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From medicine to law, admittance to many vocations is attached to undertaking an oath to serve humanity. Conversely, universities and institutions of higher education pride themselves on embodying a collective entity of bright minds dedicated to pursuing knowledge for the sake of serving a higher purpose.

One would be hard pressed to find a school that holds itself to these rigorous standards more than Harvard University, where the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has been making remarkable strides in assisting victims of human rights violations, war, and natural disasters since its establishment on campus grounds in 1999. Taking advantage of Harvard’s sterling reputation in both research and education, the center has combined studies in fields ranging from public health to sociology in its solution-based and interdisciplinary approach to tackling humanitarian crises around the world.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, HHI warned Louisiana and Mississippi residents against consuming potentially contaminated water. The storm had produced perfect conditions for waterborne disease to spread. Thus, it was imperative for federal and state agencies to provide a despondent populace with clean food and water, as well as basic health services, in a quick and efficient manner. Studies funded by HHI, meanwhile, have suggested that a rise in the incidence of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo may be correlated with the withdrawal of UN troops, which provide civilians with protection against rebel forces. Aside from offering expert advice, HHI has helmed technology to better track and prevent such incidents. Its members analyzed U.S. satellite images to uncover the cause of damage to several oil fields in the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan last year. Because these reservoirs were located along the border between the two countries and both held the other accountable for striking first, it was critical for HHI to prevent the formation of further tensions between the two nations by doing a thorough assessment of the evidence at hand.

HHI also has an eye toward human development. Specifically, it aims to foster new leaders in the field of humanitarianism through innovative training programs. By simulating extreme conditions – even going so far as to place students on food rations and creating the occasional kidnapping scenario – HHI is able to better prepare its members to think rationally and act with conviction on the field.

Although HHI has been in existence for only 14 years, its past and present accomplishments suggest that it will remain a stronghold of humanitarianism for decades to come.

– Melrose Huang

Sources: Harvard Humanitarian Institute, The Boston Globe, BBC, Impunity Watch, Harvard School of Public Health
Photo: Harvard Gazette

The World's Top 5 Refugee Crises

June 20th marked World Refugee Day, a day to honor the many people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence, or persecution.  Today there are 43.7 million refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide.   The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides protection and aid to 34 million of them.

Public awareness of these refugee crises often drops sharply after the initial news of the crisis wears off, but the crises themselves continue for years on end, with the toll of refugees climbing ever higher.  Here are the 5 largest refugee crises in the world according to the latest available data:

1.       Somalia- Since the Somalian Civil War in the 90s, Somalia has been a hotbed of humanitarian concerns and crises. Food crises and the violent insurgent group Al- Shabaab have only exacerbated the problems in the country, along with a large rise in piracy just off of the Somalian coast.  According to the UNHCR the total number of refugees and IDPs originating from Somalia numbers around 2.4 million.  The Somali government will hopefully regain control of its territory enough to sufficiently aid its refugees.

2.       Iraq- The US military invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq topped off decades of conflict in the country, including the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, and years of crippling sanctions.  The combination of these conflicts has put the UNHCR’s population of concern originating from Iraq at 3 million people.  The refugee situation there has been augmented as a result of the Syrian Civil War, in which many Iraqis who had fled to Syria are now choosing to return to their war-torn homeland to escape the Syrian violence.

3.       Sudan– The secession of South Sudan from its northern counterpart has helped quell the humanitarian crisis there, but the UN estimates a total of 3.2 million people in its total population of concern originating from Sudan.  Sudanese refugees have come from the conflicts in Khartoum, Darfur, the Protocol Areas, and Eastern Sudan.

4.       Afghanistan– Since the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, lack of security has been a continuous problem for the Afghan people.  Tribal violence and Taliban influence continue to displace Afghan citizens daily. The UNHCR puts the total population of concern originating from Afghanistan at 4.2 million people.

5.       Colombia– Though it is not often mentioned in the news, according to the UNHCR, Colombia has the largest total population of concern out of these countries: 4.3 million people.  Internal conflict has particularly affected the country’s indigenous population.  The effects of natural resource extraction and the armed groups involved therein have almost overwhelmed Colombian citizens.

Although it did not make the list of the world’s largest refugee crises, the situation in Syria represents the most rapidly growing refugee crisis.  The number of Syrian refugees is around 1.6 million currently, and the UN expects that to increase to 3.45 million in the next seven months.  The UN has also stated that it expects almost half of Syria’s pre-war population to require humanitarian aid by the end of 2013.

Though these conflicts fade from the minds of Americans after their initial impact, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to remember the situations these refugees are dealing with and to donate to a cause or pressure your elected officials to take action in support of these refugees.

– Martin Drake
Source: UNCR Country Profiles, ABC News
Photo: CWS Global

The Future for South Sudan
A year ago, Sudan and South Sudan were on the brink of war, but this month a deal between the two countries was finally implemented, allowing production in South Sudan’s main oil field to resume. This region, the Palouge oil field, accounts for 80% of the country’s oil production and has not been operational for 16 months due to disputes regarding the export of the oil.

This resumption of operations marks a significant moment in South Sudan’s brief history. Since its independence two years ago, the nation has suffered dramatic setbacks to its economy. The fledgling nation’s GDP contracted by 52% last year alone, while government revenues from oil-backed loans were cut by 98%. Now, however, with a pipeline deal in place with the north, South Sudan will be able to ramp up production to pre-independence levels.

After the drastic cuts in expenditure necessitated by the cessation of oil production during the last two years, this influx of revenue should significantly boost the country’s economy. South Sudan will have to diversify away from oil as the primary revenue generator over the next few years as reserves disappear, however, for now, the hope remains that oil profits will allow this nascent economy to establish itself. A stable economic platform marks the first steps in allowing the country and its people to grow.

– David Wilson

Sources: The Economist
Photo: Royal African Society

Worst Dictators still alive

The worst dictators have a strange kind of fame. Many manage to escape widespread awareness until their regime turns irredeemably bloody or repressive. As a result of their bizarre behaviour and the extensive list of human rights violations committed under their rule, figures such as Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il are now household names. Yet their notoriety grew at the end of their reigns, when their own people had revolted or their regime was nearing its final days. However, there are a number of dictators in the world in power today committing great crimes against their own people unchecked. Here are the top 5 worst dictators in the world.

1. Isias Afewerki, Eritrea

In power since 1993, Afewerki has plunged Eritrea into a living nightmare for its residents. Starting out, as many do, as an idealistic young revolutionary, Afewerki was chosen as the country’s first president after its liberation from Ethiopia. Yet after gaining the position, Afewerki essentially cut off democracy, with the country operating under a one party system and no free press. Interceptions from cables paint a desperate picture of the nation, as seen in the excerpt: ”Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea’s prisons are overflowing, and the country’s unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant.”

2. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan

Though he has been in power during comparatively good economic times, Omar al-Bashir has led Sudan to becoming one of the bloodiest and most conflicted countries in the region. Bashir was at the helm of the country during Sudan’s horrific genocide, which saw upward of 300,000 deaths, largely at the hands of militant groups that were said to have government support. He has been accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The unceasing violent conflicts that characterized his reign ultimately led to South Sudan’s secession from the state. The new territory, however, quickly entered into war with Sudan over oil disputes and into yet another bloody conflict.

3. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

Ruling since 1989, Karimov’s term was first extended, and then he was reinstated in a sham election which was discounted entirely by watchdogs, against a political opponent who publicly admitted he himself had voted for Karimov. There is little to no religious or press freedom, with universities told not to train students in the realm of public issues. Brutal torture is seen as routine in the Uzbek judicial system, with Human Rights Watch expressing repeated concern over the accepted practices in Uzbek prisons. Karimov is still to call for an investigation into the Andijan massacre, where hundreds of people were killed. He also made international headlines in 2002 after evidence emerged that he had boiled one of his prisoners to death. Repeatedly named as one of ‘Parade’ magazine’s worst dictators, international rights groups have had great difficulty in breaching Uzbekistan’s borders and little success in implementing reforms.

4. Bashar Al-Assad, Syria

In a stunning display of irony, Syria’s blood-soaked dictator started his career in medicine and is a trained ophthalmologist. Inheriting power after his father and older brother died, Assad’s cruelty showed after the start of the Arab Spring. After a violent crackdown on not only rebels, but civilians, his government has no real way of restoring order and remaining in power, yet Assad stubbornly refuses to concede to any agreements. Many international leaders have called on Assad to recognize the reality of the Syrian rebellion and step down, with Britain even stating it would consider taking in Assad if it meant his departure from the state. Support from Iran and Russia, however, have strengthened the leader long enough to continue Syria’s endless and bloody war, with Assad himself showing no signs of remorse or weakening of resolve.

5. U Thein Sein, Myanmar

Thein Sein started on the right foot. His actions in opening up Myanmar garnered praise from Western leaders such as Barack Obama and Ban-Ki Moon and he was recently given a peace award from the International Crisis Group. This image sits uncomfortably with the Thein Sein of recent days. Having initially opened dialogue with Myanmar’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi, she was again recently threatened, as was a Democracy League operating in the country. He is also accused of blatantly ignoring a deepening crisis in his own country with the violent persecution of the Royingha Muslims. His actions in response to the crisis have attracted accusations of ethnic cleansing. In response, Thein Sein has recently spoken to the international press making clear that he is not afraid to use violence to maintain order, with the unsettling statement, “I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public.”

Sources: Parade, HRW, Foreign Policy,  BBC
Photo: Atlanta Blackstar

10 Facts: The Lives of Aid Workers
Many people do not understand what it truly means to be a humanitarian aid worker. There are millions of people worldwide that dedicate their lives to improving the living conditions of people living in poverty in developing countries, refugee camps, or war zones. In countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the risk of violence and sickness is great. However, aid workers in other countries face just as many health risks and sleepless nights.

While the health risks are great, the benefits for these workers and the people they help are just as great. Making friends from all over the world, lifting people out of poverty, and sleeping on the beach can be some of the perks of the job. Here are ten facts about the lives of aid workers according to the Aid Worker Fact Sheet procured by Humanitarian Outcomes, Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALAP) and a few workers themselves.

  1. In 2011, 308 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or wounded – the highest number yet recorded. Afghanistan was the country with the highest number of attacks on aid works, 50, compared to 18 in Somalia, 17 in South Sudan, 13 in Pakistan and 12 in Sudan.
  2. Statistics suggest that attacks on aid workers happen in weak, unstable states and experiencing active armed conflict.
  3. Governments can pose challenges to the aid community through overbearing or ill-advised use of their security forces. In its worst form, aid workers can be caught or directly targeted in government forces’ hostilities.
  4. The conditions of aid works vary greatly from country to country. Sometimes, reliable access to amenities of the western world like electricity, hot and cold running water, reliable heat and cooling, and the freedom of movement to explore at your leisure.
  5. At times, the mental capacity of the job presents a challenge. Constant movement and the witness of horrendous living conditions frequently cause humanitarian workers to “burn out” after a few years in the field.

However, it is not all bad. Here are five facts that surpass the risks of working in developing or war-torn countries.

  1. Aid workers live a life of service that aligns with their values and are surrounded by colleagues that share the same passion and commitments. Though aid workers are on the constant move, they make connections and lasting friendships with people across the globe.
  2. Challenge and responsibility come earlier in the career of a relief worker than in many other careers.
  3. Relief workers have the opportunities to make a lasting, true impact on the lives of many of the people they encounter.
  4. Relief work allows humanitarians to escape the beaten, tourist track and truly experience different cultures and countries.
  5. According to ALNAP, there are 274,238 humanitarian field workers across the world.

– Kira Maixner

Source: Humanitarian Outcomes, Humanitarian Jobs
Photo: European Commission

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Most refugee crises continue long after public interest and media attention have dissipated. Many others never receive international attention in the first place. However, many displaced people remain in temporary camps for much longer than anticipated. Without international awareness or support, aid organizations and the UN’s Refugee Agency struggle to meet the basic needs of refugees, forced migrants, and internally displaced people (IDPs).

The United Nations identified some of the most neglected refugee crises around the world in 2012:

1. Sudanese refugees in Chad: Ongoing conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region has displaced almost 2 million Sudanese. Over 250,000 of these refugees fled to Chad, one of the world’s poorest countries. Lack of infrastructure and resources in Chad have made it extremely difficult for residents to support themselves. Many rely exclusively on humanitarian aid for survival.

2. Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan: The Eritrean refugee presence in eastern Sudan continues to grow each year. Due to political instability and military conscription, so far over 60,000 Eritreans have migrated to some of the poorest parts of Sudan. Human traffickers and smugglers target the refugees, who are unable to legally possess land or property in Sudan.

3. Sudanese refugees in South Sudan: The conflict between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement has been receiving increased international attention. But in 2012, aid organizations were urgently requesting an additional $20 million to meet the needs of the 170,000 refugees flooding into South Sudan. Lack of infrastructure makes aid delivery difficult and expensive.

4. IDPs in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Over 300,000 people were displaced from their homes in DRC in 2012 as a result of military violence. The majority remains within the Congo, while others have fled to Uganda and Rwanda. Insufficient funding and attacks on aid workers have hampered humanitarian efforts. Prior to the 2012 displacement, DRC was already home to 1.7 million internally displaced people.

5. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: Muslims from western Myanmar, mainly from the state of Rohingya, have faced systemic discrimination and widespread abuse for the last fifty years. Thousands have fled to Bangladesh, where the government has prohibited international agencies from providing aid to undocumented refugees: of an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, only 30,000 are documented.

Many more displacement and refugee crises across the globe continue to take place under the radar of mainstream media. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has much more information and analysis on forced and unforced migration, displacement, and related human rights concerns.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN News
Photo: Wikipedia

The Most Important Thing: A Photo ProjectAs the violence in Syria and Sudan continues to escalate, photographer Brian Sokol gives us a brief look into the lives of displaced refugees. In his photo project titled “The Most Important Thing,” Sokol traveled to South Sudan and four other countries bordering Syria taking pictures of refugees holding the last object they grabbed before being forced to leave their homes. Sponsored by the UN Refugee Agency, the project profoundly reflects on what we would take if we had to leave everything behind.

Most of the refugees are carrying with them cooking or carpentry tools, clothing or baskets. Bottles, pans, axes, and other essentials are commonly being both easy to carry and vital to rebuilding their lives. Cell phones are treasured because they allow refugees to call loved ones in other camps and carry photos of them as well.

Abdul carries with him the keys to his home hoping that it will still be standing when he returns to Damascus. Twenty-year-old Tamara carries her diploma which she says will allow her to continue her education in Turkey. In eight-year-old May’s photo, she wears a set of bracelets saying that her most important thing was actually her doll Nancy which she had to leave behind in the rush to escape the violence. Omar carries with him a stringed instrument called a buzuq which he says “fills me with a sense of nostalgia and reminds me of my homeland.” Omar remembers that the night he left his home was the same night both his sons were killed.

The most important things for these refugees are items that either helps them survive and work towards a better future or reminisce better times. Twenty-four-year-old Alia of the Domiz refugee camp is confined to a wheelchair and blind in both eyes. She recalls when the fighting occurred right outside her house and being terrified and crying because she did not know what was happening. She says that the only important thing she brought “is my soul, nothing more – nothing material.”

– Rafael Panlilio
Source: Huffington Post

imageFAO Allocates Funding to Combat Locust Crop Destruction in Sudan
As though part of some biblical plague of the ancient world, the recent swarms of invading locusts have wreaked havoc on the crops of many North African countries. In an effort to both stem the flow of the relentless Lucusta migratoria and prevent future flare-ups, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has donated 1 million dollars to help fight the locust crop destruction in Sudan.

The funds, which resulted from joint cooperation of donors that included $400,000 from Saudi Arabia, $75,000 from the CRC’s emergency trust, and $500,000 from the FAO, will serve as a much needed shot in the arm in the ongoing war against the locust crop destruction in Sudan. The locusts, which began their migration back in February, initially did little damage to the Sudanese agricultural industry. However, the previous swarms laid eggs across much of the county, and like a ticking time bomb are expected to hatch risking further locust crop destruction in Sudan, which could decimate their spring and summer harvests.

The recent allocation of funds from the FAO is great news in the continuing effort of preventing further locust crop destruction in Sudan. Furthermore, through the combined funding of several generous donors, along with the agricultural expertise of the FAO, countries such as Sudan that have been dealing with the ravages of the locust swarms can now look forward to some much-needed relief.

– Brian Turner
Source African Brains
PhotoThe Desert Review

 

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Well known philanthropist, humanitarian, and actor George Clooney has recently launched a line of high quality tequila whose profits will be entirely donated as aid for Sudan.

The tequila, know as Cosamigos, is unique in regards to the long distillation process and copper pot fermentation process that helps set it apart from many of the other premium brands. Cosamigos – aged in refurbished whiskey barrels – has garnered rave reviews thus far, which along with George Clooney’s celebrity status, has helped boost sales and will no doubt help to generate some much needed aid for Sudan.

For the past several years, George Clooney has been personally funding a satellite imagery project over South Sudan to serve as a pair of eyes watching over the current President Omar Al- Bashir and hopefully preventing any further ethnic violence. Recently, Clooney made headlines with a testimony he gave to the US Senate outlining the severity of the humanitarian crisis he himself witnessed in a trip he made back in 2012, further highlighting the immediate need of aid for Sudan.

Unlike many other high priced spirits, the value of Cosamigos goes well beyond smooth taste – available as both Blanco and Reposado – but instead in the intended humanitarian mission as a source for greater aid for Sudan. In regards to his charitable donations, Clooney remarked, “I have a satellite over South Sudan that I’m trying to keep some people alive with. It costs me a lot of money every year so now I’m getting it paid for.”

Brian Turner

Source: Snuff
Photo: USA Today

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Shanta Devarajan, a leading World Bank economist, said that while African nations are spending more on education and other community-related industries, the mismanagement of these funds is a current problem.

Devarajan’s advice? Allow the people of impoverished communities to make their own decisions regarding the spending of money. Devarajan cited that one of the benefits of putting aid money in the hands of the people would be added accountability for civil servants. He also asserts that making civil servants more accountable would decrease the misallocation of funds and improve the quality of services provided by civil servants.

Cirino Heteng, South Sudan’s Minister for Youth and Sports, conceded that including the poor in the decision-making process would help, but defended the current policy by saying that more supervision was needed. Heteng accused the current minister of education of being unaware of what the hierarchy beneath him is doing because he rarely visits the schools.

One way or the other, both sides promote the idea that the community be more involved in the allocation of funds.

South Sudan is a new official country as it seceded from Sudan in July of 2011. Problems such as the allocation of aid and hierarchical structure may therefore just be symptoms of a newly established government.

– Pete Grapentien

Source Voice of America