Push for Increased Aid to Syria
Millions have suffered from the brutal two-year conflict in Syria. The foreign aid given to humanitarian organizations as well as refugees is not enough. This is why Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and High Commissioner of Refugees Antonio Guterres are appealing to the UN for an additional $3.1 billion to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and throughout the region. The governments of Lebanon and Jordan are also seeking an additional $830 million to support nearly 500,000 Syrian refugees in each country. This money will help support efforts to provide education and health services to the refugees.

“After more than two years of brutal conflict, almost a third of Syrians need urgent humanitarian help and protection, but the needs are growing more quickly than we can meet them,” said Amos.

The UN estimates that 6.8 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, 4.25 million are internally displaced from their homes, and at least 1.6 million Syrian refugees are now living in several neighboring countries. In December 2012, $1.5 billion was requested to help 4 million people in Syria as well as 1.1 million refugees. UNHCR now estimates there could be as many as 3.65 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2013.

In the last few months, the UN and other international and local humanitarian organizations in Syria have fed up to 2.4 million per month, vaccinated more than 1 million children against measles and polio, made drinking water safe for over 9 million people and provided for nearly 920,000 people. However, this is not enough and these organizations are aiming to help even more people. With this new aid, they would be able to feed 4 million Syrians, immunize 1.7 million children, provide nearly 7 million people with health care and 10 million with safe drinking water.

“The funds we are appealing for are a matter of survival for suffering Syrians and they are essential for the neighboring countries hosting refugees,” said High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

This aid will also help governments in the region who are feeling the strain of the conflict. Housing refugees has come at a high price for the host countries with increasing conflict and rising regional insecurity. Tensions are high in the region and this aid will help to relieve it.

– Catherine Ulrich

Source: UNICEF
Photo: The Real Truth

Food Aid Reform Act
On Wednesday, June 12 discussions continued on Capitol Hill in an attempt to push forward a modernization of US international food aid policy according to the Guardian’s Cydney Hargis.  HR 1983, the Food Aid Reform Act, would remove laws requiring US food aid to be grown in the United States and then shipped to the receiving countries.  Instead, it would allow food aid to be purchased in areas local to the countries receiving it.  The impact of the Food Aid Reform Act would be twofold:  it would eliminate the time and costs required to ship the food, and it would further stimulate the economies of countries or regions that are receiving US food aid.

Under the Food Aid Reform Act, aid could reach the receiving country up to 14 weeks sooner, giving up to 4 million people better access to food.  It would also significantly decrease transportation costs of US food aid, which make up 50 percent of the US food aid budget.  Right now US food aid has to travel 7,000 miles to reach its destination and that food chain is vulnerable, especially in conflict zones such as what we are seeing right now in Syria.

The other aspect of the Food Aid Reform Act is the stimulation of the local economy where the food is being produced.  When the US ships food to developing countries as aid, the US food can crowd out locally produced food.  This is especially important considering that most of the world’s poorest and those without food security are small farmers.  In shipping food to aid the poorest in the developing world, the US can prevent these farmers from being able to sell their crops at a profitable price, thereby harming the very people which USAID is supposed to be helping.

Purchasing food aid locally will raise the demand for local food, thereby driving up the price and enabling farmers to gain more profit out of the crops they sell.  This profit can then be put towards things like better fertilizers, water pumps, and other things which increase the productivity of these farmers.  When these farmers increase their productivity their communities will develop their food security, fixing the very reason that food aid would have to be provided to these developing nations in the first place.

The Food Aid Reform Act is a piece of bipartisan legislation that will go a long way to modernize US foreign aid.  It will help stimulate developing economies to bring them further towards contributing significantly to the global economy, which will ultimately lead to a more prosperous international community as a whole.

 Martin Drake

Source: The Guardian, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Photo: ONE


Half a million people or one third of all refugees from the conflict in Syria. These are the realities of the influx of Syrian refugees that has flooded into Jordan since the start of the conflict.

For two years, Jordan has accepted these refugees, setting up camps hosting up to 100,000 Syrians. The situation, however, has become extreme. With numbers like these resources and supplies have become a major concern. And as a result, Jordan has closed its border with Syria, turning all but critically injured refugees away.

Jordan has yet to give an official explanation for the closure, but their reasons are evident. With no assistance from the outside world, Jordan has been bearing the cost of these refugees for two years now. This includes both running the refugee camps and providing healthcare. And with such crowded living conditions  in the camps, rates of infectious diseases continue to climb. Furthermore, as summer approaches, the risk of dehydration increases. All of these conditions place huge demands on the Jordanian government.

Although millions of dollars of international assistance have been pledged, only a fraction has arrived so far. And with a thousand new refugees arriving at the border every day, the strain has become too much. Though the closing of its borders represents a breach of an international obligation to be open to refugees, the international community has avoided criticizing Jordan, likely because the rest of the international community has not stepped in to alleviate the pressure.

While many international organizations are already working in the region, including Médecins Sans Frontières, what is really needed is financial support. These organizations have limited funding, and without the proper infrastructure in place, their impact is limited.

It’s time for the international community to step in, rather than simply allowing the countries like Jordan that neighbor Syria to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the welfare of the refugees.

– David Wilson

Source: Reuters,MSF
Photot: Demotix

Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, believes we have the ability to make rape a thing of the past. She sees preventing the rapes of thousands of women and children as her top priority. She is responsible for all sexual violence in conflict globally.

Bangura was asked in a recent press conference about how she is responding to the allegations that Syrian citizens are facing sexual violence in their conflict, as well as how this sexual violence has reportedly begun to spread to the refugee camps. Her response stated that the conflict in Syria hasn’t even begun.  She was invited to Syria to conduct investigations, however she has not agreed to go. Bangura would like to travel to Syria on her own terms to ensure her security, as well as her ability to complete thorough investigations into the allegations of sexual violence.

She believes that so little information about the rapes is being leaked because of the reluctance of the victims. There is a serious stigma and shame attached to rape, and people would rather kill the women than reintegrate them into society- a serious problem for women worldwide.

UN Special Representative Bangura has worked extensively in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as her home country Sierra Leone. She has hauntingly threatened perpetrators of sexual violence, warning them, “Whoever you are, wherever you are, I will get you.”

While Syria is a large problem, Bangura has stated that her top five countries to work on at the moment are the DRC, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and Syria. She has expressed serious concern in Syria that women are often unable to visit the gynecologist without male accompaniment. Additionally, refugees have been fleeing in record numbers to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, easily surpassing the 1.6 million mark. Aid workers in the refugee camps have been reciting the stories of rapes, illegitimate pregnancies, domestic violence, and abandoned children. The problem now lies in documenting, and collecting data on these cases.

As more continues to unfold from Syria and neighboring countries, Bangura and other aid workers will do as much as they can to protect and help the victims of rape, sexual assault and violence, and unwanted pregnancies to return their lives to as much a state of normalcy as possible.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: New Europe

Last week the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (syrian-child_refugee_war_syria_global_poverty_development_undp_optUNHCR) said more than 1.5 million Syrian civilians had fled their country to escape the civil war that had been raging there for almost two years. Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UNHCR, said the actual number of refugees is probably much higher due to concerns some Syrians have regarding registration. In addition, approximately 4 million people have been internally displaced since the beginning of the conflict. So what does this mean for the Syrian people who are now refugees? What can be expected in the life of a refugee?

The UNHCR defines a refugee as a person who,

owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

Like the Syrian refugees, many are often caught between a rock and a hard place. If they stay, they put themselves and their families in serious danger. If they flee, instability and uncertainty greet them at every turn. The UNHCR was created in 1950 to lead and coordinates international efforts to protect and assist people facing this difficult decision.  They protect the basic human rights of refugees and aim to ensure all refugees are given the opportunity to seek asylum in another country.

The starting point for many is often a UN refugee camp, intended to create a safe haven until they can begin their lives anew. Unfortunately, it is all too often the end of the road as well. Those who live in the camps are usually provided basic life sustaining necessities, but many will never leave. They become trapped in a state of dependence on these camps.

Currently, the largest and oldest camp (designed to house around 90,000 people) is home to almost half a million people, mostly from Somalia. It was intended to be a temporary solution for the influx of refugees from Somalia when the country descended into civil war more than 20 years ago, but the remoteness of its eastern Kenyan location and threats to security have prevented the UNHCR from further developing the camp for those who have permanently settled there. Education and sanitation is limited and the camp is extremely overcrowded.

The Syrian refugees have fled mostly to the neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon. Just last week Oxfam issued an urgent appeal for funds to assist those who are fleeing the conflict. Rick Bauer, the regional humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam said, “The sad reality is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees are not going home soon. He added that Oxfam is “starting to really worry about the health of Syrian refugees”.

“The aid effort must be properly funded and focused on providing refugees with affordable and decent places to stay, where they can live with dignity. That’s priority number one for refugees and host communities alike,” he said.

Priority number one indeed. But for the sake of Syrians who find themselves in a refugee camp, we hope they do not stay long.

– Erin N. Ponsonby

Source: CNN, UNHCR, Raw Story
Photo: MWB

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

Surgery in a Bubble Could Save Lives
Horrific injuries caused by tank shelling, aerial bombardment and shrapnel are taking the lives of hundreds of Syrians every day. As cities are destroyed, hospitals and the valuable, lifesaving equipment they house are dwindling. In December 2012, Paul Jawor, a civil engineer working with Engineers Without Borders in Spain, presented a simple, safe, sanitary option for surgery on the battlefield of Syria. If plastic altitude chambers, or “plastic bubbles”, are utilized on the field and in bombed cities, surgeons could save multiple lives by simply having a safe place to operate.

Plastic altitude chambers are used to help athletes train by introducing specially formulated oxygen into the chamber. By using the same concept, the bubbles are filled with specifically filtered air to give doctors and surgeons the sterile environments that are essential for performing surgery. The bubbles are just big enough for a gurney, lights and a few doctors. Two bubbles can be connected to create a chamber to scrub in and a chamber to operate in to ensure optimal sanitation.

However, with its great benefits, surgery in a bubble has its drawbacks. As the walls of the bubble are fragile, the risk of destruction in a war zone is high. The bubble is also an easy target and at times cannot be camouflaged well. These simple drawbacks have prevented the use of the bubble in areas and war zones in the past. Engineers Without Borders must ensure that the bubble will work before they use it in Syria.

The alternative use of the plastic altitude chamber is not the only innovation that has as much use for saving lives as setbacks. Another innovation, the Rigid Inflatable Boat Ambulance, would be used in areas such as Cambodia and The Democratic Republic of Congo where river access is easier than road access. The ambulance would be used to transport injured people to hospitals. Due to the high speeds that the RIB travels at, the nature of the contents of the boat must be considered and whether or not carrying something like an oxygen tank is worth the risk. If the tank were to fall off the boat and land near a fire it would result in an explosion.

As technology continues to move forward, Engineers Without Borders will continue to create safe, life-saving equipment. “You often have to adapt new equipment to fit a new situation,” says Jawor in hopes that the bubble and the RIB Ambulance will soon ensure safe medical alternatives in any war-torn country.

– Kira Maixner
Source: The Engineer
Photo:  Redr UK

Half of Syria Will Be in Need of Aid, Says UN
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly half of the population of Syria will be in need of foreign aid by the end of 2013. With nearly 8,000 people per day leaving the country with no sign of impending political compromise or end to the fighting, the UN estimates that there will be 3.5 million refugees by the end of the year, and 10 million in dire need of aid – with half of those being children.

The commissioner claimed that although he has been involved with long civil wars in the past, including refugee situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the current crisis in Syria is the most serious he has ever seen, calling it “the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.”

The situation is being compounded by already-low levels of foreign aid to organizations working to bring relief to refugees in the area. Unicef reported being underfunded by 70%, and the commissioner stated that foreign powers are unable to provide aid due to current economic conditions.

Besides the Syrian refugees who have fled the country for bordering nations, nearly three million Syrians remain displaced within the country’s borders and thus have very few opportunities for providing basic necessities, like consistent food and clean water – not to mention access to electricity.

The commissioner also noted the geopolitical implications of the Syrian civil war, saying that the stress placed on neighboring nations Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are very serious, saying “it’s the most dangerous of all crises.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian

Berry and Kors Launch Watch Hunger StopThe LA Times has reported that Halle Berry has teamed up with Michael Kors to help stop world hunger. The duo has announced their new campaign entitled, Watch Hunger Stop. The program will provide meals to children in Africa, Syria, and possibly Central America. The money will be raised through the sale of Kors’ $295 runway watch. The program has a high-efficiency rate as each watch can provide 100 meals for children as part of the U.N. World Food Programme.

The announcement of the campaign comes during Berry’s pregnancy- an additional beneficial aspect of the program. The actress states that she hopes to be able to travel to these countries during her pregnancy to speak with women about prenatal care. This helps raise awareness for women who may not have been exposed to such education. Increased knowledge of prenatal care as well as increased food in the region could greatly improve children’s quality of life, as well as potentially work to lower infant mortality rates. The lowering of infant mortality rates is incredibly important as mothers who have confidence their children will survive to have fewer children.

Berry has told the press that she would like to use her celebrity status for the benefit of people around the world. She would like to use this opportunity to speak to women around the world who struggle to feed and tend to their children. Berry seems well versed in the knowledge that hunger is a dangerous predictor of quality of life, and seems motivated to work towards the elimination of world hunger, something we could all strive to achieve.

Caitlin Zusy

Source: LA Times