Since World War II the rate of humanitarian crisis around the world has been drastically increasing. This trend is likely to continue or even get worse, considering the effects climate change, population growth and urbanization will have in the decades ahead. Humanitarian aid agencies and organizations continue to stretch their capabilities and resources to the limits in their efforts to respond to the rush of conflict zone and climate driven crises emerging worldwide.

One example of this is the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in November of last year. The wave of destruction brought by the storm affected 14 million people and put relief organization into high gear.

In collaboration with the government of Philippine, aid organizations and the U.N. provided much needed emergency relief services in the form of water, food and sanitation. In a massive deployment, U.N. and other aid personnel were able to clear over 500 miles of road and provided temporary shelter to over 550,000 families.

Even as media attention has moved to other crises, aid workers continue to work behind the scenes bringing emergency relief services to all affected people. Beyond the small portion of aid work that makes the headlines, aid work provided by the U.N. and other aid agencies is complex, multifaceted and long term. The U.N.’s aid network “forms the backbone of the global humanitarian response system.”

While the U.S.’ aid network remains strong, according to Richard Brennan, the World Health Organization’s Director of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response, aid agencies have been working at their maximum capacity for several years. This is cause for concern, since it allows vulnerable people to fall trough the cracks.

But it is not all gloom, there are things that can be done to change the course. First and foremost, aid agencies need the necessary funding to do their job well. So far, many aid initiatives remain severely underfunded, despite continuous calls from the U.N. and other organisms for support. Governments, non-governmental organizations, private businesses and individuals all have a stake in making these contributions happen to reach the necessary funding goals. This cannot be a one-sided effort, and it is in the best interest of everyone to protect those in the most vulnerable situations.

Secondly, the international community should be more attentive to the well-being of aid workers. These workers risk their lives to provide much needed services to the most precarious and devastated places on earth. It is our responsibility to ensure their safety and well-being, so that they can continue this valuable task.

And last but not least, strengthening the humanitarian system cannot only be a function of responding to crises; it is imperative to include prevention as a main objective of humanitarian aid. It is much easier and more cost effective to construct communities that can identify and avoid risk, or at least to be more resilient in the face of disaster, not to mention that it considerably reduces suffering as well.

The global humanitarian aid system is large and strong, but it can only do so much without the support of governments, businesses and individuals. It is our collective responsibility to support this system and to ensure that its members are able to continue bringing emergency relief to those who are suffering.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Diplomatic Courier
Photo: Diplomatic Courier

humanitarian aid
What tools and actions are humanitarian organizations overlooking while in developing countries? According to a recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs presented at the Humanitarian Innovation Conference at the University of Oxford, aid agencies often do not use the talent and skills of those they are helping to overcome challenges.

The report urges international organizations to give the people who have been affected by conflict a chance to be involved in the process of coming up with ideas and creating products that meet the needs of their community.

The most important way to shift the focus of aid is to change how the international community thinks about administering humanitarian aid to refugees and people affected by conflict. When the mindset that refugees are vulnerable and in need of help is replaced with the fact that they are people with unique skills and ideas who have unfortunately been affected by conflict, then the way aid is approached can be fundamentally changed in a positive and more affordable way.

User-led innovation has already begun in places like Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, where people are using technology in various ways, such as to sharpen tools, make sanitary pads and produce radio shows.

The Oxford conference report is meant to serve as a conversation starter, something to build on as international organizations and countries rethink how they distribute aid as both costs and the amount of people affected by conflict continue to rise. Advocating for more bottom-up solutions from refugee communities, as opposed to top-down ideas from international organizations, can lead to more efficient aid and stable situations for both the refuge and host communities.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: SciDevNet 1, SciDevNet 2, UN-OCHA
Photo: Global Communities

northern mali
The slow and steady recovery that Mali experienced after the extended Islamist occupation by the Tuaregs in the north was recently thrown into jeopardy. A handful of recent clashes between separatist rebels and government forces have begun to increase insecurity and hamper the effectiveness of aid efforts in the area.

What’s worse is that parts of the country have even fallen back into rebel hands.

While some displaced people have begun returning to their homes in the north, many still worry about their safety and security. Some of those who have returned even had to flee again due to rebel activity in their community.

“Tensions within communities and concerns of retribution mean people do not feel safe to return home,” said Erin Weir, Protection and advocacy advisor with the Norwegian Refugee Council. “That the constant power shifts – one day an area belongs to the rebels, the other day it is back in government hands – means people might feel secure one minute, the next they are inclined to flee again.”

This ongoing crisis with rebels in Northern Mali is often ignored by the public as other issues receive more coverage from media outlets. Yet, staff members of the Red Cross were attacked in the area earlier this year, which resulted in the stoppage of food distribution to the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This left 11 percent of the population, or 1.9 million people, in need of food assistance.

Similar attacks have also interrupted food distribution by the World Food Program.

Just under 250,000 people in the north are considered food insecure, and approximately two-thirds of those people are defined as in ‘crisis.’ This is only worsened by the fact that operations in Mali are underfunded by one-third.

“The recent fighting has set back the humanitarian situation and deepened the crisis,” Weir said. “Services in the north are still restricted and access to health care, education and markets are limited, not to mention food insecurity that is affected by recent displacement.”

While there are countless other humanitarian crises taking place around the world, the world cannot forget those that still haven’t been completely resolved.

While progress might be slow, the recent conflicts with rebels in Northern Mali only show how long and hard the road to recovery is. Further work is needed in order to ensure that the hard-won progress is not lost.

– Andre Gobbo
Sources: IRIN, The Economist, The Guardian
Photo: AlJazeera

syrian rebels
On July 14, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to send cross-border humanitarian aid to areas of Syria controlled by Syrian rebels in desperate need of food and medicine. This decision was made despite strong objections from the Syrian government.

The vote came out 15 to 0, meaning that all members of the U.N. Security Council agreed on this decision. The unanimity is notably rare in U.N. council meetings.

Approximately 10.8 million Syrians—nearly half of the country’s population—are in need of food, medicine and other supplies due to Syria’s on-going war. This is a huge increase from about one million citizens in 2011. And nearly half of these people live in rebel-held areas.

The conflict in Syria has thus far left 150,000 people dead, and created widespread instability in the country. U.N. officials refer to this situation as one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters.

Until now, nearly 90 percent of aid from the U.N. Security Council was appropriated for those in government-controlled regions. The new initiative will bring aid to an additional 1.3 million people in need.

Russia and China threatened to veto the resolution, resulting in a weaker compromise than many Western nations had hoped for, according to the BBC’s Nick Bryant. The Syrian government also warned the U.N. that it would consider such resolutions a violation of national sovereignty.

Prior to this vote, aid going to Syria first went through the nation’s capital of Damascus, on President Bashar al-Assad’s orders. This meant that Assad gained control of all aid coming in. Many believed this aid was used as leverage against the rebel efforts, since very little of it ever made it to their held regions.

U.N. ambassador from Luxembourg, Sylvie Lucas, said that Assad’s denial of supplies to rebel-controlled regions was the main reason the resolution came about.

She said that under the new resolution, “the consent of the Syrian government will no longer be necessary.”

The new resolution authorizes U.N. agencies and other aid organizations to send humanitarian assistance using routes across four conflict border lines in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. These routes will allow the U.N. to monitor aid shipments in these three countries before they are sent across the Syrian border. These routes will come in addition to those previously used for aid.

Nongovernmental organizations such as Save the Children and Oxfam welcomed the resolution, and will likely assist the U.N. in carrying it out.

Bashar al Jaafari, Syria’s U.N. ambassador, was strongly opposed to the measure. He was invited to attend the vote, and was sharply critical of the resolution, citing Syria’s efforts to accommodate international relief. He also stated that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—countries advocating humanitarian access—were in large part responsible for empowering Islamic extremists destabilizing Syria and Iraq.

“First and foremost, terrorism must stop for the humanitarian situation in Syria to improve,” he said.

Despite opposition and warning from Syrian government officials, humanitarian assistance in rebel-held areas will be implemented in the near future.

– Paige Frazier

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, CBC News
Photo: NPR

aid workers
Humanitarian aid is certainly a term with which we are all familiar, but do we really know what it takes to be a successful aid worker? The job is full of sacrifices: leaving friends, family and an entire lifestyle behind to complete humanitarian work in a foreign country. But aid workers also leave something else behind: safety.

As recent as June 16, a hospital organized by Doctors Without Borders in a South Kordofan province in Sudan was struck by two aerial bombs. Although it is unknown if this hospital was simply one of the many targets in this attack, six innocent people–including a Doctors Without Borders aid worker–were injured.

Completing humanitarian aid can be difficult enough as it is, and aid workers in developing countries have increasingly faced more dangers over the past several years. According to former Navy SEAL and humanitarian aid worker Kaj Larsen, “It’s become increasingly difficult to help victims of conflict without becoming a victim of the conflict as well.” As an aid worker in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Kenya and Somalia, Larsen has seen firsthand how security concerns lead to a decrease in international responses to crises.

Although there have always been risks involved with becoming an aid worker in a foreign country, never before have aid workers been the direct targets of these attacks. According to the annual reports released by Humanitarian Outcomes based on the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), the number of attacks against aid workers first set a new record in 2011, and the number only increased in 2012 with a total of 167 incidents resulting in the kidnappings, injuries or deaths of 274 aid workers in 19 countries.

It was revealed in the 2013 Aid Worker Security Report that the most common form of attack on aid workers is kidnappings, as an average increase of 44 percent has been seen every year since 2002. While there are several aid organizations in place that manage how these kidnappings are handled and resolved as quickly as possible, these organizations have yet to directly address the threat itself, which is one reason why this particular form of attack occurs most frequently.

What may be surprising is that ambushes and attacks–and not raids or bombings–are the second most common way aid workers experience an act of violence against them. Since these workers are seen as easy targets while they are traveling on the road, many organizations are working to decrease the danger of transporting both workers and supplies in conflict zones by adding more road security.

Despite progress organizations have made to make conditions safer for aid workers, attacks are still happening throughout these conflict zones, with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan being among the most dangerous areas for aid workers. As the safety of thousands of aid workers from across the world are threatened, it is important for agencies to continue preventing and responding to these attacks in the most efficient way.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: VICE News, The Aid Worker Security Database 1, The Aid Worker Security Database 2
Photo: ABC News

conditions in syria
Conditions in Syria are worsening rapidly with estimates of 10.8 million people who now are in high need of humanitarian aid. This number is almost half of the entire Syrian population, making it clear that urgent help is a necessity.

Additionally, the number of people living in areas that are considered difficult or impossible to receive humanitarian aid has increased from 3.5 million to 4.7 million people.

The rapid increase in Syrians in need of help is believed to be a result of the three-year conflict the country has faced. Violence such as barrel bombs, suicide attacks, executions and other acts of terrorism have led the country to chaos and turmoil.

The Syrian government is making it difficult for the United Nations to provide the necessary aid to citizens. Requirements and restrictions have been put on the way the U.N. delivers aid, decreasing the number of people being reached. The U.N. World Food Programme planned to provide aid to 4.25 million people throughout the month of June. However, by June 9, only 12 percent of these people had been reached.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained it as “tens of thousands of civilians are being arbitrarily denied urgent and lifesaving medical care,” and claimed it is “a deliberate tactic of war aimed at denying help and support to those most in need.”

Now, the Syrian government is refusing to let any humanitarian aid in that has not been previously approved. The current arrangement is that all types of aid must go through Damascus, the capital of Syria. Certain people involved in the debate claim that by opening up the pathways of aid to two crossings from Turkey — one from Jordan and one from Iraq — 2 million people will be able to be reached with aid.

The powers involved are still discussing the issue, but the situation does not look good for those in need of aid. The government is unable to look past their desire for control in order to help the Syrian people recover from the hardships they have been facing.

— Hannah Cleveland

Sources: News Sentinel, Al Jazeera America, ABC News
Photo: Al Jazeera

Poverty has been and continues to be one of the defining issues of the modern age. Despite advances in technology, increasing medical knowledge and global interconnectivity, the causes of poverty remain abundant in both developed and developing nations worldwide. Many of the causes of poverty are preventable, but remain dependent on the appropriation of funds and humanitarian efforts. However, understanding the causes of poverty is an essential step in combating its presence.

In a famous 1965 report by Daniel Moynihan, assistant labor secretary under President Johnson, the idea of a culture of poverty was introduced to the general public. That idea was introduced in the context of alarming poverty rates among ethnic minorities in the United States. In the decades that have passed, social scientists have begun to attribute cultural aspects of poverty to enduring trends of systematic oppression and isolation.

This shift in consensus has marked a pivotal turning point in academic discussions of causes of global poverty because poverty is now viewed in the larger framework of society. Similarly, the United Nations poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals now comprise “inclusive growth” ideals.  This is a way of both implying the shared burden of poverty on all members of society and of recognizing the societal factors which allow poverty to exist.

Causes of poverty.

The inclusive growth ideal remains pertinent because that inclusivity would most likely bring about greater access to healthcare services. Insufficient access to these services remains one of the leading causes of poverty. It is estimated that HIV/AIDS kills 6,000 people daily. This is a number that could be drastically reduced with more widespread healthcare access.

Along with lagging health care access, food production has also become a source of poverty. The United Nations has reported that declining soil fertility has been a contributing factor to the 23 percent decrease in food production in the past 25 years. This has coincided with a steep decline in agricultural jobs in developing countries. It is also a product of industrialization and a significant factor in rising food costs. Overall, due to these factors, the causes of global poverty remain widespread and a major concern throughout the world.

The United Nations now estimates that 90 percent of the 300 million children going to bed hungry daily suffer from long-term malnutrition. In total, 6 million children die annually from malnutrition. In an era where access to food remains a staple of the developed world, malnutrition has become synonymous with poverty.

Also implicit in the discussion of poverty is the economy. According to the Census Bureau, in the midst of the global financial recession in 2009 the United States poverty rate hit a 15-year high of 44 million people, nearly one in every seven Americans.

In the modern age, humanitarian aid has become directly linked to the standing of global financial institutions. However, it is worth mentioning that the causes of poverty often remain tethered to the events of the past. Fallout from wars and political instability continue to play a role in the proliferation of poverty in underdeveloped countries. Likewise, the effects of past discriminatory practices and legislation have contributed to the cyclical nature of poverty in minority communities.

Many of these causes of global poverty remain preventable, but it is the awareness of these causes that must first be addressed.

– Taylor Dow


Sources: Gallup, National Archives, New York Times 1, New York Times 2, UNDP, U.S. Department of Labor
Photo: Moms Against Hunger

In South Sudan, 3.7 million people are at high risk of starvation, one million of which were forced from their homes by the ongoing ethnic based violence between the Dinka and the Nuer. Many have resorted to eating grass, roots and other foliage in the desperate attempt to survive, some of which can do more harm than good. Humanitarian aid during this crisis has been road blocked by a number of factors, preventing much needed food from getting to the mouths of the hungry.

According to the Associated Press, due to the tightening of governmental control over United Nations vehicles since March, road deliveries of food and other aid have increased in cost by 25%, with checkpoints charging up to $10,000, on top of the ever-present threat of theft, soldier harassment and violence.

Air drops are three times the expense of road deliveries and they consume too much of the already constrained UN budget. USA Today states that although $1.27 billion was requested to deal with this crisis, only about one third has been raised.

Despite these barriers, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has so far sent more than 72,000 metric tons of food throughout South Sudan this year.

Moreover, the United States provides nearly $68 million to the WFP, UNICEF, NGOs and the International Organization for Migration. The total assistance given by USAID and State funding to alleviate this crisis is about $143 million as of May. This funding provides 13,500 tons of food aid and also helps support health, nutrition, refugee placement as well as assistance in agriculture.

With thousands of people killed, one million refugees displaced, and the difficulty of getting the right amount of aid to those who need it, the already dire hunger situation will be exasperated by the fact that farmers cannot plant crops which will lead to famine. The UN, helped by funds from numerous countries including the U.S., is trying to prevent this worse case scenario from becoming a reality, but they are doing so amid a volatile and precarious battle.

As refugees in South Sudan turn to eating grass in the attempt to survive and quell the ache in their bellies, humanitarian aid organizations continue to try to navigate through the barriers, the violence and the lack of sufficient funding in order to help those in need.

The hope is that this conflict will find resolution soon, before it becomes increasingly difficult for that aid to be sustained in the long term.

– Heather Johnson

Sources: USA Today, The Guardian, USAID: Crisis, USAID: Additional Humanitarian Assistance
Photo: Borgen Project

Although countries offered more than $2.4 billion to help Syrian civilians who are struggling due to the civil conflict, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this amount is simply not enough.

According to Ki-moon, “$6.5 billion was needed to provide medical care, food, water and shelter for Syrian refugees and civilians inside the country this year.”

On behalf of the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $380 million in new assistance. It is true that other countries have offered more than what the U.S. is willing to give this time around. However, the U.S. has provided $1.7 billion since the conflict emerged, making it Syria’s top donor.

Even if enough assistance is generated, there are barriers that reduce or prevent the flow of aid offered to Syrian civilians from reaching their hands. According to Kerry, no aid would be enough in the first place until the Syrian president discontinues “using starvation as a weapon of war.”

Another problem is in the past, not all donor nations actually provided the amount they originally promised. In 2013, only 70 percent of the aid offered by nations actually made it to Syrians. The remaining amount was not given.

Despite the efforts of providing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, more money is being spent to destroy the chemical weapons of Syria. According to an article published in The Atlantic, “The U.S. Army’s Chemical Materials Agency oversaw the destruction of just over 28,364 tons of chemical weapons – nearly 90 percent of the U.S. stockpile – for an estimated cost of $28 billion”.

The authors argue this strategy is worth the money and it will eliminate the possibility that terrorists would acquire the chemical weapons of Syria.

All of this is to suggest that the case of Syria is undoubtedly complicated. On one hand, not funding the destruction of chemical weapons may haunt the U.S. in the long run; on the other hand, according to the New York Times article, “the situation in Syria is worsening so rapidly that the humanitarian needs seems to outpace the resources promised.” Moreover, the article claims that roughly 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced and over 2.3 million became refugees in other countries.

Dealing with the political situation in Syria requires careful planning by the U.S. due to the polarized nature of the state. Perhaps the only solution to this mess is if more donors are willing to pledge a generous amount of money for humanitarian aid. In the meantime, there is no way to tell when the civil war in Syria will end.

– Juan Campos

Sources: New York Times, The Atlantic
Photo: VOA News

The mounting crisis in Syria has prompted seven countries to pledge a collective $2.4 billion in aid during a donors’ conference in Kuwait this Wednesday.

At the UN organized Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria, the United States and several other countries pledged 36 percent of the UN’s $6.5 billion requested donation total.

Including the additional $380 million pledge from Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. will have donated over $1.7 billion aid to Syria, the most of any other country. Other large donors include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom with $500, $260 and $164 million respectively.

Despite the seemingly large donations, escalating violence and worsening conditions for Syrians demands a parallel response from donors.

“The UN has launched its largest appeal ever. It did not do this lightly,” said Gareth Price-Jones, Oxfam’s Syria country director. “The scale of the appeal simply reflects the immense scale of the need. If every country gave its fair share then the appeal would be funded.”

When the conference met for the first time last year, two years after the Syrian conflict began in early 2011, seven hundred thousand Syrians had been displaced and approximately four million Syrians were in need of aid.

In the year since, the number of refugees has escalated into the millions, with nearly 6.5 million Syrians displaced within the country itself while an additional 2.3 million have fled to neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

Basic necessities like baby formula, water, shelter, medical care and education are needed by half the Syrian population, nearly 9.3 million people. Relief organizations are urging governments to pledge more aid, and quickly.

To complicate matters further, the Assad regime refuses to permit humanitarian aid workers from delivering supplies to distressed populations. In a statement to the donors, Kerry stressed the importance of actively confronting the problems in the region.

“I will tell you all clearly today we are under no illusion that our job or any of our jobs here are to just write a check,” said Kerry. “The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world’s attention to these offenses. They are not just offenses against conscience; they are also offenses against the laws of war, against international law.”

The offenses to which he refers include the Assad regime’s attacks on schools, healthcare facilities and residential areas. Chemical warfare, gender-based violence and starvation have left 100,000 people dead and many injured with few hospitals and doctors to turn to for help.

During his speech to the donors, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his commitment to resolving this conflict and described his visit to a refugee camp in Iraq.

“I was there to show my solidarity. Their suffering is heartbreaking. Their resilience is admirable. They need us to prove that the world stands with them now,” said Mr. Ban.

Discussion will continue at the Geneva talks in Switzerland next week. In addition to continued relief efforts, parties will also be covering methods of ending the conflict, including ending the arms and ammunition transfers that help sustain the civil war.

Emily Bajet

Sources: CNN, CNN, U.S. Department of State, Al Jazeera, Oxfam, Oxfam, United Nations
Photo: NY Daily News