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A displaced Pakistani woman holds her grandson. She was displaced by fighting in North Pakistan. This photo is via UNHCR. Noor/A.Fazzina

The Impossible Suffering of Pakistani Women Displaced by War

Fouzia Bibi, mother of three from Waziristan, Pakistan lost her husband to the Taliban in the beginning of 2014. Six months later she lost her home too.

In June, the government and the military began an operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and one of the air strikes took her home away.

Bibi is among the one million Pakistanis who have been displaced from Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan due to the government and military action against the Taliban. Around 74 percent of the internally displaced are women and children, according to the United Nations. Among them are 36,000 pregnant women.

“We will be displaced for life now, I know that. This temporary tent is my home forever. Who will build a home for us?” Bibi told me in a phone interview from her small temporary camp in Bannu, where most of the refugees from Waziristan are staying.

I am a physician from Pakistan, now living in Dallas, and I spoke with more than 20 of the women in the camps by phone this summer.

These displaced women are facing a tragically complex situation. Getting food and aid is exceptionally challenging for them as most lack local identification cards and are forbidden by tribal elders from going to distribution centers. Most do not have ID cards to begin with as being photographed is not acceptable in their society. Others live in areas so remote that they have no access to government offices that could provide them with ID cards.

In their conservative culture, these women also are barred from performing chores outside of their homes.

Many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There was extreme despair and anxiety displayed in every conversation. All universally have a common sense of impending doom and worthlessness.

“We are like uninvited relatives. Nobody wants us or needs us around,” Bibi told me. “Most people sympathize with us. For some we are a burden and for others, an opportunity for God’s mercy, but really for us, everything has changed, forever and we’ll never leave these tents or these camps. Even if we go back, where do we go back…?”

These women, most of who have lost their spouses or fathers or brothers in the war-torn region are at the mercy of their local Jirga, or all-male village council, which also have influence in the camps.

“They call us their ‘honor,’ but to them that is all that matters,” Bibi said. “Whether we starve does not matter to the Jirga, who will not let us get food from the food lines because leaving our homes compromises our ‘honor.’ What good is this ‘honor’ if we starve to death.”

The national government and international community can–and should–help these women. Here’s how:

-The NGO’s providing local and foreign aid need to focus on the education that would enable these women to get the help that they need. Food lines and tents are not enough when they are not accessible by the population needing them.

- The Jirgas also need to be educated to allow these women access to the help they need. Psychiatric and psychological care needs to be provided to these people who have lost their lives and loved ones to the Taliban and the resultant military action.

-This is also the time for foreign organizations and governments to help these women and children. They need drinking water, food, homes and mental health assistance.

-The world needs to offer humanitarian assistance to these unsung heroes against the war on terrorism who have given up everything to support the government and the military. The government should provide them with housing, support system and counseling, before the so-called charity organizations, who have a soft support for the Taliban and ties with several militant groups, offer help to the displaced masses.

We cannot betray these brave souls and ignore their sacrifice.

Dr. Mona Kazim Shah hosts a radio show “Politics Today” about Pakistan on FunAsia Radio and is a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project at Texas Woman’s University. She is a doctor from Pakistan and now lives in Dallas.


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Fossil fuel fired power plant, credit wikipedia

Jarring News in Leaked UN Climate Report

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An early edition of the next big Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was leaked. The topic was emissions. The conclusion is unsettling to say the least. “Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report. Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.”  (NYT

This Gaza Ceasefire Agreement Looks Like it Will Hold…”Thousands of Palestinians are celebrating in Gaza after Israel and Palestinian groups agreed an open-ended ceasefire to end seven weeks of fighting in Gaza…Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Gaza, said that the deal agreed an immediate easing of Israel’s blockade of crossings into Gaza, and a gradual lifting of restrictions on fishing off the coast of the strip. “The embargo will be lifted and the five border posts will see considerable changes, with the Rafah border crossing opening,” he said in reference to the crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Discussions on the creation of a seaport and airport will take place in a month, when indirect talks betwen Israel and Palestinians are scheduled to resume.” (Al Jazeera


The World Health Organization has withdrawn staff from a laboratory testing for Ebola at Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone after one of its medical workers there was infected. (VOA

The Ebola virus may have the “upper hand” in an outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa but experts can stop the virus’ spread, CDC Chief Thomas Frieden said at the start of his visit to the hardest-hit countries. (AP

MSF said it could provide only limited support to tackle a new outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo as it was already overstretched by the worst ever epidemic. (Reuters

 The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in west Africa is unprecedented in many ways, including the high proportion of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who have been infected. To date, more than 240 health care workers have developed the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and more than 120 have died. (WHO


The UN confirmed three people were killed when a Mi-8 cargo helicopter was shot down, apparently by rebels, in Benitu state South Sudan. (Guardian

With a population of over six million, Sierra Leone has refocused its health initiatives, working tirelessly to strengthen the capacity and training of skilled midwives — an exceptional tool in reducing maternal and infant mortality. (IPS

 Despite progress in five East African countries and Congo in ratifying the United Nations Convention against Torture, human rights abuse is still prevalent as governments are reluctant to draft and implement local laws, human rights experts said. (AP

 Public health services in Uganda have long been poor because of limited government funding, and many qualified but poorly paid health workers have sought opportunities in Europe and the United States. Although private hospitals are springing up, most people cannot afford their services in a country where many live on less than $1 a day. (AP

Malawian President Peter Mutharika has shot down a proposal to hike cabinet ministers’ pay to almost triple his own salary, a spokesman said Tuesday, amid austerity measures following foreign aid flight. (AFP

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday called for the “swift neutralization” of Rwandan rebels in Democratic Republic of the Congo as essential to bringing stability to the conflict-torn eastern regions of the country. (Reuters


Family members and US officials say the Islamic State militant group has been holding a young female American aid worker hostage in Syria since last year. (AP

Between government efforts to wipe out insurgents from Pakistan’s northern, mountainous regions, and the Taliban’s own campaign to exercise power over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the real victims of this conflict are often invisible. (IPS


Thailand’s military-led government is planning to hold talks with separatist groups in Southern Thailand to try to end a decade of violence that has claimed more than 6,000 lives. Analysts remain cautious about potential progress after previous talks stalled. (VOA

Heavy flooding across Bangladesh has forced thousands of people from their homes and caused severe damage to crops, with officials on Tuesday warning the situation could worsen as floodwaters poured into the capital, Dhaka. (Reuters

Doctors in India have removed the skeleton of a foetus that had been inside a woman for 36 years in what is believed to be the world’s longest ectopic pregnancy, a doctor has said.

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar a malaria research and treatment center is increasing efforts to kill, or eliminate, a drug-resistant form of the parasite before it spreads abroad. (VOA

An international conference on small island developing states, scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas. (IPS

As Bhutan – a nation best known for valuing “gross national happiness” above GDP – accelerates its development, its government and people have engaged in a new fight to preserve its culture and keep its unique identity alive. (Guardian

The Americas

Salvadoran police have detained two Nicaraguan men who authorities say were transporting nine Nepalese and three Bangladeshi migrants who were bound for the United States. (AP

Mexico’s president spoke of the need for US immigration reform on a two-day visit to immigrant-friendly California, saying those who reject diversity and inclusion will ultimately be proven wrong. (AP

Young Colombians are taking part in a special squad of undercover agents trying to clamp down on sexual harassment on Bogota’s public bus network. (BBC


 Why have women been excluded from peace-building in Sudan? (Guardian

Under-prepared aid agencies fail to disburse polio vaccines in Syria (Humanosphere

International Day of the Girl: Map shows the U.N. Development Program’s gender inequality index. (Slate

“Ebola is the Kardashian of diseases” (Chris Blattman

Will the real humanitarians please stand up? (WhyDev

A risky humanitarian relief gambit pays off (UN Dispatch

Good economics and the right thing to do: how to eliminate hunger and malnutrition (DevPolicy

Do ‘girl ads’ detract from girls’ empowerment? (The XX Factor

Essential reading on foreign aid (Chris Blattman

Ethiopia: Assessing the Impact of Abortion Law Change (Development Diaries


This August UNICEF shipped 1,000 metric tonnes of life-saving supplies for children caught in the world’s most urgent crises — the largest emergency supply operation in the organization’s history in a single month. The amount delivered would fill 19 cargo jumbo jets.

Following months of lobbying by poor island states and NGOs, action on climate change is to be a stand-alone goal among the 17 newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals. (IRIN

Governments should ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, warning that they pose a “serious threat” to foetuses and young people.

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A chart showing war on the decline

The Good News About War

Since the end of the Cold War, the average number of people killed by war each year has gone down significantly. Worldwide, deaths caused by war-related violence averaged about 180,000 per year during the Cold War, 100,000 per year in the 1990s, and 55,000 per year in the 2000s, according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo.



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Source: Peace Research Institute Oslo

Despite the carnage in Syria, there’s no reason to think that the long-term trend is reversing.

The UN Human Rights Office announced on Friday that the Syrian conflict had killed 191,369 people over the past three years. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program’s latest dataset, in all countries besides Syria, there were 21,358 battle deaths in 2013, 22,936 battle deaths in 2012, and 21,789 battle deaths in 2011. Put all the numbers together and you get around 85,000 worldwide battle deaths per year over the past three years.  That’s 85,000 too many, of course, but the violence still isn’t nearly at the level of the Cold War.

The decline in the number of war deaths is particularly astonishing considering that world population has tripled since 1950. When looking at death rates instead of absolute numbers, the post-Cold War calm is even more apparent.

A chart showing war on the decline

So why doesn’t it feel as if war is declining? There is a vast disconnect between the findings of those who study conflict and the public perception of war. In the mainstream conflict research community, it is uncontroversial that international wars have decreased since the 1950s and civil wars have decreased since the end of the Cold War. But public perception is sometimes different.

One reason for the widespread pessimism is that the rise of television and the internet has allowed gruesome images of the casualties of war to be disseminated around the world. Images of journalist James Foley’s horrific execution spread like wildfire through Twitter. Every reporter or blogger knows that videos of explosions and dead civilians will attract more viewers than any positive news, especially when that positive news is about a long-term trend rather than a particular event. Since consumers of media can so easily bring to mind the horrors they’ve just seen on TV or the internet, they overestimate the amount of violence taking place today compared to the past. Psychologists call such a bias the availability heuristic.

While the majority of peace researchers agree that violence is trending downward, it is more controversial to theorize why exactly this is happening. The Human Security Report 2013 offers a few explanations, including the end of great power conflict and colonialism, increased economic and financial interdependence, and the gradual spread of stable democracies. International institutions have undoubtedly played a role as well. Once free of Cold War-inspired vetoes, the UN Security Council was able to beef up its peacekeeping operations and help mitigate multiple civil wars, even if it couldn’t be successful in every single case. Meanwhile, international conventions have banned non-discriminatory weapons such as landmines, cluster munitions, and chemical weapons.

Whatever the reason, we live in a relatively peaceful world today. In Winning the War on War, Joshua Goldstein writes:

“In the first half of the twentieth century, world wars killed tens of millions and left whole continents in ruins. In the second half of that century, during the Cold War, proxy wars killed millions, and the world feared a nuclear war that could have wiped out our species. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the worst wars, such as Iraq, kill hundreds of thousands. We fear terrorist attacks that could destroy a city, but not life on the planet. The fatalities still represent a large number and the impacts of wars are still catastrophic for those caught in them, but overall, war has diminished dramatically.”

Some might criticize conflict researchers for declaring a premature victory over war when so many lives are still torn apart by violence. However, these researchers aren’t trying to say that war is no longer a problem; they are just trying to understand it. A proper grasp of historical trends is essential to making the right decisions for the future. And it’s heartening to know that even though the international community has a long way to go in eradicating the scourge of war, we are making progress.


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World Food Program delivers aid in Syria in 2002 credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa

A Risky Humanitarian Relief Gambit Pays Off

Last month, the Security Council authorized the cross border delivery of aid to Syria through four border points, even if the Syrian government did not consent to the delivery of aid. This was a potentially risky move.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance is generally premised on the fact that the aid is being distributed with the cooperation, or at least consent, of the government on whose territory the aid is being delivered. You run into big problems when convoys of trucks purporting to delivery humanitarian assistance mass at a border and enter a war zone. (See: Ukraine.) So, the consent of the host country is generally considered a pre-requisite to the delivery of aid.

The Security Council resolution permitting the delivery of aid regardless of whether or not the Syrian government authorizes it was radical — and risky — because it undermined this basic premise of the humanitarian system. At first it looked like the Syrians would attack the aid convoys.  The Syrian Ambassador to the UN blatantly threatened to attack aid convoys that crossed into Syrian territory without official permission from the government.

It would seem that those threats were just bluster. As of last week, eight relief and aid shipments have crossed into Syria from four border crossings without incident. Aid was able to reach tens of thousands of stranded Syrians who had previously been beyond the reach of international aid.

This is promising start to a risky aid operation. It is also important to put this in context: there are nearly 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, over half of whom live in areas not under the control of the government. Meanwhile, the number of people who need humanitarian assistance has increased for every month that the conflict has dragged on.  With the war showing no signs of abating anytime soon, we can expect that humanitarians will take on even greater risks to reach people in need.




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597685David_Nabarro (1)

Meet the Face of the Fight Against Ebola

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“David Nabarro, a British physician the United Nations appointed to coordinate the global response to the crisis, was in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown for the fifth day of a tour of the region. “The effort to defeat Ebola is not a battle but a war which requires everybody working together, hard and effectively,” he told a news conference. “I hope it will be done in six months but we have to do it until it is completed.” (Yahoo

USA Readies for Possible Syria Strikes…There are growing signs that the White House is laying the groundwork for strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria. “Defense officials said on Monday evening that the Pentagon is sending in manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over Syria, using a combination of aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes. Mr. Obama approved the flights over the weekend, a senior administration official said. The flights are a significant step toward direct American military action in Syria, an intervention that could alter the battlefield in the nation’s three-year civil war.” (NYT


The United Nations today cautioned against flight restrictions into and out of Ebola-affected countries in West Africa, saying such limitations were preventing the transport of critically-needed health workers and supplies, as well as contributing to economic and diplomatic isolation of the region. (UN News Center

Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for creation of a board of inquiry to look into last week’s Ebola-related rioting and deadly shooting in the West Point slum of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. (VOA

The WHO said on Monday it has sent protective equipment for medical staff to Democratic Republic of Congo, where authorities have confirmed two cases of Ebola in a remote area. (Reuters

One of three African doctors infected with Ebola and treated with the experimental drug ZMapp has died in Monrovia, Liberia’s Information Minister Lewis Brown said on Monday. (Reuters

Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as a possible treatment for the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak. (AP


South Sudan’s warring leaders signed a fresh ceasefire deal Monday vowing to end more than eight months of conflict, according to mediators who threatened sanctions should the agreement fail once again.

The cholera outbreak in Ghana has led to more than 1,000 cases in the last three weeks. Nine districts out of sixteen have recorded cases to date with Accra metro and Dadekotpon are the most affected districts and account for 87% of cases. (IFRC

Boko Haram’s declaration of a caliphate and an Islamic state in Nigeria yesterday mirrors the declaration made three months ago by the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA

Mozambique’s government and the former rebel Renamo movement have signed an accord to end two years of low-level fighting. The unrest had raised fears the southern African country would slip back into civil war, two decades after Renamo and the ruling Frelimo party ended hostilities. (VOA

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday on a visit to China hoping the long-time ally and economic giant can help the African nation’s ailing economy. (AP

The Tanzanian government’s system of rounding up children with albinism in state-run education centers isn’t adequately protecting them from widespread superstitious beliefs that human albino body parts will bring wealth and success or cure disease, the UN human rights office said. (AP

The government of South Sudan signed an Action Plan with the UN in 2012 to end the use of child soldiers but there is evidence the ongoing conflict is eroding any gains achieved. (IRIN


A sharp increase in fuel prices threatens to plunge hundreds of thousands of Yemenis into poverty and food insecurity in the Arab world’s poorest country – particularly if regular welfare payments to Yemen’s poorest people continue to be dispersed erratically, aid organizations have warned. (IRIN

Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts. (NYT

The hunt for the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist Jim Foley is focusing on British jihadists, including a one-time British rapper known as L Jinny. (VOA

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the appalling, widespread and systematic deprivation of human rights in Iraq by the Islamic State and associated forces. The violations include targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of places of religious and cultural significance, and the besieging of entire communities because of ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation. (UNHCR

Syria says it is willing to work with the international community, including the United States and Britain, to fight the advance of Islamic State militants inside Syria, but warned that any attacks should only be carried out in coordination with Damascus. (VOA


Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights, and topics like sanitation and personal hygiene. (IPS

Thailand’s young people are facing a new rise in HIV infections – the virus that causes AIDS. Researchers say they are finding it tougher to reach at-risk populations with messages about safer sex. (VOA

Vietnam has a nutrition problem that sounds like a contradiction: too many of its children are underweight, but at the same time, more and more children are becoming overweight every year. (VOA

The Americas

Police in Brazil say four prisoners have been killed – two of them decapitated – in a riot in a jail in the southern city of Cascavel. (BBC

While accurate figures for New York’s unsheltered homeless are hard to come by, the thousands sleeping on the streets are in addition to the 53,615 people – a record-breaking figure not seen since the Great Depression – who enrolled in the city’s shelter system in January this year. (IPS


Gaza aid worker: we have stopped feeling anything (Guardian

Inequality and the dangerous radicals (Global Dashboard

NZ aid and the New Zealand private sector’s role in Pacific sustainable economic development (Dev Policy

“We are eating grass because there is no food” (UN Dispatch

The Post-2015 Development Goals Need to Address Migration—And It Looks Like They Just Might (CGD

The Loss of Skill in the Industrial Revolution (The Growth Economics Blog

Australia has a Problem (UN Dispatch

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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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