Information and stories on middle east

When several U.S. Mennonite conferences convened in Elkhart, Indiana to found the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 1920, their aim was modest in comparison to their current work. Originally focused on providing aid and assistance to famine-stricken Mennonites in Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, MCC’s efforts now spread over more than 50 countries across five continents, and are no longer focused on aiding those of their own faith.

MCC works primarily by partnering with local organizations, both secular and religious, to distribute aid funded primarily by donations from Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Church communities in the United States and Canada. While MCC’s mission statement is inspired by and based upon Christian scripture, in practice their work is secular and is primarily focused on peace-building efforts, disaster relief, and sustainable community development.

The work done by MCC and its partners is as diverse as the needs of the specific communities in which they operate. Their food-relief programs include both aid and development based approaches. Last year the Canadian MCC supported over $1.3 million in food aid for people whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Just one example of MCC’s more development-focused programs is a partnership with organization Global Service Corps that works towards educating Tanzanian farmers on sustainable agricultural methods that increase crop yield and prevent soil erosion and nutrient depletion. MCC funds similar agricultural education programs in 15 other countries around the world including Mozambique, Honduras, Palestine, and North Korea.

In addition to food relief, MCC also supports initiatives that provide easier access to safe drinking water, education for children, disaster relief, and HIV/AIDS related aid and education. One area of MCC’s work that has sparked some controversy, however, is their peace and justice related work in Palestine/Israel. MCC supports a number of Palestinian and Israeli organizations devoted to reaching a peaceful resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Some of their partners are focused on ending what they view as destructive behavior on the part of Israel’s government, such as the Israeli Commission Against House Demolitions, and the Palestinian organization Stop The Wall. This has led to the Israel-based organization NGO Monitor decrying MCC as “promoting a radical pro-Palestinian agenda.”

While MCC’s efforts to end conflict and aid communities in Palestine/Israel have seemingly shed a negative light on the organization for some in this highly politicized arena, it is clear that their focus remains global. And, despite this wide focus, the Mennonite Central Committee continues to provide aid and funding to local organizations that have real tangible impact upon the lives of those less fortunate across the world.

– Coleman Durkin

Sources: Mennonite Central Committee, ReliefWeb, NGO Monitor
Picture: Mennonite Central Comittee

In the last decade, following the attacks on September 11th, 2001, there has been a proliferation of counter terrorism legislation. Most notably the Patriot Act, but many such others have been drafted and passed. A large focus of these laws is to reduce the effectiveness of terrorist organizations by cutting them off from international aid.

There is a side effect though to this crackdown on organizations designated as terrorist, especially in regions where those organizations have control. In Gaza for example, where a rift in the Palestinian government has led to Hamas control of the region, international funding has all but evaporated, due to the labeling of Hamas as a terrorist organization. This isn’t due to the money not being available or no one being willing to assist with humanitarian issues in the region, but rather because a large number of counter-terrorism measures have attached strings to donations.

Examples include an NGO that was prohibited from distributing food because the ministry of social affairs required it to share its beneficiary list, and, as this would constitute a connection to Hamas, the donor wouldn’t authorize it. Similarly, a school project was blocked because the headmaster at the school was viewed to be too senior in the Hamas administration. By placing conditions on the distribution of aid, or prohibiting any connection to a terrorist organization, in a region dominated by that organization, these counter-terrorism laws are preventing many NGOs from securing funding. The first concern for them now is to avoid association with the terrorist organization, and only then can humanitarian action be taken. Or, as more often happens, local NGOs simply refuse funding from external donors, as conditions can’t be met.

Somalia has seen a similar decline in aid, for similar reasons. Kate Mackintosh, co-author of a report commissioned by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says, ‘We did find negative impacts on humanitarian activities, as restriction of funding, blocking of projects and self-censorship by International Organizations and NGOs. After 2008, for example, when the US listed al-Shabaab as a terrorist group, we saw an 88% decrease in aid to Somalia, between 2008 and 2010.’

While counter-terrorism measures are a sad reality of our time, what needs to be reviewed is their impact on humanitarian aid. These laws need to make exceptions to avoid having a negative impact on aid organizations and allow them to operate with the needs of beneficiaries foremost.

– David M Wilson

Sources: The Guardian, IRIN
Photo: LA Times

It often goes unreported, with other countries in the Middle East garnering all the headlines, but since the Arab Spring in 2011 poverty levels have been increasing dramatically in the small nation of Yemen. As a result, roughly one fifth of the country’s population, 5 million people, are suffering through a severe food crisis. This number includes one million acutely malnourished children. According to a World Food Programme (WFP) report, half of the children in Yemen under the age of 5 have had their growth stunted.

With only 3% of Yemen’s land being arable and the rising poverty levels preventing people from buying imported food, the situation is only going to worsen. Currently, WFP operates an emergency program in the country with a budget of $250 million. But with the increased shortages this year, the program needs an additional $80 million in order to complete extended operations.

The humanitarian crisis does not end with the food shortage. 6 million people in Yemen have no access to healthcare, and beyond the 5 million suffering severe food shortages an additional 5 million are in need of food aid. Additionally, 340,000 people have been displaced due to fighting since the Arab Spring, placing a further strain on aid efforts.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is an international initiative aiming to provide assistance to one third of the population of Yemen. In order to meet targets, like providing food to 7 million people, water to 3 million, and healthcare services for 4.2 million, agencies are seeking $716 million in aid money. Currently funding has provided less than half of that target. If funding goals can be reached, assistance can also be provided in education and protection services, possibly affecting half a million children.

With Yemen’s transition towards full democracy and general elections scheduled for 2014, it is crucial that the humanitarian situation be addressed. Otherwise, internal strife could ultimately derail the whole process.

– David M. Wilson

Sources: The Examiner, World Food Programme, Irin News
Sources: BBC

As a part of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Power Distribution Program, the agency is currently helping Karachi Water and Sewage Board to improve water supply for the 21 million inhabitants of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city. The Power Distribution Program is a 5 year, $60 million project to improve electric power utilities across Pakistan.

Karachi currently uses a 20-year old system of pumping stations that pump water from filtration plants into the city, but are extremely energy inefficient. The pumps use huge amounts of electricity from the grid, creating expensive electricity bills for the city, and providing less water to its citizens. Some areas of the city are unable to access water several times a month, simply because the pumps are unable to provide enough for the entire city.

The new pumps installed by USAID will be modern, and highly efficient. 41 out of 75 new pumps have already been installed, and the rest are expected to be completed by the end of September. The electric efficiency rate before the new pumps was at an average of 29 percent, but the new pumps will boost that to 55-65 percent, decreasing the city’s energy cost by $1.15 million per annum. All residents of Karachi will now be able to access water on a regular basis. In addition to saving energy and providing more water, the new pumps will save time and money spent on daily maintenance for the pumps.

In addition to improving the water systems in Karachi, the Power Distribution Program is also working directly with Pakistan’s government owned power distribution companies to increase their efficiency by introducing new technologies, training in human resources management and customer service, and creating legal and political space for the companies to operate.

– Emma McKay

Sources: PDIP, Daily Times