Calls grow louder for urgent action to protect Syria’s children | 

children study

The present situation for Syria’s children is bad. Three years have passed and a generation is caught in the middle.  It’s not hyperbole when considering that there is no end in sight to the civil war.

Physical danger is an immediate concern. Numbers are hard to know, but estimates put the number of children killed during the conflict at 10,000.

Need is driving some children into labor, something that was not the norm for Syria before the fighting started. Salah is only 15 years-old, but he works in a mine near the Beka’a valley of Lebanon, with his brother. School is not an option for the boys and the family needs income. So they must work.

“I didn’t use to work in Syria,” Salah said to UNICEF. “But I am working here because I need to help with the expenses. My brother is working too. We can’t go to school, so it’s better if we work.”

Also worrying is fact that some 3 million kids are not going to school, roughly half of the country’s school age children. If the disruption lasts for much longer the impacts could be long lasting, worry humanitarian organizations.

A total of 5.5 million children have felt the impacts of the fighting. The number of children affected by the Syrian civil war doubled in the past year and it keeps growing.

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Five neglected stories that might be a bigger deal than Ukraine | 

A quick look at the top ten stories on Google News this morning maintains the stand-off in Ukraine high on the list, of course, along with the missing Malaysian airplane and, well something about Justin Bieber, Tiger Woods and Oscar Pistorius’ trial for murder. It’s good to see that at least a third of the top stories (according to Google anyway) are not about celebrities or sports.

But what’s not so good to see is that some fairly significant stories have been shoved off the media’s radar screen. Sure, it’s important to pay attention to what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine. But the idea that the conflict there is more important than conflicts in other parts of the world is highly debatable.

We are not entering a new Cold War, and the likelihood of Western intervention in Ukraine is nil. Such talk neglects the reality of today’s geopolitics. American politicians’ moral outrage at Russia seems odd outside of the U.S. given our own government’s extensive history of invading even distant sovereign countries (Iraq, Grenada, Vietnam, much of Latin America….) based on ‘national interests.’ At least Ukraine used to be part of Russia.

Here are five stories Humanosphere thinks are maybe as important as the Ukraine story:

South Africa’s government accuses Rwandan government of sending a hit squad

Syrian government is now starving its citizens to death

Honduras is still the ‘murder capital of the world’

Genocide brewing in Central African Republic

US is supporting Uganda’s military incursion in South Sudan

Photo of the Day: People line up for aid in destroyed Syrian city | 

Refugee camp in Damascus, Syria

The UN agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, published the above image earlier this week. It was taken during a distribution drive in the Syrian Yarmouk refugee camp in the capital city of Damascus. Humanitarians have struggled to provide humanitarian assistance to people in the most embattled parts of Syria. The photograph, taken January 31, captures the devastation caused by the fighting and how many people are affected.

The Commissioner General of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, visited the camp this week as a part of recent distributions by the agency to people living in the camp. Humanitarian access has been non-existent since July, before partial access was granted in January. Serious concerns remain about cases of severe malnutrition and the physical and emotional harm caused by the fighting.

“I am deeply disturbed and shaken by what I observed today,” said Grandi in a release.

“The Palestine refugees with whom I spoke were traumatized by what they have lived through, and many were in evident need of immediate support, particularly food and medical treatment. What I have seen and heard today underlines the timeliness of the UN Security Council resolution 2139 on Humanitarian Access and the need for all sides to implement the resolution without fail. ”


$2.4 billion raised for Syria crisis does not allay concerns | 

Mideast Lebanon Syria Refugee Students
A Syrian teacher, left, teaches on the first day of classes at a private school built for Syrian refugees in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon.
AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

International donors and charities pledged a total of $2.4 billion in aid for the Syrian crisis. It is only a fraction of the $6.5 billion needed to respond to the largest UN appeal ever.

A two-day conference in Kuwait brought together charities, donors and other global actors to rally support for the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria. The first day saw charities and NGOs pledge $400 million in aid. Kuwait led the way on Wednesday by pledging $500 million.

Roughly 70% of the $1.5 billion pledged in a similar conference last year has materialized to date. There is little reason to be confident that all of the money promised this week will be disbursed.

The three year old crisis has displaced an estimated 9 million people. An international response to the humanitarian problems caused by the fighting in Syria has struggled to meet increasing needs. Neighboring countries who are hosting the more than 4 million refugees are struggling to support all the incoming people.

“No country, no people should face hardship or calamity for helping Syrians in need. It is vital for this region and our world that the burden is shared. Let us reward the compassion of Syria’s neighbors with generosity and solidarity,” said UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

The situation is getting harder.
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Why I am not donating to the most effective charity | 

GiveDirectly has the strongest case of any organization for a donation. It works and has the evidence to back up the claim.

Knowing this, I did not give to them this year.

I, like many other Americans, wait until the end of the year to do my charitable giving. As a person who covers the humanitarian sector I read a lot of organization’s reports, pitches and research studies.

Armed with this knowledge, it would seem that choosing where and how to give is easy. It is not. I tend to worry too much that it will be wasted. I debated sharing where I am giving this year and justifying my decision.

Ultimately I decided to write this because of my belief in the importance of transparency. I should disclose any possible conflicts of interest with my reporting. I do not think that my decision constitutes any conflict going forward, but erring on the side of transparency makes the most sense to me.

This happens to be a moment where major humanitarian emergencies (Philippines, Syria, Central African Republic) require a lot of money and when better information on impacts of programs make it easier to know what is the most effective way to give. Continue reading

Hard winter arrives for underprepared Syrian refugees | 

Preparing for winter in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley
Preparing for winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley

The upcoming winter in Lebanon brought the first snowfall to parts of the country on Wednesday. It is an unwelcome sign for the 2.2 million Syrian refugees living outside of the country right now.

Temperatures fell to as low as 20ºF as the refugees must cope with little or no heat. Winter is a particularly hard time and the acceleration of people fleeing from Syria over the past year weighs heavy on the humanitarian response.

Current predictions indicate that this year’s winter will be harsh in countries where Syrian refugees are living, such as Lebanon and Jordan.

Nearly 3 million people received supplies to help cope with the winter, including high thermal blankets and extra plastic sheeting, from UNHCR. Still, many people are relying solely on the blankets to keep warm during the cold months.

“Most of these people used to live relatively decent lives. They were not used to worrying about hunger and keeping warm,” explained Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director for Oxfam GB, to Humanosphere. “It is a huge shock psychologically.”

Because many of the people who left Syria were not living in poverty, they arrived in neighboring countries with some assets. With little or no opportunity to make an income, families are turning to personal savings and finally selling off valuables.

But the money is running out.
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Hunger Games: The Refugee Shelter | 

The latest Hunger Games movie is ‘catching fire’ (had to use the pun) across the US. It is also providing shelter for refugees.


Oxfam GB’s Ben Phillips snapped a photo of a Syrian refugee shelter in Lebanon that used a Hunger Games movie poster. His tweets from today describe the hardships faced by the refugees. Syrians displaced in Lebanon are spending twice their incomes just to get by.

“We took our kids out of school because the teachers made them empty the trash instead of lessons – only Syrian kids were made to do that,” said one refugee to Phillips.

A total of 1.5 million Syrian refugees are hosted by five neighboring countries. The UN’s latest appeal says that 6.8 million people in and around Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Phillips is tweeting stories and pictures this week as he meets Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Why global health? Polio in Syria, Texas dengue, West Nile’s killer cousin | 

Dengue is spreading globally
Dengue is spreading globally

Taken in isolation, the news reports that polio appears to have returned to Syria for the first time since the late 1990s, that dengue and yellow fever is showing up across the southern United States and that Texas has had its worst year ever for West Nile virus all seem like separate disease outbreaks.

And they are. But taken together, they should also serve as a reminder that disease, especially infectious disease, doesn’t spread independent of human behavior – and bad behavior on the other side of the planet can kill here.

Child receives polio vaccine
Child receives polio vaccine

If polio is confirmed in Syria, most would agree it’s legit to blame this on the disruption in public health services due to the civil war.

The rise of dengue and yellow fever in Los Angeles or Dallas is sometimes attributed to warming temperatures due to climate change, which it may be, but the spread of these ‘tropical diseases’ out of the tropics is also just as likely the result of growing global urbanization (the mosquitoes that carry these bugs seem to like cities), long-distance travel and ineffective disease control measures. Continue reading