WHD 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Robert Piper: A new approach needed for the Sahel

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Robert Piper, has called on governments and international organizations to adopt a new way of supporting people in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa. "'Business as usual' doesn't cut it," he said. "We're going to have a very large caseload of people every year unless we change our approach," he said.

For more go to http://www.unocha.org/crisis/sahel
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Interview: “Business as usual doesn’t cut it”

This morning (Thursday 26 September), senior representatives from more than 60 countries and international organizations will gather in the margins of the UN General Assembly for a High Level Meeting on the political, security and humanitarian future of the Sahel – one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. The meeting will be chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Speaking ahead of the event, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Robert Piper, says that it offers a chance for governments, the UN and the development and humanitarian communities to adopt a new approach to addressing vulnerability in the region.
“Business as usual’ doesn’t cut it. We’re going to have a very large caseload of people every year unless we change our approach,” he said.
Q. Thank you for your time. What is the situation in the Sahel today?
A. Well, the situation today is much better than last year. Last year we had a drought and we certainly had a crisis of fairly epic proportions. This year the situation remains fairly serious, People are still trying to recover from last year’s events and they’ve also been battered by man-made disasters: [the conflict in] northern Mali and so forth.
Today we have over 11 million people food insecure across the region. Almost 5 million children are acutely malnourished and we have had a number of epidemics and different health challenges. So it’s a region which is recovering from a very serious period, but [that is] still very fragile and in need of a tremendous amount of support from the international community.
Q. What kind of humanitarian assistance do people need?
A. I think we need to realize firstly that we have amongst these populations the most vulnerable people on the planet. So ‘business as usual’ doesn’t cut it. We’re going to have a very large caseload of people every year unless we change our approach.
One of the problems we have today – as we’ve had almost every year with humanitarian efforts – is that governments tend to want to fund food and nutrition which gives a very immediate life-saving result. They are much more reluctant to fund, say, agriculture or water and sanitation inputs because that has a deferred result.
So the problem is the following: If we’re going to reduce next year’s caseload of food insecure people, then we need to give them agricultural support this season. And if we’re going to reduce the number of malnourished children that we’re going to treat next year, then water and sanitation services have got everything to do with [that]. So we need a more balanced response.
Q. What will be the focus of the High-Level Event for the Sahel?
A. The meeting is dedicated to bringing the international community together in a coordinated fashion. The objective of the Secretary-General is to create a stronger international response to make sure that [everyone] comes together on the new UN integrated strategy for the Sahel which was endorsed by the Security Council a couple of months ago.
The strategy brings together essentially three pillars of work of the international community in the Sahel: Supporting and strengthening states across the region; security and borders, and resilience – trying to break the cycle of crises that are creating more and more vulnerable people in the region.
Q. What are your expectations for the meeting? What do you want to see?
A. Our expectations are pretty high for this. This is a very fragile region. We can’t afford to let it slide another year. Across the region we see fragility. We see fragility caused by nature and climate change. We see the fragility that comes with the most intense poverty on the planet. And we see fragility that comes from man-made crises -conflicts between people over resources, conflicts championed by Jihadists in northern Mali, and refugees being pushed out of Sudan and Central African Republic into Chad. So there’s fragility wherever you look.
To respond effectively to that kind of scenario, we need regional governments working together very effectively, and we need an international community in turn which comes in behind that regional community of actors and dedicates themselves to dealing with the structural problems that are unfolding in the region.
My expectation is that at the end of the day we [need to be] sure that we are focusing on the most vulnerable people in this region. If we don’t have [them] at the centre of all our policy making efforts and our funding, then we’re not going to build the kind of resilience that we have to see in this part of the world.
For more go to www.unocha.org

Malian Refugees in a Desperate State After UN Halts Services

By Marcy Hersh, Refugees International

Mbera is the biggest refugee camp that you've never heard of. With a population of more than 70,000 refugees, Mbera is the sixth largest camp in the world. It is located in a remote area of Mauritania near the border with Mali, and since early 2012, a mix of Tuareg and Arab refugees from northern Mali have fled across the border into this highly arid region.
Mauritania’s Malian refugee population is the largest in the region, and due to the extremely challenging environmental conditions in and around Mbera, these refugees rely completely on outside aid for food, water, shelter and medical care. Their needs are immense and merit a similarly immense response.

Children drinking at a water point in Mbera (credit: UNHCR / B. Malum)

Unfortunately, so far, the humanitarian effort in Mbera has been far from adequate. Recent reports from the camp have identified a number of extremely worrying trends. For example, while the majority of refugees did not have major health problems before arriving in Mbera, their condition has since deteriorated rapidly – the result of poor living conditions, inadequate food, and severe water shortages. Most distressingly, more than 13 percent of children under five are suffering from global acute malnutrition, a level globally recognized as “serious” and demanding urgent intervention.
Shelter materials have not been readily available and refugees have had to wait for more than four weeks to receive them. In the meantime, refugees are living in makeshift shelters constructed from sticks and debris that provide little privacy, safety, or protection from the searing sun.
In the desert region where Mbera is located, neither refugees nor their Mauritanian neighbors have sufficient access to clean drinking water. An international NGO working in the camp reports that refugees receive just 11 liters of water per person per day, instead of the 20 liters recommended by international standards.
Distributing food has been particularly challenging, since the refugees’ traditional diet of milk and meat cannot be replicated by the World Food Program, who has been distributing its usual rations of grains and pulses. Refugees admit to selling some of these rations in local markets to buy milk and meat for their family.
This insufficient response has fomented extreme tension between refugees and some humanitarians working in the camp. Things came to a head this month, when a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) exercise concluded that there were many fewer refugees living in Mbera relative to the number of ration cards distributed. On September 5th, UNHCR confiscated 6,500 ration cards, claiming that refugees had registered more than once or had left the camp without notifying camp authorities. This led to a violent reaction from certain groups of refugees, who stormed humanitarian warehouses and stole 15 tons of food and other supplies.
As a result of this violence, UNHCR significantly reduced its activities in Mbera, to the frustration of the refugees. The most problematic element of the drawdown is that UNHCR suspended its activities in the middle of the September food ration distribution. As a result, 15,000 refugees failed to receive their rations and are surviving only because other refugees have been generous enough to share their own food.  These rations are not designed to be shared amongst so many people, which means that malnutrition rates in Mbera are sure to rise, further endangering this already vulnerable population.
The needs in Mbera are severe and immediate, and humanitarians must work urgently to restore all emergency aid, including food distributions. But a short-term fix will not be enough. The camp will continue to be a home to tens of thousands of refugees for a significant amount of time. Northern Mali’s ethnic and political divisions remain unresolved, and few basic services in the region have been restored, so there is little prospect of Mbera’s refugees returning home in the near future. The bigger challenge for aid agencies will be to put in place long-term plans that will bring living conditions in the camp up to acceptable humanitarian standards.

 Marcy Hersh is Senior Advocate for Women and Girls’ Rights at Refugees International, a non-profit organization that works to end displacement and stateless crises worldwide and accepts no government or UN funding.
For more go to http://www.refintl.org/

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

UN General Assembly: 4 things you need to know

By the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Dozens of heads of state along with the UN Secretary-General, Government Ministers, leaders of UN agencies and civil society and other dignitaries are gathering in New York for the 68th Session of the United Nation’s General Assembly. The annual event – a series of meetings starting on 24 September and stretching over the better part of two weeks – will see Member States discuss and debate a range of political, economic and security-related issues.
Each year, OCHA and its partners take the opportunity to highlight key areas of humanitarian concern, and to advocate on behalf of people in crisis for solutions and support.
Here are four key humanitarian issues that OCHA will be focusing on during the 2013 General Assembly.
Each year during the UN General Assembly, OCHA and
its partners highlight key areas of humanitarian concern,
taking the opportunity to advocate on behalf of people in crisis
for solutions and support. Credit: UN
1. The humanitarian crisis in Syria must not be overshadowed by the political debate. The conflict in Syria and the use of chemical weapons are likely to continue to dominate discussions over the coming days. Our hope is that this does not detract attention from the country’s severe humanitarian crisis. Some 7 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian support, with more than 2 million having fled the country.
UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos has issued similar calls throughout the crisis (including in an opinion piece published at the beginning of September, at the re-launch of the Syria humanitarian appeal in June, and in a statement to the UN Security Coucil in April). On Tuesday 24 September, she will be taking part in a UK-organized High-Level Meeting on Syria.
“At the moment we are talking about the whole chemical weapons issue, it is important that that is addressed (and) it is important that we maintain the pressure to get a political solution,” said Ms Amos, in an interview that will be published later today. “But (the) humanitarian issues and the human rights abuses that are really spiralling out of control inside Syria – we need our political leaders to address those as well.”
2. We will urge Member States to do what they can to reverse the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). Every single person in CAR has been affected by their country’s descent into insecurity, violence and despair. Since December 2012, 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and a further 60,000 have left the country all together.
Persistent insecurity has severely hampered the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those most in need. Earlier this month, two aid workers with the French NGO ACTED were killed north of the capital of Bangui.
On Wednesday 25 September, Ms. Amos and Kristalina Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, will chair a High-Level Event that will focus on the situation in CAR. Ms. Amos and Ms. Georgieva visited CAR earlier this year.
“We were both shocked by what we saw but felt that there was a very real opportunity (…) for the international community to really make a difference,” said Ms. Amos. “If they would just focus on the Central African Republic and think about the resources required – the support required to begin to build the institutions in the country – and to give much needed financial support to the many organizations operating on the ground.”
“So this meeting (will) I hope be an opportunity for that to happen.”
3. We will celebrate a new generation of African Humanitarian Champions. Later on Wednesday 25, OCHA will co-host an event with the African Union to celebrate African Humanitarian Champions. The event will highlight the rise of a new approach towards humanitarian intervention in Africa – an approach driven by African governments and civil society, that places increased emphasis on building resilience, rather than addressing needs in the short term.
The event will be an opportunity for African governments and private sector representatives to show how they are addressing humanitarian needs, and to convey the changing narrative about Africa’s response to humanitarian situations.
4. We will emphasize that building resilience should be at the heart of our support to the countries of the Sahel. People in the Sahel – a region that stretches across nine Saharan countries – are some of the most vulnerable people in the world today. They face food insecurity and malnutrition, health crises, natural disasters and, increasingly, insecurity and violence.
On Thursday 26 September the Secretary-General will convene a meeting on the Sahel, which is expected to endorse a new, integrated strategy for the region. One of the three ‘pillars’ of this new strategy is Resilience – the idea that humanitarian and developments efforts should focus on addressing the chronic and structural causes of vulnerability. This approach is already at the heart of much of the work of humanitarian agencies in the Sahel.
Ahead of the event, we will feature an interview with Robert Piper, the regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.
For more go to www.unocha.org

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Resilience takes root in eastern Chad

By The United Nations Development Program - PNUD / Chad

Visiting Chad from 14 to 17 September, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, traveled to the Sahel region of Dar Sila, located in the east of the country, to witness the implementation of a new program of resilience.
UNDP and its partners, civil society and the Chadian government are working together there to reduce the vulnerability of communities in all of its dimensions in the village of Goz Beida.
In Chad, our new program of resilience empowers local communities to provide health, education and rule of law services
 The area is extremely fragile due to its exposure to natural disasters, land degradation and loss of productivity, compounded by climate change and large flows of displaced populations that have added pressure to the local environment and its ability to provide services.
Taking advantage of a period of relative peace and stability in Dar Sila, the new approach aims to heal wounds by bringing people together into the same development programme.
"The dividend of greater stability has to come in the form of meeting the aspirations of the people for education for their children, proper health care and an opportunity to have a proper livelihood," said Helen Clark in an interview with Radio Sila, a local station that advocates daily for peace and harmony.
The program is directly helping to stabilize communities, but also working with local authorities to help people build a better future by generating new sources of revenue and getting access to basic services.
In its conflict prevention component, the programme has mobilized local radios, caravans of peace and religious and traditional authorities that have sensitized 65,000 people on issues relating to human rights, violence against women and community conflicts.
About 150 mediators, including many women, have helped solve 42 inter-community conflicts using traditional techniques, sometimes covering up to 70 miles on donkeys to promote dialogue and prevent violence in all the surrounding villages.
Mobile legal clinics have also helped to promote access to justice by teaching 130,000 people about principles relating to land tenure, marital and community law.
Thanks to this relative stability, the programme will encourage local communities to develop, and grow nutritious food, while allowing them to generate new sources of income from it.
The initiative will give them access to energy through the installation of generators that are able to complete the most difficult tasks, such as husking grain. One thousand women are being trained in marketing local products and have already contributed a total of US $8000 to run their associations.
In parallel, the program has developed solar panels that will light up homes at night.
"This program is wonderful for our women. We re-started our lives from scratch. We have gained a lot of confidence," said the head of the women's groups.
The programme also supports the resilience of local and national institutions, increasing their capacity to provide health, education and rule of law services and expand social protection and economic opportunities.
The municipality of Goz Beida itself now has 21 elected officials, including two women, and its budget increased tenfold in two years, from US $16,000 to $160,000.
For more visit www.undp.org

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Kids Head Back To School In Timbuktu

By World Food Program

Children are headed back to school in the desert city of Timbuktu as life gets back to normal after conflict in northern Mali. The promise of a daily, nutritious meal helps to fill the classrooms, particularly among girls, who might not otherwise be allowed to come. The fighting left northern Mali exposed to widespread malnutrition, a problem which food assistance programmes like school meals can help to address.

For more go to www.wfp.org
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