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Picture: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Finding New Ways to Bridge the Aid Gap in Syria

It is difficult to understate the humanitarian toll the Syrian conflict has taken, not just on the 22 million Syrians that once called the country home but on the region as a whole. As the death toll from the war approaches the grim milestone of 200,000, the UN estimates another 3 million Syrians are registered as refugees, 6.5 million are displaced within Syria and nearly 11 million Syrians are in need of international assistance inside Syria while 4.6 million are located in hard to access of besieged areas.

These numbers represent millions of individuals and families desperately fighting to survive as well as a massive burden on neighboring countries as they struggle to absorb and care for new arrivals in addition to their own people. Yet despite being the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, aid funding for this disaster consistently comes up short despite demand.

There are likely numerous reasons for this including the strain the 2008 economic crisis continues to have on traditional donor states as well as the large number of other natural and conflict-related disasters in recent years that have demanded funding assistance. The normalcy of the crisis – now going on for over three years – also likely contributes to the stagnation in donations when aid organizations make their appeals. But in the US, part of the problem is also probably due to people not knowing where they should contribute or where the money will go to. Global Impact, an international spin-off of the United Way, is working to change that in multiple ways.

Rather than carry out activities on the ground, Global Impact works with the public and private sectors to build partnerships and raise money for ongoing programs. Much like the traditional United Way campaigns, the central focus of Global Impact is workplace giving campaigns although the organization is now working with corporate donors to fill gaps in pre-existing donations to make sure they are able to succeed.

This is the goal in their new Syria campaign announced at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative earlier this week. By creating and promoting a general Syrian Refugee and Resiliency Fund, Global Impact hopes to fill gaps in education and healthcare that would otherwise prevent programs from getting off the ground.

Talking to UN Dispatch this week, Global Impact CEO Scott Jackson used the example of providing education to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Companies such as Pilosio S.p.A have committed to providing school and training structures while numerous companies and organizations have committed to providing textbooks and supplies as well as funding teacher salaries. But no one has currently committed to creating a teaching curriculum, a vital part of the education process that is needed to help Syrians continue their education even while displaced. This is where the Resiliency Fund would come in: by helping fill this gap with additional funds for curriculum development it ensures that the other commitments made can succeed.

This is just one example of how even small amounts of funding can make a difference. With such a massive humanitarian disaster, gaps exist throughout the chain that prevents projects from having a greater impact on communities that desperately needs them. But by building bridges between donors, aid organizations and communities, there is room to capitalize on funds already raised as well as encourage people to give more.

 

 

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Photo: Carol Han, OFDA/USAID

Combatting Ebola with Public-Private Partnerships

While the UN General Assembly gets underway with a renewed focus on the fight against terrorism, yesterday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon convened a high-level meeting regarding the ongoing fight against Ebola. The actions of governments, UN agencies and aid organizations are generally gaining the most attention as the international community struggles to bring the epidemic under control but the private sector is also stepping up to assist efforts in the region.

The stakes for how bad things can get if the epidemic is not controlled came into stark relief earlier this week with the release of two epidemic models by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Unchecked and without major additional intervention, the WHO predicted the number of reported and probably cases of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea could top 20,000 by November. In comparison, the CDC’s model estimated that between 550,000 to 1.4 million cases could occur in the region by January 2015.

The models differ in the predicted number of unreported cases, which explains the wide range of figures given. As the epidemic is already the largest known Ebola outbreak in history, even the lower estimates pose significant challenges for the countries affected and the aid organizations attempting to stem the tide of the disease.

Already the outbreak is straining the resources of the region’s fragile health systems and budgets of aid organizations on the ground. In addition to the recent commitments announced by Western governments for further aid and personnel, for aid organizations already combatting the epidemic, making the most of every dollar available is essential. One possible cost saving mechanism is a program called Airlink, which enlists the help of commercial airlines and cargo flight companies to transport equipment and aid at pennies on the dollar.

Steven Smith, Executive Director of Airlink, announced at CGI this week the creation of a dedicated “airbridge” from the US and Europe that will deliver 80 tons of medical supplies to aid agencies working in Liberia every two weeks through the end of the year. By working with partners such as Royal Air Maroc and Nippon Cargo Airlines as well as the Liberian Ministry of Health, the aid will be connected to 10 NGOs already working in the country that will then distribute the supplies throughout Liberia where it is needed.

“The reason we work with non-profits like AmeriCares and DirectRelief is because they already have the connections on the ground and the distribution plan,” said Smith to UN Dispatch. “We are just facilitating getting it to the main airport.” Unfortunately, this is no small task. As countries and airlines continue to cut off flights and travel from Ebola-effected countries, international response efforts are being impacted as it becomes much harder to move supplies and personnel into the countries where needed. But getting the supplies there is only the first step as the epidemic is widespread throughout Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. “There is always a plan always in place with each shipment,” continued Smith, “with partners on the ground or their own people to take those things and get them where they need to go.” This helps ensure that all the supplies brought in are needed and are distributed to the places that need the most help.

Approaching aid logistics this way will potentially save aid organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars by combining available resources and streamlining the delivery process. This will allow them to spend much needed money on additional medical equipment and personnel rather than on chartering flights to deliver supplies. Given the size of the problem in the region and the possible consequences of not getting the epidemic under control soon, every little bit counts.

However, such programs are more than just about Ebola. Airlink already works with partner airlines and government officials to respond to humanitarian emergencies and provide disaster support around the world, from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to Hurricane Iselle in Hawaii. As the number of people impacted by disasters grows, a critical part of building disaster resiliency is maximizing impact while not cutting aid. Public-private partnerships such as Airlink allow organizations and governments responding to calls for action to do just that, and allow the private sector to contribute in ways that support the work already being done by governments and NGOs on the ground in vulnerable communities.

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Joe Biden at the Peacekeeping Summut

Why Joe Biden is Talking About UN Peacekeeping at the United Nations Today

UN Peacekeeping is at a breaking point. There are currently over 100,000 UN Peacekeepers serving in 17 missions across the globe. This is near an all time high–and the kinds of missions that are being undertaken are radically different today than they were just a few decades ago. So far, the international community has has a tough time adapting.

This could change with a big meeting chaired by Joe Biden at the United Nations today.

The challenge is deep: Missions in places like South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali, and Darfur are exceedingly complex. There are multiple warring factions, some of which are non-state actors and terrorist groups who do not respect the neutrality of the United Nations. In the meantime, since the failures of Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s UN Peacekeeping has evolved from simply serving as a buffer between two warring factions to making civilian protection as its core operating principle. But the resources required to fulfill this mandate are sometimes not there.

For example, the sudden outbreak of ugly sectarian civil war in South Sudan caught the entire international community by surprise. But Peacekeeping did not have the capacity to rapidly summon new resources to deal with it. Rather, it pulled troops from other missions. The UN Peacekeeping mission was able to protect civilians who fled to their compounds, but was too under-equipped (for example, did not have enough helicopters) to provide the kind of pro-active patrols that the people of South Sudan deserved. Similarly, the mission in Central African Republic is struggling to get off the ground, even as the international community warns that ethnic cleansing is underway. And in places like Mali, UN Peacekeepers are increasingly the target of attacks, with tactics used against them (like suicide bombing and IEDs) imported from Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is the backdrop to today’s big UN Peacekeeping summit convened at the request of Ban Ki Moon and the United States. Vice President Joe Biden, who has a long history of support for UN Peacekeeping, is charing the meeting.

This is significant.

The fact that the USA is chairing the meeting means that other countries are coming to it with concrete pledges in hand. The USA is the largest financial contributor to UN Peacekeeping, picking up about 28% of the cost of each mission. From an American perspective this is a bargain: the rest of the world picks up 72% of the cost of each mission, and there are very few US boots on the ground in these dangerous conflict zones (118 to be precise). UN Peacekeeping’s budget is just north of $7 billion. (For comparison’s sake, the US Department of Defense’s budget is $600 billion).

“When we ask them to do more, we owe them more,” said Biden at the start of the meeting. Ban Ki moon then listed six concrete and urgent needs of UN Peacekeeping: enhanced rapid reaction capacity when a sudden crisis breaks out; more helicopters; more medical units; protection against IEDs; better intelligence assets; and better coordination with regional organizations in Africa.

Many of the pledges made at this meeting are commitments against these needs. For example, the USA used the summit to showcase a $110 program to bolster rapid response peacekeeping capabilities among African countries. (The program, known African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership as was announced just last month at the African Leaders Summit in Washington, DC.) Japan announced that it will deploy more engineers; France pledged to train 20,000 African peacekeepers per year; Tanzania pledged to contribute another infantry battalion; China pledged to contribute helicopter units for the first time; and in advance of this summit Mexico announced that it would contribute Blue Helmets for the first time in decades.

There are, in all, 30 countries speaking at this conference and each is expected to bring something concrete on the table. @UNPeacekeeping is compiling most of these pledges through out the conference.

This demonstration of political, financial and material support to UN Peacekeeping is key. UN Peacekeepers are sent to places in the world to put a lid on humanitarian crises when no country is able or willing to do so alone. The international community has an obligation to help UN Peacekeepers live up to the promise of UN Peacekeeping. Or, as the German foreign minister said succinctly: “UN peacekeeping can only be as strong as the commitment of its member states.”  What we are seeing today is a much needed display of support–and it’s coming at a critical time.

 

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Full Participation For Women and Girls in the 21st Century

Girls and women’s empowerment was high on the agenda today at the Clinton Global Initiative, with the morning’s plenary session  - “Equality for Girls & Women: 2034 instead of 2134?” – bringing together dozens of CGI commitment makers, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Melinda Gates, and a wide range of panelists who discussed how opportunities for girls and women can be amplified, in order to close the social, economic and political global gender gap.

Lots to celebrate, but a long way to go

Introducing the morning’s discussion, Hillary Clinton explained how the progress already made on girls and female empowerment should be celebrated, particularly as we approach the 2015 horizon, but also how it is equally – if not more critical – to “redouble our efforts” on the unfinished business that remains. According to CGI, based on current projections, women will not comprise half of the world’s elected representatives until 2065 or half the world’s leaders until 2134. Hillary Clinton reminded us that the wage gap between American men and women went from 77 cents on the dollar to 78 cents on the dollar. And while, over the course of the last 15 years, the MDG target of closing the gender gap in primary education has almost been achieved, there is still much more to be done in order to genuinely close this gap at a societal level. During this morning’s session, Julia Gillard – Australia’s first female prime minister – mentioned that, at the current pace, it would take 100 years for all girls in sub-Saharan Africa to complete secondary school, which, she declared, “is unacceptable.”

Data Data Data!

The centerpiece of this morning’s session was the conversation between Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates. Both leaders emphasized how important it is to accurately, comprehensively capture the data points around the current situation of women and girls, in order to adequately and effectively design, implement and scale interventions that work. “Data, data, data! We cannot live in an evidence-free zone,” said Melinda Gates, recalling how leveraging data and analysis were central to Microsoft’s success. Hillary Clinton spoke of how we must re-examine our assumptions in the 21st century – how we think about work and employment, how we analyze issues, how we understand and appreciate the economy. “How do we take the old GDP and imbue it with other data or qualities that will help us evaluate the quality of life – not just of women – but of the whole society?” Clinton asked.

A massive commitment to match the gravity of the challenge

The morning session was also the opportunity for Clinton and Gillard to announce the launch of an “ambitious but achievable” girls’ education initiative, CHARGE, the Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls Education, which aims to reach over 14 million girls worldwide over 5 years, involves 30 partners and a $600 million commitment from a variety of cross-sectoral partners, including governments, NGOs and private sector actors. The concept behind CHARGE is to support and enhance interventions that support improvements in girls access to education, as well as the quality of education.

Full and equal participation for girls in the 21st century

The annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative is always an exciting and invigorating event, and the far-reaching, wide-ranging plenary sessions such as the one on women and girls is one of those events that reflects the essence of the CGI approach – thought-provoking talks with heavyweight leaders, from a variety of sectors, with concrete financial commitments with quantifiable goals. Importantly, though, as we ponder these massively complex questions – such as the empowerment of women and girls globally – it is critical that we remember that behind the data points, the large dollar figures and the rhetoric, there are human beings with real issues. “Behind data there are real people with day in and day out struggles,” said Melinda Gates, adding, “how do we care for all human beings in a way that gives everybody dignity?”

Photo credit: Clinton Foundation

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Obama speech

The Subtle, But Substantive Policy Shift in Obama’s UN Speech

Barack Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly is being widely praised as one of his best speeches to date in terms of delivery and style. But between the soaring rhetoric there was substance.

To understand the significance of the speech it’s helpful to understand a subtle tension that has existed at the United Nations among member states over how to best fight terrorism. This tension can best be described as the the need to confront and kill terrorists through bombing and drone strikes on the one hand, and on the other hand reducing the factors that make young men want to join ISIS or al Qaeda in the first place. (In UN Speak, disrupting these push factors is often referred to in short-hand as “countering violent extremism.”)

In debates about terrorism at the UN, the United States has historically emphasized the former, and most other countries in the world have typically emphasize the latter. What was so striking about Obama’s speech today was that even as American bombs are dropping on terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq, he chose to focus his remarks on the softer side of the global fight against terrorism. And, in fact, he did not even use the term the “global fight against terrorism.” Rather, he directly invoked the need to fight the attractiveness of “violent extremism” no fewer than four times.  This is the key passage.

 Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment. Moreover, this campaign against extremism goes beyond a narrow security challenge. For while we have methodically degraded core al Qaeda and supported a transition to a sovereign Afghan government, extremist ideology has shifted to other places – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where a quarter of young people have no job; food and water could grow scarce; corruption is rampant; and sectarian conflicts have become increasingly hard to contain.  

Obama’s emphasis on fighting terrorist groups by fighting the “trends that fuel their recruitment”  has practical implications for diplomacy at the UN. For one, it means that the rest of the world–specifically the developing world that does not tend to want to focus on terrorism at the expense of development issues — may get behind a US-led strategy at the UN.

We will see this manifest later today,  President Obama is leading a Security Council meeting that is expected to adopt a legally binding, Chapter VII resolution, that obliges all UN Member states to take specific measures to prevent their citizens from flocking to Syria to take up arms. This is a crucial issue to the national security of the United States and many other member states. Intelligence agencies believe that between 12,000 to 15,000 foreigners have joined arms with ISIS and al Nusra in Syria. There is a deep and legitimate fear that these fighters will come home, battle hardened, and carry out attacks elsewhere in the world. The measure at the UN today could help staunch that flow.

But the measure is also accompanied by a section titled “countering violent extremism” that “Encourages Member States to engage relevant local communities and non-governmental actors in developing strategies to counter the violent extremist narrative that can incite terrorist acts, address the conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism, including by empowering youth, families, women,  religious, cultural and education leaders, and all other concerned groups of civil society and adopt tailored approaches to countering recruitment to this kind of violent extremism and promoting social inclusion and cohesion;” 

This provision is why the resolution will pass unanimously. And it is why most of the rest of the world will want to line up behind the United States.

So, yes this was an impressive speech. But for those at the United Nations it was also a very public signal that the USA will not loose sight of the root causes of terrorism even as its takes its fight to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

 

How the UN Fights Terrorism, a backgrounder:

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UNSC chaired by obama

How the United Nations Fights Terrorism

The Security Council holds an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, chaired by President Obama, dedicated to stemming the flow of foreign fighters to the Syrian battlefield. The meeting demonstrates that the United States believes the United Nations has an important role to play in the global fight against terrorism. But what, exactly, does that mean?

Here to discuss the Security Council meeting and the UN’s evolving involvement on terrorism issues (including its strengths and weaknesses) is Naureen Chowdhury Fink of the Global Center on Cooperative Security.

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