Tag Archives: crisis

Working against human trafficking, from Moldova to Milwaukee

According to a report published by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission in 2013 entitled “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with Milwaukee Police Department,” more than 77 youth below the age of 17 were trafficked in our city. This information is now more than 3 years old and does not account for adults.

There are many great organizations working to fight human trafficking in Milwaukee and abroad.

Please learn about, volunteer with and work alongside these groups.

Here are a few: Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Commission on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District Task Force on Human Trafficking, along with many nonprofits.

For a comprehensive list of organizations, please see the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee’s May 2013 report entitled, “Survey Results: Services for People Who’ve Been Trafficked.”

Another organization is Diaconia Connections, an international aid and development organization affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Czech Brethren and the United Church of Christ. Diaconia Connections maintains an office in the Plymouth United Church of Christ on Milwaukee’s East Side.

The following is a personal reflection from their director, Jeremy Ault, about his trip to Moldova, documenting the anti-trafficking work being done there.

After nearly two hours of traveling, my Moldovan colleagues Adrian and Livia stopped the car in the middle of a gravel road at the top of a long, winding hill. They made their way to a rusted gate that demarcated the property line of a family that lived in a dilapidated house. Turquoise paint peeled away from warped, sun-bleached wooden planks, while the breeze sucked curtains out of broken windowpanes. The yard was bare and rusted hulks of farm equipment could be seen through the crushed walls of a collapsed barn. There was no electricity, no running water and the outhouse door was left ajar.

It was at times like these between Adrian, Livia and me where our language barrier was most noticeable. I had no idea of their plans, so I just followed.

Upon reaching the threshold of the gate, I caught a glimpse of an elderly women making her way to the door. She walked with a severe bend in her spine — most likely the consequence of years of farm labor and osteoporosis.

With her came three children. Their ages varied, from 10-16. There were two boys and a young girl. They didn’t speak to us. After some hushed conversation, Adrian turned to me and waved me inside.

I hesitated.

I made it to the steps leading to the entrance, glanced at the children, and then turned back around. I walked across the yard, back through the gate, and stood by the car. I didn’t leave that spot for an hour.

***

In the summer of 2015, I traveled with three representatives from the Presbyterian Foundation to the European nation of Moldova to document the work of Diaconia Connections (the nonprofit I work for), and our Moldovan partners CASMED and ProCoRe. Our goal was to produce a video about the work being done to fight human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a reprehensible crime. And Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, is ground zero.

Cornered between Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea, the country has experienced years of economic dysfunction, political corruption and civil war. For working-age adults and young people, opportunity is often found by seeking employment in Russia or the European Union.

Moldova is rated as a Tier 2 Watch List by the U.S. State Department. It is a primary source of men, women, and children trafficked for sex and forced labor. Victims are sent to Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and the European Union. Nearly 80 percent of those trafficked work in the sex industry.

The problem is most egregious in Moldova’s rural communities, where educational and economic opportunities are lacking. Individuals in the countryside are desperate for opportunities. And desperate people without the proper means to acquire work visas, are prime targets for human traffickers. In Moldova, there are plenty of potential victims.

***

We met up with our Moldovan colleagues, Livia and Adrian, early on in our trip and they stayed with us for a few days, driving us around Moldova, where we visited villages and farm communities. But instead of listening to stories of capture, abuse, escape and healing from individual survivors, we instead visited the damp, musty homes of elderly women suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

We came upon the cottage of a 75-year-old man uncontrollably shaking from a neurological disease that rendered him unable to speak or feed himself. The nurse from CASMED that cared for him walked over 7 miles a day to wash his soiled bed linens and slice his bread.

We had lunch with a single mother and her son who was physically disabled and unable to leave the house. We listened intently as she pleaded with local government officials to assist her in rebuilding the foundation of her home. In the middle of the conversation, the mayor of the town leaned over to me and said in English, “Her house is going to be condemned next month. We don’t know what to do. We have no money to help.”

At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like a voyeur. The overbearing sense of helplessness began to weigh on me, so I created an alternative reality.

I convinced myself that the people we were visiting were acting — perhaps for the camera. I decided to look away, to ignore the problems that were presented before me — which is why, at our last stop, I refused to enter the house.

I stood by the car indignant and upset that Adrian and Livia had taken me to the home of an elderly women, caring for children, who was clearly uncomfortable and in need of some kind of material aid. Once again, I brought nothing. I had no food and no money. And this time, I had little empathy. I don’t know, maybe I was ashamed of my own privilege?

My colleagues from the Presbyterian Foundation, along with Adrian and Livia, returned to the car. None of them asked me about my decision to stay outside.

Instead, they recounted another tragic story that had become all too familiar: Six years ago, the children’s mother was lured by work “recruiters” from Russia, promising a job in the hospitality industry in Moscow. Thinking that she would work in a hotel or café, the mother gave money to the recruiters to purchase a work visa. She left. And has never been back. It is now known that she was trafficked into prostitution by an organized crime syndicate. Her children have spoken with her only twice since she’s been gone, and they do not know when or if she will return. The task of caring for her children has fallen to her impoverished and elderly mother — a situation that only continues the cycle of poverty and vulnerability that enables traffickers to take advantage of desperation.

***

After some reflection, I thought more critically about my own decision to not enter the house. Livia and Adrian, in the face of problems, never looked away. They listened to the stories of people and actively found ways to help. The work of CASMED and ProCoRe are testaments to the power of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges. The nurses from CASMED provide not only medical assistance, but offer company and conversation, reminding those they care for that they are loved and remembered. Social workers from CASMED and ProCoRe assist elderly caretakers with their expenses, providing educational materials, a living stipend and food throughout the year. Youth counselors and workers provide job training, therapy sessions and organize cultural outings to help young survivors of trafficking heal. I began to feel ashamed that I, in my privilege, did not allow the children or the grandmother to tell me their story.

Livia, Adrian and all the individuals we visited, forced me to realize an often forgotten fact: that a crime like human trafficking affects entire communities in addition to those trafficked. Men who have been sent away to Moscow to work on construction sites as bonded laborers are unable to remain home and attend to their ailing mothers. Women forced into prostitution in Turkey are unable to care for their aging fathers. Bright students desperate for work and educational opportunities drift away to cities and across borders, weakening their communities and impoverishing the life and future of their villages.

But the story doesn’t need to stop there.

No matter how insidious the crime trafficking can be, together, survivors and regular people like you and me can fight back.

It is why Adrian and Livia continue to care and provide healing for all of those affected — the survivors and those who are left behind.

It’s why survivors themselves are often their own best advocates. They are strong, resilient people who have a lot to teach us.

It’s why we should never ignore their stories.

It’s why we should actively search for those places in our communities where trafficking is happening and volunteer, donate to, or work alongside those organizations fighting this terrible crime.

***

We were about an hour and half north of the capital Chisinau when I saw my final glimpse of the Moldovan countryside. It was awash in an auburn, early-morning light that intensified the dour hues of plowed fields and barren hillsides. Thousands of dried sunflower stalks shuddered in the wind while elderly farmers dressed in loose-fitting cotton overalls lounged under spindly beech trees. Women’s Orthodox headscarves splashed radiant shades of red and blue across the landscape as they slowly herded untethered cows into the irrigation canals for water. It was a bucolic, peaceful scene. For while the land showed signs of serious erosion and the people working the fields conveyed a life bereft of material wealth, it was nevertheless enticing. It was one of the few moments where I really paid attention, when I chose not to look away.

While Moldova might be far away, the trauma of trafficking hits close to home. As citizens of Milwaukee and the United States, we should work to fight injustice and human trafficking here and in places like Moldova. It might be uncomfortable and we might have to learn where we can be of help, but much more is lost when we avert our eyes and stand listlessly by on the roadside.

***

Jeremy Ault is the director of Diaconia Connections and an Analyst for Spectrum Nonprofit Services. He lives in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. For more information, please visit www.diaconiaconnections.org.

Read more

> Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, “A Crime Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Milwaukee,” Allison Dikanovic, Feb. 29, 2016,.

> Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, US Department of State.

> Homicide Review Commission Report, April 15, 2013, “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department.”

 

Images provided by Jeremy Ault.
Images provided by Jeremy Ault.

Unprecedented number of LGBT youth crisis calls reported after election

Contacts to The Trevor Project’s crisis services programs — by phone, chat and text — reached unprecedented levels in the days following the election.

At the Trevor Project, the nation’s only accredited suicide prevention program for LGBTQ youth under 25, young people are heard from every day.

But the volume surged 116 percent in the two days after election and the organization heard from person after person about fears and anxieties about the election results, which are sending Donald Trump to the Oval Office and Indiana’s Mike Pence, famous nationally for his anti-gay beliefs and policies, to the vice president’s office.

Among the topics raised by LGBTQ youth are worries that:

• Their rights will be taken away.

• They might be forced into conversion therapy.

• They could lose their health care, and more.

Several youth reported concerns about their safety and new reluctance about coming out.

Anxieties like these have been shown to contribute towards increased thoughts about suicide.

“The Trevor Project was prepared for an increase in crisis contacts following the election, but the amount we received was unprecedented.  The level of anxiety young people are expressing since the election is at an all-time high,” said Abbe Land, executive director and CEO of the organization.  “But knowing that we are here 24/7, to listen to and save the lives of LGBTQ youth, many of whom have no other place to turn, reminds us of the importance and necessity of The Trevor Project.”

Land continued, “The Trevor Project is determined to work diligently to lead the new Administration and Congress towards policies and laws that are supportive of LGBTQ people and their mental health.  We will be at the table with our LGBTQ peer organizations and our partners fighting violence, deportations, police profiling, and other intersecting issues, providing guidance and support to lawmakers and agencies so that the youth of our great nation will be safe and will continue to thrive.

 

On the web …

For more information, visit www.TheTrevorProject.org.

America’s other drug problem: Copious prescriptions for hospitalized elderly

Dominick Bailey sat at his computer, scrutinizing the medication lists of patients in the geriatric unit.

A doctor had prescribed blood pressure medication for a 99-year-old woman at a dose that could cause her to faint or fall. An 84-year-old woman hospitalized for knee surgery was taking several drugs that were not meant for older patients because of their severe potential side effects.

And then there was 74-year-old Lola Cal. She had a long history of health problems, including high blood pressure and respiratory disease. She was in the hospital with pneumonia and had difficulty breathing. Her medical records showed she was on 36 medications.

“This is actually a little bit alarming,” Bailey said.

He was concerned about the sheer number of drugs, but even more worried that several of them — including ones to treat insomnia and pain — could suppress Cal’s breathing.

An increasing number of elderly patients nationwide are on multiple medications to treat chronic diseases, raising their chances of dangerous drug interactions and serious side effects. Often the drugs are prescribed by different specialists who don’t communicate with each other. If those patients are hospitalized, doctors making the rounds add to the list — and some of the drugs they prescribe may be unnecessary or unsuitable.

“This is America’s other drug problem — polypharmacy,” said Dr. Maristela Garcia, director of the inpatient geriatric unit at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. “And the problem is huge.”

The medical center, where Bailey also works, is intended specifically for treating older people. One of its goals is to ensure that elderly patients are not harmed by drugs meant to heal them.

That work falls largely to Bailey, a clinical pharmacist specializing in geriatric care.

Some drugs can cause confusion, falling, excessive bleeding, low blood pressure and respiratory complications in older patients, according to research and experts.

Older adults account for about 35 percent of all hospital stays but more than half of the visits that are marred by drug-related complications, according to a 2014 action plan by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Such complications add about three days to the average stay, the agency said.

Data on financial losses linked to medication problems among elderly hospital patients is limited. But the Institute of Medicine determined in 2006 that at least 400,000 preventable “adverse drug events” occur each year in American hospitals. Such events, which can result from the wrong prescription or the wrong dosage, push health care costs up annually by about $3.5 billion (in 2006 dollars).

And even if a drug doesn’t cause an adverse reaction, that doesn’t mean the patient necessarily needs it. A study of Veterans Affairs hospitals showed that 44 percent of frail elderly patients were given at least one unnecessary drug at discharge.

“There are a lot of souvenirs from being in the hospital: medicines they may not need,” said David Reuben, chief of the geriatrics division at UCLA School of Medicine.

Some drugs prescribed in the hospital are intended to treat the acute illnesses for which the patients were admitted; others are to prevent problems such as nausea or blood clots. Still others are meant to control side effects of the original medications.

University of California, San Francisco researcher and physician Ken Covinsky, said many doctors who prescribe drugs in hospitals don’t consider how long those medications might be needed. “There’s a tendency in medicine every time we start a medicine to never stop it,” Covinsky said.

When doctors in the hospital change or add to the list of medications, patients often return home uncertain about what to take. If patients have dementia or are unclear about their medications, and they don’t have a family member or a caregiver to help, the consequences can be disastrous.

One 2013 study found that nearly a fifth of patients discharged had prescription-related medical complications during their first 45 days at home. About 35 percent of those complications were preventable, and 5 percent were life-threatening.

UCLA hired Bailey about three years ago, after he completed a residency at University of California, Davis. The idea was to bring a pharmacist into the hospital’s geriatric unit to improve care and reduce readmissions among older patients.

Speaking from his hospital bed at UCLA’s Santa Monica hospital, 79-year-old Will Carter said that before he was admitted with intense leg pain, he had been taking about a dozen different drugs for diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis.

Doctors in the hospital lowered the doses of his blood pressure and diabetes medications and added a drug to help him urinate. Bailey carefully explained the changes to him. Still, Carter said he was worried he might take the drugs incorrectly at home and end up back in the hospital.

“I’m very confused about it, to tell you the truth,” he said after talking to Bailey. “It’s complicated. And if the pills are not right, you are in trouble.”

Having a pharmacist like Bailey on the team caring for older patients can reduce drug complications and hospitalizations, according to a 2013 analysis of several studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Over a six-month stretch after Bailey started working in UCLA’s Santa Monica geriatric unit, readmissions related to drug problems declined from 22 to three. At the time, patients on the unit were taking an average of about 14 different medications each.

Bailey is energetic and constantly on the go. He started one morning recently with a short lecture to medical residents in which he reminded them that many drugs act differently in older patients than in younger ones.

“As you know, our elderly are already at risk for an accumulation of drugs in their body,” he told the group. “If you put a drug that has a really long half-life, it is going to last even longer in our elderly.”

The geriatric unit has limited beds, so older patients are spread throughout the hospital. Bailey’s services are in demand. He gets paged throughout the day by doctors with questions about which medications are best for older patients or how different drugs interact. And he quickly moves from room to room, reviewing drug lists with patients.

Bailey said he tries to answer several questions in order to determine what’s best for a patient. Is the drug needed? Is the dose right? Is it going to cause a problem?

One of his go-to references is known as the Beers list — a compilation of medications that are potentially harmful for older patients. The list, named for the doctor who created it and produced by the American Geriatrics Society, includes dozens of medications, including some antidepressants and antipsychotics.

When he’s not talking to other doctors at the hospital, Bailey is often on the line with other pharmacists, physicians and relatives to make sure his patients’ medication lists are accurate and up to date. He also monitors patients’ new drugs, counsels patients about their prescriptions before they are discharged and calls them afterward to make sure they are taking the medications properly.

“Medications only work if you take them,” Bailey said dryly. “If they sit on the shelf, they don’t work.”

That was one of his main worries about Cal, the 74-year old with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Standing at her bedside, Bailey pored over the list of 36 drugs. Cal told him she only took the medications that she thought seemed important.

Bailey explained to Cal that he and the doctors were going to make some changes. They would eliminate unnecessary and duplicate drugs, including some that could inhibit her breathing. Then she should take as prescribed all of the medications that remained on the list.

Bailey said he’s constantly weighing the risks versus the benefits of medications for elderly patients like Cal.

“It is figuring out what they need,” he said, “versus what they can survive without.”

This story was reported while its author, Anna Gorman, participated in a fellowship supported by New America Media, the Gerontological Society of America and The Commonwealth Fund.

KHN’s coverage of aging and long-term care issues is supported by a grant from The SCAN Foundation, and its coverage of late life and geriatric care is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation. Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Driven out: Housing crisis looms in flood-stricken Louisiana

With an estimated 40,000 homes damaged by deadly flooding, Louisiana could be looking at its biggest housing crunch since the miserable, bumbling aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.

People whose homes were swamped by some of the heaviest rains Louisiana has ever seen are staying in shelters, bunking with friends or relatives, or sleeping in trailers on their front lawns. Others unable or unwilling to leave their homes are living amid mud and the ever-present risk of mold in the steamy August heat.

Many victims will need an extended place to stay while they rebuild. Countless others didn’t have flood insurance and may not have the means to repair their homes. They may have to find new places altogether.

“I got nowhere else to go,” said Thomas Lee, 56, who ekes out a living as a drywall hanger — a skill that will come in handy. His sodden furniture is piled at the curb and the drywall in his rented house is puckering, but Thomas still plans to keep living there, sleeping on an air mattress.

Exactly how many will need temporary housing is unclear, but state officials are urging landlords to allow short-term leases and encouraging people to rent out any empty space.

“If you have a unit that’s an old mother-in-law suite and you can rent it out, let us know,” said Keith Cunningham, who heads the Louisiana Housing Corporation, the state housing agency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose very name became a punchline during Katrina, said it will look into lining up rental properties for those left homeless and also consider temporary housing units.

But FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate gave assurances that the temporary units won’t be the old FEMA travel trailers — a reference to the ones brought in after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that were found to have toxic levels of formaldehyde.

The flooding that has struck the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas has left at least 13 people dead.

More than 30,000 have been rescued, and at least 70,000 have registered for federal disaster assistance.

At the height, 11,000 people were staying in shelters, though that had dropped to 6,000 by Wednesday.

For the foreseeable future, home for Carolyn Smith, her husband, two grown sons and a family friend will be a 30-foot travel trailer supplied by a relative. It has one bedroom, a sofa-sleeper, four bunks and one bathroom.

It sits in the driveway of the home she and her husband lived in for 48 years in Denham Springs. Nearby lies a pile of stinking debris pulled from the flooded, one-story wood-frame home.

Smith and her husband are both in their 70s and on fixed incomes. She said she’s not sure how they will make it in coming months as they try to rebuild the house, which took on more than 4 feet of water.

“We’re starting over again. From rock bottom,” she said. “At our age that’s kind of rough.”
In a sign of the housing crunch, Livingston Parish officials are talking with FEMA about getting temporary housing for emergency and rescue workers. An estimated 75 percent of the homes in the parish of 138,000 residents were a total loss.

Those with flood insurance will be in a much better place to begin rebuilding — but there won’t be many of them.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said that only 12 percent of the homes in hard-hit Baton Rouge were covered by flood insurance, and only 14 percent in Lafayette.

Across the flood-stricken area, many residents said they weren’t required to have flood insurance and didn’t have it, since nothing remotely like this had ever happened before.

“My father’s owned this place for 70 years. Never seen it like this. We never thought we needed it,” said Chris Bankston, owner of an auto parts place in the Livingston Parish town of Albany where workers were shoveling debris.

Water crept into his parking lot Friday night, and by Sunday his gasoline pumps were covered. Floodwaters had never come within 200 yards of the place before, he said.

FEMA said more than 9,000 flood claims have been filed with the agency.

Anyone with flood damage is eligible for FEMA aid of close to $33,000 — far less than many people without flood insurance will need to repair and replace their damaged property. The maximum payout under a home flood insurance policy is $250,000.

Joseph Bruno, a New Orleans lawyer who is a veteran of the Katrina insurance wars, fears the greatest needs could be borne by elderly residents who paid off their homes and weren’t required by their bank to carry flood insurance.

Ronald Robillard, 57, and his 65-year-old brother, William Robillard, have been living next door to each other in Baton Rouge homes owned by the older brother. Since both places flooded, they have been sleeping at a shelter at night and cleaning up the homes by day.

William owns the homes free and clear. He doesn’t have flood insurance to pay for the repairs but isn’t waiting for any government aid.

“I figure by fixing it up one room at a time, we’ll be fine,” William said.

“If they give us help, fine,” Ronald added. “We ain’t looking for a handout. Just a hand. That’s a true statement.”

On the web

Updates from the White House.

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3 charged with several crimes in Flint water crisis

Two state regulators and a Flint employee were charged this week with evidence tampering and several other felony and misdemeanor counts related to the Michigan city’s lead-tainted water crisis.

The charges — the first levied in a probe that is expected to broaden — were filed against a pair of state Department of Environmental Quality officials and a local water treatment plant supervisor and stem from an investigation by the Michigan attorney general’s office.

Michael Prysby, a DEQ district engineer, and Stephen Busch, who is a supervisor with the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water, were both charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence and violations of water treatment and monitoring laws.

Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow was charged with tampering with evidence for changing lead water-testing results and willful neglect of duty as a public servant.

Busch is on paid leave after being suspended earlier. Prysby recently took another job in the agency. Glasgow testified at a legislative hearing that Prysby told him phosphate was not needed to prevent lead corrosion from pipes until after a year of testing.

For nearly 18 months after Flint’s water source was switched while the city was under state financial management, residents drank and bathed with improperly treated water that coursed through aging pipes and fixtures, releasing toxic lead. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder announced in October that the city would return from the Flint River to its earlier source of treated water, the Detroit municipal system. But by that time, dangerously high levels of the toxic metal had been detected in the blood of some residents, including children, for whom it can cause lower IQs and behavioral problems.

The city has been under a state of emergency for more than four months, and people there are using filters and bottled water.

In January, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette opened an investigation and appointed a special counsel to lead the probe because his office also is defending Snyder and others in lawsuits filed over the water crisis. The state investigation team has more than 20 outside attorneys and investigators and a budget of $1.5 million.

Schuette, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, special counsel Todd Flood and other investigators scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon in Flint to make a “significant” announcement, according to an advisory distributed to the media. A spokesman for Schuette’s office declined comment Tuesday night.

In addition to the lead contamination, outside experts also have suggested a link between the Flint River and a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. There were at least 91 cases, including 12 deaths, across Genesee County, which contains Flint, during a 17-month period. That represents a five-fold increase over what the county averaged before.

The failure to deploy lead corrosion controls after the city’s switch to the Flint River is considered a catastrophic mistake. The DEQ has acknowledged misreading federal regulations and wrongly telling the city that the chemicals were not needed.

State officials were slow to respond to experts’ and residents’ concerns. After the crisis broke open, DEQ Director Dan Wyant and the department’s communications director Brad Wurfel resigned. Snyder announced the firing of Liane Shekter Smith, the former chief of the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance.

Susan Hedman, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chicago-based Midwest office, also resigned.

 

34 countries don’t have enough food for their people

Thirty-four countries don’t have enough food for their people because of conflicts, drought and flooding, according to a new report from the United Nations.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report said conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Central African Republic have taken a heavy toll on agricultural production, worsening the humanitarian crisis in those countries.

And the impact of these conflicts extends to neighboring countries that are hosting refugees, straining food resources in those countries, it said.

Congo is not only dealing with almost 100,000 refugees from Central African Republic but conflict in the east where an estimated 1.5 million people are displaced and flooding related to El Nino which has affected about half a million people, the report said.

FAO said drought associated with El Nino has “sharply reduced” 2016 crop production prospects in southern Africa. It said dry conditions linked to El Nino may also affect the planting of crops for the main growing season in areas of Central America and the Caribbean for the third consecutive year.

Dry conditions have also lowered expectations for harvests this year in Morocco and Algeria, the report said.

FAO also warned that drought and floods in North Korea in 2015 “sharply decreased” food crop production in the early and main growing seasons.

“With a reduced harvest in 2015, the food security situation is likely to deteriorate compared to the situation of previous years, when most households were already estimated to have borderline or poor food consumption rates,” the report said.

The number of countries needing outside food assistance grew from 33 in December, after the addition of Swaziland where El Nino-associated drought conditions have sharply lowered 2016 cereal crop production prospects.

Other countries on the FAO list facing food shortages are Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Nepal.

The report said elsewhere, the outlook for 2016 crops already in the ground, mostly winter grains in the northern hemisphere, is generally favorable and early forecasts indicate large wheat crops in most Asian countries.

FAO’s first forecast for wheat production in 2016 is 723 million tons. That’s 10 million tons below the record output in 2015.

The wealth gap and the pursuit of a climate pact in Paris

Exhausted global climate negotiators resumed wrestling over the language of an agreement on Thursday morning after talks that dragged through the night failed to bridge gaps between rich and developing countries.

French Foreign Minister Lauren Fabius, who is chairing the U.N. conference, said he still planned to issue a penultimate draft on Dec. 10 with as few disagreements or bracketed passages as possible to pave the way for a last round of revisions.

“We will now try to move towards a final agreement,” he told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as they met in the conference hall before talks resumed.

Fabius has insisted that an accord to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating global warming must be finished by Dec. 11, the meeting’s official closing date, rather than overrunning in the manner of previous conferences.

But ministers and negotiators from 195 countries remain divided over fundamental issues. They include which countries would be expected to shell out the hundreds of billions of dollars required to help developing countries shift from fossil fuels to lower-carbon energy sources.

That sticking point has accentuated backroom tensions between U.S. and China over what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to as the “minimalist” approach by countries that could make a greater financial contribution.

For their part, the Chinese avoided discussing specific details but said they saw room for compromise.

1.5 DEGREES OR 2?

“There will be another draft today where more square brackets will be removed but, most importantly, we need more consultations with our colleagues,” said Gao Feng, one of the Chinese negotiators. “On Friday or Saturday we may get there.”

The talks have also revived differences on how ambitious the deal should be in trying to control the rise in the earth’s temperatures.

A large block of developing nations are insisting that the agreement include the longer-term goal of keeping temperatures to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, even though The cuts in carbon emissions that countries have pledged to make over the coming decade would not come close to that level.

Many participants remain haunted by the calamitous failure to get a deal in Copenhagen in 2009, the last time the world tried to reach a consensus on dealing with climate change.

This time, said Alex Hanafi, head of climate change strategy for the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund, “there really is a desire to get a deal, but the open question is whether it will be a strong deal or a weak deal”.

Jose Ramos-Horta, a former president of East Timor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is part of his country’s negotiating team, said that no nation should expect to get all they want from an accord.

“A treaty is not a Bible. We can also review,” he told Reuters, suggesting that whatever is agreed in Paris could be revised and toughened in the future.

Green global new deal | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear future generations, At the time I write this, the greatest fissure in global politics is between the affluent white North and the suffering and devastated victims of floods, fires, blazing temperatures, deforestation and war from the Global South. Writ large, the global crisis between rich and poor is the background to environmental and economic injustice.

At the December United Nations climate summit in Paris, the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who will bear the greatest burdens of the crisis, will be demanding a Global Green Fund to pay for environmental mitigation and economic development. The price tag is a paltry few billion dollars at this point, compared to the $90 billion cost estimates for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus the budgets of our surveillance agencies. 

What is needed is a “Green Global New Deal” funded from public and private sources to begin saving the Earth.

The mass movement will gain momentum, unfortunately, from repetitive climate disasters that require billions for infrastructure alone. Si, se puede, it can be done because there is no alternative. That’s why producing affordable zero-emission cars is important in Hunters Point (the African-American center of San Francisco) and Boyle Heights (the heart of Los Angeles’ Mexican-American community) and the barefoot Third World bloc representing a majority of the world’s nation states. 

California Senate Pro Tem Kevin De León, a leader in the cause of environmental justice, has legislated a remarkable shift in environmental and budgetary priorities in the state where I reside. Call it the California Model. Current law now requires that environmental funding go both to reduction of carbon emissions and coequal benefits for disadvantaged communities. During the four years beginning in 2014 the state will invest $120 billion on such a climate justice program from sources including the much-debated cap-and-trade program which brings in at least two or 3 billion annually along with revenue from tax reforms funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire San Francisco investor who has made climate justice his passion. 

This model is being carried by California Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration by a series of state-and-regional pacts with the goal of achieving a more stable climate. Almost alone, the governor is pursuing energy diplomacy with formal agreements with 11 U.S. states, and a growing list of major countries from China to Brazil to Germany. Call it the emerging Green Bloc. By Brown’s conservative numbers, the Green Bloc represents 100 million people and a GDP of $4.5 trillion. But these numbers are low: by my estimate we are talking about 166 million people in states pursuing low-to no-carbon policies in American states with 262 electoral votes! Tea party beware. 

We are entering the pre-post Brown era in California along with the pre-post Obama era in the nation, intensifying the urgency of electing a governor, president and officials with the best ability to navigate the critical transitions ahead.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

States where immigrant children are released

States with established Central American immigrant communities have received the most unaccompanied children released to sponsors this year after they were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the 30,340 who have been released through July 7:

Alabama: 407

Alaska: 5

Arizona: 186

Arkansas: 166

California: 3,150

Colorado: 221

Connecticut: 325

Delaware: 117

District of Columbia: 187

Florida: 3,181

Georgia: 1,154

Hawaii: 8

Idaho: 8

Illinois: 305

Indiana: 245

Iowa: 122

Kansas: 179

Kentucky: 237

Louisiana: 1,071

Maine: 8

Maryland: 2,205

Massachusetts: 773

Michigan: 92

Minnesota: 173

Mississippi: 179

Missouri: 121

Montana: 1

Nebraska: 192

Nevada: 122

New Hampshire: 13

New Jersey: 1,504

New Mexico: 18

New York: 3,347

North Carolina: 1,191

North Dakota: 4

Ohio: 360

Oklahoma: 212

Oregon: 50

Pennsylvania: 386

Rhode Island: 119

South Carolina: 350

South Dakota: 21

Tennessee: 760

Texas: 4,280

Utah: 67

Vermont: 3

Virgin Islands: 4

Virginia: 2,234

Washington: 211

West Virginia: 10

Wisconsin: 50

Wyoming: 6

Source: U.S. Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Iraq Veterans Against the War urge against more violence in Iraq

Iraq Veterans Against the War — an organization of those who served or continue to serve in the U.S. military following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — today called on Congress and the Obama administration to reject the use of violence and militarism in response to the crisis in Iraq.

The statement from the group said, “Many of our members deployed to Iraq during the recent U.S. occupation. Those of us who were there know first hand that U.S. military solutions in Iraq do not serve the interests of the Iraqi people. We advocate for the self-determination of all people, in this case the people of Iraq. Any solution to this crisis must come from them.

“When the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, the formerly secular country was destabilized. The United States and the Department of Defense intentionally created and agitated sectarian divisions that would not have otherwise existed. The result of this is what we see today, and Iraqi civilians are paying for it.

“Iraqis have been paying with their lives for this war since March 2003. After 10 years of U.S. occupation they were left with little relief. Their economic infrastructure was destroyed and new work to repair it has been awarded to US corporations and contractors, instead of to Iraqis. Iraqi labor unions face frequent retaliation, and an entire generation of children has been born with severe birth defects in places like Hawija. No one has been held to account. No effort has been made to clean the waste left behind.

“When it comes to arming “freedom fighters” the U.S. has a tendency to act as a fair-weather friend; today’s freedom fighter becomes tomorrow’s terrorist and justification to pursue an illegal invasion. Instead of creating more chaos, we should be solving the problems that already exist. Instead of installing another puppet president, the United States should be cleaning up environmental contamination, investigating allegations of torture, and allowing democracy to blossom in both government and labor, without US intervention.”