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Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 Introduced in SenateSenator Ben Cardin (D-MD) launched the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 in June 2017. This bill would require a report from the United States on the accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Syria by the Syrian government.

Syria’s ongoing conflict has lasted over six years as of the year 2017. The war crimes committed in the nation have caused over 4,900,000 citizens to flee to neighboring countries, with another 600,000 living under siege. Evidence has been collected by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) declaring that the Syrian government has “committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforce disappearance and other inhuman acts.”

Furthermore, a report from 2016 stated that the Syrian government forces used chemicals in an attack in Idlib in 2015 in violation of a pact. The United States and Russia made an agreement requiring Syria to dispose of all chemical weapons to prevent further harm to the Syrian people. Because of these accounts, at least 12 other countries have requested assistance in investigating the ongoing conflict in Syria in order to prevent further war crimes.

Congress has taken initiative, urging all parties in the conflict to halt attacks on civilians and provide the necessary humanitarian and medical assistance in order to end the siege on all peoples. This is a result of another document reporting that, in February alone, the Syrian government prevented 80,000 medical treatment items from going into besieged areas. Syrian citizens now rely on interference from the United States to help provide for humanitarian needs.

Although Congress cannot prevent these sieges from affecting the Syrian people as of right now, the United States has taken action by accepting approximately 12,500 refugees from Syria with the goal of resettlement. This number exceeds the Obama administration’s goal of resettling 10,000 Syrians, a huge accomplishment in itself.

The Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 would ensure a report is submitted to the appropriate congressional committees reporting on the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, and would not cease until the Secretary of State determined that the violence in Syria has ceased. It would also ensure that USAID, the Department of Defense and other programs within the government are held accountable for their participation in the war crimes that are occurring in Syria.

The United States is the world’s largest donor to the Syrian humanitarian response, donating a total of $5.9 billion. However, the passing of this bill would allow the United States to assist much more in the well-being of the Syrian people. The next step for the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017, since it has already passed the Senate, is to pass through the House of Representatives.

– Adrienne Tauscheck

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About USAIDThe United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s premier development organization. Founded in 1961, the agency has overseen decades of world economic growth and an unprecedented reduction in global poverty.

 

10 Important Facts About USAID:

 

  1. USAID is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government and operates subject to the guidance of the President, the Secretary of State and the National Security Council.
  2. USAID is the largest provider of food assistance in the world.
  3. USAID’s annual budget of $27 billion is larger than the national spending of 165 countries.
  4. Intervention by USAID is always subject to careful analysis to prevent disruption of local agricultural production, markets and adverse effects on recipient nation currencies.
  5. USAID’s budget, spending and programs are subject to oversight and auditing by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House, and the Government Accountability Office under the legislative branch. All of its budget and oversight documents are public record.
  6. USAID has made steady improvement in recent years in rankings by the International Aid Transparency Initiative, primarily due to better data management and increased technology modernization.
  7. As these 10 facts about USAID demonstrate, the organization’s mission involves much more than direct crisis aid. Besides food and disaster relief, USAID has major directives in health, human rights and governance, education, economic growth, agriculture and food security and gender equality.
  8. A significant number of countries have gone from recipients of USAID programs to become donor nations themselves. The Republic of Korea and Brazil are two prime examples.
  9. USAID’s spending accounts for less than one-half of one percent of the U.S. federal budget.
  10. After decades of change, in 2013 USAID launched a new mission statement for the 21st century built on two pillars: ending extreme poverty, and promoting democratic, resilient societies.

As a key pillar in development efforts worldwide, USAID is central to the history of this century, as the world stands on the cusp of some of its greatest humanitarian achievements while, at the same time, facing unprecedented ecological challenges. USAID is a leader and a massively experienced player in facing the world’s biggest problems. Strategies to improve aid and development around the world and to sustain progress into the future rely on these facts about USAID.

– Paul Robertson

Photo: Flickr

YemenThe State of Yemen has been embroiled in a civil conflict since the early days of its U.S. and Saudi-backed establishment in 1990. Throughout the following two decades, various political and religious groups vied for power against the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. This power was mainly secured through a state of military patronage – meaning that his rule was “legitimized” by military prowess and a persistent framing of political and economic issues as the domain of military families.

As a result of local and international criticism of the ruler’s human rights violations, Arab Spring protests brought about a transition of power to his Vice-President, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi. It was during this time of instability that the modern crises began to unfold.

The main actors in the modern conflict, as of 2014, are Hadi’s government (backed by Saudi and the U.S.), Houthi Shi’a rebels (backed by Iran), and Al-Qaida (supported by some disillusioned supporters of Saleh). The ensuing conflict has been marked by Saudi and Iranian proxy-interference and a seemingly hopeless humanitarian situation.

Prior to the establishment of the Yemeni Arab Republic in 1990, the country was already the regions most impoverished. Water was scarce, reliance on foreign imports high and the governance constantly challenged. Now, after four years of conflict, the hope of a speedy reconstruction process has been lost and the civilian casualties are catastrophic. The U.N. humanitarian aid official in Yemen has confirmed that the number of civilian casualties has risen to over 10,000.

Currently, four out of five Yemenis – a population of 25 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance. These people face starvation, water pollution and rapid spread of disease, to say nothing of the daily toll of war on their psyche and community affiliations. Yet, the most horrific reality of this situation is the lack of humanitarian aid to Yemen that has been provided, mainly due to the unyielding air raids and mortar attacks which specifically target civilians.

Humanitarian Aid to Yemen

In a more forgiving context, the goal would be to provide food, medicine and various structural support upon the brokerage of a ceasefire. Unfortunately, to date, the success of such a deal in Yemen has been unattainable.

In 2017, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated Yemen’s needed aid at $2.3 billion. In the same year, the largest financial contributor to the crisis, the U.S. government, provided around 23 percent of the needed aid. The U.S. contribution was followed by aid from Saudi Arabi and the United Arab Emirates. In total, the amount of aid pledged by the international community covers 56 percent of the need.

Of the aid provided, 33.7 percent has been allocated to cover food security programs and 15.3 percent has been put towards health assistance. The main recipients of this funding are the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, and the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates.

The Discrepancy in Humanitarian aid to Yemen

With nearly half of all humanitarian aid to Yemen going to food and health programs, the amount remaining for other necessities – which affect the long-term viability of the country’s survival – are severely underfunded.

Currently, only one percent of aid is being given to Save the Children, an international humanitarian organization that works to ensure the protection of Children’s Human Rights. Furthermore, only .2 percent has been allotted to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which typically works on issues of reproductive rights and safety and ending female genital mutilation.

At the moment, the provision of food and health aid is most urgent, however, it is vital to ensure further funding for programs that will help Yemen rebuild after the crisis.

 – Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to GhanaThe need for proper nutrition and health professionals has driven the success of humanitarian aid to Ghana. Within ten years, Ghana witnessed a decrease in its poverty rate from 52 percent to 28 percent in 2016.

Nutrition

As of 2016, 1.2 million Ghanaians still experienced food insecurity and chronic undernutrition. Furthermore, there is a high prevalence of stunting, recording 37 percent of children in the Northern Province alone. There are also many reported cases of wasting, particularly in the Upper West area of Ghana.

To combat these issues, Ghana joined the national Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in 2011 to improve nutrition among its population. With USAID’s support and donations, Ghanaians focused on improving the country’s nutritional funding and the way in which rations are measured and prioritized.

Furthermore, USAID’s Feed the Future targets the northern, impoverished regions of the country. It hopes to make the food value chains affordable, strengthen vulnerable communities and improve the nutritional state of women and children.

In 2014, USAID applied three Feed the Future chain projects to lead the success of humanitarian aid to Ghana:

  1. The Systems for Health project reduces the levels of stunting, wasting and anemia in women and children in five of Ghana’s more vulnerable sectors.
  2. The Resiliency in Northern Ghana (RING) project targets poverty and malnutrition in vulnerable households.
  3. The Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project is concerned with alleviating stunting and anemia in children under five.

Data between 2008 and 2011 indicates progress among all Ghanaian children under the age of five. The total prevalence of stunting decreased from 28 percent to 23 percent, while wasting dropped a total of 3 percent. The occurrence of anemia among children dropped more significantly from 78 percent to 57 percent. With USAID’s new programs, these numbers are predicted to decline even more drastically.

Health Professionals

UNICEF fights to break the Ghanaian norm for mothers to give birth at home, without a health professional. According to a study done in 2012, only 57 percent of births were attended by a midwife or health clinic professional.

A Ghanaian birth attendant named Kasua Musah works alongside UNICEF and the Ghana Health Service to break tradition and advocate for in-clinic deliveries.

Together, they utilize the community radio, along with street theatre and home visits to promote safe birth. The combination of these methods reached out to around 360 communities, including four of the more destitute regions.

As a result, they altered tradition within the Central Region and increased the number of patients in the maternity ward sector of the region’s largest hospital. Even further, the radio empowered those who had negative experiences with the clinic staff, enforcing improvement and new training methods.

Further training was provided for midwives, ensuring the betterment of at-home births. Overall, Ghana improved the patient-to-nurse relationship.

Lowering the child and female mortality rates through improved birthing processes, but also through augmenting nutritional programs, is what propelled the success of humanitarian aid to Ghana.

– Brianna White

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine Addresses HungerDespite gaining independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine is currently enduring serious challenges. War and corruption have left nearly 1.5 million people without food or water, and an estimated four million people are in need of humanitarian assistance as of August 2017. This figure includes approximately three million people who were affected by the water supply system disruptions and an increase in internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout the country.

The suffering is due to the separatist movement in Ukraine’s south and east regions after a reversal in government that has led to protests, violence and over 6,500 lives lost. Millions of citizens have been forced from their homes, creating a food crisis. However, efforts to increase humanitarian aid to Ukraine have been implemented over the past few years. The U.S. government has provided more than $27 million in assistance to meet the health, food, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection needs in the conflict-affected areas of the Ukraine during 2017 alone.

In response to Ukraine’s political transition and its effects, USAID’s Ukraine Confidence Building Initiative program was formed in 2014. The Confidence Building Initiative (UCBI) complements ongoing USAID efforts to create a prosperous and stable Ukraine. UCBI assistance will come in the form of small in-kind grants, such as goods, services and technical support, to a range of partners, including national and local civilian government entities, civil society organizations and community leaders.

By providing quick, short-term assistance to Ukrainian partners who are in support of a peaceful democratic transition, UCBI seeks to reduce social tensions and increase available information on the conflict and its impact. According to ReliefWeb, USAID has implemented 70 activities in Ukraine and provided approximately 100,000 IDPs with economic opportunities and other important resettlement services.

By rebuilding confidence and stability in vulnerable communities in the eastern European nation, the goal of humanitarian aid to Ukraine is to create an integrated, educated and unified nation.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to SwazilandSwaziland currently suffers from food insecurity, inaccessibility to hygienic water and from an abundance of orphans. Many organizations are working with the government to bring the success of humanitarian aid to Swaziland.

Agriculture

There is a high dependence on agricultural farming, with 77 percent of Swazis relying on it, to bring food and income to their families. As a response to droughts, among other things, there has been a decline in agricultural performance, leading to a reduction in income and a spike in the price of food. The Annual Vulnerability Analysis Assessment of 2017 recorded around 159,000 Swazis experiencing food insecurity.

The World Food Programme (WFP) responded by initiating the Food by Prescription project, providing 11,000 malnourished people with a monthly balanced diet. The project also includes monthly household rations for families. WFP is also addressing long-term nutrition solutions by working with the Swaziland government to monitor food insecurity, integrate nutrition awareness and include underrepresented minorities into the analysis.

Since 2013, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement also contributes to the success of humanitarian aid to Swaziland. The movement implements a number of programs like the Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition which aims to improve nutrition on a national level.

The Government of Swaziland has taken the issue into their own hands by creating the Swaziland National Nutrition Council (SNNC) and teaming up with the Food Security and Nutrition Forum, Child Health and Nutrition Forum, Micronutrient Alliance and the Water and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Forum.

Water

While drought hinders agriculture, it also limits the availability of clean drinking water. UNICEF aided with Swaziland’s implementation of the WASH in Schools (WinS) program, which is a piece of the Child Friendly School framework that aims to achieve quality education throughout Swaziland.

Through hygiene training and through the improvement of hygienic resources, 95 percent of the 757 targeted schools gained access to sanitation facilities by 2010. Although there is more room for improvement, 64 percent of these schools progressed in the overall access to quality water.

Children

Swaziland has a significant number of orphans, due to a high rate of parental deaths and other families’ inability to take in more mouths to feed. A 2010 study recorded around 10-15 percent of Swazi head of households being children, rather than parents. Swaziland has created social service centers called Kagogo centers to aid children in need, in response to the limited number of orphanages.

WFP stepped in, providing 52,000 orphans with monthly meals through other daycare type centers within neighborhoods. The project also implements access to basic education, psychosocial support and health services. Additionally, Swaziland made all primary schools free for students in 2011, which led to orphans gaining access to education, school meals and quality water and sanitation.

Through WASH and nutritional means, one can witness the success of humanitarian aid to Swaziland.

Brianna White

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to MexicoMexico is a country that has been ravaged by poverty for centuries. About 44 million of its total population live in poverty, while 14 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day.

Despite the rampant destitution, there have been several noteworthy efforts that highlight the success of humanitarian aid to Mexico. One example is CHOICE Humanitarian. This organization has worked in Mexico for over twenty years, partnering with countless rural villages in Mexico. They have left an indelible mark on nine Mexican states, teaching vital skills such as cheese making, blacksmithing and livestock micro enterprises, among others. Other useful programs have been implemented as well, such as savings programs for women, healthcare training and constructing classrooms.

One of the goals of CHOICE Humanitarian is to establish self-sustaining projects that allow villages to thrive on their own. This typically takes about three to five years, but Mexico has seen tremendous success in this particular humanitarian endeavor. It is a shining example of humanitarian aid to Mexico.

That being said, there is still much work to be done. Thousands of villages in Mexico are still in dire need of help and have not reached this level of sustainability and economic independence.

The earthquakes that devastated Mexico only a few months ago resulted in an influx of aid from the international community. No amount of aid could fully efface the tragedy of the event, but other nations such as Bolivia donated generously in the aftermath. The Bolivian government sent a cargo plane full of 11 tons of humanitarian aid. The aid consisted of sanitary equipment, non-perishable food and two thousand blankets. In addition, the Bolivian President Evo Morales tweeted his country’s solidarity with Mexico. Bolivia has continued to pledge more aid to Mexico, making the future of humanitarian aid to Mexico more promising.

In a country like Mexico, where poverty is rampant, the amount of aid it receives is vital for its future success. While the country has seen a string of tragedies as of late, mostly in the form of natural disasters, many countries have stepped up to help in its time of need. While humanitarian aid in Mexico is not without its merit, more work certainly needs to be done.

– Mohammad Hasan Javed

Photo: Flickr

Droneports in RwandaAdvances in drone technology have had a profound influence on military surveillance and combat. Commercial industries and companies such as Amazon have also invested in drones for fast and easy deliveries. However, perhaps the most innovative use of drones is taking place in the developing world. The development of droneports in Rwanda is leading to drone-facilitated medical deliveries in hard-to-reach regions of the country.

Healthcare in Rwanda

In recent years, Rwanda has exhibited impressive improvement in rural healthcare. Partners in Health (PIH), an organization that seeks to improve medical access in impoverished countries, initiated many of the healthcare advances that have been made in Rwanda. In 2008, PIH resuscitated the healthcare structures of Kayonza and Kirehe, two districts in rural Rwanda. Two hospitals and seven health centers were built, providing nearly 100,000 individuals with access to healthcare.

In the following years, Rwanda’s government took inspiration from PIH’s assistance and continued improving rural healthcare on its own. Today, approximately 90 percent of Rwandans are provided healthcare by the government.

Overcoming Poor Infrastructure

Despite Rwanda’s effective healthcare system, the country’s subpar infrastructure often inhibits medical care. As is the case with many African nations, Rwanda’s population is growing at a tremendous rate. The existing roads are inadequate for gaining access to so many people scattered across the country, especially in remote areas. Using roads, medical supplies such as blood and medicine are not delivered as quickly as necessary.

Drones literally rise above the restrictions of substandard infrastructure.

In September 2015, Rwanda was chosen to be the first African nation to be outfitted with droneports. Drones are capable of quickly delivering up to 22 pounds of supplies for distances up to 60 miles. It is estimated that by installing just three droneports, up to half of Rwanda’s remote countryside will gain access to easy medical deliveries.

A New Trend in Aid Delivery

In 2016, Redline, the company that initially proposed building droneports in Rwanda, began work on the project, which is to be completed in 2020. Renowned British architect, Norman Foster, unveiled his design for the droneports at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. The prototype droneport, constructed entirely of earthen bricks that fit together in the shape of a tortoiseshell, was lauded as a work of art as well as a feat of philanthropic engineering.

But Redline is not the only drone company working to bring drones to Rwanda. The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of drones make them an appealing tool for medical and other aid organizations. This year, the drone company, Zipline, has already facilitated 1,400 deliveries of medical supplies in Rwanda. Another company, Mobisol, uses drones to distribute parts for solar energy machines.

If the implementation of medical delivery droneports in Rwanda goes well, more droneports will be built throughout Africa. Drones will take to the skies to provide life-saving supplies and revolutionize the distribution of emergency medicine.

– Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to Costa RicaCosta Rica, a country located in Central America, has received aid from the United States due to recent natural disasters. This aid has been quite positive and has helped Costa Rica recover from hard times.

The most recent humanitarian aid to Costa Rica from the United States was a donation of $150,000 from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to help with storm relief on October 12, 2017. Tropical Storm Nate caused destruction in its path through Costa Rica; 11 people were killed, thousands more were injured and 11,500 people had to use shelters. Costa Rica said that this money will be used to pay for helicopter flights to distribute food, transport and medical care to those in need. This is important since Costa Rica has many remote communities, which means air travel is required to provide the necessary personnel and materials.

This is the largest donation of humanitarian aid to Costa Rica since November 2016, when the United States Southern Command provided relief. The U.S. Southern Command is “responsible for providing contingency planning, operations and security cooperation in its assigned Area of Responsibility,” and one of these Areas of Responsibility is Costa Rica. This is the fifth time that the Southern Command has provided humanitarian aid to Costa Rica.

This project was named Operation Pura Vida, which translates to “simple life” and means a lot to the people of Costa Rica, since “pura vida” is a way of life for them. The Southern Command provided 16 doctors, nurses and dentists who work with 30 Costa Rican physicians to provide free medical care to the people of Telire. Telire is a remote community in the Talamanca mountain range, so helicopters are necessary to reach this area.

Costa Rica has faced some troubling times recently, but the United States has helped use its abundant resources to help those that need it most.

– Scott Kesselring

Photo: Flickr

The Success of Humanitarian Aid to SyriaGoing into its seventh year, the Syrian civil war has created one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. With more than 480,000 people killed and 11 million people displaced from their homes, the international community has grappled with the question of how to bring relief to Syrians amid active hostilities and uncertain circumstances.

The scope and complexity of the conflict, along with the government’s restriction on aid to various regions (especially rebel-held territories), have severely limited international organizations’ relief workers and supplies from reaching much of the country.

Once in a while, though, a humanitarian push manages to rise above the proverbial brick wall that is armed conflict to give hope that there can be successes for humanitarian aid to Syria. Such is the case with the education program bringing new opportunities to some of the hardest-to-reach students in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

With increased access to parts of Aleppo, the Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD) has begun offering free classes and tutoring to students in the city. This comes at a time when 1.75 million school-aged children are out of the classroom and 1.35 million more are at risk of dropping out.

The SSSD provides a variety of programs, including remedial classes for students who have missed school as well as tutoring, education supplies and registration help. Through some of their informal education programs, they facilitate the transition of dropout students back into the critical thinking mindset of learning to eventually return to formal education.

Zooming out of Aleppo to the rest of Syria, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan stated that over 1.1 million children were reached through various forms of formal and informal education. These children, along with the 179,118 people who have been reached through women and girls’ empowerment activities, are reason for the hope of continued success of humanitarian aid to Syria.

To get back on its feet economically and promote political stability for the future, Syria cannot afford to lose a generation of educated youths. While the push to get all Syrian children back into school remains an uphill battle in the ongoing conflict, the success of humanitarian aid to Syria gives hope that even the hardest-to-reach students can find their way into the classroom.

– Belén Loza

Photo: Flickr