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Humanitarian Watch

UN appeals for record $22.5 bn in global aid for 2018



AFP — The United Nations appealed Friday for a record $22.5 billion (18.9 billion euros) to provide aid in 2018 to soaring numbers of people slammed by conflicts and disasters around the world.

The global appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations aims to raise funds to help the some 91 million most vulnerable of the nearly 136 million people expected to need aid across 26 countries next year.

The number of people in need of international assistance worldwide has thus risen more than five percent from last year’s estimate.

“More people than ever before will need our assistance,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in a statement launching the appeal.

Drought, floods and other weather-related catastrophes are expected to continue racking up humanitarian needs.

But Lowcock stressed that “conflict, in particular protracted crises, will continue to be the main driver of need in 2018.”
One conflict clearly tops the charts in terms of humanitarian needs.

A full $7.66 billion is needed to address the staggering needs created by Syria’s brutal conflict alone — more than a third of the requested amount of funds next year.

According to the appeal, $3.5 billion is needed to provide humanitarian assistance inside the war-ravaged country, where more than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from their homes since March 2011.

Another $4.16 billion is needed to address the towering needs of the 5.3 million Syrian refugees registered in neighbouring countries, as well as of their over-burdened host communities, the appeal said.

War-torn Yemen, which is facing the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis, comes next on the list, with Friday’s appeal urging donors to cough up $2.5 billion to provide desperately needed assistance to the most vulnerable people in the country.

That amount would meanwhile only cover the needs of 10.8 million people — fewer than half of the 22.2 million in need of aid, the UN acknowledged.

Other major crises requiring substantial funds include South Sudan, which has been wracked by civil war since 2013, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria.

On a more positive note, the UN said that humanitarian needs in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Ukraine had declined some, although they still remained high.

At the same time however, “substantial increases in needed are projected” in places like Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Libya, it warned.

The amount appealed for Friday marks a one-percent hike over the $22.2 billion requested last December for 2017.

But there is little chance all the requested cash will materialise.

Last year, donors covered just over half of the appeal, dishing out only $13 billion for aid around the world.

Briefing Room

In a Man’s Death, a Glimpse of Libya’s Horrors



HRW — A young Eritrean man died on Tuesday in Sicily of tuberculosis compounded by severe malnutrition. His name was Segen.* He was 22.

There is so much about Segen we may never know. Did he prefer to read books or play football? What music did he like? Had he ever been in love? Who did he leave behind?

This is what we do know: Segen was rescued from the Mediterranean on Sunday by Pro Activa Open Arms, a Spanish group, and disembarked in Sicily on Monday. He died in the hospital. He told rescuers he was held captive in Libya for 19 months.

Segen may have been held in an official detention center or by smugglers – in today’s Libya, both are similar and brutal. He may have been held for ransom, or tortured while forced to call home so his family could hear him scream as he begged them to send money. He may have been sold from one smuggling network to another or forced to work without pay.

These possibilities are based on accounts I heard from migrants who escaped Libya. When I went out on a rescue ship run by SOS MEDITERRANEE and Médécins sans Frontières, they rescued many Eritreans and Somalis who had spent many months in captivity in Libya; some were severely emaciated.

If Segen had survived, there’s a good chance he would have been granted the right to stay in Europe; most Eritreans are because of serious repression, including indefinite military conscription, in Eritrea.

Yet European governments are empowering Libyan authorities to stop migrant boat departures and intercept – including in international waters – ones that do launch. All of those on board are then indefinitely detained in Libya.

While implementing policies that effectively trap people like Segen in horrible abuse, European governments are failing to resettle people the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, evacuates from Libya to Niger. Just over 1,000 people have been taken to Niger, but only 55 have been resettled to Europe, leading Niger to ask UNHCR to temporarily suspend the program.

Europe can and should do more. Our governments should focus on ending the cycle of captivity and violence in Libya and help as many people as possible reach a place of safety. Ramping up resettlement is a good place to start.

*Italian authorities registered his name as Tesfalidet Tesfon, but he was known as Segen.

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Humanitarian Watch

Donors Urged to Help Avoid Famine in Somalia



VOA — LONDON — The competing demands of numerous global crises mean some 2.7 million people in Somalia who need food are at risk of being ignored by donors, increasing the country’s likelihood of famine, aid agencies said Monday.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the U.N.’s World Food Programme said early action in Somalia would cost less than having to deal with famine.

“Whether it’s Syria, Iraq or South Sudan, the size and cost of response to international emergencies is growing, and all crises are having to compete,” Nigel Tricks, regional director at the NRC, told Reuters.

About 6.2 million people in Somalia — half the population— need emergency aid, such as food, water and shelter, due to unprecedented drought and ongoing conflict, the United Nations said in January when it appealed for $1.6 billion.

Aid agencies use the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system to determine food security. If 20 percent of households have an extreme lack of food and people are dying of starvation, then famine is declared.

Somalia, with a population of 12.4 million people, has not yet reached that stage but 2.2 million Somalians are facing a food crisis, the U.N. said in an email, with a further 500,000 facing an even more severe food emergency.

“It’s much cheaper overall to avert famines … but it’s hard for donors globally to keep coming up with the money when humanitarian needs are outstripping donors’ increased rate of funding,” said Peter Smerdon of the WFP.

The U.N., governments and donors will discuss Somalia at a meeting Thursday in London.

“The signals are that it is getting worse day after day. Therefore, an urgent assistance is desperately needed,” Shukri Ismail Bandare, minister of rural development for Somaliland, a northern region that operates autonomously, said by email.

Somalia’s 2011 famine killed 260,000 people. Half died before the official declaration of famine, which was caused by drought, war and lack of access for humanitarian aid.

The country has been mired in conflict since 1991. Its weak, Western-backed government is struggling to assert control over poor, rural areas under the Islamist militant group al-Shabab — challenging the delivery of aid to the most needy.

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Humanitarian Watch

Funding al-Shabaab: How aid money ends up in terror group’s hands



Baidoa, Somalia (CNN)The murderous al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is making millions of dollars each year by exploiting foreign aid money sent to Somalia by the very western nations who are trying to eliminate the terror group.

A CNN investigation has revealed how money given directly by the United Nations to people displaced by conflict and famine is ending up in the hands of Africa’s oldest terrorist organization.

Former members of al-Shabaab and Somali intelligence agents said the terror group is extorting thousands of dollars per day through road blocks and taxes on merchants attempting to transport food and supplies to sell to internally displaced people in towns where they are concentrated.

People who have fled their homes and are living in a sprawling camp in the central Somali city of Baidoa are screened by the UN and issued cash cards that the UN tops up with around $80 to $90 each month, enabling them to buy essentials from local merchants.

UN officials say this direct payment system will avoid distorting local markets by flooding them with free food, and relieve the UN of the burden of running food convoys that are vulnerable to attacks and theft.

Businessmen now truck food bought on the open market to places like Baidoa, where internally displaced people (IDPs) arrive every day. But they must pay al-Shabaab, which controls the main road into the town, to move their goods.

Former members of the terror group and Somali intelligence agents said that tolls taken from trucks and other vehicles at just two al-Shabaab roadblocks on Somalia’s busiest road raked in thousands every day. The UN has estimated that a single roadblock generated about $5,000 per day on the road to Baidoa.

‘Tax’ collectors

Speaking at a secret location on the outskirts of Baidoa, a former zaqat (tax) collector for al-Shabaab, who was captured in a recent raid by agents from Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, confirmed that the extraction of tolls at roadblocks was one of the biggest sources of money for al-Shabaab.

The two biggest sources were the road to Baidoa and the main artery which connects the capital Mogadishu with the agriculturally-rich Lower Shabelle region.

The gouging is more subtle today than it was in the early 1990s, when local warlords deliberately starved hundreds of thousands of Somalis in order to profit from international aid money. Scenes of mass death on the streets of Baidoa in 1992 provoked the United States to lead a multinational UN-backed military intervention in the same year.

In Baidoa back then, a truck known as the Death Bus collected around 100 bodies a day, all of them skeletal from starvation, from the dusty streets of the town every morning.

Aid organizations were so desperate to help that they paid warlords to permit access to starving victims. Until Western nations intervened, the warlords worked to sustain the famine in order to keep the aid money flowing into their coffers — effectively exploiting desperate people to turn a profit.

Back then, organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross had to pay for armed guards — the ICRC spent $100,000 a week on protection in Mogadishu.

The money went into the hands of mere gangsters — not international terrorist organizations, who are less forgiving when their debts go unpaid.
In 2018, if local merchants don’t pay up, “they’re captured and killed,” said a former al-Shabaab fighter who collected tax for eight years and now works with Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency.

Speaking in a secret location in Baidoa, he explained how for every sack of rice delivered to the city by private merchants, al-Shabaab would cream off about $3 in tolls, taking nearly half the difference in the price of a sack that sells for $18 in Mogadishu and $26 in Baidoa.

On top of that the merchants are then forced to pay an annual tax to al-Shabaab — even in towns and cities that are not under the group’s control, like Baidoa and Mogadishu.

These allegations have been confirmed by the regional government and the president of the South West State of Somalia, Hssan Sheikh Ada.

Michael Keating, the UN’s head of country, acknowledged the scam but said that most of the foreign aid still reached its intended destination.

“Unfortunately those in need, and those who are going to be targeted by humanitarian organizations to receive assistance, do become attractive for those trying to make money, and there will be all sorts of scams going on,” said Keating, a veteran UN official with years of experience in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

“To deny it is happening would be wrong, but I think to take examples of it happening, and to say the whole response is like this, would be a gross misrepresentation of what is going on.”

Forced to flee

The paying of “zaqat” isn’t confined to road tolls and taxes on businessmen. Ordinary Somalis have to pay an annual tax to the al Qaeda group which was behind terror attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall four years ago.

Fatima Ali Hassan used to own dozens of goats and cows. Driven out of her home by drought and demands for money by al-Shabaab, the mother of seven now lives in a tent made out of rags in Baidoa. She’s one of tens of thousands who have made their way to this hungry city.

But even here, she’s an asset to the terror group, like the other 270,000 displaced people living in the city — and more are pouring in every day. The UN fears that the ongoing drought will once again threaten Somalia with famine and provide al-Shabaab with even greater opportunities to make money from foreign aid — particularly if the group maintains control of the main routes through the interior of the country.

Somalia’s national army is a patchwork quilt of rival militias sewn together by thin threads of hope that one day it will be able to prevail against the extremists.

For now, the country’s primary fighting force is a 22,000-strong African Union (AU) contingent that has been protecting the country’s fledgling government in Mogadishu, and working to wrest control of south back from al-Shabaab. But it’s withdrawing slowly and is expected to be out of the country in two year’s time.

The African Union military leadership admits that it can’t push al-Shabaab off the major roads that provide it with so much income.
“Instead of reducing [AU forces], it should have been increased,” said Lt. Colonel Chris Ogwal. “We are now overstretched, we are just conducting minor offensive operations.”

Ogwal commands the Ugandan contingent which controls the road between Mogadishu and the small town of Afgoye — but not, critically, the rest of the way to Baidoa.

That remains al-Shabaab’s financial artery.

Ogwal said that any reduction in AU forces would inevitably leave a vacuum that al-Shabaab would fill.

This leaves a growing number of American troops — more than 500, including Special Operation Forces — shouldering the ever-increasing security burden in Somalia.

But this year is the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, the infamous clash in which 18 Americans and more than 1,000 Somalis were killed when US Special Forces attempted to arrest Somalia’s most powerful warlord at the time, Mohammed Farrah Aidid.
Images of a dead pilot being dragged through the dust of the Somali capital swiftly undermined a mission that had been intended to bring humanitarian relief and resulted in a US withdrawal two years later.

But the systems of corruption and manipulation of aid in Somalia remained, and have now been co-opted to finance a terrorist movement that controls about a third of the country and may become a magnet for ISIS jihadists on the run from their former caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

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