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Archive for the ‘Humanitarian Crises’ Category

Last week, I was able to attend a panel with a Kennedy School professor, a member of Physicians for Human Rights, and a photojournalist who worked in the Darfur region.  Here are some of the things that I picked up at the event.

Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale was in the region from in the region from 2003 until 2008. He traveled there about 12 times in that period to Chad, Darfur and Central African Republic.  He documented the plight of villagers as they tried to escape the janjaweed for refugee camps within Darfur and in Chad. He was kind enough to allow me to post a few of his pictures from that time on this blog.

He mentioned how at the sound of airfare or helicopters, entire villages would cluster around huge trees so that it would shield them from the bombs.  This was happening to hundreds of villages in Darfur while they were moving from their homes to the camps. It is hard to fathom until you see some of the pictures he has taken.

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There is reason for them to hide as the Sudanese army/ janjaweed was throwing phosphorous bombs from the back of helicopters and planes.  The results are horrific, and I’ll let Marcus’s photo do the talking.

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

What seemed to outrage Marcus the most is that the refugees could live in make shift shelters waiting months for assistance outside the camps without any hope of assistance.  He asks, “how can the international community allow this to happen?” No human should have to feel like animals stripped of dignity.

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There are currently 3 million internally displaced people (IDP’s) in the region.  At the camps, families make the conscious decision to send the women to fetch for firewood even though they are raped by militia/ janjaweed, and even men from the camps during their journey because the alternative would be death for the men.

It is nearly impossible to prosecute any man of rape under current Sudanese law.  For a successful prosecution, the victim would need 4 male eyewitnesses to support your claim or 8 female eyewitnesses.  There is tremendous stigma associated with rape, so the women do not talk about it.  They fear that they will be accused of adultery or so defiled that they are not worth marrying.

Even though the Bush administration declared Darfur a genocide, the government was slow to act because Sudan was helping with US intelligence in the Middle East.  The Obama administration has been preoccupied with other issues like health care, the economy, and Afghanistan/ Pakistan.

Thirteen international non-government organizations were kicked out, and 3 Sudanese aid groups were shut down after the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for president Omar Bashir.  This has left a tremendous void for the people.

The only way forward is to put pressure on China to cancel their contracts for  Sudanese oil and for Chinese weapons that Omar Bashir is providing the janjaweed.  This would be economically difficult for America to ask of China.

Ideally, the international community would force China’s hand using the ICC’s decision as its basis.  Money talks, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) could put pressure on China by forcing it to pay tax on key exports for dealing with a criminal.  China has an unfair economic advantage because other countries are not willing to deal with a human rights violator for its oil.

China should pay the consequences for its economic activity because their business is abetting a genocide.  Unfortunately, this will continue as it has made deals with the Guinean dictator despite soldiers involved in mass rape and killings during a protest earlier this year.

This can only be stopped if China is punished.  The question is, “Does the international community have the political will to make this happen?”  Unfortunately, we may already know that answer.

Special Thanks to Marcus Bleasdale for his work and for allowing me to post some of his pictures on our blog.  I encourage you to check out his website and take 10 minutes to watch a piece he did on the conflict in the Congo.

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Imagine living on only $2.00 a day
Imagine living on only $2.00 a day

I was listening to a podcast from NPR’s Planet Money and they were doing a report on living on $2.00 a day. According to the World Bank, 2.5 billion people live on $2.00 a day, or roughly 40% of the global population.  That is an astonishing number, especially when you probably spend about $2.00 a day on coffee alone, nevermind spending it on dinner, water, or for shelter.  Not only do they make only $2.00 a day, but this is a figure averaged out over time so that they may go weeks without pay forcing them to depend on high interest loans/ credit.

The World Bank uses Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which they define as an international dollar having the same purchasing power over Gross National Income (GNI) as a U.S. dollar has in the United States.  Economists at the World Bank figure out the cost of living and impact of inflation in the given country to determine the value of PPP.

Meanwhile in China, the worst riots since Tiananmen Square occured at the start of the week in Xinjiang province.  The BBC reported that there were 184 deaths: 137 are Han Chinese and 46 were from the indigenous Uighur community according to officials in China.  The riots were triggered by a brawl at a toy factory in Guangdong Province on June 25 where Han Chinese killed two Uighurs who were falsely accused of raping a local girl. Here’s is a timeline of the riots.

The Uighurs staged a protest on July 5 in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, and they began violently venting their frustration on Han Chinese living in the city. Scores of innocent Han Chinese were killed or beaten.  According to the Economist, one girl’s leg was sawed off and Uighurs were smashing heads of Han Chinese into the ground with rocks.

The following day, Han Chinese gathered on their own and began retaliating with make shift clubs with spikes and screwdrivers attached to them as shown in the Globe’s Big Picture.

A Han Chinese man carries a spiked steel bar while using his cell phone to take photos as he joins a mob of Han Chinese men attacking Uighur properties in Urumqi on Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

There are incredible images from the riots and a number of gruesome ones of the violence.

The police seem to allow the Han Chinese to take justice in their own hands.  Here are a few quotes from the latest Economist issue:  “This is no longer an issue for the government,” said one man with a club in his hand. “This is now an ethnic struggle between Uighur and Han.  It will not end soon.” Packs of 20-200 Han Chinese roamed the streets shouting “Kill Uighurs!”, “Smash Uighurs!”, and “Don’t smash things, smash Uighurs!”

The Economist also reports that the government fearful of what happened in Iran with Twitter, turned off internet access across Xinjiang within hours of the riots.  “International telephone calls were blocked. Within 48 hours text-messaging services were also suspended.”

The anger seems to come from the Uighur’s frustrated by their lack of economic opportunity and the sense of being looked down upon by the Han Chinese.  Hmmm, poverty and economic injustice seem like common ingredients in riots.

A Han Chinese man carries a spiked steel bar while using his cell phone to take photos as he joins a mob of Han Chinese men attacking Uighur properties in Urumqi on Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Lastly, the BBC has reported that the International Red Cross  has been asked by the Sri Lankan government to leave.  This is worrying news as they are an independent NGO who would be able to report any human rights violations in the Tamil refugee camps.  The Red Cross are like the parents of the area and the bullies won’t be able to have their way if the parent’s eyes are fixated on the camps.

Keep the faith folks.  I know it can be discouraging, but we do make a difference.

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Debris flies up as a bomb explodes after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip January 3, 2009. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic (GAZA)

Debris flies up as a bomb explodes after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip January 3, 2009. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic (GAZA)

There has been calls by the UN to end the Israeli ground assault into the Gaza Strip.  The humanitarian situation is critical in the Gaza Strip ever since Israeli forces started targeting Hamas with air strikes 18 days ago.  There was international uproar when a UN school was hit by an Israeli rocket that killed 40 Palestinians.

Israel defends her actions by saying that they want to prevent the constant rocket attacks by Hamas that shatters any sense of normalcy for their people.  How does one feel raising a child where there is a distinct possibility that a Hamas rocket could land in your child’s classroom on any given day? Israeli bomb squads deactivate potential bombs at least 8 times a day according to Morgan Spurlock’s film, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

An Israeli boy walks into a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel on January 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

An Israeli boy walks into a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel on January 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Meanwhile, Hamas wants to take back its land from the Israeli people that was seized illegally after the 1967 War through the building of settlements.  They win the hearts of the Gazan people by providing services (hospitals, policing) that the PLO and now Fatah did not do.  The Palestinian people has to go through countless checkpoints adding hours to their commute to work if they are lucky enough to have a job.  Unemployment is approaching 50% in the Gaza Strip leaving the men there with very few options to provide for their families.  Basic supplies are in short supply because Israel closed the borders citing rocket attacks as its reason.

The situation in Israel is disheartening.  Somehow they must realize that it is mutually beneficial to have a two state system because their respective economies would be able to thrive if there was peace. One major hurdle is the fact that the Palestinians are split amongst themselves between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Israel can’t talk to Fatah because it doesn’t speak for all of its people, and Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel so Israel doesn’t want to legitimize them.

All people need is to believe that their children can have a better life and that they have ownership of their own destiny.  That’s not the case in the Palestinian territories.  This has to change for the region to move forward.

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Zimbabwean children picked up corn that had spilled from a truck on a recent Sunday along a road south of the capital, Harare. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

Zimbabwean children picked up corn that had spilled from a truck on a recent Sunday along a road south of the capital, Harare. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

This post will mostly highlight photos from Zimbabwe and key stats/ quotes from today’s NY Times article on Zimbabwe.  According to the Times by CELIA W. DUGGER, “a recent United Nations survey found that 7 in 10 people had eaten either nothing or only a single meal the day before” in Zimbabwe.

They are in their seventh year of hunger as a result of Mugabe’s policy of breaking up the predominately white owned farms that was distributed to his followers.  This year, he contributed to their hunger even more by banning, “international charitable organizations from operating, depriving more than a million people of food and basic aid after the country had already suffered one of its worst harvests” from June to August.

NGO’s and western governments who help distribute food to the poor during Mugabe’s reign have in a way, kept him in power.  They prevented starvation which could have led to social unrest from within the native population that could have potentially unseat the dictator.

“The World Food Program is short of nearly half the food needed for January, said Richard Lee, a spokesman.”

“People rise before the sun. . . to fill metal pails with the small, foul-smelling hacha fruit. . .the fruit is now infested with tiny brown worms. Nevertheless, the women peel it, crush it and soak it in water. Some of the worms float to the surface and can be skimmed off.”

“Maidei Kunaka grinds the animal feed she earns in exchange for her labor on a nearby ostrich farm — an unappetizing amalgam of wheat, soy bean, sand and what she calls “green stuff” — to nourish her three children.”

As a result of Mugabe’s failed agricultural policies, “the annual harvest of corn, the main staple food, has fallen to about a third of its previous levels, the Development Program reported.”

The New York Times

A man dug a grave at a cemetery in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. A ferocious cholera epidemic, spread by water contaminated with human excrement, has stricken more than 16, 000 people across Zimbabwe since August and killed more than 780 people. Photo: The New York Times

The cholera epidemic could devastate the country because of the weakened population.  Hopefully this will change with the new administration, but we must urge both administrations that if we are defenders of democracy, we should support Morgan Tsvangirai who won the first round of voting and force Robert Mugabe out of power first indirectly by sanctions like ones proposed by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

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Today, December 10, is the sixtieth anniversary of Human Rights Day.  Sixty years ago the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which define in 30 points what is our basic rights.

Since I have Monday’s off, I was able to attend the AIDS town meeting hosted by Physicians for Human Rights.  There, the Rev. Gloria White Hammond was one of the panelists who spoke there.  Here are some of her thoughts on human rights day and violence against women.

The cholera epidemic is Zimbabwe is critical because it could spread rapidly in the upcoming months because of the political situation there.

As mentioned earlier, aid agencies will be facing a shortage of food supplies in January when the need is the greatest.  The BBC reported in a podcast that students are foraging in the countryside and abandoning class to find food for their family.  If people are hungry, there immune systems will be weakend therefore being more vulnerable to cholera.  There are also shortages of basic medical supplies in hospitals throughout the country making it more difficult to treat.  In addition, the collapse of the sewage and basic water services has made it easier for the disease to spread.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7771184.stm

Change starts from the bottom up.  Dr. Jim Yong Kim also spoke at the AIDS town meeting.  In it he reminded the audience of the need to stay active in urging for change by quoting Franklin Delanor Roosevelt.  Sidney Hillman, a union representative, urged the new elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt to use his powers to enact stronger protection for workers.

FDR responded.  “I agree with you.  I want to do it.  Now go out and make me do it.”

It is critical that we ask our elected officials to put pressure on Robert Mugabe and ask him to stand down peacefully for the sake of his country.  We need to make them do it.

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In the most pointed remarks made by an African leader, the BBC reports on Thursday that Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga has called for his fellow African leaders to oust Robert Mugabe saying, “it’s time for African governments… to push him out of power,” after the power sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai has failed.

Some 12,545 cholera cases have been recorded since August, the UN says.  AP Photo

Some 12,545 cholera cases have been recorded since August, the UN says. AP Photo

The Kenyan PM says that if his South African counterpart asked Mugabe to stand down, he would have no choice but to do so.  He also thinks that Tsvangirai should not participate in the power sharing deal since Mugabe is not truly interested in being a partner.

In the past few monthes, Zimbabwe has accelerated towards calamity as the BBC has reported 10 soldiers rampaged through the capital on Monday because a bankrupt bank could not pay them their wages.

A cholrea epidemic has claimed 565 lives and has infected 12,545 people since August according to the UN.  Scores are fleeing towards South Africa hoping for medical treatment exacerbating a refugee problem in South Africa.

Immigrants, most from Zimbabwe, rush the gate to apply for refugee asylum permits at a government refugee center June 17, 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Officials were overwhelmed by the crowd of thousands that appeared Tuesday morning, after a three day weekend in South Africa. The wave of immigrants crossing illegally from Zimbabwe continues, despite the xenophobic violence against immigrants last month. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Immigrants, most from Zimbabwe, rush the gate to apply for refugee asylum permits at a government refugee center June 17, 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Officials were overwhelmed by the crowd of thousands that appeared Tuesday morning, after a three day weekend in South Africa. The wave of immigrants crossing illegally from Zimbabwe continues, despite the xenophobic violence against immigrants last month. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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