Tag Archives: humanitarian

UNICEF calls for end to dire situation in Aleppo

UNICEF’s representative in Syria called Saturday for an end to the violence that has beset northern Aleppo, causing dire humanitarian and psychological impacts on both sides of the divided city.

U.N. agencies are on “standby” to deliver needed assistance, Hanaa Singer of the U.N.’s children agency told The Associated Press.

With the key powers deeply divided, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday once again failed to agree on the course of action in war-ravaged Aleppo, and Syria in general. Russia vetoed a resolution drafted by France demanding an immediate halt to the bombing of Aleppo. A resolution put forward by Russia that called for a separation of moderate and extremist forces in Syria but making no mention of a bombing halt in Aleppo failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes required for passage.

Also on Saturday, Syrian state media and a Syria monitoring group said pro-government troops advanced in a northern district of eastern Aleppo, wrestling control from rebel fighters in their latest push into the besieged area.

Singer said conditions in besieged Aleppo are “terribly dire,” with hospitals hit, doctors overwhelmed, and over 100 children killed in bombings since Sept. 19. Conditions for thousands of displaced in the government-held part of the city are also deteriorating, with some of them being displaced for up to six times in the last three years, she said.

Singer returned earlier this week from a week-long trip to the government-held part of Aleppo where she was visiting thousands of displaced Syrians. Most are crammed in makeshift shelters, mosques, parks and churches after recently fleeing clashes on the frontline between rebels and pro-government forces. In one case, a mother so desperate from the continuous displacement, stabbed her baby girl thinking she will save her the misery of living on handouts and without a home, Singer said.

Describing the dramatic situation for thousands of families living in shelters in government-controlled Aleppo, Singer said: “These (are) the horrors in western Aleppo. God knows what is happening, (in the case of) mental health or the psychological situation on the eastern (rebel-held) side.”

Western Aleppo, controlled by the government, is separated from eastern rebel-held Aleppo by a few meters, sometimes by a single plastic sheet or pockmarked building. An estimated 275,000 people are living in the rebel-held part of Aleppo, with no international aid reaching the area since the first week of July. Besides the scarce assistance, it is also difficult to assess the needs with the ever-evolving violent situation, and lack of access for international aid groups, she said.

“I think we all agree, and especially if you have been so close in the area there and seeing the dire situation in the west, hearing about the horrible situation in the east, all we need now is (for) the violence to stop,” Singer said. “The violence has to stop and once the violence stops, the U.N., we absolutely stand ready. We are ready. We are actually on standby.”

Singer says U.N. plans are in place for government-held Aleppo to accommodate residents that may evacuate the besieged part of the city if a cease-fire takes effect.

According to medical charity Doctors Without borders, hospitals in the eastern side of Syria’s Aleppo have been attacked 23 times since July, damaging all eight facilities that have not yet been shuttered or destroyed. Since the U.S-Russian cease-fire broke down on Sept. 19, the situation in besieged Aleppo has immensely deteriorated under a relentless bombardment campaign. Water stations and civil defense centers have also been hit, while over 320 people have been killed in eastern Aleppo in nearly three weeks of violence.

“In eastern Aleppo, the situation is terribly dire. Lots of schools and of hospitals have been hit we understand that there are only 30 doctors there. We have information that at least over 100 children have been killed. We hear that because of the lack of services and lack of health facilities that some children, that doctors can’t cope with all the cases, and some children in dire situation are left to die,” Singer said.

On Saturday, amid intensive air raids, pro-government forces seized the al-Awijeh district in northeastern rebel-controlled Aleppo, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory also reported clashes on the southern edge of the rebel-held area. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Syrian State TV reported that government and allied troops took control of al-Awijeh, moving toward the Jandoul roundabout and getting closer to crowded residential areas in Aleppo’s rebel-controlled eastern districts.

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.

World mourns the death of Nelson Mandela

In nearly seven decades spent fighting for freedom and equality, Nelson Mandela inspired and challenged the world to stand up for others. As word of Mandela’s death spread, current and former presidents, athletes and entertainers, and people around the world spoke about the life and legacy of the former South African leader.

From Harlem to Hollywood, Paris to Beijing, people hailed Mandela’s indomitable courage in the face of adversity as an inspiration for all. In a testament to his universal appeal, political leaders of various stripes joined critics and activists in paying tribute to Mandela as a heroic force for peace and reconciliation.

Some knew Mandela personally while many only knew him from afar, but they shared how they drew inspiration from his strength and looked to live his message of continuing the struggle against social injustice and for human rights.

“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” said President Barack Obama, who shares with Mandela the distinction of being his nation’s first black president.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the world had lost “a visionary leader, a courageous voice for justice and a clear moral compass.” Both Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were part of Mandela’s group of statesmen known as The Elders.

“God was so good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela to be our president at a crucial moment in our history,” Tutu said. “He inspired us to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation and so South Africa did not go up in flames.”

President Xi Jinping of China, which supported apartheid’s opponents throughout the Cold War, praised Mandela’s victory in the anti-apartheid struggle and his contribution to “the cause of human progress.”

For Chinese rights activists, Mandela’s death served as a reminder that one of their own symbols of freedom, Nobel Peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, remained imprisoned by Chinese authorities. “This moment magnifies how evil the current regime is,” Beijing activist Hu Jia said.

“Nelson Mandela set the standard for all revolutionaries past, present, and future: have a righteous cause, fight with dignity, and win with grace,” said actor and E Street band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who in 1985 recruited performers to record “Sun City,” an anti-apartheid album.

In Kiev, where Ukrainians have gathered for anti-government demonstrations around-the-clock for the past week, protesters took a moment to recall Mandela’s legacy.

“He had many troubles in his life. He was in prison, but he was waiting and he achieved what he wanted,” protester Alena Pivovar said. “We have the same situation now. We have some barriers, but we have to pass them.”

The United Nation’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay – a South African who was once a defense lawyer for anti-apartheid activists – said Mandela “was perhaps the greatest moral leader of our time.”

Pillay recalled how Mandela’s release from prison triggered a “thirst for revenge” among his supporters but that he emphasized forgiveness over vengeance. “He told us to throw our spears and guns into the sea,” Pillay said. “He showed us that a better future depended on reconciliation, not revenge.”

“As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we’ve come, but on how far we have to go,” said the U.S. actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the 2009 film, “Invictus.”

In Haiti, a Caribbean nation that became the world’s first black republic in 1804 through a successful slave revolt, Mandela symbolized the struggle for black equality.

“Mandela is not only the father of democracy in South Africa, but is also a symbol of democracy,” said Haitian President Michel Martelly. “And like any symbol, he is not dead. He is present in all of us and guides us by his lifestyle, his courage and faith in the true struggle for equality.”

“Mandela’s message will not disappear. It will continue to inspire those fighting for freedom and to give confidence to people defending just causes and universal rights,” said French President Francois Hollande, who is hosting dozens of African leaders this week for a summit on peace and security.

In New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, artist Franco Gaskin, 85, stood before a mural featuring Mandela he had painted on a storefront gate almost 20 years ago. He remembered a Mandela visit there in 1990. “It was dynamic, everyone was so electrified to see him in Harlem,” Gaskin said. “I idolized him so much. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow.”

In Washington, D.C., Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign said, “Nelson Mandela tore down oppression, united a rainbow nation, and always walked arm-in-arm with his LGBT brothers and sisters — and with all people— toward freedom. Though every man, woman and child who seeks justice around the world mourns this loss, his vision of an equal future lives on undimmed.”

At the ACLU, executive director Anthony D. Romero said, “Mandela fought against class and racial inequality, political corruption and the devastation of AIDS. He fought for everything we Americans hold dear. ‘We have waited too long for our freedom,’ he famously said. And his actions matched his words as he endured 27 years in prison for what he believed—that we are all equal regardless of our class or the color of our skin. Although it seems unthinkable to imagine a world without Nelson Mandela, we must. Our dedication to protecting freedoms for everyone—no matter what their race, gender, religion or whom they choose to love–is the precious legacy he has passed on to us.”

Myanmar pro-democracy leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi paid tribute to Mandela as a “great human being who raised the standard of humanity.”

“I would like to express my extreme grief at the passing away of the man who stood for human rights and for equality in this world,” she said. “He also made us understand that we can change the world.”

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh compared Mandela to his country’s own icon for the struggle for freedom, independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.

“A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Mandela as one of the great figures of the 20th century who had healed a broken country.

“He spent much of his life standing against the injustice of apartheid. When that fight was won, he inspired us again by his capacity to forgive and reconcile his country,” Abbott said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said Mandela was a “builder of bridges of peace and dialogue” who changed the course of history, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his moral leadership.

“He was never haughty,” Netanyahu said. “He worked to heal rifts within South African society and succeeded in preventing outbreaks of racial hatred.”

At the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., on display is a photograph of the U.S. boxing great with Mandela, their hands clenched into fists as if they’re boxing.

“He made us realize, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colors,” Ali said. “He was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge.”

Mandela was mourned in Cuba, which has long felt a close bond with the late South African leader. Havana considered him a hero for supporting it amid U.S. and international criticism.

“Exceptional human being, example for the world, Father of multiracial South Africa, the endearing friend of Fidel and Cuba,” journalist Juana Carrasco said via Twitter. “Long live Mandela!”

Honorary Oscars for Jolie, Martin, Lansbury and Tosi

And the honorary Academy Awards go to… Angelina Jolie, Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury and Italian costume designer Piero Tosi.

The film academy announced earlier this week that Jolie will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, while Martin, Lansbury and Tosi will get Oscars recognizing their career achievements.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said the Governors Awards “pay tribute to individuals who’ve made indelible contributions in their respective fields.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors voted on the recipients of its fifth annual awards earlier this week. The honorary Oscars will be presented at an untelevised ceremony on Nov. 16 at Hollywood & Highland Center’s Ray Dolby Ballroom.

Martin said on Twitter he’s proud to receive the award, calling it “a salute to comedy and all the great people I’ve worked with.” The 68-year-old entertainer has written and starred in dozens of movies, hosted the Oscar ceremony three times and was nominated for his 1977 short film, “The Absent-Minded Waiter.”

Lansbury, 87, has been nominated for three supporting-actress Oscars during her 65-year career. Her most recent role was in 2011’s “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

Tosi’s costume designs have earned him five Oscar nominations, most recently for 1979’s “Las Cage aux Folles” and 1982’s “La Traviata.”

The Hersholt Award is presented periodically to a film industry member for exemplary humanitarian work. Jolie, who was nominated for her leading performance in 2008’s “Changeling” and won for her supporting role in 1999’s “Girl, Interrupted,” serves as a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The 38-year-old actress and filmmaker has also lobbied Congress to support programs protecting women and children.

Previous recipients of the Hersholt Award include Jeffrey Katzenberg, Oprah Winfrey, Sherry Lansing, Jerry Lewis and Elizabeth Taylor.