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Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 18:00 (Kyiv time), 27 March 2015

Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 18:00 (Kyiv time), 27 March 2015 | OSCE

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UN condemns kidnaping of DR Congo refugees, urges their immediate release

27 March 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has today strongly condemned the recent kidnapping of Congolese refugees by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), calling for an immediate release of those still in captivity.

On 21 March, 15 Congolese refugees and one Congolese national were kidnapped by the LRA near the border between the Central African Republic (CAR) and the DCR. They were abducted from the DRC side of the border, where they had been tending to their fields.

According to UNHCR, 13of them, 2 women and 11 men, were released two days later and trekked back to the refugee camp near Zemio in the southeast of CAR. Some of the victims arrived with open wounds, and a 16-year old girl had been raped. Three refugee boys are still missing.

At a Geneva press briefing this afternoon, UNHCR’s Karin de Gruijl said that upon their arrival, the released refugees were immediately transferred to the health centre in Zemio where they received the necessary medical care. They were still in shock and anxious to learn about the missing refugees, she said.

UNHCR and its partners are providing psychosocial counselling to help them cope with this traumatic event. The UN agency also plans to step up awareness raising efforts to provide refugees with up-to-date information about the security situation, LRA activities in the region and the risks associated with moving between the camp in the CAR and their fields in the DRC.

LRA rebels have intensified their attacks on villages at the CAR-DRC border since the arrest in the CAR of Dominic Ongwen, an LRA top commander accused of crimes against humanity in the beginning of 2015.

The Lord’s Resistance Army sprung up in Uganda in 1986, established its first base in Sudan in 1993, and spread to the DRC in 2005, before moving further north into the CAR in 2009. Chased by the Ugandan armed forces, the remaining LRA rebels have pulled back in the forests in south-eastern CAR. They continue to wreak havoc and spread terror in the area.

According to UNHCR, more than 180,000 people remain internally displaced in LRA-affected areas in the CAR and the DRC, while LRA violence has caused more than 30,000 people to flee to the different neighbouring countries.

To meet those needs, UNHCR and partners are providing assistance to refugees. To date, some 640 refugees had registered to take part in the voluntary return programme that would be facilitated by the UN agency. The return programme is expected to start in the coming weeks, once the rehabilitation and extension of the airstrips in Zemio and Ango airstrips have been completed.

However, Ms. de Gruijl said the security situation tense there. There is not enough police to provide enforcement for the time being. Over the previous year, it had been a challenge to provide food to some parts of the CAR; consequently, people from camps are looking for ways to supplement both their nutrition and incomes. There are no also UN peacekeepers in that part of the CAR.

Zemio refugee camp hosts some 3,400 Congolese refugees from the Ango Territory, in Province Orientale in the north-eastern part of the DRC. Those Congolese fled LRA atrocities in the Province Orientale and found refuge in the CAR in 2009.

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Yemen at War: Lifesaving aid blocked by airstrikes

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Millions in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, rely on aid organisations

BEIRUT, 27 March 2015 (IRIN) – The Saudi Arabian-led assault on Yemen has disrupted life-saving aid programs across the country, international aid agencies have said.

The provision of humanitarian aid to many Yemeni regions was already difficult as the country has slid closer to civil war following the takeover of the capital Sana’a in September by northern Houthi rebels. But on Thursday morning, a Saudi-led alliance of eight countries began bombing key Houthi targets in Sana’a and other cities.

Since then the United Nations and other aid agencies have been forced to suspend many key programs. International NGOs and the UN are seeking to evacuate their international staff, with several hundred still in the country. All commercial flights out of the country have been suspended since the Saudi attacks began.

Trond Jensen, head of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, said he was “extremely concerned” that vital aid was being suspended across the country. “In a conflict our ability to stay and deliver is badly affected,” he said.

Yemen, which has a population of just under 26 million, is the Arab world’s poorest country. Almost two-thirds of the population was already in need of aid before the crisis, while over 10 million are food insecure.

The Houthi takeover had already led to the suspension of key financial support to the country, while millions of dollars of development aid was suspended

Jensen said that the country’s dire economic situation was likely to be made worse by the suspension of key humanitarian aid. “Vulnerable people will be pushed over the edge,” Jensen added, agreeing that the country was in a perfect storm of crises.

He said, however, that the UN would seek to continue to deliver some humanitarian aid remotely. 

 

“We already had a network of local partners that UN agencies are operating through. We will continue to work through [them].”

Haajir Maalim, country director at Action Against Hunger, said they had suspended all operations in the northern regions of Hajjah and Al-Hudaydah and Abyan and Lahj in the south over security concerns. He added that they were seeking to maintain some services to ensure thousands of vulnerable people were not cut off from support.

“I think it is very worrying especially if the conflict carries on for a long time,” he said. “Yemenis are very resilient and life continues in Sana’a and other cities… but this can only continue for a short time.” 

“If the conflict continues the local capacity to withstand is limited.”

He added that they, too, were seeking to evacuate their international staff, while those that remain in country would be more restricted in their movement.

“One of the key risks we face is when we are moving,” he said, adding that both airstrikes and checkpoints pose a risk. “Movement to the beneficiaries will be limited.”


Maalim said he was wary that aid workers could also become targets for criminal gangs as the conflict continues.

“So far we have not seen [aid workers being] targeted, but as populations become desperate we do understand that aid agencies are seen as having resources.”

As fighting intensifies, there is little indication that any side is focusing on the humanitarian suffering in the country.  

The leader of the Iranian-backed Houthis has resorted to increasingly fiery rhetoric in the face of the attack, while the internationally recognised President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi called for the Saudi strikes, which have led to the killing of civilians.

A report released on Friday by the International Crisis Group think-tank warned that all sides were currently unwilling to search for a negotiated settlement and on Friday night, eyewitnesses in Sana’a said there were fresh airstrikes in the city.

“We are concerned that whatever resources are left in the country shall we diverted to conflict,” Jensen added.

jd/tl

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Top picks: Blackboards, zakat and currency dives

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Could longer-term thinking early on have helped Haiti rebuild faster after the 2010 earthquake?

DUBAI, 27 March 2015 (IRIN) –

Welcome to IRIN’s weekly assortment of journalism and research about the humanitarian world that piqued our interest.

Five to read:

An Act of Faith: Humanitarian financing and Zakat 

Zakat – a form of obligatory almsgiving for Muslims – is one of the main tools of Islamic social financing. With faith-based and diaspora organisations playing an increasing role in humanitarian response in places like Syria and Somalia, how can Zakat’s potential as an aid funding tool be maximized? A new report by Global Humanitarian Assistance, of the UK’s Development Initiatives, looks at where Zakat is being used to fund aid delivery and the challenges and opportunities that come with this type of financing. 

When reliable information is gold: Demanding the truth during the Ebola epidemic 

We hear a lot about how technology and social media have delivered an information revolution, but sometimes it seems the old ways are the best. A blackboard inside a shed next to a busy intersection of the Liberian capital Monrovia has 5,000 daily readers, more than the number who read Liberia’s most popular website.  At the height of the Ebola crisis the “The Daily Talk” became the go-to place for information and updates on the outbreak and used special symbols and pictures to assist those unable to read fluently.

Making development work for humanitarian response – and vice versa

The gap between the silos of humanitarian aid and development assistance has, predictably, been a big talking point during regional consultations of the World Humanitarian Summit. In this blog post, Marc DuBois a former executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the UK, argues that humanitarian crises can be an opportunity for development and that more needs to be done to join up emergency relief with longer-term planning. Citing the examples of Eastern DRC, Haiti and South Sudan, he calls for more joined-up thinking and an end to the “two-pronged architecture of the aid system”.

App Helps Syrian Refugees Adapt To Life Away From Home

Syrian refugee and computer programmer Mojahid Akil has created a mobile phone application to help fellow refugees adjust to live in their new home.  “Help Me”, part of a website called “Gherbtna”  – meaning exile, loneliness or a feeling of foreignness in Arabic – provides information to Syrian refugees about essential services like health care and education, and where to register births and deaths. The app also helps refugees in Turkey, where Akil is now based, to navigate the language barrier and find Syrian food and other community members. America’s National Public Radio has the story.

Tackling the digital divide: what does this mean for humanitarian responders?

Is technology the solution for communication in a disaster situation? Mobile phones and tablets do help humanitarians communicate with crisis-hit communities, but mobile phones alone should not be seen as a panacea, rather one part of a wider set of tools. Reflecting on the recent Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, John Warnes, Technology Officer at the CDAC  (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities) Network Secretariat, says: “We need to retain a community-centric, rather than technology-centric approach to humanitarian aid. Technology is only a tool to facilitate communication and improve effectiveness of aid, but it will not automatically put communities in the driving seat.”

 

One to listen to:

The end of development

Anthropologist Professor Henrietta Moore argues that development is an outmoded concept. She questions the focus on top-down solutions imposed by the global north on the global south and asks if there isn’t another way. This lecture at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University was broadcast on BBC World Service radio.

One to watch:

How tsunami aid destroyed a culture 

The secluded Nicobar Islands, an archipelago, some 1,200 kilometres east of the Indian mainland, with a population of just 42,000, have survived almost autonomously for centuries, but when the area was hit by the 2004 Tsunami, the aid poured in. In this New Scientist video, social ecologist Simron Jit Singh explains how the arrival of outside “assistance” sent the area into “cultural meltdown”.

From IRIN:

Millions of aid dollars lost in currency swings

Currency fluctuations this year could cost relief agencies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost income, threatening aid to millions of people around the world.  A drop in the value of the euro against the dollar and a spike in the Swiss franc have contributed to shortfalls in funding for the organisations like the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), who have offices in Geneva.

lr/am

Theme (s): Aid Policy,

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EU Commissioner Stylianides addresses high-level aid conference in Dubai

Providing food vouchers in Lebanon to Syrian refugees Photo credit: WFP/Rein Skullerud

This year’s annual edition of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference (DIHAD) is taking place within the context of growing complexities for the humanitarian community faced with an increasing number of severe humanitarian emergencies.

Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management delivered a keynote speech at the conference:

We live in a turbulent world and 2014 was no exception. We witnessed conflicts and humanitarian crises which have led to human suffering on an unprecedented scale. Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic and South Sudan are four of the UN’s highest emergency level crises that shook the world all at the same time, while the deadly Ebola epidemic hit West Africa in an extraordinary way.

Stressing the need to diversify partnerships and work together to achieve a more sustainable type of aid, Stylianides said: “Today more than ever, we need to reach out across borders and beyond traditional modes of operation, to improve our principled humanitarian approach and improve the lives of victims of disaster. We also need to build on the links between humanitarian and development aid, to ensure sustainability and resilience of affected populations.

The Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference (DIHAD) is an annual conference which brings together a wide range of organisations within the international development and humanitarian community. It aims to build bridges between organisations and countries from around the globe engaged in addressing needs of those affected by crises. The 12th DIHAD’s underlying theme is “Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability: The Humanitarian Aid and Development Perspectives”.

Read the full speech by Commissioner Stylianides here.

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Ebola epidemic: One year of fighting the virus

EU Ebola Response Coordinator Christos Stylianides during his visit to the most affected countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Photo credit: European Union, 2014

Today marks one year since the World Health Organisation reported the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea. The epidemic has left deep scars on the lives of people not only in Guinea, but also in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It has been a year of continuous efforts by the affected countries and the international community to stop the virus ravaging West Africa.

EU Ebola Coordinator and Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides has retraced the progress that has been made in the fight against Ebola in his second report to the European Council.

The EU has been active in the response to the Ebola emergency from the start. Together with its Member States, the EU has mobilised close to €1.4 billion for emergency response and early recovery. Almost €1 billion has already been committed. Read the full report by Commissioner Stylianides.

“We have made real headway in the fight against Ebola, but getting to zero Ebola cases in all three countries needs to remain our absolute, overriding priority. We now need to sustain the presence of equipment and personnel on the ground“, reads Commissioner Stylianides’ report. “Recent trends from Sierra Leone and Guinea underline how easily those gains could be reversed. We are in a race against time.”

The international response to Ebola is now shifting from the extensive coverage that has characterized the early months of the outbreak to a more flexible response rooted at community level to detect, isolate and treat new Ebola cases. It also needs to respond to the persistent resistance of communities that healthcare workers face in some regions.

These and other remaining challenges in the fight against Ebola have been addressed at the high-level international conference which was co-hosted by the EU on 3 March 2015. It brought together the affected countries, regional stakeholders, the UN, the African Union and other key partners to take stock of the current fight against Ebola, coordinate further action and discuss the recovery process.

Background

West Africa is currently facing the largest and most complex Ebola epidemic on record. The virus has taken a heavy toll on life: 24 500 people have been infected; more than 10 000 have died. Beyond the human tragedy, the disease is having devastating effects on the security and economy of the whole region.

The European Commission coordinates the European response to the Ebola epidemic and provides affected countries with humanitarian aid, technical expertise, longer-term development assistance, investment in research for a vaccine and evacuation means for international humanitarian workers. The activation of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has enabled the rapid, coordinated deployment of emergency supplies and experts offered by the Member States.

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Minister Paradis Announces Additional Support for Vanuatu

Canada increases its support in response to the humanitarian needs of those affected by Cyclone Pam

March 23, 2015 – Ottawa, Ontario – Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

Today, the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, announced additional Canadian funding to support the work of World Vision Canada in responding to the humanitarian impact of Cyclone Pam, which struck Vanuatu in the South Pacific on Friday, March 13, destroying thousands of homes.

“The destruction caused by this cyclone is devastating for the people of Vanuatu,” said Minister Paradis. “Over half of the country’s population has been affected by this disaster, including as many as 60,000 children. Canada’s response is helping meet urgent needs by providing relief items, clean water and shelter, and reconnecting families.”

Humanitarian needs remain significant in the Oceanian island nation. The Government of Canada will continue to monitor the situation to ensure humanitarian needs are met and is ready to provide further assistance if required.

Canadian citizens in Vanuatu requiring emergency consular assistance should contact a consular official from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at +678 22777 or the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613 996 8885 (collect calls are accepted where available).

Friends and relatives in Canada who are concerned about Canadian citizens they believe to be in the affected area should contact Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre by calling 1-800-387-3124 (toll-free) or 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted) or sending an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

Quick Facts

  • On Friday, March 13, Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, located northeast of Australia, as a Category 5 cyclone, with reported winds of up to 340 kilometres per hour.
  • The support announced today is in addition to Canada’s initial contribution, made on Saturday, March 14, towards the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to help kick-start immediate response activities of the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, including the distribution of emergency relief items.
  • Further Canadian support was announced on March 18 in contribution to the IFRC’s emergency relief efforts already under way.

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WHO, worried about damage to West Africa’s economy, delayed declaring Ebola an emergency

EbolaWHO, worried about damage to West Africa’s economy, delayed declaring Ebola an emergency

Published 24 March 2015

The World Health Organization(WHO) for two months delayed labeling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency for fear of damaging the economy of Guinea and neighboring countries, according to leaked documents and memos from the organization. Beginning in April 2014, WHO’s specialists, both in the field and at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, were raising an alarm about the spreading epidemic — but it was not until June 2014 that WHO begun seriously to consider the scope of the outbreak, and it was not until August 2014 that WHO defined the Ebola outbreak as an epidemic and declared an international emergency.

The World Health Organization (WHO) for two months delayed labeling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency for fear of damaging the economy of Guinea and neighboring countries, according to leaked documents and memos from the organization.

According to the AP, WHO’s Geneva headquarters received numerous e-mails by mid-April 2014 from staffers in Guinea calling for help with an epidemic which had already killed 100 people and was likely to spread. In an e-mail from Jean-Bosco Ndihokubwayo, an Ebola expert with WHO’s Africa office to a WHO official in Geneva, he described the situation as taking a critical turn because many health workers at Donka Hospital in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, had been exposed to the virus. “What we see is the tip of an iceberg,” he wrote, later requesting the help of six veteran outbreak responders, writing in all capitals in the email’s subject line: “WE NEED SUPPORT.”

WHO official Stella Chungong warned the Geneva office that terrified health workers might abandon Donka Hospital and that new Ebola cases were appearing out of nowhere. “We need a drastic … change (of) course if we hope to control this outbreak,” she said.

WHO eventually sent Pierre Formenty, an Ebola expert to the region, but many of the other staffers sent to Conakry “had no idea how to manage an Ebola epidemic,” according to Marc Poncin, mission chief for Doctors Without Borders (DWB), the group that led the Ebola outbreak response until WHO declared a global public health emergency in August.

Before the declaration, in early April WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporters that “this outbreak isn’t different from previous outbreaks.” In a Twitterpost, Hartl wrote “You want to disrupt the economic life of a country, a region, (because) of 130 suspect and confirmed cases?”

The Guardian reports that in June 2014, WHO officials discussed whether to declare a global health emergency as such a declaration “ramps up political pressure in the countries affected” and “mobilizes foreign aid and action,” read an internal document. WHO, however, was already preoccupied with other outbreaks, including polio, which was a high political priority. There were also issues with the Guinean government, which according to WHO documents, was reporting only confirmed Ebola cases and not those suspected or probable, in an effort to downplay the dangers and avoid alarming foreign workers in the mining industry.

Dr. Sylvie Briand, head of WHO’s pandemic and epidemic diseases department acknowledged that her agency made wrong decisions, but said postponing the declaration made sense at the time because it could have had catastrophic economic consequences “What I’ve seen in general is that for developing countries, it’s sort of a death warrant you’re signing,” she told the AP.

Critics of WHO’s actions before August 2014 argue that declaring an international emergency functions as a global distress call, one that no world leader could ignore. “It’s important because it gives a clear signal that nobody can ignore the epidemic any more,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, DWB’s international president. In a meeting at WHO headquarters on 30 July, Liu told WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan: “You have the legitimacy and the authority to label it an emergency … You need to step up to the plate.”

After WHO declared an international emergency on 8 August 2014, the United States sent 3,000 troops to west Africa to help build Ebola field hospitals, Britain and France also pledged to help build Ebola clinics, China sent a fifty-nine-person lab team, and Cuba sent more than 400 health workers. Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s top Ebola official still maintains that labeling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency would not have been a magic bullet. “What you would expect is the whole world wakes up and goes: ‘Oh my gosh, this is a terrible problem, we have to deploy additional people and send money,’” he said. “Instead what happened is people thought: ‘Oh my goodness, there’s something really dangerous happening there and we need to restrict travel and the movement of people.’”

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