Monthly Archives: July 2014

Humanitarian News Brief: The Israel-Palestine Conflict

The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Summary: With the death toll mounting on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the international community is adamantly seeking a cease-fire between the warring parties.  Sunday, July 20th, marked the deadliest day in the latest conflict.  In Shejaiya, an eastern neighborhood of Gaza city, at least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. Sunday’s peak in violence stemmed from heightened tensions following more than a week of intense airstrikes and a ground offensive undertaken by the Israeli military. Throughout Gaza, Sunday’s ground offensive killed at least 87 Palestinians, bringing Gaza’s total death toll since the Israeli air offensive started on July 8th to 600 people, with more than 3,000 injured, including more than 100 children.  Sunday’s death toll for Israel’s military was higher than that sustained during the entire three-week duration of Israel’s last ground offensive in Gaza in 2008-2009.  Thus far, 25 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians have been killed.

 

Late in the evening on Sunday, July 20th, the United Nations Security Council emerged from an emergency session regarding the escalating conflict and expressed serious concern about the continuation of the two weeks of fighting, calling for an “immediate cessation of hostilities.” The UN has reported nearly 100,000 people in 67 shelters, a situation to which the UN has responded by orchestrating an airlift of 45,000 mattresses and 10,000 blankets from Dubai. In response to the effects of increased fighting in Gaza, there was a rare break in attacks as both sides observed a five hour “humanitarian pause” to allow Gazans to stock up on supplies. In a recent release published by Robert Turner, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Director of Operations in Gaza, Turner bears witness to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, noting the challenge of responding to situations of protracted displacement. Other than the services provided by UNRWA and several NGOs, access to health care remains limited and unreliable and infrastructure continues to collapse. UNRWA and numerous other UN agencies and humanitarian organizations remain committed to meeting the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.
With the death toll mounting on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the international community is adamantly seeking a cease-fire between the warring parties.  Sunday, July 20th, marked the deadliest day so far in the latest conflict.  In Shejaiya, an eastern neighborhood of Gaza city, at least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed.  Following ten days of intense airstrikes, the Israeli military began a ground offensive on Thursday night in response to an attempted tunnel attack by 13 Hamas militants.  Israeli troops have recently been targeting the underground tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Israel – tunnels created and used by Palestinian militants to facilitate entry into Israel. Throughout Gaza, Sunday’s offensive killed at least 87 Palestinians, bringing the total death toll since the Israeli air offensive started on July 8th to 600 people, with more than 3,000 injured, including more than 100 children.  Sunday’s death toll for Israel’s military was higher than that sustained during the entire three-week duration of Israel’s last ground offensive in Gaza in 2008-2009.  Thus far, 25 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians have been killed, and Israel recently confirmed that the remains of one of its soldiers had still not been found, coming two days after Hamas’ military wing claimed to have kidnapped a soldier.  On the morning of Monday, July 21st, day 14 of the conflict, Israeli military claimed to have thwarted two more infiltrations into its territory via tunnels from Gaza, and killed another 10 militants in response.  An Israeli news outlet reported that an unknown number of Israeli soldiers were also killed.  In the midst of the destruction, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has promised $47 million in U.S. aid to Gaza.

Israel’s continuation of its offensive comes amid mounting diplomatic pressure for a cease-fire.  The increase in fighting over the past two days has led to the uncovering of a central dilemma in Israel’s position.  On one hand, Israel has vowed to destroy all of Hamas’ underground tunnels, but it is simultaneously trying to garner international support by embracing cease-fire proposals from Egypt.  A senior Israeli military official on Sunday highlighted the challenging line Israel is attempting to toe, saying, “It’s a very difficult question, we have a mission, and we are going to fulfill it – Israel is not going to leave the threats of tunnels beneath the border between Gaza Strip and Israel.”  Still, he added, “after 13 days of fighting, and so many casualties, I believe that it’s the right time for all sides to stop.” However, demolishing all of the tunnels is proving to be more challenging than anticipated, as the network is much bigger and more sophisticated than Israel was expecting.  According to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the Israeli military, six underground tunnels have been destroyed across Gaza in the past day, but a total of 16 tunnels with 43 entry points have been uncovered since Thursday night.  Mirroring this challenge is the dilemma that Western countries are facing, as they understand Israel’s right to defend itself, but remain deeply concerned about the mounting number of dead and injured.

Late in the evening on Sunday, July 20th the United Nations Security Council emerged from an emergency session regarding the escalating conflict and expressed increasing unease about the continuation of the two weeks of fighting.  Acting council president, Rwandan UN Ambassador Eugene Gasana told reporters that “the members of the Security Council expressed serious concern about the growing number of casualties.  The members of the Security Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.”  The council met at the request of Jordan which proposed a more strongly worded draft resolution for consideration that called for an immediate cease-fire, “including the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from the Gaza Strip.”  For its part, the United States has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to Egypt to work with the Egyptians, Israelis, and leaders of the Palestinian Authority to bring an end to the fighting and restore the calm that followed a 2012 agreement ending eight days of cross-border violence.  The United States’ ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, stated the need for an immediate cease-fire saying, “Start with a cease-fire, and only after hold discussions on the problems at the base of the crisis.” Israel’s justice minister Tzipi Livni, the representative to the American-sponsored peace negotiations with the Palestinians that collapsed in April, has been sending mixed messages the past two days.  On Monday, July 21st she said the “demilitarization of Gaza” is essential but is “something we will discuss with the international community the day after…The whole idea of the proposal is to cease the fire, stop the fire.  This is the main goal right now.” However, on Tuesday July, 22nd, amid an increase in fighting, she said, “A cease-fire is not near, I see no light at the end of the tunnel.”  There are those in Israel like Gilad Erdan, a right-wing member of Israel’s security cabinet, who believe that Israel “must not agree to any proposal for a cease-fire until the tunnels are eliminated.”

The recent conflict, with origins rooted partly in June’s abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, has only exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  The total death toll has reached 600 people, and the UN has reported nearly 100,000 people in 67 shelters, a situation to which the UN has responded by orchestrating an airlift.

Updated 7/21/14
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Alumni Update: Kristy Siegfried (IIHA Forced Migration Course 4)

In her article, “New Thinking Needed on Food Aid for Refugees in Africa“, IIHA Forced Migration Course 4 Alumna, Kristy Siegfried, examines the funding shortfall faced by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and UNHCR that has already resulted in food ration cuts for a third of all African refugees. Kristy’s most recent article, “How Flawed Are Current Aid Responses?“, discusses the recent MSF report, “Where is Everyone? Responding to Emergencies in the Most Difficult Places“, which examines and addresses the deficiencies in the aid community’s responses to humanitarian crises.

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Humanitarian News Brief: The Syria Crisis

The Syria Crisis

For over three years, the raging civil war in Syria has destroyed the lives of millions of civilians. Current data estimates that over 140,000 people have lost their lives to the conflict. There are nearly 3 million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries and 6.5 million internally displaced persons who remain within the country, putting the total number of Syrians forced to flee their homes around 9 million, almost half of the population. According to the United Nations, by the end of 2014, three quarters of the Syrian population are expected to need aid. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been working in Syria since 1964 bringing food assistance to the country. Currently, WFP is reaching nearly 4 million people per month in Syria with vital food assistance, and is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled into neighboring countries. Recently, WFP’s Syrian Country Director, Matthew Hollingworth (IDHA 1), spoke with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in a video interview about the ongoing work of WFP in Syria as part of a larger story on the suffering civilians in the city of Aleppo. Speaking of the importance of WFP’s work and mission, Hollingworth explains that “for many of the people you will have met who have been displaced two, three, four, five times over the last three years of war, [food] is the mainstay of everything that they can give to their families. Without this there is no question that we would start to see really serious cases of malnutrition.” For more information, read the IIHA Humanitarian News Brief.

In March 2011, Syrian demonstrators gathered in the capital city, Damascus, and the southern city of Deraa to protest the arrest and torture of political prisoners, and demand their release. When security forces opened fire on the originally peaceful demonstrators in Deraa, killing several, more people took to the streets. The violent unrest spread steadily across the nation over the following months demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets in towns and cities across the country, and the government’s use of military force to crush the dissent seemed only to harden the protesters’ resolve.

Opposition supporters eventually began taking up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas. Initially, the conflict was between the rebels and government forces, but has since fragmented with rival rebel groups fighting each other for control over rebel-held areas. Syria is both a religious and ethnic mix of Sunnis, Alawites (an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam), Kurds, Christians and Druze. President Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect that has ruled the Sunni majority in Syria since 1970, has been trying to cling to power and save his clan.

The conflict has had disastrous consequences on the civilians who call Syria their home. From March 2011, when the civil war started, to July 2013, when the United Nations (UN) stopped updating the death toll, over 100,000 people had been killed. Today, estimates on the death toll exceed 140,000 people. There are nearly 3 million Syrian refugees mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and to a lesser extent in Iraq andEgypt. This number is increasing at 100,000 people per month,making Syrians the largest population of refugees in the world. Jordan’s Zaatari camp, the first official refugee camp opened for Syrians in July 2012, is the destination for many newly arrived refugees. It has a population of about 85,000 Syrians, making it Jordan’s fourth largest city. This refuge for displaced Syrians has raised questions about the role of camps, and has ignited a discussion about the possible need to treat camps as more than transitional population centers. Residents of Zaatari camp have started opening barbershops and bike repair shops out of the desire to look ahead and make the best of the situation. Mr. Abdul Latif, a Syrian refugee and resident of Zaatari camp explained, “We were used to living a decent life back home, so we had to make something of our situation here.”

Inside Syria there are 6.5 million internally displaced persons, taking the total number of Syrians forced to flee their homes up to 9 million, almost half of the population. According to the United Nations, by the end of 2014, three quarters of Syrians are expected to need aid. This estimate has caused the UN to ask for its largest appeal ever of $6.5 billion to provide medical care, food, water and shelter for Syrians in need.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been working in Syria since 1964. Since then the organization has provided more than $500 million worth of food assistance in the country in both development and emergency operations. Currently, WFP is reaching nearly 4 million people per month in Syria with vital food assistance, and is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled into neighboring countries. In order to reach areas that have been hard hit by the fighting, WFP has been working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and 23 other local organizations. This year, WFP plans to assist 2.9 million people in Syria’s neighboring countries, mostly through food vouchers, which allow families to choose their own food and help boost the local economy. By the end of the year WFP aims to reach 300,000 vulnerable children with additional ready-to-eat supplementary products to prevent and treat malnutrition.

WFP’s Syrian country director, Matthew Hollingworth, is an alumnus of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs’ first International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA). Recently, Hollingworth spoke to the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in a video interview about the ongoing work of WFP in Syria as part of a larger story on the suffering civilians in the city of Aleppo. According to Hollingworth, WFP feeds nearly four million people every month. The rations are enough for a family of five to survive on for a month and include “iodized salt, vegetable oil, pasta, canned beans, dried beans, rice, wheat flour, etc.” Speaking of the importance of WFP’s work and mission, Hollingworth explains that “for many of the people you will have met who have been displaced two, three, four, five times over the last three years of war, this is the mainstay of everything that they can give to their families. Without this there is no question that we would start to see really serious cases of malnutrition.” One of the main challenges that Hollingworth addresses in his interview is accessing all of the people who are in need. He notes that one of the biggest difficulties in humanitarian assistance currently is the politicization of aid, “One of the biggest difficulties we have these days is that humanitarian assistance is being politicized, and there is too much talk of where people are living – are they living on the opposition side? Are they living on the government side? I mean I think essentially the whole discussion of bad citizen good citizen just on where they happen to be seeking refuge is a toxic one and one that we have to get past.” The rest of the interview can be found on the BBC website in the article “Syria Conflict: the suffering civilians of West Aleppo” under the heading Caught in the Middle.

 

Updated 7/7/14

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Alumni Update: Christian Ghilardi (IDHA 34)

Cristian Ghilardi (IDHA 34) is a Programme Management Coordinator for CARE International UK and has focused recently on CARE’s EMPHASIS (Enhancing Mobile Populations’ Access to HIV and AIDS Services, Information and Support) project in South Asia which aims to reduce HIV&AIDS vulnerability among cross-border migrants from Bangladesh to India and Nepal to India; and to influence national and regional policies relating to safe mobility. A key component of the project is to focus on women’s empowerment along the continuum of mobility. As this 5-year initiative comes to a close, CARE International and the Overseas Development Institute organized the International Conference, “Women, Migration and Development: Investing in the Future,” to share learning from CARE’s EMPHASIS project and other CARE International initiatives worldwide. This conference, which took place last week (July 17th & 18th) in Waterloo, London, brought together policy makers, donors, practitioners, private sector, government and UN agencies to focus on issues, challenges and opportunities around migration. The conference highlighted the need to acknowledge migration as a key factor for sustainable development and the need to better protect the human rights of migrants. It also focused on the particular vulnerabilities faced by women migrant workers and encouraged advocacy for specific policy responses and practical solutions that can be scaled up and replicated, based on CARE’s experience in the EMPHASIS project in South Asia and other programmes.

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Alumni Update: Maureen Mupeta Kombe (IDHA 38)

Maureen Mupeta Kombe (IDHA 38) recently completed her dissertation, “The Dual Burden of HIV, AIDS and Depression: Perspectives of Health Care Providers”, towards her Masters in Social Work (MSW) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She will graduate in September with a specialization in health care (clinical/ medical social work).

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Alumni Update: Andy McElroy (IDHA 16)

Andy McElroy (IDHA 16), recently published an article, “Kyrgyz Republic Assesses Over 3,000 Schools” discussing how the Kyrgyz government is set to embark on a comprehensive five-year safe schools programme to provide a safer learning environment for the children.

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