-border operation, “we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians” which would cause “a rapid increase in hunger and disease. A lot more people would flood across the borders, making an existing crisis even worse in the region,” he added.

Lowcock said he remains very concerned about the situation in the northwest, pointing to an increase in airstrikes and ground-based strikes mostly in parts of southern and western Idlib in recent weeks. “In the last two days there have been reports of over 100 airstrikes in Idlib and surrounding areas,” he said. More than half the people in Idlib moved there from other parts of the country, and hundreds of thousands are living in camps and informal shelters near the Turkish border, he said.

[AP]

I’m a humanitarian. Don’t prosecute me for doing my job.

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In 2011, I negotiated in Afghanistan with the Taliban and the United States to establish a trauma hospital in the northern city of Kunduz that would care for the wounded and sick, regardless of who they were. Between 2012 and 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières treated thousands of patients – mostly civilians, but also Taliban and Afghan army patients. This we celebrated as a win for impartial humanitarian action.  

But front lines changed, and during a fateful week in October 2015 when the Taliban took control of the town, US and Afghan counter-terrorism forces declared the entire area, and the people in it, as hostile territory. Arguing that Taliban fighters had “taken over” our hospital, the United States bombed it five times over the span of two hours, until it burned to the ground, with everyone in it. The only Taliban inside were patients – hors combat. I would return to Afghanistan shortly after to mourn the lives of 48 staff and patients who died that day, some scorched to death in their hospital beds.

The bombing of our hospital in Kunduz was condemned around the world, and the United States ultimately financially compensated the families of the victims. But an independent investigation to determine why the hospital was bombed was denied. It is an extreme example of what can go wrong when the impartiality of humanitarian action is not respected.

A new bill before the Dutch government threatens to make the same mistake. The law proposes to criminalize citizens’ travel – without Dutch government permission – to areas it designates as controlled by ‘terrorist’ organizations. The criteria upon which such permission will be granted are not clear. Aimed originally at preventing Dutch citizens from joining the so-called Islamic State, this broad new law has serious inadvertent effects on me and many others in many other places around the world.

As a Dutch aid worker regularly travelling to such areas to deliver lifesaving medical assistance, this new law, if adopted, essentially obliges me to prove I have no terrorist intentions prior to saving lives. This remarkable reversal of the burden of proof not only restricts and endangers my own profession, but violates the humanitarian principle of impartiality that populations trapped in conflict rely on. This principle guarantees that their needs, not which side of the front line they find themselves, determines their access to assistance.

Impartiality is the core tenet of humanitarianism relief. For a medical organization such as ours, the consequences of such legislation are even more dire. Under international law, both civilians and combatants have a right to medical care. This was one of the main purposes of the Geneva Conventions, which allow special protection under IHL for an impartial humanitarian body that collects the wounded and sick. Combatants receiving medical care are considered hors combat and have the same status as civilians. This means MSF has the legal right – and responsibility – to treat everyone, even ‘terrorists’ and even in ‘designated areas’. 

Saving lives is not a crime. Under international law, preventing me from doing so is.

[Excerpts of article by Michiel Hofman, Senior humanitarian specialist with Médecins Sans Frontières]