Posts Tagged ‘Oxfam’

Trump, in Puerto Rico, Compares Death Toll to Katrina’s and Says Residents Should Be ‘Proud’

October 3, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday told officials in Puerto Rico that they should be proud that only 16 people died in Hurricane Maria, compared with the “thousands” killed in “a real catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina.”

“Sixteen versus in the thousands,” Mr. Trump said during his first visit to the island after the storm, after asking one of the officials what the death count was. “You can be very proud of your people and all of our people working together.”

Hurricane Katrina claimed 1,833 lives. Officials in the Trump administration have often compared the relief efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to the George W. Bush administration’s response to Katrina in 2005.

But the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, complained that the response in Puerto Rico fell short of that in Texas or Florida.

In Puerto Rico, Mr. Trump’s schedule will limit his exposure to the public. He will be briefed by local officials in a hangar at the Luis Muniz Air National Guard Base, then meet with storm victims at an undisclosed location, before heading to a Navy amphibious assault ship for meetings with the governors of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

The White House asked the governor of the Virgin Islands, Kenneth E. Mapp, to fly to Puerto Rico because of the logistical complications of having the president and his entourage travel to those islands, parts of which have been severely damaged.

The president has gotten more comfortable with these visits, after traveling to Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma. On Tuesday, he wore his now-familiar uniform: a blue windbreaker with the presidential seal and white baseball cap, emblazoned with the letters USA.

Melania Trump, the first lady, accompanied the president, as she has on previous visits to storm-ravaged areas. She wore a navy blue sweater and pants, and stiletto heels, as she left the White House. But, as on earlier trips, she changed while en route into more practical boots and her own baseball cap.

Since the weekend, Mr. Trump has sharply scaled back his Twitter posts about the hurricanes or other potentially fraught issues. But speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he continued to emphasize the government’s performance rather than the plight of the victims.

“In Texas and in Florida, we get an A+,” he said. “And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico.”

“The first responders, the military, FEMA — they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Trump continued. “And whether it’s her or anybody else,” he said, referring to Mayor Cruz, “they’re all starting to say it.”



Trump Says Puerto Rico Has Thrown the Budget ‘Out of Whack’

October 3, 2017


By Justin Sink, Jordyn Holman, and Jennifer Epstein

  • The president is reviewing storm damage and recovery efforts
  • San Juan mayor tells president ‘it’s not about politics’
Trump Says Puerto Rico Threw Budget ‘Out of Whack’

Trump: Puerto Rico Throwing Budget ‘Out of Whack’

President Donald Trump arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday and began his visit with a briefing on Hurricane Maria’s damage in the company of the San Juan mayor he insulted on Twitter.

President Trump shakes hands with Mayor Cruz.

Photographer: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

“It’s a beautiful place,” Trump said. “Every once in a while you get hit. And you really got hit. No question about it.”

He shook hands with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who told him, “it’s not about politics.” After she criticized Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke over the weekend for calling the federal response to Puerto Rico a “good news story,” Trump maligned “politically motivated ingrates” in the territory on Twitter.

Budget Concerns

At a briefing with local officials in an airport hangar, he complained about the expense of the federal response to the storm.

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack — because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that’s fine, we’ve saved a lot of lives,” Trump said.

He also suggested that with only 16 deaths officially attributed to the storm so far, the federal response appeared superior to George W. Bush’s handling of Katrina in 2005.

“When you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” Trump said. “And what is your death count right now?”

F-35 Tangent

Trump invited military officials seated at the briefing to take turns discussing their role in the response, and after an Air Force representative spoke, the president went on a tangent about the F-35 fighter plane.

“Amazing job. So amazing that we’re ordering hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new airplanes for the Air Force, especially the F-35,” Trump said, asking the representative, “do you like the F-35?”

“It’s a game-changing, technological, awesome airplane,” the unidentified representative said.

“I said, ‘how does it do it in fights and how do they do in fights with the F-35?”’ Trump continued, apparently referring to a previous discussion he’s had about the plane, “He said, ’we do very well, you can’t see it, you literally can’t see it.’ So it’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see, right?”

About two minutes later, Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, approached him and whispered inaudibly in his ear.

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President Donald Trump addresses White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, before a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017. Reuters photo

Testing Trump

The natural disaster has exposed Trump’s inexperience at governing and raised questions about his ability to handle a major crisis.

Trump’s visit offers a chance to show his commitment to rebuilding an island that remains almost completely without power and short on food, water, medicine and other supplies nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria. The trip, along with one on Wednesday to Las Vegas after a mass shooting there, poses a test of his capacity to fulfill the president’s traditional role of uniting the country in moments of tragedy.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, and Kenneth Mapp, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were badly damaged by Hurricane Irma, will also meet with Trump during his visit.

Cruz said in a statement Tuesday that she had accepted the White House’s invitation to attend the briefing, at a National Guard base on Puerto Rico, and would stress to the president that “this is about saving lives, not about politics; this is also about giving the people of Puerto Rico the respect we deserve; and recognizing the moral imperative to do both.”

Stark Contrast

As Trump left Washington for the trip, he was unabashed in boasting about the federal response, describing the effort as “incredible” and comparing it favorably with aid after hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

“In Texas and Florida we got an A-plus, and I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “Now the roads are clear, the communications are starting to come back.”

On the ground in Puerto Rico, 93 percent of homes still lacked electricity as of Tuesday and less than a quarter of the population had mobile phone service. The president waited eight days to waive restrictions under the Jones Act that limit which ships can deliver relief supplies, and he also was criticized for tweeting more about football players kneeling during the national anthem in the days after the storm than about the crisis on Puerto Rico.

The bankrupt territory’s recovery stands to be long and expensive, with serious implications not just for Puerto Rico’s residents but also its bondholders, U.S. taxpayers and perhaps even Trump’s political prospects. Puerto Rico’s $74 billion of debt cripples its ability to raise money on its own.

One potential outcome, should rebuilding bog down, is that some of the island’s 3.4 million residents, who are American citizens, could relocate en masse to Florida and other mainland states. Even before the storm, Puerto Rico’s fiscal plan released in March projected that the island’s population would decline by 0.2 percent a year during the next decade.

“You’re not going to get hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans moving to the states — you’re going to get millions,” Rossello said Tuesday at a news conference. “You’re going to get millions, creating a devastating demographic shift for us here in Puerto Rico, a brain drain.”

Oxfam, which rarely responds to disasters in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, said Monday that it would start work in Puerto Rico amid “the slow and inadequate response the US Government has mounted,” said Oxfam America’s president Abby Maxman. “The US has more than enough resources to mobilize an emergency response“ but “has failed to do so in a swift and robust manner.”

— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, Nathan Crooks, Jonathan Levin, Kathleen Hunter, and William Selway

Rohingya flee Myanmar as Myanmar blocks all UN aid to civilians at heart of Rohingya crisis

September 4, 2017

Exclusive: Military offensive against insurgents leaves thousands stranded without life-saving supplies

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 Rohingya Muslims, fleeing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, make their way to Bangladesh. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.By  South-east Asia correspondent

Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign in Myanmar, the Guardian has learned.

The world body halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds.

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar told the Guardian that deliveries were suspended “because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance”, suggesting authorities were not providing permission to operate.

“The UN is in close contact with authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations can resume as soon as possible,” it said. Aid was being delivered to other parts of Rakhine state, it added.

In the deadliest violence for decades in the area, the military is accused of atrocities against the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds.

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Staff from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have not conducted any field work in northern Rakhine for more than a week, a dangerous halt in life-saving relief that will affect poor Buddhist residents as well as Rohingya.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it also had to suspend distributions to other parts of the state, leaving a quarter of a million people without regular food access.

Sixteen major non-government aid organisations – including Oxfam and Save the Children – have also complained that the government has restricted access to the conflict area.

Humanitarian organisations are “deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of people affected by the ongoing violence” in northern Rakhine, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.

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Refugees who have made it to Bangladesh during the past week have told horrific stories of “massacres” in villages that they say were raided and burned by soldiers. Along miles of the border, thick black smoke can be seen rising from small settlements surrounded by green fields.

Read the rest:


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New Rohingya refugees wait to enter the Kutupalang makeshift refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 30, 2017. REUTERS – Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Yemen Cholera Expected to Spread With Rains — Could Get 600,000 Cases — Oxfam

July 21, 2017

GENEVA — Yemen’s cholera outbreak is far from being controlled and may be further exacerbated by the rainy season, even if the rate of new cases appears to be slowing in some hotspots, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

Oxfam projected the number could rise to more than 600,000 cases, “the largest ever recorded in any country in a single year since records began”, exceeding Haiti in 2011.

Nigel Timmins, the charity’s humanitarian director who has just returned from the country, said: “Cholera has spread unchecked in a country already on its knees after two years of war and which is teetering on the brink of famine. For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow.”

The WHO reported 368,207 suspected cases and 1,828 deaths in the Arabian Peninsula country since late April.

A boy lies on a bed at a cholera treatment centre in Sanaa [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

“Every day we have 5,000 more Yemenis falling sick with symptoms of acute watery diarrhoea or cholera,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Yemen’s cholera outbreak is far from being controlled, the rainy season has just started and may increase the paths of transmission. Sustained efforts are required to stop the spread of this disease,” she said.

Millions are malnourished in Yemen where famine looms, the United Nations says. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels and fighting limits access for aid workers.

Surveillance data “confirms a slight decline in suspected cases over the past two weeks” in some of the most affected governorates – Amanat Al Asimah, Amran and Sana’a, Chaib said.

But great caution was called for as there is a backlog in reporting and data is still being analysed, she said.

Oxfam, which is based in Britain, said Yemen’s rainy season from July to September would increase the risk of the disease spreading further through water contaminated with faeces.

“It is feared that the total number of people infected could eventually rise to over 600,000, making it one of the largest outbreaks since records began in 1949,” Oxfam said.

The WHO did not provide its latest planning figure.

“The fighting is hugely exacerbating the ability to stop this epidemic of cholera. The kind of disintegration of the health system in Yemen as a result of the conflict at a time of cholera is an absolutely lethal combination,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told Friday’s briefing.

(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alison Williams)

Source: Al Jazeera an

Italy Still Isolated in Shouldering Migration Crisis After G7

May 27, 2017

TAORMINA, Italy — Italy chose to host a Group of Seven summit of wealthy nations on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean, looking to draw attention to the migrant crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people set sail from Africa in search of a better life in Europe.

But world leaders on Saturday said little that will help Italy manage the steady flow of migrants to its shores or enable it to cope with the growing number of new arrivals.

“Even though this summit took place in Sicily, a stone’s throw from where so many migrants have died, it produced no concrete steps to protect vulnerable migrants or to address the root causes of displacement and migration,” said Roberto Barbieri, the local director of humanitarian group Oxfam.

Rome had hoped to persuade other major industrialized nations to open more legal channels for migration and to focus attention on food security — policies which were meant to lower the number of people who set off for Europe.

Africans have been fleeing toward Europe in the thousands. Most that don’t drown end up in Italy. © AFP/File

But the plan was scrapped before the two-day summit even started, with the United States, Britain and Japan unwilling to commit to major new immigration initiatives.

The final communique outlined medium-term commitments to bolster African economies and promote sustainable agriculture, but it focused more on the need for each country to guarantee national security than on how to limit migration.

Countries “reaffirm the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels,” said the communique.


Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the language was decided “weeks ago” by diplomats from G7 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and the United States.

“It wasn’t an issue that was the focus of debate, other than recognizing the humanitarian importance of taking people in as this region has done,” Gentiloni said of Sicily, which has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants arrive since 2014.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there had been “excellent” discussion on the need boost economic opportunity, in particular during outreach sessions with five African leaders on Saturday, so that people “are not driven to take desperate measures to improve their lot”.

Both the United States and Britain opposed the Italian pre-summit initiative to draft a stand-alone G7 statement entitled “G7 Vision on Human Mobility”, an Italian official said.

That document included language on the need for open, safe and legal paths for migrants and refugees, according to excerpts seen by Reuters.

Italy has been put under increasing pressure as EU partners have refused to relocate large numbers of asylum seekers, and some have closed their southern borders to keep migrants out of their own countries, effectively sealing them in Italy.

More than 175,000 asylum seekers live in Italian shelters. With sea arrivals at a record pace this year, the issue is hotly debated by politicians facing a general election within a year.

Over the past 10 days, almost 10,000 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, where people smugglers cram them onto unsafe boats. Dozens died, including many children.

“We know that the deadliest season is upon us. It starts pretty much now, at least it has for the last few years,” Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said on Friday.

“We expect these coming weeks to be much worse.”

(With additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Growing African repression causing migrant exodus: Oxfam (Also drought, famine, poverty, war, terrorism, corruption, bad government….)

May 6, 2017


© AFP/File / by Gregory WALTON | While more than 1,000 migrants have died making the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy so far in 2017, more than 36,700 people have been pulled to safety


African countries are becoming increasingly repressive and causing more people to leave their homes, British charity Oxfam said this week, as Germany warned of the destabilising effect migration is having on the continent.

Political freedom and the problem of Africa’s brain-drain were among the leading issues on the agenda at the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Durban which wrapped up on Friday.

Oxfam’s executive director Winnie Byanyima said that “repressive laws on freedom of association and speech” were “a driver of migration.”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned at the gathering that “if we fail to stabilise the African continent in the years and decades to come, we will face increasing geopolitical risks” — including more migrant arrivals in Europe.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who hosted the forum of African movers and shakers, described the handling of migration as among the “critical challenges facing the world”.

The total number of migrants worldwide reached 244 million in 2015, and among them a record 63 million were forced to leave their homes, including refugees, people displaced within their own countries and asylum seekers, the World Food Programme said Friday.

Byanyima said that massive outflows from Africa were a damning verdict on the performance of the continent’s political class.

“That is a judgement on the leadership we have on our continent, failing to create economic opportunities for their people,” she told AFP.

“In many of those countries you have repressive illegitimate regimes that spend the money that should go toward empowering their people on security systems, on monitoring their people, oppositions and silencing media.”

– ‘Maintain fighting poverty’ –

A recent survey by CIVICUS, which monitors freedoms worldwide, found that only two African countries were fully open — the island nations of Cape Verde and Sao Tome & Principe.

Not one country on the African mainland was found to be free.

Byanyima also criticised wealthy governments which have diverted their aid budgets into covering the costs of refugee arrivals.

“Rich countries must stop repurposing aid, they must maintain aid for the conflict-affected countries. They must not divert it to meeting refugee costs in their countries or their security needs. They must maintain it for fighting poverty,” she said.

“If they help to make countries stable, to achieve inclusive growth then people will not want to leave their homes. Development cooperation is a tool for peace and stability.”

More than 1,000 migrants have died making the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy so far in 2017, according to the UN refugee agency.

More than 36,700 people have been pulled to safety and brought to Italy so far this year according to the International Organization for Migration, an increase of nearly 45 percent compared with the same period last year.

At least 150 of those killed were children, though the figure is likely to be higher as many underage migrants travel unaccompanied so their deaths often go unreported, according to UNICEF.

Distressing images of African migrants being plucked from heaving seas or the coffin-strewn aftermath of major sinkings have become a regular feature of television news bulletins since the migrant crisis began spiralling out of control four years ago. Last year saw around 5,000 deaths.

Italy’s bid to close the marine migrant route from Africa to Europe was dashed after a deal it had signed with Libya was suspended by Tripoli’s Court of Appeal in March. The deal had been fiercely criticised by rescue groups and human rights campaigners.

by Gregory WALTON



Africa: Collective Amnesia in Famine Response and Long-Range Food Production Solutions



Washington DC — The emerging drought-induced humanitarian crisis–prevailing in countries from Niger in West Africa to Somalia in East Africa–and conflict-driven famine conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, and Northeast Nigeria, have become a regular phenomenon.

Even though these food crises can be prevented, they persistently arise due to the development community’s collective amnesia on what has worked and what has not in famine response, recovery, and resilience-building.

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We know countries that have constructed robust policies, institutions, and food systems capable of withstanding natural and human-induced shocks fare better than those with weak systems, but approaches to development haven’t changed to reflect this knowledge.

A new approach to drought response and famine recovery must involve building durable systems at various levels. By creating strong systems for implementing policies, building institutions, and growing and delivering food, countries can prevent the most deleterious effects of frequent shocks, and also have the capability to bounce back quickly to a normal development process.

Currently a large segment of population–close to 20 million–faces starvation and possible death. Following the declaration of drought and national emergencies, country governments and international organizations have begun their usual response routine: identifying the vulnerable population, estimating the emergency aid needs, and planning the associated workshops and conferences.

While all these activities are a necessary part of famine response and recovery, it remains a puzzle as to why we keep “reinventing the wheel” to address a challenge that has long been part of the development process. Today, climate change is finally forcing policy makers to rethink their response paradigm: from “relief and development” to “relief to resilient food systems.”

The need for a paradigm shift is clear from the lessons from drought responses over the last 40 years. A key lesson is that unless national response systems are resilient to meet natural and manmade shocks, they will be continuously “firefighting.” Emergency resources will be repeatedly diverted to address annual cycles of drought, while countries lose ground on long-term development plans.

Policy systems resilience

The effectiveness of a country’s national policy system in identifying drought-related challenges and developing intervention strategies depends on the strength of the policy process. The actors in the policy process must develop common goals to address food emergencies and balance these goals with long-term development strategies.

Such balancing in Ethiopia over the past 20 years has built a policy system that is highly adaptable in managing drought while simultaneously investing in long-term development. For example, Ethiopia’s productive social safety nets for vulnerable communities also helped build local infrastructure for sustainable development.

Strengthening policy-making systems including safety nets and subsidies could simplify and shorten the decision-making process, allowing countries to focus their efforts on the most vulnerable groups without forgoing long-term development.

The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency is an example of linking long-term development with resilience-building initiatives. The Agency coordinates action plans to help provide and enable policy on the assessment, response, and financing of a drought-related crisis. A robust policy-making process under various circumstances can guide policy-making systems to ensure that they are responsive and accountable.

In this respect, the current drought-induced emergencies are an opportunity to strengthen national lawmaking for development and implementation of comprehensive policies and strategies to protect vulnerable populations both in the immediate and in the long run.

Institutional resilience

Existing institutions are inadequate for meeting emerging issues in the development process, let alone the complexity of challenges arising from drought and conflict. In the context of famine prevention and recovery, flexible institutions are essential.

For example, a well-equipped famine early warning system that quickly collects, processes, and analyzes data from around the country is fundamental. In countries where such systems exist, they can assess of the number of people affected and deploy the best responses more quickly than those without an effective system.

During conflict, however, key institutions such as agricultural research either function poorly or completely fall apart. Sustaining local institutions during the conflict period and using them effectively during response and recovery stages can help build their strength in the long run.

These institutions can be useful not only for aid distribution in emergencies but also implementation of social safety nets during normal periods. For example, during times of famine in Bangladesh, the government used schools as food distribution centers.

Developments in information and communications technology, such as mobile banking, provide opportunities for effective targeting and swift transfer of cash resources to vulnerable groups.

Cash transfers to remote areas can help promote trade and markets in those areas. This approach helps build sturdy local markets and creates demand for basic commodities that continue during normal times. Cash transfers through Brazil’s Bolsa Família program is a typical example of this approach.

© AFP | South Sudan government forces and allied militias have denied access to — and sometimes attacked — aid workers and looted relief supplies.

Food system resilience

Resilient food systems can help reduce the impacts of drought on food and nutrition security. Countries that have built efficient food harvesting or distribution systems are better able to prevent famines even when faced with severe drought.

For example, the Ethiopian government invested in service delivery systems to share knowledge on innovations in farming and to provide modern inputs such as high-yielding seed varieties and chemical fertilizers. Strengthening the resources available for communities is a key factor in preventing famines.

Foreign aid assistance in drought-affected countries should focus on both emergency help and long-term building.

A successful example is India’s rural employment guarantee scheme, which uses natural resources to build rural infrastructure for vulnerable groups. Such approaches supply crop and animal inputs, rehabilitate land and water resources, and build micro-irrigation, all of which can help to fight future droughts in the short and long run.

In addition, famine prevention and drought responses need to go beyond country borders.

International and bilateral organizations have been effective in helping governments with famine early warning information and in coordinating food security and nutrition interventions, but in the long run have failed to build sustainable local institutions.

How the current emergency is handled has larger implications for the success of regional commitments such as the Malabo Declaration on agricultural transformation and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A large population is currently under threat of famine across the African continent from Niger to Somalia. Although triggered by frequent droughts, the famine-like conditions are mostly preventable, except in war-ravaged areas.

Countries with adequate resilience have managed to reduce the adverse effects of drought on vulnerable populations, while others have not.

Even with political will and the current level of international support, the need for building local support as a fundamental part of the response is too often lost to collective amnesia. But if we build on policy, institutional and food capacities, lessons from past efforts and innovations can help achieve food security and prevent famines in the affected regions.

Large US firms stashed $1.6 trillion in tax havens: Oxfam

April 12, 2017


© AFP/File | The Bahamas is a popular tax havens destination for the US companies

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The 50 largest US companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Wal-Mart, are parking about $1.6 trillion in offshore tax havens to reduce their US tax burden, according to a study published Wednesday.

Poverty-fighting organization Oxfam America said the sum for 2015 was a $200 billion increase over the prior year. The report cites the companies’ own data.

While not illegal, the companies “used a secretive network of 1,751 subsidiaries in tax havens to stash” their earnings outside the United States, Oxfam said in the report released ahead of next week’s meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington.

“Tax avoidance has become standard business practice across the globe. Corporate tax dodgers cheat America out of approximately $135 billion in unpaid tax revenues every year,” Oxfam senior advisor Robbie Silverman said.

Apple is at the top of the ranking with more than $200 billion in offshore funds, followed closely by Pfizer laboratories ($193.6 billion) and Microsoft’s IT group ($124 billion), the report said.

US law allows companies to keep profits from foreign operations offshore indefinitely, to avoid corporate taxes that are among the highest in the industrialized world.

While the corporate tax rate is nominally 35 percent at the federal level, Oxfam said these 50 companies had an effective rate nearly 10 percentage points lower.

During his campaign, US President Donald Trump proposed cutting the rate to 15 percent, and allowing companies to repatriate their cash reserves with a one-time tax of 10 percent.

Oxfam criticized both proposals, saying the tax cut would help profitable companies and wealthy shareholders at the expense of important anti-poverty programs.

And the drastic reduction in corporate income tax will “feed into a destructive race to the bottom that has seen countries across the globe slashing corporate tax rates in recent years,” the report said.

Meanwhile, “repatriation holidays reward companies for keeping money offshore and avoiding their taxes” and “incentivizes companies to move their profits to tax havens in expectation that they will eventually benefit from a one-time tax cut.”

“President Trump promised to fix the rigged political and economic system yet his tax reforms will further enrich powerful corporates at the expense of ordinary people and small businesses,” Silverman said.

“The President and leaders in Congress must rethink their reforms and build a tax system that works for everyone and not just a fortunate few.”

Impending famines in Africa and Yemen have political causes

April 1, 2017

The Economist

Impending famines in Africa and Yemen have political causes

Millions of people are at risk of starvation in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen

IN FEBRUARY the UN declared a state of famine in parts of South Sudan. It is the first time the UN has officially deployed the term since 2011. But, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), which is run by the American government, 70m people worldwide will need food assistance this year. In Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, FEWS Net states there is a “credible risk of famine”. Between them around 20m people are at risk of starvation. The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator, Stephen O’Brien, has said that “the largest humanitarian crisis” since 1945 is unfolding this year.

The number of deaths caused by famine has dropped precipitously over the past few decades. China’s famine during the Great Leap Forward of 1958-62 caused between 20m and 55m deaths. Hundreds of thousands of people starved during the Ethiopian famine of 1984, even as the country’s military regime taxed aid and spent the proceeds on a grand celebration of the success of Marxism.

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The causes of famine are mainly political. The situations in South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria are no exception. War blights all of these countries. In South Sudan, where 5.8m need food assistance, the government binds delivery of aid in red tape and frequently denies deliveries. Aid workers suggest that by doing so, it prevents supplies getting into the hands of rebels who might then sell them to buy weapons. The main port in Yemen has been bombed out, and the lengthy permit process required to get food through maritime blockades means that it is often spoiled. Some 2m people are in an “emergency situation”, and a further 5m-8m do not have enough to eat. Nigeria’s war in the north has resulted in 800,000 people fleeing to one city alone, Maiduguri. Many aid agencies do not want to deliver supplies to dangerous, rebel-held territories.

Sadly, the global response has been inadequate. Western governments and aid agencies have invested large amounts of money, but done little to address the political problems that cause starvation. In South Sudan and Yemen, they acquiesce to the obstacles that governments place on distributing aid. In South Sudan, it has proven impossible to introduce an arms embargo or sanctions. In Yemen, Britain and America supply most of the weapons used to bomb Houthi rebels; America has also given logistics and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia’s war effort for two years. And so famine, which should have been abolished throughout the world by now, is coming back.

Read the full article here.



Drought, Famine Killing Four Nations Slowly

March 28, 2017

Drought doesn’t cause famine. People do.

The United Nations announced this month that more than 20 million people in four countries are teetering on the edge of famine, calling the situation “the worst humanitarian crisis” since the end of World War II.

The key for avoiding the worst outcomes? Political will, experts say.

Modern famines are different from those the world faced 60 to 70 years ago. In the past, with less warning and less international support, more people died from hunger. In the early and mid-20th century, famines killed millions in Europe and Asia, in areas with much larger populations than areas which suffer from food insecurity today.

According to estimates from the World Peace Foundation, the deadliest famine in recorded history actually did take place after World War II. During China’s Great Leap Forward, about 30 million people died from hunger between 1958 and 1962.

What explains the UN’s statement, then? They may be counting famines by decade, which would have split the Great Leap Forward crisis between the 1950s and the 1960s:

These days, famines cause death by the thousands, and are mostly confined to the Horn of Africa. Improvements in transportation and communications infrastructure have been successful in eliminating large-scale famines in virtually all other parts of the world.

But the current situations in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and South Sudan are undeniably harsh.

“Those people will suffer, their children will be malnourished, they will likely be displaced, lose their livelihoods, and some people will no doubt die as a result of this crisis,” says Dan Maxwell, a food security professor and director of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University.

Maxwell exphasizes that modern-day famines are rarely caused by a lack of food. “There has never been a case that agricultural production causes famine alone,” he says. “It only causes a famine if someone lets it cause a famine.”

And that’s where data become especially important. Measuring early indicators is crucial for averting famine, as is early investment. In its March announcement, the UN asked for $4.4 billion in emergency funding for intervention, and released $22 million in an emergency loan to Somalia on March 21.

“If we get to the point where a famine is declared, it’s essentially indicating a failure on the part of the international community,” explains Chris Hillbruner of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS NET.

So, how do we measure the warning signs?

FEWS NET uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) 5-point rating system, which rates areas around the world to signal how serious food insecurity is there. The ratings go from “minimal” to “stressed, crisis, emergency and famine.”

The scale, developed in 2006 and updated in 2012, is in use in 25 countries and gives a consistent measure for food insecurity.

“There should be a response at phase 3 and phase 4,” Hillbruner said. “Phase 4 is where people start dying because of food insecurity. If one waits until famine and then starts responding, inevitably it will be too late.”

Credit: Alex Newman / PRI

Watch severe food insecurity in Africa and Yemen develop from 2015 through FEWS NET projections into July 2017. Famine information for Yemen is not yet available for February 2017 and 2017 projections. (Source: FEWS NET)

To declare a famine, at least 20 percent of households surveyed in an area must face lack of food, and more than 30 percent of children in an area have to have a weight that is recorded as dangerously low. If you don’t have data that says that, you can’t declare famine even if people are starving.

The situation in Yemen is the largest food insecurity emergency in the world right now, according to FEWS NET. Seven governorates there are classified as phase 4. An estimated 17 million people, or 60 percent of the population, are food insecure.

In South Sudan, about 4.9 million are estimated to be food insecure and that number will climb to 5.5 million by July. Five counties are classified at 4 and 5 and will worsen.

FEWS NET officials struggle to access parts of Nigeria, and reported in December that a famine likely occurred in Bama and Banki towns and the surrounding rural areas in 2016.

In Somalia, 400,000 people are in IPC phase 4 and face starvation; 5.2 million others are in phases 2 and 3. It is facing its third famine in the past 25 years, including one in 2011 which left 260,000 people dead.

Hunger is a political issue

Maxwell says there’s a common misconception among the public that overpopulation and lack of resources are the main drivers behind food insecurity. (It’s a theory that was put forth by Thomas Malthus nearly two centuries ago.) In other words, that people starve because there’s not enough food.

But Emily Farr, Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods team leader at Oxfam, says that’s not the underlying problem. “We are talking about situations that are caused by human behavior,” she says.

The Horn of Africa region, where hunger is worst, is also prone to drought — but the impacts of climate change alone are not enough to create famine, experts say, so long as they are managed.

Farr emphasizes that fast-acting humanitarian response is important for mitigating famines, although the data can be hard to come by.

“There have been cases in the past where we haven’t been able to declare food insecurity as much as it was because we simply didn’t have the data,” Farr says.

Conflict especially can limit access. In South Sudan, for example, violence has claimed the lives of at least 12 aid workers this year and as many as 79 since 2013.

Innovations in technology, such as the World Food Program’s Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping project, which uses cellphones to survey food security, can help fill in missing numbers. FEWS NET employs high resolution satellite imagery to estimate crop production and population displacement patterns.

Fundamentally, Hillbruner of FEWS NET describes famine as a humanitarian and political issue.

“I think there are times when it’s overstated that there are places we can’t get any information,” he said. “But when the political will is there, everyone suddenly has access.”

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

From PRI’s The World ©2017 PRI


Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just 1 Famine, but 4

Davos: IMF chief Christine Lagarde Addresses Income Inequality That “Threatens to Pull Our Societies Apart”

January 18, 2017


© AFP | IMF chief Christine Lagarde says the Fund is now looking more closely at inequality
DAVOS (SWITZERLAND) (AFP) – IMF head Christine Lagarde conceded Wednesday the Washington lender had been late waking up to the widening gap between rich and poor around the world, but is now researching answers to the problem.”There has been a strong backlash (against) economists in particular saying that this was not really of their business to worry about these things, including in my own institution,” Lagarde told an audience of high-flying executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The International Monetary Fund is “now being very harshly converted to the importance of inequality and studying it and providing policies in response to that”, she said.

An Oxfam report coinciding with Davos this week said eight billionaire men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.

That level of inequality “threatens to pull our societies apart”, Oxfam said.

For its part, the IMF often demands unpopular reforms from governments in return for its financial aid stoking voter discontent where it is active, including in Greece.

Lagarde has been trying to make the IMF more responsive to public disquiet and has speaking out about inequality linked to globalisation, as voters in the West increasingly turn to populist parties.

“When you have a real crisis or when you have very strong signals as we have received from the voters from people who say no, it’s really time to say … what more can we do,” she said.

“If policymakers do not get the signal now, I don’t know when they will.”


Income inequality: The good, the bad, and how to tackle it

Populism in the West is bringing concerns over economic inequality – and scrutiny over how to ameliorate it – to the forefront. Will nationalist leaders respond?

By David Iaconangelo
The Christian Science Monitor

JANUARY 17, 2017 Eight of the world’s richest men now own as much wealth as half of the world’s poorest people, anti-poverty organization Oxfam said in a report released on Tuesday.

Public reaction to inequality is driving political division in rich countries, the group wrote. On the upside, poor countries have also seen hundreds of millions of their citizens escape poverty in recent decades, Oxfam acknowledges. But it suggests that these countries have also missed out on an opportunity to do the same for hundreds of millions more.

“The very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable and unjust point,” says the report. “It’s time to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few.”

The report, based on data from a 2016 global wealth index from Credit Suisse and Forbes’ billionaires list, comes as political and business leaders meet at Davos, Switzerland, for this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) summit, where inequality is a top item on the agenda.

And it sounds an alarm about a problem that is stirring unprecedented debate among the political classes of wealthy countries: what the gap between rich and poor could spell for the direction of world trade and security, as well as how national governments ought to address it.

“We’re in a moment where policy proposals being put on table are being held up against this light: that people feel that their economies are increasingly unfair and unequal,” says Paul O’Brien, vice president of policy and campaigns at Oxfam America. “And I think it’s harder for policymakers to talk about economic growth without talking about inclusive economic growth.”

But here’s the catch: There’s no consensus among economists that inequality should be considered a problem. Conservative thought tends to see it as a consequence of a process that is actually quite beneficial for societies, even for those at the bottom rungs of the income ladder. The rich are getting richer, but so are the poor. Economists point to how the decades-long drop in global inequality of incomes – that is, between countries – has created new middle-classes in developing countries, especially in Asia.

“My own reaction is, well, who cares?” wrote Forbes columnist Tim Worstall about the Oxfam report:

Wealth, value, is something created. And some of it will stick to the people doing the original creation, some tiny, tiny, fraction and the rest of it goes out into the world to be enjoyed by the rest of us. Thus the solution to poverty is that there be more rich people, people who have grown rich by creating value for the rest of us to consume.

Others cast doubt on the viability of democracies in conditions of intense inequality – particularly in the case of the US, where some studies trumpet its arrival into full-blown plutocracy. Even much of the US political elite sees inequality as a catalyst of instability. Economists such as Branko Milanovic, a leading scholar on inequality at the City University of New York, have argued that the past century’s world wars came about in large part because of the pressures of inequality, as the Financial Times noted last April. And this past week, the WEF pointed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as evidence that “fundamental reforms of market capitalism” were in order.

The United States has made slight progress over the past few years, with median incomes and wages rising, says Jennifer Blanke, chief economist at the WEF.

But “there are huge warning signs right now,” she tells The Christian Science Monitor, “and a lot of disgruntlement.”

The assiduousness of inequality scholars in recent years has produced a few unorthodox proposals, including French economist Thomas Piketty’s proposed global tax on wealth. Still, the remedies that tend to be put forth – more progressive taxation, including new solutions to crack down on tax havens; stronger wage laws for workers; and expenditure policies that direct more money toward education, health care, and other programs designed to benefit the lower-income – read like pages cut out of a social democrat’s playbook.

Since their shellacking in the 2012 presidential election, Republicans in the US have begun to speak the language of inequality, with figures such as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin drafting anti-poverty plans and candidates incorporating it into campaign rhetoric.

President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has begun to sketch the initial contours of his America-first agenda, pressuring specific manufacturers (notably, Ford and Carrier) not to relocate production overseas and threatening tariffs on imports from countries such as China, Mexico, and even Germany. That would seem to set the interests of US workers against those of workers in places like China and Mexico who have carved out a livelihood with US companies.

How a Trump government – and other conservative populists elsewhere – might manage protectionist measures, without causing a shock to their own economies, remains opaque. Another central question might be whether they will be able to pioneer solutions that reduce inequality at home, and convince their trading partners abroad to go along with this approach.

Mr. O’Brien of Oxfam sees uncertainty, with regard to how governments, including the US, will respond to pressure for a need to address income inequality.

But “if one of the consequences of this election is that more politicians are paying attention to the fact that huge swaths of Americans and people around the world feel they’re being left behind by extreme inequality,” he adds, “then that awareness is a good thing.”