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The Afghanistan CrisisIn early April 2021, the President of the United States Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. In the months following the announcement, increasing issues have plagued the Middle Eastern country. The resurgence of the Taliban and the rapid collapse of the Afghan army are examples. Over a few months, the Taliban aggressively took over parts of Afghanistan; at one point, it circled the capital of Kabul before taking over. In the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis, the country’s citizens are facing many challenges.

The U.S. spent 20 years and an estimated $83 billion to help build the Afghan army, not including larger costs to fight the war in Afghanistan overall. Both U.S. and Afghan soldiers worked to overthrow the Taliban government and stabilize the country.

Taking Over Afghanistan

When the U.S. completely withdrew its forces, the Taliban invaded and took over U.S. military bases that the Afghan army operated. The Taliban took over at least two-thirds of the country’s provincial capitals in the time it took for the U.S. to take out its troops.

The Taliban took advantage of the United States’ departure, and from the months of May and June, it began its conquest over the country. In those months, Afghanistan saw significant violence compared to the past two decades.

The Taliban started its attacks to take over the country in haste. It targeted the northern part of the country, maximizing its influence and existing strongholds. It had control over 50 of the 370 districts as of June 22.

“The Taliban contest or control an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of Afghan territory outside of urban centers, while also exerting direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centers,” said the U.N. report.

Consequences that the People are Facing

The Taliban gained more and more ground, seizing major cities all throughout the country. Its actions led to negative effects on the people who live in Afghanistan. Many abandoned their homes in fear of their lives. As the Taliban continued its conquest of the country, the people have been caught in the crossfire, even in attacks in major cities. Videos and photographs have emerged of insurgents going into people’s homes and lynching families, even taking the lives of children.

In the face of this, civilians tried to get out in any way they could. As they sought refuge anywhere they could in the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis, several countries gave them permission to enter and be safe behind their borders.

“The Taliban have been executing people summarily, they have been lashing women, they have been shutting down schools. they have blown up hospitals and infrastructure,” said former Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani in an interview with NPR.

Responses from Other Countries

The government of Canada has decreed that it will take in about 20,000 Afghan refugees into its country in the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis. This includes women leaders, government workers and others whose lives are in danger. Refugees will receive shelter and aid as they escape from a hostile environment. Even neighboring countries like Pakistan and Turkey have extended their hand in taking in civilians fleeing Afghanistan.

“The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking and Canada will not stand idly by,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in a news conference.

Despite the withdrawal, the United States, under the orders of President Biden, decided to aid Afghan in the face of the Taliban problem. This included intensified airstrikes to help counter the Taliban’s advance and assistance in evacuating diplomats from embassies amid the Taliban takeover.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

direct aid in El Salvador
On May 1, 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador removed the nation’s attorney general and all members of its Supreme Court. This sudden action sparked concern regarding the separation of powers in El Salvador’s government, with human rights organizations viewing it as a power grab by the country’s president, Nayib Bukele. USAID acted on the concerns by pulling all foreign aid funding previously dispersed through the Salvadoran government. The funding is now promised as direct aid to El Salvador’s civil society groups. Direct aid in El Salvador will ensure the most vulnerable El Salvadorans receive the help needed.

USAID Projects in El Salvador

USAID’s most recent foreign aid projects in El Salvador are designed to address the root causes of migration from Latin America to the United States. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that set aside $4 billion to address immigration from the Northern Triangle countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The order states that improving livelihoods in these countries eliminates the need for migrants to flee to the United States. In May 2021, USAID launched an official Northern Triangle Task Force. The task force laid out a strategy for improving livelihoods by targeting three areas:

  1. Prosperity – USAID will fund economic development to prevent poverty in El Salvador. This strategy includes improving infrastructure, investing in higher-value industries to create job opportunities and fostering entrepreneurship. The Salvadoran organizations receiving aid to implement these programs are primarily private sector actors.
  2. Security – USAID will target crime and corruption as another root cause of migration. This strategy includes increasing government transparency and making justice systems more responsive to citizens’ needs. Originally, the governmental National Civil Police and Institute for Access to Public Information were involved with the implementation of USAID projects related to this target. However, the shift to direct aid requires non-governmental organizations in El Salvador to replace government actors.
  3. Governance – USAID aims to make governments in the Northern Triangle more effective at responding to citizens needs. This strategy includes increasing accountability for government spending, improving government delivery of services and promoting citizen engagement with democracy. Civil society is the main recipient of direct aid for this purpose.

Civil Society in El Salvador

Direct aid in El Salvador builds upon a preexisting robust civil society landscape. Civil society in El Salvador first rose to prominence in the 1960s by providing humanitarian services. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s saw the organizations taking on economic and social welfare work to replace overextended governments. The constitution of El Salvador protects the right of assembly and the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Development registers civil society organizations under that protection. Previous administrations promoted the creation and smooth functioning of civil society organizations. However, President Bukele mistrusts civil society organizations and his government stigmatizes them.

Civil society organizations previously received direct aid in El Salvador from USAID. In 2020, $7.5 million out of $60 million in USAID funding for El Salvador targeted improving governance and involving civil society. Experts had been lobbying for civil society organizations’ increased involvement with the distribution of aid long before President Bukele incited USAID’s action and many activists in Latin America praised USAID’s adjustment. Activists expressed hope that civil society organizations from other countries in the Northern Triangle would also secure larger roles in upcoming projects.

Strategy for El Salvador

While foreign aid from the United States circumvents the Salvadoran government, foreign policy officials continue to pressure the Bukele administration to restore the separation of powers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Costa Rica in June 2021 for an annual meeting with the member states of the Central American Integration System. During the gathering, Blinken met privately with the Salvadoran foreign minister to discuss the issue of aid. The Biden administration also decided to bypass the lengthy appointment process for an ambassador to El Salvador and instead sent former U.S. ambassador Jean Manes to El Salvador as charge d’affaires to handle diplomatic relations with El Salvador immediately.

While the programs in El Salvador that will receive direct aid are currently unspecified, the United States has successfully committed domestic private actors to invest in El Salvador. For example, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that Microsoft will give internet access to three million citizens in the Northern Triangle countries, including El Salvador. This demonstrates how private actors fulfill roles that governments traditionally perform, such as infrastructure expansion, when governments fail to provide services. USAID hopes to utilize civil society organizations to run similar programs for democratic reform in El Salvador.

Moving Forward

The Salvadoran government’s decision to remove its top judiciaries led USAID to retract its trust in the country’s government with regard to aid funding. USAID chose civil society organizations to receive aid instead and also set aside direct aid to further democratic reforms. Official plans for redirected aid funding have yet to be released, but U.S. government officials have historically seen success in engaging private actors in tasks that governments usually complete. As the United States continues to pressure the Salvadoran government to increase accountability, foreign aid to El Salvador fosters more civil society engagement.

Viola Chow
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Venezuela TPS ActVenezuela is currently experiencing “the second-largest migration crisis” in the world. More than five million people have fled the country in the past five years. Many Venezuelans look to the United States as a potential place of refuge to escape the extreme poverty in Venezuela. To help accommodate the refugees, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9) introduced H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. The bill will grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status (TPS) and other authorizations.

H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021

Introduced on January 4, 2021, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 is a bill that would make Venezuelan citizens eligible for temporary protected status, allowing refugees to stay, work and travel in the United States for 18 months from the date of legal enactment if the bill becomes law.

Many Venezuelan refugees had to completely abandon their old lives and seek out a better one without a plan in mind. With 96% of Venezuelans living in poverty, it is clear that there are very few opportunities left in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuelans need support and opportunities to succeed in a country that is not their own. On March 4, 2021, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for further review.

Accepting Refugees Benefits the US

The U.S. is currently experiencing labor shortages in low-skilled jobs in the wake of COVID-19. According to research from The Conference Board, 85% of companies in blue-collar industries are struggling with recruitment. These jobs range from factory work to service jobs with commercial fast food employers.

Venezuelan refugees are eager to work and earn money to provide for their families in essentially any role. Many U.S. citizens are not interested in such jobs and hold degrees that make them more suitable for the white-collar industry. However, most Venezuelan nationals would be more than willing to fulfill these roles. This allows the refugees to earn an income while also helping the U.S. reduce its labor shortages. In this way, the Venezuelan TPS Act will aid the U.S. economy while providing a path out of poverty for Venezuelans.

Federal Register TPS Notice

On March 9, 2021, the Federal Register posted a notice that Venezuela would be granted TPS for 18 months through September 9, 2022, just five days after Congress moved the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. President Biden granted this allowance as part of his campaign promises. This allowance makes 323,000 Venezuelan people eligible to receive the same entitlements expressed in the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021. The bill still remains alive in the House, however.

Columbia is a good example of an open-door refugee policy. Colombia has been a leader in the refugee crisis, granting TPS to Venezuelan refugees for up to 10 years. This has helped nearly two million Venezuelans in the process. It is important to realize that most Venezuelan refugees are not looking to permanently settle in a new country and would rather return to Venezuela once the country is no longer under the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro. In a survey conducted by GBAO, 79% of Venezuelan refugees said they would be likely to return to Venezuela if the president was replaced by “an opponent of the Maduro regime” and the economy improved.

Extended TPS for Venezuelans

An improved home country is likely going to take longer than 18 months given the scale of the crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. should grant Venezuela TPS for longer than 18 months. Making this change falls on the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship as the Subcommittee is responsible for deliberating and suggesting changes to the Venezuela TPS Act. Increasing the span of Venezuela’s TPS would grant more long-term stability to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees while providing the U.S. with its labor needs.

The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2021 ensures a better future for Venezuelan refugees. Amending the bill to match Colombia’s provision of 10 years of TPS for Venezuelan refugees will provide long-term protection and support as refugees await the end of the crisis in Venezuela in order to return home.

Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

Armenian Rugs SocietyBetween 1915 and 1923, thousands of Armenians were massacred in the Armenian genocide. Many Armenian communities now live around the world, with a significant presence in the United States. Committed to remembering the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Rugs Society has dedicated itself to supporting Armenians on a global scale. Through exhibitions of traditional woven arts and the implementation of social programs, the Society has been able to spread awareness of Armenian culture and educate the public on Armenian history.

The Armenian Genocide

During the 600-year reign of the Ottoman Empire, many ethnicities and religions were living within the controlled territories. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state and many non-Muslim minorities were subject to discrimination and persecution. Among these populations were Armenians who primarily followed Armenian Apostolic Christianity.

In the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire, including the modern-day territory of Armenia, underwent drastic political changes. The Ottoman Empire gave way to a Turkish nationalist movement called the Young Turks. The Young Turks aimed to attain a religiously Muslim and ethnically Turkish state. On April 24, 1915, Turkish officials corralled nearly 250 Armenian scholars, intellectuals and leaders with the express intent to execute. The Armenian genocide lasted until 1923 with an estimated 1.5 million Armenians massacred. Forced conversion to Islam occurred for the few ethnic Armenians who remained.

Armenian’s Today

As of 2019, an estimated three million Armenians inhabit Armenia. About seven million Armenians live in more than 100 countries around the world. In the 1970s, the United States saw a mass migration of Armenians from Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the former Soviet Union. In 2003, roughly 1.2 million Armenians lived in the U.S. due to the conflict and discrimination they experienced elsewhere.

San Fernando Valley in California is one community Armenians have migrated to, making up 40% of the city’s total population. However, the size of the community itself does not guarantee Armenian-Americans’ economic or social welfare. The Los Angeles Times found that while some second or third-generation Armenian-Americans may be wealthy, more recent immigrants still struggle to provide for themselves and live in low-income areas.

Poverty in Armenia is also an issue. In 2019, more than a quarter of citizens in Armenia lived below the poverty line. In addition, more than 20% of the country’s population experienced unemployment in 2020. The Armenian government’s deep issues of corruption affect the poverty rates and the attitudes of citizens. Around the world, Armenians still face the material effects of the Armenian genocide as a result of forced migration. The corruption in their homeland comes with government denial of the genocide itself. Without the lack of support from their government, Armenian citizens live lives of struggle.

The Armenian Rugs Society

To overcome poverty and bring awareness to the Armenian genocide, the Washington-based Armenian Rugs Society was established in 1980 and teaches history through rug weaving. As one of Armenia’s oldest art forms, the Armenian Rugs Society highlights the thousands of years of rug weaving within Armenian culture. The tradition traces back to the brave artisans who worked through decades of hardship. To honor this history, one goal of the organization is to highlight rugs made by orphans who survived the Armenian genocide.

The Armenian Rugs Society, using member contributions, has showcased exhibitions of carefully preserved rugs. The organization has also conducted community events in highly-populated Armenian areas like Glendale, California, hosting its Weaving for Survival conference in the city in 2015. The conference focused on expressing the resilience of Armenian genocide survivors, bringing hope to refugees visiting the exhibit. The show displayed woven rugs, embroideries and lacework made in post-genocidal refugee camps throughout the Middle East. The exhibit’s message was positive, aiming to inspire “the groundwork for a better future for themselves and their children,” through the art and history displayed. The Armenian Rugs Society also teamed up with a nonprofit to teach rugmaking to more than 400 learners in nine different Armenian villages, bringing homage to Armenian culture and creating opportunities for income.

Weaving a Brighter Future

On April 24, 2021, President Biden gave U.S. recognition to the Armenian genocide on its 106-year anniversary. Activist groups and Armenians around the world welcomed this recognition. Biden stated, “Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.” The Armenian Rugs Society continues its work to “represent, support and preserve Armenian woven arts” as a reminder of Armenian resilience.

Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash

Reduce Poverty in Central AmericaIn an effort to stem migration, the Biden administration has unveiled a plan to reduce poverty in Central America. The administration hopes that improving the quality of life in places where people are likely to emigrate from will cause fewer people to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border. In May 2021, Vice President Harris called on the private sector to increase investment in the Northern Triangle to bolster the United States’ efforts to develop the region and address the root causes of migration to the U.S.

Plans to Improve the Economy

In a public statement, the White House referred to the economic development initiative for the Northern Triangle as a call to action. The U.S. government hopes to bolster economic growth in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. Northern Triangle countries consist of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The aim of this directive is to implement sustainable action that will stem the mass migration of asylum seekers and ease the ensuing border crises between the U.S. and Mexico. The call to action involves six key areas.

6 Focal Areas of Development in the Northern Triangle

  1. Reform: Increased transparency and predictability by implementing “international best practices in licensing, permitting, procurement, regulation and taxation.”
  2. Digital and Financial Inclusivity: Ensuring affordable internet is more accessible to support digital inclusion and prioritizing financial inclusion of marginalized populations.
  3. Food Security and Agriculture: Developing initiatives to reduce food insecurity by improving agricultural outcomes and prioritizing resilient crops.
  4. Renewable Energy and Climate Change: Taking actions to achieve climate resilience and transitioning to renewable, clean energy.
  5. Education and Employment: “Expand job-training programs, support greater access to technical and secondary education and create higher-paying formal sector jobs,” with females and rural people as priorities.
  6. Healthcare: Develop strategies to strengthen healthcare systems in order to be better prepared for future health crises and to “ensure inclusive access to healthcare.”

Companies Aiding Poverty Reduction Efforts

The aim of the initiative is to reduce the need to emigrate by equalizing living standards between neighboring nations of varying economic status. This supports the broader goal of creating international stability with efforts to reduce poverty in Central America. The U.S. government believes partnering with the private sector will make the plan of action a reality. So far, 12 companies and organizations have committed to the goal of developing the Northern Triangle.

Technology companies such as Microsoft will provide broader internet and digital communication systems to the Northern Triangle and teach people the digital skills needed to thrive in a digital world. Furthermore, the language learning app, Duolingo, hopes to bolster literacy rates, help people learn English and provide wider access to quality education. Beyond this, international financial institutions such as Mastercard will allow for financial inclusion by giving people the financial and digital skills and services needed to reduce the digital divide and combat poverty.

The Focus on Security

A major obstacle to the plan is how to allocate such loans and funds. Part of this wider initiative of economic recovery includes cracking down on political corruption and increasing transparency and international regulation. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in early June 2021 as a gesture of the beginning of a diplomatic response to the migration crisis. Her discussions mainly focused on issues regarding food security, border security and economic security. Harris emphasizes that women and the youth are priorities in the action plan as they are most vulnerable.

Along with economic rejuvenation efforts, the U.S. hopes to bring its own border security expertise to other nations. This will create an extended security buffer between migrants and the U.S. border. Additionally, the Biden administration wishes to broaden legal pathways toward migration and asylum to offer alternative options to illegal migration.

The Allocation of Funds

In April 2021, the U.S. pledged more than $300 million worth of aid to Central America in order to stem the migration crisis. Almost half of the funds have been allocated toward food security and COVID-19 recovery efforts. The rest of the financial assistance will help in the areas of “health, education and disaster relief services” and aid refugees and asylum seekers.

The division of funds reflects the priorities of the strategy in order to reduce poverty and increase security in the Northern Triangle. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing food insecurity in the Northern Triangle increased to 7.8 million in 2021. The cause of this increase correlates directly to hurricanes and the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Therefore, the development of Northern Triangle economies will reduce poverty in Central America and decrease migration to the U.S.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

vaccines abroadThe Biden administration has initiated plans to distribute an initial 25 million surplus vaccines abroad, marking the first steps in the administration’s commitment to share up to 80 million doses by the end of June 2021. The doses will first prioritize areas of extreme vaccine inequity in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia. The wealthiest nations of the world must take decisive and united actions to combat COVID-19 in areas of the world lacking basic medical infrastructures and the means to independently produce vaccines. Currently, low-income countries have received less than 1% of COVID-19 vaccine doses. Global health organizations forewarn that the pandemic will persist through variant strains unless vaccination efforts are significantly increased. Sending 25 million COVID-19 vaccines abroad will work toward stabilizing infection rates in the world’s most marginalized communities.

The Fight Toward Ending Vaccine Inequity

A large majority (about 75%) of the initial 25 million vaccines distributed abroad will be administered through the international vaccine initiative referred to as COVAX. The initiative’s priority is addressing vaccine equity by helping lower-income countries secure vaccines despite limited monetary capacity. Remarkably, as of early June 2021, only 31 million Africans “have received at least one dose” on a continent that measures a population of about 1.3 billion people. Resources have proven extremely scarce, with countries like Ghana and Rwanda already running through their first shipments of vaccines delivered through COVAX.

A mere 1,386 Kenyans out of a 50 million person population have received two doses of a vaccine —  a glaring testament to the vaccine inequity found throughout the global south. Apart from a lack of material resources, many countries have seen vaccine hesitancy negatively impact their vaccination rates. Concerns over blood clots and doubts surrounding inoculation capacity have greatly diminished the efficiency of vaccine distribution in countries like Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Distributing 25 million vaccines abroad will partially cushion already weak healthcare systems with limited beds, ventilators and oxygen.

The Road Ahead

Though U.S. efforts to donate vaccines abroad are significantly helpful, to properly address vaccine inequity, larger-scale efforts are necessary. Researchers from Duke University estimate 11 billion doses will be required to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population. However, this is just the beginning of the long and calculated global response to COVID-19. Jeffrey Zients, the COVID-19 response coordinator for the Biden administration, has said to “expect a regular cadence of shipments around the world across the next several weeks.”

The U.S. will hopefully continue to embrace its responsibility as a world leader and facilitate even greater donations of vaccines abroad. In the end, quelling the pandemic will require “working with allies and partners to expand the production of vaccines and raw materials, including here at home,” said Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser. As the world takes on the next chapter in the fight against COVID-19, the leaders of the world must stand together to form a strong, collaborative response.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

global chip shortageThe COVID-19 pandemic created a global chip shortage that has ultimately exacerbated poverty. Most notably, the tech divide has widened as economic sanctions worldwide slowed production or halted it entirely, leaving many out of work. Fortunately, countries and manufacturers are stepping up to address the pandemic-induced global chip shortage.

The Cause of the Global Chip Shortage

Chips are known as the “brains” of electronic devices and are essential to several industries, including the cellphone industry and the motor vehicle industry. The shortage initially began because of a delay in production caused by factories shutting down due to the emergence of the COVID-19 virus in 2020. Simultaneously, remote work increased the demand for telecommunication, ultimately creating a strain on the supply and demand ratio.

The U.S.-China tech war also played a major factor in the global chip shortage. The U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisted SMIC, which is one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in Asia. The inability to source U.S.-based parts to manufacture small chips had significant ramifications for the supply chain. Several companies, including Huawei Technologies Co., had anticipated such actions and began stockpiling chips as early as 2019.

Effects on the Global Economy

The chip shortage has harshly impacted several East Asian countries, largely because 75% of global semiconductor chips are produced in East Asia. Because of COVID-19, 2020 saw a $2.1 trillion revenue loss across Asia, putting an estimated 23 million individuals out of work.

The U.N. realized the economic strife that the COVID-19 pandemic brought upon the world. The U.N. predicted that 71 million individuals globally would be “pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020.” The pandemic even put previously financially secure individuals at risk of poverty.

Several motor vehicle manufacturers, including Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Honda, halted production at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the companies eventually increased their semiconductor chip orders, suppliers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) could not keep up. Due to the impact of chip shortages, Ford failed to produce upwards of 1.1 million cars, giving way to a potential $2.5 billion loss.

Chip Shortage Impact on the Tech Divide

Almost 60% of the global population has access to the internet, with Europe and Asia leading the highest internet penetration rates in 2020. China has around 854 million internet users out of a 1.4 billion population. In lower-income countries, however, internet penetration rates are far lower.

The COVID-19 pandemic created the global chip shortage, which in turn, caused high inflation. A significant factor in widening the tech divide is the high cost. GPUs, PS5s and Xboxes have skyrocketed in value, with some products tripling in price in a little over a year. For example, the Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti graphics card had seen an increased retail price of $399 to a street price of $1,226 by March 2021. These higher prices create barriers to internet access and other technological abilities for those in lower-income countries, thereby exacerbating the digital divide.

Resolving the Shortage

In order to address the global chip shortage, in February 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to expand semiconductor chip production within the United States. The U.S. accounts for 47% of the world’s semiconductor chip sales yet just 12% of all chip manufacturing. In order to solve the shortage, Biden sought “$37 billion in funding for legislation to supercharge chip manufacturing in the United States.”

In April 2021, TSMC announced a plan to invest $100 billion in chips over the next three years to address the global chip shortfall. In 2020, TSMC spent around $17 billion in producing semiconductor chips and originally only planned to spend between $25-28 billion for 2021. The budget changed to account for the shortfall and the increased demand in telecommunications.

The global chip shortage is projected to linger until 2023. Despite this prolonged shortfall, many companies look forward to operating at full capacity as COVID-19 vaccines become more globally available and the global chip shortage decreases.

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Flickr

Syrian AidIn March 2021, the Biden administration announced it would provide roughly $600 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria. This Syrian aid aims to help the millions of refugees in the country as well as the native Syrian population. In addition to this pledge, the U.N. is seeking $4.2 billion to help Syrians and about $5.8 billion for countries hosting Syrian refugees. These efforts are being made as the war in Syria reaches its 10th year and continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises.

US Aid to Syria

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the U.S. would contribute $600 million in aid during a conference titled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” in Brussels. At the conference, Blinken said, “There is no military solution that will bring peace, security and stability to Syria and the region.” He then continued, “Systemic corruption and economic mismanagement at the hands of the Assad regime have exacerbated the dire humanitarian crisis, which has been further compounded by the challenge of COVID-19.”

At the figure of roughly $600 million, this amount is slightly less than the 2020 pledge from the U.S. where the U.S. aimed to contribute $700 million in Syrian aid. However, the United States still remains the largest donor in Syrian response efforts. In fact, the U.S. has contributed almost $13 billion to the cause since 2011.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also addressed the announcement of the Syrian aid at a press briefing. She confirmed, “This funding brings the total U.S. government humanitarian assistance to nearly $13 billion since the start of the decade-long crisis.” She further stated that the monetary assistance includes nearly $141 million in support of the COVID-19 pandemic efforts in the Syrian region. This assistance will provide humanitarian relief to the Syrians still living inside Syria as well as the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in asylum countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

A Commitment to Continued Support

The pledge of $600 million from the U.S. also illustrates a break from the Trump administration’s efforts to cut aid to Syria and foreign assistance funding. However, even despite Trump’s opposition, Congress for the most part disagreed and U.S. assistance to Syria remained steady throughout his term. This continued funding comes at a good time as humanitarian needs in Syria has never been greater, according to the United Nations. Roughly 66% of Syrians need humanitarian assistance. Across Syria, UNICEF estimates that more than half a million malnourished children are experiencing stunted growth due to inadequate food and nutrition.

Vulnerable Palestinian Refugees

Meanwhile, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is still advocating for the support of the 440,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. The UNRWA reports that a shocking 90% of these refugees in Syria are living in absolute poverty. Since the Biden administration pledged to restore relations with Palestinians, the U.S. is expected to resume aid to the relief agency since Trump ceased funding to the UNRWA in 2018.

With significant support from the U.S. and the rest of the international community, the humanitarian crisis in Syria may finally come to an end. Supporting Syrian aid ultimately means supporting the most vulnerable people in desperate need of relief.

Elisabeth Petry
Photo: Flickr

Relief for YemenRelief for Yemen has long been a goal of humanitarian politicians and activists. A bipartisan letter, signed by four U.S. senators, urges the Biden administration to allocate more federal funding for aid to Yemen.

The Letter of Appeal

Two Republican senators and two Democratic senators signed a letter appealing for more U.S. aid to Yemen. On May 4, 2021, Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) signed the open letter together in an act of humanitarian bipartisanship. The senators voiced their concern about the international community failing to reach previously established relief goals “after a recent United Nations fundraising appeal for the war-torn country fell short.”

In March 2021, international donors raised $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen, falling short of the United Nations’ target goal of $3.85 billion, the estimated amount required for a comprehensive humanitarian response. As one of the most powerful countries in the world, the U.S. pledged only $19 million, much less than Oxfam’s recommended $1.2 billion.

All the while, close to “50,000 people in Yemen are living in famine-like conditions” and the conflict threatens to plummet another five million people into similar conditions. The conflict itself has already claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. The humanitarian crisis and poverty brought on by the conflict have compromised the food security of more than 20 million people, accounting for two-thirds of Yemen’s population. The United Nations warns that “400,000 Yemeni children under the age of 5 could die from acute malnutrition” without swift humanitarian action.

Efforts to End the Crisis in Yemen

The open letter came around the same times as renewed calls for a ceasefire from the international community. Senator Murphy was in Yemen when the letter was released, joining Tim Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen, as well as diplomats from Europe, with the hopes of brokering a ceasefire between Houthi rebel factions and the Saudi-led military coalition. Participants in the meeting demand an end to war crimes actively committed by both sides. The Biden administration has backed away from weapons sales in an effort to mitigate the conditions. But, the conflict and subsequent crises continue, requiring increased aid to Yemen.

UNICEF and the UN Assist

One of the priorities of UNICEF’s efforts in Yemen is to treat cases of acute malnutrition in children and assist children whose lives have been overturned by the continuous military conflict. Efforts range from facilitating access to therapeutic foods and educating children about the dangers of explosives scattered throughout the country. UNICEF is also restoring damaged schools in an effort to develop secure spaces for children to continue learning.

At a time of resurgent violence coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign aid groups have stepped up relief measures in anticipation of increased demand for food. In one particular hotspot, within the Ma’rib Governorate, the intensification of military conflict has displaced at least 2,871 families. The U.N. Regional Coordination Team for Ma’rib aims to assist about 200,000 people in the area. Sanitation, nutrition and shelter remain top priories for these efforts.

Despite the scale of the crisis, international aid groups remain determined to provide relief. Senators, leaders and foreign diplomats are continuing efforts to broker a peace deal. The severity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen requires broader support from the global community in order to upscale efforts and comprehensively provide aid to Yemen.

– Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccines for SomaliaIn March 2021, COVAX helped secure the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Somalia. According to The New Humanitarian, Somalia has one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world. Before the pandemic, Somalia was already struggling with political and economic concerns. The added effects of COVID-19 have significantly impacted the country.

COVAX Donation and Vaccine Hesitancy

More than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccines first arrived in Somalia on March 15, 2021. Donated by COVAX, a global effort to provide equitable vaccine coverage, the doses will prioritize “frontline workers, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.” UNICEF reports that Somalia is one of the first African countries to receive vaccine donations through COVAX, an important act as the country moves into a new wave of infections.

Misinformation has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in Somalia, which may adversely impact a successful vaccination rollout. Somali people working in the medical field are making efforts to combat misinformation and build vaccine trust to ensure vaccine hesitancy does not present a barrier for Somalia.

COVID-19 in Somalia

COVID-19 cases in Somalia stand at more than 13,000 as of April 30, 2021, with more than 700 deaths. COVID-19 deaths and infections in Somalia are low compared to other African countries and the rest of the world, but slow vaccination rates are making it harder to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. More than a year after the first reported case of COVID-19 in Somalia, Somalia is facing a peak, with a death toll far higher than the peak of 2020. Only about 0.8% of 15 million Somali’s have been vaccinated so far.

The first cases of COVID-19 in Somalia were mostly travel-related cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past year, the WHO and partners have helped strengthen Somalia’s COVID-19 response by providing critical resources. These efforts contributed to creating three COVID-19 testing labs in Somalia. Furthermore, “73 rapid response teams were deployed for COVID-19 case investigation, alert verification and sample collection.” More than 7,000 healthcare workers received COVID-19 health training and 76 oxygen concentrators were provided to health facilities, among other efforts.

Vaccination Efforts for Preventable Diseases

Before the onset of COVID-19 in Somalia, WHO started the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which aims to vaccinate Somali children against eight preventable diseases. This program helped control the 2017 and 2018 measles outbreaks in Somalia and helped citizens keep up with routine immunizations, mitigating the spread of common diseases across the country. In 2019, the initiative trained healthcare workers from more than 700 health centers in immunization practices and procedures.

Call to Action

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the world, vulnerable populations in developing countries are most at risk. Recognizing this fact, in June 2021, President Biden announced a plan to donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need through COVAX. The international community needs to come together in a collaborative global effort to ensure disadvantaged countries receive sufficient COVID-19 vaccines.

Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr