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Residents of GomaOn May 22, 2021, Mount Nyiragongo erupted close to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Goma. The active volcano’s worst eruption was in 1977, a catastrophe that left more than 600 people dead. Nyiragongo’s volcanic activities have ignited fear in the residents of Goma who are already enduring the impacts of poverty stemming from years of civil war in the country.

The 2021 Volcanic Eruption

The Goma Volcano Observatory is responsible for monitoring the Mount Nyiragongo volcano. However, ever since the World Bank cut its funding in 2020, the observatory “lacked the funding, resources and infrastructure necessary to closely observe the volcano and forecast major eruptions.” From October 2020 to April 2021, the observatory did not have an internet connection “to conduct comprehensive seismic checks on Nyiragongo.” Due to a lack of forecasting ability, the observatory could not predict the eruption and warn residents to evacuate.

Following a government directive, after the eruption, the residents of Goma were evacuated in the thousands. Villagers who lived close to the city of Goma fled to the city center. The lava flowing out of the mountain’s crater threatened access to the airport in Goma and one of the main roads, further limiting evacuation routes.

The Devastation of the Eruption

According to ReliefWeb, the eruption resulted in about 30 deaths and almost half a million people were left without access to water due to damaged water infrastructure. Without proper water sources, people are prone to infectious water-borne diseases. Some citizens were burned by the lava and others experienced asphyxiation from volcanic gases. ReliefWeb reported that about “415,700 people have been displaced across several localities in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and across the border in Rwanda.” Aside from the destruction of infrastructure that occurred, people converging in large numbers to evacuate heightened the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Positive Impact of Organizations

Despite the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption, various groups were quick in their response, preventing further disaster. ReliefWeb provided frequent updates on the situation, enabling organizations and individuals to take precautionary and calculated steps during evacuation.

The UNHCR was among the first organizations to respond to the volcanic eruption in Goma. The organization, in collaboration with others, looked to aid the displaced in Goma by providing shelter and relief items. Reduced funding significantly impacted these efforts. Nevertheless, the UNHCR provided “soap, blankets, solar lamps, plastic sheeting and sleeping mats to 435 vulnerable families,” in the Congolese town of Sake. The UNHCR also established four shelters to temporarily house more than 400 displaced people in Sake. On June 7, 2021, the prime minister of the DRC “announced the progressive return of displaced people to Goma.”

Residents of Goma Return Home

Displaced citizens have gradually returned to resettle in Goma. In early June 2021, the prime minister of the DRC spearheaded the phased return of thousands of people as seismic activity reduced considerably. The government provided buses to help people return to Goma. The government also declared the airport safe for landing, which further facilitated the delivery of international humanitarian aid.

Slowly, the city is returning to normalcy. Businesses are reopening and vendors are back on the streets of the city. The groups of people who took refuge in Rwanda also returned. Thousands of people have returned home to rebuild their lives and reconstruct the areas destroyed by lava flow.

Even in unprecedented natural disasters, organizations can help to avert worst-case scenarios. From the volcanic eruption, it is clear to see how funding cuts can lead to severe consequences. The situation has emphasized the importance of funding to the Goma Volcano Observatory and the significance of early warning systems.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela 
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has been significant in regard to food security and medical care, but food shortages and malnutrition were already rampant between 2015 and 2017 in Venezuela. By the end of 2018, wholesale prices doubled nearly every 19 days due to inflation. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans migrated in search of more stability and opportunity.

In response to these issues, Venezuelans protested against the authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro, in 2019. The outbreak of protests demanded a new constitution addressing issues related to economic instability and medical care. Then, on March 13, 2020, the first COVID-19 case occurred in Venezuela.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Venezuela, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 250,309 confirmed cases and 2,814 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela compounded on preexisting humanitarian issues of economic instability, health and food insecurity. In response, nonprofit organizations and international government organizations began providing aid to people in vulnerable situations in Venezuela.

Life Before the Pandemic

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, Venezuela’s economy experienced a debt of higher than $150 billion. In addition, the GDP shrunk by roughly two-thirds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to this, Venezuela experienced the highest poverty rates in Latin America, affecting 96% of the people. These issues resulted in a lack of essential products such as medical care, potable water, food and gasoline.

Health Security in Venezuela

In the past five years, over 50% of doctors and nurses emigrated from Venezuela to escape economic instability. This is according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A declining health system was unable to provide aid for infectious disease, malnutrition and infant mortality. As a result, the spread of COVID-19 resulted in heavily populated hospitals with minimal resources.

Without adequate pay and protection for medical professionals, as well as a shortage of potable water and protective medical gear, Venezuela’s hospitals experienced difficulty in responding to COVID-19. According to WHO, around 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases resulted in death. WHO predicts this number to be much higher in Venezuela. This is because the country’s hospitals lack basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds and respirators.

In response to these issues, the National Academy of Medicine in Venezuela, a politically independent medical organization, sought to reduce the impact of the pandemic on existing health care systems. The Academy made a request to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, on May 2, 2021, for the U.S. to add Venezuela to its international donor list for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations. Venezuela already received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia.

However, the National Academy of Venezuela stated that to control the pandemic, the country needs to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccines they received represent less than 10% of what Venezuela needs.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

At the end of 2020, with exports at a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, food inflation rose to 1,700%, resulting in a significant increase in food prices. As a result of inflation and international sanctions, the WFP also projected that Venezuela will experience a slow recovery to intensifying humanitarian issues, including food insecurity.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has resulted in 65% of families experiencing the inability to purchase food because of the hyperinflation of food products and inadequate income. In order to survive while experiencing food shortages, families in Venezuela reduced the variety of food and portion sizes of meals.

However, those in vulnerable positions, such as children, pregnant women, those with preexisting health conditions and the elderly, experienced malnutrition because of the inability to meet nutritional needs. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that one of every three people in Venezuela is food insecure. During the pandemic, those experiencing food insecurity continued to increase. The U.N. reported that prior to the pandemic, one in four elderly people, a demographic that maintained the majority of wealth in Venezuela, skipped meals. During the pandemic, more than four in 10 have been skipping meals.

Humanitarian Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela

In 2020, the U.N. developed the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks to provide 4.5 million adults and children throughout Venezuela with access to humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA. The plan requires $762.5 million to provide health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, shelter and educational support. The plan carries out objectives of providing emergency relief, improving access to basic services and providing protection for the most vulnerable in Venezuela, especially during the pandemic.

Over 129 humanitarian organizations, including agencies associated with the U.N., will implement the Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela. It has already responded to emergency relief to COVID-19 and led to the return of tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, according to OCHA.

Throughout 2020, the U.N. received $130 million in support of this Humanitarian Plan. This allows humanitarian organizations to reach 3.3 million vulnerable people in Venezuela with basic necessities. This will include humanitarian assistance, per OCHA’s report. Additionally, the Plan allowed for 1.4 million people to receive humanitarian assistance in response to COVID-19.

The global pandemic and humanitarian issues are continuing in Venezuela, leading to a necessity for improved food security and medical care. As a result, throughout 2020, the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations, increased their presence in Venezuela. They will continue to encourage additional humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Disability and Poverty in AfghanistanEvery day, people all throughout Afghanistan face not only the public health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic but also a lack of accessibility to food, employment and a sense of stability. A study by Jean-Francois Trani and Washington University in St. Louis discussed how challenges like these may lead to both increased poverty and increased disability. They also identified how disability and poverty may overlap or compound the suffering of individuals. Here is some information about the link between disability and poverty in Afghanistan.

Challenges for Children in Afghanistan

In an environment with varying challenges, illness, injury, neglect and malnourishment can lead to lifelong health concerns and disability for children. Likewise, the chronic stress of struggling to sustain the life of a family in the midst of violence and trauma may also lead to debilitating psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. This is the crisis of disability and poverty in Afghanistan.

Mothers and grandmothers like Haji Rizva (only identified by the first name for her safety), struggle to feed their children. She thinks specifically of her 18-month-old granddaughter, Parvana, who had been constantly vomiting and too weak to move for days. “We didn’t have enough to feed her,” Haji Rizva told NPR while waiting in the ward for malnourished children at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. “Sometimes we only have tea for two, three days. We don’t even have bread.”

Around the same time, and in the same city, fathers like Kahn Wali Kamran told the Associated Press that they fear finding their young children dead when they return home from work each day. With a surge in large bombings, targeted killings and other forms of crime (including armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom), the future appears increasingly dangerous and uncertain.

The Link Between Disability and Poverty in Afghanistan

The Asia Foundation studies suggest that 17% of Afghan citizens suffer from some form of disability and 8.9% have severe impairments and are dependent on others. Additionally, after decades of uninterrupted conflict, the Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) noted that despite the lack of comprehensive study and measurement of mental health in such a volatile region, it conservatively estimated that more than half of the population suffers from some form of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Halfway across the world, Trani’s 2012 study examining the links between poverty and disability using data from Afghanistan and Zambia has become relevant once again. The study noted that it is logical that disabled individuals may be more likely to be poor, as they have a higher cost of living, and a diminished ability to perform certain tasks, especially those they may require for employment. People with PTSD may be unable to complete tasks, communicate effectively and stay calm, making it harder to acquire and maintain employment. However, poverty and disability as concepts are difficult to define, as they both take many dimensions into consideration.

Defining Poverty

Generally, the amount of income a household earns determines poverty status, and what necessary commodities that the family in that household would be able to acquire. However, because all households have different needs and expenses, this is an unreliable measurement. Instead, the capability to live in a state of well-being, and have a reasonable life expectancy, quality nourishment and shelter, basic education and access to health care should be factors when considering poverty. Trani noted that low income is a cause of poverty, not the definition of poverty. In this way, violence, too, is a cause of poverty, and so is disability.

This creates an unforgiving cycle that allows both poverty and disability to increase in prevalence. When a person is in poverty, like Kamran or Haji Rizva, they are unable to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. Without proper shelter and protection, Kamran’s children are more likely to suffer severe injury, potentially leading to lifelong physical disability. Likewise, without proper nutrition, Parvana and other kids like her are less likely to grow and develop properly leading to weakened muscles, bones and organ systems. Poverty, in this case, causes injury. Injury then causes disability. This lowers employment opportunities, causing disabled individuals to fall further into poverty, putting them at greater risk of traumatic stress, further injury and other sufferings. This is the cycle of poverty and disability that has captured Afghanistan for decades.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan

Fortunately, OCHA has recently updated its ongoing Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan to take greater action to help marginalized groups through the violence and the pandemic.

“Given the scale of vulnerability in Afghanistan, this effort will be guided by a range of both new and well-established technical working groups focused on gender, disability inclusion, gender-based violence (GBV), child protection, accountability to affected people (AAP) and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA)” wrote Parvathy Ramaswani in the plan’s updated introduction.

OCHA Measures

The efforts in regards to the pandemic will be largely consistent with others around the world, introducing sanitation protocols and vaccine distribution to the best of their ability, as reducing the spread of the pandemic will naturally provide relief to people caught in the poverty-disability cycle. As in developed countries, people with preexisting conditions are much more likely to develop complications from COVID-19 like pneumonia, infection and organ system failure. This could affect various disabilities that people develop from genetic conditions, malnutrition, previous infections and other injuries. Physical disability is quite prevalent in Afghanistan, so complications and deaths are also a greater concern than in some other areas.

From a psychiatric disability standpoint, the response plan is more targeted, directing resources and funding to local hospitals and clinics to seek out trauma patients who have not received adequate treatment prior to 2021. “With the volatile security situation creating higher trauma needs and associated disabilities, secondary trauma care continues to be a critical need,” the report noted. OCHA will continue to monitor the mental health of citizens closely through 2021, trying to care for those it missed in previous psychiatric treatment initiatives.

Help is on the way for people like Haji Rizva and Kamran, to prevent them and their children from developing new health concerns or complications from COVID-19. The OCHA response plan aims to reach 86% or more of the existing disabled population in Afghanistan.

– Anika Ledina
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PovertyGuatemala is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, with an indigenous population that has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Indigenous groups make up more than 40% of Guatemala’s population, which equates to more than 6.5 million people. Poverty rates average 79% among indigenous groups, with 35% suffering from food insecurity.

COVID-19 Exacerbates Indigenous Poverty in Guatemala

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the suffering of indigenous Guatemalans. Not only have indigenous families been pushed further into poverty, but reports of gender-based and intrafamily violence, murders and child pregnancies have also increased during Guatemala’s stay-at-home orders, which were intended to control the spread of COVID-19. The only exception to note is that there has been a drop in violent crime since lockdowns were imposed.

Child labor rates have increased, which is a concern since a child’s education is their channel to achieve social mobility and is key to reducing poverty. At the start of the lockdown, remote learning was promoted. However, less than 30% of Guatemala’s population has internet access. Only 21% of the population has access to a computer. In effect, COVID-19 is widening the economic gap between the indigenous population and those in urban Guatemala.

OCHA, the United Nations emergency aid coordination body, reported in April 2020 that seasonal hunger rates have worsened in eastern Guatemala due to lockdown measures. Compared to a year ago, health ministry figures point out that acute malnutrition cases in the department of Chiquimula increased by roughly 56%.

Oxfam Assists Guatemala

Oxfam, a confederation working to alleviate global poverty, has been on the ground in Guatemala, delivering food, sanitary and medical products, particularly to Guatemala’s indigenous communities.  However, Oxfam is working a little differently than in the past due to COVID-19 measures. Instead of risking the spread of the virus by sending outside people in, Oxfam is employing local Guatemalans by transferring credit to their phones and having them collect and distribute two months’ worth of necessary goods to those requiring assistance.

Insufficient Governmental Support

Guatemala’s government offers little help to relieve the effects of COVID-19 in its rural zones. In 2017, a study by the Guatemalan health ministry reported that the government spends fractions of its health budget in its rural zones compared to its wealthiest, urban cities.

The United States has increased its level of deportations under COVID-19-related regulations, leading Guatemala to trace 20% of its infections to those returnees. With the lack of governmental support and social safety nets, many poor Guatemalans are looking to flee the country.

Hopes for an Inclusive Society

Although the indigenous in Guatemala are creating their own solutions, using traditional knowledge and practices to contain COVID-19, the Guatemalan government must treat its indigenous population equally and include those who have been historically excluded by implementing strategies and operations to prevent and contain COVID-19 as well as alleviate its indigenous poverty rates overall.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Crisis in the SahelThe Sahel region of Africa is south of the dry Sahara and north of the humid Sudanian savanna. This tropical, semiarid zone consists of a band of 10 countries and spans 5,900 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. People living in this region have suffered instability and unrest due to issues such as terrorism, climate change and food insecurity. Moreover, COVID-19 has only intensified these problems. Here are five facts to know about the crisis in the Sahel:

5 Facts About the Crisis in the Sahel

  1. Violence in the region is on the rise. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported that militant, Islamist group activity and violence in the western Sahel escalated since the middle of 2017, growing nearly seven-fold. Due to inadequate governance and intercommunal violence, 4,404 fatalities were recorded west of Sahel compared with the 770 deaths in 2016. Terrorist attacks forced displacement upon 900,000 people in Burkina Faso alone, where 516 violent attacks occurred in the past three years. Meanwhile, a disputed election and a coup following months of protests currently corrupt conflict-ridden Mali. The region harbors 3.1 million refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and people at risk of statelessness.
  2. Widespread hunger is becoming an increasingly prominent threat. Humanitarian organizations warn of a hunger pandemic in the Sahel. As food insecurity and malnutrition rates continue to soar rapidly, more than 12 million people already lack access to food. Around 10 million additional children could suffer from acute malnutrition and 3 million from protein-energy starvation, due to the exacerbating effects of COVID-19. The U.N. predicts that 5.5 million people will lack access to sufficient food by the end of the year in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
  3. Accessibility to education is declining. School closures affect more than 2.2 million children in the Sahel. In March, 11,500 schools closed or were rendered nonoperational. This left 71 million children without access to education. Although various schools closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown procedures, some institutions forced students out. The forced dispelling, due to attacks and threats from extremists.
  4. Climate change is endangering the country’s physical and economic well-being. A steep environmental decline through rapid desertification, deforestation and water shortages is currently threatening Africa’s Sahel region. Climate changes are causing drought and widespread crop failures in the region. As a consequence, there is a forcible displacement of millions of rural people as they move toward the coasts in search of fertile, farming land.
  5. Uncontrolled population growth is pressuring the region’s resources. Extraordinary population growth challenges the Sahel region. The population in the region will approximately double within 30 years. In some countries, the growth potential is even greater. Niger, for example, could triple the number of its inhabitants in 35–40 years. Moreover, due to high fertility rates and the youngest age structure in the world, many terrorist groups see an opportunity in exploiting the plentiful supply of youth in the Sahel.

A Global Commitment to Change

Due to the displacement crisis in the Sahel, 24 million people — with half of those being children — urgently need access to essential health services. According to OCHA, $2.8 billion would effectively provide aid to these impoverished individuals in the Sahel. An extra $638 million would adequately mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in the region. The $2.8 million investment would help increase employment and political stability. Furthermore, it would assist refugees and implement new and ongoing programs in the Sahel.

France and the G5 (the five Sahel countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) held a meeting to acknowledge the crisis. The main issues being, instability and terrorist threats pervading the Sahel. The participants committed to a strategy that focuses on combating terrorism and creating sustainable change through institutional reform.

A Final Outlook

The Sahel is the most impoverished region globally and faces challenges from persistent threats. Additionally, COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate previous issues and is estimated to forcibly displace 1 million people across the Sahel region. One surefire way that the Sahel will steadily improve is through support from the U.S. and other nations to fund programs for more effective governance, healthcare and education.

– Isabella Thorpe
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Djibouti
The Republic of Djibouti is a small country situated in the Horn of Africa between Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. The nation is home to nearly one million Djiboutians today, and as many as 42% of them are living in poverty.

A Harsh Climate

The region’s harsh dry climate has exacerbated poverty in Djibouti, especially in rural areas where most practice nomadic farming. While one-third of the population tends to livestock, farming only represents 3% of the annual GDP in Djibouti. Unprofitable farming means Djiboutians rely on imports for nearly 90% of their food and are heavily dependent on variable international market prices. Such dependence coupled with insufficient rains, long droughts and high unemployment rates put many farmers at risk of extreme poverty.

The Effects of Poverty in Djibouti

Though poverty rates are declining overall, over 70% of Djiboutians were still living on less than $5.50 a day as of 2017. This number is a result of limited gainful employment opportunities in the country.
Poverty in Djibouti results in malnutrition and food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme, as many as 7.5% of the country’s population was malnourished in 2016. According to the United Nations Center Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated one-third of the population is chronically food insecure, with 62% of those living in rural areas lacking consistent access to nutritious food and a sufficiently varied diet.

Government Investments in the Fight Against Poverty

The Djiboutian government under President Guelleh has been working to provide relief to its impoverished citizens since 2003. The Guelleh administration passed both “the Strategic Document for Reducing the Poverty (SDRP) in 2003 and the National Initiative for Social Development (NISD) in 2007” to enhance entrepreneurship opportunities for Djiboutians. However, such efforts were unsuccessful in reducing the high unemployment rate and addressing poverty in Djibouti.
Despite the high rates of poverty in Djibouti, the Djiboutian government is cautiously optimistic that it can create jobs and pull its people out of famine. The country’s GDP continues to grow steadily on the back of foreign investments, increasing by nearly 6.8% in 2018. The Republic of Djibouti is of particular interest to China, who is interested in making the country a customs-free zone, harnessing its available natural resources such as salt and energy, and developing tourism services.

 

The Djiboutian government is also investing heavily in developing hydroelectric, port and railway infrastructure in the hopes of lifting its people out of poverty. These investments show that the country is interested in moving toward more of a transport and shipping economy, using its proximity to the Gulf of Aden to assert itself as a crucial trading partner in the Horn of Africa. These efforts to diversify its economy intended to provide new opportunities to Djiboutians to earn living wages, provide food for their families and lift themselves out of poverty.

 

To encourage entrepreneurship and continue to push the fight against poverty in Djibouti, the Guelleh administration also laid out the Vision Djibouti 2035 plan in 2014 and the Accelerated Growth Strategy and Promotion of Employment (SCAPE) in 2015. The long-term strategic framework in Vision Djibouti 2035 intends to push to the country toward emerging status by 2035, while the five-year plan laid out in SCAPE aims to provide relief in the short term. Among its many lofty goals, SCAPE outlines how the government intends to provide financial support to those working in agriculture and livestock, create infrastructure for economic valuation in important growth sectors like tourism and resource mining, speed up job creation to help Djiboutians find gainful employment and reduce extreme poverty in Djibouti by 20%.

 

Djibouti faces significant challenges as it grapples with poverty. However, there is hope. Through fruitful symbiotic partnerships with foreign powers like China and effective strategizing, the government hopes that poverty in Djibouti will be a thing for its history books by 2035.

Riddhi Bhattacharya
Photo: Flickr


The news of the ugly, modern warfare occurring in Syria is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the problem of Syria’s civil war. Despite obstacles, many agencies are doing their best to get humanitarian aid to civilians. In particular, USAID helps Syria by funding many organizations within the United Nations (U.N.), through non-government organizations (NGOs), and its own programs. Here are six specific groups that USAID helps fund.

6 Ways USAID Helps Syria

  1. USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART): DART currently has teams deployed to Turkey and Jordan. They are on standby in case of a sudden and large-scale displacement of Syrian refugees, or for any other humanitarian needs caused by the conflict in Syria.
  2. USAID/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA): USAID/OFDA funds U.N. and NGO sponsored programs. This department has helped provide medical care to Syrians by helping the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has been able to evacuate patients out of conflict zones, as well as identify and vaccinate against a recent measles outbreak. USAID/OFDA also funded NGOs to train Syrian medical staff, provide medical supplies, and vaccinate against polio.
  3. The Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM): USAID is funding the U.N. World Food Program and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which have been able to report on food and crop security in Syria. The CFSAM report shows that less food is being produced in Syria. With this information, the U.N. is able to respond with appropriate food deliveries.
  4. The World Food Programme (WFP): USAID gave $79,812,417 to the WFP’s work in Syria during the 2016 fiscal year. This does not include the funding given to the WFP for use in neighboring countries. In January, the WFP delivered food to 3.6 million people in Syria. The WFP has also given food assistance to conflict-isolated people in the Jordan-Syrian border towns. Finally, the WFP has given more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees food vouchers on debit cards.
  5. The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF): UNICEF is helping in Syria and in neighboring countries. Within Syria, UNICEF is bringing six million liters of water daily. This is estimated to help 400,000 people in the country. UNICEF is helping Syrian refugees as well. Last November and December, they provided $28 clothing vouchers for Syrian refugee children in Jordan to buy winter clothing. These vouchers were given to 128,430 Syrian children. UNICEF is also offering psychosocial support to Syrian refugee children in Turkey. In January, they helped 7,200 children. UNICEF is also helping refugees by providing social services.
  6. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): The U.N. organization, OCHA, received $3,000,000 from USAID in the 2016 fiscal year. As a result, OCHA has been able to present reports on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. As a result of this important work, the world now knows if humanitarian aid is able to get into Syria, citizens are impacted by aid disruptions and by the state of facilities and infrastructure throughout Syria.

While these examples are encouraging, Syria is still struggling to receive humanitarian aid being offered. In many cases, battles between the al-Assad regime and the rebel forces prevent aid workers from reaching citizens. In some cases, the Islamic State has deliberately blocked aid organizations from repairing infrastructure.

Yet, the world is persistent and continues to fund humanitarian aid to Syria. USAID helps Syria in even more ways than are listed here. Also, the USAID website implores people to donate to NGO’s working in Syria.

It’s dispiriting to watch what unfolds in Syria and hard to imagine how Americans can help. Another way we can help is to tell Congress to support the USAID budget. As few as seven calls from constituents have been known to impact the legislation that a congressman or senator supports.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Photo: Flickr

Lessens Food Insecurity

On March 4, the U.N. released a $5 million grant to benefit approximately 108,000 Congolese citizens as part of a three-year aid plan. Dubbed the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), it is an initiative from multiple aid agencies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The HRP is designed to concentrate on the basic needs, including the reduction of food insecurity for 6.7 million people in the DRC.

The DRC has been embroiled in clashes for nearly 20 years. The situation disintegrated even further in August 2016, when rebel militia leader Kamwina Nsapu was killed by government forces. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that at least 400 people were killed in the DRC in the backlash from that assassination. Hundreds of thousands more were forced from their homes.

The Most Vulnerable

The vast number of people needing assistance has forced aid groups to operate on a triage basis. The OCHA estimates that four million people will experience malnutrition, with 3.5 million of them being children, and 847,000 people facing acute malnutrition.

To help mitigate the food insecurity in the DRC, the HRP requested $748 million over a period of three years. Unfortunately, the OCHA reported that the previous years’ request was only 60 percent funded.

Without full funding, aid agencies have been forced to concentrate on “the most vulnerable among the vulnerable.” The conflicts have forced some of these people to shelter in the bush. Often, they don’t have access to clean drinking water, food or basic health services.

Can Many Hands Make Light Work?

Despite the potential financial shortfall, hope lies ahead. There are many other partners and agencies involved in the effort to save lives and fight food insecurity in the DRC. In December 2016, OCHA joined forces with UNICEF, Action Contre la Faim and the Adventist Development Relief Agency (both NGOs) to battle the crisis. The European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) is also stepping up to address the situation in the DRC. They assist in regions affected by fighting and they respond to critical incidents surrounding epidemics and malnutrition.

UNAIDS representative Mamadou Diallo summarized the need for awareness and financial support to address food insecurity in the DRC: “It is imperative that appropriate attention is brought in support of those impacted by humanitarian crises regardless of where they happen. The humanitarian community is fully committed to responding and calls on donors to support the response activities.”

Although the $5 million grant from the U.N. is a far cry from OCHA’s $748 million target, hopefully it will galvanize other individuals and groups to support the DRC crisis.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Yemen
Last October, photos of an emaciated 18-year-old girl, Saida Ahmad Baghili, circulated the internet. A quick glance at this shocking photograph explains why the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) is pleading for $258 million, which would fund food assistance for the hunger in Yemen problem until January 2017.

The WFP warns that Yemen is on the brink of famine. The 19-month civil war aggravated the inherent poverty in Yemen and worsened malnutrition for thousands of individuals including Baghili. Before the war, Yemen already had the Arab world’s lowest GDP per capita and 45 percent of its population were malnourished.

Slowly Moving Imports

Additionally, before the war, Yemen imported 90 percent of its food. Now, ships carrying food find it difficult to enter the country’s ports.

Online newspaper The Intercept explains that the Saudi-led coalition has enforced air and sea blockades on rebel-held parts of Yemen since March. The coalition allows only U.N. supervised flights and aid shipments to enter the country.

With conflict escalating and a shortage of food in local markets, prices of basic foods have increased. At one point in time, the WFP’s market analysis stated that the national average price of wheat flour was 55 percent higher compared to the pre-crisis period, which affects the hunger in Yemen problem a great deal.

The blockades also threaten  fuel needs for water pumps and generators in hospitals. Doctors Without Borders states that the restrictions on imports severely hinders medical workers’ ability to treat patients. Many Yemeni like Baghili are dying from basic diseases that are easily treatable.

The Saudi coalition denies the accusations and says it was implementing U.N. resolutions that aim to prevent weapons and ammunitions. They explained that the coalition gives aid ships immediate and regular permits to reach Yemeni ports, pointing to the opposition’s black market as the cause of their “humanitarian catastrophe.”

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that in August 2016 significant delays were experienced. The report attributed the delays to reduced operational capacity. In Seleef’s port, two vessels waited for berth an average of 45 days. Since December 2015, average delays in ships entering ports have increased. This could be why the WFP estimates it takes four months from the time they receive funds for the food to reach families who need it.

A Community’s Response 

Alex Potter, a photojournalist based in Yemen, shares how the Yemeni community pours out support for each other: neighbors invite displaced people into their homes, wealthier Yemenis donate trucks of water and friends visit to help with daily tasks. She said, “In Yemen if you see your neighbor needs something, you always share.”

Yet the WFP issued an urgent statement that resources are running out. While they reached millions of people with emergency assistance in March and July, they were still forced to split rations between more families to meet the growing need throughout this problem of the hunger in Yemen.

Baghili’s photograph further highlights a shocking reality where a teenager’s parents lack the financial means to help their severely malnourished daughter. Baghili only received treatment when charitable people pooled their funds together so she could receive proper medical attention.

Many countries and people have answered WFP’s call.  Perhaps we too can become like the charitable people whose donations save the lives of those like Baghili.

Andy Jung

Photo: Flickr