Those 'other' things we can't quite categorize


When disaster strikes, the private sector plays a role too | 

A Syrian refugee woman completing her shopping in Amman, Jordan, using food vouchers provided by WFP.
A Syrian refugee woman completing her shopping in Amman, Jordan, using food vouchers provided by WFP.

The international organizations that are the first to act when disaster strikes were called out last week by the UK branch of Doctors Without Borders. One group spared the criticism is the private sector. That is because, until recently, they were not really thought of as an important player.

That is changing. Companies like Ikea, Coca-Cola and Google are now a contributing to relief efforts following a crisis, and making a profit while at it. They are not only working with the relief groups on the ground, but on their own and with small businesses in different countries.

The involvement of business in humanitarian assistance is not all that new. Local businesses will sell food, water and other supplies in the wake of a disaster. However, nobody really knows how much the private sector is contributing. There is no comprehensive accounting in what happens, just case studies and anecdotes.

The growing involvement and the gap information warrants some attention, say Steven Zyck and Randolph Kent of the UK-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute.

“The private sector’s technical expertise and resources offer great opportunities to innovate and improve services, while humanitarian agencies continue to have leading insight into what types of aid are needed and how to reach people in remote communities,” said Zyck, based on a research he conducted with Kent.

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News in the Humanosphere: 100 AIDS Researchers and Activists among 298 Killed in MH17 Downing | 

Simon Boddy

This is absolutely tragic news for the entire global health community, in light of the deeply tragic news of the downing of MH17. “About 100 of the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash were heading to Melbourne for a major AIDS conference, conference attendees have been told. Delegates at a pre-conference in Sydney were told on Friday morning that around 100 medical researchers, health workers and activists were on the plane that went down near the Russia-Ukraine border, including former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange…Organisers of the International AIDS Conference, due to begin in Melbourne on Sunday, have not released numbers, but did confirm expected attendees were among the dead.” (SMH)

Israel Launches Ground Invasion of Gaza…Meanwhile, four more children were killed in air strikes and journalists were told to evacuate a popular hotel. Earlier yesterday, Hamas ended a six hour humanitarian pause in the fighting. “Israel began a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, saying it would target tunnels that infiltrate its territory after cease-fire talks failed to de-escalate the air war that has raged for 10 days. The military released a statement at 10:39 p.m. saying the goal of the operation was to “establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror.” (NYT )


The Health Sector estimates that about 206,000 people in Darfur are unable to access health services due to the suspension of Red Cross activities and withdrawal of support to health facilities by NGOs. (OCHA)

The UN Security Council warned it is ready to consider “appropriate measures” against warring parties in South Sudan if they do not stop the violence in the world’s youngest nation and negotiate a transitional government. (Reuters)

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Africa sees $58 billion leave the continent each year | 


The amount of money calculated to go into sub-Saharan Africa each year is less than the money that is sent outward. A new report published by Health Poverty Action and a dozen other partners, shows that $192 billion in total is lost due to tax havens, multinational profits and illegal logging. Which much of the conversation about the region focuses on the aid money sent in, the report seeks to re-frame what is discussed to include all of the money that goes not only in, but out of Africa.

“We are not trying to suggest that all of the inflows are good and that the outflows are bad,” said Natalie Sharples, Senior Policy Advisor for Health Poverty Action, to Humanosphere. ” The purpose of this is mostly to highlight the discrepancy between the figures.”

One of the most significant contributors are illicit financial flows. That is mostly money that is not taxed because it is held in off-shore accounts in friendly countries. These tax havens deprive an estimated $35.3 billion in money from remaining in the region. That is more than the $29.4 billion in aid given each year.  Ending tax avoidance would essentially double the amount of aid money in Africa by simply preventing it from leaving in the first place.

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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)


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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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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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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Amid UN food ration cuts, how US food aid prolongs civil conflicts | 

USAID-provided lentils and soy-oil are readied for distribution to citizens of Petonville, Haiti.
USAID-provided lentils and soy-oil are readied for distribution to citizens of Petonville, Haiti.

The UN announced last week that it was forced to cut food rations for nearly 800,000 refugees in Africa. A shortage of funding was behind the World Food Programme (WFP) and refugee agency (UNHCR) making cuts as much as 60%. The impact could be far reaching as people displaced across the continent face hunger.

The hardest hit areas are also places experiencing ongoing conflict. For decades food aid has been provided to people in need due to crop failures, droughts and displacement. The thinking being that immediate food aid can save lives and avert the present crisis so that families can get back on track when the problem goes away.

That might not be the case when it comes to conflicts.  In fact, new research indicates that food aid helps to prolong smaller civil-conflicts. It raises the question as to whether food aid, in the case of countries like South Sudan and Central African Republic, might not be the optimal response to both hunger and ending the problems that led to the spike in hunger.

“An increase in US food aid increases the incidence of armed civil conflict in recipient countries. US food aid does not crowd out other forms of aid or aid from other donors. Thus, the increase in conflict is really due to an increase in aid,” say economists Nathan Nunn of Harvard University and Nancy Qian of Yale University.

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