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Cholera Comes to Cameroon

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Cholera Comes to Cameroon…”A cholera epidemic has hit northern Cameroon, killing more than 200 people in less than a month. The government of the central African nation and aid agencies say some of the affected persons are refugees fleeing the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram.” (VOA

Ebola Watch

In the midst of a national doctors’ strike, Nigerian authorities are now working to prevent an outbreak of Ebola, after the country’s first patient died last week. (VOA

Nigerian health authorities are in the process of tracing more than 30,000 people who could be at risk of contracting Ebola, after the virus surfaced in Lagos. (VOA

The 39-year-old doctor leading the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone has died from the virus. The country’s chief medical officer says Dr. Umar Khan died Tuesday afternoon. (VOA

Britain on Wednesday held a top-level government meeting to discuss the spread of the highly-contagious Ebola virus in West Africa, saying the outbreak was a threat it needed to respond to. (Reuters


Ugandan activists opened a petition Wednesday at the constitutional court seeking to overturn tough anti-gay laws that have been condemned by rights groups as draconian. (AP

The controversial South African politician Julius Malema has released a book entitled The Coming Revolution. The book and political ambitions of the young militant is causing worry within political circles. (VOA

PEPFAR, the biggest funder of HIV programmes in Kenya, is set to significantly scale down its funding, a move activists and government officials believe could negatively affect the country’s fight against the disease. (IRIN

Girls and young women who allege they were sexually abused by a British Airways pilot in African schools and orphanages plan to sue the airline, a law firm representing them said on Wednesday. (Reuters

Human rights and gay rights activists urged President Barack Obama to ensure that the issue of anti-gay discrimination in Africa is on the agenda at next week’s summit in Washington with more than 40 African leaders. (Yahoo


Lebanese authorities have started to enforce new measures that would limit the number of Syrians entering Lebanon as part of efforts to reduce the more than one million refugees from the war-shattered nation already within their borders. (VOA

After days of fighting, Islamist groups in Libya have seized the headquarters of the Libyan special forces in the eastern city of Benghazi. (VOA


More than 150 people are feared trapped after a landslide swept through a village in western India. Officials in Maharashtra state said the mudslide buried at least 40 homes in a village near Pune early Wednesday. (VOA

A United Nations-backed tribunal has begun the second trial of the two surviving senior members of the Khmer Rouge. (VOA

The effort to end polio is taking a toll on Pakistan’s already overstretched health system. With more children dying of measles and diarrhea, some question whether the focus on polio is worth it. (NPR

Health workers in Pakistan are trying to convince parents to let their children take a vaccine, but the program faces violent opposition. Researchers from Harvard polled the parents; the results surprised them. (NPR

The Americas

Argentina is in default, says S&P. (Guardian

A US federal appellate court rejected arguments that women could seek abortions outside the state, saying no state can farm its constitutional duties out to its neighbors. (NPR

The US imposes travel restrictions on Venezuelan government officials it says are linked to human rights abuses during recent protests. (BBC


Why I have become more pessimistic about Israel (Vox

“But they have a space programme!”: untangling the foreign aid debate (New Statesman

How to End the Gaza War (IPS

Somalia Food Shortages Worsened By NGO Policy and Anti-Terrorism Laws (African Arguments

Diving Into The Challenge (850 Calories

Is cash king? The revival of the cash versus food transfers debate (Impact Evaluations

Letters Left Unsent (book review) (Aidnography

Why I think the fatality rate in the current Ebola epidemic suffers from undercounting (haba na haba

Watch the men who harvest cocoa try chocolate for the first time (Humanosphere


The United Nations is calling for an end to Human Trafficking as it marks the first World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The plan focuses on preventing trafficking, prosecuting offenders and protecting victims. It calls on states to set up national programs that implement these measures. (VOA

A “pretty good” malaria vaccine is on track to be the first to market. It only prevents infection about one-quarter to one-half the time, so it’s not as good as most vaccines. (VOA

New study shows ‘what works’ in terms of operational leadership in humanitarian agencies (ALNAP

Sharply higher interest rates around the world could combine with weaker growth in emerging markets to slice as much as 2 percentage points off global growth in the next five years, the International Monetary Fund said. (Reuters


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SG; Ukraine; Middle East

SG: The SG met with President Ortega yesterday in Nicaragua where he visited a wind farm and praised the country’s commitment to renewable energy. The SG arrived in Costa Rica today where he is expected to lecture about “Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century”.

Ukraine: The SG expressed concern over the continued fighting near the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash as it restricts investigator’s access to the site and prevents the work necessary to carry out the investigation. In accordance with SC Resolution 2166, the SG called on all parties to cease hostilities near the crash to allow international teams unfettered access to the site.

Middle East: The SG condemned the attack on an UNRWA school in Gaza today and continues to call on all parties to ensure the safety of the UN sites and the civilians seeking protection there. UN Humanitarian Chief Amos echoed the SG’s concern over the school attack noting that Gaza’s sole power plant was also hit leaving homes with only two hours of electricity per day. Amos remarked that humanitarian needs are continuing to increase as capacities are stretched to their limits. As fighting continues despite the most recent four-hour humanitarian ceasefire, Amos urges all parties to make efforts toward a lasting ceasefire to end the conflict.

Afghanistan: UNAMA welcomed the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) adoption of criteria for the ongoing audit of the presidential election results. The UN supports the IEC’s decision and the SRSG for Afghanistan believes the criteria will help the audit to proceed efficiently without any interruption.

Security Council: This morning the SC adopted resolutions on Cyprus and Iraq to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus for six months and extend the mandate of UNAMI for one year as well as increase the number of reports on the work of UNAMI. UN Humanitarian Chief Amos also briefed the Council regarding humanitarian access in Syria. Amos noted that convoys have been dispatched through some designated cross-points, but 241,000 people are still living in siege conditions as she hopes to confirm the use of other border points amidst the challenge of continued fighting.

Somalia: The SRSG for Somalia reported that Federal Government representatives in Somalia signed an agreement to form a regional administration in central Somalia. The UN continues to support the Federal Government’s peace and state-building efforts as this decision marks the country’s progress toward state formation.

World Day against Trafficking in Persons: Marking today’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the SG emphasized the need to address the root causes of this crime—extreme poverty, entrenched inequality and a lack of education and opportunity. He recognized today as a call to action to end trafficking and urged all countries to ratify the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.

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UN Officials React to Today’s Gaza Tragedy

Earlier today it was reported that yet another Israeli shell hit a UN school in Gaza.  The UN schools have been used as shelters by thousands of Gazans because the ‘no-go’ zone declared by the Israeli military encompasses nearly half of the Gaza strip. If Gazans cannot count on the UN buildings to keep them safe, it raises serious questions about whether there is anywhere they can go to seek refuge.   

Two top UN officials briefed the press today about this incident. Their frustration at the ongoing conflict was palpable.

John Ging, Director of Operations at the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) declared “nowhere is safe” for Gazans to go despite Israel’s warnings to leave areas about to be attacked. It is true that Hamas hid caches of weapons in three UN schools, but Ging explained today that those particular schools had already been abandoned because of fighting and are completely out of UN control. UNRWA has not found rockets hidden in schools being used as shelters, “so there’s no excuse,” said Ging.  

Also briefing the press was a frustrated Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson. He poignantly said today, Israel and Hamas “need to put the human being at the center,” and “stop the fighting now.”  His boss, Ban Ki Moon, is in Costa Rica today and issued a harshly worded statement on the attack saying, “nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.”

Meanwhile, during an interview with Al Jazeera UNRWA’s indefatigable spokesperson Chris Gunnes simply broke down.

In times of conflict the job of the UN Secretariat and the international civil servants who inhabit it is principally humanitarian.  Their job goes on, despite pleas for a ceasefire. And every day that their call for a humanitarian pause in fighting falls on deaf ears means more civilian deaths.  As Ging observed in the press briefing today, one child has died for every hour this conflict has dragged on. 

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Yet Another UN School Hit in Gaza

There is word that an UNRWA School in Gaza has been hit by Israeli artillery, killing at least 20 people.  Some 3,000 Gazans were sheltering there.  From the New York Times

Mr. Turner of the United Nations said his agency had provided the GPS coordinates of the school to the Israel Defense Forces 17 times, starting July 16 and most recently Tuesday at 8:48 p.m., to ensure it would be spared. Ziad Yousef, who also works for the agency, said the doors were locked at 11 p.m. Tuesday so no one could come or go.

“People who saw that happen are now convinced there are no safe places left,” Mr. Yousef said.

At least four strikes hit in close succession in a straight line across the school compound, indicating artillery fire, according to people who saw the attack; one struck a house behind the school. The drop ceiling of one classroom had collapsed, and the tin roof was peppered with shrapnel holes. The ground was covered with rubble, clothing and pools of blood. Sunlight shone through a hole in the roof of another classroom, also hit by a shell.

At the nearby Kamal Adwan hospital, Saeed Adham stood over the bed of his 15-year-old son, Rizek, whose right leg had been shattered by shrapnel. An X-ray of Rizek’s calf showed bones looking like an archipelago. Mr. Adham said his family was sleeping in a second-floor classroom when a strike shattered the windows, so they ran to a hallway, where a shell hit the roof. As he waited for surgery on his son’s leg, Mr. Adham said his wife and other children remained at Abu Hussein despite the danger. “We have nowhere but the school,” he said.

Mr. Turner’s agency, which in calm times provides education, health care and other services to about 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents who are classified as refugees, has found rockets in three of its empty schools during the conflict, most recently on Tuesday. He said officials were not able to gain access to the school on Tuesday because of fighting nearby, but that unlike the other two cases, they did not plan to turn the rockets over to Gaza-based security officials, which had prompted criticism.

UNRWA is a humanitarian agency. Not a political one. Still, the services UNRWA provides for the people of Gaza, principally education, can provide a bulwark against extremism and the ideology promoted by Hamas. For example, both Hamas and UNRWA run summer camps for children in Gaza. UNRWA’s camps (when they have funding)  are pretty standard — arts and crafts, theater and all that.  Hamas’ children’s camps include military training for “pioneers of liberation.”

Needless to say, undermining UNRWA can serve to bolster Hamas. If (the US and UN funded) UNRWA is not providing services or protection to the people of Gaza, Hamas will step in.

The incident today is first and foremost a tragedy for the people involved. But it is also an expression of a terribly trend in this conflict. UNRWA’s neutrality should be inviolable and all sides need to respect that neutrality and, in the case of Israel, take utmost caution to avoid strikes that may damage the schools or injure people sheltering inside. Civilians in Gaza are boxed in with nowhere to escape. UNRWA can provide sanctuary only to the extent that belligerents respect its neutrality. So far, that does not appear to be the case.


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Ransom Payments to Al Qaeda Masked as Development Aid

How do al Qaeda affiliates in Africa fund their operations? Through ransom paid my European governments, it turns out. A rather explosive scoop. “While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have earned at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year…These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid.” (NYT

Liberia has run out of hospital beds for its Ebola patients…”in Monrovia, the capital city, there isn’t enough space in the specialized isolation unit to hold all of the city’s symptomatic cases. The Ministry of Health wanted to expand the unit at Elwa Hospital, on the outskirts of Monrovia, but the local community fought back, physically, making it impossible to secure health staff, a Health Ministry official told BuzzFeed by telephone. “The Elwa facility is overwhelmed right now as I speak to you,” said Tolbert Nyenswah, the country’s assistant minister of health.“It was built as a transit point for 18 persons, but as I speak to you we have 25 in the unit and 20 who need to be in the unit but there’s no room to put them there.” Instead most are back in their communities, and a few are waiting in ambulances, Nyenswah said.” (BuzzFeed


A CAR mine owned by Canada’s Axmin was overrun by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels more than year ago. It now forms part of an illicit economy driving sectarian conflict in one of Africa’s most unstable countries, despite the presence of thousands of French and African peacekeepers. (Reuters

Health authorities are trying to determine who on a series of flights across West Africa last week came into contact with a man who days later died of the Ebola virus. (VOA

The military spokesman for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says a joint military offensive with the national army in Walikale and Masisi territories has freed over 20 villages from rebels from the Mai Cheka and the Alliance for the Sovereign and Patriotic Congo groups. (VOA

Through word of mouth and family ties, Somali refugees seek a temporary home in a nook of Istanbul, in order to find some respite from the political and natural disasters that have devastated Somalia for decades. (IPS

Burundi’s ruling party is carrying out a “relentless campaign of intimidation” against opposition and critics, ahead of presidential elections next year, Amnesty International said. (Yahoo

South African metal workers started returning to work on Tuesday after accepting a wage deal from employers, ending a four-week strike that dealt a blow to growth in Africa’s most advanced economy. (Reuters

Barack Obama gave a preview of a summit he will hold with African leaders next week, saying African nations should look inward for solutions to economic woes and not make “excuses” based on a history of dependence and colonization. (Reuters

The West African airline that transported a passenger sick with Ebola last week says it’s now suspending flights to the two cities hardest hit by the disease. (AP


More destruction in Gaza as Israel intensifies its military operations, including destroying Gaza’s only power plant.  Meanwhile, the Israeli government seems to be alienating the White House. The latest. (Guardian

“Families [in Iraq], including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price,” says Human Rights Watch. (IPS

A new US government report says the military has not effectively kept track of the light weapons it supplied to Afghanistan’s army and police. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an independent watchdog group, the failure creates a danger that small arms such as machine guns will fall into the hands of insurgents. (VOA

Migrant workers building the first stadium for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup have been earning as little as 45p an hour, the Guardian can reveal.The pay rate appears to be in breach of the tournament organisers’ own worker welfare rules and comes despite the Gulf kingdom spending £134bn on infrastructure ahead of the competition. (Guardian


Human rights groups in and outside Pakistan are condemning as “brutalization and barbarism stooping to new lows” a mob assault on a minority Muslim community that left at least three people dead and burned many of their houses. (VOA

Amnesty International says a team of four from its headquarters in London traveled to Thailand to research the human rights situation in the kingdom following the May 22 coup. (VOA

A US company that supplies meat to fast-food chains in China has pulled all its products made by a subsidiary. An expose revealed some of the products were mishandled and had expired. (NPR

The Americas

Latin America and the Caribbean should push to achieve universal access to social services and policies to boost formal employment in order to make faster progress towards human development, the UNDP and experts recommend, while pointing to the improvement in human development indicators made in recent years. (IPS

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. (VOA

Hundreds of Africa’s emerging leaders are gathered in Washington for a three-day summit that includes a meeting with President Barack Obama. The summit is a highlight of a six-week U.S. fellowship that has given about 500 young Africans a chance to sharpen their skills through coursework and professional development. (VOA

Genetically modified corn seeds are no longer protecting Brazilian farmers from voracious tropical bugs, increasing costs as producers turn to pesticides, a farm group said. (Reuters


Is the UN peacekeeper selection process flawed? (IRIN

Trade Facilitation Will Support African Industrialisation (IPS

The Brics have a chance to succeed where the World Bank has failed (Guardian

US-Africa Leaders’ Summit Watch List (CGD

South Sudan: Is There Hope for a Durable Solution? (ISS


Inaccessible health services for people with disabilities, combined with social stigma and violence, contribute to high HIV risk – a gap that must be filled if the disabled are not to remain disproportionately vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, say health experts and activists. (IRIN

Designs for flying cars are being targeted at humanitarian organisations for use in a variety of missions, from delivering vaccines to transporting medics and patients. (SciDevNet

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A Ground’s-Eye View of Afghanistan’s Election Crisis

It has been a long, drawn out and violent election season in Afghanistan.  There’s no conclusive winner. But it is increasingly looking as if ordinary Afghans are on the losing end of this election.

The first round of 2014 elections in Afghanistan was held on April 5. After inconclusive results, the run off took place on June 14. However due to allegations of fraud after the announcement of the preliminary results that showed Dr. Ashraf Ghani ahead of his opponent Abdullah Abdullah, the election season went off-rail.

Abdullah rejected the preliminary results, calling the episode a “coup d’état,”  and a declared himself the rightful winner. Abdullah’s supporters installed posters declaring him the president and supporters of Ghani poured into the streets to support their success. Name-calling and antagonizing discourse from both sides continued until John Kerry visited Afghanistan and met with President Hamid Karzai and both candidates. After the various meetings with Kerry, both candidates promised a new coalition where both the winner and the loser of the election will form some sort of unity government.

Through Kerry’s deal, international and national entities were to monitor the process of counting the eight million votes and separating fraudulent votes from legitimate ones. However, the process is already facing delays on a daily basis. Despite public announcements with John Kerry, representatives from both sides- the latest being Ahmad Zia Massoud from the Ghani camp- have spoken against the agreement on creating a coalition government. As of right now, it seems as if more uncertainty is ahead for the Afghan people as the audit is delayed by arguments and misunderstanding.

While presidential candidates and their supporters fought over power, Afghans were fighting their own battles. When discussing the “election drama” in Afghanistan, a friend told me, “Everything is on pause and everyone is holding their breaths because people are afraid.” Throughout the process Afghans have been worried about the possibility of violence and civil war leaving many afraid to go on with their daily lives.

Not only are Afghans unsure of their future, but the country has also experienced extreme levels of terror in the past few weeks. Eight foreigners were killed and thirteen civilians injured by a suicide bomber on July 2. 89 Afghans were killed by the Taliban on July 15. Taliban militia also occupied two buildings in the vicinity of Kabul airport and used their position to attack the facility on July 17. Nine civilians were killed in Takhar in a bomb blast on July 24. In most recent news, the Taliban killed fifteen civilians who were traveling in Ghor Province on July 25.  All girls’ schools in Shindand, Herat, have been closed due to lack of security for the first time since the Taliban government lost power.

In addition to what seems like an increase in terrorist attacks and civilian casualties, the Afghan members of parliament tried to slip in a bill to protect their wages after the end of their terms. This is while 36 percent of the population lives in poverty and almost all Afghans are living in instability and war. The obvious disconnect between people and their representatives is perhaps what led to Afghans in Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Qandahar, Helmand, and Bamyan to protest the bill. Samira Hamidi, a women’s rights activist called the bill “The Luxury Bill” as she held a sign that read, “The parliament is not an insurance company.” Though the protest was not widely covered by international media, it contributed to the rejection of the bill in the Senate. Compared to the every-day struggles of the Afghan people, the ivory tower of politics where presidential candidates and their supporters are quarreling over votes while parliamentarians are fighting for more privileges seems to be terribly out of touch.

Roqia Hossaini, a university student in Kabul, wrote to me today, “Our leaders are too busy fighting over power to notice that we are dying in the roadsides.” Suicide attacks, the lack of security, poverty, increased inequality and the ongoing clashes over election results have made Afghans impatient and frustrated as their fates remain unresolved. Afghans, who risked violent threats from the Taliban and who on occasion traveled long distances and stood in lines under the rain for hours to vote have now waited nearly four months for the results of this election amidst many terrorist attacks. By prolonging the process and refusing to collaborate, supporters of both candidates blatantly go against the will of the majority of Afghan people who have waited too long for election season to end peacefully. The Afghan people have done their duty towards their country and their children by participating in a historic election despite grave difficulties. Will the politicians do their duty towards the Afghan people by forming a democratic government and preventing further violence? So far, it does not look good.

Photo credit:  Afghans protest parliament’s “luxury bill” with slogan “People hold a red card.” /Abdullah Ahmadi

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