Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies News and Views from the Global South Wed, 25 May 2016 20:28:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Least Developed Countries Still Face Significant Challenges Wed, 25 May 2016 20:28:29 +0000 Gyan Chandra Acharya 0 Water Woes Put a Damper on Myanmar’s Surging Economy Wed, 25 May 2016 14:10:46 +0000 Kitty Stapp People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
HTITA, Myanmar, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The central plains of Myanmar, bordered by mountains on the west and east, include the only semi-arid region in South East Asia – the Dry Zone, home to some 10 million people. This 13 percent of Myanmar’s territory sums up the challenges that the country faces with respect to water security: an uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of this natural resource, the increasing unpredictability of rain patterns due to climate change, and a lack of water management strategies to cope with extreme weather conditions.

Using water resources more wisely is critical, according to NGOs and institutional actors like the Global Water Partnership, which organized a high-level roundtable on water security issues in Yangon on May 24. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi now faces the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the country’s rapid economic growth.


A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


A water carrier in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A water carrier in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


Members of Myanmar's Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Members of Myanmar’s Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


A temporary water tank in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A temporary water tank in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS


Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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Humanitarian Summit, The Big Fiasco Tue, 24 May 2016 18:44:42 +0000 Baher Kamal UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 24 2016 (IPS)

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) held in Istanbul on May 23-24, managed to send a strong wake-up call to the world about the unprecedented human suffering now in course, but failed to achieve the objective of attracting the massive funds needed to alleviate the humanitarian drama, as none of the leaders of the Group 7 of the richest courtiers nor of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council attended, with the exception of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At the summit’s closing session, while recalling that the WHS achieved its main objective of addressing the conscious of the world towards the growing human drama, both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong “disappointment” on the absence of leaders of the most powerful countries.

Though they reiterated their appeal for solidarity to rescue the most vulnerable people on Earth–130 million victims of conflicts and natural disasters and growing, none of them could hold out or offer any hope soon.

“Their absence (G-7 and Security Council leaders) is not an excuse for inaction,” Ban said. The resources required to rescue the lives of tens of millions of human beings represent only 1 per cent of the total world military expenditure, he added.

Ban showed no signs of optimism regarding an end soon of conflicts in Syrian, Yemen, South Sudan, among others, while recalling that every year the United Nations organised a pledging conference and “countries are tired of that.” He also stressed that currently 80 per cent of the UN humanitarian resources are spent on made-made crises.

For his part, Erdogan reiterated veiled threats to the European Union (EU), saying that if this bloc does not fulfil its agreements with Ankara, the “law of returnees” (refugees deported from EU countries to Turkey) may not be passed at the Turkish Parliament.

The EU promised Turkey 3.000 billions in 2017, to add to an equal sum promised last year, in its refugees deportation deal with Ankara, sealed in March.

The EU also is to authorise the entry to its member countries without visa. Nevertheless, thus authorisation will not be implemented soon as promised, as the EU now demands that Turkey fulfils a long list of requirements.

A Foretold Political Failure
During the two-day summit, leaders of 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, promised to do more for the 130 million civilians who are victims of conflicts and natural disasters.
Nevertheless, the community of humanitarian organisations have shown scepticism about½ such announcements that would end up in effective commitments and if the expected funds will be employed in the right way.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a leading humanitarian organisation with over 5000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries, was one of the strongest voices in this regard.

The humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians from violence, Egeland said, while commenting how humanitarian aid has to be more efficient and cost-effective not to fail those most in need.

According to Egeland, humanitarian assistance does not reach thousands of victims who are among the most vulnerable of all. “In Fallujah, Iraq, there are now over 50,000 civilians who are besieged, prey to the Islamic State (IS), Engeland cited as an example.

“Nobody is helping them, nobody is reaching them, he warned. The Iraqi government is not helping them, the humanitarian organisations cannot reach them.”

There are thousands of victims like them who are in dire need but are not reached. In Yemen, Engeland said, there are 20 million civilians among the most vulnerable, while stressing that coalitions supported by Western countries are attacking civilians.

Egeland expressed hope that leaders can ask themselves if they can at least stop giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating the humanitarian law, and bombing hospitals and schools, abusing women and children.

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Fighting parties, be they governmental or militias or opposition or rebels, still get weapons that they use to blow up hospitals and kill civilians, he warned. “Let’s blacklist that armed group and that army and that government.”

“We lack governments saying they will also uphold humanitarian law and the UN refugee convention, keeping borders open and keeping the right of asylum sacrosanct,” Egeland added.

The NSC Secretary General emphasised that “all borders should be open… in Europe, in the Gulf states… in the United States. “As Europeans, when we initiated the refugee convention we really felt that asylum was important when we were the asylum seekers. Why don’t we think it’s equally important now, when we are those to whom people come for asylum?”

From 2011 to 2013, he was the Europe Director of Human Rights Watch, prior to joining NRC where he took up his post as Secretary General in August 2013. In 2006, Time magazine named Jan Egeland one of the 100 “people who shape our world.”

“More resources are sorely needed… but more resources will not solve the problem,” said for his part Francesco Rocca, Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Speaking on behalf of 190 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Rocca demanded more support to strengthening national and local actors, who are key to the solution.

“Strengthening local and national capacity would have an impact,” he said “Yet, scant resources have been channelled though those key local actors or invested in their long-term capacities.”

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned, “the less we help in conflict zones, the more people will move,” and that “sticking people in camps is not the solution.”

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Water Security Critical for World Fastest-Growing Economy Tue, 24 May 2016 17:36:42 +0000 an IPS Correspondent Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By an IPS Correspondent
YANGON, Myanmar, May 24 2016 (IPS)

Lack of water management and limited access to data risk hindering Myanmar’s economic growth, making water security a top priority of the new government.

Climate change and increased urbanisation, along with earthquakes, cyclones, periodic flooding and major drought, require an urgent infrastructural upgrade if the country is to undergo a successful integration into the global economy after five decades of economic isolation under military rule.

“Water resources are abundant in Myanmar. However, we need to manage it properly to get adequate and clean water,” said Yangon regional government chief minister U Phyo Min Thein, attending a high-level roundtable on water security organised by Stockholm-based facilitator Global Water Partnership on May 24 in Yangon.

According to IMF data, Myanmar is the fastest growing economy in the world, following an easing of sanctions in 2011, when the military handed power to a semi-civilian reformist government.

“Water security is a priority for the new government,” said Myanmar’s deputy minister of Transport and Communication U Kyaw Myo.

The challenges inherited by the now de facto leader of the country Aung San Suu Kyi, however, are enormous. An expected industrial development and urbanisation boom are only going to make more urgent the need for efficient water management solutions in one of the most challenging areas of South Asia.

Water in Myanmar is plentiful, but regional and seasonal differences are so striking that the country covers the whole range of threats posed by water insecurity: flooding in the delta’s numerous rivers, flash floods in the mountains and Dry Zone, droughts and deadly cyclones. Malnutrition and illnesses are the first consequences.

Safe drinking water is also limited. Groundwater sources are highly unexploited, but those available are often saline or contaminated, mainly by natural arsenic. Villages rely extensively on open air communal ponds to collect fresh water during the rainy season. These, however, dry out quickly during the summer.

“It is important to activate stakeholders and trigger a snowball effect at this stage,” said Global Water Partnership chair Alice Bouman. It is equally important, she said, to act only once all parties have been involved and listened to. “The emphasis has to go in particular to the so-called intrinsic indigenous knowledge: only locals have a long understanding of their environment and can help to avoid expensive mistakes.”

Action should focus on how to avert disasters in the first place, not just react afterwards – that was the message coming from the Japanese and the Dutch officials sharing their countries’ knowledge at the conference.

“Investments should happen in advance and go in the direction of disaster reduction, by building better for example, or consider climate change adaptation in time,” said Japan’s vice minister of Land, infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Koji Ikeuchi.

However, said Myanmar Water Think Tank secretary Khin Ni Ni Thein, money is currently not enough. “First we need to build trust between communities and the government. It becomes easier to access to international donors when there is this connection,” she said. “But it is also important that communities pay for the service, to guarantee the structure.”

Informative statistics but also toponomastic data that would support reforms are scarce in Myanmar. This is partly due to poor infrastructure and fragmented institutions, with up to six ministries in charge of water issues. But the limited access is primarily a consequence of the military still being in charge of three key ministers, including Defence, and reluctant to handover precise toponomastic information.

The high-level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals was held less than two months after the government was sworn in. Speakers from Korea, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands stressed how new policies should refer to the framework of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. Among these are no poverty, food security, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation and also gender equality.

“A lack of gender perspective is systemic to the region and many countries. We should always target an indicator, such as water and land laws, from a gender perspective. Some women, for example, cannot interact with the institutions without a male presence, [despite the fact that it’s the women in most societies who take care of the water],” said Kenza Robinson, from the UN’s department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Poverty is especially evident in rural areas. According to a 2014 census, 70 percent of the 51.5 million population live in the countryside. Life expectancy is one of the lowest of the entire ASEAN region and much of this is due to water and food security, impacting also on child and maternal mortality.

Over 40 percent of houses in rural areas are made of bamboo, with only 15 percent using electricity for lightening. A third of households in the country use water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet.

“Water access is essential to economic development and effective water management requires sound institutions,” concluded Jennifer Sara, global water practice director at the World Bank.

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Economic Interests Harming Global Health: WHO Chief Tue, 24 May 2016 03:50:53 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), during the WHO Executive Board's special session on the Ebola emergency. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), during the WHO Executive Board's special session on the Ebola emergency. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

By Lyndal Rowlands

Putting economic interests over public health is leading the world towards three slow-motion health disasters, Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization’s warned the world’s health ministers on Monday.

Changes in the world’s climate, the failure of more and more antibiotic drugs and the increase in so-called lifestyle diseases caused by poor diet and exercise, are all growing health disasters related to the prioritisation of the economy over public health.

“These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them,” she said.

Chan’s warnings were part of her speech at the opening of the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva. Some 3500 delegates from the WHO’s 194 member states will participate in meetings at the assembly about some of the world’s most pressing health issues from May 23 to 27.

During her speech Chan also acknowledged the world’s many recent public health successes, however overall she argued that advances in health services and systems could not keep up with the global changes which mean health threats are increasingly traversing borders.

“We are on the verge of a post-antibiotic era in which common infectious diseases will once again kill." -- Margaret Chan, WHO.

“The burning of fossil fuels powers economies,” said Chan, contributing to changes in climate, which have led to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, as well as to air pollution which the WHO says kills millions of people every year.

“Highly processed foods that are cheap, convenient, and tasty gain a bigger market share than fresh fruits and vegetables,” she added, noting that the resulting non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease are now the “leading killers worldwide.”

However antibiotic resistance may be the problem that has the global health community most concerned, threatening to throw the world back into the dark ages of health care said Chan.

The over-prescription and incorrect use of antibiotics has led to the once wonder drug failing with increasing frequency.

Chan noted that infectious diseases are also becoming more volatile, and that the global health system was not as prepared as it should be for a true global health emergency.

She pointed to examples of recent surges in infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika, Dengue, Yellow Fever and Chikungunya.

She described the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue as “the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s.”

She noted the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly had taken the medical community by surprise.

“The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.”

“Confirmation of a causal link between infection and microcephaly has transformed the profile of Zika from a mild disease to a devastating diagnosis for pregnant women and a significant threat to global health.”

However she said that the re-emergence of Zika have decades of slumber in part reflected “changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet (that) have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit.”

Chan reserved some of her harshest criticisms for the world’s failure to prevent the current re-emergence of yellow fever in Africa, an outbreak the WHO is currently monitoring closely.

She described the conditions in urban environments fueling the current outbreak as a powder-keg.

“For more than a decade, WHO has been warning that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever,” she said.

Chan noted that beyond the failure to control mosquitos, the re-emergence of yellow fever also reflected a failure to adequately vaccinate against the disease.

“The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal. The world failed to use an excellent preventive tool to its full strategic advantage,” she said, noting that there has been a safe low-cost yellow fever vaccine available since 1937.

Chan’s speech is not the only recent stand taken by the medical community showing increasing frustration with the current state of global politics.

Chan also alluded to the medical community’s increasing frustration with the deteriorating conditions of warfare which have seen hospitals bombed, in violation of humanitarian law.

“It also falls to the health sector to show some principled ethical backbone in a world that, for all practical appearances, has lost its moral compass,” she said.

However the successes that Chan highlighted, proving the potential of the world’s health system to address global challenges. also showed that another reality is possible.

“We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44 percent drop in maternal mortality, and the 85 percent of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured,” said Chan.

She also highlighted the 60 percent decline in malaria mortality in Africa, showing that the fight against mosquito-borne diseases is having success, in at least one area.

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Humanitarian Summit: Too Big to Fail? Mon, 23 May 2016 13:14:27 +0000 Baher Kamal A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

With a line up of heads of state or government telling all what they did to alleviate human suffering and promising to do more, along with leaders of civil society and humanitarian
organisations denouncing lack of honest political will to act while governments continue spending trillions of dollars in weapons, the two-day World Humanitarian Summit kicked off today May 23 in Istanbul.

In fact, while the United Nations reports that the international community spends today around 25 billion dollars to provide live-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). estimates world’s military expenditure in 2015 was over 1.6 trillion dollars.

“Never mind–this Summit is too important to fail,” a high-ranking Asian diplomat on condition of anonymity said to IPS. “The leaders of the richest countries, especially in Europe and the Gulf Arab states, are perfectly aware of the magnitude of the humanitarian challenges facing them,” the diplomat added.

“Some of them will be sincerely sensitive to human suffering; others will be more concerned with their ‘political’ peace of mind… Most industrialised countries, in particular in Europe, are eager that the humanitarian crises are dealt with and solved out of and beyond their borders.”

It is about the fear that this unprecedented crisis, if it grows exponentially as predicted, would inevitably lead to more conflicts and more instability affecting their [those leaders] political and economic welfare, according to the diplomat.

In this regard, the facts before the 5,500 participants in this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit are that over the last years conflicts and natural disasters have led to fast-growing numbers of people in need and a funding gap for humanitarian action of an estimated 15 billion dollars, according to UN estimates.

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

“This is a lot of money, but not out of reach for a world producing 78 trillion dollars of annual Gross Domestic Product,” says the report of a UN promoted high-level panel on humanitarian financing. “Closing the humanitarian financing gap would mean no one having to die or live without dignity for the lack of money,” it adds.

The report addressing the humanitarian financing gap, says that this “would be a victory for humanity at a time when it is much needed.

As part of the preparations for the WHS, the UN Secretary-General had appointed a nine-person panel of experts to work on finding solutions about this widening financial gap.

The panel identified–and examined three important and inter-dependent aspects of the humanitarian financing challenge: reducing the needs, mobilising additional funds through either traditional or innovative mechanisms, and improving the efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

The report is also relevant in the context of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It states that only by focusing the world’s attention on the rapidly growing numbers of people in desperate need will we be able to achieve the SDGs.

The panel recognises that the best way to deal with growing humanitarian needs is to address their root causes. “This requires a strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts and to increase investment in disaster risk reduction.”

“Because development is the best resilience-builder of all, the panel believes that the world’s scarce resources of official development assistance (ODA) should be used where it matters most—in situations of fragility,” the report concludes.

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Bangladesh’s Urban Slums Swell with Climate Migrants Mon, 23 May 2016 11:34:55 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Abdul Aziz, 35, arrived in the capital Dhaka in 2006 after losing all his belongings to the mighty Meghna River. Once, he and his family had lived happily in the village of Dokkhin Rajapur in Bhola, a coastal district of Bangladesh. Aziz had a beautiful house and large amount of arable land.

But riverbank erosion snatched away his household and all his belongings. Now he lives with his four-member family, including his 70-year-old mother, in the capital’s Malibagh slum.

“Once we had huge arable land as my father and grandfather were landlords. I had grown up with wealth, but now I am destitute,” Aziz told IPS.

Fallen on sudden poverty, he roamed door-to-door seeking work, but failed to find a decent job. “I sold nuts on the city streets for five years, and then I started rickshaw pulling. But our lives remain the same. We are still in a bad plight,” he said.

Aziz is too poor to rent a decent home, so he and his family have been forced to take shelter in a slum, where the housing is precarious and residents have very little access to amenities like sanitation and clean water.

“My daughter is growing up, but there is no money to enroll her school,” Aziz added.

About the harsh erosion of the Meghna River, he said the family of his father-in-law is still living in Bhola, but he fears that they too will be displaced this monsoon season as the erosion worsens.

Like Aziz, people arrive each day in the major cities, including Dhaka and Chittagong, seeking refuge in slums and low-cost housing areas, creating various environmental and social problems.

Bachho Miah, 50, is another victim of riverbank erosion. He and his family also live in Malibagh slum.

“We were displaced many times to riverbank erosion. We had a house in Noakhali. But the house went under river water five years ago. Then we built another house at Dokkhin Rajapur of Bhola. The Meghna also claimed that house,” he said.

According to scientists and officials, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and rising sea levels. Its impacts are already visible in the recurrent extreme climate events that have contributed to the displacement of millions of people.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck on Nov. 15, 2007, triggering a five-metre tidal surge in the coastal belt of Bangladesh, killed about 3,500 people and displaced two million. In May 2007, another devastating cyclone – Aila – hit the coast, killing 193 people and leaving a million homeless.

Migration and displacement is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. But climate change-induced extreme events like erosion, and cyclone and storm surges have forced a huge number of people to migrate from their homesteads to other places in recent years. The affected people generally migrate to nearby towns and cities, and many never return.

According to a 2013 joint study conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Dhaka University and the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR), University of Sussex, riverbank erosion displaces 50,000 to 200,000 people in Bangladesh each year.

Eminent climate change expert Dr Atiq Rahman predicted that about 20 million people will be displaced in the country, inundating a huge amount of coastal land, if the global sea level rises by one metre.

The fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a similar prediction, saying that sea levels could rise from 26cm – 98cm by 2100, depending on global emissions levels. If this occurs, Bangladesh will lose 17.5 percent of its total landmass of 147,570 square kilometers, and about 31.5 million people will be displaced.

“The climate-induced migrants will rush to major cities like Dhaka in the coming days, increasing the rate of urban poverty since they will not get work in small townships,” urban planner Dr. Md. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

Dr. Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, said the influx of internal climate migrants will present a major challenge to the government’s plan to build climate-resilient cities.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country. Floods also hits the country each year. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river basin is one of the most flood-prone areas in the world. Official data shows that the devastating 1998 flood alone caused 1,100 deaths and rendered 30 million people homeless.

Disaster Management Secretary Md Shah Kamal said Bangladesh will see even greater numbers of climate change-induced migrants in the future.

“About 3.5 lakh [350,000] people migrated internally after Aila hit. Many climate victims are going to abroad. So the government is considering the issue seriously. It has planned to rehabilitate them within the areas where they wish to live,” he said.

Noting that the Bangladeshi displaced are innocent victims of global climate change, Kamal stressed the need to raise the issue at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24 and to seek compensation.

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Humanitarian Summit Aims to Mobilise Up to 30 Billion Dollars Mon, 23 May 2016 09:08:49 +0000 Baher Kamal Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

The two-day World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), opening today May 23 in Istanbul, aims at mobilising between 20 and 30 billion dollars to face the on-gowing, worst-ever humanitarian crises, said Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs andEmergency Relief Coordinator.

“Let us not underestimate the gravity of what lies before us in these coming days: A once in a generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda to change the way that we alleviate, and most importantly prevent, the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people,” O’Brien added in an interview with IPS.

Asked about most civil society organisations increasing concern that the financial resources the WHS is aiming to moblise would come at the very cost of current, already extremely short funding to longer-term objectives, such as the sustainable development goals, O’Brien said, “Not at all; we expect the international community fo be more generous.”

The Istanbul Summit is both about fresh thinking and building on the best, and the change that’s necessary to deliver for our fellow men and women who need us most, said O’Brien.

“Disasters, both man-made and natural, are becoming more frequent, more complex and more intense. More than 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence. At this summit, humanitarian partners around the world will commit to take concrete action to address this,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliassonin at a press conference on the eve of the Istanbul Summit.

The United Nations estimates that more than 130 million people are in need of assistance and protection across the world today.

Every year, humanitarian needs continue to grow and more people need more help for longer periods of time. This also drives up the costs of delivering life-saving assistance and protection. UN-led appeals have grown six-fold from 3.4 billion dollars in 2003 to nearly 21 billion dollars today.

Representatives of 177 countries, including 68 heads of state and governments, and crises-affected communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and UN agencies attend this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

The WHS follows an extensive global consultation with 23,000 stakeholders world-wide to identify the key humanitarian challenges of our time.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General laid out the United Nations’ vision for the Summit in an Agenda for Humanity focusing on a set of core commitments: to prevent and end conflicts; uphold the norms that safeguard humanity; leave no one behind; change people’s lives – from delivering aid to ending need; and invest in humanity.

In addition to the Summit’s plenary sessions starting May 23, series high-level leaders’ round tables are scheduled on: Leaders’ Segment for Heads of States and Governments on day one.

The Leaders’ Segment will discuss the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity.

These five core responsibilities are: one, Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflict; two, Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity; three, Leave No One Behind; four, Change People’s Lives – from Delivering Aid to Ending Need; and five, Invest in Humanity.

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What do Aid Organisations Want from the Humanitarian Summit Mon, 23 May 2016 00:54:03 +0000 Daphne Davies By Daphne Davies
LONDON, May 23 2016 (IPS)

The UN World Humanitarian Summit takes place in Istanbul, 23-24 May. So what hopes do the humanitarian organisations, which deliver aid on the ground, have for the outcomes?

The UN report One Humanity: shared responsibility, produced ahead of the Summit describes the international community as “in a state of constant crisis management”. The report emphasises that conflict and fragility remain the biggest threats to human development, with 11 major civil wars in 2014, and nearly 1.4 billion people living in fragile situations. By 2030 62 percent of the world’s poor are likely to be living in fragile situations.

Just a case of more resources?

The increase in humanitarian disasters has brought with it an unbridgeable funding gap, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) relief agencies appealing for an extra $US16.4 billion in 2015.

Kathrin Schick, Director of VOICE (Voluntary Organizations in Cooperation in Emergencies), the European network of non government organisations (NGOs) involved in humanitarian aid, says while money is scarce, it is a case of “how much can we do with what we have –making aid use not only more effective, but also more efficient”.

Gareth Price-Jones, Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, CARE International, agrees there is a massive case for more resources, and points out that “the total humanitarian aid bill could be covered by the profits of the big six tobacco companies. However, the problem is less the supply of humanitarian aid, and more the failure to prepare for disasters, to address conflict and increasingly a failure to address climate change”.

Will a Grand Bargain between donors and the UN alleviate the funding crisis?

The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing has also produced a report for the meeting Too important to fail. The report suggests that the funding crisis can be alleviated through striking a ‘Grand Bargain’, between donors and the UN. This would involve more engagement with the private sector, greater emphasis on crisis prevention and disaster risk reduction and bridging the humanitarian/development divide.

Schick describes this as “possibly the one concrete proposal to come out of the Summit”, whereas for Price-Jones it is “an efficiency drive – a first step in convincing donors and taxpayers that making aid as efficient as possible won’t address the funding gap”.

Réiseal Ni Chéilleachair, Trocaire’s Humanitarian Advocacy and Policy Adviser, believes that UN reform could make humanitarian action more effective by reducing the bureaucracy for getting funds, shortening time delays between securing funding and implementation, making UN agencies collaborate more, strengthening UNOCHA’s role and streamlining reporting requirements across donors.

For Alex Jacobs Director of Programme Quality, Plan International, there should be more predictable long-term funding and some of the conditions for getting funding should be removed. He also wants a mechanism in which recipients of humanitarian aid can give feedback on how aid was delivered and used.

However, some NGOs remain sceptical about how much the WHS will achieve, as evidenced by Medecins Sans Frontiers’ withdrawal from the Summit, saying “We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response”.

More work with local partners

In preparation for the Summit humanitarian organisations have produced the ‘Charter for Change’ (so far signed by 23 international NGOS). The Charter urges International NGOs (INGOs) to change the way they work, passing more power and resources to local ‘Southern-based’ partners.

The emphasis on localisation runs through One Humanity. Schick believes that “we have to talk about first responders since national and international NGOs have to work in partnership and more attention has to be given to capacity building of national NGOs who are often the first on the scene”. However, Ni Chéilleachair feels more needs to be done before this can work: “Funding systems need to be adapted to support local actors and new partners, rather than their expending limited resources trying to navigate the existing ones”.

Relying more on governments, and business is another thread running through the report, which NGOs applaud. Alex Jacobs believes that host governments are becoming “more muscular” in taking the lead in providing support after natural disasters, as happened after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

Business is increasingly being used to supply essential international services, with credit card companies working with PLAN to carry out cash transfers. Business is useful in setting up systems for long-term prevention for natural disasters, and often prefers to work at arms’ length, rather than putting their staff into high-risk situations.

Invest in stability – linking development with humanitarian aid

The UN report notes that “a shift from perpetual crisis management towards effectively managing prevention and early action is urgently needed”, and INGOs agree that greater collaboration between humanitarian and development NGOs, is crucial in preventing disasters.

Schick says linking humanitarian action with measures where NGOs help local communities prepare for natural disasters is an obvious move. Ni Chéilleachair adds that organisations and donors need to be more agile and responsive if this development-humanitarian complementarity is going to be successful.

However, the difficulties of combining development and humanitarian do not present problems for ‘multi-mandate’ organisations, like CARE, which can combine funding “from different pots and multiply the impact, building resilience, so when disaster hits your aid solves immediate problems and addresses long-term issues”, says Price-Jones.


Humanitarian actors are concerned when aid is used to mitigate the effects of the conflicts, as in Syria or South Sudan, and where their staff are most at risk. One positive outcome in the run-up to the Summit is the acknowledgement that solving conflict is the precursor of humanitarian work.

All the NGOs consulted agreed that the only way to resolve the humanitarian crisis was for the most powerful member states to show the political will to solve it. As Schick put it: ”We want UN Member States to take the political will to solve conflicts, which will reduce humanitarian needs”.

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Africa: Resolved to Address African Problems Using African Solutions Sun, 22 May 2016 17:31:28 +0000 Baher Kamal Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission.

Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission.

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey , May 22 2016 (IPS)

The African Union (AU) representing 54 countries and home to 1,2 billion inhabitants, will be in Istanbul to participate in the May 23-24, 2016, first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) with two key demands—that the international humanitarian system be redefined, and a strong, firm own commitment to itself, to the continent and its people, anchoring on the primacy of the states.

In an interview with IPS on the eve of the WHS, the Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission, Olabisi Dare said “All the key concerns that the AU will be raising at the World Humanitarian Summit is that there is a need for the redefinition of the international humanitarian system; this redefinition should take the form of a reconfiguration of the system.”

The Nigerian career diplomat and international civil servant with over 27 years international field and desk experience in Asia, Africa, Europe and America, added that the requested redefinition “should take the form of a reconfiguration of the system, it being understood that the existing system which is predicated on the UN Resolution 46 182 is to say the least not being faithfully implemented.”

It is therefore in this context that the African Union is going to Istanbul with its own commitments to itself, that is its own commitment to the continent and its people and one of the key things of this commitment is to anchor on the primacy of the states itself, “the State has the primary responsibility to its own people to satisfy their needs and to take care of their vulnerabilities,” said Olabisi.

“We look at these in several forms:

  1. The African Union feels the State has to play the primary role of coordinating any and all humanitarian action that may take place within its territory; the States have in their efforts to alleviate the needs of its people; the States have also to maintain humanitarian space and have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of both the humanitarian workers and humanitarian infrastructure.
  2. We note that the State has the capability and capacity in key areas like use of military assets in assisting humanitarian action–a key  example is the use of military forces in Liberia and other acted countries the military was deployed to serve as the first line of defense to combat the spread of the disease.

That said, Olabisi remarked “We can’t over-emphasise the role of the State in ensuring that humanitarian action and relief is dispensed in an effective manner and we see that this in itself will effect humanitarian action more readily on the continent.”

“Africa however is resolved to begin addressing its own problems using African solutions to African problems.“ - Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission
Asked what are the African needed solutions that the AUC brings to the WHS, Olabisi, who was also senior Political/Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the African Union Mission in Liberia, with extensive experience in various aspects peace-building in a post conflict environment, including serving on the Technical Support Team to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, reaffirmed “The African Union will make proposals in terms of what it considers as the reconfiguration of the International Humanitarian systems.”

“Part of the solution is that there is a need for governments to play the primary role and a greater coordination role in order to fulfill the attributes of state in terms of its predictive and responsive nature and other attributes and this in itself is as part of what Africa has committed  to do and if this find its way to the Secretary General’s report as part of the recommendation, this would be very good.”

Olabisi, who was involved in the return and rehabilitation programme of over 300,000 Liberian refugees from across the West Africa sub-region, added “We are also going to call for the re-engineering of resolution 46182 Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations to reflect  Africa’s views, to reflect the need to elevate the role of the state primarily to be to deliver to its people.”

The Resolution 46182 that Olabisi refers to, was adopted in 1991, setting as “Guiding Principles” that humanitarian assistance is of cardinal importance for the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies and must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.

Guiding Principle 3 clearly states, “The sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. In this context, humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and in principle on the basis of an appeal by the affected country.”

“Each State has the responsibility first and foremost to take care of the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies occurring on its territory. Hence, the affected State has the primary role in the initiation, organization, coordination, and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its territory,” states also the Guiding Principle 4.

And Guiding Principle 9 stresses, “There is a clear relationship between emergency, rehabilitation and development. In order to ensure a smooth transition from relief to rehabilitation and development, emergency assistance should be provided in ways that will be supportive of recovery and long-term development. Thus, emergency measures should be seen as a step towards long-term development.”

Common African Position (CAP). Courtsey of the African Union Commission

Common African Position (CAP). Courtsey of the African Union Commission

For its part, Guiding Principle 10 stresses, “Economic growth and sustainable development are essential for prevention of and preparedness against natural disasters and other emergencies. Many emergencies reflect the underlying crisis in development facing developing countries.

“Humanitarian assistance should therefore be accompanied by a renewal of commitment to economic growth and sustainable development of developing countries,” it adds. ”In this context, adequate resources must be made available to address their development problems.”

“Contributions for humanitarian assistance should be provided in a way which is not to the detriment of resources made available for international cooperation for development,” says Guiding Principle 11.

Obalisi then recalled “When you look at the Common African Position (CAP) [on the post 2015 development agenda], you find  that the first pillar speaks to the privacy of the state; all the other 9 pillar speak the same in one form or another.”

Africa will be calling on itself to be able to deliver more on resources and allocate more resources to humanitarian action, he added. “This is because it is mindful of the fact that the resource portals are dwindling from the north.”

Asked what are the outcomes that Africa would most expect from the WHS, Olabisi said that Africa expects the guarantee that international humanitarian system will be reconfigured to conform with new demands and address the issues faced by the humanitarian system at the moment – one of the main outcome the Summit will deliver.

“Africa is making these commitments to itself-due to the non-binding nature of the summit. The commitments Africa has made go beyond the WHS whether the summit is binding or not it will not affect what Africa is committed to, in its own self-interest and this is one of the key recommendations we will be taking to WHS.”

He stressed that Africa’s commitments are not to the WHS but the Summit “gives us an opportunity to discuss a paradigm shift in terms of the way we do things in the humanitarian field in Africa and also to see that we can positively add to the mitigation and alleviation of the sufferings of our people when disasters and displacements occur.”

“One of the key things to note is that Africa will go ahead with its own commitments, “our resolve to come up with something that is workable, pragmatic, and something that will make us see ourselves in a light that puts us in a position to help ourselves despite the grand bargain on Africa being shut out of the whole system,” Olabisi emphasised.

“Africa however is resolved to begin addressing its own problems using African solutions to African problems.“

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Humanitarian Summit Must Address Weapons Shipments Too Sun, 22 May 2016 17:04:43 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 2 The Heavens Poured and Atlas Shrugged Sun, 22 May 2016 13:51:48 +0000 Editor sunday By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
May 22 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Sri Lankan parliamentarians appear to have been moved to unseemly mirth regarding the floodwaters which devastated the country this week, causing more than sixty three officially reported deaths and thousands more missing, with even greater numbers rendered homeless and destitute.

Warranting a serious response
As sorrowful scenes were recorded across the island, the gravity of the deluge had yet to be taken seriously on the floor of the House. Indeed, as much as Atlas shrugged in the disturbing portrayal by Ayn Rand of capitalist and greedy businessmen projected as the real heroes of society, here too we may aptly say that parliamentarians laughed on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya even as the muddy waters came right up to the door of the Parliament.

These rude bursts of laughter were in response to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s wisecrack on Friday that if the self styled Joint Opposition members had not engaged in coconut smashing rituals, this calamity would not have occurred. But the issue here surely warrants a far more serious response than such hilarity?

The sheer ineptitude of the Government in bringing relief and redress to the affected people is one facet of the problem. This was the recurring theme throughout the country as the displaced wailed before television cameras that they had not been helped by government agencies. No doubt, there were determined and selfless government servants who devoted themselves to the arduous task of flood relief but the stern commitment shown by the Government itself as an entity was certainly lacking.

Result of disastrous development
At an even more distressing level, there appears to be no acknowledgement of government policies and practices which have directly contributed to this flood devastation. Public officials are fond of advising people not to occupy lands that are susceptible to landslides and floods. Yet they conveniently forget the fact that much of this damage is done by politicians themselves. We are familiar with the ruthless acquisition of land by politicians for commercial purposes such as building hotels and the like. These are lands which should have been preserved for water retention purposes, both in major cities and elsewhere.

All these ‘projects’ were without environmental approval as obliging public officers rubber stamped acquisitions of land even (unbelievingly) in the mangrove marshes of Negombo. So as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers profess sympathy with affected victims, it must be clearly understood that disastrous ‘Rajapaksa’ development was a major contributory factor to the present crisis.

Neither is the Government in power free from responsibility. Despite all the sanctimonious outrage regarding the Port City project when its politicians were campaigning for the popular vote last year, they have tamely acquiesced to continuing with the project minus some minor changes. This makes nonsense of the Prime Minister’s claim during electioneering that this project would devastate the coastal line from Colombo to Beruwala and that he would forthwith cancel the project if his party assumed power. We are not assured by the Government’s claim that environmental conditions have now been complied with. Quite apart from this, this Government appears unable to clean even a culvert properly. This is a breakdown of the provincial and local government machinery in a most essential sense.

Past warnings of such calamities
The dangers attendant on proper environmental safeguards not being followed prior to ambitious development projects being undertaken are now alarmingly evident. This week’s treacherous flooding of parts of the Southern Expressway, once praised as Sri Lanka’s flagship expressway project is a good illustration. More than a decade ago, this columnist was part of the legal team which challenged the shifting of the trace of the Southern Expressway from one route to a completely new direction. This shift was despite the fact that the relevant environmental assessment had not been properly carried out in respect of this new direction of the expressway named as the ‘final trace.’ This was in contradiction to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA)’s injunction that any changed route should avoid traversing through wetlands of the area.

The legal challenge was based on a number of factors including the risk of environmental damage if the changed route was adopted. At the time, though the Supreme Court before which the matter finally went on appeal, responded by awarding compensation to the petitioners whose lands had been acquired without following proper procedures, (SCM 20.01.2004), the judges balked at ordering a complete change in the routing of the expressway, probably due to the massive expense that this would involve.

However both in the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court, the crucial importance of conducting a proper environmental assessment was stressed. As found by a committee of judges appointed to undertake an empirical study of the affected area, the changes adversely affected property rights of poor villagers. Decision makers were put under a duty to consider all relevant environmental consequences and afford affected persons an opportunity to voice their opinion. As the Court of Appeal affirmed, ‘this fosters dialogue between decision-makers and involved parties, which is an essential pre-requisite of any development project for such project to have sustainability over a long period.”

Discrimination between the poor and the affluent
But in the years following this decision, even that bare judicial and environmental review of development projects went by the board. The impact of the Mundy decision on Sri Lanka’s political leadership, in so far as preventing ill planned development projects, has been negligible. This has ramifications for proposed expressways as well, including the Kandy-Colombo Expressway. A continuing failure to satisfy environmental safeguards presents a nightmare scenario of environmental devastation far worse than what was experienced in May.

This accentuates the profound discrimination that we saw a few days ago between the poor left stranded on the top of their houses, clutching pitifully meager belongings and the affluent. While the more privileged enjoy expressways should the less privileged be left to suffer such fates due to corporate and political greed ?

These are questions that should reflectively occupy our minds, quite apart from reaching out to the affected through relief provisions. And parliamentarians may perhaps refrain from hilarity when addressing this calamity which afflicted the country in these generally serene Vesak weeks. Surely this is the minimum that Sri Lankans should forcefully demand.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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When Emergencies Last for Decades Fri, 20 May 2016 21:34:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Refugees Bring Economic Benefits to Cities Fri, 20 May 2016 16:41:33 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 ‘We Cannot Keep Jumping from Crisis to Crisis’ Fri, 20 May 2016 15:04:51 +0000 Baher Kamal Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist, visits an IFAD-funded program in Guatemala’s Verapaces region, Arminda Cruz. The micro-irrigation project is improving the livelihoods and food security of thousands of smallholder farmers, especially women, in the country. Credit: IFAD

Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist, visits an IFAD-funded program in Guatemala’s Verapaces region, Arminda Cruz. The micro-irrigation project is improving the livelihoods and food security of thousands of smallholder farmers, especially women, in the country. Credit: IFAD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 20 2016 (IPS)

“We cannot keep jumping from crisis to crisis. We have to invest in long-term development that helps people cope with shocks so that they can continue to grow enough food for their communities and not require emergency aid.”

With this clear warning, Josefina Stubbs, Chief Strategist of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has just launched a strong message for leaders who will gather at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey next week.

Recalling that more than 60 million people across the world are reeling from the drought caused by the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, Stubbs warns, “The demand for emergency assistance cannot keep up with the supply.”

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Climate change is causing more extreme weather events and natural disasters resulting in an average displacement of 22.5 million people a year – equivalent to 62,000 people every day, says IFAD.

This movement of people can lead to local and regional instability. And when people are pushed away from rural areas and farming, it can threaten the food security of entire countries, it adds.

“Poor people in developing countries are disproportionately affected by disasters because they do not have the resources to cope with the impacts and bounce back,” says IFAD’s Associate Vice-President and Chief Strategist.

People Are Not waiting for Hand-Outs

“These people are not waiting for hand-outs. They are looking for opportunities to keep earning incomes even in the face of disasters. Our focus should be on creating these opportunities.”

The current El Niño drought has had a catastrophic effect on crops around the world causing almost 32 million people in southern Africa alone to go hungry.

“This number is expected to rise to 49 million by the end of the year. The UN estimates that at least 3.6 billion dollars is required to meet emergency needs resulting from this drought. Less than half of this has been provided.”

Ethiopia is the worst hit in Africa, with 75 per cent of its harvests lost and emergency food assistance required for at least ten million people. IFAD has been working with small-scale farmers in the country for more than a decade to make them more resilient to the impacts of drought.

With investments in irrigation, water-harvesting techniques and early warning systems, and training in sustainable water usage, none of these communities have required any food aid during the current drought, says this UN agency, which since 1978 has provided about 17.7 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached some 459 million people.

“At IFAD we have seen that building resilience to disasters does work and saves communities from suffering,” says Stubbs. “But there has to be a global commitment to invest in long-term development.”

Changing Climate, Scarcity of Natural Resources

“The changing climate and the increasing scarcity of natural resources are also impacting the already precarious situation of the estimated 60 million people who have been forcibly displaced by conflict.”

Long-term investments are urgently needed to stimulate the economies of the rural areas of host countries where the majority of refugees live.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialised United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN’s food and agriculture hub. It invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience.

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit takes place on 23 and 24 May and originates from a growing concern about the protracted nature of recent humanitarian crises and the limited capacity of the global community to respond to them.

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Some 6,000 world leaders and humanitarian and development agencies will gather in Istanbul to make commitments to help countries better prepare for and respond to crises.

“Human suffering from the impacts of armed conflicts and disasters has reached staggering levels,” the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, portrayed the current humanitarian drama, explaining why the UN has decided to hold the WHS.

For his part, in an interview to IPS, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), Stephen O’Brien, said “Every humanitarian crisis is inherently unique and context-specific.”

“However, taken together, there are 125 million people in need of aid in the world today as a result of conflicts and natural disasters and over 60 million people have been forcibly displaced. These are the highest numbers we have on record since WWII,” O’Brien told IPS.

It is not about one humanitarian crisis, but multiple crises happening at the same time, from the crisis in Syria and the region to the impact of El Niño, which currently affects 60 million people in the world, O’Brien said.

Herve Verhoosel, WHS spokesperson, wrote in an editorial for IPS “We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.”

More than 20 billion dollars is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030,” Verhoosel stressed.

Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before, he wrote, and added, “The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters.”

“We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.”

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Climate Change Compounds Humanitarian Crises in Global South Fri, 20 May 2016 06:20:41 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 20 2016 (IPS)

As the Global South works to overcome a history of weak institutions, armed conflict and poverty-driven forced exodus, key causes of its humanitarian crises, developing countries now have to also fight to keep global warming from compounding their problems.

“Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change adaption in fragile and conflict-affected states in the Global South have long been overlooked, as it is often perceived as too challenging or a lower priority,” Janani Vivekananda, an expert in security and climate change, told IPS.

Vivekananda, the head of Environment, Climate Change and Security in International Alert, a London-based non-governmental organisation working to prevent and end violent conflict around the globe, cited her country, Sri Lanka, as an example of problems shared by developing countries.

“Given the fragile political situation since 25 years of violent conflict ended in May 2009, ensuring that climate impacts do not fuel latent conflict dynamics is critical,” she said from London.

A politically unstable developing island nation like Sri Lanka, and many other countries in the South, will see their problems multiply in a warmer planet with higher sea levels, she said.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” says “A New Climate for Peace”, an independent report commissioned in 2015 by members of the Group of Seven (G7) wealthiest nations.

This is the challenge faced by the governments and organisations that will attend the first World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul. The conference was convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action.”

At the summit, the delegates will search for ways to integrate the traditional conception of humanitarian emergencies with new crises, such as those caused by climate change, which this year caused record high temperatures.

“This is why the World Humanitarian Summit’s initiative to remake the humanitarian system is so timely and so important,” said Vivekananda.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that in the absence of policies that effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100.

And even if the world were to reach the “safe limit” for global warming – a rise of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C, the target agreed in the Paris Agreement in December – the effects would still be felt around the planet, warns the IPCC, which decided in April to prepare a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The landmark climate deal is one of the key elements that the national delegations will have when they reach Istanbul, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed in September, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, agreed in March 2015.

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

“Explicit recognition of the linkages between different types of risks and vulnerabilities is still missing,” said Vivekanada, with regard to the not yet formalised connection between these two agreements and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forming part of the 2030 Agenda are essential for understanding the relationship between climate change and humanitarian assistance.

The report commissioned by the G7 says the poorest countries with the most fragile political systems, like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Haiti face the greatest risks and difficulties adapting to climate change.

Climate pressure could hurt food production or require extra aid for local governments overwhelmed by the situation. In extreme circumstances, these phenomena can lead to forced migration.

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more people were displaced in 2015 by hydrometeorological disasters (14.7 million) than by conflicts or violence (8.5 million).

The report also stressed the impact of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENOS) meteorological phenomenon and said that for the people most exposed and vulnerable to extreme rainfall and temperatures, the effects have been devastating and have caused displacement.

For example, El Niño caused intense drought along Central America’s Pacific coast and in particular in the so-called Dry Corridor, a long, arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is predominant and rainfall shrank by 40 to 60 percent in the 2014 rainy season.

“Hundreds of people were forced to leave Nicaragua because of the drought,” Juan Carlos Méndez, with Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Management (CNE), told IPS.

As a CNE official, Méndez is also an adviser to the Nansen Initiative, an inter-governmental process to address the challenges of cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.

“This is where we see the biggest political and technical challenges. You can clearly associate displacement with a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane, but now we have to link it to climate change issues,” the expert said.

Partly for that reason, Costa Rica and another 17 countries launched the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action in February 2015, a voluntary initiative to get human rights issues included in the climate talks.

In the final version of the Paris Agreement, the concept was incorporated as one of the principles that will guide its implementation.

The simultaneous inclusion of climate change and its humanitarian impacts in international summits is not new, but is growing.

The backdrop to the climate talks at the 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2013 in Warsaw was the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia, and in the Philippines in particular.

The human impact of the typhoon, which claimed 6,300 lives, intensified the talks in the Polish capital and prompted the creation of a mechanism to address climate change-related damage and losses.

A scientific study published in January this year found that the Philippines would experience the highest sea level rise in the world, up to 14.7 mm a year – nearly five times the global average.

“Which is why it is very urgent for the Philippines to beef up efforts on disaster preparedness, particularly in the communities with high risk for disasters and high poverty incidence,” Ivy Marian Panganiban, an activist with the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), told IPS.

Along with six other Filipino institutions, CODE-NGO is calling for locally-based humanitarian emergency response, with an emphasis on local leadership, and hopes Istanbul will provide guidelines in that sense.

NGOS “should really be capacitated and involved in the governance process since they are the ones that are in the forefront – people who are actually affected by disasters,” she said from Manila.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Now 1 in 2 World’s Refugees Live in Urban Areas Thu, 19 May 2016 12:49:22 +0000 Baher Kamal A view of an IDP camp in Al-Jamea, Baghdad, where 97 families from Anbar Governorate have found temporary shelter. Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2015/Khuzaie

A view of an IDP camp in Al-Jamea, Baghdad, where 97 families from Anbar Governorate have found temporary shelter. Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2015/Khuzaie

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2016 (IPS)

It is true that millions of refugees, especially in Africa and the Middle East, reside in camps. But in all they represent only one-quarter of the total number of refugees.

Meanwhile, more than 1 in 2 of all the world’s refugees live in slums or in informal settlements and on the fringes of cities, in overcrowded neighbourhoods and in areas prone to flooding, sanitation hazards and diseases.

These are some of the facts that United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson has just revealed basing on data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“More than half of the world’s refugees live in urban areas, and often in fragile cities with high levels of inequality,” Eliasson warned at a high-level event on ‘Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Critical Challenges for Sustainable Urbanization’ held on May 18 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. CREDIT: UN

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. CREDIT: UN

“Every day, millions of refugee children are unable to attend school. Every day, the dignity and well-being of millions of people is compromised due to lack of basic services and job opportunities.”

The drama of millions of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, and migrants will be top on the agenda of the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey.

According to Eliasson, among the issues that must be addressed include the causes of forced displacement; the safety of migrants and refugees as they cross international borders; and support for host countries to integrate newcomers into their communities.

Who Assists Urban Refugees?

The point is that while most of the humanitarian assistance goes to refugees living in camps, the ‘urban refugees’ are largely overlooked, he said.

Eliasson highlighted that in 2009, UNHCR changed its policy and practice towards refugees in cities and towns, and is now working closely with national authorities, municipalities and local communities and authorities to protect urban refugees, respecting their refugee status.

In the same vein, he said that the report of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, prepared for a summit on refugees and migrants being convened by the General Assembly on 19 September, draws attention to the important role of local authorities, which are at the forefront in providing refugees access to housing, education, health care and employment.

“We should bear in mind that refugees and [internally displaced persons] IDPs often are just a small proportion of those who are swelling the ranks of cities, while the speed of urbanization is getting faster,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

He noted that it is also important to remember that, even if cities struggle to accommodate large flows of migrants, they also largely benefit from their presence and work, since in many countries in the world, immigrants often take up low-paying jobs and provide services in areas like domestic work, agricultural labour and home care.

No Signs The Flow of Refugees Will Diminish Any Time Soon

“As migrants and refugees continue to arrive – and there are no signs that these flows will diminish any time soon – we must resolve to uphold and implement the principle of every human being’s equal value,” Eliasson stressed. “This is a fundamental human right, never to be compromised.”

The international community, for its part, must be concerned about political rhetoric that stigmatises refugees and migrants, and do “everything possible to counter this false and negative narrative,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

“We must dispel the myths about migrants and migration which tend to poison the public discourse,” he added.

Makeshift shelters and new tents at the new arrivals section of IFO camp, Kenya. file photo.  CREDIT: UNHCR/E.Hockstein

Makeshift shelters and new tents at the new arrivals section of IFO camp, Kenya. file photo. CREDIT: UNHCR/E.Hockstein

A Half-Billion-Dollar Shortfall in Funds

On the same day, May 18, UNHCR) warned that half a billion dollar shortfall in funds for sheltering refugees is severely undermining efforts to tackle the biggest global displacement crisis since World War II, as it launched a new campaign that calls on the private sector to contribute funds for shelter solutions for two million refugees.

“Shelter is the foundation stone for refugees to survive and recover, and should be considered a non-negotiable human right,” stressed Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“As we tackle worldwide displacement on a level not seen since World War II, no refugee should be left outside,” he added.

The Nobody Left Outside campaign is aimed at individuals, companies, foundations and philanthropists worldwide.

At the launch of the campaign, UNHCR underscored that forced displacement, most of it arising from war and conflict, has risen sharply in the past decade, largely as a result of the Syria crisis, but also due to a proliferation of new displacement situations and unresolved old ones.

Worldwide, some 60 million people are forcibly displaced today, the agency said. Of that figure, almost 20 million people are refugees who have been forced to flee across international borders, while the rest are people displaced within their own countries.

“A shelter – be it a tent, a makeshift structure or a house – is the basic building block for refugees to survive and recover from the physical and mental effects of violence and persecution,” UNHCR emphasised.

“Yet around the world, millions are struggling to get by in inadequate and often dangerous dwellings, barely able to pay the rent, and putting their lives, dignity and futures at risk.”

The campaign aims to raise funds from the private sector to build or improve shelter for 2 million refugees by 2018, amounting to almost one in eight of the 15.1 million under UNHCR’s remit in mid-2015. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) cares for the remaining Palestinian refugees.

Millions of Homeless

“Without a safe place to eat, sleep, study, store belongings and have privacy, the consequences to their health and welfare can be profound.”

The UN refugee agency emphasised that as it continues to face high levels of shelter needs and with limited funding available, operations often face the difficult decision to prioritise emergency shelter for the maximum number of people of concern, over an investment in more durable and sustainable solutions.

Outside of camps, refugees rely on UNHCR support to find housing and pay rent in towns and cities across dozens of countries bordering conflict zones.

These operations are expected to cost 724 million dollars in 2016. Yet only 158 million is currently available, a shortfall that threatens to leave millions of men, women and children without adequate shelter and struggling to rebuild their lives.

UNHCR noted that the private sector is one of its increasingly important donor sources, contributing more than 8 per cent of its overall funding in 2015.

According to UNHCR, the regions most in need of assistance are sub-Saharan Africa (255 million dollars needed but only 48 million dollars available) and the Middle East and North Africa (373 million dollars needed, 91 million available).

Asia requires 59 million dollars, with only 8 million available, while Europe requires more help (36 million dollars needed, 10 million available) as the influx of refugees continues.

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A Precarious Fate for Climate Migrants in India Thu, 19 May 2016 12:18:15 +0000 Neeta Lal Many Bangladeshi migrants and those from coastal Indian towns take up menial jobs in the construction industry and live in slums. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Many Bangladeshi migrants and those from coastal Indian towns take up menial jobs in the construction industry and live in slums. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 19 2016 (IPS)

After the sea swallowed up her home and family in the Bangladeshi coastal district of Bhola along the Bay of Bengal, farmer Sanjeela Sheikh was heartbroken. Stripped of all her belongings, her fields swamped and her loved ones dead, she contemplated suicide.

But good sense prevailed. The frail 36-year-old decided to till her neighbours’ fields in exchange for food. At the same time, she started saving and planning to migrate to India for better prospects like some of her neighbours. Finally, Sheikh packed her belongings and boarded a rickety bus to India’s eastern state of West Bengal. From there, a ticketless train journey brought her to New Delhi where she now lives and works.

“I’ve accepted my fate,” Sheikh told IPS, now employed as a domestic help and living with an Indian family. “There’s no future for me in Bangladesh.”

Along with India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change in South Asia. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acknowledged in a speech last year that roughly 30 million Bangladeshis will risk becoming climate migrants by 2050."We're petrified of the authorities probing our Bangladeshi antecedents. We can be packed off without any questions. But that's a risk we're willing to take."

The reasons for migration are familiar — climate change, loss of livelihood due to disasters like cyclones, drought, ingress of the sea, and lack of fresh water for agriculture. In its report Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has highlighted grave causes and ramifications of climate-induced displacement. As per ADB, roughly 37 million people from India, 22 million from China and 21 million from Indonesia will be at risk from sea levels rising by 2050.

Changing weather patterns will also impact agriculture, hampering millions of livelihoods around the world, especially of poor and marginalised populations, add experts. Cyclone Phailin, which lashed the coastal Indian state of Orissa in October 2013, has triggered large-scale migration of fishing communities. Ditto the floods of 2013 in the Himalayas, which have wrecked millions of livelihoods forcing people to move elsewhere.

However, among the most daunting effects of climate change is human displacement as it involves migration, protection of vulnerable people and liability for climate change damage. The U.S. Department of Defence has rightly called climate change “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.”

These words ring all the more true when viewed against the ominous backdrop of the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters. These catastrophes are exposing millions of vulnerable people like Sanjeela to largescale displacement and forced migration. According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, at least 19.3 million people worldwide were forced out of their homes by natural disasters in 2015 – 90 percent of which were related to weather-related events.

Unfortunately, even as the numbers of these “climate refugees” crossing international borders in search of a safe haven has seen a dramatic upward spiral, the issue of legal rights or guaranteed help remains elusive for them.

“Despite being forced to leave their home countries, these migrants cannot apply for refugee status. They are bereft of legal protection under the U.N. High Convention for Refugees and can be deported at any time without question,” a senior official at the Ministry of External Affairs told IPS.

Zahida Begum, 45, is one such refugee who lives in constant fear of being deported. The poor farmer migrated from Bangladesh in 2014 when her fields were wrecked by floods. She now lives in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh with her three young children and husband. “When we’d just shifted,” Begum told IPS, “we used to spend entire days hiding. Now, we just pretend we’re from the Indian state of West Bengal as we speak the same language and our cultures are also quite similar. However, we’re petrified of the authorities probing our Bangladeshi antecedents. We can be packed off without any questions. But that’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

Researchers in Assam in India and in Bangladesh have estimated that around a million people have been rendered homeless due to erosion in the Brahmaputra river basin over the last three decades. Particularly susceptible to climate change are the Sundarbans, a low-lying delta region in the Bay of Bengal where some 13 million impoverished Indians and Bangladeshis live.

The 200-odd islands here constitute the world’s largest mangrove estuary shared by India and Bangladesh which has experienced loss of forests, lands and habitats due to rising sea levels in recent years.

Climatologists say seas are rising in the Sundarbans more than twice as fast as the global average due to which much of the delta could be submerged in as early as two decades. “That catastrophe,” says Dr. Abhinav Mohapatra of the Indian Meteorological Department, “could trigger a massive exodus of climate refugees creating enormous challenges for India and Bangladesh.”

Sahana Bose of the Central University of Assam states in her essay “Climate resilience and the climate refugees” that the migrant tribes in the Indian Sunderbans, working as agricultural labourers or cultivating small farms, locally known as ‘Adivasis’ are the worst type of climate refugees.

“Their very frequent displacement from one island to another within a span of five years has created a wide range of ecological and socio-economic problems leading to humanitarian crisis. These climate refugees are also the world’s most poor people living on less than 10 US dollar per month,” writes Bose.

A Greenpeace study suggests that India will face major out-migrations from coastal regions. According to these estimates, around 120 million people will be rendered homeless by 2100 in Bangladesh and India.

“Everyone knows that climate change is displacing people but no government is willing to acknowledge this officially for fear of having to recognise these people as refugees and be held responsible for their welfare,” explains Dr. Jamuna Sheshadri, an associate professor of sociology at Delhi University.

The problem is aggravated, says Sheshadri, with the scientific community still struggling to define “climate refugees” even though displacement and migration due to climate are a global phenomenon.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels in India are expected to rise at the rate of 2.4 mm a year; in 2050, the total increase will be 38 cm, displacing tens of thousands of people. For nearly a quarter of India’s population living along the coast, global warming is a scary reality.

The issue of climate refugees is also creating simmering tensions at the local level. In West Bengal, the massive and continuous influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh has become a fraught political issue. Waves of Bangladeshi migrants have settled in the state and the Northeast over the decades. The resultant pressures on land and economic resources is triggering clashes between local residents and the migrant Bangladeshis.

The migrants’ influx is also creating social marginalisation among local Indian populations apart from disguised unemployment, scarcity of land for agriculture and food insecurity. In Delhi, the city slums are experiencing a severe strain on civic services and urban infrastructure including paucity of potable water. Meanwhile, unscrupulous politicians are busy milking both the constituencies — of migrants and locals — to fatten their vote banks.

Where does the solution lie to the complex problem of climate refugees lie? The Norwegian Refugee Council, a prominent humanitarian organisation in Norway that works on global refugee issues, had suggested setting up of an international environmental migration fund bankrolled by industrialised nations. The idea of a UN pact to compensate victims of climate change is another suggestion, and the issue will also be taken up at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24.

But, as some experts have highlighted, the issue first needs to be mainstreamed. A solid plan can then be devised and incorporated in national policies of the affected nations for a lasting and sustainable solution.

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A Latin American Humanitarian Emergency Invisible to the World Wed, 18 May 2016 23:42:43 +0000 Daniela Pastrana In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, May 18 2016 (IPS)

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, referring to the generalised violence in Mexico and in Honduras and other countries of Central America, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and is a product of transnational crime, but is invisible to the international community.

Zúñiga Cáceres, the daughter of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered on Mar. 2, is in Mexico after visiting several European cities to ask for help clarifying her mother’s murder and to call for a cancellation of the financing for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, to which the Lenca indigenous people are opposed.

In an interview with IPS she admitted that despite the death threats and the murders of other activists, she didn’t believe they would dare kill her mother, who was so well-known at an international level.“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency).” -- Rubén Figueroa

She herself and her siblings had fled to Mexico due to the threats against members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), which was founded by Cáceres 23 years ago. She had been studying in Mexico for a month when her mother was killed.

Now she wants to tell the world about communities that are displaced and forced off their land because of a “neoliberal, racist and patriarchal” system.

The victims, she said, are not only the Lenca Indians. Also affected are the Garifunas, mixed-race descendants of native people and African slaves, who have been displaced by the construction of tourist resorts in their coastal territory.

To that is added abuse by the police and other agents of the state, since the 2009 coup d’etat that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, mixed with criminal violence that has forced thousands of people to seek refuge outside of Honduras.

Rubén Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, which has organised 11 caravans of Central American mothers searching for their children who have gone missing in Mexico, concurs with Zúñiga Cáceres.

“The situation in the entire Northern Triangle region of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) is a humanitarian crisis,” the migrants’ rights activist told IPS.

“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency),” he said.

Figures from an invisible crisis

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the number of internally displaced people forced from their homes by armed conflict and violence rose to a record 40.8 million in 2015.

Of that total, at least 7.3 million were in Latin America, most of them in Colombia, because of its decades-long armed conflict.

But the report dedicates a special analysis to the growing new phenomenon of displacement caused by criminal violence, in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

These four countries accounted for a total of one million internally displaced persons – nearly double the number reported in the 2014 edition of the report. They are mainly victims of criminal violence, principally associated with drug trafficking and gangs.

The IDMC stresses that these are incomplete figures, to which must be added the number of people who are forced to leave the country by criminal violence.

It describes those displaced by criminal violence as “unseen and in displacement limbo”.

Human rights activists in Mexico blame this generalised violence on the war between organised crime groups, as well as on violence by the states against opponents to mining and energy projects.

“What we are experiencing is not a war on drug trafficking, but a war by the state against the general population,” María Herrera, an activist with the group of relatives searching for family members forcibly disappeared in Mexico, who number in the thousands, told IPS.

Also part of this new kind of humanitarian emergency, arising from transnational crime, are civilian victims of the growing militarisation in countries of Central America and Mexico, according to those interviewed by IPS, who complain that the issue is not on the agenda for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul.

Figueroa said a series of regional policies, such as Mexico’s Southern Border Plan and the Alliance for Progress in Central America, were partly to blame for the crisis.

“Approximately five years ago we began to notice that displacement is caused by more direct violence. We have seen young people who come to the shelters with bullets in their bodies. People who have returned to their countries and have been killed,” the activist said.

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

“Migration has always existed, but now people are being displaced by drug trafficking and gang warfare, and there is also the question of persecution and harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Honduras. It’s become structural violence,” he said.

Mexico between a rock and a hard place

The Central American diaspora triggered by violence, along with the deportation of thousands of migrants by the United States, has turned Mexico into a sort of sandwich. And this is causing a growing phenomenon, which has not been addressed either: Central Americans who are choosing to stay in Mexico rather than head north to the United States.

More than two million people were deported during U.S. President Barack Obama’s first term – 2009-2012 – alone.

The governmental Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR) reports that 2,000 Central Americans requested refugee status in 2014, and only one-fifth were granted it.

Mexico, meanwhile, has its own humanitarian emergency. The Mexican Commission of Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) documented 281,400 cases of forced displacement caused by generalised violence between 2011 and February 2015.

One-third of these displaced persons fled their communities in 141 mass displacements in 14 states.

Mass displacement is defined as an event simultaneously affecting more than 50 people or 10 families. Between January 2014 and February 2015, the CMDPDH registered 23 mass displacements.

One-fifth of these happened in Guerrero, a state that doubled its record and became the leader in forced displacement due to violence in Mexico in the last year.

“People who have been internally displaced do not have mechanisms or institutions for their protection or assistance,” says the report Forced Displacement in Mexico, released by the CMDPDH, a government agency, in 2015.

But there are other cases, like that of Myrna Lazcano, a Mexican woman who, after marrying and having two daughters in the United States, decided to return to Mexico in 2008.

However, the violence against women in her home state of Puebla and in Veracruz, where she found work, forced her to send her daughters back, first, and then return herself to the United States, where she has requested asylum.

Like her, another 9,200 Mexicans applied for asylum in the United States in 2012 – three times the number of requests filed there by Mexicans in 2008.

“This is an emergency that no one wants to address,” said Figueroa. “It is influenced by the position, especially on the part of the United States, with regard to the situation in Central America, because they would be forced to offer refuge if they recognised it.”

But in his view, “another element is the stance taken by Mexico and the countries of origin (of the migrants), because they would be forced to admit that they are failing, as is the international community.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Humanitarian Situation in Yemen Seriously Deteriorating Wed, 18 May 2016 21:35:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage John Ging, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs briefs journalists on his recent trip to Yemen. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

John Ging, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs briefs journalists on his recent trip to Yemen. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is very seriously deteriorating, said Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Operations Director John Ging.

Following a trip to the Middle Eastern country, Ging revealed the severe impacts of the conflict and the international community’s inaction on Yemeni civilians.

“Yemen was an impoverished country before this latest conflict…so therefore the effect of the conflict, the effect of the restrictions on access have been very devastating for the population,” he said during a briefing here Tuesday.

According to OCHA, more than 21 million people in Yemen, equivalent to 82 percent of the population, need some form of humanitarian assistance. This includes 7.6 million who are severely food insecure.

Ging stated that the level of food insecurity in the country is just a step below famine according to the international food security index.

“It’s a very fragile situation,” he noted.

In addition to hindering access to populations in need, the one year-long conflict has also damaged key infrastructure including health facilities, further limiting access to much needed resources.

Over the span of just three months, three different hospitals supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came under attack, resulting in the deaths and injuries of numerous health personnel and patients.

“We strongly condemn this incident that confirms a worrying pattern of attacks to essential medical services and express our strongest outrage as this will leave a very fragile population without health care for weeks,” said MSF’s Director of Operations Raquel Ayora following a hospital attack in January 2016.

Such attacks are not isolated to hospitals. Human Rights Watch reported one case where two Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes hit a crowded market in northwestern Yemen, killing at least 97 individuals including 25 children. HRW said that the attacks constitute “war crimes.”

In total, over 3000 civilians have been killed over the course of the war.

The ceaseless violence has in turn exacerbated displacement, causing over 2 million people to flee. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), this accounts for 25 percent of conflict-related displacement globally.

Many Yemenis are therefore dependent on the international community for basic needs including food, health services, and shelter, Ging stated.

However, despite the scale of humanitarian needs in the country, Ging noted that Yemen is not receiving sufficient focus.

“Although [the crisis] is growing in severity and its impact on the population…the humanitarian component is not getting the international attention that it deserves,” he stated.

This is reflected in “shockingly” low donor funding, he added.

Of a $1.8 billion UN appeal for Yemen, only 16 percent has so far been funded.

Ging stated that the core issue is not simply a deficit of funding, but rather a “deficit of humanity” which is leading to a horrific loss of life and suffering around the world.

He pointed to global military expenditures as an example.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the international community spend approximately $1.6 trillion on the military in 2015, equivalent to 2.3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Ging noted that if half of one percent of global military spending was allocated to humanitarian action, there would no longer be a deficit.

“We want a new approach to this which thinks about the consequences, because it’s not that the world doesn’t have the money available, it is that it’s not making the right decisions about where it sends the money that is available,” he told the press.

“We are only asking for the minimum that is required to keep people alive in these awful circumstances,” he continued.

Ging noted that the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) represents a “moment of reflection” in order to “refocus” and “reengage” in a more active way. He expressed his hope that the meeting will particularly translate to a political reflection and call for action.

“[Yemenis] have endured way too much, for far too long,” Ging stated.

“As an international community, we have to and must do much more in terms of meeting the basic needs of the population while they’re caught up in this situation,” he concluded.

The WHS kicks off in Turkey on May 23, bringing together political leaders, private sector, and civil society to discuss the world’s dire humanitarian situation. Among the key topics for discussion during WHS is humanitarian financing.

OCHA has classified Yemen as a level 3 crisis, a UN designation for the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

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