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]

Helping displaced families in northern Afghanistan survive the winter

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Prolonged drought throughout much of Afghanistan in late 2018 has added to the challenges and misery displaced families in Aliabad are facing right now.

Drought-related conditions and crop failures affected families on two fronts. They were unable to grow their own food, and they were unable to work in their traditional occupation as day laborers on local farms.

Insecurity in the region, combined with severe food insecurity due to crop failures, food shortages, and an inability to earn income during the growing season, has put families at great risk.

HOPE International Development Agency has been responding by supporting families facing severe food insecurity. Women and children are a key point of focus right now and are being helped through the provision of essential food items including flour, rice, and butter.

[HOPE]

China pledges nearly US $600 million in aid to Cambodia

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China will provide Cambodia with $587.6 million in aid over the next three years, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said this week, as Phnom Penh further cements ties with Beijing in the face of sanctions threats from the European Union.

Hun Sen met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for bilateral talks during a three-day trip to Beijing and requested aid from China, his country’s largest donor and investor. “The Chinese President said that in 2019, China will import 400,000 tonnes of rice from Cambodia, will increase bilateral trade to U.S. $10 billion by 2023 and encourage more Chinese investment,” Hun Sen added.

Additionally, the prime minister said, the two nations signed several smaller deals that would see China provide Cambodia with a highway from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, a clean water initiative, and a bodyguard compound to protect the Council of Ministers in the capital, as well as restore several temples in Cambodia and rebuild its National Route 7, which was damaged in recent floods.

The meeting in Beijing comes as Western influence in Cambodia is on the decline amid criticism of Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) over rollbacks on democracy in the lead up to and aftermath of a July 29 election.

[Radio Free Asia]

How climate change leads to colder winters

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A record-breaking cold snap is relentlessly descending on parts of the U.S. this month. In a time when climate change is discussed in the context of record highs, droughts, and wildfires, cold weather and blizzards can seem out of place. For those who deny that climate change is happening, it’s an opportunity to undermine scientific consensus.

How do you explain a cold winter in a world that scientists say is getting hotter?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between climate and weather. Climate is defined as the average weather patterns in a region over a long period of time. Each of these climate regions experiences day-to-day fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, air pressure, and so on—daily variations known as weather.

When the term “global warming” was popularized a few decades ago, it referred to the phenomenon of greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming the average temperature of the planet. Though record high temperatures in many places have been one impact of this decades-long shift, scientists now understand that an atmosphere changed by rising levels of gases like carbon and methane leads to more climate changes than just warming. Scientists believe Earth will experience more extreme, disastrous weather as the effects of climate change play out.

In response to President Trump’s January 20 tweet about cold temperatures, Potsdam University physicist Stefan Rahmstorf noted on Twitter that, while North America was experiencing cold Arctic air, the rest of the world was abnormally hot. And, the polar vortex bringing that cold air to the U.S. may actually become increasingly unstable, Rahmstorf noted. As more Arctic air flows into southern regions, North America can expect to see harsher winters. That was the conclusion of a study published in 2017 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Record cold temperatures and blizzards aren’t the only extreme weather patterns expected… floods [will] last longer and droughts become more persistent. One study published in Science Advances last October predicted extreme, deadly weather events could increase by as much as 50 percent by 2100. Scientists have already found climate change contributed to California’s historic, deadly wildfires and powerful, destructive hurricanes.

[National Geographic]

US aid cuts hit most vulnerable Palestinians

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Tens of thousands of Palestinians are no longer getting food aid or basic health services from the United States as US-funded infrastructure projects have been halted.

The Trump administration’s decision last year to cut more than $200m in development aid to the Palestinians is forcing NGOs to slash programs and lay off staff as the effects ripple through a community that has spent more than two decades promoting peace in the Middle East.

President Trump says the USAID cuts are aimed at pressuring the Palestinians to return to peace talks, but Palestinian officials say the move has further poisoned relations after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year.

Aid groups, many of which have little or no connection to the Palestinian Authority, say the cuts hurt the most vulnerable Palestinians and those most committed to peace with Israel.

Sadeqa Nasser, a woman living in Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, used her monthly $130 voucher to support her disabled husband, their six children and four grandchildren. She says her sons each bring in less than $5 a day from odd jobs. “They cannot afford to buy food for their families, so I help them out,” she said.

Since the aid was cut off, she’s been able to qualify for welfare payments from the Palestinian Authority, which itself relies heavily on foreign aid. “Without it, we would go hungry,” she said.

170 migrants feared dead after two shipwrecks in Mediterranean

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At least 170 people are feared dead after they went missing from two separate shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea which departed from Libya and Morocco.

The UNHCR said rescue vessels from Moroccan and Spanish rescue have searched for the boat and survivors “for several days to no avail.”

Meanwhile, the non-governmental organization Sea Watch said in a statement Saturday night that there were only three survivors from a shipwreck in the central Mediterranean. “They say they left Libya on an inflatable dinghy with 120 people. There are 117 people dying or missing,” head of the Sea Watch Mission, Kim Heaton-Heather said.

Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed the country’s ports to migrant boats in June and the populist government has passed new anti-immigrant laws.

[CNN]

A problem with the term ‘philanthropist’

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Fundraising academic Beth Breeze says people who give large donations are celebrated in the US, but British culture has a problem with the idea of a “philanthropist”.

Breeze, who is director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, said that in the US large donations from very wealthy people were celebrated and seen as something to aspire to. “There’s a very distinct culture of philanthropy in the US, one where they’re pretty positive and encouraging about the use of private wealth to advance the public good,” she said.

Despite the UK’s long tradition of charitable giving, she said, British people seemed to be a lot more comfortable celebrating smaller donors. “If you stick a few zeroes on the end of a donation, people get a bit uncomfortable and unsure how to react,” she said. “We reject the word ‘philanthropist’ in this country. Major donors here will often say ‘I’m not a philanthropist, I’m just generous, I’m just doing what I like’.”

She said this problem was often played out in newspapers, which made snide comments about the large-scale giving of billionaire Bill Gates.

[Third Sector]