Information and news War and Violence

Agent Orange Cleanup As the United States fought its campaign against North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, part of the military’s strategy included the deployment of Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used to defoliate jungles to expose enemy positions. The toxin was heavily used and has had disastrous health and environmental effects. Now, the United States is leading Agent Orange cleanup efforts in Vietnam. USAID is taking the charge to continue its environmental restoration efforts.

USAID’s Agent Orange Cleanup Commitment

In December 2020, USAID announced that it would commit to contributing an additional $20 million to cleaning up Agent Orange residue around the Bien Hoa Airbase, a major military base used by the United States during the Vietnam War. The airbase was used to store various types of munitions, including chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.

This adds to the $90 million that has already been committed to cleaning up the area around the Bien Hoa Airbase. Planning for the multi-year cleanup operation will be conducted by Trigon Associates, a woman-owned business based in Louisiana.

This recent contribution is part of USAID’s wider Environmental Remediation program, which seeks to decontaminate areas with high concentrations of residual Agent Orange throughout Vietnam. USAID has already completed a major decontamination project in Danang, which remediated 32.4 hectares between 2012 and 2018 at a cost of $110 million.

The current decontamination effort in Bien Hoa is set to last until 2030 and is projected to cost upwards of $183 million. According to USAID, Bien Hoa is the last remaining Agent Orange hotspot in Vietnam. These Agent Orange cleanup efforts are significant as they cleanse Vietnam of a chemical toxin that has been a source of much human and environmental suffering that has lingered for decades.

Agent Orange: Health Impact

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, exposure to Agent Orange is linked to Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, among other life-threatening illnesses. Its widespread use means that an untold number of both U.S. veterans and Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the toxin and are at risk of developing these conditions.

Agent Orange exposure has also been linked to birth defects in the children of those who have been exposed. An analysis by ProPublica indicated that the likelihood of having children born with birth defects was more than one-third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange versus those who were not.

In addition to causing the grave environmental harm of defoliation, Agent Orange has caused multi-generational human suffering. After spraying more than 20 million gallons of the defoliate over a period of 10 years between 1961 and 1971, the United States is now leading the campaign to clean up harmful residue and protect the people of Vietnam from further exposure.

International Partnership Between Old Foes

The fight against global poverty breaks down barriers and fosters closer ties between international partners, even ones that were once engaged in protracted conflict. Where the United States and Vietnam were once enemies, they are now cooperating in the Agent Orange cleanup, undoing the lingering effects of a brutal war and paving the way for mutually beneficial economic development.

– John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

The HALO TrustRussian intervention may have ended the latest bouts of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10, 2020, but landmines from the region’s post-Soviet independence war, coupled with the recent use of cluster munitions by Azeri forces, make the mountainous region one of the most perilous areas to inhabit in the post-Soviet world. Luckily, de-mining initiatives led by The HALO Trust, a British charity, are steadily working to make everyday life safer.

The Bloody History of Landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, has been a site of geopolitical contention since the Soviet collapse. When the region seceded from Azerbaijan by referendum in 1988, neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in protracted fighting to wrest control of the border. The two former Soviet Republics each lay rival territorial claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. While a majority of its 130,000 inhabitants are ethnically Armenian, Soviet districting placed it within Azerbaijan’s borders for decades, which Azerbaijan has sought to maintain.

Because of prolonged fighting between 1988 and 1994 and intermittent skirmishing since, tens of thousands of landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh remain scattered throughout the region. Estimates from 2005 placed the count at upwards of 50,000. Unexploded ordinance (UXO) and abandoned munitions were also noted. Meanwhile, fighting from October and November of 2020 introduced unexploded rockets and cluster munitions to civilian areas including the capital, Stepanakert, which Azerbaijan repeatedly shelled with artillery.

An Explosive Threat

Together, the explosives riddling Nagorno-Karabakh pose a serious public health risk to its local population. Tens of thousands fled the latest fighting as refugees, but the danger is residual and longstanding. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls landmines “a health threat not to be ignored” and claims that the global burden of disease linked to them is historically underreported. WHO estimates that landmines cause 11 to 12 casualties daily worldwide.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, there are more landmine accidents per capita than anywhere else in the world. When victims of these accidents survive, they are often missing limbs and can take months, or even years, to recover. These dangers force communities to disband as families relocate to safer areas. They also cause food insecurity. Nagorno-Karabakh is mountainous and many of its flat, open areas are unworkable minefields that farmers must avoid.

Because children are less educated or tend to engage in riskier behavior than adults, they make up more than a quarter of all landmine victims in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The HALO Trust: Relief Efforts

To address this longstanding public health risk, a British charity, The HALO Trust, has carried out operations targeting landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh. With teams often made up of local volunteers, it has surveyed thousands of acres and organized the removal of nearly 500 minefields since 2000. HALO teams have also supported communities in the wake of border skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Armenia that have left explosives in streets, homes and backyards.

In the latest bouts of fighting, Azerbaijan fired cluster munitions on residential areas in four separate incidents, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Cluster munitions are banned in international humanitarian law because they cannot be directed at a legitimate target, harming civilians and combatants indiscriminately. HALO teams have been responding to local alarms in the wake of these attacks. “In the last five days alone,” HALO reports, “our team has used its expertise and equipment to safely destroy over 150 explosive items.” Teams also delivered relief supplies to sheltering families throughout the fighting, including hygiene kits, blankets and fuel.

In addition to providing relief from landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh, HALO volunteers educate local communities on how to remain safe around landmines and other explosives. Its members frequent schools because of landmines’ disproportionate impact on children.

Landmine Removal Success

Conflict, unexploded ordinance and 30-year-old landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh, continually threaten lives in the mountainous region. Thanks to the work of the HALO, however, de-mining projects have worked to mitigate the risk of explosives and serve local communities. The 4,000 landmines and 8,000 items of ordinance removed since 2000 are a testament to the success of de-mining efforts.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Women PeacemakersSince the beginning of the Sudanese civil war in 1983 that split the north from the south, the conflict in South Sudan has cost thousands of civilian lives and fractured the society in the region. The fallout from the civil war led to tribal conflict that is still ongoing and oftentimes the victims of these “total wars” are women. For this reason, women peacemakers in South Sudan are very important.

Feminist Movements in South Sudan

Prior to the civil war, feminists movements were gaining ground in South Sudan, so much so that South Sudan was seen as the center of African feminism during the 60’s and 70’s. These activists secured legal equality for all women across the country, though, with a change of leadership in the late 70’s, women saw their positions in society diminish. With the beginning of the civil war, South Sudanese feminists began to pursue outside avenues to affect policy.

One such group was a collective of female South Sudanese refugees who fled to Nairobi, Kenya. There they drafted a document that outlined how women were essential to the peacemaking and governing process. These women called for the government to acknowledge that “It is first and foremost women who suffer during wars or conflicts. Because of this, they are best placed to act as agents for a conclusive peace process and to spread a culture of peace in the country.” This was the first declaration of its kind, and its message has continued to be influential in how South Sudanese women advocate for increased involvement of women.

Feminist Organizations

Throughout the war period, multiple feminist organizations emerged that called for peace and women’s rights, such as Nuba Women for Peace, Women Empowerment for Peace and Development Network and the National Democratic Alliance. At the turn of the century, many women who had previously participated in these groups came together to form the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), which is an organization with branches in North and South Sudan that collaborate to empower women in the region and promote the role of women peacemakers in South Sudan.

Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP)

SuWEP’s main goals are to promote the inclusion of women from all layers of society, train women in conflict resolution and mediation, raise awareness, write position papers on its work to be presented to international bodies and advocate for and publicizing its message of gender equality. Due to these efforts, peace centers have now been established throughout both North and South Sudan, food aid has been able to reach the most vulnerable populations throughout the region and the legislature of South Sudan met its quota of 25% of its seats belonging to women.

UN Women Africa

U.N. Women Africa has also been one of the larger advocates for gender equality in South Sudan, with its focus primarily being on increasing female involvement in democracy, increasing literacy and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence. The organization has come before the Security Council to demand greater protections for women because it believes women are essential to the peacemaking process as they have been the greatest advocates of peace since the inception of the conflict. In addition, in a report to the Security Council, it was brought up that the women of these warring tribal and ethnic factions have been able to cooperate and make change together, meaning they can help the rest of the country do so.

Moving into the future, many women peacemakers in South Sudanese see the Revitalized Agreement as the best option for lasting peace because it would require that women hold 35% of government seats and the country would transition towards an expanded democracy. With more women in positions of power, feminists believe there would be an increased focus on women’s issues as well as a greater emphasis on diplomacy and peace.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Sudan
Public discourse surrounding political, human and women’s rights in Sudan is experiencing a major shift. Issues of political and social participation and freedoms have been at the forefront of Sudanese protests in recent years. Women have played a major role in breaking down norms and building up a new female identity.

The Protests

Sudan still faces major internal conflict due to the secession of South Sudan and the ensuing conflict in 2011. In recent years, the role of women and their rights has come into question for the Sudanese people. Women in Sudan have specifically felt subjugated due to legal regulations and celebrated when the country eradicated these laws.

A key facet of these issues is class. Upper-class women wear different clothes than poorer women in Sudan. This discrepancy is not only troubling but deeply rooted in socio-political inequity. BBC reported that “in recent years it was common to see rich Khartoum women wearing trousers in public—while those targeted by the morality police were often poorer women from the marginalized areas on the periphery of this vast country.”

The Reason

The Global Fund for Women outlines the varying causes for many of the protests in Sudan. Some of the protests took place at military headquarters. The protestors staged a sit-in and called for “civilian rule, women’s rights and an end to the nation’s civil wars.”

Some of the specific regulations that women want to change are in regard to their physical appearance. Some examples Sudanese would like to change include how they must dress or cover their hair. Breaking any of the current rules can result in harsh and demeaning punishments. GFFW reported that “thousands of women have been sentenced to floggings under the laws, with poor and minority women particularly affected.”

Violent Response

The protestors filling the streets are primarily women, an estimated 70%. These women come from many backgrounds ranging from students to housewives to street traders. This diverse group of females march the streets while chanting, clapping and singing. Amidst the clamoring for change, human rights violations also occur.

There was an increase in violent attacks during many of the protests in favor of women’s rights in Sudan and the ending of the civil conflict. There have been instances of rape, disfigurement and burnings. The military more subtly uses sexist language and insults as another weapon against those protesting for women’s rights in Sudan. Human Rights Watch asserts that this retaliatory violence “escalated following the Arab uprisings, the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan’s economic downturn and the proliferation of new wars in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.”

Looking Forward

The push for women’s rights in Sudan is progressing forward and incorporating the issues of class and poverty. The country now realizes that the need for comprehensive human rights laws (and specific laws protecting women) is urgent.

The women’s movement is strong but needs continued organizational support. There are few laws currently in place to protect women and children and this must change. Protests, as well as the documentation of human rights violations, are not enough. The government needs to create change and protect its citizens. Women, just like all other citizens, deserve human rights.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

hunger in somaliaOut of control locust swarms, intense droughts and heavy flooding have decimated crops and the livelihood of Somalis. These factors increase hunger in Somalia by leaving millions of people food insecure. Currently, 5.7 million people, almost half of Somalia’s population, are food insecure, and 2.7 million people cannot meet their daily food requirements. The country faces constant fighting, recurring locust swarms, droughts and floods – all of which drastically affect hunger in Somalia.

4 Reasons for Hunger in Somalia

  1. Ongoing conflict destabilizes the country, disrupts livelihoods and hinders aid distribution. Since gaining independence in 1960, Somalia has experienced conflict after conflict, destabilizing the country and harming its people. In 1988, a full-scale civil war broke out due to a power vacuum. Two warlords attempted to gain control of the country, both ultimately failing but subjecting Somalia to crisis. The fighting between these factions destroyed crops and stopped food distribution, causing a famine that killed 300,000 people. Currently, more than 2.6 million Somalis are internally displaced and 760,000 Somalis fled to neighboring countries, leaving their livelihoods behind. Even though a government was established in 2004, its power is extremely limited. Conflict continues around the country, decreasing stability and security while raising humanitarian issues — one of them being food insecurity.
  2. The biggest locust swarm Somalia has experienced in 25 years is currently ravaging crops and farmland. Compounding an already fragile situation, locusts are feasting on crops that could otherwise feed 280,000 people for six months. The locust outbreak originated in Yemen in December. Instead of dying out like expected, the locust numbers increased exponentially when nonseasonal rains allowed for breeding. Adult locusts cause incredible damage to crops: they can eat their body weight daily and can fly up to 93 miles to find food. If they are not controlled, the loss of crops will be severe. Currently, Somalia plans to use biopesticides — a fungus which produces a toxin meant to only kill locusts and related grasshoppers — to get rid of the swarms. Due to the unstable nature of Somalia’s government, using planes to spray insecticide from the air is impossible, so the biopesticide is a reliable alternative.
  3. Somalia is suffering from a 10-year-long drought. For the past decade, drought has severely affected Somalia’s largely agricultural population and contributed to hunger in Somalia. During this time, Somalia only had one proper rainy season. Thus, in 2011 the drought became so bad it triggered a famine. For a famine to occur, three things must happen: a failure of food production, an inability to access food and a failure of governments and international donors to respond. First, the drought killed off crops and livestock, so people lost their income and purchasing power; they were no longer able to obtain food. Lastly, donors did not react quickly enough or provide as much aid as was needed — the U.N. only raised $200 million out of the needed $1 billion. Because of this “triple failure,” this famine killed around 260,000 people. So when the drought worsened in 2017 – 2019, the response, while still not adequate, was enough to keep the situation from turning into a famine. However, 6.7 million people were still left without access to food. Cholera, diarrhea and measles outbreaks accompanied the drought, and because people were dehydrated and weak from hunger these outbreaks had a heavy toll, infecting more than 16,000 people.
  4. Seasonal rains turn into destructive flash floods. By April 2020, the seasonal Gu’ rains, which last from April through June, flooded more than 27 districts and caused the Shabelle and Juba Rivers to overflow. The floods affected close to 1.2 million people and displaced 436,000. While the Gu’ rains are expected — and are often a respite from the long-lasting droughts — they are often destructive. In the Doolow district alone, floods destroyed 1,200 farms and 12,000 hectares of farmland. This kind of rainfall does not help Somalia against its drought, but instead overwhelms communities and causes even more destruction.

With upcoming elections, Somalia has an opportunity to take a step forward into peace and stability. While the locust swarms, drought and floods threaten to undermine Somalia’s future, a stronger government will be able to slow conflict and bring security back, allowing for better management of resources to prevent hunger in Somalia from continuing.

– Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in YemenWar and conflict exacerbate existing poverty. According to the World Bank’s 2007 Global Monitoring Report, fragile states, defined as those in civil war or without legitimate authority to make collective decisions, account for one-fourth of global poverty. In low-income countries, poverty rates average 22%, whereas, in states with conflict, the rates skyrocket to 54%. Poverty in Yemen is no exception to this trend. Yet, the world may consider Yemen the example of conflict exacerbating poverty if fighting continues. The 2019 United Nations Development Project (UNDP) report, Assessing the Impact of War in Yemen, estimates that Yemen could rank as the poorest country on Earth by 2030 if the conflict continues. Here is some information about the relationship between conflict and poverty in Yemen.

Yemen’s Civil War

The seeds of Yemen’s conflict began because of the disorganized power transitions that the 2011 Arab Spring prompted. However, 2015 marks the descent into a foreign-backed civil war. Since then, fighting between the Northern rebel Houthis has continued to decimate civilian communities and exacerbate poverty. Iran has backed this fighting, because of Shia religious interests, along with the remaining Yemeni government. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority countries trying to curtail Iranian influence have also supported it.

The 2019 UNDP report outlines poverty rates in both conflict and no conflict trajectories and shows that without conflict, Yemen’s poverty rate could drop dramatically. Though the country’s poverty rate started rising in 1998 due to poor economic growth, the conflict that began in 2015 increased the depth of poverty by 600% showing the relationship between conflict and poverty in Yemen. The amount of Yemen’s population that now lives in poverty, defined as less than $3.10 a day, hovers around 75%. UNDP projections suggest that 65% of that number could live in extreme poverty by 2022, meaning that they would exist on less than $1.90 a day.

Already struggling with poverty before the conflict, fighting in Yemen compounds the problem by destroying critical infrastructures, like hospitals. On top of that, the pre-2015 economy flatlined. However, the most harmful effect is on food supply. As Yemen relies on imports for over 90% of its food products, the war’s blockades and bombings prevent stable food transportation from ports. Oxfam International reports that two-thirds of Yemen’s population cannot predict where their next meal will come from.

Future Projections

Many say that Yemen suffers the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and such suffering will only increase with continued conflict. For example:

  1. By 2022, the UNDP report projects that 12.4 million Yemenis could live in poverty and that 15.8 million Yemenis could live in extreme poverty if the conflict persists.
  2. It also suggests that the depth of poverty could increase to 6,000% by 2030 compared to the rate of poverty in pre-war Yemen.

However, if the conflict ends soon, Yemen would stand 8% closer to the UNDP’s sustainable development goals of no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and gender equality than it did in 2014. If the conflict ends, the total projected poverty in 2030 would underperform 2014 levels by 3.1 million.

Foreign Aid to Address Poverty

To address poverty in Yemen as well as poverty in other war-torn states, organizations have recently implemented academic findings on the relationship between poverty and conflict.

Borany Penh, founder of the international data science and research firm, Dev-Analytics, and a researcher at the USAID Learning Lab says that “cross contributions from academic fields are beginning to clarify the kinds of solutions to poverty and conflict possible through institutional partnerships.” Penh argues that fixing the disconnect between academic literature and on the ground efforts would remedy less successful poverty reduction efforts in fragile states. Recent USAID funding acknowledges this point and now incentivizes partnerships among such fields.

For example, to better address poverty in Yemen, USAID currently funds the Yemen Communities Stronger Together (YCST) grant which supports projects and institutions that focus on social cohesion in poverty-reduction efforts. Scholars, organizations and businesses qualify for YCST. This variable grant allows the intersection of academia, nonprofit organizations and businesses to combat poverty while capitalizing on stabilization opportunities. So far, YCST gave out two $30 million awards and plans to report on its impact after the three-year implementation period ends.

On the Ground

In addition to coalition forming efforts like YCST, decreasing poverty in Yemen requires logistic strategies for navigating conflict and fighting poverty. Many nonprofits help via basic aid services, but to do so, they must create solutions to disperse aid while circumventing war zones. The World Food Programme (WFP) found great success in this arena.

Understanding the limitations of transportation in Yemen, WFP attempts to spread food imports as widely and directly as possible. Through the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service and partner organization, Logistics Cluster, food aid reaches four major cities including Aden, Hodeidah, Sana’a and Djibouti, via air and sea routes. Each month 12 million Yemenis now access WFP food rations because of reimagined delivery systems.

However, in areas with viable markets, WFP works to provide cash assistance which, while fighting hunger, also bolsters the economy. The WFP provides food to school children too. Targeting devastated areas of Yemen, the WPF incentivizes education while addressing childhood malnutrition with a school lunch program that provides small meals to 680,000 students. This reflects the new nonprofit focus on sustainable poverty recovery rather than long-term reliance on service distribution.

Many other organizations have devised new ways of bringing aid to Yemen as conflict persists. However, as Penh argues and the institutions highlighted above actualize, linking nascent poverty and conflict studies to field practices is the most hopeful strategy for fighting poverty in Yemen and other fragile states. By ending the conflict which causes such extreme poverty, countries should not face dire projections that place their populations at risk.

– Rory Davis
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in Kashmir
Many countries around the world do not have sufficient access to clean water and two of the most deprived counties are India and Pakistan. Both countries are seeing rapid population growth, but they also lack the proper infrastructure to provide their citizens with water. There is a long history of conflict between the two neighbors, and the heavily disputed Kashmir region has added to the conflict. The water crisis in Kashmir should be the focus, however.

Background on Pakistan

Pakistan is in eastern Asia, bordering Iran, Afghanistan and India, as well as sharing a small border with China. It is the sixth most populated country with around 207 million people. The country also borders the Arabian Sea to the south. It recently ranked 140 out of 180 countries in the quality of water and sanitation on the Environmental Performance Index. Regional conflict, arid land, inefficient sanitation and water conservation resources have contributed to Pakistan’s lack of clean water. In Pakistan, about 21 million people are without clean water.

Background on India

India has the second-largest population in the world at 1.3 billion people and it lives within an area smaller than the United States. Despite many improvements to water facility access, India still lacks the adequate resources necessary to provide its large citizenry with clean water. Rapid urbanization has caused sprawling urban areas, where the people who live on the outskirts have no access to water unless they build wells.

Close to 600 million people are facing acute water shortages, and 21 cities might run out of groundwater by 2020. Both India and Pakistan commit much of their water to agriculture. India is a grain-producing country, which requires large amounts of water. India and Pakistan both have very low groundwater levels due to using it for farming.

The Indus Treaty

In the 1960s, the two neighbors agreed on a treaty to allocate the water that flows through the Kashmir region. The World Bank brokered the treaty, called the Indus Treaty, in an attempt to properly divert the water that flows into India and Pakistan throughout the disputed area.

Both sides have threatened to leave the treaty. Indus is the name of one of the longest rivers in Asia and its tributaries provide many countries with water. As the conflict over the Kashmir region has risen, the Indian government has threatened to divert one of the rivers by building dams and ultimately reducing the amount of water that flows to Pakistan.

India is also looking to build a dam in the Rari River. Since the creation of the treaty, the Rari River has been one of the main sources of water for Pakistan coming from the Kashmir region.

The Feud Over Kashmir

In 1834, the Sikh Empire annexed Kashmir, but after the war with Britain, the British gained control in 1846. Kashmir ultimately became part of Britain’s Indian colony, with the name Jammu and Kashmir.

Britain relinquished control of India in 1947, after which the Pakistani and Indian nations emerged. Pakistan controls the northern part of Kashmir, while the more southern Jammu and Kashmir are under Indian control. At the time of the British withdrawal, the ruler of Kashmir wished to stay neutral and maintain control over the region.

Kashmir has undergone long disputes. It stands at the northernmost point in India, and to this day, looks to obtain as much autonomy as it can from the Indian government. Both Indian and Pakistan lay claim to the Kashmir region and the region has been the basis of two of the wars between the neighboring countries. In fact, one of the wars was the first war between the two nuclear-armed nations.

As a way to maintain control over the region, the Indian government recently revoked the special rights afforded to the Muslim population in the Kashmir region and took many steps to diminish dissent. These steps included sending troops, enforcing a curfew, shutting down telecommunications like text messaging and internet services and arresting people the government deemed political prisoners.

Many in the region look to obtain independence or even to succeed in Pakistan since their Muslim majority sees Pakistan as a more welcome nation to be a part of. Pakistan and India have fought over the divided region to maintain control, but just recently, India looked to use the region as a weapon against its neighbor. After a suicide attack in February 2019 on Indian soldiers, which the Indian government blamed on Pakistani backed militants, relations between the countries have worsened with both sides threatening the other, and the conducting of airstrikes against Pakistan.

The Conclusion

The disputed Kashmir region will only increase in importance as both India and Pakistan face growing populations and decreasing groundwater levels. India and Pakistan are two of the most water-scarce countries in the world, so the water coming from the Indus River system is essential. The water crisis in Kashmir is affecting both countries, and both countries are working to improve access to clean water. There are also many organizations making it their mission to provide people with clean water.

UNICEF has promoted WASH programs to provide communities with education and resources on the importance of hygiene. Groups like charity: water has dedicated itself to providing clean water to countries in need, including Pakistan and India. It does this by building wells, improving sanitation to ensure clean water remains clean and other techniques to obtain and maintain clean water. With better techniques, the water crisis in Kashmir should diminish significantly. Also, the use of water as a political tool would no longer be a viable option.

– Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About the Sudan Genocide
The grave human rights abuses and mass slaughter in Darfur, West Sudan between 2003-2008 was the first genocide of the 21st century. The Sudanese government and the Janjaweed (government-funded and armed Arab militias) targeted civilians, burned villages and committed many more atrocities. Below are 10 facts about the Sudan genocide.

10 Facts About the Sudan Genocide

  1. The long term causes of the Sudan genocide stem from the two prolonged civil wars between the North, that promoted Arabisation and a Middle-Eastern culture, and the South, that preferred an African identity and culture. The First Sudanese Civil War began in 1955 and ended in 1972 with a peace treaty. Eventually, unsettled issues reignited into the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983 and lasted until 2005, however. Both civil wars occurred due to the southern Sudanese rebels’ demands for regional autonomy and the northern Sudanese government’s refusal to grant it.
  2. The direct cause of the genocide during the Second Sudanese Civil War revolves around allegations that the government armed and funded the Janjaweed against non-Arabs. This supposedly led to the southern rebel groups, the Sudan Liberian Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, attacking a Sudanese Air Force base in Darfur in 2003. The government countered with widespread violent campaigns targeting non-Arabs and southern Sudanese civilians, which turned into genocidal campaigns.
  3. The United Nations estimated that the attacks killed at least 300,000 people and led to the displacement of 2.6 million people. Of that number, 200,000 fled and found refuge in Chad, which neighbors Sudan to the west. Most of the internally displaced people (IDP) settled in the Darfur region, which counts 66 camps. According to a UN report, the lack of law enforcement and judicial institutions in these areas generated human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence and criminal acts of vulnerable IDPs.
  4. The government and militia conducted “ethnic cleansing” campaigns, committing massive atrocities. They targeted women and girls, deliberately using rape and sexual violence to terrorize the population, perpetuate its displacement and increase their exposure to HIV/AIDS. The government and militia conducted ‘scorched-earth campaigns’ where they burned hundreds of villages and destroyed infrastructures such as water sources and crops, resulting in the dramatic famine. These acts are all war crimes that still prevent IDPs from returning to their homes.
  5. In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened investigations regarding the alleged genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan, which produced several cases that are still under investigation due to the lack of cooperation from the Sudanese government. The ICC dealt with the genocide in Darfur, the first genocide it worked on and the first time the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referred to the ICC.
  6. A military coup in April 2019 overthrew the former President of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir, allowing the country to secure justice and address the wrongs committed between 2003-2008. Indeed, the prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, urges the UN Security Council to extend the UNAMID’s peacekeeping mission to 12 months and the new government of Sudan to transfer Omar Al Bashir and two other war criminals to the ICC.
  7. Omar Al Bashir was the first sitting President that the ICC wanted (it issued the first arrest warrant in March 2009 and the second in July 2010) and the first example of the ICC incriminating a person for the crime of genocide. However, the ICC still cannot move forward with the trial until Omar Al Bashir receives arrest and becomes present at the ICC (in The Hague).
  8. The UNSC created and sent the peacekeeping force UNAMID (composed of the United Nations and the African Union) to Darfur in 2007, which operates to this day. The mission deployed almost 4,000 military personnel to protect civilians threatened by violence, especially in displacement areas and on the border with Chad. In addition, UNAMID facilitated humanitarian assistance by protecting and helping in the transportation of aid to isolated areas and providing security for humanitarian workers. The UN decided to extend the mandate of the UNAMID until October 31, 2019.
  9. Although the fighting stopped, there is still a crisis in Sudan; the UN estimates that 5.7 million people in Sudan require humanitarian support and can barely meet their basic food needs. There are many NGOs actively working to provide aid, such as Water for South Sudan, that works to ensure access to clean water to rural and remote areas, and the Red Cross, that provides medical care across the country due to its collapsed public health care system. Despite these efforts, there is still an unmet funding requirement of 46 percent in humanitarian aid as of 2018.
  10. In September 2019, a new government established with a power-sharing agreement between the military, civilian representatives and protest groups. According to Human Rights Watch, Sudan’s new government should ensure justice and accountability for past abuses. Moreover, the constitutional charter (signed in Aug. 2019) entails major legal and institutional reforms, focused on holding the perpetrators accountable for the crimes committed under al-Bashir’s rule, as well as eliminating government repression and ongoing gender discrimination.

These are just 10 facts about the Sudan Genocide which are essential to understanding the current events happening in Sudan. Despite the peak of violence in Sudan in 2019 which killed hundreds of protestors, the country finally has a new government and it seems willing to right the wrongs committed during the genocide. The new prime minister Abdullah Adam Hamdok expressed in front of the UN in September 2019: “The ‘great revolution’ of Sudan has succeeded and the Government and people and will now rebuild and restore the values of human coexistence and social cohesion in the country as they try and turn the page on three decades of abhorrent oppression, discrimination and warfare.”

– Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr

Many remember the Vietnam War as one of the most appalling in American history, and, as one can image, a harrowing chapter for Vietnam. The 1975 reunification of Vietnam established a brutally oppressive regime, striking fear into the hearts of those who lived in Vietnam. The result was a mass exodus of refugees now known as Boat People. Here are ten facts about Vietnamese Boat People who fled in search of better futures.

10 Facts About Vietnamese Boat People

  1. As the name implies, refugees relied on small boats. Under the new regime of the Republic of Vietnam, leaving the country was initially illegal. While this would change with time and the intervention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), escaping occurred illegally by sea. Many of those who left were families of farmers, fishermen, and people with other rural jobs who had access to boats that were well suited for sailing near shore but were not designed for travel on the open sea. The only option for leaving was by cramming families into small boats.
  2. Diverse communities were at risk. The war devastated the country’s infrastructure. While relief eventually came, it did not reach everyone. To make matters worse, in 1979 the Sino-Vietnamese War left those with Chinese heritage fearing for their lives. As there was already a precedent of executions and re-location to labor camps, people also fled the northern areas of Vietnam, at one point accounting for 70 percent of refugees.
  3. Fleeing Vietnam was dangerous. Partly because a large number of refugees from other countries were in the Indochinese area at the time, it is difficult to estimate exactly how many people fled Vietnam. However, experts estimate up to 1.5 million refugees escaped but a high estimate of 10 percent died from drowning, piracy, dehydration, or otherwise never made landfall.
  4. The crisis went unrecognized until refugee numbers grew. An estimated 62,000 Vietnamese Boat People sought refuge throughout Southeast Asia by 1978. This number rose to 350,000 by mid-1979, with another 200,000 having moved to permanent residence in other countries. At first, countries close to Vietnam accepted refugees and provided asylum, however many of those countries’ policies changed.
  5. Refugees often passed through multiple countries. Boat People initially sailed to countries closest to their own such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. The UNHCR established a temporary agreement whereby these countries, many of which began refusing asylum to further refugees, would serve as “first asylums.” This meant the refugees would only stay there temporarily until they could be screened and enter nations like the U.S. and Canada.
  6. Countries grew less welcoming to refugees as time went on. Despite the 1979 agreement, the number of Vietnamese Boat People increased in first asylum countries faster than they could process. Some estimate that for every refugee who left one of these countries, three more arrived. Hostility towards the refugees eventually increased, while political situations within each country further exacerbated tensions. Hong Kong, for example, refused to accept Chinese economic migrants but accepted Vietnamese refugees, causing conflict between the nations.
  7. Swamped by refugees to the point of exhaustion, Malaysia faced difficult choices when it came to Boat People. The situation worsened to the point that Malaysians pushed back one vessel having approximately 2,500 refugees on board. This was due in part to ethnic tension between Malay Muslims and the native Chinese. Boat People landing in areas largely inhabited by a Muslim populace further aggravated tension. As Robert Miller, the ambassador to Malaysia at the time put itA “From the Malaysian standpoint they have a very delicate ethnic balance in the country… they have an ‘ethnic fault line running the length and breadth of their country between the Malay Muslims and the pork-eating Chinese.” As a result, they, like other Southeast Asian countries, eventually refused to accept further refugees.
  8. “Full asylum” nations showed fatigue as the crisis continued. As more refugees entered the United States, people began to question whether the Vietnamese refugees were fleeing due to fear or financial situations. Suspicion arose and screening processes intensified as fewer nations wanted to house the refugees at all. As Miller put it “From the field we were always pressing for earlier decisions and decisions for bigger quotas. From the Washington perspective, they were pressing us to increase international cooperation –get more countries to take more so we could take less.”
  9. Thousands of refugees found stable homes. Though Vietnamese Boat People constituted a refugee crisis, it soothed over several years. Refugees who passed screening and inspection entered the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia able to begin new lives. While most ultimately flew the last leg of their journey on planes, at least one group made it to Australia by boat. The main solution for refugees resettling included working directly with the Vietnamese government, which eventually sanctioned departures from the country.
  10. Survival stories live on. Fleeing Vietnam was dangerous and offered no guarantee, but survivors found new lives in their new homes. Vietnamese immigrant communities eventually flourished. The UNHRC continued its work making transportation out of Vietnam legal and even encouraged. Nowadays, descendants of those who left in fear can return to discover their heritage and the stories of their ancestors, ensuring that the legacy of Boat People will live on. The preservation of their history and ongoing peaceful relations with Vietnam created a solution that finally materialized.

The fallout from the Vietnam War was, as the fallout from many wars, far worse than anticipated. These stories  and day’s refugee crisis show that people can be far less welcoming to refugees than we might hope. However, the survival of those who lived to tell these stories indicates that dangerous risks can lead to safer futures. These 10 facts about Vietnamese Boat People show that when accepted, refugees can thrive and improve relationships between nations.

– Mason Sansonia
Photo: Flickr