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Posts Tagged ‘Norwegian Refugee Council’

Tents have long played an essential role

Posted by African Press International on August 7, 2013

 – Tents have long played an essential role in the emergency phase of humanitarian responses to refugee influxes. They are relatively light and cheap, and they can be stockpi led, flown in and erected in a short timeframe. But as anyone who has slept in one can attest, tents also have major shortcomings – they provide minimal protection from climatic extremes, offer little space or comfort, and deteriorate quickly.

The average stay in a refugee camp is now 12 years, but at the beginning of a refugee crisis there is no way of knowing how soon refugees will be able to return home, and host governments are wary of shelters that suggest permanence. This presents a conundrum for the humanitarian sector, which has been trying for years to come up with a shelter that ticks off all the necessary boxes, including logistical concerns such as cost and ease of transport and assembly, as well as cultural, environmental and political considerations that vary from one country and refugee context to another.“There is no one solution to [refugee] shelter; there’s no single tent or shelter that can answer all the needs,” said Tom Corsellis, who is the president and co-founder of the Geneva-based Shelter Centre and a pioneer in the field of developing shelter solutions for disasters and displacement.

While there has been no shortage of alternative refugee shelter designs, few have made it to the field-testing stage, and even fewer have had the financial and institutional backing to be brought to market.

It is not surprising then, that the launch of a prototype shelter resulting from a partnership between the IKEA Foundation, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU), a subsidiary of the non-profit Swedish Industrial Design Foundation, has been met with intense interest.

Housing kit

The collaboration brings together UNHCR’s long experience in and access to the refugee sector, with the Swedish furnishing giant’s funding and management support and RHU’s design and manufacturing expertise. The result resembles a large garden shed; RHU project manager Johan Karlsson describes it as a modular design consisting of a light-weight steel frame onto which polymer panels can be attached to form vertical walls and a pitched roof. Karlsson explained that in an emergency situation, the steel frames could be distributed separately and used with plastic sheeting or locally available materials.

“One great challenge is the assembly. Basically it’s like an IKEA product, but it’s quite complex”

“It was very much a requirement from UNHCR that we start with a self-supporting frame that other materials could be added on to,” Karlsson told IRIN. “The panels would come into place when you have protracted situations and you know there’s a great chance the refugees will be staying for a longer period of time and you’re not allowed to build anything more permanent.”

The “full kit” also includes a shade net to reflect the sun during the day and to retain heat at night and a solar panel that provides the shelter with power. While the panels last up to three years, the steel frame can last for 10, if correctly assembled. This is an important caveat, according to Karlsson, and something that is about to be assessed as the prototype begins six months of field testing at Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia and at sites in northern Iraq and Lebanon.

“One great challenge is the assembly. Basically it’s like an IKEA product, but it’s quite complex. The idea is that we’ll provide training to a group of beneficiaries and then they’ll build the other houses… The ultimate goal is that a refugee family can do it themselves,” Karlsson said.

Using local materials, skill

Although the prototype has undergone extensive technical testing in Holland, it remains to be seen how the design will be received by refugees themselves. Karlsson anticipates that, following the field testing, modifications will have to be made before the shelter is ready for market.

The next step will be to find a company or companies willing to finance the shelter’s production and to secure sizeable orders from UNHCR or other agencies involved in the provision of temporary shelters. For now, the cost of the full kit comes in at around US$1,000, with the steel frame alone costing about $250.

“It is cost effective, especially if you just start with the frame and upgrade with local materials,” said Karlsson. “Even if you ship in the full kit, this will last three years, and a tent will only last for six months to one year” and then have to be replaced.

Corsellis of the Shelter Centre said that in every refugee shelter operation, the goal is to build shelters using traditional designs and methods, using local materials, local skills and local tools in order to contribute to the local economy and minimize potential tensions with host communities.

“The only reason we ever use tents is if the refugee influx is so high or access to local materials is so poor that we’re unable to use them. When we do have to use tentage, it’s to buy time to be able to use local skills and resources, [but] the length of time existing tentage lasts for is often not long enough to return there and offer better shelter. The cost of those tents, as they degrade, is lost completely,” Corsellis said.

The Shelter Centre has developed its own shelter prototype, with support from the UK and US governments. It also makes use of a metal frame in a rectangular plan, but without the semi-rigid panels. The frame could be flown in, together with a fly-sheet and covering liner, and eventually the shelter could be upgraded with mud or timber walls and corrugated iron roofing.

“This additional generation of shelters [is] far more suitable for winterization,” said Corsellis, adding that the shelters would also fare better in environments such as Dadaab in northern Kenya, the largest refugee complex in the world, where high winds and intense sun shorten a tent’s lifespan.


An initiative by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and UNHCR to use a technology called Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSB) to build more durable shelters for refugees at Dadaab, many of whom have lived there for decades, was stopped by the Kenyan government in 2012 because it was viewed as too permanent.

In the context of such political sensitivities, shelters such the IKEA and Shelter Centre prototypes – which could be taken down, moved or even taken with refugees when they return home for use while they rebuild permanent shelters – have obvious benefits.

Corsellis emphasized that tents or tent-like shelters are used for only a small proportion of refugees – about 10 percent of the total 10.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR at the beginning of 2012. The majority of refugees make use of other options, such as staying with host families, renting in urban areas or self-settling in rural areas.

“We need to broaden our vocabulary of shelter options, and this IKEA prototype is a positive direction. And hopefully the final result will be a range of different options, understanding that any stockpiled shelter should be used for only a small percentage of people affected by conflicts and disasters, as part of humanitarian operations,” he said.

Endks/rz source


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Wealth-sharing” deal offers hope

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2013

MANILA,  – The Philippine government has agreed to give sweeping fiscal powers to Muslim rebels on the island of Mindanao in a bid to end the country’s decades-long insurgency. 

The “wealth-sharing” deal between Manila and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was achieved on 13 July after six-days of bargaining in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, negotiators said.The deal is seen as another step towards the creation of an autonomous entity to be governed by MILF by 2016. The next round of negotiations – to be held after Ramadan – will focus on the scope of MILF governing powers and how and when the rebel force will be disarmed.”Together with the MILF, the Philippines recognize the importance of wealth creation to enable Bangsamoro [name of the new autonomous region] government to successfully operate and deliver to its constituents,” Manila’s head of the peace process Teresita Deles told IRIN. “Both of us have faith that this wealth-sharing arrangement we have created will benefit Bangsamoro.”

Under the deal, MILF will get powers to levy taxes on businesses operating in its territory, and receive grants and funding directly from donors. They will also have the power to grant tax exemptions, rebates, tax holidays and other incentives.

Crucially, MILF will get 75 percent of all earnings derived from exploiting metallic minerals in the area, while receiving half of all revenues from activities related to natural gas or oil.

While there is no data on resources in the Bangsamoro area, official statistics show Mindanao Island contains a large portion of the country’s estimated US$800 billion in gold, copper and other mineral deposits.

Manila’s chief negotiator in the talks, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, said the overriding consideration in achieving the deal was for economic activity to gradually take root in the south, where the four-year insurgency has left tens of thousands dead and led to mass displacements.

“The whole idea with the total package that we have come up with is to provide for sources of revenues in the hope that these resources and revenues will increase over time as peace and development prevail in the region,” she said. “They can become less dependent and they can stand on their own.” 

Two more hurdles

She called on both sides to seize the momentum and agree on the last two remaining contentious issues – disarming MILF and defining the powers of their leaders once they begin controlling the region by 2016.

“This is where crunch time really comes for the MILF because this is the part where they will be talking about decommissioning of weapons,” she said. “This is something that is not easy to give up for a group that has held on to its arms in order to pursue its cause.”

It also comes at a time when other armed groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), could take advantage of the lull to cause more trouble. BIFF broke away from MILF in 2011 after saying they opposed the talks.

They have been carrying out periodic attacks ever since, including one that left eight dead before the last round of negotiations started.

MILF Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar said he expected tougher negotiations ahead before a final peace deal is signed, noting that the rebels would only lay down their arms if they were assured they would not be arrested or attacked by soldiers. He said there must also be “adequate protection” against other violent armed groups in the south.

“God willing, we will be able to move forward and finally give peace to the next generation of Muslims so they won’t have to suffer more bloodshed,” he said. “We have spent a lot of capital on these talks, so you can say we are definitely committed to ending this peacefully.”

In 2008, more than 700,000 people were displaced after fighting broke out when a peace agreement, which gave MILF control over more than 700 areas in the south they considered their ancestral domain, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a project backed by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Philippines has made significant progress towards the peaceful settlement of long-standing conflicts, but has yet to put an end to displacement. In 2012, at least 178,000 people fled clashes between government forces and non-state armed groups, and clan violence affecting mainly Muslim-majority areas in Mindanao.

At least 1,200 people displaced by armed conflict, clan violence and crime remain in government-recognized camps and relocation sites, the IDMC reported in April 2013. It is estimated that nearly two million people (1,993,000) were displaced in Mindanao during 2012, with natural disasters accounting for 91 percent of all displacements.

aag/ds/cb  source


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Containing diseases in a refugee camp

Posted by African Press International on July 7, 2013

Drinking safe, walking tall

DOMIZ CAMP, – On a hot June afternoon, 27-year-old Gharib Mohammed stands outside his tent at this camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq, shovel in hand.

Sewage and garbage have blocked the small stream that runs the length of his dusty avenue and the smell has entered his tent.

“There are some other streams but I can’t clean them all. I just clean the one in front of my home. If everybody did the same thing, the camp would be clean, but not everybody does it.”

The water running past Mohammed’s house is what is technically known as “grey” water – cooking and washing water that is not contaminated with sewage. Or at least it is not supposed to be.

Mohammed points to the septic tank behind his tent, which he says is shared by 25 families.

“In two days, it gets full [then] it overflows and mixes with the other water.”

In the three months he has been living there, government contractors have emptied the tank three times, he said. He once had to resort to paying the truck driver 5,000 Iraqi dinars (US$4.30) to empty it.

Aid agencies say overcrowded living conditions in Domiz (Duhok Province) – built for 25,000 refugees but now accommodating almost twice that number – have put refugees’ health at risk.

“Water, sanitation and hygiene facilities on the site are far from adequate, increasing the risk the camp could become fertile ground for the spread of disease,” Mahendra Sheth, regional health adviser for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is responsible for water and sanitation activities, said at the start of summer.

In April, a number of measles cases were reported in the camp, and between mid-March and mid-May, the number of diarrhoea cases tripled, the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said.

An assessment conducted by MSF in April showed “clear inequalities” in water distributions, it said in a 15 May press release. Some areas of the camp receive only four litres per person per day, MSF said, far less than the minimum 15-20 litres per person recommended in humanitarian emergencies.

“In some instances, people simply do not have access to water or sanitation,” MSF emergency coordinator Stéphane Reynier wrote. “This is simply not acceptable.”

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), recently accused the international community of “abandoning” the Syrian refugees in Kurdistan and asked foreign officials to bring the situation to the attention of their governments.


Aid agencies have vaccinated people and are trying to increase water and sanitation services in the camp, but the problem, explains Jaya Murthy, head of communications for UNICEF, is that the camp is overstretched.

“Services were only planned for [25,000] people, so when you [nearly] double that number, of course those services are stretching, which means less for everybody.”

Many irregular settlements and transit areas have emerged, he said, and some of the people on the fringes may not even have access to some of those regular services.

The differences between the original areas and the irregular and transit areas of the camp are stark. Approved tents in the first three phases of construction of the camp each have their own latrine and share one septic tank for every four tents.

In Phases 1-3, Swedish NGO Qandil contracts a waste removal company to empty tanks when families report them full. “The trucks stand by 24 hours a day,” says Salar Rasheed, Iraq programme coordinator, “so the truck is available even at night.”

But residents in unapproved tents and in some of the transit areas share one latrine between 29 to 189 people, according to a Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) report based on February data from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In one case documented by NRC, residents had to keep using a communal latrine that was overflowing for lack of an alternative.

To address the overcrowding, the UN is working with the Kurdish authorities to allocate more land for new camps. KRG has approved the construction of two new refugee camps in the region – one in Erbil Province, scheduled to open this month, which will house 2,000 families; and one in Sulaymaniyah, designed to hold 1,500 families.

Although there were initial hopes to install proper sewage systems in both camps, the cost of doing so – around $5 million dollars each – was prohibitive given the region’s limited budget.

“It can be done,” says Qandil’s Rasheed, “but it costs a lot of money.”

A neglected crisis?

In June, the UN issued the largest appeal for funding in history to address humanitarian needs related to the Syrian crisis. Included is a request for $37 million for water, sanitation and hygiene services in Iraq, including ensuring safe water and sanitation throughout Domiz.

Gharib Mohammed unblocks the stream outside his tent. Open gray water channels in Domiz Camp are often contaminated with garbage and sewage

But aid workers say the international community has neglected the Syrian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, focusing instead on Jordan and Lebanon, where donors perceive the needs to be higher. Aid agencies in Iraq have received just 14 percent of the funding requested for their humanitarian response to Syrian refugees in 2013. As a percentage, and also by raw figures, this makes Iraq the least-funded of the four countries in the Regional Response Plan that border Syria.

“The Syrian refugees have the same right to vital assistance, wherever they flee to seek protection. However, it has – unfortunately due to various political and economic reasons – been very difficult to attract funding to the projects in Iraq, and the refugees are the ones paying the price,” said Toril Brekke, acting secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which just published a report on how the international community is “failing” Syrian refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Rising disease risk

In the meantime, government authorities and aid agencies are trying to prevent a disaster with the little funds they do have. With temperatures rising (in July, they often surpass 40 degrees), the risk of water-borne diseases is increasing.

“Over several weeks [the number of reported cases of diarrhoea] went down but it can come up at any time so ensuring access to sanitation and safe water is absolutely critical,” said UNICEF’s Murthy. “So as new people keep coming and settling in these irregular areas, we have to be really on top of it to ensure that [the water supply] is properly maintained and those services are delivered to everybody. Otherwise contagious diseases like diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases can catch very quickly.”

The Duhok Province authorities provide a water network to the original settlements and, for the time being, water trucks take care of the rest of the camp.

Thanks to a grant of $4.5 million from the Japanese government, UNICEF is currently planning to lay a pipe network in one of the newest areas of the camp, Phase 7.

UNICEF and NRC are about to start a water monitoring project, checking that the levels of chlorine are adequate.

As well as putting together a cholera prevention plan, UNICEF and MSF have started to send health and hygiene promoters around the camp, tent to tent, to teach families how to minimize the risk of disease and infection. It is particularly important to help residents used to living in modern urban environments to adjust to their new conditions, Murthy said.

“Hygiene promotion is one area that we really need to critically scale up. It’s really, really our priority area.” There are 64 hygiene promoters working in Domiz, “but we need to double or triple that.”

hg/ha/cb source


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Bridging the gap between relief and development

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2013

Sustainable interventions

GOMA,  – Every year, for nearly two decades, the humanitarian community has responded to large-scale and complex crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This year, on the assumption that the crises are likely to continue, donors have agreed to fund longer-term and more flexible humanitarian projects in DRC.

For the first time, a common humanitarian fund (CHF) administered by the UN in Kinshasa will be financing projects of up to 24 months’ duration, instead of the current 12-month limit.

A review of the project proposals should be finalized in July; this year, the CHF hopes to receive US$70 million for multi-year funding (out of an $893 million humanitarian appeal for the country).

Multi-year funding is an innovation for the humanitarian system, said Gemma Cortes, interim head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) financing unit in Kinshasa.

“We’re initiating this in the Congo,” she told IRIN. “There’s been a big discussion about this for years here. Now, the great challenge will be to link all the projects to development projects.”


OCHA says these “transitional” projects “will address recurrent humanitarian needs that require sustainable interventions of a kind that help[s] build community resilience” and will “reduce the number of short-term emergency actions that respond more to symptoms than to causes”.

Other projects funded with the $70 million “will reinforce emergency response capability” and “help build national NGOs’ capacity”. OCHA also foresees better data collection and monitoring, and well as costs savings.

“It should help to save costs on, for example, transport, recruitment, training and assimilation [of knowledge],” Cortes says.

The CHF is also considering streamlining programmes. For example, it could fund two organizations to do the kind of work done previously by eight separate, shorter projects.

Cortes sees a trend in project proposals towards greater promotion of agriculture and livelihoods, as well more durable solutions to water and hygiene needs.

“Agriculture is one of the sectors where the envelope has increased the most. Agencies and NGOs can now go beyond emergency activities to reinforcing capacities, introducing different agricultural and food-processing techniques, doing market studies and training cooperatives. We have also received a lot of proposals for buying and distributing goats, sheep and rabbits.”

She estimates that around 15 percent of the multi-year funding might go to agricultural projects and 30 percent to livelihoods projects, although the final allocation has yet to be decided.

“It’s been very well received by aid workers, NGOs and by local communities. It was something lacking before. Each time we came and did the same thing, and they wanted something more lasting.”

Olivia Kalis, protection and advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Goma, eastern DRC, agrees but suggests there is still debate over what is “more lasting”.

“If we have short-term cycles only, people end up doing the same things, so it’s very good that the CHF is now offering 24-month cycles. But a lot more work needs to be done to understand what resilience means in this context,” Kalis said


As the concept of resilience has been mainstreamed in aid agency circles, its definition has broadened.

Christophe Béné, a research fellow at the UK Institute of Development Studies (IDS), spoke at a recent IDS seminar about how the term has evolved. “Initially,” he said, “resilience was simply about the capacity for recovery and bouncing back. And now, with time passing, we have got more and more people saying resilience is about learning and adapting. Recently, now, we have got anticipating and preventing [crises].”

Incorporating all of these meanings, a recent definition from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said resilience is “the ability to avoid disasters and crises or to anticipate, absorb, adapt to and recover from risks… in a timely and efficient manner”.

The UN World Food Programme’s coordinator in eastern DRC, Wolfram Herfurth, says resilience basically means self-reliance, and he suggests a practical way to ensure vulnerable communities are self-reliant.

“Let’s not make this a rocket science. We have to provide simple, palatable livelihood options for people in camps. Since we know that about 85 percent of these displaced people are farmers, it’s logical – we’re looking at the closest solution – to provide farmers with tools and seeds so they can produce their own food and no longer need free handouts,” he said.

“That is the fundamental approach. But the biggest obstacle is that, where the displaced people are now, there’s mostly no free land available.”

To this end, Herfurth proposes that agreements be struck with landowners to allocate land, either long-term or temporarily, to the displaced, who would then be assisted with seeds, tools and food aid until their first harvest.

Several initiatives in North Kivu are aiming to help the displaced gain access to land, either their own (many displaced people return home to find their land occupied) or land where they have found refuge. The CHF has a brief to support these initiatives.

Still, land is a delicate issue; NRC and UN Habitat have the biggest land dispute mediation programmes in DRC, but there are strict limits to what they can achieve, says NRC’s Kalis.

“The scale [of mediation] is very small in comparison with the problem. A lot of these disputes are over just a few metres of land. Once the military are involved, our commissions [local committees set up by NRC] can’t deal with that – it’s too dangerous,” he said.

Large tracts of land in the Kivus are owned by senior army officers.

“We need to talk about political solutions [to the land problem],” says Kalis. “Donors need to push for these things.”


Helping displaced people farm is not the only resilience-building activity aid workers are proposing.

IRIN also interviewed the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Oxfam, NRC and Catholic Relief Services and found a wide range of resilience activities proposed, notably information campaigns to help the displaced secure their rights and access aid, and the construction of more durable facilities to help them integrate with host communities.

UNICEF emphasized project proposals to build more durable classrooms and sanitation systems. NRC spoke of its work helping displaced children enrol in schools. Oxfam said it was planning to extend water systems and sanitation in host community areas.

Improving living conditions for IDPs

The emphasis on host communities is essential, aid workers say, because most aid has been focused on camps even though most displaced people live with host families and will often settle in those communities.

“Many of the displaced are highly unlikely to go home,” said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam’s coordinator in North Kivu. “If you look at the history of Goma, many camps have been transformed into neighbourhoods – we find it quite negative that the state is still bulldozing camps.”

“If we see a willingness by the state to give the displaced residency rights, we could start to provide schooling, health centres, etc. But the government is resisting this,” he said.

There is also a trend towards focusing on more urban areas. In peri-urban areas where the state does not own land, it may need to deal with landowners to ensure displaced people can find homes, Riebl said.

Focusing aid on more easily accessible areas rather than trying to reach remote villages is also pragmatic, he points out.

“The support costs of trying to run projects in an area like Walikale [one of North Kivu’s more remote territories] are enormous. No one is going to pay for all the land cruisers. Donors are looking for value for money.”

Security is also a serious concern for projects in rural areas. A worker with FAO told a recent journalists’ seminar in Goma that agricultural project workers could not do anything if there was not security.

More business surveys will be needed to help guide the displaced towards viable livelihoods, in either urban or rural areas, Herfurth told IRIN.

“We need more development experts,” he said. “Maybe the number of relief workers here should shrink and the number of economists and agricultural engineers should increase,” he said.

“But we also need to change the chemistry between the humanitarians and the DRC government to agree that – given there’s more stability and peace – we focus on more durable interventions.

“Certainly the humanitarians themselves cannot easily do this alone. They need decisions by the government and coordination at village and provincial level. Different political levels need to play together.”

nl/rz source

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Children learning disaster risk reduction in Timor-Leste

Posted by African Press International on June 26, 2013

Children learning how natural disasters can affect them

DILI,  – Timor-Leste needs to do more at the national and district levels to boost disaster preparedness, especially in rural areas, say experts.

Each year, communities face an increasing number of natural hazards with 185 floods recorded since 2010, compared to 32 between 2001 to 2009, according to the National Disaster Management Directorate (NDMD).

Over 70 percent of the country’s 1.1 million people live in rural areas.

In June, more than 1,850 people in the half-island nation were affected by floods in five of the countries13 districts, the NDMD reported.

“The country is not well prepared to cope and respond to any kind of large-scale natural disaster,” Geraldine Zwack, country director for CARE International, told IRIN in the capital Dili.“If disaster preparedness starts at the community level then the impact on the district is less. It reduces the burden on the government during an emergency response and increases the communities’ ability to bounce back and recover more quickly.”

Aid agencies say an increased focus on disaster preparedness at the national government level is needed, particularly in addressing infrastructure, food security and the livelihoods of poor rural communities who are vulnerable to disasters.

“The country is regularly affected by disasters and the majority of these are small local ones, such as floods and landslides,” said Pedruco Capelao, education in emergencies manager at Save the Children. “There is a need to improve disaster response mechanisms at national and sub-national level, and ensure emergency supplies are stockpiled to allow communities to respond to any disaster.”

According to Maplecroft’s annual Natural Hazard Risk Atlas (2013), which evaluates the exposure and resilience of 197 countries to 12 natural hazards, Timor-Leste is at extreme risk when natural disasters strike, due to its lack of coping mechanisms, and is ranked six and 34 for infrastructure fragility and community vulnerability, respectively.

The overall socioeconomic resilience ranking for Timor-Leste is 32.

The Assessment Capacities Project, implemented by Help Age International, Merlin and the Norwegian Refugee Council, is working to improve the assessment of needs in complex emergencies. In September 2012 a Project report said “urban areas are unprepared for possible disasters” and had particular concern about a “lack of earthquake resistant structures in Dili or district capitals”.

While Timor-Leste is prone to severe and recurrent drought, flooding and landslides, other risks include tropical cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis, the report noted.

“It is a disaster for the people here, who mostly rely on agriculture for survival, when a flood, landslide or drought hits. When the farmers’ crops are completely washed away, they are left with nothing. The government must work to prepare these communities to respond to these challenges and build infrastructure and resilience to assist people to cope with such disaster,” said Oxfam country director Kunhali Muttaje.

“Most of the government focus is on emergency response and only a small proportion of the budget is directed towards disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities,” emergencies and DRR project officer at Save the Children Jack French told IRIN, noting that “there is a need for the government to create a policy or legal framework and develop a strategic plan for DRR which would allow the ministries and the NDMD to focus more on disaster preparedness at the district level.”

An early warning sign in Manufahi District

Climate change impact

With long-term average temperatures and sea levels rising over the past few decades, climate scientists are warning that things could get worse.

“Many regions and industries are not well adapted to the current range of climate variability, with impacts on agriculture and infrastructure from droughts and floods,” said Michael Grose, a research scientist for the Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning Program (PACCSAP), within the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, a scientific research agency based in Australia.

In terms of climate change, “it is likely that sea level rise has influenced the impact of coastal inundation events in vulnerable coastal regions. Heavy rainfalls that may have some influence from human-driven climate change affect the incidence of river floods,” Grose said.

Since 1993, the rise in sea levels globally has increased more rapidly, at 3.2 (+/-0.4) mm/year, compared to 1.7 (+/- 0.2) mm/year in previous years (recorded since 1880), according to the report Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research (Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, 2011).

However, in Timor-Leste the rate is higher than the global average – over 7 mm/year between 1993 and 2009.

“In Timor-Leste, there is a need to develop systems, procedures and infrastructure to help vulnerable communities adapt. People are not ready to cope with the current climate conditions, and a warming climate will only make these impacts harder to deal with as the frequency or intensity of disasters increases,” said Grose.

The government says it has the capacity to respond to small, localized disasters and a contingency plan in place, initially prepared in 2006.

“Programmes focus on local level capacity building, including improving infrastructure, relocation of vulnerable groups in risk areas, hazard and risk assessment and mapping, and use of local and indigenous knowledge to strengthen the communities’ coping mechanisms,” NDMD director Francisco do Rosario told IRIN.

According to NDMD, legislation is needed to promote coordination between government sectors and the implementation of DRR programmes.

“Disaster preparedness is vital for the country’s ongoing stability and continued economic development,” said UN Development Programme (UNDP) country director Mikiko Tanaka.

“As the government has acknowledged, increasing climate variability as well as the increasing intensity of extreme events will require greater institutional efforts as well as financial investment to improve resilience, especially at the community level.”

ch/ds/cb  source


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Overnight in Za’atari camp in Jordan

Posted by African Press International on June 24, 2013

ZA’ATARI CAMP,  – It is 9pm. The front entrance to Za’atari is lit mostly by the red and blue lights of the Jordanian gendarmerie vehicles parked at the entrance – little assurance of security to the 120,000 residents here, who say police rarely enter the camp. 

The place has the feel of a lively city – music plays from personal speakers; children scream giddily as they play football; friends and relatives gather in each other’s tents, chit-chatting into the night.

I stand on the other side of a fence that separates the sprawling city from what aid workers call “base camp”, home to the offices of UN agencies and NGOs, watching the camp like a screenplay.

A few young refugees call out to me, interrupting my daze. We speak through the barbed wire until they insist emphatically that I join them in their tent for a proper chat.

The tent is sparse, but clean and spacious; lit – with fluctuating power – by a network of crisscrossing wires, illegally hooked up to the electricity grid.

As we sit cross-legged on the floor – they have already offered me `labneh’ (yoghurt cheese) and olives, which they brought with them from Syria – they complain about inequitable shelter in the camp. Refugees use different and sometime fake IDs to get more aid, the father tells me; and those with money buy caravans while those who come empty-handed are left in tents, exposed to heat, dust, respiratory illnesses, fires and thefts.

“I heard a whole family died of a fire in the camp,” the mother says. Her neighbour, a widow, stops by to borrow a broom. Hers was stolen during a recent robbery in her tent, along with 5,000 Syrian pounds (US$50), four blankets and the few supplies she owned. Fellow refugees then stoned her tent while she was sleeping.


“The dealings between us Syrians are dire,” the mother says, blaming it on desperation. “It’s every man for himself here,” her husband adds. “I feel I have no value any more, as if I’m not a human being.”

At 10pm, night staff of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) arrive from Amman in a minivan, joining another 45 staff from the International Organization for Migration, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children, who have, by now, a well-tuned system for welcoming new arrivals to the camp.

Tonight, there are 244 of them.

Many have spent days en route, trying to escape Syria. They include pregnant women and sick children. At the border, they are met by Jordanian soldiers, who board them onto buses to the camp. I watch as they unload their suitcases, some of them clearly exhausted.

One mother of five carries her crying toddler in one hand and a suitcase in the other as she tries to cajole her sleepy children to follow her towards the registration desk. She appears to be barely keeping herself together, but seeks assistance from no one.

Though I cannot quite put my finger on them, there are other emotions at play.

There is relief, almost elation.

“We’ve spent two years amid the fighting and the fear,” says one refugee. “This is the first day we can breathe easy.”

But there is also sorrow. Or rather, a sense of guilt.

One 19-year-old cradles her newborn, wrapped in a blanket. She travelled with her baby, literally just days old, from Aleppo, 500km north of Jordan, sleeping in a different village every night. Her husband, who fled to Jordan before her, has not yet seen his daughter.

The young woman is quiet and unexpressive while we speak. When I ask how she is feeling after her long journey, she smiles and says she is relieved to be in Jordan. But just as quickly, the smile falls from her face, as she remembers those still back in Syria.

Others appear nonchalant about their journey, which for some, involves dodging shelling and crossing a river-bed on foot. Desensitized, I wonder? In denial? In shock?

I sit outside the UNHCR registration office, speaking to each of the refugees as they wait their turn to enter. One old man warns me not to open the Pandora’s Box and walks away, but many others are keen to share their experiences. One after the other, they tell harrowing stories as I take notes. 

“Among us, there are stories to fill many more notebooks,” one man says.

What I saw… I’ll never forget

But the old man’s warning soon proves true.

One man in a white traditional gown breaks down in tears as he remembers the charred bodies of two of his cousins. The corpses lay in a pool of water on a street in rural Aleppo for seven days until relatives risked death crossing a checkpoint to retrieve them.

He dug their graves himself.

“What I saw, what I experienced, I’ll never forget,” he says, his sun-bleached face twisted in emotion. “There is a limit to what a person can take.”

Around 1.30am, the last cases are registered, and I head back outside, where four large “pre-fabs” have been set up to accommodate those who need a place to sleep until they receive a personal tent in the morning. They lie like lost souls on the cold, grey, concrete, the brisk air streaming through the windows – a rude, but accurate, awakening to life in refuge.

One man mistakes me for an aid worker and asks for more blankets for his grandchildren. They are a family of five and only have three blankets, he says. I have no blankets, but offer him my jacket. Ashamed, he politely refuses, and promises they will make do just fine.

By the end of the night, I feel lost in the refugees’ stories, emotionally confused and overcome.

I cannot imagine how they withstand the pressures of the long, tiring journey and the overwhelming procedures upon arrival: government registration, pink slip, vaccinations for your children, welcome package, food ration card, voucher for tent, blanket, sleeping map, questions, so many questions.

A rowdy crowd is gathered around the thin opening in the barbed wire fence separating the registration area from the camp. The new arrivals push their way through the mass of people, lugging their possessions and entering a new phase of difficulty, another unknown world.

“It hurts to think: How did this happen to us?” one elderly woman tells me. When I comment on the strength I have witnessed among the refugees, she responds:

“It’s eat or be eaten. You’re the wolf or the sheep.”


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Norway: Jan Egeland new Secretary General of Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

Posted by African Press International on June 7, 2013

Jan Egeland has been appointed new Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the largest humanitarian organization in Norway. Egeland was UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (2003-06), and currently holds the position as Europe Director of Human Rights Watch.

“As Secretary General of NRC, Egeland will be a courageous spokesperson for the displaced people in the world. Through his career, Egeland has built experience and expertise that make him uniquely qualified to lead the organization towards its vision of ’Rights Respected and People Protected’. Together with the dedicated staff of NRC, Egeland will continue to build NRC as a leading international humanitarian organisation”, says Idar Kreutzer, Chairman of the Board of NRC.

When Egeland was UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (2003-06) he initiated a wide-reaching reform of the international humanitarian system, strengthened the partnership between UN agencies and NGOs and lead the international humanitarian response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami and emergencies from Darfur and Central Africa to Lebanon and the Horn of Africa. Since then, he has been Executive Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and is currently Europe Director of Human Rights Watch. Earlier, Egeland has been Secretary General for the Norwegian Red Cross, UN Special Advisor for the peace negotiations in Colombia and Norwegian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1997. Egeland has served on the board of the International Crisis Group and held several positions with Amnesty International. In 2006 he was named by Time Magazine as “one of 100 people who  shape our world.”

In a statement, Mr Egeland says: “In wars and disasters around the world I have often witnessed how NRC is able, against all odds, to provide lifesaving relief to those in greatest need. The acronym ‘NRC’ has become synonymous with effective relief for displaced people and stand-by experts for humanitarian operations world-wide. It is with great pride that I look forward to take up the position as Secretary General. The humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria will be an immediate priority in our work, but NRC will remain a leading force for the civilian population in the worst displacement crisis world-wide. We will be there when the needs are greatest – from Central Africa to  Afghanistan and from Sudan to Colombia.”

NRC is a leading Norwegian humanitarian organization, assisting more than 3 million beneficiaries in 2012 throughout 20 conflict regions. In addition, NRC seconded hundreds of stand-by experts to humanitarian operations in over 50 countries during 2012. NRC was founded in 1946 and currently has 3,500 staff. Egeland will take over from Elisabeth Rasmusson, who in April 2013 became Assistant Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).


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Historic agreement between Norwegian Refugee Council and African Union signed

Posted by African Press International on April 23, 2013

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has signed a historic agreement with the African Union (AU). “We hope this strategic partnership agreement will strengthen both NRC’s and the AU’s efforts towards helping displaced people in Africa”, says Toril Brekke, Acting Secretary General of Norwegian Refugee Council.

The agreement was concluded between Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Dlamini Zuma and Mrs. Brekke at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Friday 19th of April.

“We are very pleased to enter into this strategic partnership with the AU. This enables us to increase our activities in conflict-affected areas in Africa and to distribute humanitarian aid even more effectively”, says Brekke. - Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Dlamini Zuma and Toril Brekke, Acting Secretary General of NRC, concluded an agreement between AU and NRC at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Friday 19th of April. Here they are photographed together with Commissioner of Political Affairs Dr. Aisha Abdullahi (to the left) and Hassan Khaire, Regional Director for NRC Horn of Africa (to the right). Photo: Erik Abild, NRC – Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Dlamini Zuma and Toril Brekke, Acting Secretary General of NRC, concluded an agreement between AU and NRC at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Friday 19th of April. Here they are photographed together with Commissioner of Political Affairs Dr. Aisha Abdullahi (to the left) and Hassan Khaire, Regional Director for NRC Horn of Africa (to the right). Photo: Erik Abild, NRC

NRC is the first Norwegian organisation, and one of the few international aid agencies, to have this type of strategic partnership with the AU. Under the agreement, the AU will help the NRC to get access to refugees and internally displaced persons in the AU member states. In addition, NRC and AU agree to work together to strengthen the rights of the displaced in AU member states, including supporting the implementation of the Kampala Convention for the protection of internally displaced. NRC’s Internally Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) will play a key role in this.

“For NRC, the AU is an equally important organisation as the EU. AU member states cover a vast continent where there are currently about four million refugees and ten million internally displaced persons. With support from the AU, we can reach even more of these people. In addition, we appreciate being able to cooperate with the AU on supporting implementation of the Kampala Convention, a ground-breaking new legal framework which binds governments to protect and assist internally displaced persons, ” says Brekke.

AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Dr. Aisha Abdullahi underlined the strategic importance of partnering with NRC: “The scourge of forced displacements in Africa requires a consolidated effort. Therefore, the signing of an MOU with the Norwegian Refugee Council today, goes a long way in solidifying our joint efforts towards alleviating the suffering of victims of conflicts and disasters in Africa”, she said in a press release

NRC has already similar strategic relationships with other actors such as UNHCR, but it is the first time the organisation enters into an agreement with a regional body like the AU. However, the cooperation with the AU and African governments is nothing new. Through the years, the NRC’s emergency roster has assisted the AU with specialists in several areas, and NRC is currently working in twelve African countries.

“Our emergency roster’s effective cooperation with the AU, as well as our increased activity in several locations in Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, has probably played an important role for the AU’s desire to raise our cooperation to a strategic level. I think this partnership will be important and gratifying for both the AU and the Norwegian Refugee Council,”says Brekke.

Norway’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Odd-Inge Kvalheim, welcomes the new agreement: “Norway has large ambitions in the field of humanitarianism. To reach these ambitions we need professional Norwegian organisations that are able to make a difference. We are therefore glad that we have been able to support NRC in their work with establishing close relations to the AU”.


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