Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Elephants in the G20 meeting room | Ekklesia

At the end of the G20, Nicolas Sarkozy’s frustration at the UK’s stance on a number of issues, including the financial transaction, or Robin Hood tax, was evident. During journalists’ questions at the final communiqué press conference, the BBC’s Paul Mason got short shrift from the French President.

In a question delivered in pretty passable French, Mr Mason said “It's evident that you and Mme Merkel, the two most powerful governments in Europe, are trying to change the governments of Italy and Greece. How is that just? And once it's started, where does it stop?”

Sarkozy insisted the question was too obvious, was so obvious in fact the BBC did not expect an answer and had already made up its mind. With his diminutive dander evidently up, Sarkozy then played to the gallery of international journalists stating that Mr Mason had little understanding of “the subtleties of the European construction” because he “is from an island”. It’s true that the press gaggle giggled at this rather unstatesmanlike retort, and even Mr Mason smiled, but I’m not sure America’s new best buddy had meant to come across like a defensive politics teacher squashing the over-reaching kid in the class.

But Mr Mason is getting a reputation for publicly pointing at elephants in the room and this G20 moment was bettered perhaps in recent weeks only by his query thrown to Italy’s premier Silvio Berlusconi which asked: “How can the world take you seriously if you can't implement austerity?"

It appears that this question brought on a splutter of conniption fits from Italian TV journalists, much to the amusement of the UK press corps.

And all I can say is power to Mr Mason’s arm. But at this G20 I would have liked to have seen a few more elephants identified in the press conferences on behalf of the poorest nations.

I would have liked someone to have asked how the G20 could conscience such emergency measures to save Europe while nations with less clout in the developing world founder on sharp rocks of climate change impacts, food insecurity and lack of infrastructure without any such rapid crisis response from rich nations.

I would have liked to ask what special guest Ethiopia had to say from the sidelines about the diversion from Sarkozy’s development-rich agenda for this year’s summit?

And I would like to have asked those – including David Cameron - who blocked the progress of a financial transaction or Robin Hood tax – what alternatives are you offering and when will you deliver? I would like to ask them why they stand in the way rather than letting the willing get on with their plan?

This week someone on Radio 4’s Today programme mooted the idea that we may see people in Greece starving if the situation isn’t dealt with well and quickly, and already soup kitchens in Athens are filling up.

There’s absolutely nothing to belittle about Greece’s predicament right now and I feel for the people of Greece whose government, to a greater extent, is being used as a scapegoat by more powerful European nations that failed to deliver anything nearly strong enough from their Brussels all-nighter last week.

But the idea of starvation and soup kitchens in Greece? It makes you stop and think doesn’t it? People like you and me going without. Not a tighten-your-belt going without, but a basic needs going without. People in the UK media are talking and writing about the potential for people in Europe having no food: going hungry. And remember this must be even more terrifying for Greece because they suffered famine in the 1940s during the joint German and Italian occupation. There will be many people alive now who remember it and who have something to say about Germany’s present role in the bailout.

But then remember that a country far, far away like, say, Ethiopia, has been rolling through food crisis after food crisis for decades and right now East Africa is deep in famine in many areas. There are people who have lost whole families during the present drought and many who remember those they lost in the droughts that stretch back into the 1980s and before.

I’m not naive enough to think things near and here don’t resonate more with most people than issues affecting communities on what can feel like the other side of the world – both geographically and culturally. But while Europe tries to save itself from the contagion of the Greek crisis, let us not forget to keep pointing at the elephants in the room:

· Almost one person in five – 1.2 billion men, women and children – are currently living in a situation of extreme poverty, surviving on the equivalent of less than one dollar a day; half the people in the world are trying to manage below the poverty level of two dollars a day

· About 824 million people go hungry or have a precarious food supply; 500 million of them suffer from chronic malnutrition

· Throughout the world, 170 million children suffer from malnutrition, more than 100 million never attend school, 230 million have no access to secondary education, and almost 250 million work to pay for their own needs and those of their families

· In the industrialised countries, more than 100 million people live below the income poverty line, 37 million are jobless, and more than 5 million people are homeless

· More than 840 million adults in the world are illiterate – 65% of them are women

· 1.6 billion people in the world have no access to drinking water

· 800 million people have no access to health care

Monday, November 7, 2011

Famine horrors far from over in East Africa


East Africa (MNN) ― Months later, famine continues to grip as many as 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.

Many were hopeful that the promise of rain would soothe the dry earth. However, the rains that have come may have done more harm than good so far. According to Voice of America News and the UN refugee agency, heavy rains have flooded parts of Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

The flooding has caused severe safety hazards for affected refugee camps. Some refugees have been fleeing the refugee camps to find safer places.

In regions where rain has yet to come, rain is unlikely to help either. Duane Zook with Global Aid Network (GAiN) says rain might provide a little relief, but mostly it will increase the likelihood of disease--especially with hundreds of thousands of people living under makeshift tents built of sticks and cloth.

Zook just returned from East Africa, stunned by what he saw. "The situation in the Horn of Africa is horrible. When I went in there and saw some of the refugee camps and the IDP camps, the pictures I had seen and the stories I had heard really came to life."

Zook says the famine is far from over. Close to a million children under the age of five are severely malnourished. There is a dire "need for food, for clean water. Thousands of children are dying every week, and people need hope."

GAiN has been sent a significant amount of aid. "We have shipped about 15 containers: that's close to four million meals. But that's a drop in the bucket of what is needed," says Zook.

After seeing the horrors of famine and starvation, Zook was encouraged by two things: people have, in fact, noticed the love of Christ, and GAiN is there to stay.

Zook says famine victims frequently asked, "Many people from the West come, and they look at the need, but then we never see them again. Are you going to be any different?" Zook was able to encourage them that GAiN would continue to provide.

GAiN's ongoing presence is not only helpful to those who may otherwise starve, but the consistency also opens more doors for the Gospel.

Providing "food, water filters and water wells help build relationships. Relationships help us build trust, and then trust gives us opportunity to provide hope," says Zook.

GAiN is interested in providing physical aid as well as spiritual nourishment. Pray for more opportunities to do so.

Many around the world may have forgotten about this famine, but its victims still have years of struggling ahead of them. Be a part of bringing them physical relief and spiritual guidance through GAiN. It's only $0.10 to supply a meal for someone in East Africa. Click here to give.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Somalis hit by floods, famine and insecurity

Displaced Somalis were affected by previous floods in November 2006, in Dadaab

4 November 2011 –
United Nations humanitarian agencies announced today that they are stepping up their support for Somalia as the country faces the combined impact of heavy rains, widespread famine and continuing insecurity in the streets.

Thousands of displaced Somalis have been affected by downpours during the current rainy season in parts of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, the United Nations refugee agency reported, adding that it is speeding up efforts to provide emergency assistance in refugee camps.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the rains have flooded some 2,800 people in the Sigale camp in Mogadishu, disrupted the transport system and slowed the pace of internal displacement in the impoverished country.UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said at a press briefing in Geneva that the agency has distributed 4,500 assistance kits so far, which include plastic sheets, plastic buckets and soap.

UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told a press briefing in Geneva that the agency has distributed 4,500 assistance kits so far, which include plastic sheets, plastic buckets and soap. He also said that despite the rains slowing down the movement of people, many continue to move away from areas of conflict.

“We are still seeing some movement. In the last week, more than 2,200 people have moved from Afgooye and Daynile, north of Mogadishu, to areas south of the capital in Banadir district. Some say they fled due to general insecurity, while others were trying to return to their home areas in anticipation of deteriorating security,” he said.

Drought and insecurity in Somalia has forced more than 330,000 people to flee the country this year, with the vast majority going to neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.

In the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya where some 5,000 people have lost their homes due to the flood waters, UNHCR and its partners have moved them to dryer parts of the camps, and provided blankets and sleeping mats while working to improve drainage in the flooded areas.

Mr. Mahecic also expressed concern for the increasing number of cases of flood-related illnesses in refugees.

“We are seeing a worrying rise in the number of watery diarrhoea cases and a general deterioration of the health situation among refugees, with some 600 people approaching the health centres daily. As part of efforts to prevent disease outbreak, we have started awareness campaigns to encourage refugees to wash their hands, boil water and drink only safe water,” he said.

In addition to providing emergency relief for floods, other UN agencies continue to increase their efforts to help Somalis who suffer from famine and insecurity.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced today that it is opening its first transit hub in the port of Dubai to accelerate the delivery of nutrition supplies to Somalia.

According to a news release issued by UNICEF, an estimated 5,000 tons of corn soya blend flour will be moved through the warehouse each month to the worst-affected regions of the country.

There are currently 1.5 million children in southern Somalia who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including some 190,000 who are severely malnourished and at high risk of death within weeks if they do not receive the necessary support.

“The humanitarian transit hub will make a major impact in widening our pipeline and also improving the predictability of supply delivery,” said Shanelle Hall, Director of UNICEF’s supply division. “It will help us ensure a regular flow of nutrition supplies for the worst-affected children and their families.”

Over 100 days have passed since famine in southern Somalia was formally declared. Since then a significant scale-up of relief activities have reached 2.2 million people, giving them access to food and water. Insecurity in the country however, has continued, increasing the number of weapons-related injuries and casualties.

During the press briefing, Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that according to health partners on the ground there were 70 injuries and 12 weapons-related deaths just last week due to fighting in the Lower Juba region, in addition to the 441 casualties that were treated in one hospital last month in Mogadishu. He added that WHO is responding by dispatching trauma kits for surgeries.