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Mass Graves, Missing Students, and Mexico’s Long Road to Reform

A second mass grave has been found in rural Mexico a month after 43 student teachers went missing following an altercation with police in the town of Iguala. The missing students, along with the apparent involvement of local police and government officials in their suspected murders, has set off massive protests throughout the country. Things may be getting better south of the border, but rule of law issues continue to plague Mexico.

The origin of the current situation primarily dates back to a 2013 education reform program that all three of Mexico’s major political parties signed off on but generated a lot of controversy among students and teachers. The education reform bill sought to standardize evaluation and hiring processes, a monumental task in Mexico where teaching jobs are often bought and sold by individuals for their life-long tenure and above average salaries, with union and local government officials accepting kickbacks as part of the deal. But teachers, particularly in rural areas, complained that the reforms did little to address other major problems such as large classroom size, poor curriculum and few resources for schools. Fearing the government planned a mass firing to trim the education budget, protests began almost as soon as the reform package was announced.

Nowhere has the protests been as heated as Guerrero State where peaceful protests also mixed with renewed calls from local guerilla groups for an uprising against the government. Guerrero is one of the poorest states in Mexico, where education rates are low but the education sector is what provides for most families in the area. Thus, any attempt to change hiring or tenure practices not only threatens the jobs of individual teachers, but much of the region’s economy.

While numerous protests since 2013 have been met with a strong police response, little compares to what happened in Iguala on September 26. On that day, student teachers from Rural Teachers College Raúl Isidro Burgos of Ayotzinapa traveled to Iguala to protest outside a conference hosted by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, wife of Iguala’s mayor and the local president of the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF). Following the protest, the students claim they were trying to hitchhike back to their school while police claim they were trying to seize buses. In the end, police and gunmen opened fire on a bus, killing 6 and injuring several more. Another 56 students went missing that night, 43 of which have not been seen or heard from since. Some witnesses say the missing students were arrested by police while others say they were taken away by masked gunmen, now identified as members of Guerreros Unidos, a local drug cartel. Either way, the missing students and the discovery of two mass graves nearby is posing a major political problem for President Enrique Pena Nieto and his promises of less violence in a country plagued by it for the past decade.

The incident also underlines how intertwined government and organized crime has become in parts of the country. The 56 people arrested so far in connection with the missing students run the gamut from police officers and local officials to members of a local drug gang. The mayor of Iguala, his wife and the town’s police chief have all fled following the release of warrants for their arrest and amid allegations of direct connections with Guerreros Unidos. The governor of Guerrero resigned and there are calls for more action by the government, which so far has responded tepidly despite the general outcry.

As Uta Thofern points out, the continuing protests are now far more about the government’s role in this tragedy rather than the missing students themselves. In a country plagued by violence at the hands of both drug cartel and government security forces for the last 10 years, people are fed up. The rule of law is something that has become foreign to most Mexicans but the growing protests, far from Guerrero State where the students came from, demonstrate that it is something Mexicans desperately want. Even if those found in the second mass grave are the remains of the missing students – which Mexican officials claim they are despite testing not being complete – it will not be the end of this fight.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.45.21 AM

And the Best and Worst Country to be a Woman Is..

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Iceland and Yemen, respectively. That’s according to the latest Global Gender Gap Index, out by the World Economic Forum. (AP http://yhoo.it/1rxGS6Q)

Hopeful news on the ebola front: The Red Cross said Tuesday the weekly total of Ebola victims collected by its body disposal teams around the Liberian capital is falling dramatically, indicating a sharp drop in the spread of the epidemic.The aid group announced its workers were now picking up little over a third of the late September peak of more than 300 bodies a week in and around Monrovia — an indication, it said, that the outbreak was retreating.  (AFP http://bit.ly/1wIZ59l)

Chart of the Day: How the Great Recession of 2008 affected child poverty levels in rich countries. http://bit.ly/1wDJvu1

Ebola

US health authorities have issued new guidelines for health workers returning from Ebola-hit nations after a firestorm of criticism over state quarantine restrictions, including from the UN chief. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1rxGvJj)

Humanitarian groups in Australia are criticizing the government’s policy to impose a blanket ban on visas for citizens of the three West African nations affected by the Ebola virus outbreak. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wIOLOw)

As the Ebola outbreak rages in three West African countries – and raises fears abroad – some are questioning whether the World Health Organization is being stretched too thin. A proposal for a new global agency to deal strictly with infectious diseases is gaining some support. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xACFnk)

Health workers are monitoring 82 people who had contact with a toddler who died of Ebola in Mali last week, but no new cases of the disease have yet been reported, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1xAFMf8)

In the face of such stigmatization, Ebola survivors are joining an association in Guinea that assists the growing number of people who recover and seeks ways for them to help combat the disease. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1wISWKs)

Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown has tripled the number of safe burials of Ebola victims in the past week and the challenge now is to expand that coordination across the country. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1xAGadA)

The Swiss agency that regulates new drugs said Tuesday it has approved an application for a clinical trial with an experimental Ebola vaccine at the Lausanne University Hospital. (AP http://yhoo.it/1u3KKE9)

Africa

Patients waited in long queues while others were being turned away at state hospitals in Zimbabwe on Tuesday as hundreds of doctors staged a strike to press for higher pay. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1u3KTaJ)

A leading malaria control expert has said efforts to contain the disease may be jeopardised by the Ebola crisis. (BBC http://bbc.in/1szOKEY)

For years, poor Ghanaians have been burning old electronics in the open air to extract precious metals and sell them as scrap. But a new recycling center may mean the end of e-waste burning in Ghana. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xAzLyU)

Amnesty International has issued a new report claiming that the Ethiopian government is systematically repressing the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xAAEYv)

Amid conflict and poverty, the Excel Academy in South Sudan is proving to be an unlikely success. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1wIR986)

Hundreds of Kenyans protested on Tuesday against a four-month government curfew imposed on the coastal county of Lamu after gunmen killed about 100 people there this year, authorities and residents said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1xAFvJc)

AstraZeneca launched Healthy Heart Africa , a new program aimed at tackling the burden of hypertension in Africa. The African continent has the world’s highest prevalence of adults with raised blood pressure. (http://bit.ly/1xAHoFM)

MENA

International humanitarian officials said an immense humanitarian emergency is unfolding Iraq, where international assistance is urgently needed to help 5.2 million Iraqis, including 1.8 million displaced people, survive the coming winter. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wILejh)

Asia

In Afghanistan, a country where girls’ education had seen rapid growth since the fall of the Taliban, there is concern these gains could be reversed as the United States and other countries withdraw their military forces. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xADfBJ)

Myanmar’s unruly hinterlands are in the grips of what may be Asia’s worst heroin epidemic — a scourge widely ignored by the rest of the world. (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1wIJOVW)

Cambodian anti-sex trafficking activist Somaly Mam has broken her silence to defend herself and her work, saying she didn’t lie about how she became a victim of sex slavery. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xAA0Kv)

Civil society and human rights groups in Myanmar are urging the government to fully investigate the death of a journalist while in military custody. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wIM7IH)

A leading activist for Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority says there is a significant exodus –  on a scale possibly unprecedented – of Rohingya leaving the country. There are concerns about the fate of those who departed about two weeks ago. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xADhcQ)

The Americas

Mexican authorities searching for 43 students who disappeared after clashing with police last month are investigating a suspected mass grave. (BBC http://bbc.in/1xAzAnk)

Opinion/Blogs

Brazil election: Why Rousseff triumphed (CNN http://cnn.it/1wIQiEn)

We don’t need an Ebola czar (CNBC http://cnb.cx/1xAGlpc)

Letter from Liberia: Ebola Is Not a Failure of Aid or Governance (CGD http://bit.ly/1wIKvyC)

Ebola, Human Rights and Poverty – Making the Links (IPS http://bit.ly/1xAEHDY)

How Much Is Actually Being Spent on Ebola? (CGD http://bit.ly/1xAzrQY)

Can Brazil Stay the Course on Reducing Deforestation? (CGD http://bit.ly/1rxGLIv)

Research/Reports

Economic growth combined with equity is key to helping Least Developed Countries address poverty, Gyan Chandra Acharya, United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States told reporters last week. (IPS http://bit.ly/1wITcZK)

Strengthening social justice to address intersecting inequalities (ODI http://bit.ly/1rxGK7s)

Humanitarianism in the age of cyber-warfare (OCHA http://bit.ly/1wIVIiN)

The pace of population growth is so quick that even draconian restrictions of childbirth, pandemics or a third world war would still leave the world with too many people for the planet to sustain, according to a study. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1wIQqUx)

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by @mamouchkadiop voa Africa is a Country

Why Protesters Have Taken to the Streets of Burkina Faso

by @mamouchkadiop voa Africa is a Country

The photos are remarkable. A sea of humanity has taken to the streets of Ouagadougou. Tens of thousands (and possibly hundreds of thousands - the opposition claimed a million people) are voicing their opposition to one of Africa’s longest serving heads of state, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso.

Can the protests make a difference?

At issue is Compaore’s attempt to alter the constitution of Burkina Faso to allow him to run for president once again.  Compaore has enjoyed nearly 30 straight years of uninterrupted rule. His election in 2010 – with 81% of the vote – was supposed to be his last one. Opposition leader Zephirin Diabre said in a news conference recently “The government is in the process of carrying out a constitutional coup d’etat.”

Compaore and the leading party have been seeking to have the constitution modified to allow him to run again. The protests this week in Burkina Faso are not the first of their kind, and likely not the last. There is clear resistance to Compaore’s plan to remain in power, but it’s difficult to tell at this juncture if democracy will prevail in Burkina Faso.

In an effort to make this political project look democratic, the government is asking the National Assembly to vote on allowing a referendum to take place on whether or not Article 37 of the constitution – which places a two-term limit on heads of state – should be modified to allow for a third term. In addition – or, rather, in parallel – to this strategy, Compaore and his party have been working alongside major parliamentary groups to sway them on this issue. Over the weekend, a major parliamentary group (with 18 of 127 seats at the National Assembly) announced its support for the constitutional modification, tipping the balance so far that a referendum may not even be required. Indeed, if 75% of the National Assembly votes in favor of the constitutional amendment, a referendum can be bypassed.

“Even the goats want Compaore out”

The situation in Burkina Faso is tense. Schools have been closed for the week, due to concerns about potential unrest surrounding the parliamentary vote,which will significantly impact the course of politics in the country. Compaore has been a key regional player, facilitator and broker and a Western ally – particularly in the fight against transnational threats in the Sahel region. He has strong support from loyal groups, but the events of the last few days – and, indeed, of the past year since the modification of Article 37 has been on the table – shows that the Burkinabe people will put up a fight. For many of the young people protesting, they have never had a leader other than Compaore, and his claims that you need time to build strong institutions ring hollow. Indeed, they ask, what will Compaore achieve in five additional years that was not accomplished in the last 27?

Photo credit: @mamouchkadiop, via the Facebook Page of the excellent Africa is a Country

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unicef report

Chart of the Day: Astonishing Data on Child Poverty Rates in Wealthy Countries Since the Great Recession

Today’s chart comes from UNICEF in a powerful report about how the great recession of 2008 has had a painfully lingering effect in child poverty rates in wealthy countries. The report analyses data from 41 OECD countries–these are the worlds wealthiest countries that are traditionally donors to international development — and ranks them based on the degree to which child poverty increased since the global financial crisis of 2008. In 23 out of these 41 countries, levels of child poverty increased. (Larger version here)

Unicef Chart of child poverty rates

Other findings of this report include some striking data on how many years of progress on reducing child poverty were lost during the great recession. From UNICEF

– In Greece in 2012 median household incomes for families with children sank to 1998 levels – the equivalent of a loss of 14 years of income progress. By this measure Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain lost a decade; Iceland lost 9 years; and Italy, Hungary and Portugal lost 8.”

– Child poverty has increased in 34 out of 50 states since the start of the crisis, increasing by about 1.7 million children since 2008. .

-In 18 countries child poverty actually fell, sometimes markedly. Australia, Chile, Finland, Norway, Poland and the Slovak Republic reduced levels by around 30 per cent.

The full report is available here. But this chart demonstrates that the global financial crisis is far from over–even in the world’s wealthiest countries.

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bring back our girls

Yet More Women and Girls Abducted in Nigeria

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Boko Haram reportedly signed a ceasefire 10 days ago. But attacks have increased since then, including a horrific spate of recent kidnappings.  “At least 70 young women and teenage girls and boys have been kidnapped in Borno and Adamawa states since Oct. 18, according to local government chairman Shettima Maina and residents who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution. The insurgents also launched several attacks since the cease-fire was announced. On Friday a multinational force including troops from Nigeria and Niger engaged in fierce fighting to regain control of Abadam, a town held by Boko Haram on the western shores of Lake Chad.Ten days after the announcement, Boko Haram has not indicated that it has agreed to a truce.” (AP http://yhoo.it/1wCPyRf)

 Quote of the Day: “We want to make sure that whatever policies are put in place in this country to protect the American public do not serve as a disincentive to doctors and nurses from this country volunteering to travel to West Africa to treat Ebola patients,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest

Ebola

Australia will no longer issue visas–even for humanitarian purposes–to people from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. (SMH  http://bit.ly/1u0QZZe )

The CDC and Pentagon are both training “go-teams” that can be on the ground within days of an Ebola diagnosis in the U.S. Team members learn about containing infection and dealing with the stress, but it’s unclear how these crews will work with each other. (NPR http://n.pr/1wCEgMQ)

Governments must avoid doing anything to deter desperately needed health workers from coming to West Africa to fight Ebola, the head of the U.N. mission battling the virus said on Monday, adding that quarantine decisions must not be based on hysteria. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1wCFuYr)

The difficulty of finding doctors with field experience is hampering international medical intervention to help curb Ebola in West Africa. Fear of contracting the virus and restricted air travel have also slowed the response. (IRIN http://bit.ly/ZU6rbq)

The U.S. Army has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa, even though they showed no symptoms of infection and were not believed to have been exposed to the deadly virus, officials said on Monday. (Reuters http://reut.rs/1DUxDq2)

Federal health officials on Monday revamped guidelines for doctors and nurses returning home to the United States from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, stopping well short of controversial mandatory quarantines being imposed by some U.S. states. (Reuters http://reut.rs/1DUxQcS)

Some News on the Ebola Vaccine Front

Following a high-level meeting on access and funding for Ebola vaccines convened yesterday by WHO, MSF has urged that plans to get forthcoming Ebola vaccines and treatments to frontline workers must be rapidly implemented. Significant investment and incentives are needed now to accelerate these steps. (MSF http://bit.ly/ZUczjY)

Colorado State University’s Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing and Academic Resource Center has been awarded $2 million by the U.S. Department of Defense to aid in the development and manufacturing of a vaccine to protect against infection by filoviruses, including the Ebola and Marburg viruses. (press release)

Drugmakers sprinting to develop Ebola vaccines face a series of technical hurdles if they are to get millions of doses ready for use next year — even assuming clinical trials are successful. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1wCNOHH)

Africa

Pirates have launched a spate of attacks in the creeks of Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region since last Thursday, killing three policemen and abducting at least nine people, security officials said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/ZU2tj5)

Zimbabwe has lost 12 billion dollars in illicit financial flows over the last three decades and experts say this illegal practice is perpetuating social inequalities and poverty in this southern African nation. (IPS http://bit.ly/ZU3wzK)

France’s defence minister on Monday criticised the slow deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Mali’s volatile northern region, saying the delay had encouraged a fresh wave of Islamist militant attacks there. (Reuters http://bit.ly/ZU4XOu)

Global development lenders, including the World Bank, African Development Bank and European Union, pledged more than $8 billion on Monday to boost economic growth and reduce poverty in eight countries in the Horn of Africa. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1wCHVtX)

South Africa’s biggest union said on Monday it was breaking its alliance with the ruling African National Congress and launching a socialist party, in a major blow to a coalition that has governed since apartheid ended in 1994. (Reuters http://bit.ly/ZU6eoG)

A campaign to vaccinate 21 million children against measles and rubella in Tanzania is part of one of the largest public health interventions in the east African country. As well as immunising against rubella and measles, health workers are distributing vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets, and treating children and adults for neglected tropical diseases, such as elephantiasis. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1wCQV2o)

MENA

A suicide car bomber driving a military Humvee struck a checkpoint manned by Iraqi troops and pro-government Shia militiamen south of Baghdad, killing at least 24 people, officials said. (The Independent http://bit.ly/1wCEwK1)

Heavy fighting flared on Sunday between Libya’s army and Islamist militias apparently trying retake one of their largest camps in the eastern city of Benghazi, military officials said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/ZU6299)

Israel has given the go-ahead for plans to build over 1,000 new Jewish settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, an official said Monday, sparking a Palestinian warning of an “explosion” of violence. (Yahoo http://yhoo.it/1wCKSuK)

Damascus has provided military support to Kurdish forces to help them battle Islamic State, Syrian media said, in a move that would mean President Bashar al-Assad and his Western enemies could be backing the same forces against Islamist militants. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/ZUc3m2)

Tehran says it has banned the U.N.’s envoy for human rights in Iran from visiting the country, accusing him of political bias. (AP http://yhoo.it/1wCPgdb)

Asia

With hundreds of advanced infection-control hospital rooms left over from the fight against SARS, and with some medical professionals suggesting that the Ebola virus was inherently fragile and unlikely to spread in places with modern medical facilities, many doctors in Asia paid little attention to the disease until very recently. (NY Times http://nyti.ms/ZUac0z)

The Americas

President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador does not mince words when it comes to development. ”Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour,” he told a crowded auditorium at the 15th Raul Prebitsch Lecture. (IPS http://bit.ly/ZU3JD4)

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned home from exile in 2011 to a jubilant welcome, but lately he has seemed more like a prisoner. (AP http://yhoo.it/1wCKyfq)

Brazil: Rousseff’s slim, three-point margin over centrist candidate Aecio Neves came largely thanks to gains against inequality and poverty since the Workers’ Party first came to power in 2003. (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1wCDAqE)

Haitians protest in the capital Port-au-Prince as a new postponement of long-delayed legislative and municipal elections is announced. (BBC http://bbc.in/ZUd9OH)

Opinion/Blogs

This “sexy” Ebola suit costume is bullshit (Humanosphere http://bit.ly/ZUdiSh)

Global Dispatches Podcast: The Nick Kristof interview. The journalist discusses how he got his start and some of the big stories of his career. http://www.globaldispatchespodcast.com/

Where Governments Fail, It’s Up to the People to Rise (IPS http://bit.ly/ZTsyPH)

What Does India Really Want at the WTO and at What Price? (CGD http://bit.ly/ZU6x2T)

Is it ok for researchers to mess with elections? (Chris Blattman http://bit.ly/1oRn185)

Is the International Community Abandoning South Sudan? (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1oRngA8)

Who wants to change the Congolese constitution? (Congo Siasa http://bit.ly/1oRnDe2)

Killing in the name (The XX Factor http://bit.ly/1oRnW8C)

How Much Is Actually Being Spent on Ebola? (CGD http://bit.ly/1oRo6gn)

The Dookoom debate in South Africa (Africa is a Country http://bit.ly/1oRqm7a)

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south sudan map

Is the International Community Abandoning South Sudan?

The world’s youngest nation has plunged deeper into crisis — and fallen further off the international agenda. Overshadowed by Ebola, ISIS and protests in Hong Kong, a new round of peace talks resumed last week to end the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. Mediated by the African Union, the negotiations between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, aim to broker a power-sharing deal and halt the violence that has engulfed South Sudan since Kiir dismissed Machar in December. The international community must take a more active role in this process.

There are obvious security and humanitarian implications of continued instability in what is now considered the world’s most fragile state. An estimated 1.7 million South Sudanese civilians have been uprooted by violence, some fleeing across the nation’s porous borders while many others seek refuge in UN compounds and other de-facto camps for internally displaced people. The conflict has exacerbated food insecurity throughout the country, prompting the UN to declare an acute level 3 emergency. South Sudan’s crippling underdevelopment leaves it with little capacity to contend with the consequences of this war, which is jeopardizing efforts to integrate South Sudan into the East African Community, a regional economic bloc that recently initiated trade negotiations. Worse, neighboring countries such as Uganda and Sudan have become involved in the conflict, risking a larger military confrontation and potentially destabilizing the entire region.

But beyond the urgent political and humanitarian imperatives to intervene in this crisis, the UN, U.S. and European Union must consider their more basic obligations to South Sudan. Over the past five years, these stakeholders have funneled billions of dollars into the country, undertaking an ambitious state-building campaign that has rivaled those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly overnight, Juba transformed from a remote outpost into a hub for multilateral aid and development organizations. The U.S. was instrumental in helping broker the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the Sudanese Civil War and facilitating the subsequent independence referendum, which gave birth to a sovereign southern republic in 2011. The role of the international community in helping the South Sudanese secure and build their own country raises important questions as to whether it is doing enough currently to help them achieve peace.

This is not to suggest that foreign donors and international agencies are absent. The U.S. recently pledged $83 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing its total aid allocation to South Sudan this year to $720 million. Britain has sent more than $200 million in aid. UNHCR and other agencies have ramped up operations in the country. But these efforts, in focusing on providing relief to victims of the violence, are only mitigating the symptoms of the crisis, rather than addressing the underlying causes of their suffering.

Such a response illustrates the pitfalls of the “new humanitarianism” that Alain Destexhe, a former Secretary-General for Medecines Sans Frontieres, argues has become a feature of the post-Cold War era. This “new humanitarianism” is characterized by donors dispensing large sums of humanitarian aid not as a supplement, but a substitute for taking decisive political or military action to end civil wars or other man-made disasters. The troubled legacies of international attempts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan will likely reinforce this trend. But simply providing aid to South Sudan is not sufficient, especially when the government can simply expel humanitarian workers or enact laws that strictly regulate the activities of local civil society organizations. Improvements in public health or social services gained through donor-funded programs are, at best, fleeting when pervasive insecurity encourages local authorities to divert a majority of public funds to security and law enforcement.

So while the international community may have a clear material interest in stabilizing South Sudan, it also bears a larger ethical responsibility to help secure a durable peace. The UN and its most influential member states have already claimed an active stake in the country’s future. The people of South Sudan need a more forceful demonstration of this commitment — and they need it now, more than ever.

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