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Countries Recovering from War

Civil war often erupts in countries that suffer from perpetual poverty. At the same time, war only serves to intensify poor living conditions in regions that are already vulnerable. In countries ravaged by war, people are displaced, infrastructure is destroyed and often entire industries are disrupted, destroying the resources that a country needs to keep its people alive. This devastation often persists even after a war is over. However, several formerly war-torn countries are making significant strides when it comes to post-war reconstruction and sustainable development. Here are three examples of countries recovering from war today.

3 Examples of Countries Recovering from War Today

  1. Yadizi Farmers are Recultivating Former ISIS Territory
    When the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIS) swept through the Sinjar region of northern Iraq in 2014, they displaced millions of farmers who relied on that land to make their living. ISIS persecuted the local Yadizi people for their religious beliefs and tried to destroy their farms in order to prevent them from ever being able to live in Sinjar again. In 2015, the allied Kurdish forces retook Sinjar, but the devastation of the land and the constant threat of land mines has since caused many Yadizi farmers to fear returning to their homeland.However, the Iraqi government has begun funding post-war recovery efforts in order to allow the Yadizi people to take back their land. A Yadizi woman named Nadia Murad, winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, has started a project called Nadia’s Initiative. A group called the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has also begun to clear landmines from the land of the displaced farmers. Although progress has been slow, partly due to limited governmental support in recent years and heavy regulations on the transportation of fertilizer, the region is slowly but surely recovering.
  2. The Central African Republic is Working on Protecting its Forests
    After years of political instability and a series of coups, as of 2016, the Central African Republic has a democratically-elected president for the first time in its history. Although the election of President Touadera signaled a step in the right direction toward peacebuilding, there are many areas that still need to be addressed.One particular problem for the Central African Republic is the widespread practice of illegal logging. The country’s forests are one of its biggest resources and wood is its top export, but corrupt public officials have allowed a massive trade in illegal lumber to arise, threatening the sustainability of the forests and undermining recovery efforts. Forest managers attempt to stop the problem but are often threatened by public officials who profit from the illegal lumber trade. However, many in the Central African Republic are working on changing the status quo. In 2016, the country renewed an accord with the European Union that incentivizes the country to reform forestry laws and crack down on illegal logging in exchange for favorable trade agreements. This renewal of the country’s greatest natural resource will help post-war recovery by strengthening its income from trade, building relationships overseas and giving resources for the reconstruction of damaged buildings.
  3. South Sudan is Using Mobile Money to Reignite the Economy
    The country of South Sudan is in the middle of recovering from a civil war that lasted five years and killed about 400,000 people. Part of the devastation wreaked by this war was the collapse of the South Sudanese economy, as cell towers were destroyed, trust in financial institutions was eroded and corruption began to overtake the country’s banks. According to AP News, “Around 80 percent of money in South Sudan is not kept in banks” primarly because most residents are rural and live too far from the major cities where the banks are located. Of course, there are other barriers as well, including the fact that only 16 percent of the population has a government ID (which means more expensive withdrawals and no money transfers) and concerns about the stability of the country’s banking system.As a part of the country’s post-war recovery, the South Sudanese government is working with mobile carriers to create a system called mobile money, in which people can bank from their phones instead of relying on the country’s physical banks and ATMs. This system allows people to easily participate in the Sudanese economy and since studies have shown that having access to services such as banks helps economic growth, the mobile money boom will be invaluable to South Sudan’s post-war recovery. The government is also working on setting up biometric identification for all citizens to use in banking, and on restoring damaged mobile infrastructure in order to make services like mobile money available anywhere.

Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

Health Costs of The Syrian Civil War
The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has led to a monumental refugee crisis, hundreds of thousands of deaths, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and destabilization in the Middle East. Yet another devastating effect of the war is the health consequences for people still living in Syria. Civilian doctors and nurses in active war zones face significant challenges not encountered in peacetime. These include a massive amount of trauma victims, shortages of medical equipment and personnel, infectious disease epidemics and breaches in medical neutrality. Here are 10 health costs of the Syrian civil war for the Syrian people.

10 Health Costs of the Syrian Civil War

  1. Because of the war, Syrian life expectancy has plummeted by 20 years from 75.9 years in 2010 to 55.7 years through the end of 2014. The quality of life in Syria has also worsened. As of 2016, 80 percent of Syrians are living in poverty. Moreover, 12 million people depend on assistance from humanitarian organizations.
  2. The civil war devastated Syria’s health care infrastructure, which compared to those in other middle-income countries prior to the war. By 2015, however, Syria’s health care capabilities weakened in all sectors due to the destruction of hospitals and clinics. The country faced a shortage of health care providers and medical supplies and fear gripped the country.
  3. The Syrian Government has deliberately cut vital services, such as water, phone lines, sewage treatment and garbage collection in conflict areas; because of this government blockade, millions of Syrian citizens must rely on outside medical resources from places like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In 2012, the Assad regime declared providing medical aid in areas opposition forces controlled a criminal offense, which violates the Geneva Convention. By the following year, 70 percent of health workers had fled the country. This exodus of doctors worsens health outcomes and further strains doctors and surgeons who have remained.
  4. The unavailability of important medications presents another health cost of the civil war. Due to economic sanctions, fuel shortages and the unavailability of hard currency, conflict areas face a severe shortage of life-saving medications, such as some for noncommunicable diseases. Commonly used medicines, such as insulin, oxygen and anesthetic medications, are not available. Patients who rely on inhaled-medications or long-term supplemental oxygen often go without it.
  5. A lack of crucial medications has led to increased disease transmission of illnesses, such as tuberculosis. Furthermore, the conditions Syrians live in, for instance, the “tens of thousands of people currently imprisoned across the country… offer a perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant TB.”  Indeed, the majority of consultations at out-patient facilities for children under 5 were for infectious diseases like acute respiratory tract infections and watery diarrhea. According to data from Médecins Sans Frontières-Operational Centre Amsterdam  (MSF-OCA), the largest contributor to civilian mortality was an infection.
  6. In addition to combatant deaths, the civil war has caused over 100,000 civilian deaths. According to the Violation Documentation Center (VDC), cited in a 2018 Lancet Global Health study, 101,453 Syrian civilians in opposition-controlled areas died between March 18, 2011, and Dec 31, 2016. Thus, of the 143,630 conflict-related violent deaths during that period, civilians accounted for 70.6 percent of deaths in these areas while opposition combatants constituted 42,177 deaths or 29.4 percent of deaths.
  7. Of the total civilian fatalities, the proportion of children who died rose from 8.9 percent in 2011 to 19.0 percent in 2013 to 23.3 percent in 2016. As the civil war went on, aerial bombing and shelling were disproportionately responsible for civilian deaths and were the primary cause of direct death for women and children between 2011 and 2016. Thus, the “increased reliance on the aerial bombing by the Syrian Government and international partners” is one reason for the increasing proportion of children killed during the civil war according to The Lancet Global Health report. In Tal-Abyad’s pediatric IPD (2013-2014) and in Kobane Basement IPD (2015–2016), mortality rates were highest among children that were less than 6 months old. For children under a year old, the most common causes of death were malnutrition, diarrhea and lower respiratory tract infections.
  8. The challenges doctors and clinicians face are great, but health care providers are implementing unique strategies that emerged in previously war-torn areas to meet the needs of Syrian citizens. The United Nations (the U.N.) and World Health Organizations (WHO) are actively coordinating with and international NGOs to provide aid. The Syrian-led and Syrian diaspora–led NGOs are promoting Syrian health care and aiding medical personnel in Syria as well. For instance, aid groups developed an underground hospital network in Syria, which has served hundreds of thousands of civilians. These hospitals were “established in basements, farmhouses, deserted buildings, mosques, churches, factories, and even natural caves.”
  9. Since 2013, the Médecins Sans Frontières-Operational Centre Amsterdam (MSF-OCA) has been providing health care to Syrians in the districts of Tal-Abyad in Ar-Raqqa Governorate and Kobane in Aleppo Governorate, which are located in northern Syria close to the Turkish border. The health care MSF-OCA provided included out-patient and in-patient care, vaccinations and nutritional monitoring.
  10. New technologies have enabled health officials to assist in providing aid from far away. For instance, telemedicine allows health officials to make remote diagnosis and treatment of patients in war zones and areas under siege. One organization that has used this tool is the Syrian American Medical Society, which “provides remote online coverage to nine major ICUs in besieged or hard-to-access cities in Syria via video cameras, Skype, and satellite Internet connections.” Distance learning empowers under-trained doctors in Syria to learn about disaster medicine and the trauma of war from board-certified critical care specialists in the United States.

Conditions on the ground in Syria make it more difficult for Syrian citizens to receive vital medical aid from health care workers. Many people and organizations are working diligently to help injured and sick Syrians, however. These 10 health costs of the Syrian civil war illuminate some of the consequences of war that are perhaps not as storied as the refugee crisis. While aiding refugees is an undoubtedly worthy goal for international NGOs and governments, policymaker’s and NGOs’ agendas should include recognizing and alleviating the harm to those still living in Syria.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

Mental health in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a West African country bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean. It is an impoverished country with almost half of the working-age population involved in subsistence agriculture. Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone was subject to a civil war that resulted in more than 50,000 deaths. Sierra Leone also experienced a harsh Ebola outbreak in 2014 that outclassed all others. Its citizens are still recovering from these events, which have resulted in years of physical and emotional pain. This has left hundreds of thousands of people plagued with mental health issues in Sierra Leone.

Mental Health in Sierra Leone

The World Health Organization approximates that 10 percent of Sierra Leone citizens are facing mental health problems. This number may be even higher when taking into account cases that have not been officially reported. “[D]aily hardships and misery can turn into what scientists call “toxic stress” and trigger or amplify mental health problems” as a result of living in extreme poverty. For a long time, there was a lack of political support for mental health in Sierra Leone.

Resources are a big problem when tackling the issue of mental health in Sierra Leone. There are only “two psychiatrists, two Clinical Psychologists and 19 Mental Health Nurses” in a country of seven million people. Furthermore, only four nurses are trained to work with children with mental health issues. Due to the absence of support, many citizens seek out help from the traditional healers available.

Many individuals and organizations are working together with the goal of improving mental health in Sierra Leone. Two organizations that have made significant efforts and progress in raising awareness or providing direct aid to mental health services are the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both WHO and MOHS have worked together on projects that have greatly improved support for mental health in Sierra Leone.

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation

Most of those infected or family to those infected during the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak experienced trauma. Patients were often isolated from loved ones and surrounded by strangers. People had to cope with the death of family members and friends. Survivors of EVD beat the virus, but they still experienced toxic stress, depression, insomnia and anxiety. MOHS developed a plan for providing mental health services by improving community awareness, building demand for services and improving access to specialized healthcare workers at all levels of care.

The MOHS worked with the Advancing Partners program on a two-year project funded and managed by USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health and implemented by JSI. In Sierra Leone specifically, MOHS’s framework is being used to aid Sierra Leone’s government with the implementation of health service in post-Ebola recovery. The program is improving mental health awareness in the community, training healthcare workers with the skills to provide high-quality care and reinforcing mental health governance.

So far, MOHS and Advancing Partners have created community healing dialogue (CHD) groups. The groups help communities by providing coping mechanisms, finding resources and offering support for those with psychosocial issues. These groups are placed in areas with a large amount of EVD survivors and trained mental health staff. The CHD groups have “reached almost 700 people in 40 communities across the six districts most affected by the Ebola outbreak (Bombali, Port Loko, Kailahun, Kenema, and Western Areas Rural and Urban).”

The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization is focused on training healthcare workers in Psychological First Aid and the identification of distress. WHO developed the mental health gap action programme (mhGAP) to train community health workers and medical doctors in Sierra Leone. This way, healthcare workers will be able to more easily identify mental disorders and discover treatment options. WHO wanted to create an approach that aims to support mid-level and higher level healthcare workers to provide better tailored services.

Sierra Leone was previously a country where mental health needs were not addressed. The country continues to be impoverished since a large part of its population is unemployed. It experienced devastating losses in its 11-year-long civil war and was further distressed by the severe Ebola outbreak in 2014. The country has a large amount of people still suffering from past issues. That suffering went untreated for a long time. However, organizations like the WHO and MOHS have made considerable progress in addressing the mental health in Sierra Leone.

Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees in Germany

What began as a peaceful political uprising in 2011 has become one of the most devastating on-going civil wars of the 21st century. The war has contributed to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, leaving Syrian refugees in Germany hopeful for improved living conditions. The Syrian Civil War has not only devastated the country and its people but also neighboring nations, creating a regional disruption.

Syria’s fall is a global failure, and the consequences the war has brought with it have been difficult for other countries to manage. The Syrian Civil War forced countries to establish new policies to address the influx of Syrian refugees. Syrians have been escaping the bombings and repression since the outbreak of the war in 2011. However, in 2015, Europe was under more pressure when over one million refugees arrived through dangerous sea travel. Some Member States have closed their borders, and others have implemented new welcoming policies.

Current Living Conditions

Angela Merkel’s Germany welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees with its open door policy. German crowds awaited the arrival of Syrian refugees in Munich from Austria in 2015. However, today this enthusiasm contends with the rise of populism and right wing parties, affecting the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany. Amidst refugee settlement, anti-immigration views have become more and more popular among Germans. This forces the government to desperately establish effective integration policies to reduce tensions.

The living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany are very difficult. They are hospitalized as needed after arriving from extremely life-threatening conditions. Later, the refugees receive camp assignments. Due to the large number of refugee arrivals, Germany had to build emergency camps. These camps lack quality infrastructure and necessary equipment. Some refugees are assigned to shelters such as Tempelhof, where they sleep in a small bed among hundreds of others in one hall.

Due to integration laws that assign family members to different cities, some refugees must endure family separation. Moreover, Germany suspended the family reunification policy between 2016 and 2018 for refugees awaiting their status approval. According to the German government, Germany embassies received 44,736 family reunification applications in 2018, but only granted 1,500 applications.

Paperwork Holds Up the Process

Unfortunately, the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany become even more difficult once paper work begins. It could take up to eighteen months to be recognized as an asylum seeker. In most cities, refugees cannot join integration programs if they are not asylum seekers. According to the German law, asylum is a given right to anyone fleeing political persecution. However, the process of being granted refugee status based on the Asylum Act and the Residence Act can be lengthy.

These acts entitle refugees to integration programs, language classes and employment. This is not the reality for refugees who wait years of the approval of their status. Systematic hurdles can stop refugees from learning German, continuing their education or pursuing a job. Therefore, many refugees lose hope and enter black market jobs or seek distressing pathways.

A Brighter Future

Nonetheless, German policies, under the guidance of Merkel, continue to strive for effective integration. Overall refugee unemployment dropped sharply from 50.5 percent to 40.5 percent in mid-2018, based on the Institute for Employment Research. The study also concludes half of the refugee population will be employed by 2020. This is an optimistic advance considering the language barrier in addition to the fact that 80 percent of refugees who arrived in 2015 did not acquire a university degree. This is achievable because the settlement of refugees is improving along with the overall living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany.

Eventually, refugees will be able to leave crowded shelters and move into apartments with their families. By improving  integration efforts and paperwork processes, Syrian refugees in Germany can gain asylum status and attain their legal rights.

Njoud Mashouka
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in South Sudan

After years of violent conflict and civil war, many South Sudanese are suffering from mental health problems caused by trauma. With little to no government funding and cultural stigma attached to psychological health issues, thousands of people struggle to cope and heal from decades of war. USAID’s program Viable Support to Transition and Stability (VISTAS) is working to bring healing and restoration to the war-torn people by conducting trauma awareness workshops.

A History of Conflict

South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, declared its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war and fighting. Only two years after gaining independence, conflict once again erupted in South Sudan, this time between the infant nation’s president and vice president, leading to a civil war that lasted for five years. Around 400,000 South Sudanese people lost their lives during the war, including women and children, while many more suffered unthinkable traumas and hardships. According to UNICEF, three-quarters of South Sudanese children have never known anything but war, and as many as 19,000 of them were kidnapped or recruited to join armed groups. Numerous accounts of South Sudanese women being sexually abused and raped by opposition forces circulated throughout the war.

End of the War Brings New Battles

Although the fighting has officially ceased, South Sudan’s restoration is just beginning. Years of violence and trauma have left their mark on the mental health of many in the nation. Although data is limited, several studies show that the conflict has had a severe effect on the mental health of South Sudanese civilians and soldiers alike. Nearly 41 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by the South Sudan Law Society and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The South Sudan Medical Journal reported that PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse are major health issues impacting the country. However, the conflict-riddled nation not only lacks the resources to bring healing and help to those suffering from trauma, but it also struggles to remove cultural stigma and shame from mental health problems.

Mental Health Care Lacking in South Sudan

In 2012, South Sudan’s Deputy Minister of Health, stated, “The situation is very rudimentary in terms of mental health,” and “There are so many people suffering because of post-war trauma.” Today, mental health in South Sudan is still severely under-resourced, with its 2017-18 budget allocating only two percent to the health sector, none of which was appropriated towards mental health care.

In 2019, only three psychiatrists reported practicing in the whole country. Atong Ayuel, one of South Sudan’s three psychiatrists, said that “mental illness is a huge problem in South Sudan,” blaming the problem on both the country’s underfunded health program and that mental health in South Sudan is a culturally taboo subject.

VISTAS Workshops

USAID’s program VISTAS is conducting trauma awareness workshops throughout South Sudan with two primary goals:

  1. Create a space where those suffering from trauma-induced mental health issues can open up about their experiences and begin to address them
  2. Provide communities with practical tools to collectively address mental health issues and promote reconciliation and healing

“We define trauma as a wound. It is when something shocking or abnormal happens in your life, and it overwhelms you and you don’t know how to respond,” said Thor Riek, a 32-year-old South Sudanese man who struggled to cope with trauma from his days as a child soldier. Now as a trainer for VISTAS trauma awareness workshops, Thor not only has gained the tools he needs to respond and recover from past trauma, he now shares these practical tools of healing with other South Sudanese who are also suffering from trauma-induced mental health issues. Thor hopes the workshops will give participants “a narrative that can move them forward from the cycle of violence and begin to walk on the healing journey.”

In 2018, VISTAS workshops engaged 6,452 community members in different types of trauma awareness sessions. As South Sudan works to put years of violence and war behind them, programs like VISTAS’ trauma awareness workshops bring restoration and healing to a once war-torn people, inspiring a hopeful future.

– Sarah Musick
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Sierra Leone

The nation of Sierra Leone is located on the western coast of Africa with a population of approximately 7,076,641. Since gaining independence from the British Empire on April 27, 1961, Sierra Leone has faced serious challenges in the social, economic and political spheres. Stemming from these challenges, the following are 10 facts about poverty in Sierra Leone.

10 Facts About Poverty in Sierra Leone

  1. In Sierra Leone, the life expectancy is 39 years for men and 42 for women. These premature deaths are due to limited access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and hygiene and food insecurity. Malnutrition also remains an important contributor to infant morbidity and mortality with 34.1 percent of children under the age of five stunted and 18.7 percent underweight due to food insecurity.
  2. Sierra Leone has a Gender Inequality Index value of 0.662, ranking it 137 out of 146 countries in 2011. Significant gender-based inequality exists in all aspects of life including reproductive health, emotional empowerment, economic activity and governmental representation. Only 9.5 percent of adult women reach secondary or higher level education compared to 20 percent of their male counterparts.

    In 2007, the government introduced three gender laws aimed at reducing gender inequality. These acts show progress but enacting and implementing practices of gender equality remain minimal. The president has also given his support to the national campaign for a minimum quota of 30 percent of women in political decision making positions, but the number remains low at only 13.2 percent.
  3. Around 70 percent of youth are unemployed or underemployed. The youth population, aged 15 to 35, makes up one-third of the population of Sierra Leone. This challenge was a major root cause of the outbreak of civil conflict within Sierra Leone. One of the leading reasons for these high rates of unemployment is the persistence of illiteracy and the lack of formal education to provide skills to compete for the limited jobs available.
  4. Approximately 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line. Remaining among the world’s poorest nations, ranking 180 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index, more than 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live on less than $1.25 a day.
  5. Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, at an estimated 1,165 deaths per 100,000. According to a report released by the country’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation with support from partners, the main causes of maternal deaths were largely bleeding, pregnancy-induced hypertension, infection and unsafe abortions. Almost 20 percent of maternal deaths were among teenagers 15 to 19 years of age.
  6. Sierra Leone holds only a 41 percent adult literacy rate. Many of the schools in Sierra Leone were built shortly after gaining independence and have had little expansion since, leading to inadequate facilities. Government funding for education is extremely limited, making improvements difficult. A lack of education not only diminishes the availability of contemporarily trained skilled laborers and professionals but also negatively affects the agriculture industry where poor farming practices compound with climate change in a cycle of degradation.
  7. Sierra Leone was ravaged from 1991 to 2002 by civil war. Civil war erupted in 1991 after a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front attempted to overthrow the country’s Joseph Momoh Government. The war lasted until 2002, by which time over 50,000 people had died and over two million had been displaced.But, even in the face of these 10 facts about poverty in Sierra Leone, peace has been fostered within the nation. Since the enactment of a U.N. Peacekeeping intervention on January 18, 2002, Sierra Leone remains firmly on the path toward further consolidation of peace, democracy and long-term sustainable development.
  8. Sierra Leone remains heavily dependent on foreign aid. Although positive economic growth has steadily occurred over the past decade since the end of the civil war, Sierra Leone continues to rely on foreign aid. About 50 percent of public investment programs are financed by external resources.
  9. Recovery and development are being threatened by climate change. Employment in agriculture remains the backbone for citizens’ income in Sierra Leone. Climate change leads to low yields of critical crops and a potential annual loss of between $600 million and $1.1 billion in crop revenues by the end of the century. Resources such as water, soil and forests are being threatened by the ever-growing population, increasing energy consumption, mining activities, the pollution of rivers and massive deforestation related to agricultural practices.
  10. A largely unchanged economic structure with low levels of productivity and major reliance on agriculture hold back further economic recovery. Agriculture provides employment for about 75 percent of the rapidly growing population, but its continuation is threatened by unproductive farming techniques and climate degradation. The country’s infrastructure remains poorly maintained and because of business climate shortcomings stemming from economic instability, there is only a small private sector to spur further economic growth.

These 10 facts about poverty in Sierra Leone are far from the whole story. The country has made tremendous strides since the cessation of conflict to establish stable governance and to facilitate peace and security. Sierra Leone should be cited as a success story in peacebuilding.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

5 Development Projects in SyriaSyria, home to many diverse ethnic and religious groups, is a country that has lost hundreds of thousands of lives to war and violence. Because of this crisis, millions of people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, and development projects in Syria aim to address this need.

Like many countries in the world, Syria is fighting extreme poverty. According to the United Nations Development Programme, four out of five Syrians live in poverty and 64.7 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. The Arab region is the only region in the world where poverty has increased since 2010, rising from 28 percent in 2010 to 83.4 percent in 2015.

Here is a list of five development projects in Syria that may help relieve the nation’s citizens.

  1. Switzerland donates ambulances to Syria’s suffering population
    Switzerland financed twelve new ambulances to help the people of Syria facing the consequences of the war. Syria was in need of more ambulances as a result of the devastatingly high number of victims caused by the war, including attacks against hospitals. The vehicles were purchased through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Dubai. This project was completed in 2017.
  2. Contribution to UNRWA’s Programme Budget 2017-2020
    The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is one of Switzerland’s key multilateral partners in the Middle East, addressing all kinds of humanitarian aid needs, including medical services, education, emergency assistance, healthcare and more. With more funds contributed to its budget, it has been able to work toward universal access to quality primary health care, basic education, relief and social services to refugees in need. This is an ongoing project expected to be completed by 2020.
  3. Swiss experts to U.N. agencies in the frame of the regional crises in the Middle East
    Through this completed project, experts from Switzerland were able to provide technical support and advice. The experts accounted for the provision of shelter in camps and noncamp settings for vulnerable displaced persons; for a multisector and multistakeholder strategy for cash-based response for IDPs, refugees and host communities; for the protection of the most vulnerable population, including children and youth; advice and strategic planning on activities in the domain of water; and support to the coordination of humanitarian interventions within the U.N. agencies and national/international actors.
  4. Contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund 2016
    Contributions to UNRWA’s 2016 General Fund allows for the sustaining of the agency’s humanitarian and human development programs, servicing over five million Palestine refugees and contributing to peace and stability in the Middle East. This completed project targeted Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. Results included financial support enabling various programs in health and education, and management reforms including resource mobilization, ERP and more.
  5. UNDP- Livelihoods Restoration in Crisis- Affected Communities in Syria
    This completed two-year project worked on restoration interventions in Rural Damascus, Horns, Tartous and Latakia. The project created local economic opportunities and restored critical community infrastructure and services, improving access to hygiene and other basic needs.

These committed development projects in Syria leave marks of improvement and hope in a nation that has been ravaged by violence and poverty for far too long.

Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr

Facts About the Syrian Civil WarWhile constantly in the news, the atrocities of the Syrian civil war, one of the greatest humanitarian crises in recent history, have become somewhat normalized to readers. However, it is imperative to remain at least aware, if not critical of the causes of such ongoing brutality. Here are 15 facts about the Syrian civil war to stay informed:

  1. In 2011, the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad responded to civilians peacefully protesting wrongful imprisonment and torture by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more.
  2.  In July 2011, defectors from the military as well as Syrian civilians formed the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and his authoritarian regime.
  3. President Assad encouraged extremists to join the rebellion against his government, and even released jihadist prisoners in order to tinge the rebellion with extremism and make it more difficult for foreign backers to support them.
  4. Neighboring countries with Sunni majorities generally support the rebels while Shia majorities tend to support President Assad. In 2012, Iran intervened on President Assad’s behalf and supplies officers and cargo to government forces. In response, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan sent aid to the rebels to counter Iran’s influence.
  5. The Syrian civil war has become a proxy war between international powers. The United States, under the Obama administration, supported Syrian rebels through CIA training, making it a participant in the war. Russia, on the other hand, backs President Assad.
  6. Syrian Kurds carved out a semi-autonomous region in the north and northeast of Syria. The Kurds support neither the government nor the opposition. The United States has supported the Kurds as one of the most effective anti-Islamic State forces on the ground.
  7. Almost all the forces in Syria fighting against each other are also fighting the Islamic State. In 2011, al-Qaeda forces joined the rebellion against President Assad before beginning to seize control of territory in Syria, by which time they had renamed themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), and labeling their territories its caliphate. Kurdish forces and Syrian rebels have been combating the rising power of ISIS. The United States has also directly intervened with air strikes.
  8. The United States launched a program to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, but not President Assad. The program was criticized for showing that the United States opposes ISIS more than Assad.
  9. President Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons against civilians. While the Syrian military as well as Assad himself deny such claims, organizations such as Human Rights Watch has documented the use of chlorine and sarin gas by the Syrian government against its own people.
  10. The United Nations commission of inquiry has evidence implicating all parties in the conflict of war crimes. Rebel forces, as well as the Syrian government and ISIS, have committed war crimes including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused of leveraging access to food, water and health services as a method of combat.
  11. Entering its seventh year, the Syrian conflict has killed almost half a million Syrians, injured more than a million and displaced over 12 million, just about half of the country’s population before the war.
  12. 6.5 million of these displaced individuals are still in Syria. Internally displaced persons tend to be especially vulnerable, especially if they are still in areas of conflict. International aid agencies cannot easily access these areas.
  13. Most Syrian refugees are currently in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. While these areas are relatively safe for displaced Syrians, they remain unstable themselves.
  14. The mass exodus of Syrian refugees to Europe has created its own political crisis. European voters have largely rejected refugees in the wake of the rise of right-wing populism.
  15. Charity organizations across the globe are working to help the millions of Syrians affected by the war. The main charity groups include UNHCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Border, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and Save the Children.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in South SudanSouth Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 following several decades of war. It is the world’s least developed country as well as its newest. Since its independence, there have been several causes of internal conflict within the newly founded state. Between 2013 and 2015, the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan brought about increasing violence and impoverishment. By 2014, 1.4 million people were forced to leave their homes in search of security. Hunger in South Sudan is still a consequence of the violence.

Fighting and violence are disruptive to the agricultural system in South Sudan, leading to critical food shortages. South Sudanese people struggle to find reasonably priced food, let alone an adequate amount of nutrition. More than 90 percent of South Sudan’s population depends on rain-fed farming.

A famine was declared in South Sudan in February of this year when the number of deaths due to starvation reached an alarming rate. The famine was declared in two different counties home to approximately 100,000 people. Quick and efficient delivery of aid relief reversed famine conditions in these areas by July.

Organizations like World Vision and other nonprofits are aiding children and their families in South Sudan. Emergency food aid and cash transfers for families are the primary forms of outreach. Other means of assistance include supporting the South Sudanese with training and equipment for farming and fishing.

In 2016, Action Against Hunger mobilized expert emergency teams on the ground in Sudan, who delivered immediate nutritional needs to vulnerable communities in the conflicted regions. The group also gathered data to identify the needs of the population using a surveillance and evaluation team and provided treatment to 3,100 undernourished children.

There are still emergency operations ongoing in South Sudan, and immediate assistance is being provided by nonprofit organizations. Organizations like these mentioned and the World Food Programme continue to work with donors and volunteers to support the South Sudanese and reduce hunger in South Sudan.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in KenyaKalobeyei is a town located in the northwestern part of Kenya that was built by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) along with the local government of Turkana county. The town was designed as a location where refugees could become integrated with the local community and where this integration would benefit shared services and markets, thereby reducing the cost for Western aid donors. Unfortunately, this has not exactly worked out as planned for refugees in Kenya.

There have been quite a few issues that have risen since the town’s creation. The most prominent of these issues is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war greatly intensified, causing many refugees in Kenya to arrive with hardly anything more than the clothes on their backs, as well as without the proper resources that would help them make an attempt at a new life.

The World Food Programme provides $14 per month as a cash allowance to each refugee, which is supposed to cover up to 80 percent of an individual’s needs in the town. This may not be enough to live off of due to the current conditions these refugees are left in after the civil war, especially since Kalobeyei is hosting nearly 40,000 refugees, including individuals from places such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

There have also been many complaints from the refugees in Kenya who are currently residing in Kalobeyei. Refugees say that little to nothing that they were promised has been offered in the town. They have found themselves in an isolated camp where both food and water are in short supply and that residents are at the mercy of thievery that goes on within Kalobeyei. One resident of the town—an Ethiopian refugee—said, “When they brought us here, we were told that the place would be like a community village with many development projects, a school, clinic, market and almost everything close by,” but there is close to nothing within the settlement that is within walking distance.

When the UNHCR’s office in Kenya heard of this story, communications director Yvonne Ndege had a drastically different description of what life was like residents of Kalobeyei saying that the town was in fact not built in a remote area and had markets, water tanks and primary schools on-site, as well as stating that “there is no heightened security situation or security threat at Kalobeyei or Kakuma.” She went on to explain that refugees had the option to visit the camp before relocating and that perhaps they “may have had different expectations,” despite having viewed Kalobeyei in advance.

Whatever the case may be, it is wise to be empathetic and understanding toward refugees in Kenya when it comes to these situations—having to relocate yourself and your family is never easy, and struggling in a new environment does not make anything less difficult. Hopefully, the UNHCR will empathize and refugees in Kenya will be able to resolve and overcome the issues with Kalobeyei, for the town is meant to only do good.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr