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A woman in South Sudan picking grass to eat, credit UNICEF

“We are eating grass because there is no food”

South Sudan is on the verge of a famine. This is known. What is unknown is whether or not the people of South Sudan will actually experience a famine; or whether or not the conflict will subside and political situation stabilize and prevent the famine.

This video from UNICEF offers a rare glimpse into the life of an ordinary South Sudanese family trying to cope with a lack of food.

For a deeper analysis of South Sudan’s food crisis, and the ways in which the international community is trying to head off a famine I spoke with Tariq Riebl, the country director of South Sudan for Oxfam. He explains how we got to this point, and what can save South Sudan from being the second country on earth to experience famine in the 21st century.

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Credit: Australian government. From the website of the immigration service

Australia has a Problem

In recent years Australia has received quite a bit of criticism for its harsh policies towards asylum seekers and refugees. Last week new information on its treatment of Syrian refugees revealed the lengths Australia is willing to go to remove some of the world’s most vulnerable people from its shores. It also calls into question the ability of the international community to enforce refugee rights, even among Western governments.

Although Australia was a settler colony, the country has never been pro-immigration. This sentiment manifested for decades after independence with the“White Australia Policy” which heavily favored limited European immigration while prohibiting non-Europeans from living, working or gaining citizenship in Australia. Following World War II, the government gradually dismantled the core provisions of the policy, officially removing race and country of origin from immigration criteria in 1973. But while the White Australia Policy is no longer on the books, different government policies have taken its place with the same anti-immigrant sentiment.

Over the last 20 years, the bulk of this ire has been directed towards refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive by unauthorized boat. Australia introduced mandatory detention for unauthorized arrivals in 1992, removing pre-existing limits on how long someone could be held in favor of the option of indefinite detention if needed. In 2001, following an increase in unauthorized arrivals from Central and South Asia, the government launched the “Pacific Solution” policy that excised many of the island territories around Australia from the country’s official migration zone and established offshore detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru to house potential asylum seekers while they waited for their claims to be evaluated. Detention often lasts months, sometimes even years, as detainees wait for a decision on their asylum application.

The government claims such policies are for national security but it has also been quite vocal in recent years in support of deterrence as an official government policy. This approach ranges from using prolonged detention, whether justified or not, to advertising assurances that no matter the validity of their claim an asylum seeker will not gain resettlement in Australia. The recent treatment and return of several intercepted Sri Lankan asylum seekers – despite Australia’s acknowledgment of widespread state-sponsored torture by the Sri Lankan government and the likelihood that those sent back would face imprisonment – highlights the harshness of this policy and the depths Australia will go to deter any other refugees from trying to come to its shores.

This is all quite shameful but the revelation by The Guardian of interdepartmental emails from the Australian Department of Immigration show just how deep the anti-refugee pathos within the government has gotten. A tiny fraction of the estimated 3 million Syrian refugees in the world have successfully made it to Australian territorial waters but even that is too much for the government to handle. The emails reveal repeated attempts to coerce Syrian refugees to repatriate even though they legitimately fear they will be killed upon their return. One email recounts the options presented to Syrians detained on Manus Island – indefinite detention or return, but never the possibility of resettlement. So far it is understood that all five Syrians on Manus have elected for indefinite detention over repatriation and possible death.

However at least one Syrian detained at Nauru did elect to try to return. In order to facilitate that, Australian officials shared his identity and personal information with the Syrian government to get official travel documents. In this case, it appears the officials had permission from the Syrian to share this information with the Syrian consulate, but based on the emails it also appears officials were preparing to do this even before permission was granted. That impetus – to respect and abide by the laws of a state engaged in massive crimes against humanity against its own people while blatantly flouting commitments under international law – is increasingly the defining characteristic of Australian immigration policy.

Human rights groups and UNHCR have been vocal in their objections to these draconian measures but that is the extent of action by the international community. Last year Australia took the extraordinary step of excising the entire continental mainland from the Australian migration zone, in essence completely removing Australia from its own borders for the purposes of immigration and ostensibly their commitments under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Such measures sound insane because they are; the move is unprecedented under international law. But aside from criticism by UNHCR who stated it still considers the Refugee Convention to be binding on Australia, nothing has happened. Asylum seekers continue to be detained for months offshore or forcibly returned, in full violation of said convention.

Of course there are very real reasons to try and deter refugees from making the dangerous journey by boat to Australia; people smuggling is a brutal and exploitive industry that rarely places any value on the safety of its human cargo. But Australia’s claims that such policies are out of humanitarian concern fail in view of the country’s history and the goals openly stated by politicians. Furthermore, no other feasible alternatives are being provided that actual deter an asylum seeker from attempting to make the trip. Much like the debate over “Fortress Europe” and the US “border crisis”, the issue is not whether refugees should be protected in the abstract but rather whether the refugees risking their lives to gain the protection of these states are the “right kind” of refugees. International law does not allow for that distinction and neither should the national policies of any state.

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Ebola Comes to DR Congo

Ebola has come to the DRC. “Two out of eight cases tested in an outbreak of deadly fever in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo were positive for the Ebola virus, the central African nation’s health minister confirmed on Sunday.”The results are positive. The Ebola virus is confirmed in DRC,” Felix Kabange Numbi said, referring to samples taken from people infected with the previously unidentified fever that has killed dozens since mid-August. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Thursday that 70 people had died in an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. A WHO spokesman said the outbreak was not Ebola. DRC is now the fifth African nation to confirm cases of the Ebola outbreak, which began in March. A total of 2,617 infections and 1,427 deaths have been recorded, including in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. Liberia has seen the most deaths, at more than 600, with the disease confirmed in all regions of the country.” (DW )

Libya on the Brink…The country’s main international airport has been overrun by Islamist militants. “The Islamist groups, led by a militia from the western city of Misrata under the umbrella of “Operation Dawn,” said they had captured the airport in Tripoli on Saturday after more than a month of fighting against the liberal Zintan militias, who have been assigned by the government to guard the airport since 2011…Neighboring Egypt is set to host a regional meeting on Monday to discuss the Libyan crisis. The meeting is expected to include foreign ministers from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Chad, as well as representatives of the Arab League and the African Union’s envoy to Libya.” (LAT


A Royal Air Force plane carrying a British healthcare worker who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone - the first Briton to catch the deadly virus – took off from the capital Freetown on Sunday bound for Britain. (Reuters

When disaster strikes a poor country, aid workers from all over the world normally flood the zone. This time, fear of the virus is keeping experts from answering West Africa’s calls for help. (NPR

The Philippines is pulling out almost 3,500 workers from three West African states due to the Ebola outbreak, the foreign ministry said on Sunday, a day after Filipino troops in Liberia were ordered to go home. (Reuters

Sierra Leone’s parliament has made the harbouring of Ebola victims a crime punishable by two years’ jail in an attempt to stop the spread of the deadly virus, the justice minister said. (Reuters

A meeting of African health ministers scheduled for early September in Benin has been postponed because of the Ebola epidemic, an official said Sunday.

The worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus is taking a heavy toll on west Africa’s economy as crops rot in the fields, mines are abandoned and goods cannot get to market.


Amnesty International is accusing Mali of holding children  accused of belonging to armed militias in Mali and participating in the country’s ongoing unrest in jails and being held alongside adults. (ABC

A member of an East African regional body monitoring a ceasefire in South Sudan died of a heart attack after some monitors were detained by rebels to the north of the country, further complicating a peace process. (Reuters

Niger’s agriculture minister has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a baby-trafficking network, a spokesman for his political party and legal sources said. (Reuters


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Palestinian civilians on Sunday to leave immediately any site where militants are operating, one day after Israel flattened a 13-storey apartment block in Gaza. (Reuters

The US government says an American held hostage for about two years by an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria has been released. (AP

In a country where civil liberties remain the prerogative of the powerful and wealthy, the Lebanese gay scene is to be treaded carefully. The recent arrest of 27 members of the LGBT community shows that those not so lucky – those belonging to the more vulnerable tranches of society – are always at risk. (IPS

Italy’s maritime search and rescue service saved 3,500 migrants and found 19 corpses in the Mediterranean since Friday as thousands attempted to cross to Europe by boat over the weekend, the Italian navy said. (Reuters


The authorities in Xinjiang, the ethnically divided region in far western China, said on Saturday that eight people had been executed on charges related to separatist violence, including an attack last year in which a car plowed through tourists near Tiananmen Square in Beijing and erupted in flames. (NYT

In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. (IPS

A new UN report points to a sharp increase in numbers of boat people mostly from Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Activists fear a further surge of refugee boat people, especially ethnic Rohingya fleeing squalid refugee camps and persecution in Myanmar. (VOA

The Americas

Venezuela used to be a world leader in managing malaria, but is now the only country in Latin America where incidence of the disease is increasing. Around 75,000 people were infected last year, and according to government figures, 60% of cases were in Sifontes, a tiny region of the country where gold mining – where workers drill for gold in mosquito-friendly standing water – is booming, and healthcare is scarce. (BBC


The Islamic State’s media logic (The Interpreter

A New Focus on Peaceful Conflict Resolution at the UNSC? (UN Dispatch

Development blog: Does Banning Child Marriage Really Work? (CGD

A Bold New Way of Measuring A Country’s REAL Wealth (UN Dispatch

Conflict and disaster reporting: Does the public still care? (ODI

If It Looks Corrupt, It Is Corrupt (Global Anticorruption Blog

Win $20,000 to be part of the problem? (Chris Blattman

Which is more important – changing policies, or changing social norms and behaviours (and how are they connected)? (From Poverty to Power

A Storm in a Bucket: Lessons from the Ice Bucket Challenge Controversy (Policy Innovations

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By Bjørn Smestad

A New Focus on Peaceful Conflict Resolution at the UNSC?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay  and other senior United Nations officials have once more exhorted the UN Security Council to “heed early warning indications of potential conflict”, during a day-long meeting on conflict prevention at the United Nations on August 21. In response, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2171, resolving to better utilize available early detection and conflict prevention strategies and tools, specifically noting that Chapter VI mechanisms “have not been fully utilized.” 

During her final briefing to the UNSC in her role as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay was forthright and pulled no punches. Today’s conflicts “hammer home the full cost of the international community’s failure to prevent conflict”, she said. The narrow, short-term political interests of the member states have too often prevailed over the shared responsibility of maintaining peace and security, Pillay explained, preventing the Council from greater responsiveness and saving thousands of lives. This indictment of the UNSC is nothing new; any time the five permanent members of the Council even raise the possibility of a veto, resolutions are weakened and watered-down, and what is politically acceptable fails to have the desired impact on the situation. 

Indeed, as reiterated in Resolution 2171, there is a persistent, Westphalian notion that States are primarily responsible for peace and security (“the prevention of conflicts remains a primary responsibility of States and actions undertaken within the framework of conflict prevention by the United Nations should support and complement, as appropriate, the conflict prevention roles of national Governments”). As the most powerful nations in the world continue to affirm their right to place their national self-interest above the global interest in peace and security, the UNSC will always be somewhat limited in its ability to truly, and wholly, maintain international peace and security.

The new Resolution, however, is somewhat encouraging, suggesting that some of these structural weaknesses can be overcome in an effort to increase the UNSC’s effectiveness. The recognition that non-military solutions have not been fully utilized, and the UNSC’s new determination “to make and call for the greater and more effective use of such tools”, offers some measure of hope that the UNSC will be more creative in the deployment of the vast array of tools at their disposal to help prevent conflict from metastasizing using peaceful means. The UNSC, in this new Resolution, promises to make better use of tools “including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement and resort to regional and subregional organizations and arrangements.” 

As Navi Pillay pointed out, none of the crises the world is facing today were unpredictable. The UNSC has a a stong early warning system at its fingertips, with the UN Human Rights Council (among many other UN agencies of the UN and other organizations) monitoring the state of human rights protection and the health of democracy and societies around the world. Unfortunately, all too often, the political will to act has eluded the UNSC. Perhaps focusing on the use of “soft power” and the Chapter VI tools enumerated above will provide the UNSC a new, maybe more effective avenue to carry out their role.  

Photo Credit: Bjørn Smestad’s Flickr Photostream

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Manilla Bay at sunset

A Bold New Way of Measuring A Country’s REAL Wealth

Ed note. This piece appears in Project Syndicate and is reprinted with permission. The author, Mahmoud Mohieldin, is Corporate Secretary and the President’s special envoy at the World Bank

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline expires next year, the world will be able to point to several important achievements since their launch in 2000. Extreme poverty has been halved during this period; an estimated 100 million slum-dwellers have gained access to safe drinking water, and millions to health care; and large numbers of girls are now receiving an education. But considerable unfinished business and significant performance discrepancies remain.

The post-2015 development agenda will continue where the MDGs left off, while adding further objectives relating to inclusion, sustainability, jobs, growth, and governance. The success of the coming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will depend on how new programs are developed, implemented, and measured.

Strong economic growth enables people to improve their lives and creates space for new ideas to thrive. But such growth is often accompanied by environmental degradation, which diminishes human health and quality of life, threatens water supplies, and compromises ecosystems, impeding growth for future generations. Moreover, short-term growth that erodes natural capital is vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles, and can cause people who live close to the poverty line to fall far below it.

Taking a longer-term view of growth and accounting for social, economic, and environmental equity must be a top priority for the post-2015 development agenda. Discussion of the SDGs is now taking into consideration the need to incorporate food, water, and energy security, together with urban planning and biodiversity. But translating prospective goals into actions at the country level will not be feasible without measurable and meaningful indicators to guide policy and measure progress.

One method of measurement is “natural capital accounting,” which assesses the value of natural resources in development planning and national accounts, just as a family would account for their home’s value – and the cost of maintaining it – when deciding how much of their regular income to consume. A recent World Economic Forum report proposes a “dashboard” for inclusive and sustainable growth. This model brings together natural capital accounting, a human-opportunity index, a gender-gap index, measures of public investment as a percentage of GDP, a competitiveness index, indicators of shared prosperity, and disaggregated unemployment data.

A World Bank-led partnership, Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES), shows governments how certain behavior depletes natural assets, and how natural capital accounting can help to establish more sustainable development policies. Following a campaign at the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, 70 governments, including those representing 40 middle- and low-income countries, endorsed natural capital accounting.

The method has already been put to good use around the world. “Forest accounts,” for example, have revealed that Guatemala has the fastest deforestation rate in Central and South America, with most uncontrolled logging being carried by households for their cooking needs. This information has spurred the Guatemalan government to review the country’s forestry law, and to fund new strategies to control firewood use, prevent unauthorized logging, and encourage families to use alternative energy sources.

Botswana’s attempts to diversify its economy are constrained by water shortages; but “water accounts” are helping the government to identify sectors – including agriculture, mining, and tourism – that can grow with minimal water consumption.

In the Philippines, where 60% of GDP is generated by industries and associated services in the Laguna Lake region of Metro Manila, pollution and siltation has already reduced the lake’s depth by one third. “Ecosystem accounts” have become instrumental in determining how better to manage this resource. These accounts are also being used to improve forest management in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where forests are a vital resource for two major growth sectors, tourism and hydropower generation.

These experiences are vital in shaping the post-2015 development agenda. Incorporating sustainability forces governments and businesses to consider the environmental impact of their decisions. A UN report calls on all governments to adopt natural capital accounting so that their sustainability efforts can be consistent, accurate, and comparable over the long term. Institutionalizing sustainability in this way will make it an intrinsic part of day-to-day governance.

Only by shifting to a broader understanding of growth and development can the world address the pressing problems of inequality and sustainability. Placing that understanding at the heart of the SDGs will help to improve the health and wellbeing of all societies long into the future.

Mahmoud Mohieldin, is Corporate Secretary and the President’s special envoy at the World Bank

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Syria map

Will the USA Target ISIS in Syria?

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The Obama administration is sending strong signals that it may expand its air assault against ISIS to Syria, despite the fact that such a move would probably contravene international law. First, National Security Council advisor Ben Rhodes tells NPR that the USA is not ruling out hitting ISIS in Syria. Then, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey says this: “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated. Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.” (NYT

Navi Pillay’s Parting Shot to the Security Council…Outgoing U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay  gave her final briefing to the UN Security Council. Her tenure ends at the end of the month, where she will be replaced by Prince Zeid of Jordan–who just happens to currently serve on the Council. Pillay was rather unsparing in her criticism of the ways in which divisions in the council prevented adequete responses to urgent human rights catastrophes. Money quote: “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives” (VOA


The two U.S. patients who were treated for Ebola have been discharged from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they had been in an isolation ward since returning from Liberia early this month. They are the first patients treated for Ebola on American soil. (NPR

South Africa said on Thursday that due to fears over the spread of the Ebola virus it was banning travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering the country, apart from its own citizens. (Reuters

Up to 30,000 people could have used experimental treatments or vaccines so far in the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola currently plaguing West Africa, British scientists said. (Reuters

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease – using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. (VOA

Hundreds of residents of a Liberian slum lined up to receive rice and water from government officials Thursday in their neighborhood which was sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola. (AP

An emergency research call has been launched to help fight the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with the British government and the Wellcome Trust medical charity pledging a combined $10.8 million. (VOA


Children accused of being members of armed groups in the conflict in Mali are languishing in adult jails while human rights abuses continue, said Amnesty International. (ReliefWeb

A cash transfer scheme in Zambia provides a bi-monthly cash allowance of $25 and $50 respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities, to help people deal with shocks created by climate. (IPS

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. (IPS

The 40,000 people sheltering from South Sudan’s civil war in a flooded and crowded UN camp are enduring conditions “barely compatible with life and incompatible with human dignity”, and must be helped before disease and danger force them back into the conflict zone, MSF has warned. (Guardian

Fighting erupted in the Central African Republic capital Bangui, killing a humanitarian worker and injuring dozens of civilians hours after the UN said it would dispatch thousands of peacekeepers to quell religious violence. (Guardian

Human Rights Watch says South Sudan’s army used child soldiers during recent fighting against opposition forces in violation of international law. (VOA

The UN refugee agency called for East African countries hosting Somali refugees to make voluntary repatriation possible and sustainable. (VOA

West Africa must openly confront its political and governance weaknesses to curb the growing drug trade in the region, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said.

Former child soldiers in war-torn Somalia are being held in prison conditions in foreign-funded camps, “punishing” rather than rehabilitating them, the top UN children’s envoy said Thursday.


America has returned to war, of a sort, in Iraq with airstrikes that have intensified in recent days against Islamic State militants. But details about the execution of this limited campaign, which so far includes no reported U.S. ground combat, are thin. (AP

About 10,000 mourners on Thursday buried three senior commanders of the armed wing of Hamas who were killed in a predawn airstrike by Israel, the most significant blow to the group’s leadership since Israel’s operation in Gaza began more than six weeks ago.(NYT


Sri Lanka’s government is scrambling to ease the impact of record harvest losses on millions of farmers as the country enters its tenth month of an acute dry spell. (IRIN

Thousands of rescuers combed through the wreckage of homes engulfed by landslides in western Japan on Thursday in the slim hope of finding survivors, a day after a wall of mud claimed at least 39 lives.

Flooding in Cambodia has killed at least 45 people since last month, officials said Thursday. (AP

The Americas

Brazil expands labor rights for domestic workers through new legislation. (AP

Police on Mexico’s Caribbean coast arrested 13 activists during a demonstration by Maya Indians against water rate hikes. (NYT


South Sudan’s Looming Famine (UN Dispatch

How Uganda Stopped Previous Ebola Outbreaks (DW

Microfinance in Jordan isn’t helping to empower women (Guardian

Can alternative economic indicators ever be any good if they are devised solely by experts? (From Poverty to Power

Shouldn’t “anti-poverty” and “pro-middle class” be synonyms? (Campaign for Boring Development

There always needs to be a product: ‘Self-reflection’, volunteering & the emerging development entertainment industrial complex (Aidnography

150 million bank accounts – is that enough? (IPA


A new study finds cancer affects even simple, ancient multicellular organisms — which means the disease and the deaths it causes may simply be a part of life. (NPR

The international community needs to stop looking at neglected tropical diseases as a sub-Saharan African problem and realize that the G20 countries are now home to the “lion’s share” of the dangerous, debilitating, yet low-profile illnesses, a US expert has warned. (Guardian

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