Syria Recovery Trust Fund
As the death toll and damage continues to rise in Syria, nations rush to take action, whether military or monetary. In this effort, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has approved $20 million of further funding towards the Syria Recovery Trust Fund (SRTF) at a recent SRTF board meeting in Washington, DC. This brings the U.S. total contribution up to $60 million, whereby the U.S. donated $15 million initially, $15 million more in 2015, and $10 million in 2016. The organization is heavily reliant on its international donors and has up to date received $215 million in funds. Germany, Japan, Kuwait and France are some of the next biggest contributors after the U.S.

The Syria Recovery Trust Fund works with the current interim government and local groups to create transparent projects in Syria. This includes recovery initiatives and working with resident service providers to restore essential services such as electricity, water and sanitation, food security and waste removal in opposition-controlled territories. Hence, the SRTF focuses in these divisions alongside health and education and under particular circumstances agriculture, transportation and housing. Already looking to the future, they hope to shift their attention to rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure once fighting ceases.

Created by the Group of Friends of the Syrian People and its Working Group on Economic Recovery and Development and signed into practice in 2013, the Syria Recovery Trust Fund has already played a valuable role in the region. The group has successfully contracted engineers and equipment to expand electrical grids and water pipelines, restored medical clinics, supplied medical tools, and provided materials to improve production and storage of wheat harvests. Subsequently, they have helped more than two million Syrians progress and recover.

The newest contribution from the USAID will go to Syria Recovery Trust Fund interventions in newly liberated areas. The aid has paved a way for Syria and its people to rise from the rubble shortly again.

Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr

Haiyan Recovery in Philippines Ongoing
More than half a year since a typhoon rocked the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing millions, Haiyan recovery efforts are still ongoing. Tens of thousands of Filipinos continue to live in temporary shelters. An estimated 17,000 fishermen have been unable to replace boats destroyed in the storm, and thousands of acres of damaged farmlands hamper production in the agricultural sector.

Although typhoons regularly affect the region, this particular storm, known locally as Yolanda, drew international attention for its widespread effect. Via its Food- and Cash-for-Assets Programme, the World Food Programme, in partnership with the national and local Filipino governments, provides aid to Filipinos who are repairing destroyed lands. The deforestation caused by the storm poses a grave obstacle to agricultural recovery.

The WFP helps the local powers distribute many forms of aid—like meals to over 100,000 school children—to the near 12 million victims of the storm. It has slowly begun to increase the national government’s responsibilities.

With over $14 million given toward the last budget, the U.S. is the number one donor to the WFP in the Haiyan recovery efforts. Still, the Programme claims a $75 million deficit in funding needed to satisfy its purpose, and reenergizing agriculture in the Philippines will require years to regrow the millions of felled coconut trees.

The Philippine crisis has calmed with the passing months, but a shortage of water and the pending El Niño raise humanitarian concern. Reacting to these problems and properly preparing for future natural disasters may strain the government, which is at present dealing with its pork barrel scandal—in late 2013, Filipinos discovered that government officials had, through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, misused the equivalent of $226 million on projects aimed solely at gaining votes. Many of these projects never existed.

Increased WFP support and national pressure against government corruption could well serve a country whose capital, Manila, represents the city with the highest number of homeless in the world. Until then, the poor wait.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: WFP 1, WFP 2, WFP 3, Reuters, Financial News, Thomson Reuters, Al Jazeera
Photo: AU News

2004 Thailand Tsunami
December 26, 2004. Billions of people were waking up, making coffee, or in other parts of the globe preparing for a good night’s sleep. On the coast of Thailand, billions of tons of water crashed onto the shores. An extremely powerful earthquake, classified as a ‘megathrust’, caused an enormous Tsunami. Major damage was suffered up and down the coastline, including the eco-resort of KhaoLak.  A classic warning sign of an impending tsunami is a trough, when the ocean is pulled back from the shore before the waves come down. Sunbathers and swimmers alike did not have time to register this warning as they were distracted by the thousands of fish left on the sand. Nearly six thousand people were killed, and many of them were vacationing tourists. Hundreds more were injured or displaced from their destroyed homes. The main city with excellent hospitals, Phuket, became the main area of medical care during the aftermath and was covered intensively by media and news crews.

Under a ‘memorandum of understanding’, the U.S. donated with other nations Part One of the DartII buoy system to Thailand. The system uses ‘tsunameters’ and seismic information to predict potential tsunamis. The goal is to give everyone on the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Sri Lanka a sixty minute warning before another tsunami strikes. The systems have been implemented gradually since 2005, and are known collectively as the Indian Ocean Project. Thailand today is almost reminiscent of what it was before the tsunami ever struck. Beach days and nightlife are in full swing, hotel rates are down, shopping is up, and Thailand is welcoming visitors and tourists for the New Year. Economically, tourists visiting will help boost the market and get Thailand back to a stable place from which they will continue to grow.

The Impossible  is a feature length film that was released in 2012, eight years after the tsunami struck Thailand. It is based on the true story of Maria and Henry Bennet as well as their three sons, Thomas, Lucas, and Simon. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents of the three boys that were staying at a resort on vacation when the Tsunami struck.  Maria and Lucas were separated and stranded on the coastline, both severely injured. Henry, Simon, and Lucas had survived and ended up searching the resort for the rest of their family before traveling to Phuket to search the hospitals. Maria and Lucas ended up being aided by locals and also taken to the hospital in Phuket. The movie follows their harrowing and desperately hopeful story of surviving the tsunami and finding their way back together which, in the end, they do. The real family has returned to the beach every Christmas Day since, as a reminder to themselves and their children not to live in fear but to conquer the impossible.

Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Phuket Thailand, Jakarta Post, IMDB

Children, the people who have no voice amidst the conflict in a war-torn Syria, are often impacted harder by the war than anyone else. They are left to the mercies of adults that make decisions for them and their country.

The UN Refugee Agency reports that of 2 million registered refugees, half are children. Many of these children now reside in crowded refugee camps, deprived of the opportunity for advancement, and uncertain of when they will be able to return home.

Unless Syria’s children are helped, the country will never be able to fully recover from the war .

How the Syrian crisis is impacting children:

1.   Perhaps the worst consequence of the Syrian civil war is that it is depriving many children of education. Not only does this hurt children now, it also robs them of a future. They are not being equipped to build professional lives. Without educated children, Syria’s future is uncertain. Children will not be prepared to sustain the country when they reach adulthood. This will lead to indefinite instability in Syria.

For most families, returning to Syria to enroll their children in school is not an option. Save the Children reports that 3,900 Syrian schools have been destroyed since the start of the war. Syria is also still a land of widespread violence and insecurity. This forces Syrian refugees to depend on foreign schooling, if they are to receive any education at all.

Lebanon and Jordan, the countries that have the most Syrian refugees, are struggling to accommodate Syrian children in their schools. Both countries are now home to thousands of Syrian children, and lack the resources necessary to provide quality education for all. It is doubtful if and when many Syrian children will be able to resume their academic work.

2.   Instances of child labor increase as enrollment in schools decreases. UNICEF estimates that there are 30,000 refugee child laborers in Jordan alone.

Although there are laws prohibiting child labor, many refugee children end up working out of necessity. Refugee parents, many unemployed or working menial jobs, struggle to support their families with their own meager income. They feel they have no choice but to make their children work in order to make ends meet. Many of these child laborers hold dangerous construction jobs or work with pesticides on farms.

UNICEF provides cash grants to refugee families who remove their children from child labor and enroll them in schools. However, the grants alone, which do not exceed $45 per month, are not enough to put an end to the child labor problem.

3.   Aside from the economic and educational impact, children are also subjected to the same physical and emotional distress of war as adults. Although millions have taken refuge in foreign countries with their families, many are stuck in Syria. The death toll of the civil war exceeds 100,000. Reuters reports that 7,000 of these deaths have been children.

Even if the Syrian crisis were to end today, the country would have a long road to recovery. Helping the children is a vital first step in any post-war recovery. The well-being of the country will one day rest in the hands of its children. It is imperative that the international community step up and provide more substantial aid to Syria’s children.

– Matt Berg

Sources: UNHCR, Voa News, Huffington Post, Reuters
Photo: The Guardian