Posts

Yemeni child soldiers
Yemen is a young country struggling through many internal problems. A civil war began in 2015 between the Yemeni government, with backing from Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebels. Now, it has become a conflict involving international leaders and is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the last 100 years. This is partly due to the mass exploitation of Yemeni child soldiers. It is very difficult to discover the exact number of recruited children due to the fluid roles of children, associated with family shame and fear. However, numbers ranged from about 3,000 to 50,000 children as of 2019.

Growing Up

Many Yemeni child soldiers have faced unfathomable hardships even before fighting. They have been constantly fleeing their homes to avoid airstrikes and war zones. Because of this, 3.4 million children are out of school and many are trying to earn the little money they can like Salah, who is about 11, and whose family cannot afford meals every day. Starvation and disease-ridden camps have been the way of life for thousands of families since the war began five years ago.

Conversely, schools recruit children in regions with access to education through “indoctrination” from lectures. The Houthi movement’s founder gives these lectures and transcribes them into booklets known as “Malazem.” During this, children as young as 10 view graphic images of the war and others who have died for the cause. This encourages them to do the same. A mother told the Group of Experts, a partition of the U.N. Human Rights Council, that she fears for her son’s future. She also said that such practices are prevalent across the region.

Recruitment also occurs in surrounding countries like Sudan, a country also struggling from domestic conflicts. Approached at 14, Hager Shomo Ahmed had received an offer of $10,000 in exchange for his service in the war. Like many children, this was dire for his family, as they became penniless after others stole their cattle.

Persuaded and desperate for food, purpose and money, thousands of children like these entered the war.

During the War

From both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels, many Yemeni child soldiers went to the front lines. More than 1,000 have been coerced to fight.

Some dragged bodies from the field (sometimes even their own family), others would do kitchen services and others trained to use rifles. Naji, Younis and Saleh, Yemeni child soldiers who were around 11 and 13 at the time, recounted stories like these. A Saudi rehabilitation center that has helped about 400 boys has created a safe space for these stories.

A psychiatrist at a Marib rehabilitation center, Mayoub al-Makhlafi, says children have suffered as fighters and servants. Staffers recount children’s descriptions of experiencing beatings and sexual abuse from their own commanders.

Many, promised with money and non-combatant roles, find themselves in traffickers’ hands and training camps. Some are sent to patrol checkpoints 12 hours a day. Others are the first to be dispatched as human bodyguards. The young foot soldiers have no other option since they are lured with knowledge of a steady income sent home or depicted as martyrs.

The war has killed over 2,000 Yemeni child soldiers, as UNICEF reported in 2018. However, due to poor access to Yemen and limited data collection, these numbers are could be much higher.

Surviving After

Younis and his mother, Samira, shared the nightmares he used to have about the Houthis taking him again and how his mother would comfort him back to sleep.

In Dhamar, Yemen, a teacher places a photograph on desks of 14 former students during the Week of the Martyr, a celebration that the Houthi government enforces to continue its propaganda about the honor of fighting. The children, mostly fifth and sixth graders, mourn their friends. Those who do not die find themselves in displacement camps, like 14-year-old Morsal. Like many of his comrades, Morsal suffers from panic attacks, aggressive behavior and hearing loss from airstrikes and explosions.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad’s father, Ali Hameed, details a time before the war and how his son had started working after graduating high school. He sadly continued to when his son left to join the Saudi coalition and then went missing. Some of the boys from Mohammad’s unit were able to flee and return home and the Houthis captured others. Mohammad was not part of either group.

Others like Hager, who had lost 180 men in his unit, were able to return home. By earning some money for his service, he was able to buy his family 10 cattle to restore their livelihood.

Relief Efforts

Coping with such traumatic events is extremely difficult for adults. However, the horrors are greater for children. Fortunately, The Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation developed eight rehabilitation centers across Yemen. As of 2019, it has helped 2,000 Yemeni child soldiers in psychological support and children’s rights education.

Internationally, the Child Protection and Children Friendly Spaces programs, initiatives of UNICEF, have given over 600,000 children psychosocial support through individual counseling, reading, cooperative games and family reunification, as of 2018 in Yemen.

Victim assistance is another crucial sector for children who have lost limbs. Such assistance is possible through Prosthesis and Rehabilitation centers in Yemen for children with disabilities as a result of the war. These centers receive support from the International Committee of the Red Cross. In just 2019, they have been able to provide over 1.1 million Yemenis emergency care in 18 hospitals that the IRC supports, and given food, essential home supplies, cash grants and access to clean water to 5.7 million Yemenis.

Broadly focused groups like War Child, working in North and South Yemen, have offered assistance to more than 30,000 children and families. War Child provides psychosocial support through coping mechanisms for trauma, recreational activities and legal support to enable school enrollment. Through school restoration and cash assistance to families, it is able to provide better futures for children.

Supporting these groups and others, vital for long-term recovery, is essential to nurturing the Yemeni child soldiers who have fallen victim to this waging war and the millions of civilians in the entire region suffering from starvation, displacement and great loss.

– Mizla Shrestha
Photo: Flickr

Famine Action Mechanism
The World Bank has discovered a new approach to helping the 124 million people currently affected by crisis-levels of food insecurity: artificial intelligence.

Three international organizations: the World Bank, the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have partnered with three of the world’s largest tech giants: Microsoft, Google and Amazon, in a joint initiative to preemptively address world hunger. The result? It’s called the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM).

What is Famine Action Mechanism?

Launched by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on September 23, 2018, in New York, the Famine Action Mechanism seeks to improve international food aid through famine prevention, preparedness and early action. FAM is being created to augment the capability of existing warning systems to effectively distribute aid prior to the emergence of famine. This is being done through the establishment of official procedures that connect early warnings with financing and implementation.

With the cooperation of humanitarian development organizations, tech companies, academia, the insurance sector and, of course, international organizations, this collaborative effort hopes to see success through the investment of a wide variety of stakeholders.

While other forms of famine prediction, like Famine Early Warning Systems Network started by USAID in 1985, already exist, it lacks the ability to give real-time data and requires the hard work of hundreds of employees.

If successful, the Famine Action Mechanism will be the first quantitative modeling process using an algorithm to calculate food security in real time.

Hope is high for executives at Google and Microsoft who have seen the humanitarian power of technology firsthand. Advanced technologies have already proven effective in helping farmers to identify the disease in cassava plants as well as keeping cows healthier and more productive. President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, has expressed that artificial intelligence holds huge promise in forecasting early signs of food shortages.

How is FAM going to be implemented?

Famine Action will be implemented through four steps:

  1. Early warning systems. Microsoft, Google and Amazon web services are coming together to develop a set of analytical models known as “Artemis” to predict cases of famine using artificial intelligence and machine learning that detect correlations between different risks. With more powerful early warnings and information in real time, this will allow aid agencies to create a faster response and preemptively halt escalating insecurity.
  2. Pre-arranged financing. Syncing the early warning system with pre-determined finances helps to prevent food insecurity because it secures funding before a situation devolves into a crisis. The financing for this program is not only set to tackle the immediate symptoms of poverty and famine but also help the community to build safety nets and coping skills to encourage local development in hopes of preventing repetition in the future.
  3. Increasing resource efficiency. The Famine Action Mechanism plans to partner its resources with existing systems to reinforce the most effective and efficient efforts that are already working on the ground. This way, it will be producing a joint response system with the organizations involved with the program.
  4. Stressing preventative and preparedness approach to global famine crises. International Organizations like the U.N. and World Bank are redefining their approach to food insecurity, poverty and famine, making a proactive system of action rather than reactive aid a top priority of their efforts.

Isn’t Famine Pretty Easy to Predict?

While seemingly slow to take place, the cause of famine, defined as a daily hunger-related death rate that exceeds 2 per 10,000 people, is extremely complex.

The usual suspects of food insecurity like drought and crop production aren’t always the forces that bring a community to famine. Other factors like political instability, inflation or a natural disaster have the potential to significantly alter a community’s food supply. Additionally, nine of the last 10 major famines were triggered by conflict and war.

The uncertainty around when and how an undernourished community shifts into a crisis of famine adds to the importance of preemptive action for food insecurity and the demonstrated need for the Famine Action Mechanism.

Hunger in the World Today

After years of progress on decreasing hunger in the world, we have backtracked on those advancements with more than 820 million undernourished people in 2017. Approximately 155 million children will see the effects of stunting for their entire lives due to chronic malnourishment as well as a reduction of up to 13 percent of their lifetime income. Additionally, last year in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan, more than 20 million people faced famine or near crisis levels of food insecurity.

One in nine people in the world today do not have enough to eat, but that does not mean we cannot get back on track. Not only can early response to famine result in saved lives and decreased suffering, but it is also cost effective. The World Bank predicts that an earlier response rate can reduce humanitarian costs up to 30 percent.

In 2017, the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged to have zero tolerance toward famine, and in the declaration of this program that pledge has been renewed. In the eyes of the United Nations, the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development means ending hunger everywhere for everyone.

To conclude, in the words of Mr. Guterres: “Crisis prevention saves lives. We need to put cutting-edge technology to full use, in the service of all humankind in order to feed everyone in our world and to leave no one behind.”

– Sara Andresen
Photo: Flickr

World TB Day
Every year on March 24, World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is observed all around the world. World TB Day is an official global health campaign marked by the World Health Organization (WHO). The day is meant to bring awareness and response to Tuberculosis around the world.

The event commemorates the date that Dr. Robert Koch discovered Mycobacterium Tuberculosis in 1882. This is the bacteria that causes Tuberculosis. Thanks to modern medicine, Tuberculosis is now treatable and even curable, though it remains widespread through most of the world.

History of World TB Day

In 1982, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) proposed that March 24 should be World TB Day. This was in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Dr. Koch’s discovery. However, World TB Day was not officially recognized by the World Health Organization and United Nations until 1995.

Meetings, conferences and programs are being conducted around the world in support of the day. The goal of World TB Day is to not only spread awareness about what the disease does but also about how to prevent, treat and cure Tuberculosis. Many global health organizations have supported and promoted World TB Day since its installment, including the World Health Organization, the National Association of Country and City Health Officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Goals of 2018

On March 24, 2018, the world observed its twenty-fourth World TB Day. The day outlined the international medical goals for this year and beyond. This year’s theme was, “Wanted: Leaders For a TB-Free World.” The World Health Organization is planning to completely eradicate Tuberculosis all over the world. However, that means putting a heavier stance on treatment and prevention methods, both of which will be a heavy influence in this year’s campaign.

The goal is to mobilize political and social movements about Tuberculosis and make further commitments toward eliminating the disease. A full set of campaign material and content about the 2018 day became available March 1 on the website for the Stop TB Partnership.

The Global Goal

As of 2018, Tuberculosis is still the world’s leading infectious killer. It is the cause of over one million deaths worldwide every year. The Stop TB Partnership has three main goals associated with World TB Day:

  1. By 2020, at least 90 percent of the people afflicted with Tuberculosis will have access to proper treatments and therapies.
  2. By 2030, end the current Tuberculosis epidemic.
  3. By 2035, completely eradicate the disease on a global level.

The partnership hopes to create a healthy future for the next and continued generations. By raising awareness about Tuberculosis, many global health organizations can increase funding for proper medical treatments in impoverished areas. Leaders and medical professionals still have a long way to go before people will be able to live in a completely Tuberculosis free world.

As medical advancements are escalated, diseases also escalate. Tuberculosis has mutated into many multi-drug-resistant strains, making prevention harder. In impoverished countries, where they have little to no advanced medicine, prevention and treatment are nearly impossible.

However, advancements toward the Stop TB Partnership’s goals have already started and will continue. The awareness and knowledge spread by World TB Day can slowly help move the world toward a disease-free future.

– Courtney Wallace

Photo: Flickr

Rebuilding in West MosulIt has been nine months since Iraqi forces have taken back the city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and East Mosul has begun to come back to life. However, while men and women enjoy the pleasures of their new freedom, West Mosul is still recovering just a short two miles away.

Up until ISIL forces had a foothold in Mosul, al-Qaida terrorized the city with kidnappings and killings. Then in 2014, Mosul was taken by ISIL forces and declared a caliphate. Beginning in late 2016, Iraqi forces began to work to take back the city. It took nine long months of lives lost and neighborhoods destroyed to finally declare victory over ISIL on both sides of Mosul on July 9th, 2017. However, East Mosul was liberated much easier than West Mosul across the Tigris River, which was left devastated and has not yet been able to recover.

Obvious evidence of the fighting still lingers. The main bridges connecting East to West Mosul, for example, have been replaced by floating bridges since U.S. airstrikes destroyed them in order to stop ISIL forces from escaping. Furthermore, the once picturesque skyline has been fractured into pieces; shattered rooftops and buildings scorched black are now common throughout the city. Electricity and running water are still not available in West Mosul and many residents have attempted to dig wells in order to repair their damaged homes.

Since the devastation, many public services have gone by the wayside, one of the most important being schools. While some schooling is available in refugee camps for internally displaced Iraqis, some children have decided to instead stay home and help their families, like Ahmed Abdelsatter. His family lost their home in the fighting and the 17-year-old has now become the breadwinner, selling ice cream in a refugee camp. Along with the fact that many children are preoccupied with family issues, the makeshift schools lack teachers, supplies and books, making education even more different to access.

Thankfully, just last month, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that the first major delivery of aid made it to West Mosul. ICRC has aimed to reach 64,000 citizens of West Mosul that have been severely impacted by the fighting.

While this brings promise, others from East Mosul have suggested fixing the roads from the two parts of the city in order for the people to begin “rebuilding themselves.” These are just the early stages of what will be a long fight in rebuilding the entire city of Mosul. Hopefully, with the help of both international and local organizations, West Mosul’s skyline will transform back to its pre-2014 days, and Mosul can once again be whole.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

global_conflict

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), recently warned the public that the consistent growth of several regional conflicts has encumbered the organizations efficacy in responding to such global crises.

Noting that the operational budget of the ICRC has surged by nearly 50% in only the last three years, Maurer cited the “extraordinary period” of persistent humanitarian emergencies as the leading cause for such large increases in operational costs.

Maurer also stated that the inability of diplomatic and government officials to secure political resolutions for the ongoing violent conflicts within the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe led the ICRC to spend an additional $1.1 billion last year in efforts to strengthen their global response to such crises.

Referring specifically to the failure of diplomatic talks within the embattled country of Syria, Maurer questioned, “Isn’t it a bit of a symbol that high-quality negotiators have not been able to move anything significant in the Syrian context?”

Maurer has openly contemplated how the failure of such negotiations has resulted in a “striking absence” of political progress towards ending the current “proxy war” within Syria, a region which has been strife with conflict since civil war broke out in 2011.

Physicians for Human Rights, a healthcare monitoring agency, reported last year that within Syria, a healthcare worker was killed at least every other day and a medical facility was attacked at least every four days. This report highlights the increasing prevalence of violent attacks towards medical personnel and facilities, and has caused Maurer to publicly express warnings for the future of humanitarian aid delivery.

In regards to the increased prevalence of regional conflicts in recent years, Maurer explained, “The international system is having difficulty getting to grips with those conflicts; countries have difficulty moving to consensus on how to deal with those crises.

He continued in stating, “That seems to open spaces for disorder and conflict and we have those dynamics–which may be distinct and different in each and every country–but together they nevertheless refer us to an international system that does not seem to have international institutions with the ability to negotiate solutions to conflicts or to the big, increasing and accelerating impact of crises. Basically, it increases the necessity for us to respond.”

In a recent speech delivered to the ICRC entitled Ethical Principles of Health Care in Times of Armed Conflict and Other Emergencies, Maurer discussed the adverse effects of violent regional conflicts on the success of his organization’s initiatives and operations.

He pointed toward the increasing commonality of assaults on medical facilities, workers, and patients often observed in conflict zones as concerning developments. Such violence significantly compromises the efficacy of aid delivery by the ICRC and similar agencies, and diminishes the overall impact of organizations working to improve healthcare infrastructure within developing regions.

The Health in Danger Project, a collaborative effort formed by the ICRC and Red Crescent Movement in 2011, reported earlier this year that between January 2012 and December 2014 over 2,000 attacks were conducted against healthcare facilities and initiatives. The attacks resulted in at least 500 healthcare personnel being killed. The association of such dangers with healthcare programs in developing regions is complicating the efforts of many organizations to increase community participation, as many residents affected by the violence fear the possibility of facing arrest, harassment, assault or death.

– James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, International Committee of the Red Cross
Photo: The Guardian