Posts Tagged ‘Oxfam’

Oxfam International boss says Haiti sexual abuse scandal ‘breaks my heart’

February 12, 2018


NEW YORK (Reuters) – The executive director of Oxfam International said on Sunday she was heartbroken by a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti involving aid workers that prompted Britain’s government to threaten to cut off aid funding to charities.


Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest charities, has condemned the behavior of some former staff in Haiti after a newspaper report said aid workers paid for sex while on a mission to help those affected by the 2010 earthquake.

Britain’s aid minister said the government would cut aid funding from any charity that did not comply with a new review into their work overseas, calling reports of sexual exploitation in the sector “utterly despicable.”

Winnie Byanyima, who became executive director of Oxfam International in 2013, said she was saddened by what took place in 2010 and that it could not happen under systems and rules put in place since.

“I feel deeply, deeply hurt. … What happened in Haiti was a few privileged men abusing the very people they were supposed to protect – using the power they had from Oxfam to abuse powerless women. It breaks my heart,” Byanyima said in an interview with Reuters TV in New York.

 Image result for Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima poses for a portrait following an interview in New York, NY, U.S., February 11, 2018, photos

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima poses for a portrait following an interview in New York, NY, U.S., February 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

“We want to restore trust. We want to build that trust. We are committing to be honest, to be transparent and to be accountable in addressing this issue of sexual misconduct. We are in a different place today,” she said.

British Aid Minister Penny Mordaunt said on Sunday that she would write to British charities that work overseas demanding they declare any problems relating to the duty they have to protect their staff and the people they work with from harm and abuse – so-called safeguarding.

Byanyima said charities must stop people who do not share their values from joining their organizations.

“We need to do more in terms of investigations and sharing the results of those investigations so that offenders don’t go on to offend in other organizations,” she said.

She said Oxfam would share with the relevant authorities all the information it had relating to the 2010 incident.

“You know it’s not within our power to return people who are not our staff to Haiti to face prosecution,” she said. “But we will avail everything that we know from the investigation to whoever authority, whichever authority wants to have this.”

Reporting by Angela Moore; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Cooney



UK Government knew about sexual abuse scandal in the aid sector involving 300 people

February 11, 2018

Priti Patel has accused the aid sector of hiding behind a 'culture of denial'

Priti Patel has accused the aid sector of hiding behind a ‘culture of denial’


The Government knew about a looming sexual abuse scandal within the aid sector involving 300 people, the former International Development Secretary has claimed as she accused charities of creating a  “culture of denial”.

Amid fresh allegations over an alleged prostitution scandal embroiling Oxfam, Priti Patel claimed that instances of sexual abuse were “well documented”, adding that the disclosures were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

She said that although she had raised the issue with the Department for International Development while in office, there had been “no international leadership” on the issue.

It comes two days after Ms Patel called for a criminal investigation into Oxfam, telling this newspaper that the charity’s handling of the controversy had been “absolutely scandalous”.

Speaking to the BBC’s John Pienaar, Ms Patel said: “I knew this was going on… I made this our own agenda, I did my research, this [sex abuse] is well documented. The tragedy is there has been no international leadership on this whatever.”

“People knew in DFID, I raised this directly with my department at the time…. The UN said last year there were 120 cases involving 300 people – and that is just the tip of the iceberg”

“There is a culture of denial [of sexual abuse] in the aid sector… my former Department did not raise this with me, I raised it with them”

“There are no databases of these predatory paedophiles that exist and we need them … to stop this disgusting and corrosive culture of the revolving door in aid agencies.”

Priti Patel has previously raised the issue with the Prime Minister and the United Nations

Ms Patel’s comment came as her successor, Penny Mordaunt, suggested that “predatory” individuals may be targeting disaster charities in order to prey on vulnerable people.

Ahead of a showdown with the charity’s leaders on Monday, Penny Mordaunt has warned the charity that it faces having its funding withdrawn if it fails to cooperate over an alleged cover up of a prostitution scandal.

Describing reports of aid workers using prostitutes while working in disaster-stricken Haiti as a “betrayal”, Ms Mordaunt said the decision not to handover evidence to the authorities was an “absolute absence of leadership”.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I think it’s shocking and it doesn’t matter how good the safeguarding practices are in an organisation, if that organisation does not have the moral leadership to do the right thing, and where in particular they have evidence of criminal activity to pass that information to the relevant authorities including prosecuting authorities, that’s an absolute absence of leadership.”

Asked whether Oxfam had  failed in its moral leadership, she replied: “Yes, I do.”

Amid reports of similar incidents taking place in other charities, Ms Mordaunt she that the entire sector needed to address the problem.

It comes as Oxfam faces fresh allegations over former employees using prostitutes while working in Chad.

Just days after the charity was accused of covering up a prostitution scandal in Haiti, it has been alleged that former aid workers posted to the central African country also repeatedly invited women believed to be prostitutes to the house they were staying.

Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti who was allowed to resign in 2011 after admitting his involvement, was also head of the charity’s mission to Chad at the time of the alleged controversy.

According to The Observer, former staff have also alleged that one senior member of staff was fired in 2006 due to his behaviour, with one source claiming that aid workers would “invite the women for parties”.

This week Oxfam denied claims it covered up the use of prostitutes by aid workers in Haiti in 2011 and said it publicly announced an investigation into the claims when they surfaced.

It said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006, adding that staff in Chad lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than 120 workers employed by Britain’s leading charities have been accused of sexual abuse in the last year alone.

According to figures compiled by charities on sexual harassment in Britain and abroad, Oxfam recorded 87 incidents in 2017, Save the Children recorded 31, Christian Aid 2, while the British Red Cross said there had been a “small number of cases” reported.

All four charities receive money from the Department for International Development.

In a stark warning to Oxfam, Ms Mordaunt made clear that failure to comply with safeguarding issues would result in the withdrawal of Government funding.

“I am writing to all UK charities which receive UK aid, insisting that they spell out the steps they are taking to ensure their safeguarding policies are fully in place and work properly, declare all safeguarding concerns they are aware of, and confirm they have referred all concerns they have about specific cases and individuals to the relevant authorities,” she said.

“With regard to Oxfam and any other organisation that has safeguarding issues, we expect them to cooperate fully with such authorities, and we will cease to fund any organisation that does not.”

An internal inquiry into sexual exploitation found that seven Oxfam workers in Haiti had used prostitutes whilst stationed there in the aftermath of 2010 earthquake CREDIT: ROGER LEMOYNE/REDUX 

“I am very clear: we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require.”

The Charity Commission said on Saturday that it had written to Oxfam “as a matter of urgency” to request further information and “establish greater clarity”.

The regulator said an Oxfam report on the investigation stated there had been no allegations of abuse of beneficiaries and made no mention of any potential sexual crimes involving minors.

“Our approach to this matter would have been different had the full details that have been reported been disclosed to us at the time,” a spokesman said.

Four members of Oxfam staff were dismissed and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation.

The charity said allegations that under age girls may have been involved were not proven.

The Department for International Development (DfID) earlier said the allegations raised “serious questions that Oxfam must answer” as it announced a review of its relationship with the charity.

Ms Mordaunt, who has requested talks with Oxfam’s senior management “at the earliest opportunity”, will also meet the Charity Commission this week to discuss the regulation of UK charities overseas.

She said: “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm.

“In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.

“The horrific behaviour by some members of Oxfam staff in Haiti in 2011 is an example of a wider issue on which DfID is already taking action, both at home and with the international community via the UN.”

Modi to deliver first keynote speech at World Economic Forum in Davos

January 23, 2018

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to his supporters as he arrives to address them .PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND (AFP, BLOOMBERG) – After a gala opening set against spectacular snowfall, the World Economic Forum (WEF) starts in earnest on Tuesday (Jan 23) basking in robust global growth but facing warnings that the world’s have-nots are missing out more than ever.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to deliver the first keynote speech of the WEF in Davos, where his key message will be that India is open for business and the economy can contribute to world growth as living standards improve at home, said Vijay Gokhale, New Delhi’s top diplomat for economic affairs.

Modi’s debut at the WEF comes a year after Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to address the conference, mounting a strong defense of globalisation amid US President Donald Trump’s trade threats.

Modi’s speech is scheduled for 11am in Davos (6pm Singapore time).

At the end of the forum, Trump is expected to deliver an address, a year after he took office on a populist platform.

The president’s trip to the Swiss ski resort had seemed in doubt due to a government shutdown triggered by congressional warfare last week. But a deal that took shape on Monday freed him to travel, the White House said.

Undermining rosy data on the world economy are warnings that elite fora such as Davos must start finding solutions for everyone else down the income ladder as the “one percent” amass untold riches a decade since a major financial crisis erupted.

“We certainly should feel encouraged, but we should not feel satisfied,” International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde said on Monday in presenting an upbeat update to the organisation’s forecasts for global growth.

“First of all, there are still too many people left out from the recovery and acceleration of growth,” she said.

Accounting group PwC underscored the IMF’s positive outlook with survey findings pointing to record confidence among company bosses worldwide.

The survey had good news for Trump, touting his party’s huge corporate tax cut as a boon for the US and foreign investors.

But in a separate report unveiled in Davos, Oxfam said the world’s richest one percent raked in 82 per cent of the wealth created last year while the poorest half of the population received none.

The British charity described a global economy in which the wealthy few amass ever-greater fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are “struggling to survive on poverty pay”.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said.

And in a message to the Davos forum, Pope Francis warned that debates about technological progress and economic growth must not supplant concern for humanity at large.

“We cannot remain silent in the face of the suffering of millions of people whose dignity is wounded,” the pontiff’s message said.

Few countries display the abyss between rich and poor as much as India, where newly minted billionaires live in close proximity to street urchins. The gap endures despite rapid growth under Modi’s right-wing government.

The Hindu nationalist leader – accompanied by several ministers, a high-powered business delegation, and two yoga instructors – will advertise India’s appeal for investors as he vies to untangle decades-worth of red tape.

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was one of three celebrities awarded on Monday night by the WEF for their humanitarian work, along with singer Elton John and actress Cate Blanchett.

That ceremony was followed by a ballet performance featuring music derived from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” – fitting on a night that saw the Alpine resort of Davos hit by its heaviest snowfall in two decades and avalanche warnings raised.

After Tuesday, the week will continue with appearances by some 70 other leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose campaign for a “French Renaissance” kicked into overdrive Monday as his government welcomed 140 multinational business leaders en route to Davos.

Perhaps looking on enviously was British Prime Minister Theresa May, who faces the challenge in Davos of persuading many of the same bosses that Britain remains a safe haven for investment, despite its messy Brexit divorce from the European Union.


Oxfam: Richest one percent banked 82 percent of wealth created in 2017

January 22, 2018

Oxfam’s latest report on wealth inequality describes how a wealthy elite accumulates vast fortunes while the poorest go without. But the charity has been criticized as offering a too simplistic view of the imbalances.

Vietnam factory (Oxfam/S. Tarling)

Oxfam on Monday detailed how the richest one percent grew its wealth by $762 billion (€620 billion) in 2017, which it says was enough to end poverty seven times over.

In its annual report on wealth inequality, the UK-based poverty and disaster relief charity said a booming global economy had allowed a small elite group of rich families to grab 82 percent of the new wealth created last year, while the poorest 50 percent saw no increase in their prosperity.

The “Reward Work, Not Wealth” report revealed that 2017 saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, at 2,043, and challenged the narrative that billionaires are created through talent, hard work and innovation, something that is claimed benefits humanity as a whole.

The profits of privilege

Instead, Oxfam said there is growing evidence that the richest often grow much of their wealth by way of inheritance, monopoly or crony connections to government.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

“The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”

The charity called on governments to commit to reorganizing the economic system to work for humanity as a whole rather than a tiny elite, describing how 42 people now own the same wealth as the bottom 3.7 billion people.

Read more: Rich vs. poor: How fair and equal is Germany?

The report also cited the increased rewards for shareholders and corporate executives at the expense of workers and criticized how the wealthy are able to exercise excessive influence over government policy-making.

It estimated that $2.4 trillion will be inherited by the heirs of billionaires over the next 20 years, an amount larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.

At the other end of the scale, billions of people are forced to work long hours, often in dangerous conditions and without rights, but are still unable to afford their basic needs, including food and medicine, the report said.

Globally, women are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work, and consistently earn less than men.

Read more: Gender gap report: Equal pay now 217 years away

Oversimplified analysis?

As in previous years, Oxfam’s study was rounded upon as offering too simplistic an analysis of wealth inequality, focusing on net wealth rather than gross wealth, which excludes debt.

Vietnam housewife Oxfam wealth inequality (Oxfam/S. Tarling)Oxfam’s report described how women in Vietnamese garment factories work far from home for poverty pay and don’t get to see their children for months at a time

Critics said while the charity’s claims make for attention-grabbing headlines, they ignored how global poverty levels have fallen from 75 percent in 1929 to 10 percent in 2015.

“Oxfam’s mistake is to see wealth as a fixed pie,” said Sam Dumitriu, Head of Research at the London-based neoliberal think tank, the Adam Smith Institute.

“More wealth for Zuckerberg and Bezos does not mean less wealth for you or me. In fact it’s the opposite; in a free market individuals can only amass wealth by fulfilling the wants and needs of others. Work and trade does pay out for everyone involved.”

Read more: Facebook’s Zuckerberg cements place in elite philanthropic class

Dumitrui said it was more important to reduce poverty than inequality, and singled out Venezuela as rejecting free markets in recent years under Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, a move which has forced more than 80 percent of the population into poverty, despite the South American nation having the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Capitalism’s shortcomings

But economist Gabriel Zucman, who sits on the executive committee of the World Inequality Report, a separate study published last month by the Paris School of Economics, insisted that the future of poverty depends on what happens to “within-country inequality.”

“If all countries follow the inequality trajectory that the US has followed since 1980, then we will have a hard time further alleviating global poverty. To reduce poverty, growth needs to be equitably distributed,” Zucman told DW.

The World Inequality Report revealed that the bottom 50 percent of US income earners have seen zero wealth growth over the past 37 years, the bottom 90 percent have seen very limited growth, while the earnings of the top 1 percent has tripled to $1.3 million per annum.

Oxfam’s latest report was released to coincide with the annual meeting of the business and political elite at the World Economic Forum, which begins on Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland.

The charity recommended that governments set specific and measurable targets to reduce wealth inequality, and called for world leaders to commit to ending extreme wealth, by imposing higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires and limiting executive pay and bonuses.

Read more: World Inequality Report: Fight wealth inequality with taxes

As well as clamping down on tax havens, the charity called for new legislation that forces companies to adopt fairer business models, where they ensure even their outside suppliers pay workers acceptable living wages.

Some 70,000 people in 10 countries were interviewed for Oxfam’s report, three-quarters of whom agreed strongly that the gap between the richest and poorest was too wide. Nearly two-thirds think the issue should be addressed urgently.


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.

Image result for trump in Puerto Rico, photos

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.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature

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.