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IsraAID Responds to Global Crises
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, the nonprofit organization IsraAID responds to global crises, such as natural disasters and poverty, and sends teams of volunteers to help those in need. After its founding in 2001, IsraAID responded to crises in over 50 different countries. Its expertise in crisis relief includes emergency aid distributions, pinpoint trauma support and prevention training for local government and non-government professionals. These are some of the global crises IsraAID has responded to:

Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines

IsraAID sent its first mission to the Philippines after Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Working in collaboration with local partner Operation Blessing International, IsraAID dispatched a team of nurses and doctors to assist in the emergency medical operations. In 2013, another typhoon devastated the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people, injuring more than 28,000 and affecting over 16 million people overall. IsraAID responded within 48 hours with its medical team on the ground less than four days after the event. It spent the first three days of its efforts assisting the local health workers in one of the many hospitals the typhoon had destroyed. After that, IsraAID spent the next two years operating with the local government, instigating programs in medical support, psychotherapy and the rebuilding of the fallen cities.

Earthquake in Nepal

After a major earthquake left Nepal in ruins back in 2015, IsraAID sent a team to help the local police force locate survivors and provide emergency medical treatment. This was a relief to the local authorities and medical personnel outnumbered by the number of injuries and the chaos that ensued. Working alongside the authorities and an emergency response from the Israeli Defense Forces, IsraAID volunteers risked their lives to save and treat the survivors who the rubble had trapped. IsraAID not only provided the immediate essentials of food, water, shelter and medical aid to the Nepalese but also focused its efforts on long-term recovery via farming, fishing and a new supply of clean water. It also provided psychosocial services to the victims, helping them cope with and build resilience in the wake of the tragedy.

The Dadaab Refugee Camp and Famine in Kenya

Since 2007, IsraAID has been sending emergency relief teams to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the largest refugee camp in the world—to aid the victims running from violence and famine. Later in 2011, when a drought caused one of the worst famines to ever strike the Horn of Africa, IsraAID returned to Kenya with a distribution of food and relief items for the refugees and locals still suffering from hunger and chaos. It also offered that same assistance to the people of Turkana, Kenya’s poorest county. IsraAID has maintained a steady presence in Kenya since 2013, helping those in poverty and the refugee camp with medical treatment, water management and psychosocial support.

Refugee Crisis in Greece

During the refugee crisis in 2015, IsraAID responded by sending a team of volunteers to Greece. Special mobile units provided immediate medical and psychosocial aid, distributed supplies and identified particularly vulnerable groups, such as children. IsraAID volunteers also rescued refugees whose boats had capsized and provided sleeping bags to anyone who had to sleep on the ground. Throughout the crisis, the volunteers provided food, clothing, medicine and hygiene kits to the refugees, as well as psychotherapy training to the local government and non-government professionals so that it could better care for the traumatized population.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Puerto Rican population in 2017, IsraAID responded with a Spanish-fluent team of psychosocial and medical support, as well as experts in water and sanitation. At the time, the country’s poverty rate was 43.5 percent and the unemployment rate at 10.3 percent, on top of 95 percent of the populace losing electricity as a result of the storm. IsraAID provided emergency relief programs in the distribution of food, water and basic supplies, medical treatment and mental support. The team then shifted focus to long-term recovery and implemented a system to provide water and sanitation to the people of Puerto Rico.

The aforementioned countries and many others have benefitted greatly from IsraAID’s support, and IsraAID responds to global crises to this day. The organization has even established ongoing training programs for water management, psychosocial services and other relief efforts in the countries listed above, as well as in Japan, South Korea, Haiti, Jordan and South Sudan. As IsraAID responds to global crises, those in need have a chance to lead better lives.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 facts about Human Rights in Kenya
The World Bank, in its latest report on Kenya, credited the country with possessing the potential to become one of Africa’s success stories.  From its growing youthful population and dynamic private sector to its highly skilled workforce, improved infrastructure and new Constitution, Kenya plays a pivotal role in East Africa. However, Kenya continues to struggle with the protection of the basic human rights of its people. The top 10 facts about human rights in Kenya below shed light on the inequalities faced by the Kenyan people and the organizations working to improve conditions.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Kenya

  1. From 2007 to 2008, Kenya received international attention and criticism for severe violation of human rights after the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. While the political party in power challenged the independence of the judiciary, and the police manhandled opposition protestors, the NGOs Coordination Board threatened to close down human rights organizations. Administrative and legal measures were adopted to curb the activities of civil society, media and human rights organizations.
  2. Human Rights Watch confirmed that the post-election human rights violations included sexual and gender-based violence against men, women and children in Kenya by the police and security forces.
  3. In 2010, in an attempt to address the past human rights abuses and injustices, Kenya adopted a new Constitution alongside a Commission to implement it.
  4. The Human Rights Watch, in its 2016 report, criticized the country’s inaction. The criticism was aimed at Kenya’s ineffective implementation of the new Constitution and lack of addressing the post-election human rights violations of 2007 and 2008.  These violations left at least 1,200 people dead and 650,000 people displaced.
  5. Amnesty International questioned the government’s legislative curtailment of basic rights of the people, media and refugee communities. As a response to the persistent terrorist attacks and killings orchestrated by Somalia-based Islamist group Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan government increased the power of the police and security agencies. This, in turn, led to extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, raids on communities, harassment and extortion of money.
  6. The Amnesty International Annual Report for 2017/18 lauded the “landmark judicial decisions on human rights” by the Kenya High Court stopping the government’s decision to close the Dadaab refugee camp. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp, and the decision prevented the return of 250,000 refugees to Somalia, where they would have been at risk of abuse.
  7. Outside the scope of political turmoil, there are also issues of the rights of women and children in the country. In 2016, the National Gender and Equality Commission released a report titled Gender-Based Violence in Kenya. According to its study, 39 percent of women and girls aged 15 years and above have encountered physical violence, and more than one-fifth of the women have been victims of sexual abuse. Domestic abuse has also been noted as a common problem in Kenya. Acts like the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (2011), Employment Act (2007), the Protection Against Domestic Violence (2015) and the National Policy on the Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence (2014), have been introduced to promote social justice and preserve the rights of women in the country.
  8. Kenya’s Vision 2030’s Medium-Term Plan II (for 2013 to 2017) outlined the establishment of gender-based violence recovery centers in all health care facilities in Kenya. The National Gender and Equality Commission has also developed a National Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to prevent such violence. Organizations like Childline Kenya in partnership with the government have been trying to stop the high instances of child abuse prevalent in the country. The National Policy on the Elimination of Child Labor and the Kenyan police’s Child Protection Unit have been introduced to prosecute and investigate child exploitation.
  9. Clashes between different ethnicities in Kenya, which initially began in 1991, have also emerged as one of the human rights issues in the country. Certain ethnic communities, like the Sengwer, have been in conflict with the government. This year, the European Union suspended it’s Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme due to the killing of a person by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The EU stated that the rights of indigenous people must be respected and balanced with the conservation work on water towers.
  10. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has been striving to foster human rights and democracy at all levels in Kenya. To add to that, The Kenya National Commission of Human Rights acts in an advisory role and as a watchdog to promote a culture of human rights in Kenya.

In July 2018, members of The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, following their visit to Kenya, appreciated the new Constitution’s efforts to improve human rights conditions and democratic institutions. In addition, the group underscored the need for delivering the promises of the constitution in order to secure human rights protection. Kenya is set to become the first country in Africa to develop a National Action Plan based on business and human rights. While these top 10 facts about human rights in Kenya demonstrate many areas in need of improvement, the Kenyan government has begun to take steps in a promising direction.

Jayendrina Singha Ray

Photo: Flickr

Resisting the Closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp
On May 6, 2016, Kenya announced plans for the closure of Dadaab refugee camp by Nov. 30 this year. This closure of the largest refugee camp in the world could cause a number of problems for the refugees forced to leave.

The vast majority of the refugee population in Dadaab is Somalian. Forcing Somalians to return home in an atmosphere of continued unrest and insecurity is a recipe for disaster. The most visible problem is that as of now, parts of Somalia are still under the control of al-Shabaab, an armed group committing abuse and targeting civilians even in government-controlled areas. As a result, a large share of the country is extremely dangerous and could be fatal for refugees returning.

The closure of Dadaab refugee camp could cause less visible, but equally dangerous consequences on refugee health and education. A substantial number of Somali refugees in Dadaab today are there not because of the conflict but in order to escape the situation of drought and famine in the province of Jubbaland. Returning would, therefore, mean putting pressure on the resources of an already thinly stretched economy, as well as causing a negative impact on refugee health.

The Bhekisisa Center for Health Journalism predicts that the closure of Dadaab could lead to the next health crisis. A forced and involuntary return could escalate refugees’ vulnerability to malnutrition, weaken their immune systems and make them vulnerable to infectious diseases. Lack of health care resources including basic vaccinations in Somalia would make it hard for refugees to be treated for diseases brought back from the camp, as well as for chronic illnesses.

The good news is that as recently as August 2016, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery announced that the government of Kenya would hold back its decision to close the camp until peace in Somalia is restored. However, this decision is not without its own backlash. Two-thirds of all Kenyans support sending all refugees home. This backlash comes from a combination of fear of al-Shabaab attacks and a fear of the change in the ethnic composition of Kenya.

In order to address these understandable concerns of Kenyan citizens, the Kenyan government, working with UNHCR has been attempting to encourage voluntary returns among refugees. Under the tripartite agreement signed by the Somalian and Kenyan governments with UNHCR in November 2013, each party is responsible for developing and implementing a plan for the large-scale voluntary return of Somali refugees.

Any plan created for this purpose must involve building infrastructure, hospitals, clinics and improve security in Somalia as a solution to the refugee problem. Repatriation is not enough; post-conflict infrastructure must be a priority. This can only be done through continued support from the international community.

Creating a hospitable environment for refugees to return to Somalia is not a mere solution. For the time being, Dadaab refugee camp is the only resource a huge portion of the Somali population has. Keeping it open requires both financial support as well as greater empathy for the struggles of refugees. Many organizations are responding to both these needs.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr