Monday, March 27

4 regions make up largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years. Now what?

"Somalia's emergency is joined by similar hunger crises in South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen, which together make the world's largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years, according to U.N. officials."

"The UN is seeking $4.4-billion by the end of March to prevent a catastrophe in South Sudan and three other famine-threatened countries: Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Yet by February, only 2 per cent of this target had been raised."

All right. I'll outline each case one by one. But the first question is how in the hell did this happen, given the vast amounts of aid poured into these regions for decades? 

The answer: In all four cases violent conflicts are making bad situations worse; pile on top governments that don't work well in the modern era, traditional ways of life that don't square with the present climate in worst-hit regions and helped exhaust the land, and much misspent aid/development loans combined with stupid and corrupt officials and religious leaders.   

So why save these people? Many are born permanently brain-damaged because of severe malnutrition in the womb. They grow up physically and mentally stunted and not much use for anything but breeding like rabbits and plying a pastoral or farming way of life that their part of the world can't support in this era.  

First because if the better-off societies can save this sorry lot they can learn to save anybody, including themselves. That represents a vital mastery of hideously complicated survival skills for a not-too-distant future. Amazing but true the disaster aid industry that arose in the post-WW2 era is getting better at problem-solving as it goes along. They are learning from past mistakes.

Second, and related to the first reason, is that the name of the human survival game is becoming "stay in place" to whatever extent can be done. This because we're learning that too many times when we cut and run, the desert wins. Granted, often there's no choice but to run; e.g., when a vital water source completely dries up. But modern technologies and the accumulation of millennia of knowledge now give humanity a slight edge in the unending struggle against the desert's march. 

The idea now is to put all that technology and knowledge to use in the worst-hit regions. No guarantee of success in every instance but the fight is worth it.

So what we're seeing today is a sea change in the entire approach to disaster aid. Just as medicine is focusing more on prevention, so aid strategies are trying to prevent the worst of conditions that spiral into disasters. 

This approach does have drawbacks; for starters, it can make it even easier for governments that want to meddle in a country's politics to do such. This has been a perennial problem, especially since the Cold War. Another drawback is that extended aid done without changes to a country's basic situation helps support the situation.   

But this is not a perfect world.
And so the race is on to ward off the kind of famine that between 2010 and 2012 wiped out about 260,000 Somalis. Humanitarian aid workers learned many lessons from the disaster and now they're trying to apply what they learned to avert the looming one.  

The race to save Somalis, however, is up against the hard deadline of April. The rains in Somalia have failed two years in a row; if they fail next month.

The threat of famine in Somalia is joined by the specter of large cholera outbreaks in overcrowded refugee camps in the country. From Drought-Stricken Somalia Battles Hunger and Cholera; Associated Press; March 26, 2017; reporting by Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Baidoa, Somalia: 
The cholera epidemic is most prevalent among women and children. Cholera outbreaks often occur in refugee camps due to overcrowding and poor sanitation. Water scarcity also remains a major problem among the new arrivals in the refugee camps. In recent weeks, aid agencies have started a cholera vaccination campaign across Somalia.
Somalia's drought is threatening 3 million lives, according to the U.N. In recent months, aid agencies have been scaling up their efforts, but they say more support is urgently needed to prevent the crisis from worsening.
More aid "is very important if we want to prevent the cholera from going out of control and also to prevent famine. We have to get the funding now to prevent it," Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF's representative for Somalia, said standing inside a Baidoa hospital ward.
"We are still ahead of the curve of the famine because now is when we can save lives," he said. "This is not the time to have doubts that funding is not needed."
Somalia's emergency is joined by similar hunger crises in South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen, which together make the world's largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years, according to U.N. officials.
In Somalia, drought-stricken families have had to move from one place to another in order to reach international aid agencies that cannot distribute food in areas under the control of al-Shabab, Somalia's homegrown Islamic extremist rebels who are affiliated with al-Qaida.
Meanwhile in Yemen --

Yemen’s food crisis – ancient trade route represents a lifeline; March 26, 2017; Middle East Monitor:

Captains of small wooden dhows are carrying food and wares from the United Arab Emirates to war-torn Yemen. But supplies are falling even from this centuries-old Arabian sea route that is one of the last lifelines to a country on the brink of famine.

A two-year-old civil war has severely restricted the flow of food into the main Yemeni cargo ports of Hodeidah and Salif on the Red Sea, where all the large grain silos are located.

The small wooden boats sailing from souks in the UAE are moving small but vital supplies by making for the smaller ports to the south coast that are of little use to larger vessels – and often sidestepping military inspections that choke traffic by dropping anchor at secluded coves nearby.

The deals originate in the sprawling Al Ras Market, a collection of dusty alleyways near the Dubai Creek where an array of food and spices are on display including colourful sacks of Pakistani and Indian rice.

The dhows – plying the ancient trade route that once carried the likes of pearls, frankincense and myrrh – supply 14,000 to 18,000 tonnes of foodstuffs a month to Yemen, according to traders. That represents a drop of about 30-40 percent over the past year because of problems with payment, as well as adverse sailing conditions.

“The Yemeni currency is destroyed, sometimes we can’t get paid enough. We can only go once a month because the seas are too rough,” said trader Mohammed Hassan, at a docking station at nearby Port Khaled in Sharjah

“Sometimes we have to wait 40 days.”

The volumes of food carried on this route represent a small fraction of the supply to Yemen, which relies on imports for 90 percent of its food. But it has become increasingly important as fighting has raged, the economy has collapsed and Yemen has needed all the help it can get.

The conflict has choked imports. Sixty percent of Yemenis, or 17 million people, are in “crisis” or “emergency” food situations, according to the United Nations.

While vessels seeking access to Houthi-held areas must face inspections for smuggled weapons, the government-controlled south has less restrictions.

Food imports into Hodeidah have fallen relentlessly, with only a few ships arriving each week – compared with dozens before the war – and more shipping lines pulling out due to the growing risks, according to aid and shipping sources.

In recent weeks damage to infrastructure in the neighbouring port of Salif has also cut food deliveries, aid officials said.

Robert Mardini, International Committee of the Red Cross regional director for the Near and Middle East in Geneva this week said:

"The country is living on its reserves…There is a lack of liquidity, no payment of salaries, which means that the spending power has collapsed and that the price of food is soaring whenever it is available."

"Paying Thugs"

UAE-based dhow captains avoid these snarl-ups by steering clear of the big Red Sea ports and instead ply their trade to the south, often docking at informal inlets.

The average journey takes about five to eight days, with the boats capable of taking up to 2,000 tonnes of goods, still small fry compared with cargo ships that could provide more relief to one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world.

Trader Ali Mahdani ships his goods out of Dubai to the southern Yemeni ports of Aden, Mukalla or Mokha, goods worth 4-6 million UAE dirhams ($1.1-1.6 million) per month, around 2,000 tonnes of mostly rice, spices or cooking oil. To avoid payments in the battered Yemeni currency he gets paid in Saudi riyals.

There are few issues upon arrival. That’s a sharp contrast the scrutiny that any vessels hoping to access the north would be subjected to as the Saudi-led coalition search for weapons which may be headed into Houthi hands.

“You may have to pay thugs every once in a while but otherwise it is all good to go,” said Mahdani, dressed in a flowing white robe.


Now to Nigeria --

In December the country's president, Muhammadu Buhari, claimed that the United Nations and various humanitarian agencies were exaggerating the threat of famine in N.E. Nigeria, and doing so for financial gain:
The reproach came two days after the United Nations warned that more than five million victims of Boko Haram face serious food shortages in the coming year.
“A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for the third year in a row, causing a major food crisis,” the U.N. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Peter Lundberg, said in a statement Friday.
Mr. Lundberg’s alert followed a similar one issued by a sister agency, UNICEF, in September.
UNICEF, which focuses on humanitarian assistance for children and mothers, said more than two million people remained trapped in Boko Haram-controlled areas while about 400,000 children were at risk of acute malnutrition.
The agency said more than half of the children could die within 12 months unless urgent measures were taken by the concerned authorities.
 Given that the UN and the entire disaster-aid industry are always dialing for dollars, there could be some truth in Buhari's accusation. But from the UN side they're not so much exaggerating as trying to get ahead of a disaster -- to ward it off before it kills hundreds of thousands of people and millions of livestock. 

This was a problem in Somalia in 2010-12; by the time a famine was declared large numbers of people and livestock had already died. And it takes time to set up the pipelines to deliver disaster aid, which translates to many more lives lost during the wait. 

To return to Buhari's side of the debate, there is a problem he didn't go into during the public statements but it is very serious, and this is the merging of disaster aid and development aid, or putting the latter in the disaster budget column. And further, attempts by donor nations to change a society in fundamental ways that masquerade as disaster aid, which can be hard to pin down.

That last is what I thought I heard from the mouth of a U.S. Deputy UN Ambassador, Michele Sison, who was interviewed by Voice of America for a March 15 video report about conditions in N.E. Nigeria. 

Watch the video for yourself but what I heard was talk about protecting the rights of women; e.g., when they went outside the refugee camps. If VOA hadn't cut her off I feared she would've maintained that Nigerians' recognition of LGBT rights was critical to preventing starvation in their northeast region.

It's possible I'm being too hard on her but just to be clear, there has to be a bright line between development and disaster aid. And an even brighter line between disaster aid and programs that introduce your cultural values to other societies.

There is much criticism of rich Muslim Arabs who use disaster situations in Africa and other parts to build more mosques there and send in more Wahhabist clerics. But this is the pot calling the kettle black if the critics are trying to tie disaster aid to their own cultural preferences. And it leads to just the kind of "Cry Wolf!" situation that Buhari complains about.

Now is there really a looming threat of famine in N.E. Nigeria? Here is what Buhari says:
While acknowledging a decline in socio-economic activities of the people of north-east, Mr. Buhari said his administration is making efforts to resolve the crisis and improve the living conditions there.
“There can be no doubt that the effect of the Boko Haram terrorism and their occupation of communities and destruction of houses, infrastructure and means of livelihood has been manifested in the decline of socio-economic activities throughout the North-East.
 “Arising from this, farming, pastoralism, trade, exchange of goods and services and social interaction among the people have negatively been impacted leading to the displacement of more than two million people, mostly women and children. Consequently, there is death, there is hunger and there is poor nutrition.
“The Nigerian government which has been making the most efforts in the entire endeavour, will continue to work closely with the local and international response groups to overcome this humanitarian crisis. 
At this time when the focus is gradually shifting to towards rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement, recovery and the dignified return of IDPs back home, we can do with all the support out there in the donor community,” the statement said.
 But in the interim, the president warned that humanitarian agencies should desist from continuing to blow the situation out of proportion for financial gratification.
When I add this to what the UN says, I'm seeing a humanitarian crisis that is near the edge of a disaster emergency, but with enough hands on deck to prevent the worst -- provided the present situation with Boko Haram doesn't worsen. So it seems there's a big military component to alleviating the situation for civilians, just as there is in Yemen.   

Onward to South Sudan -- 

“The famine is not a result of drought”

South Sudan leaders blamed for orchestrating deliberate famine
Published Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017 8:20PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017 10:22PM EDT
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The revelation is so disturbing that it might once have shocked the world into action: the mounting evidence that an oil-rich regime is using the brutal tactic of deliberate starvation to crush a revolt by its own citizens.

Yet as famine and death spread in the world’s newest country, there is little sign of any urgent response by the world’s most powerful leaders. Instead there are growing fears that political apathy and U.S. budget cuts will make the catastrophe even worse.

The man-made disaster is unfolding with relentless momentum in South Sudan, where three years of civil war have brought famine and forced nearly two-thirds of its 11 million people to depend on humanitarian aid. At least 79 aid workers have been killed since the war began, including six killed on Saturday in an ambush in government-controlled territory.

The famine, declared last month, is the first anywhere in the world in nearly six years. South Sudan is now one of four countries where 20 million people are on the brink of famine – one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War.

Less than six years ago, the United States and Canada were among the many nations celebrating South Sudan’s hard-fought independence from the Sudanese dictatorship. With its oil wealth and strong Western support, South Sudan seemed to have a bright future.

Instead it has collapsed into deadly anarchy, with repeated warnings that it could be on the verge of genocide. Tens of thousands of civilians have died. Half of the government’s budget is reportedly being spent on weapons and soldiers for the war. And now the government is using its chokehold on relief supply routes to starve its opponents and control the impoverished population.

United Nations officials have reported that South Sudanese soldiers are blocking the roads into regions where aid is desperately needed, demanding money and forcing dozens of relief convoys to turn back, and sometimes even attacking the convoys. In effect, the regime is using food blockades as a weapon of war, at a time when 100,000 people are officially in famine and another million are on the brink of famine.

Because so many roads are blocked or dangerous, the UN has been forced to drop its food aid from airplanes flying above the malnourished regions, at a far higher cost than land routes.

A leaked UN report has concluded that the famine in South Sudan is largely due to the “cumulative toll” of government military operations and restrictions on relief operations. The famine, unsurprisingly, is in an opposition-controlled region.

To make the crisis even worse, the government is creating new obstacles for relief agencies, demanding an extortionate fee of $10,000 (U.S.) for every work permit for a foreign aid worker. (The fee was previously $100.)

“The government’s continued unconscionable impediments to humanitarians … may amount to deliberate starvation tactics,” said Michele Sison, the U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council meeting last Thursday.

She said the government was using a “scorched earth campaign” to destroy thousands of homes. “The famine is not a result of drought,” she said. “It is the result of leaders more interested in political power and personal gain than in stopping violence and allowing humanitarian access.”

At the same Security Council meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the government is refusing even to acknowledge the existence of the crisis.

 “The government continues to impede deliveries of life-saving assistance, including through access denials and bureaucratic impediments,” he told the council. “The government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people.”

The disaster is so devastating that South Sudan has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, with 1.6 million of its people fleeing across borders into Uganda and other countries.

The UN is seeking $4.4-billion by the end of March to prevent a catastrophe in South Sudan and three other famine-threatened countries: Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Yet by February, only 2 per cent of this target had been raised.

The Canadian government this month announced $119.25-million (Canadian) in humanitarian aid for the four famine-threatened countries, and other countries are beginning to chip in. But the UN’s food agency, the World Food Programme, has been so underfinanced for years that it has had to cut rations to refugees and other recipients.

At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump is proposing sharp cuts to foreign aid, including UN agencies. The United States is traditionally the biggest donor to UN relief operations, so the cuts could have a far-reaching effect. The cuts wouldn’t take effect until next year, even if they are confirmed by Congress, but they are sparking fears that the South Sudan crisis could accelerate in the longer term, with less global support.


Now let me see if I understand this correctly. After outside governments poured God Only Knows how much assistance into splitting Sudan into two countries, a great many people in the new country didn't like the new government, setting off a civil war, with one result being that the government of the new country turns out to be as nasty as the one in Khartoum.

And so, if the cost of dealing with the four crises is evenly split four ways, more or less, the UN now wants the Trump Administration to have a heart and okay about $1 billion to help alleviate a famine in South Sudan that is the result of said ongoing war and civil unrest.

Is that the gist, or have I missed something? If that is the gist, and the conflict is open-ended, how long is the $1 billion supposed to last in alleviating the ongoing famine? If they're going to die anyway after the billion runs out, why spend the billion in the first place? Or does the UN envision coming back in 6 months and asking for another billion? Then another? 

So I wouldn't put South Sudan in the category of a humanitarian crisis or disaster emergency; it's just the way the country is until things change there. If you want to see a change then you'd first have to get a list of all the nations that are buying oil from Juba, the seat of South Sudan's government, and tell them to stop buying or else you'll slap sanctions on their governments. With oil purchases suspended, then see if Juba wants to block aid delivery routes and charge $10K/aid worker permit.

But if those oil-buying nations happen to include U.S. allies and trading partners? Well, I'm the same person who replied, "Bomb Riyadh. Bomb London. Bomb Rawalpindi," when some fool asked me in 2010 how the US could achieve victory over the Afghan Taliban.

I was overstating to make a point. Most people want to act foolishly and have the situation work out intelligently anyway.


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