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The Top 5 Most Ignored Humanitarian Crises

The sluggish international response to the Pakistan floods emergency is actually not all that sluggish, at least compared to these humanitarian crises. Introducing the five most under-funded and ignored humanitarian crises:

1) Iraqi Refugees

The invasion, occupation and subsequent civil war in Iraq war caused one of the biggest refugees crises in recent history. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 1.7 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan. There are another 1.5 million Iraqi IDPs.  The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its regional response plan for Iraqi refugees in January.  The appeal called for $367 million to support the refugees.  So far, though, only 17.9% or $65 million is funded.  The United States has contributed $17 million to the fund.  (Image: flickr user ashclements)

2) Guatemala — Tropical Storm Agatha

Remember Tropical Storm Agatha?  Not many people outside of Central America do either.  Nearly 200 people were killed when the first storm of the hurricane season made landfall in Guatemala on May 31.  The storm caused extensive damage–most dramatically, it opened up a 200 foot deep sinkhole in the middle of Guatemala’s capital.  To make matters worse, the storm hit just a day after a major volcanic eruption.

Thousands were displaced.  An international appeal was launched.  The international appeal was ignored.  Today, only $5 million of the $15 million has been donated.  (Image: flickr user horslip5)

3) Uganda

A 20 year civil war in Northern Uganda largely ended in 2006. Still, 400,000 2 million people remain displaced and [nearly 2 million] reliant on humanitarian aid. The so-called “consolidated appeal” for Uganda  warned that the humanitarian gains achieved since the cessation of hostilities is in danger of unraveling “due to diminishing humanitarian programming that is unmatched by a significant increase in recovery programs.”  Only $64 million of the $184 million appeal has been received.  (Image of ‘Night Commuters’ from flickr user melanieandjohn)

4) Central African Republic

The civil war may have ended in Northern Uganda, but the same group responsible for the destruction in Uganda has reconstituted itself, this time in Central African Republic.  Attacks on border villages by the Lord’s Resistance Army has left  at least 50 villages burned or emptied, according to the UN.  But they make up only a relatively small portion of the nearly 200,000 IDPs in CAR. The country also suffers from being in a terrible neighborhood and has suffered from the spill over effects of both the Darfur conflict and conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In fact, over 18,000 refugees from the DRC fled to the Central African Republic last year alone.   But despite all these needs, funding for humanitarian operations in CAR remains critically low. It is the fourth most under-funded crisis in the world at $53 million received  out of a requested $144 million.  (Image: Child soldier in CAR camp, flickr user hdptcar)

5)  Civil Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

In June, the UN launched a $96 million emergency appeal following an anti-Uzbek pogrom in Kyrgyzstan.  100,000 people were displaced in a very short period of time, most across the border to Uzbekistan. Now, they are returning and in need of assistance.  Many homes were destroyed livelihoods lost.  To date, the UN has received 35 million, or 36% of the total funding needed to care for the humanitarian needs of the displaced.   (Image of displaced in Kyrgyzstan, flickr user savethechildrenusa)

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South Sudan Watch: Many Ethnic Groups, One Goal?

LUONYAKER, Sudan—This month, I’ve had the chance to travel to several different corners of Southern Sudan. Reporting trips have taken me to the fertile, green jungle forests of Western Equatoria state, which borders Congo and the Central African Republic; to the frontline North-South border zone of Abyei; and most recently to Warrap state, where the traditional culture of the Dinka people is firmly enshrined in villages like Luonyaker, whose people depend on their cattle and move seasonally with them to cattle camps in the rainy season and to the Jur River for watering during the dry season.

As I’ve noted in other posts, Southern Sudan is a hugely vast territory and its peoples are extremely diverse; looking at a U.N. map showing the distribution of ethnic groups across the south in different colors is like looking at a patchwork quilt.

Despite this diversity, however, it’s hard not to notice the unanimity of opinion among southerners about the upcoming independence vote. Although southerners undoubtedly have internal disputes amongst each other and various communities also have legitimate grievances against the southern government, people seem more united than ever over their desire for the south to separate from the north. After my ten months living in the south, I can only recall a handful of Southern Sudanese people who spoke openly about their desire for Sudan to remain one country after the south’s self-determination referendum on January 9, 2011.

Walking through the market in Luonyaker during my trip to Warrap state this past weekend, a young man who spoke good English strode up to me while I was taking photos of some people playing dominoes. He said he had heard that I worked “in the news” and asked me about the news from Juba about the referendum. He told me that I should know that “Southern Sudan is going,” a turn of phrase I’ve heard more than once from southerners. “We’re going to be independent,” he said. “Tell the people outside [of Sudan].”

Southerners certainly share a common experience of marginalization, and often persecution, at the hands of the northern government. Mistrust and resentment of Khartoum are widespread. These commonalities will likely keep southerners united when they head to the polls in less than five months. After the referendum, however, could be a different story. More on that soon. 

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Quartet pleased with resumption of Israel-Palestine peace talks; How to arrest Somali Pirates; Pakistan Flood Relief reacts

Middle East peace talks: today the Quartet issued a statement which reaffirms their support for direct negotiations and calls on the Israelis and Palestinians to launch negotiations September 2 in Washington, D.C.  Asked about the SG’s reaction to the reported agreement to resume direct talks, the Spokesperson said he is awaiting official confirmation of the decision.

Pakistan: in yesterday’s GA session on Pakistan, an additional $200 million was pledged for Pakistan, including $60 million from the U.S., bringing its bilateral assistance to over $150 million, 92% of which is in support of the UN’s relief efforts.  UNICEF ED Lake issued a statement this morning declaring that the crisis has reached “tragic proportions” and urging increased support.

Somalia: today the SG issued a report on ways to prosecute persons arrested for piracy off the coast of Somalia (including proposals for domestic courts, regional and/or international tribunals), pursuant to a request from the Security Council.  The report is likely to be considered in next week’s August 25 Security Council debate on Somali piracy.

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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Calls out Climate Change Skeptics

Yesterday, Pakistan’s foreign minister addressed the General Assembly. It is among the most powerful things I have read about the historic floods.  Beyond the immediate concerns of keeping people fed, sheltered and safe, you get a real sense of just how deeply transformative this calamity will be for Pakistan’s social and economic structure. The engine of Pakistan’s economy has been wiped out.  Families on farms will move in with distant relatives in cities, no doubt putting a strain on those cities.  And, of course, there is the ever present danger that militant groups are able to assert themselves amid all this chaos and dislocation. This speech packs all of that in a very powerful and sharp way.

Finally, for all you climate change skeptics out there, Mr. Qureshi has news for you. 

Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis. The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change. It also complicates the reconstruction and rehabilitation scenario in Pakistan. Nature has made a graphic endorsement to strengthen the case for a fair and equitable outcome from the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations.

As Corbin wrote, those climate negotiations are beginning in earnest before the next summit in Cancun.  What happens in Mexico has suddenly become very releant to the people of the Indus river valley. 

Here is his speech in full. It is well worth a read. 


Statement by H.E. Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, at the Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to consider the humanitarian situation resulting from floods in Pakistan

Mr. President,

I convey to you the gratitude of the people and Government of Pakistan for this timely initiative; to convene a Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to consider the humanitarian situation resulting from floods in Pakistan.

Let me also thank the UN Secretary General for his comprehensive briefing on the situation in Pakistan, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the floods.

The people of Pakistan have deeply appreciated the Secretary General’s close personal engagement in the rescue and relief operations in Pakistan, and his visit to the affected areas.

I would also like to thank the honorable Ministers for their presence, to express solidarity and support to the people of Pakistan.

Mr. President,

What we face in Pakistan today, is a natural calamity of unprecedented proportions. These are the worst monsoon floods in living memory.

According to the UN reports, the present humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is larger than the combined effects of Tsunami and the 2005 earthquake.

Mr. President,

Pakistanis are a resilient people.

We are no strangers to challenges and difficulties.

This is a nation that suffered the ravages of the 2005 earthquake; and bravely bore the loss of 80,000 of our brethren.

We are the people who have borne the brunt of the International fight against terrorism and extremism, with relentless courage and determination.

This is the nation that braced, with fortitude, the loss of thousands of its men, women and children to suicide attacks.

We are the people that the international community looks towards, as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism.

This is the nation, Mr. President, which now looks towards the International community to show a similar determination and humanity in its hour of need.

Mr. President,

The situation is indeed critical and alarming.

I stand before you as the voice of 20 million Pakistanis devastated by the floods.

Who have lost their homes and hearths; their kith and kin; their lands and their crops; their lives and their livelihoods.

One in Ten Pakistanis has been rendered destitute.

Twenty percent of our land is submerged in water.

Mr. President,

Ours is primarily an agrarian economy. 70% of our population is employed in agriculture sector.

And this is where we have been hit the most. Over 17 million acres of agricultural land has been submerged.

Standing crops, worth billions of dollars have been destroyed.

The critical sector of livestock has been equally devastated.

Over 3.5 million children are at high risk of deadly water-borne diseases.

Schools will not be opening soon after summer vacations, as they are being used to provide shelter to flood survivors.

In the province of Punjab, almost one million acres of cotton growing area is affected; and crops worth one billion dollars destroyed.

In the South, standing crops worth 1.2 billion dollars, over an area of 100,000 acres, face complete destruction in Sindh province.

In the North, over three hundred and twenty five thousand acres of land stands submerged; and crops worth 500 million dollars destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province.

In Balochistan, villages and towns are being inundated as I speak to you.

Over 70% of the roads and bridges in the flood stricken areas have been destroyed; with none remaining intact in the Swat valley.

Over one million tonnes of wheat stored in warehouses has been swept away.

Mr. President,

Unfortunately, these are only initial estimates; and the situation is still evolving.

The situation is expected to get worse as the second and third waves of floods inundate more lands, and uproot more people.

The numbers will surely go up as the waters recede and the affected areas become accessible to damage assessment.

The aftermath of the floods in the medium to long term would pose more daunting challenges.

The reconstruction and rehabilitation costs are going to be huge.

But our immediate challenge is to meet the food, health and clean drinking water needs of the millions displaced; and to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by the floods.

Mr. President,

Our difficulties do not end here.

Our urban infrastructure will come under severe stress as millions of people migrate to bigger cities in search of shelter and jobs.

Another serious problem, with long-term socio-economic implications, is the loss of land and potential decline in the arability of flood affected lands.

The food security of the sixth most populous country in the world is at risk.

The possible threats of food riots and related violence cannot be ruled out.

Mr. President,

The Government of Pakistan has mobilized all its national resources to provide rescue and relief to the affected people.

Hundreds of thousands have been rescued and evacuated from riverine areas.

Provision of food, shelter, clean drinking water and prevention of water borne diseases and epidemics remain our top priorities.

The entire nation stands united and determined to overcome this challenge.

The people of Pakistan have opened up their hearts and hearths to their brothers and sisters.

We are also determined to turn around the economy destroyed by the floods.

We have decided to set up an independent national entity, to mobilize maximum domestic resources and to ensure their effective and transparent use.

This entity will comprise men of integrity, who would supervise the collection, management and distribution of relief funds among the flood affected people.

Mr. President,

Our commitment and resolve notwithstanding, the scale of the challenge is colossal, far too big for any developing country to handle alone.

We hope that the international community will come forward in all earnestness.

We trust that we shall be provided with the much needed support to augment our national relief and rescue efforts.

The people of Pakistan greatly appreciate the launch of US$ 459 million Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan by the UN, for relief and immediate recovery of the affected people.

We have also requested the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to assist the Government of Pakistan, in carrying out a comprehensive Damage Needs Assessment. We hope that it would be completed at the earliest.

Mr. President,

This disaster has hit us hard at a time, and in areas, where we are in the midst of fighting a war against extremists and terrorists

The people of Pakistan have stood by their brave security forces in the fight against terrorism.

Our successes have been lauded by the international community.

But these successes have come at a heavy price.

More than 10,000 innocent civilians have fallen victim to terrorism. And more than 2500 Pakistani soldiers have given their lives.

Our material losses exceed US$ 43 billion.

Mr. President,

The gains that we have made against the terrorists are substantial. Yet we remain exposed.

The peace and relative calm achieved as a result of the democratic government’s relentless efforts are still fragile, and need to be consolidated.

The massive upheaval caused by the floods and the economic losses suffered by the millions of Pakistanis must be addressed urgently.

If we fail, it could undermine the hard won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism.

We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.

Mr. President,

Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis.

The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change. It also complicates the reconstruction and rehabilitation scenario in Pakistan.

Nature has made a graphic endorsement to strengthen the case for a fair and equitable outcome from the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations,

Mr. President,

The sympathy and solidarity that I witness here today, from all of you, is very reassuring.

I wish to go back to Islamabad with a clear message for the people of Pakistan that they are not alone in this hour of trial; and that the international community stands ready to support and assist them.

We look forward to your help in undertaking the immediate relief measures; and addressing the long term reconstruction and rehabilitation needs of affected people and areas.

I thank you.

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This Week in Climate Diplomacy: Who is saying what before the Cancun Climate Talks?

While everyone else is downplaying expectations for the year-end Cancun climate summit, Mexican negotiators still believe there can be a “spectacular breakthrough.” After the failure of the recent Bonn climate talks to achieve any substantial progress, one has to wonder how Mexico is defining success in Cancun? And more importantly, how does it aim to facilitate that outcome?

Mexico has stopped short of pushing for comprehensive treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Reluctantly acknowledging political reality after Bonn, Mexico’s chief delegate Fernando Tudela told Reuters earlier this week that “we will not be able to negotiate a new treaty in Cancun, that much is clear.” What they hope to come of their high profile summit is less clear.

Before the Bonn talks devolved into what one EU delegate referred to as “tit-for-tat” diplomacy, Mexico’s special representative for climate change Luis Alfonso de Alba had suggested the Cancun summit could result in three new treaties: “We are not just talking about one single legally binding instrument but a set of them.” As De Alba explained it to Nina Chestney of Reuters, one treaty could cover Annex I, developed country signatories to the Kyoto Protocol; another, developing countries; and a third treaty could be drafted in an attempt to codify the promised reductions made in Copenhagen by the US–the world’s richest unrepentant emitter of greenhouse gas.

Mexico’s foreign minister Patricia Espinosa is suggesting something entirely different: simply extend the Kyoto Protocol. Espinosa told The Hindu newspaper that “the existing legal framework is a good basis” for addressing climate change. “There is no need for a new treaty,” she said.

Under the Kyoto regime, developing countries–even large ones like China and India–are exempted from committing to carbon emissions reductions. As developing countries have come to produce an increasing share of greenhouse gases since 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was initially adopted, that provision has become one of the biggest obstacles preventing American support for international climate agreements.

Espinosa’s proposal also faces logistical hurdles. The first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, but it most experts predict it would take years to authorize a second period leaving a regulatory gap between when Kyoto expires and comes back into force. Some worry that focusing on reauthorizing a contentious treaty will simply distract diplomats from the hard negotiating necessary to draft a more agreeable updated treaty (or treaties, as De Alba would have it).

Mexico is acutely aware that climate negotiators are running short on time to shape a post-Kyoto legal structure. “We have a window of opportunity that is closing,” said Mexico’s chief Bonn delegate Tudela. “What we want to do is rescue these negotiations.”

Since the conclusion of the Bonn talks, Mexican diplomats have been racing around the globe trying to do just that. Last week De Alba traveled to Stockholm and announced Mexico’s intentions to reach out to developing nations “that felt their views were not significantly taken into account” in Copenhagen. This week Foreign Minister Espinosa was in India, one of those emerging countries hurt by the last minute diplomatic push that produced the Copenhagen Accords. In New Delhi, she met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to deliver the message that, “an ambitious outcome [in Cancun] requires India’s sustained political guidance and support.”

Mexico’s efforts to keep developing nations happy may end up pleasing no one. Its quest for an inclusive summit risks further inflaming old debates on fundamental issues like whether developing nations should abide by emissions targets. While it may not have been fair or democratically produced, at least the Copenhagen Accords provided an road map–admittedly, a loophole-ridden one–to a lower carbon world. Stopping now to plot a new and even less certain course while carbon continues to accumulate in the earth’s atmosphere at unprecedented levels is even more dangerous.

A successful week of negotiations at the Tianjin talks in October, which builds consensus around differentiated treaties or extending Kyoto, would go a long way towards ensuring that diplomats emerge from the Cancun summit with the tools and strategies necessary to combat global warming. But as James Murray rightly observes at the Business Green blog, Mexico is employing “an absurdly high risk strategy.” Murray concludes that the “best option currently available is to agree [to] a treaty that does not go nearly far enough while hoping that it provides an economic framework that allows countries to overshoot their inadequate emission reduction targets.” Only time and the temperature will tell if Mexico’s gamble to stop global warming pays off.

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SG Calls Pakistan Floods ‘A slow moving Tsunami”; World Humanitarian Day Observed

Pakistan: in today’s GA meeting on Pakistan, the SG called the Pakistani floods a “slow-motion tsunami” and “one of the greatest tests of global solidarity” where needs are only expected to grow beyond the 15-20 million people already directly affected and in need of assistance. To date, nearly 1 million people have received a month’s food ration from the WFP and nearly the same have received emergency shelter and clean water from UNHCR, UNICEF, UNDP, IOM, WHO and others. However, 8 million people still need food, water and shelter and 14 million are in need of health care. In a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi, they noted that $438 million has been disbursed (cash or in-kind) or pledged so far and 60% of the $460 million appeal for the next 90 days have been met. The SG also raised the possibility of a high-level meeting on Pakistan in September on the sidelines of the MDG Summit, followed by a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in October in Brussels.

World Humanitarian Day: in solemn remarks this morning commemorating World Humanitarian Day and remembering the Canal Hotel bombings in Baghdad, earthquake in Haiti and flood in Pakistan, among other tragedies, the SG also bid farewell to USG Holmes, who will be leaving his tenure as USG Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator in September.

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