Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:04:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 UN Refugee Summits Fall Short for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-refugee-summits-fall-short-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-refugee-summits-fall-short-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-refugee-summits-fall-short-for-children/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:46:49 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147038 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-refugee-summits-fall-short-for-children/feed/ 0 Yazidi Survivor of ISIL Appointed UN Goodwill Ambassadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yazidi-survivor-of-isil-appointed-un-goodwill-ambassador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yazidi-survivor-of-isil-appointed-un-goodwill-ambassador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yazidi-survivor-of-isil-appointed-un-goodwill-ambassador/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:31:35 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147033 Nadia Murad with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Nadia Murad with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

Yazidi Nadia Murad – who survived being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by ISIL – was honoured by the UN on Friday September 16 for her work to help human trafficking survivors.

At a ceremony held ahead of the International Day of Peace Murad was appointed as the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She is the first survivor of human trafficking to hold the position.

In early August 2014 Murad’s home town of Kocho in Northern Iraq was attacked by ISIL – also known as ISIS or Daesh.

Murad, who belongs to the Yazidi minority religion, described ISIL’s impact as “a nightmare that has struck our society.”

ISIL executed men and older women from the village in the attack, including Murad’s mother and six of her brothers.

Murad and other women and children were captured as “war-booty” and trade merchandise.

ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidis have been described as attempted genocide, since ISIL aims to kill all Yazidis which it describes as infidels.

“The sole aim of ISIL was to destroy Yazidi identity through forced rape, the recruitment of children and the destruction of our temples,” -- Nadia Murad.

Murad later escaped in November 2014 when her captor left the door unlocked and a neighboring family smuggled her to a refugee camp, Duhot, in northern Iraq before she sought and was granted asylum in Germany.

Murad’s advocacy against ISIL’s trafficking of Yazidis later led her to testify before the UN Security Council in December 2015.

“The sole aim of ISIL was to destroy Yazidi identity through forced rape, the recruitment of children and the destruction of our temples,” Murad said, describing the Islamic State’s action as an orchestrated “collective genocide against Yazidi identity” and religion.

She called for the case of genocide against the Yazidis to be brought before the International Criminal Court and for an international budget to compensate Yazidi victims to be established.

Murad also expressed her wish to witness the liberation of occupied Yazidi territory and urged states to open their societies to Yazidi refugees.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on ISIL’s June report, some 3200 women and children are currently enslaved by ISIL.

Murad would “bring much needed attention to international efforts to end human trafficking and help keep it on the Security Council’s agenda,” US Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council Sarah Mendelson said.

The international response should be “commensurate with the scale of human trafficking” said Mendelson, noting that human trafficking generates an estimated 150 billion dollars in revenue annually with over 20 million victims.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Murad as a “fierce and tireless advocate for the Yazidi people and victims of human trafficking everywhere.”

Ban also described the crimes against Yazidis by ISIL as possible genocide.

“The crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq against the Yazidi may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide.”

He called for the immediate release of thousands of Yazidis being held in captivity.

Human rights barrister, Amal Clooney, who represents Murad, described ISIL’s violence towards the Yazidis as a “bureaucracy of evil on an industrial scale.”

ISIL have released a pamphlet entitled ‘Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves’ which describes acts such as beating female slaves, raping female slaves who have not reached puberty, buying or selling or gifting female slaves.

Clooney also expressed her disappointment in the UN’s failure to stop the ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidis.

“I am ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find their own interests get in the way.”

“I am ashamed as a lawyer that there is no justice being done and barely a complaint being made about it.”

“I am ashamed as a woman that girls like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields.”

“I am ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help,” said Clooney.

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UN Refugee Summit: “No Cause for Comfort”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-refugee-summit-no-cause-for-comfort/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-refugee-summit-no-cause-for-comfort http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-refugee-summit-no-cause-for-comfort/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:50:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146996 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-refugee-summit-no-cause-for-comfort/feed/ 0 From Where I Stand: Nahimana Fainesihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/from-where-i-stand-nahimana-fainesi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-where-i-stand-nahimana-fainesi http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/from-where-i-stand-nahimana-fainesi/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 10:28:54 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146981 Nahimana Fainesi [Finess], 30, fled her native Burundi in July 2015 and has since been living in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. She works as a farmer in a UN Women cash-for-work programme there, which is funded by the Government of Japan. Her work is directly related to Sustainable Development Goal 2, which seeks to end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular people in vulnerable situations, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food; and SDG 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. ]]> Nahimana Fainesi in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN Women

Nahimana Fainesi in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

“This is my second time living in communal camps, second time running away from civil war to protect myself. What made me leave [Burundi] was the problem of random people invading others’ homes, attacking those without husbands. They would enter with knives. Before they kill you, they would first rape you. When I saw those attacks, and people dying, I left with my one-year-old son. I didn’t have the chance to get all my children because it was a case of everyone for themselves, running for their lives.

When I got to the Lusenda Camp (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), I had no hope. UN Women gave me hope, motivation and empowerment. After some time, I was appointed committee member of the women’s group. I found a job [through a cash-for-work programme] and that money helped me cross back to get my children. I have five children—four girls and one boy.

Camp life is another challenge. Two of my children have now matured into young women. When they go walking around, I remain in constant fear, because at any time they could get raped. The food is also insufficient and gets depleted even before the next ration.

I survive by farming to get a little cash. Women farm together, growing several types of crops. Once they are ready to be harvested, we sell the produce. One must always think about how you can get your hands dirty to attain your goals and feed your family. Happiness begins with you.”

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <http://www.unwomen.org/>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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In Host Country Lebanon, Refugee and Rural Women Build Entrepreneurship, Cohesion and Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/in-host-country-lebanon-refugee-and-rural-women-build-entrepreneurship-cohesion-and-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-host-country-lebanon-refugee-and-rural-women-build-entrepreneurship-cohesion-and-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/in-host-country-lebanon-refugee-and-rural-women-build-entrepreneurship-cohesion-and-future/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 16:44:32 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146967 Women entrepreneurs from refugee and host communities in Lebanon are using their unique skills and creativity to build their own model of social stability in Lebanon while launching economically viable businesses.]]> Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By UN Women
Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

“When we were forced to leave our country, I never thought that a community in Lebanon would accept and treat me as an active member, the way I have been at the Kfeir Women’s Working Group,” says Hiba Kamal, an 18-year-old refugee from Syria who travelled to Lebanon with her family five years ago fleeing instability in her own country.

Kamal is among more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria and its neighbouring countries, hosted by Lebanon. The massive influx of refugees accounts for 25 per cent of the total population in Lebanon and puts unprecedented pressure on the Lebanese economy. There is an ever-increasing demand for public services and significantly stronger competition for limited resources and employment.

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

The protracted refugee and migrant crisis has led to increased tensions between host and refugee populations, especially in the poorest areas, where refugees tend to concentrate. There is a higher risk of insecurity, sexual and gender-based violence [1].

Women, both Lebanese citizens and refugees, often suffer more discrimination due to the prevalence of prejudiced laws and cultural stereotypes. They are frequently either restricted at home, or relegated to finding low and unstable income within the informal sector without social protection.

To improve women’s access to employment and markets, the Amel Association, a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, implemented a three-year project from 2012 – 2015 in the south of Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut. The project has impacted over 1,000 rural and refugee women, who have learned how to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, such as embroidery and accessories, organic and agro-food products, following the highest quality and sanitation standards.

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Through interactive sessions, where refugee and Lebanese women learned and worked together, the programme also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence to build social stability. “The [Lebanese] women started teaching me their traditional needle work and I was genuinely happy to share with them all the traditional practices that I had learned from my mother and grandmother in loom work,” shares Kamal. By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, participants link their cultural heritage and history with the products, making them unique and highly marketable.

“We started seeing real results of our work when some of the women started creating their own products and started exhibiting them. They grew stronger, more confident and set inspiring examples for other women in the area,” says Safaa Al Ali, Programme Manager at the Amel Association.

The organization facilitated an alliance with 13 other civil society organizations and cooperatives doing similar work to create the first economic network for women in Lebanon, called “MENNA” (meaning “from us” in Arabic language). Today, more than 300 refugee and rural Lebanese women producers sell soaps, candles, accessories and handicrafts directly to the public in a shop in Beirut also named MENNA.

“I came to Lebanon as the crisis began in Syria five years ago…it was hard to find a suitable job as a refugee and I could not access the formal business sector,” shares Mona Hamid, a 51-year-old Syrian refugee living in the suburbs of Beirut. “By joining the MENNA network at Amel, I gained skills to sell and promote my items at local businesses and also showed them at exhibitions.”

The success of the initiative prompted Amel to create a MENNA catering service in February 2016, opening up more income-generating opportunities for women.

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade


The MENNA brand has brought together Lebanese and refugee women in a way that has benefited entire communities. “The importance of this project is that it respects the culture and skills of refugee women and assists them in integrating into the host community. It is a model that works, not only to make women agents of their own economic empowerment in a fragile context, but also as a way that brings them together to work for a common goal, thus building social stability and sustainable peace,” notes Rana El-Houjeiri, Programme Specialist for UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality in Lebanon. The Fund is now building upon the success of this project by supporting similar initiatives in Lebanon and other countries in the Arab States region.

Notes
[1] Amel Association International (2013). Unpublished study on “Gender analysis of Host Communities affected by Syrian Refugee Crisis”

This story was replicated from the UN Women website <http://www.unwomen.org/>. IPS is an official
partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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Building Bridges: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the Emirates at the Vaticanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/building-bridges-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-of-the-emirates-at-the-vatican/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-bridges-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-of-the-emirates-at-the-vatican http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/building-bridges-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-of-the-emirates-at-the-vatican/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 19:32:13 +0000 Rubya Delarose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146947 Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

By Rubya Delarose
ROME, Sep 15 2016 (IPS)

As the rise of religious racism and Islamophobia sweeps across Europe, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is increasing their emphasis on the message for peaceful tolerance across all nations.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Zayed met with Pope Francis in Rome recently. The meeting held at the headquarters of the papacy was also attended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State. The focus of their meeting was on global development and social and humanitarian issues, including initiatives in the educational and health areas in underprivileged communities.

Pope Francis commented at the meeting that the U.A.E’s adoption and deployment of sustainable sources of energy and support of countries and communities in need act as outstanding contributions to international development.

“Sheikh Mohamed’s visit to the Pope is part of his continuous meetings aimed at promoting the values of tolerance, peace and co-existence in all societies” Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance told Emirates News Agency WAM.

As terrorism destabilizes Europe, Sheikh Zayed’s meeting at the papacy was an opportunity to confirm the U.A.E’s condemnation of all forms of violent extremism and his country’s position as a united force against intolerance.

WAM reported that the U.A.E stands with Pope Francis on his universal rejection of extremism. The Vatican and the U.A.E recognize that the ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam.

As the consequences of Islamophobia threaten Muslims worldwide, the need to spread a message of tolerance across all religions is vital. Any form of extremism must be denounced.

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UN Summit Won’t Resolve Refugee Resettlement Impassehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-summit-wont-resolve-refugee-resettlement-impasse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-summit-wont-resolve-refugee-resettlement-impasse http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-summit-wont-resolve-refugee-resettlement-impasse/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 20:49:11 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146926 Border guards in Bangladeshrefusing entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

Border guards in Bangladeshrefusing entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Phoebe Braithwaite
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2016 (IPS)

Next week’s landmark UN summit on refugees and migrants was supposed to help resettle one in ten refugees, instead UN member states have settled for vague gestures, including a campaign to end xenophobia.

Human rights organisations and humanitarian actors alike have expressed disappointment with an outcome document agreed upon by member states in advance of the summit, which falls short of creating a binding, comprehensive framework to protect migrants and refugees.

“If global leaders adopt a resolution with some nice language – but so lacking in concrete commitments it fails to make any real difference to the lives of those fleeing war and conflict – they are merely fiddling while Rome burns,” Richard Bennett, Head of Amnesty’s Office at the United Nations, told IPS.

They say that the UN’s richer member states are missing a crucial opportunity to tackle xenophobia and racism by actually resettling refugees within their own borders.

“When you actually speak to refugees, the men with Kalashnikovs are pushing them away, but the men in suits are running away,” -- Arvinn Gadgil

“When you actually speak to refugees, the men with Kalashnikovs are pushing them away, but the men in suits are running away,” Arvinn Gadgil Director of Partnerships and Policy at the Norwegian Refugee Council told IPS.

“There seemed to be an appetite from member states to actually find a mechanism for responsibility sharing. Now – perhaps naively – we thought that was true, and we are of course disappointed. That was the one key output from the summit that we now seem not to be able to get,” said Gadgil.

Gadgil described the talks as a “race to the bottom,” entailing “systematic risk-aversion” and overwhelming concern for national self-interest. “There is very little reason to be optimistic,” he said, deploring states’ negotiations, which, he says, were governed by the “lowest common denominator of shame.”

Revealing a process in which member states stripped back meaningful promises to vague re-affirmations of shared responsibility, Bennett said, “there’s this enormous crisis, and these diplomats sit in New York discussing words which may or may not even be implemented… there’s a huge gap between their rhetoric and the reality.”

Numbers of displaced people remain at unprecedented levels globally, higher than ever before in the UN’s history. With around 65 million people forced from their homes, one in every 113 people is now either a refugee, asylum seeker or internally displaced person. 21.3 million of these people are refugees; 51 percent of refugees are children.

Yet even a clause on the detention of children was considered too controversial by some member states.

Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the summit, explained that the implementation of children’s right never to be detainedhad been extremely contentious for some states and amended to the principle “for children seldom, if ever, to be detained.”

In an effort to address the broad issues created by human mobility, the summit will focus on both refugees and migrants, though discussing them side-by-side has proven controversial since migration is a less settled area of international law. Internally displaced persons will not be discussed, though there are approximately 45 million people currently displaced within national borders.

Around 86 percent of refugees reside in low and middle-income countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, Turkey, and Nauru, where Australia holds refugees, including children, in offshore detention.

Criticising those states “who are continuing to put up borders and walls,” Bennett said, “there is no trigger mechanism; there are no concrete, objective criteria for deciding how a country meets its fair share… It’s a kind of ad-hoc approach, based on largesse, of whether a country offers resettlement places or money or not.”

The outcome document says that “in many parts of the world we are witnessing, with great concern, increasingly xenophobic and racist responses to refugees and migrants” – as well as the increasing acceptability of such attitudes. Yet states themselves perpetuate these attitudes by refusing to welcome people from different countries, even when fleeing violence and persecution.

On Monday Amnesty criticised the G20 declaration calling for greater “burden-sharing” with regards to refugees, calling this “callous hypocrisy” given that many G20 countries actively blocked efforts to resettle refugees. Moreover, the term itself ‘burden-sharing’ explicitly views refugees negatively.

States, said Bennett, are “reluctant to set targets when it comes to taking and supporting refugees because there is a toxic narrative about migration and refugees which affects national politics. Another concern we have about the outcome document of the summit is that it moves in the direction of securitisation – of seeing the movement of people as a security issue, and not that refugees will make societies more diverse and actually stronger.”

Last week Angela Merkel’s party, which has consistently acted as a moral force by resettling refugees, and refusing to bow to the xenophobic electoral strategies of parties in many European countries, lost a local election to far-right populist party Alternative for Germany.

Without wishing to read too much into a single local election, said Gadgil, “this could potentially be a watershed moment in European politics, where we end up with the definitive rise of parties that are primarily motivated by xenophobic views of the world, and primarily motivated by the artificial portrayal of immigrants as essentially and only bad.”

Talks “Abstract, Academic Exercise”

September 2 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose picture moved publics to sympathy last summer, helping to individualise suffering on an enormous scale.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was recently reported saying, “nobody is ever just a refugee,” emphasising the centrality of migration in human history at the UN’s World Humanitarian Day.

At the preliminary talks, however, Bennett said: “I didn’t really hear any countries give examples of actual refugee or migrant stories… for the states this seemed like an abstract, academic exercise.”

Narratives and public statements are doubtless indispensible tools in communicating every person’s humanity, but a more sustained level of attention is needed among policy-makers, who play a critical role in shaping public opinion, to bring about real change and uphold the rights and the dignity of refugees and migrants.

Speaking on Tuesday night in New York Médecins Sans Frontières’s Executive Director Jason Cone looked to the summit, saying, “ultimately it’s political leaders that have to step up and make these decisions… These are problems that are eminently solvable with the right resources directed towards them.”

The UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants will take place at UN headquarters in New York on September 19.

Hopes now turn to the Leaders Summit on Refugees, convened the following day by Barack Obama, where he will invite heads of state and government to make national, rather than collective, resettlement pledges.

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U.A.E Stands By Conflicted Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-a-e-stands-by-conflicted-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-a-e-stands-by-conflicted-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-a-e-stands-by-conflicted-yemen/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:34:42 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146827 By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

As unrest and chaos plague Yemen, the U.A.E is not waiting in silence. Recognising that in spite of being impoverished Yemen has always been strategically important for U.A.E and the region, the warfare and conflict will not only gravely affect the region itself but could also obstruct the future security of the Middle East as a whole.

Extremist forces continue to hinder Yemen’s development and block any path to peace for the strife-torn nation. However, the U.A.E is determined to put the threat radical armed groups pose to a halt.

According to a recent report issued by Emirates News Agency, WAM, the U.A.E has played a crucial role in the growing success in the fight against Al Qaida in Southern Yemen.

Recently, the U.A.E supported Yemen’s significant military advancement. After five years of lawlessness and terrorist control in the province of Abyan, the Yemeni army managed to liberate the region and wipe out the deathly threat of terror posed by Al Qaida and its allies in Daesh. (ISIL) The U.A.E played a fundamental role in this military triumph through the extensive aerial cover provided whilst the Yemeni army advanced on the militants.

However, once secure in the knowledge of having gained back control over the conflict-ridden territory, the U.A.E did not stop there. The Emirati volunteer organization, the Emirates Red Crescent, successfully launched several humanitarian missions and provided vital food and water supplies to civilians most affected in the province.

The U.A.E’s forces have not only been victorious in their attempts to eradicate the chaos inflicted by extremist groups, they have also placed a strong emphasis on providing aid to all civilians, including those considered “unreachable”. They are committed to their pledge to provide sustainable development and long-term aid in a bid to rebuild Yemen’s civil society.

The recent military success in Abyan follows the recapturing of a major port in addition to an airport and surrounding territory in the coastal city of Al Mukalla, once seized by Al Quaida.

The operation had been planned six months in advance in order to ensure its success . More than 20,000 soldiers engaged in the warfare which lead to victory and a weakening of the Al Quaida threat. Subsequent operations focused on sustainable development for the city including the rebuilding of demolished buildings and the restoration of security at the city’s airport and port.

The Emirates News Agency, WAM, emphasises that “”it is just as important to root out the terrorists from their bases and bring Yemen’s coastal territories back to orderly government so that some measure of calm, normal business and social life can restart.” The U.A.E’s commitment to restore stability, security and order in Yemen is admirable. Through the donation of roughly 1.17 billion USD in the past 16 months to the crucial military assistance to eradicate the threat extremist armed groups pose, the future prospect of peace brings more hope to strife-torn Yemen.

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Yemeni Refugees Still Stuck on Wrong Side of the Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemeni-refugees-still-stuck-on-wrong-side-of-the-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemeni-refugees-still-stuck-on-wrong-side-of-the-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemeni-refugees-still-stuck-on-wrong-side-of-the-water/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:38:32 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146799 A Yemeni man proudly watching over an infant in the camp. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

A Yemeni man proudly watching over an infant in the camp. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
OBOCK, Djibouti, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Tears emerge from the slit of 20-year-old Gada’s black niqab face veil. After more than a minute’s silence she still can’t answer the question: How bad was it in Yemen before you left?

During 2015, escalation of fighting in Yemen led to a mass exodus. The UN refugee agency estimates that more than 2.4 million Yemenis have fled their homes to elsewhere in the country, and 120,000 have sought asylum in other countries.“My future used to be in Yemen when I had a father with an income. But if we go back we’ll be starting from scratch. Before, we depended on ourselves, but how do we do that now?” -- Issa, an 18-year-old refugee in the camp in Obock.

This includes Somalia and Djibouti on the opposite side from Yemen of the 30-km stretch of water known as Bab-el-Mandeb, meaning the Gateway of Tears—a name derived from the long history of people perishing when trying to cross it—at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

Some of those who went to Djibouti settled in a refugee camp that grew outside Obock, a small sun-parched town on the Horn of Africa coast. Facilities in the camp remain basic, though they now include a school started singlehandedly by an American missionary to provide Yemeni children and young adults with education, as well as something more intangible.

“Education is obviously important, and the school gives parents a much needed break from their kids in the cramped camp, but this is more to do with showing the refugees that they matter and have a future—that they’re not left out,” says Marianne Vecchione, a Los Angeles resident who has spent the past year in Obock.

After one typically sweltering day in the camp—daily temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit—as the sun sets Yemeni children giggle among themselves as they hesitantly approach and pet a group of camels, idling in a sandy lane running between groups of tents.

: With little to provide excitement in the camp, Yemeni children are drawn by a group of camels. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

With little to provide excitement in the camp, Yemeni children are drawn by a group of camels. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The sight of the camels provides a rare moment of excitement amid the drudgery of camp life. Housed in the simple tents are Yemeni from all over the country and from all walks of life: from poor fisherman to relatively affluent professionals of the middle class.

“I had everything, a job and an internet shop, but the Houthi rebels took it,” says 25-year-old Saddam from the city of Alhodida. “Everything’s gone. The shop was probably worth 25,000 dollars. Mum and dad are still there, my sister is in Ta’izz and I have two brothers in the camp, but we don’t know where my other brother is—he’s lost somewhere.”

Despite such deprivations, refugees try to keep a sense of humour about their predicaments.

“Welcome to the Middle Ages,” 22-year-old Ali says with a smile as he lifts a hanging cloth acting as the entrance to an enclosed area, comprising a small central open area with a tent at either end, in which lives Ali, his mother and five siblings, two of whom go to the camp’s school where Ali volunteers as a teacher. Ali says his family knew a much better life in Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city, before his father was killed by a military plane’s bomb strike during fighting and the family fled.

“My future used to be in Yemen when I had a father with an income,” says Ali’s 18-year-old brother Issa. “But if we go back we’ll be starting from scratch. Before, we depended on ourselves, but how do we do that now?”

The camp at its peak had about 3,000 people, now there are about 1,000. Refugees have started returning to Yemen, braving the ongoing fighting there.

“There’s nothing like home,” says one woman in a group of Yemeni female refugees discussing what they miss. “Even if you are somewhere better, you can’t compare with it—where you had your childhood, the traditions, the parks, the mosques and culture. We miss everything, the breath and waves of Yemen. We even miss the shop keepers as they were part of daily life.”

A young refugee girl pushing a wheelbarrow of rubbish through the camp. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

A young refugee girl pushing a wheelbarrow of rubbish through the camp. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In August, UN-sponsored talks in Kuwait for establishing peace in Yemen ended after 90 days unresolved, with fighting resuming between government forces and rebels.

“When will there be peace? Maybe in 30 years if the old generation dies and the young are more peaceful and loving,” says a 45-year-old Yemeni who back in Yemen is head of a tribe and didn’t want his name used due to his position. “The rebels came from nothing and took over everything, killing a lot. They had to have someone behind them—big support to get all the weapons.”

Yemen has fallen foul of a proxy war being waged between Saudi Arabia, supporting Yemen’s government forces, and Iran, backing the Houthi rebels who, according to Yemeni in the camp, having committed the most and worst atrocities.

Vecchione recounts how one day she told young school children to draw pictures for a class and by its end she found herself looking at scrawled pictures of the likes of bombed-out houses, dead people and boats being shelled—as refugees fled over the sea to Djibouti they were targeted by unknown forces on the Yemen mainland firing artillery at boats.

Many refugees are deeply traumatised, something the aid world can forget in its haste to deliver assistance, according to Vecchione.

“In the aid world things are done according to projects and programs, they’re not done according to individuals,” Vecchione says. “So the aid world can forget you’re dealing with someone who is traumatized and who needs special care, and needs a different way of handling.”

Djibouti’s government is often criticiz]sed for not doing enough to help large numbers of unemployed and impoverished in the country. But Vecchione notes how its Ministry of Education helped and cooperated fully with her when she undertook to take two groups of students to Djibouti City to complete exams, enabling them to progress to high-school and university in the future.

“The government does have challenges but they are showing the way internationally [with refugees],” says Tom Kelly, U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti, who has visited the camp a number of times and hosted the students at his residence while they took exams in the city. “They’ve saved thousands of lives. It deserves credit for opening its borders to people who had nowhere else to go.”

The influx of Yemeni refugees into Djibouti has totalled about 35,000, Kelly says, adding how, relative to the size of Djibouti’s population, this is like 13 million people entering the U.S.

Despite the refugees’ dire situation, Vecchione encountered opposition to her endeavours to help. She was accused by some of trying to convert students to Christianity—even though the school taught the Yemeni curriculum including lessons on the Koran and Islam.

At one stage, tensions were such her bosses considered pulling her out of Obock. But she stayed, and is adamant it was worth it. Everywhere she goes around the camp and small town she is accompanied by a common refrain from both young and adult voices: “Marianne! Marianne!”

It’s clear that some refugees appreciate what one Christian volunteer has done for them, despite what can be vast cultural and religious differences.

Meanwhile, although the ongoing war in Yemen can easily appear impossibly intractable, and its terrible fallout insurmountable, Vecchione notes how often the smallest things can still make a big difference.

“The school also breaks down some of the regional challenges people have based on the war, as there’s a lot of north/south and inter-city squabbling based on the fighting and trauma,” Vecchione says. “Different cities committed different atrocities, but the school brought [children and parents] together, and unified them as one people.”

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Yemen’s Children Deserve Betterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemens-children-deserve-better/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemens-children-deserve-better http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemens-children-deserve-better/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:06:51 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146756 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemens-children-deserve-better/feed/ 0 Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Devastating Earthquake Demolishes Towns in Central Italyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:43:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146676 Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 25 2016 (IPS)

At 3.36am on  August 24, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc and destruction in central Italy.

The initial early morning earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.1 and 5.4 aftershocks, the tremors reported to have been felt by inhabitants in Rome, Rimini and as far south as Naples.

La Repubblica has reported the hamlets of Accumoli and the neighboring town of Amatrice to have been “razed to the ground.”

Not a single building has been spared, including schools and hospitals.

The current death toll has now reached 247 , in spite of 4’300 rescuers using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands in a strenuous bid to find the last remaining survivors.

“My village no longer exists”, the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, stated.

A high number of the fatalities have been of children, amongst them an 18-month-old child in critical condition who died in the now-demolished Ascoli Piceno hospital.

The child’s parents were no strangers to the devastating effects of natural disasters. They had relocated after experiencing the forceful earthquake to hit L’Aquila, a city in the region of Abruzzo, in 2009.

In fact, earthquakes have always been a threat to those who live along the Apennine mountain range in central Italy.

Through the centuries Italy has suffered from the destructive force of earthquakes. Over the years, thousands have died as a result of tremors equal to or stronger than those felt on Wednesday night, 24 August.

The “Messina” earthquake reduced Sicily’s second-largest city to rubble and took the lives of over 82’000 in 1908.

In 1980, the “Eboli” earthquake struck a huge area near the southern city of Naples, some 2’735 were killed and more than 7’500 injured.

The “Abruzzo” earthquake in 2009  resulted in the death of 300 and demolished the 13th century city of L’Aquila.

Italy’s geographical location makes it prone to the threat of powerful earthquakes.

“Many parts of Italy lie on a major seismic fault line, minor tremors and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.” the Italian Foreign office told the Telegraph UK.

Mayor of Amatrice Sergio Perozzi  warned that roads in and out of the town were cut off. “There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” he stated.

Italian authorities are currently warning the public of the risk of aftershocks in the areas affected.

On the same day the earthquake in central Italy struck, a 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar left at least 3 dead and damaged ancient cultural sites and temples in the centre of the country.

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s spokesperson said the UN and its partners are ready to stand by in support of countries where humanitarian aid is most needed in the aftermath of natural disaster.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of  lives lost and damage caused by earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar”, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the Regular Daily.

Natural disasters, particularly in the form of earthquakes,  have quite literally “shaken” the world up this 2016.

The residents of Kunamato, Japan just marked the fourth month since  terrifying temblors left 72 dead in April.

The strongest quake to have hit Japan since March 2011 occurred on the evening of April 14, registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

This was followed by another earthquake of similar scale on April 16,  which was determined to be the “main quake”.

Of the 72 victims, 50 were killed instantly, while 17 died of poor health while seeking shelter at local emergency centers.

In the same month, a massive earthquake resulted in  the deaths of 650  and the displacement of over 30’000 people in Ecuador.

The aftermath of the deathly quake lingers on as the survivors now face the grave socio-economic implications of destructive natural disaster.

In addition to the quake costing an estimated 4 billion USD in structural damage, in a country already economically staggered by falling oil prices, the consequential setbacks it has left on the lives of thousands in terms of unemployment, homelessness, and emotional trauma has led to an increase in domestic violence.

Months later, many survivors of the earthquake in  Ecuador are still living in the grief-stricken aftermath of unprecedented calamity.

It is essential that sustainable solutions are set in place to all those left displaced and traumatised by natural disasters this 2016.

Although the rebuilding of demolished infrastructure and the generation of alternative housing is a priority,  the establishment of support clinics to help those most affected cope with the physiological consequences of an earthquake should also be considered of vital importance.

In light of ongoing natural disasters and the devastating effects they can leave on both the psyche and livelihoods on the victims that cross their forceful paths, we must place a strong focus not only on the restructuring of the cities and towns reduced to rubble, but also on the continuous psychological  support of the traumatised survivors.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146636 The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Deadly Yellow Fever Spreading, Amid Global Vaccine Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:59:12 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146613 A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

As deadly yellow fever spreads to seven provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), new measures have been introduced to ensure that as many people as possible are immunised, despite global shortages of the yellow fever vaccine.

Global emergency stocks of just 6 million yellow fever vaccines have been strained by the current outbreak, which began in Angola and has now spread to neighbouring DRC.

To reach as many people as possible with the limited supply of vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started recommending the use of partial doses.

“Studies done in adults show that fractional dosing using one fifth of the regular dose provides effective immunity against yellow fever for at least 12 months and possibly much longer,” WHO Spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told IPS.

The WHO began recommending that fractional doses could be used as an emergency measure in June 2016, ensuring additional doses would be available for mass vaccination campaigns in Angola and the DRC.

The WHO has also recently changed its recommendations for those who have already been immunised with a complete dose of the yellow fever vaccine.

“We know now that a single complete dose provides lifelong protection,” said Jašarević.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children.

The change in recommendation happened on 11 July 2016, but also applies retrospectively to those already carrying certificates of immunisation required for travel.

“This lifetime validity of these certificates applies automatically to certificates issued after 11 July 2016, as well as certificates already issued,” said Jašarević.

The new measures will potentially mean that more doses are available for mass vaccination campaigns such as the one the DRC government began in Kinshasa this week.

IPS spoke with Heather Kerr who is the DRC Country Director of Save the Children, which is providing support to the DRC Ministry of Health’s mass vaccination campaign.

“So far in DRC there are 74 actual confirmed cases and there’ve been 16 deaths from those cases,” she said. This means that more than 20 percent of people who have contracted yellow fever in the DRC have died. The number of suspected cases in the DRC and Angola is much higher.

“Obviously a big city like Kinshasa worries us, we don’t really know how many people there are in Kinshasa, no census has been done since the 1980s but we estimate around 10 million.”

The current campaign aims to reach 420,000 people in Kinshasa over 10 days, said Kerr.

“The governments decision was in Kinshasa to use what’s called the fractionalised dose, so it’s a fifth of the normal dose.”

Kerr says that since the fractional doses only provide protection for one year, revaccination will be required, but that hopefully by this time there will be more vaccines available globally.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” she said.

“There’s no known cure for yellow fever,” said Kerr. “Prevention is better than cure always, but in this case it really is, so that’s why this vaccination campaign is so important.”

In the early stages Kerr says that yellow fever either has hardly any symptoms or symptoms such as fever, nausea and diarrhea “which could be confused also with something like malaria.”

“Then the more severe symptoms are bleeding because it’s a haemorrhagic fever, and then people can become severely jaundiced and can go into organ failure and that’s why it’s called yellow fever.”

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UN Admits it Needs to do More After Causing Haiti Cholera Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 21:34:15 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146610 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/feed/ 0 133 Organisations Nominate Syria’s White Helmets for Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 11:34:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146605 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/feed/ 2 Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Arable Lands Lost at Unprecedented Rate: 33,000 Hectares… a Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:50:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146571 Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Humankind is a witness every single day to a new, unprecedented challenge. One of them is the very fact that the world’s arable lands are being lost at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost. That means 33,000 hectares a day!

Moreover, scientists have estimated that the fraction of land surface area experiencing drought conditions has grown from 10-15 per cent in the early 1970s to more than 30 per cent by early 2000, and these figures are expected to increase in the foreseeable future.

While drought is happening everywhere, Africa appears as the most impacted continent by its effects. According to the Bonn-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of African lands are now either desert or dry-lands.

The challenge is enormous for this second largest continent on Earth, which is home to 1.2 billion inhabitants in 54 countries and which has been the most impacted region by the 2015/2016 weather event known as El-Niño.

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

IPS interviewed Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer at UNCCD, which has co-organised with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on August 15-19 in Windhoek.

“Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is an evidence. African countries are severely affected,” Tsegai clarifies.

The African Drought Conference focus has been put on the so-called “drought resilience.”

IPS asks Tsegai what is this all about? “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions,” he explains.

“To begin with there are four aspects of Drought: Meteorological (weather), Hydrological (surface water), Agricultural (farming) and socioeconomic (effects on humans) droughts.”

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

Asked for the major challenges ahead when it comes to working on drought resilience in Africa, Tsegai tells IPS that these are mainly:

a) Lack of adequate data base such as weather, water resources (ground and surface water), soil moisture as well as past drought incidences and impacts;

b) Poor coordination among various relevant sectors and stakeholders in a country and between countries in a region;

c) Low level of capacity to implement drought risk mitigation measures (especially at local level);

d)    Insufficient political will to implement national drought policies, and

e) Economics of drought preparedness is not well investigated, achieving a better understanding of the economic benefits of preparing for drought before drought strikes is beneficial.

As for the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explains that they are to seek to improve land productivity, to restore (or preserve) land, to establish more efficient water usage and improve the living conditions of those populations affected by drought and desertification.

According to Tsegai, some of the strategies that can be adopted to build drought resilience include:

First: a paradigm shift on the way we deal with drought. We will need to change the way we think about drought.

“Drought is not any longer a one time off event or even a ‘crisis’. It is going to be more frequent, severe and longer duration. It is a constant ‘risk’, he tells IPS.

“Thus, we need to move away from being reactive to proactive; from crisis management approach to risk management; from a piecemeal approach to a more coordinated/integrated approach. Treating drought as a crisis means dealing with the symptoms of drought and not the root causes,” Tsegai explains.

“In short, developing national drought based on the principles of risk reduction is the way forward.”

Second: Strengthening Drought Monitoring and early warning systems (both for drought and the impacts);

Third: Assessing vulnerability of drought in the country (Drought risk profiling on whom is likely to be affected, why? Which region and what will be the impacts?);

Fourth: Carrying out practical drought risk mitigation measures including the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock, monitoring and measuring water supply and uses, boasting the recycling and reuse of water and waste-water, exploring the potential of growing more drought tolerant crops and expanding crop insurance.

 

The Five Big Options

Asked what is expected outcome of the African Drought Conference, Tsegai answers:

  1.  To come up with a Common Strategy document at Africa level, a strategy that strengthens African drought preparedness that can be implemented and further shared at country level.
  1. To lead to the development of integrated national drought policies aimed at building more drought resilient societies based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land / soil, forest, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.).
  1. Countries are expected to come up with binding Drought Protocol- to adopt Windhoek Declaration for African countries-, which would be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment next year and expected to be endorsed at the African Union summit.
  1. With this in mind, the outcomes of the conference will be brought to the attention of the African Union for the collective African heads of states and governments’ endorsements, and
  1. It is further expected that the conference will strengthen partnerships and cooperation (South-South) to support the development of new and the improvement of existing national policies and strategies on drought management.

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

It has been estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect more people than any other form of natural disaster, Tsegai tells IPS.

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

“Droughts are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant spiralling secondary and tertiary impacts.”

To reduce societal vulnerability to droughts, a paradigm shift of drought management approaches is required to overcome the prevailing structures of reactive, post-hazard management and move towards proactive, risk based approaches of disaster management, he stresses.

“Risk based drought management is, however, multifaceted and requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, and, from a drought management policy perspective, capacities in diverse ministries and national institutions are needed.”

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