We are entering an age of mass displacement

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More than 68 million people are currently exiled from their homes by violence, more than at any other point in recorded history. By 2050, according to a recent study by the World Bank, at least another 140 million people will be forced to relocate because of the effects of climate change. Accelerating inequality, meanwhile, continues to drive inhabitants of poor regions to wealthier ones. While the most recent exodus of refugees from wars in the Middle East into Europe has peaked, such colossal population transfers will soon become routine.

In the midst of this unprecedented wave of dislocation, thousands of migrants disappear every year. These disappearances are a function, largely, of the imperatives of secret travel. Lacking official permission to cross borders, “irregular migrants” are compelled to move covertly, avoiding the gaze of the state. In transit, they enter what the anthropologist Susan Bibler Coutin has called “spaces of nonexistence.” Barred from formal routes, some of them are pushed onto more hazardous paths—traversing deserts on foot or navigating rough seas with inflatable rafts. Others assume false identities, using forged or borrowed documents. In either case, aspects of the migrant’s identity are erased or deformed.

This invisibility cuts both ways. Even as it allows an endangered group to remain undetected, it renders them susceptible to new kinds of abuse. De facto stateless, they lack a government’s protection from exploitation by smugglers and unscrupulous authorities alike. Seeking safe harbor, many instead end up incarcerated, hospitalized, ransomed, stranded, or sold into servitude. In Europe, there is no comprehensive system in place to trace the missing or identify the dead. Already living in the shadows, migrants who go missing become, in the words of Jenny Edkins, a politics professor at the University of Manchester, “double disappeared.”

Taken as a whole, their plight constitutes an immense, mostly hidden catastrophe. The families of these migrants are left to mount searches—alone and with minimal resources—of staggering scope and complexity. They must attempt to defy the entropy of a progressively more disordered world—seeking, against long odds, to sew together what has been ripped apart.

[Harpers]

Digital Technology to Empower Women

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If you own a bank account, chances are you are better off than a third of women worldwide. If that bank account comes with a nice app on your phone, you’re probably economically better off than 60 percent of women worldwide. And, as research suggests, you likely have more autonomy and agency.

Women’s economic empowerment is a holy grail for both policymakers and women’s advocates but is recognizably difficult to attain. Data from India, Indonesia, and Tanzania offer preliminary evidence that the smart offering of digital products to women, both mobile financial services (especially savings) and digital IDs, can be transformative. This offers cautious optimism that the ongoing revolution in digital technologies can help change entrenched social norms that keep millions of women in subordinate positions in the family.

Digital money makes it cheaper to provide financial services, and digital ID expands access to these services. When well-designed digital products target women as individuals (separate from husbands and family) and provide them with privacy to make financial decisions, they boost women’s economic independence and say in household decision-making, as evidence points out.

In both Indonesia and Tanzania, women microentrepreneurs who were encouraged to open mobile-savings accounts reported having greater household decision-making power compared to women who were not offered mobile savings. The empowerment effect in Indonesia was present for women who received financial literacy training and worked with branchless bank agents who received high financial incentives to sign up new customers (and were told that it was good to target women).

In Rajasthan state in northern India, a government mandate to designate women as heads of households to receive direct benefit transfers contributed to a major push towards their financial inclusion. Two-thirds of the women heads of households did not have a bank account before this initiative started in 2014.

Digital technologies can expedite financial inclusion policy goals—especially for women. But technology alone cannot close the gender gap. There must be continuous policy commitment to equality for equality’s sake and an aligned effort to leverage fintech for all.

[Center for Global Development]

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]

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]