The Human Impact

The dangers of oversimplifying the Central African Republic conflict

Here’s a story I haven’t heard before: when violence spiralled in Central African Republic’s capital last December, the country’s most senior Muslim cleric sought shelter with the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

And that month no one was attacked in Lakounga, one of the oldest parts of the capital, where Christian and Muslim leaders worked together to protect the community. Posters were plastered on every street corner with the message: “Christians and Muslims, the same blood, the same life, the same country”.

“Their message is that we are one and we have been living together … for many decades,” Nyeko Caesar Poblicks, East and Central Africa projects manager at the London-based NGOConciliation Resources, and a frequent visitor to CAR, told me in a recent interview.

Elsewhere in the capital, mosques, shops and houses owned by Muslims were attacked by angry groups who saw Muslims as collaborators of the mainly Muslim Seleka movement. A thousand people were killed in December alone, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Seleka fighters carried out many serious abuses after they took power in March 2013, killing, raping, looting and burning entire villages. Although they have withdrawn to bases in the  northeast since the Seleka leader and interim president, Michel Djotodia, was forced to step down in January, they continue to attack civilians.

Only two Southern African countries on track to meet 2015 MDG water and sanitation targets – report

Some 120,000 children under the age of five in Southern African countries die every year from diarrhoea, which is primarily caused by lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

More than 40 million people in the region who should have received access to safe drinking water by 2015 will miss out, and 73 million will go without basic sanitation due to investment shortfalls, according to a report.

Only two out of 15 Southern African countries – Botswana and Seychelles – are set to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets to reduce by half the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation, according to the report by Water Aid.

What to make of the Daily Mail campaign to spend foreign aid on UK flood victims?

Earlier this week, the right-wing British tabloid the Daily Mail launched a campaign for the government to divert cash  from the foreign aid budget to help victims of the catastrophic floods wreaking havoc in southern England and Wales.

Populist campaigns are nothing new for the Mail, and this one – which attracted more than 100,000 signatures in 48 hours – followed a similar call by populist right-winger Nigel Farage, whose small UK Independence Party (UKIP) wants Britain to quit the European Union and who enjoys thinking up fringe policies which irritate the ruling Conservatives.

The Mail campaign, though hardly surprising, did stir debate about the contentious issue of Britain’s foreign aid. It also brought to light questions such as why the UK has not applied for cash from the EU Solidarity Fund, set up precisely to help member states tackle natural disasters, and facts such as that we spend more on fizzy drinks than overseas aid.

Rebuilding healthcare, healing survivors in typhoon-hit central Philippines

Haiyan, the strongest storm on record, destroyed many healthcare centres. Our correspondent visited the typhoon-affected areas almost three months later to see how aid agencies like ICRC have been filling the gap.

AUTHOR/PHOTOGRAPHER: Thin Lei Win

For many children in the Philippines who don’t have access to a playground, the roadside is a good alternative. Inevitably, this leads to accidents.

This boy was hit by a motorcycle one Sunday morning while playing in his village. Luckily he was found by an ICRC staffer on his way to work and brought to Basey field hospital in Samar Province, a 30-minute drive, crying loudly and bleeding profusely. The ICRC set up the field hospital in the grounds of a damaged sports hall after Haiyan ravaged the local hospital.

The future of “building back better”: houses, schools, and political transformation too?

Disaster recovery experts and scholars alike seem to agree on at least one thing: disaster-recovery efforts should concentrate not only on restoring affected communities to pre-disaster levels, but should focus on “building back better” by linking immediate relief with long-term recovery and development.

Some go even further by suggesting that disasters can become an opportunity not  just to “build back better”, but to bring about political transformation by ending conflicts and improving governance in post-disaster settings.

“The aspiration to build back better – to use the opportunity of a disaster response to leave societies improved, not just restored – is self-evidently common sense: after all, who would want to build back worse, or simply reinstate conditions of inequality, poverty and vulnerability if the chance for something better was at hand?”, said Lilianne Fan in her paper “Disasters as opportunity? Building back better in Aceh, Myanmar and Haiti.

The night the rain fell: Living in fear in India’s Himalayas

I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

It poured and poured and didn’t seem to let up. I could hear it crashing down relentlessly. It was so loud that I had to get out of bed to check whether the window of my hotel room was open. It wasn’t.

The pitch blackness outside didn’t help to allay my anxiety. All I could hear was the thunderous noise of the rain beating down and rushing waters of the Alaknanda River on the banks of which my hotel in the Indian Himalayas was located.

Being the Twitter-freak I am, I shared my discomfort with the rest of the world.

Heroes and politicians, Indian floods show the good, bad and ugly

What many journalists and aid workers say is true – it is only in times of crisis, such as disasters and war, that you observe the best and worst of humanity.

In displacement camps where survivors have fled, for example, a cyclone which has flattened their village or a raging insurgency which has killed their loved ones, amid stories of pain and suffering, you will often hear incredible accounts of survival and hope.

It is no different in India.

In the two weeks since deadly floods hit the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, there have been tales of young children being rescued by strangers, of local shopkeepers opening up kitchens to feed hundreds of marooned survivors, and of the tireless work of army, air force and other service personnel who have evacuated over 100,000 people by land and air in the largest ever rescue operation in India. Tragically, they lost 20 men when a helicopter crashed during the operation.

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

“I am of the very strong opinion that India – which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history – will have to play a more assertive role in the world,” Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

IF campaign to end hunger seems a bit iffy

By Maria Caspani

Techno music and revolving images of hungry babies were among the most disheartening, not to say disturbing aspects of the event that kicked off the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign at London’s Somerset House this week.

The catchphrase – ‘There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet 2 million children die from malnutrition every year’ – was repeated so many times during the hour-long event on Wednesday evening that, by the end of it, I felt like the words had lost their meaning.

This might just be me cynically bantering about what I perceived to be the patronising attitude of people in the so-called Western world when they try hard to do good and put an end to the suffering of poor people in the so-called developing world.

Looking ahead to 2013: what stories will make the headlines

Journalists working for Thomson Reuters Foundation’s AlertNet and TrustLaw news services cover humanitarian issues, climate change, women’s rights and corruption around the world. We asked the team to highlight some of the stories on their radar in 2013.

Editor-in-Chief Tim Large kicked off with his top stories:

1/ Countries in transition: My eye is on South Sudan as violence threatens to erupt along its disputed northern border; Myanmar as foreign money flows in; Arab Spring nations as they finish new constitutions; Afghanistan as it braces for NATO troop withdrawals; Pakistan as aid diminishes and cracks widen between military and judiciary… And of course Syria, where it’s hard to imagine the humanitarian situation getting any worse. Sadly it can.

2/ The temperature in Pyongyang: Is North Korea coming in from the cold – or at least thawing slightly? Signs are mixed. Yes, new leader Kim Jong-un has called for an end to confrontation with the South. Heck, the boss of Google even visited Pyongyang. But that didn’t stop North Korea lobbing a long-range rocket into space in December. Meanwhile, what’s the latest on the country’s chronic hunger crisis?

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