News in the Humanosphere: France to Significantly Extend Counter-Terror Operations Across the Sahel | 

A French Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé (VAB) armoured vehicle being unloaded from a UK C17, which landed at Bamako airport, Mali in support of Operation NEWCOMBE, January 2013.
A French Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB) armoured vehicle being unloaded from a UK C17, which landed at Bamako airport, Mali in support of Operation NEWCOMBE, January 2013.
SAC Dek Traylor

With its operations winding down in Mali, France is planning to shift resources and deploy troops throughout the Sahel region. “The new operation, codenamed Barkhan, will kick off in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries in the Sahel-Sahara region, Le Drian said, without detailing which nations these were…the operation would consist of around 3,000 soldiers supported by drones, helicopters and fighter jets. (France 24)

A Way Out of the Afghan Election Crisis? John Kerry to the rescue. “Secretary of state John Kerry said on Saturday both of Afghanistan’s presidential candidates were committed to abiding by the results of the “largest and most comprehensive audit” of the election runoff ballots possible. Kerry stood with the two candidates who are disputing the results of Afghanistan’s presidential election. He announced that finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had agreed to abide by a 100%, internationally supervised audit of all ballots in the presidential election in Kabul.” (Guardian)

Africa

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility for two blasts on June 25 at a fuel depot in Nigeria’s commercial hub of Lagos, AFP reported on Sunday, which, if true, would be the first recorded attack on the city by the militants. (Reuters)

Obtaining healthy food is difficult in the Central African Republic capital city of Bangui, where conflict has caused prices to soar, while across the country many peasant farms lie barren. (AFP)

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A chat with Oxfam America chief rabble rouser Ray Offenheiser | 

Ray Offenheiser
Ray Offenheiser

Today’s Humanosphere podcast guest is Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, a Boston-based anti-poverty organization and American offshoot of Oxfam International headquartered in Britain. Most people have likely heard of Oxfam but may not know much about it – or what often distinguishes it from the many other humanitarian organizations out there working to reduce poverty, injustice and other forms of global inequity.

Put simply, Oxfam is not the least bit shy about naming names, chasing down bad acting governments and corporations or taking on the rich and powerful if it can advance the cause of helping the poor and reducing suffering.

Take, for example, the atomic message bomb Oxfam dropped on the gathering of the super-rich and elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year.

Oxfam3It was just a factoid contained in an Oxfam report – the finding that today some 85 billionaires own as much of the world’s wealth as 3.5 billion of the poorest people – but it arguably stole the show at Davos. The world’s media went nuts, forcing the attendees to address this grotesque statistic. (Even the super-rich cheerleader “world’s richest” list-loving Forbes magazine later jumped on board and corrected the figure, noting that the global concentration of wealth was actually worse than Oxfam reported).

This simple act of advocacy by Oxfam, this metric of global inequality, is now a meme that won’t go away.

In the podcast, Ray and I talk about some other examples of Oxfam’s ‘edgy’ approach to advocacy – including a campaign called Behind the Brands that holds food manufacturers accountable for their claims to be engaging in socially responsible practices; or the time Oxfam stood up for poor Ugandan farmers against corporate and government interests aimed at displacing them.

“It’s important at times to speak truth to power,” says Offenheiser. “Some might call that edgy … We think that’s part of what gives the organization integrity and our struggle is to do that well.”

Offenheiser was in Seattle for a meeting with ‘advocacy partners’ of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The meeting, which was closed to the media and the public, included representatives from Save the Children, the One Campaign and other anti-poverty and humanitarian organizations. All are focused on helping to advance and improve the fight against poverty and inequity. According to Offenheiser, Oxfam intends to remain focused on raising public awareness of how inequality – in wealth and power – is at the root of most of these problems and must be central to the development agenda.

So listen in and learn a lot more about Oxfam, how it got started in World War II, how it retains its ‘edge’ and how you can help them make the world a better place.

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Can better data save 7 million children from dying each year? | 

Guest post By Ted Caplow, director of Whole New World Foundation

6309893514_4ab6a40816_b
Zuhair A. Al-Traifi

My son spent the first weeks of his life in intensive care, attended by a team of neonatologists. My wife and I could do little more than watch, until one day the doctors asked our permission to proceed with an elective procedure. My immediate impulse was to track down more information about the risks involved so I could maximize my son’s chance of survival.

In developed countries, immersed in the information age, we are accustomed to supporting our decisions with data. Unfortunately, in the rest of the world, the struggle to save children’s lives takes place without the benefit of adequate information. Despite great reductions in child mortality over the past 30 years, more than 18,000 children under the age of five still die every day.

International authorities classify these deaths as “preventable,” meaning that modern medical knowledge and technology could save these children, but it fails to reach them. More support for studying the true impact of life-saving interventions could help bridge this gap.

A 2014 Gates Foundation report estimates that over the past three decades the international community has donated $5,000 in health care interventions for each child’s life that was saved in the developing world. At that rate, it will take $33 billion in additional global spending to save the 6.6 million lives under five that are still lost each year. This large sum will be difficult to raise, so directing funding to the most cost-effective interventions is a priority.

Frustratingly, despite the enormous resources dedicated to combating child mortality, there remains a widespread lack of data on the efficacy of individual intervention programs. There are several reasons for this situation.

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News in the Humanosphere: Sharp rise in global urban population predicted by UN | 

Mumbai, India
Mumbai, India
Ekaterina Didkovskaya

Where Humanity Will Live in 2050…Our Urban Future: A new UN report predicts a sharp rise in urban living. “Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, posing unique infrastructural challenges for African and Asian countries, where 90% of the growth is predicted to take place…Africa is projected to experience a 16% rise in its urban population by 2050 – making it the most rapidly urbanizing region on the planet – as the number of people living in its cities soars to 56%.” (Guardian)

Africa

Amnesty International has published the names of people suspected to have committed human rights violations and war crimes in the Central African Republic. The human rights group says these individuals must be investigated and held accountable in order for the country to begin a peace and reconciliation process. (VOA )

More than half of China’s foreign aid of over $14 billion between 2010 and 2012 was directed to Africa, the government said on Thursday, underscoring Beijing’s interest in the resource-rich continent to fuel its economy. (Reuters)

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Child mortality worldwide is down, but it’s not always clear why | 

Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
UN

Child mortality is widely recognized as an indicator of a community’s overall health, with reductions in child deaths often cited as evidence of the impact of a particular intervention.

Two high-profile events in Washington, DC, and Johannesburg, South Africa recently celebrated the progress made worldwide in reducing maternal and child deaths over the past twenty years – and called for greater international investment to sustain and build on the success. That’s based on the assumption we already know which interventions are succeeding under real-life conditions, and which ones are most effective.

Yet linking cause and effect, even with a global health gold standard like child mortality, is not always a simple matter.

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Aid workers mixed in reaction to critical report on emergency aid industry | 

Staff with Doctors Without Borders respond to the Haitian cholera outbreak, in December 2010.
Staff with Doctors Without Borders respond to the Haitian cholera outbreak, in December 2010.

A sharp tongued report from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this week has riled up the humanitarian industry. The medical relief organization uses examples from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Jordan to illustrate the failures of emergency response. A provocative title pointedly asks Where is Everyone?
The hope is that the report will lurch organizations out of their foot holdings and improve the overall impact of emergency response efforts.

The report has accomplished its main goal in using shame to spur on a much needed discussion about the state of emergency response. Journalist and aid critic Ian Birrell used the report to further chastise a broken industry. He concluded in his piece for the Guardian that “too many aid groups have evolved into self-serving corporations dressed in the clothing of compassion.” MSF’s findings show that Birrell’s claims are not entirely unwarranted.

Aid workers who specialize in emergency relief have pointed out the things that MSF gets right, especially on the UN.

“There are very few activities undertaken by UN agencies, including those with mandates,” said one emergency aid worker speaking on the condition of anonymity to Humanosphere.

“Much of what they do/funding they have is passed through to operational agencies, once they’ve taken their cut for overhead. Worst part about it is that the UN wont pay for the services they require from agencies in order to account for the funds they’ve provided.”

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News in the Humanosphere: South Sudan’s Gloomy Birthday | 

People arrive at dawn to Awerial settlement fleeing the conflict in and around the town Bor, in January 2014.
People arrive at dawn to Awerial settlement fleeing the conflict in and around the town Bor, in January 2014.
Oxfam International

South Sudan celebrated its third independence day and things have never been worse. “ A political crisis that devolved into fighting last December has displaced 1.4 million people and left an estimated 10,000 people dead. Activists working in and around the young nation are concerned about its future.Chief among the concerns is humanitarian problems caused by protracted instability. Assistance is only reaching 2 million of the 4.5 million in need, said Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam America , in a press briefing yesterday. That is not even what is most worrying.“South Sudan is at very serious risk of experiencing a famine this year,” said Gottschalk. “We have the opportunity now to prevent a famine.” (Humanosphere)

Plus:

A group of seven major international aid agencies said they face a shortfall of $89 million just when the South Sudan humanitarian crisis edges closer to the risk of famine. Speaking out on the 3rd anniversary of the country’s independence they warned their aid efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict was under threat due to a lack of funds.

And…Floods, malaria and malnutrition are making life worse for internally displaced people staying at camps in South Sudan. (VOA)

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As South Sudan falters, aid industry called out for its failures | 

Workers offload sacks of cereals distributed by the UN's World Food Programme from a truck in Minkaman, South Sudan.
Workers offload sacks of cereals distributed by the UN’s World Food Programme from a truck in Minkaman, South Sudan.
AP Photo/Matthew Abbott

The marking of three years of independence in South Sudan will be cause for little celebration. A political crisis that devolved into fighting last December has displaced 1.4 million people and left an estimated 10,000 people dead. Activists working in and around the young nation are concerned about its future.

Chief among the concerns is humanitarian problems caused by protracted instability. Assistance is only reaching 2 million of the 4.5 million in need, said Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam America , in a press briefing yesterday. That is not even what is most worrying.

“South Sudan is at very serious risk of experiencing a famine this year,” said Gottschalk. “We have the opportunity now to prevent a famine.”

“Even though the rains have started, people were unable to plant crops. Meaning that the food that they are running out of now will not be replaced by new stocks.”

Fighting has been isolated to three of South Sudan’s ten states, but there is evidence that it may soon spread. The fighting contributes to the problem of humanitarian access. The rainy season has arrived, making it much harder to get to parts of South Sudan due to the country’s poor infrastructure. Aid agencies worry that their shipments could be looted.

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