66,000 new homes for Typhoon Haiyan survivors
Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies
Spread over nine provinces in central Philippines, the IFRC shelter programme includes the construction of new typhoon-resistant homes as well as cash assistance, training and materials to rebuild.
By Kate Marshall, IFRC
When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013 over one million houses were flattened or badly damaged. Two years on, more than 66,000 homes have been built or repaired under the Red Cross recovery operation.
Spread over nine provinces in central Philippines the shelter programme has included the construction of new typhoon-resistant homes as well as cash assistance, training and materials to help some families rebuild themselves.
Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon said he was extremely pleased with the progress of the shelter operation.
‘We are on time and even faster than we planned for,’ he said. ‘Assuming no major problems, by the end of the year we will have reached 91% of our target of 80,200 houses.’
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), 17 Red Cross national societies as well as private donors including Air Asia, HSBC, Citibank and Singapore-based CUBE, have all contributed to the reconstruction efforts led by the Philippine Red Cross.
Last week 128 families moved into the Red Cross Village project, in northern Cebu. The village was funded by the French Red Cross and features a livelihood centre, a multipurpose hall with health and child care centres. These facilities are also open to all the 3,000 plus residents of the surrounding barangay (village). Householders can access half-price electricity thanks to the village’s solar power plant, which also provides electricity for all the facilities.
The IFRC has also played a lead role in, the Shelter Cluster, a coordination body involving the Philippine Government which has developed safer standards for rebuilding homes. Families have received basic training on safer building techniques and core shelters have been designed so that they can be easily adapted and expanded according to the wishes and capacity of each household.
Many of the homes built by the Red Cross are comprised of a concrete core with an attached latrine. Others use lumber, bamboo and woven indigenous materials. Physically able beneficiaries contribute labour to the construction process, receiving building material and skilled labour in return.
Mother of two Marlyn Revis, from Puis, Aklan, said the shock of losing her old house and the injuries sustained by her husband during Typhoon Haiyan hastened her debilitating eye disease. Now totally blind, she navigates her new half-concrete home and outside area with the aid of a stick.
‘The layout and the smooth floor make it easy for me to get around without tripping over things,’ she says. ‘My husband designed the furniture so it doesn’t get in the way.’
Most Red Cross houses have distinctive red roofs of corrugated iron, making them easy to spot across rice fields and in crowded urban areas.
Some families have been relocated from areas close to the sea that are considered unsafe.
The Villanueva family, from Candual in Capiz Province, is one of 17 families relocated to a new site. After the trauma of losing their homes and belongings, they are relieved to be reunited with familiar faces from their former neighbourhood as they settle in. Mother-of-eight Annabelle has plans for a kitchen extension out the back, and will divide the interior space to create more privacy for her growing family. The ceiling will also be insulated against heat.
Her next door neighbour Judy Ann Acepcion says she will add a custom-made internal partition.
‘I will have an inside kitchen, rather than have one outside like some of my neighbours,’ she says. ‘I am so happy that I can make some changes.’
In the past 10 years the Philippine Red Cross has gained significant experience in shelter construction, having built more than 50,000 units following major tropical storms that have struck Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. These operations however, are dwarfed by the scope and scale of the Haiyan shelter response.
According to figures in the IFRC’s two year progress report, by the end of August spending on the Haiyan shelter programme had reached USD 81.3 million, accounting for 40% of the operation’s total outlay.
Zimbabwe: 1.5 million expected to be food insecure during peak hunger period
Source: World Food Programme
With El Niño affecting the 2015/16 agricultural season, the World Food Programme urgently requires US$ 25.78 million to meet the needs of 611,000 people in 28 districts over the next 5 months.
Responding to Humanitarian Needs and Strengthening Resilience to Food Insecurity
• An estimated 16 percent of the rural population (1.5 million people) is expected to be food insecure during the peak of the lean season (January to March 2016).
• Through a joint programme with the government, WFP plans to provide food assistance to up to 856,000 people in 36 districts during this period through cash based and in-kind food transfers.
• 204,611 (104,761 females and 99,850 males) people received lean season assistance in October.
• WFP urgently requires US$ 25.78 million to meet the needs of 611,000 people in 28 districts over the next 5 months.
• According to the 2015 rural livelihood assessment report produced by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee1 (ZimVAC), an estimated 1.5 million people, or 16 percent of the rural population, will be food insecure during the peak hunger period (January – March 2016). This represents a 163 percent increase compared to the 2014/15 consumption year.
• The National Climate Outlook Forum predicts the strongest El Niño in 35 years for the 2015/16 agricultural season, with normal or below normal rainfall patterns. Based on historical experiences, this will likely result in drier than average conditions and another poor performing cropping season in the context of significantly reduced regional stocks.
• The average maize grain price for October 2015 was $0.37/kg, which is 132 percent and 119 percent of last year’s and the five-year average, respectively.
1.5 million people affected by food insecurity at the peak of the lean season (Jan-March 2016)
163 percent** increase in food insecurity from previous season
WFP plans to assist 856,000 people in 36 districts during this season, at a cost of US$51.55 million.
Funding Update :
US$25.78 million required for WFP’s lean season response in next 5 months
Contributions received (30 Oct 2015):
USAID: US$18.5 million
UN CERF: US$4.25 million
WFP Internal Resources: US$2.4 million
WFP food reaches Luhansk after months of restricted humanitarian access
Source: World Food Programme
More convoys bringing food to Luhansk are planned after a 12-truck convoy reached the area for the first time since the suspension of humanitarian activities four months ago.
KIEV – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today delivered food to non-government controlled areas of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine for the first time since the suspension of humanitarian activities four months ago.
A 12-truck convoy reached Luhansk earlier this week carrying enough WFP food supplies to feed more than 7,000 people for one month. More convoys bringing food to Luhansk are planned, with the next one scheduled to arrive later this week.
“The conflict has displaced hundreds of people in Luhansk; they fled their homes, left their jobs and have no means of support other than external assistance that they had been deprived of for four months,” said WFP Head of Office in Ukraine Giancarlo Stopponi.
WFP did not have access into non-government controlled areas since the end of July 2015.
WFP is seeking to provide food assistance to more than 100,000 people affected by the conflict in non-government controlled areas in both Luhansk and Donetsk regions by the end of 2015.
In Luhansk, the food will be distributed through WFP’s partner, the international non-government organization (NGO) Mercy Corps, while in Donetsk the international NGO People In Need will carry out distributions. WFP is targeting the most vulnerable people affected by the conflict, including elderly and disabled people as well as single-parent households.
In government-controlled areas of both Donetsk and Luhansk, including areas near the front-line and in buffer-zone villages, WFP has continued to provide assistance over the past four months. WFP delivered food for over 20,000 people last month in non-government controlled areas in Donetsk, after humanitarian access to the area resumed.
Still, humanitarian organizations face major challenges in gaining access to the most vulnerable among an estimated 5 million people affected by the conflict that started in the region in April 2014.
As another harsh winter begins, WFP is concerned about the growing needs of the most vulnerable conflict-affected people; especially those who had to flee their homes. WFP is prepared to respond to the needs of the affected population.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.
Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media and @wfp_ukraine
For more information please contact (email address: email@example.com):
Abeer Etefa, WFP/Cairo, Mobile. +2 010 6663 4352
Deborah Nguyen, WFP/Kiev, Tel. +380 (98) 064 1073
UN says 4.9 million Somalis need support and 1.1 million remain internally displaced
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
El Niño is expected to prompt heavy rains and cause flooding, as well as drought conditions in coastal areas of Somaliland, which could severely compound the already fragile humanitarian situation in Somalia.
NEEDS & KEY FIGURES
While the country has made modest gains, high levels of humanitarian needs persist. About 4.9 million people are in need of life-saving and livelihoods support and 1.1 million remain internally displaced.
Cyclical climatic impacts, armed conflict, clan violence, widespread human rights violations, political instability and insecurity, and low levels of basic development indicators persist in the country. This is exacerbated by high malnutrition rates, extensive food insecurity, vulnerable livelihoods, poor health infrastructure, recurrent disease outbreaks, a lack of clean and safe water, poor provision of basic services, including education, and pervasive protection violations. Internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable, and in urgent need of protection, including durable solutions. The El Niño phenomenon is expected to prompt heavy rains and cause flooding along the Juba and Shabelle rivers, flash floods in central Somalia and Puntland, and exacerbated drought conditions in coastal areas of Somaliland. This could severely compound the already fragile humanitarian situation in Somalia.
1. Persistent food insecurity: According to the the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), the number of people who face acute food security crisis or emergency has exceeded 1 million. Another 3.9 million people are at risk of slipping into acute food insecurity. In total, 4.9 million people require humanitarian assistance.
2. Continued high levels of acute malnutrition: High levels of acute malnutrition persist. Based on prevalence estimates, about 308,000 children under the age of 5, or one in eight, are estimated to be acutely malnourished. Hereof, 56,000 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if they do not receive urgent medical treatment and therapeutic food. In internally displaced persons settlements, global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates are frequently above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
**3. Poor access to basic services **: Poor basic services continue to undermine the resilience of vulnerable people. About 3.2 million women, girls, boys and men in Somalia need emergency health services, while 2.8 million women and men require improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The impact of this lack of basic services is felt strongly among internally displaced persons who continue to be affected by cyclical disease outbreaks and suffer from high levels of acute malnutrition. Around 1.7 million schoolaged children are still out of school.
4.Civilian protection challenges persist: Many of the over 1.1 million protracted internally displaced persons continue to face high risk of forced evictions, discrimination, violation of children’s rights and pervasive gender-based violence (GBV). These vulnerable communities need land tenure and property rights, adequate and safe shelter, whether permanent or transitional, as well as household items, protection services, local integration and durable solutions. More than 116,000 internally displaced persons were forcibly evicted in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Bossaso, Gaalkacyo, Hargeysa, and Kismayo during the first half of 2015. The ongoing military operations that started in July 2015 in southern and central Somalia displaced over 42,000 people by late August.
200,000 vulnerable civilians under 'virtual state of siege' in Taizz City
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
The UN humanitarian chief calls for unhindered delivery of life-saving assistance and protection to civilians as the humanitarian situation in the central Yemeni city is worsening.
I am deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation for people living in the central Yemeni city of Taizz. Since September fighting has intensified there, and some 200,000 vulnerable civilians are living under a virtual state of siege, in dire need of drinking water, food, medical treatment, and other life-saving assistance and protection.
Civilian neighbourhoods, medical facilities and other premises around the city are continually hit by shelling, while checkpoints are preventing people from moving to safer areas and seeking assistance.
Al-Houthi and popular committees are blocking supply routes and continue to obstruct the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid and supplies into Taizz City. Those hospitals that are still functioning are overwhelmed with wounded patients and face severe shortages of doctors and nurses, essential medicines and fuel.
Despite repeated attempts by UN agencies and our humanitarian partners to negotiate access and reach people, our trucks have remained stuck at checkpoints and only very limited assistance has been allowed in. I am also alarmed by reports that some of the aid destined for Taizz City has been diverted away from the people it was intended for.
This is unacceptable. I call on all parties to work with the United Nations and other neutral and impartial organizations to urgently facilitate the delivery of life-saving assistance and protection to civilians and the safe and unhindered access of humanitarian workers to Taizz City, without further delay.
Thousands of families are living in fear and without basic aid in other locations across Yemen. It is vital that all parties in this conflict do their utmost to protect all civilians. People must not be denied life-saving help. The international community must hold all parties who violate humanitarian and human rights law to account.
24 November 2015
Community resilience in areas impacted by the Lord’s Resistance Army
Source: Harvard University
Country: Central African Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, South Sudan, Uganda
The LRA has operated for more than two decades in Africa. Because of the long history of the conflict, many affected communities have evolved complex mechanisms to protect themselves.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has operated for more than two decades in Africa, perpetrating a campaign of terror that has destabilized communities across four countries. They are known for their brutal attacks against civilians, including killing, torture, and mutilation, as well as the widespread abduction of children to increase their ranks. The group has its roots in northern Uganda, where it terrorized inhabitants for more than 15 years and was responsible for the abduction of more than 20,000 children and displacement of more than 1.9 million people (Human Rights Watch [HRW], 2012). After military pressure forced the LRA to leave Uganda, the group migrated into the border region between South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Estimates of the total number of people displaced by the LRA across all four countries run as high as 2.5 million (United Nations Security Council [UNSC], 2013; Internal Displacement Monitoring Center [IDMC], 2013); the UNSC reports that LRA combatants have abducted between 60,000 and 100,000 children. The number of civilians killed by the LRA remains difficult to estimate, but ranges from the tens of thousands (Ahere & Maina, 2013; HRW, 2012) to more than 100,000 people (UNSC, 2013).
At its peak, the LRA had between 3,000 and 5,000 members (Lancaster, Lacaile, & Cakaj, 2011).
Increasing regional military action against the LRA and an increasing number of combatant defections, however, has weakened the group, and current estimates put the number of remaining LRA combatants at 150 Ugandan males, not including the fluctuating number of abductees and non-combatant members (Ronan, 2015). The LRA continues to terrorize communities across a wide geographic region despite recent successful efforts to diminish the power of the group. Because of the long history of the conflict, many affected communities have evolved complex mechanisms to protect themselves.
The goal of this research is to investigate the sources of resiliency and vulnerability in LRA-affected communities.
Results of this research seek to inform better programmatic responses in these contexts, and to create lessons learned that might be applicable in other areas affected by non-state armed groups. To frame the study, we used the UN definition of resilience: “The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions” (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction [UNISDR], 2007. The project drew on focus group discussions (FGDs), key informant interviews (KIIs), and a conceptual mapping exercise to generate qualitative data around the impacts of the LRA and resilience mechanisms employed by affected communities across all four countries.
This report will first provide an overview of the LRA’s impact on civilian communities, and the methods used for the current project. The research results will then be presented. The first section will outline the repertoire of violence used by the LRA and the evolution of these abuses over time. The second section will provide a detailed treatment of the mechanisms of self-protection and resilience that communities have developed over time to mitigate the impact of the LRA. We conclude with an overarching discussion of findings and implications. A second affiliated report will examine the internal organization of the LRA, its command and control structures, and the changes in the group over time.
Latest Global Emergency Overview highlights floods in Somalia and crises in Nigeria and Ukraine
Source: Assessment Capacities Project
Country: Afghanistan, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen
The weekly Global Overview aggregates information from a range of sources and provides the latest updates on and a ranking of current humanitarian crises.
Somalia: Flooding has affected 132,000 people and displaced an estimated 60,000 as low-lying areas of Mogadishu have now been inundated, as well as areas of Middle Shabelle and Lower Juba. Main supply roads are impassable and some airstrips unusable The middle and lower reaches of the Shabelle River remain at high risk of flooding.
Nigeria: Over 50 people were killed and more than 140 injured in bombings in Maiduguri, Kano, and Yola in the past week. Despite continued insecurity in the northeast, the government has announced plans to start closing IDP camps in Adamawa at the end of the year, and in Borno state in January 2016.
Ukraine: Both warring sides have moved some military equipment that had been withdrawn back to the contact line, and the President of Ukraine has threatened to return all withdrawn weapons if separatist forces continue to violate the ceasefire. The truce has been broken in a number of locations. In Crimea, more than 1.6 million people are without power and water supplies to high-rise buildings have stopped after main electricity lines from Ukraine were blown up.
Updated: 24/11/2015. Next update: 01/12/2015
Global Emergency Overview Web Interface
Food prices rise sharply after fighting disrupts Afghan harvest
The harvest has been halted in the country’s breadbasket in the northern province of Kunduz, where farmers have fled fighting and fields are infested with explosives.
CHARDARA DISTRICT, Afghanistan, 24 November 2015 (IRIN) - Food prices are shooting up in Afghanistan as the harvest has been halted in the country’s breadbasket in the northern province of Kunduz, where farmers have fled fighting and fields are infested with explosives.
The war between pro-government forces and the Taliban has been intensifying in the north. Insurgents briefly took over Kunduz City at the end of September, the first time the group has controlled a provincial capital since being ousted from power in 2001. Thousands fled the capital and surrounding districts as the Afghan army, backed by American forces, fought to retake the area. Many have now returned to their homes, but farmers are still unable to harvest their crops.
“While retreating, the Taliban mined our fields with IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” said Haji Hashim Khan, a 57-year-old farmer in Chardara District, about 10 kilometres from Kunduz City. “The crop is ready for harvest but we cannot touch one fruit or vegetable.”
With abundant waters from the Amu Darya River, a sunny climate, and fertile soils, Kunduz Province has been a main supplier to the rest of the country of crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, almonds, potatoes, tomatoes and watermelons.
According to Rabbani Haqiqatpal, director of planning and statistics at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Afghanistan produced 410,000 tonnes of rice and 4.9 million tonnes of wheat last year. Kunduz contributed 61 percent of the rice harvest and 12 percent of the wheat yield.
“Kunduz is a key agricultural province,” he told IRIN. “The fighting there in the past nine months has impacted agricultural trade in the whole of northern Afghanistan and its effect is now being felt even in Kabul."
Afghanistan has been importing rice and wheat for several years and will have to import even more of the two grains in 2016, causing prices to rise, Haqiqatpal said.
Prices have already increased sharply in the market in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where rice is retailing at 120 afghani (USD 1.80) per kg compared to 80 afghani at the same time last year. Wheat is fetching 30 afghani per kg compared with 20 afghani in 2014.
In Chardara and nearby districts of Ali Abad and Khan Abad, the usually bustling agricultural markets are shuttered as farmers have nothing to sell.
While fighting over the past couple months has destroyed the harvest in Kunduz, the farmers’ problems started early in the year as the Taliban began expanding its territorial influence. Fazel Khan, who owns 50 acres near the highway linking Chardara to Kunduz City, said he hadn't set foot on his farm for seven months.
“The Taliban started gathering on the outskirts of the district around March, just days after I had planted tomatoes and watermelon on my field,” he said. “They drove me and other farmers from the area as they feared we would report their activities to the authorities.”
The 60-year-old said he then started working as a labourer on someone else’s farm, but that didn’t last long. “The Taliban was soon there,” said Khan. “There were daily skirmishes between them and the security forces and we were caught in between.”
The fighting destroyed many fields, as insurgents used them as cover to move positions and Afghan forces fired artillery that burned the crops down, farmers told IRIN. In addition to food shortages, the fighting has also led to unemployment in the agricultural sector.
“Farmers, farm labourers, truck drivers — all are now sitting idle,” said Khan Mohammad, a rice farmer in Khan Abad District. “Agriculture is the backbone of Kunduz’s economy. People here either work on the fields or are involved in processing or transporting of farm produce. They have nothing to do now.”
Last October, Mohammad said he sold a tonne of rice for 1,400 dollars, which met the needs of his family of 10 for six months. This year, he doesn’t know how they will survive.
Many other families face similar challenges.
“Chronic malnutrition is alarmingly high in Afghanistan,” the World Food Programme said in a 30 September report, which stated that 41 percent of children under five are malnourished.
Facing a funding shortfall of 30 million dollars, WFP has reduced its food rations for people affected by conflict and natural disasters. The organisation told IRIN it was too early to comment on whether the current food shortages and rising prices would affect its programmes.
The number of Afghans considered severely food insecure grew by 317,000 people to almost six percent of the population over the past year, while one in every four Afghans is moderately food insecure, according to a quarterly report up to September by the Afghanistan Food Security Cluster, which is comprised of aid and government agencies.
UNHCR warns of new humanitarian problems building at crossings from Greece into Balkans
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Greece, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Pakistan, Serbia, Syrian Arab Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, World
With refugees expected to continue arriving in Europe via Greece over the winter, it is imperative that the situation be managed so as to minimize the risks of new problems being created.
On Friday last week, UNHCR, together with our partners IOM and Unicef, expressed our shared concern at the risks associated with a series of new and uncoordinated restrictions imposed on several borders in the Balkans in use by refugees and migrants. The negative consequences of these actions are already becoming clear as people become backed up in countries along the route and without proper solution to their situations. A new humanitarian situation is developing in Europe that needs urgent attention.
The new restrictions chiefly involve people being profiled on the basis of their alleged nationalities. At the borders between Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and between Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, nationals of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are being allowed to cross. Nationals of other countries are being stopped – about 1,000 people are stuck at the main entry point into Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from Greece. With frustrations growing, protests have erupted among some 200 people – mainly Iranians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Some 60 people are on hunger strike, and 11 individuals are reported to have stitched up their mouths. About 150 people have returned voluntarily over the past 48 hours to Athens where they are being advised that they can seek asylum. Near Edomani, the border point, UNHCR and partners have set up a transit centre consisting of 7 heated rubb halls where stranded people can stay the night and receive a hot meal.
With refugees and migrants expected to continue arriving in Europe via Greece over the winter and into 2016 it is imperative that the situation be managed in such a way as to minimize the risks of new problems being created. All people have the right the right to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality and to have their individual cases heard. Proper information needs to be provided to people affected by decisions at border points, and proper counselling needs to be available. In addition, arrangements to accommodate people affected must be in place.
With the current situation in Greece, UNHCR remains concerned that the measures on the borders into Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and between Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia will play into the hands of people smugglers as people seek alternatives to the chaotic situations in which they find themselves. As we head into winter, stabilization and proper and comprehensive management of Europe’s refugee and migrant situation remains urgently needed.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Athens, Aikaterini Kitidi on mobile +30 393 711 5656
In Edomani, Stella Nanou on mobile +30 694 458 6037
In Rome, Carlotta Sami on mobile +39 335 679 4746
In Lesvos, Boris Cheshirkov on mobile +359 878 507 041
In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile+41 79 557 9120
In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213
In Geneva, William Spindler on mobile +41 79 217 3011
Ukraine's 'Invisible Crisis': 1.5 Million IDPs with nowhere to go
Source: US Institute of Peace
About 2.6 million Ukrainians have fled the war in the east, and more than 1.4 million of them are still in the country, overwhelming the host communities that receive them.
When 5,000 people flooded into a city of 500,000 in one night with little more than the pajamas on their backs, they were greeted by the mayor and an assemblage of churches and civic groups ready to embrace them with shelter, food, clothing and moral support. The scene might sound like something from Europe’s west, where refugees are flooding in from the Middle East and Africa. But this is Ukraine in the midst of a war and an economic crisis, and two years into upheaval, the strain is beginning to show.
In a nation of 44 million people, about 2.6 million Ukrainians have fled the war in the east initiated by Russian-backed separatists, and more than 1.4 million of them are still in the country. About two-thirds find refuge with friends, family or others who’ve been displaced, and humanitarian agencies are bracing for the long haul. Ceasefire terms reached in Minsk, Belarus, in February and September have largely held, but spurts of renewed fighting include a battle that killed six Ukrainian soldiers last weekend. More than 8,000 people have died since the war began in April 2014.
International attention on Ukraine tends to be dominated by talk of whether the U.S. and European Union will extend their sanctions against Russia and whether to step up arms supplies to the Ukrainian government. But meantime, the conditions for the country’s internally displaced people (IDPs) and their host communities have become what former U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer calls an “invisible crisis.” Verveer serves as special representative on gender issues for the chairmanship in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the ceasefire in Ukraine and coordinates projects such as legal reform.
During a recent visit to Ukraine, Verveer said, officials clearly were overwhelmed by the massive and unfamiliar demands for assistance and coordination, though the government in Kyiv remains the largest single provider of aid to the displaced. The impact of the war and displacements are profound, said Verveer and Natalia Karbowska, chairman of the board of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, an organization that provides grants to women’s organizations in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova and is affiliated with the Global Fund for Women.
The two spoke at an event at USIP on Nov. 19 that explored how Ukraine’s civil society networks and the goodwill shown amid the humanitarian crisis might provide a foundation for social understanding and reconciliation, and how those displaced could find a voice and connections to political and economic life.
The discussion occurred just days before the second anniversary of the day protests began on Nov. 23, 2013, in Kyiv’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan. They were spurred by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection, under Russian pressure, of a planned association agreement with the European Union. The demonstrations, also known as the “Revolution of Dignity,” ultimately broadened to reflect public outrage over corruption and ineffective governance. Yanukovych fled the country and Russia soon swept into Ukraine to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and send fighters and weapons to back separatists in the eastern Donbas region.
“The Revolution of Dignity won, but we knew at that time that the change that we all campaigned for will not come immediately,” Karbowska said. Still, neither the demonstrators in the Maidan, nor the military were prepared for the Russian armed incursions. And the country’s institutions had no experience in dealing with the floods of displaced people fleeing the war zone.
Welcomes From Volunteers
So volunteers stepped into the breach. They mobilized to support the army and those displaced by the fighting, raising millions of dollars for aid in a country with no culture of philanthropy, Karbowska said. They have successfully lobbied for national and local measures to reform corrupt governing structures, though the pace of change has been sluggish. Advocates have pushed for laws to ban discrimination against displaced Ukrainians and to give them priority for places in kindergartens, the equivalent of day care in a country where parents desperately need jobs and can’t afford child care on their own.
“For me, this is a real indication of civil society in Ukraine – people mobilizing to achieve results, people mobilizing to change policies in their country,” she said.
Volunteers in the eastern city of Kharkiv make a point of expressing strong words of welcome to people fleeing the war-torn region nearby. And it was the city of Mariupol to the south where the mayor turned out to greet 5,000 displaced people who arrived by train one night.
“What does it mean to be internally displaced?” said Dawn Calabia, honorary advisor at Refugees International, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization. She visited Ukraine in August. “For some of the people I met, it meant that they got on a train in Donetsk and they wound up in Mariupol in their pajamas because the shelling had started at night and they had fled.”
“The deputy mayor said to us, `What do you do when 5,000 people come on a train in the middle of the night? So we called the people we knew, and people came out to respond to the needs,’” Calabia said in the USIP discussion.
Verveer, who also is executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington D.C., said she saw “vibrant civil society leadership” in Ukraine, with a non-profit sector that has knowledge and capabilities but suffers from too little support from the international community.
The U.S. Congress currently is in negotiations over the final budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Those talks include an aid package for Ukraine that contains economic support, military equipment and humanitarian assistance. Verveer and William B. Taylor, USIP’s executive vice president and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said it’s important to maintain vigorous support for Ukraine.
'We Need to Do More'
The United Nations refugee agency reported in October that it has been able to raise only 56 percent of the $41.5 million it says is needed to serve Ukraine’s 1.5 million internally displaced people. Overall, 5 million people need $316 million of humanitarian aid, and only 45 percent of that has been funded or pledged.
“This is a critical time for our own country” in relation to support for Ukraine, Verveer said. “We need to do more.” Verveer emphasized a comment from the audience that the problems of Ukraine aren’t intractable but rather that it’s entirely possible for Ukraine, with its vibrant civil society and the resilience of its local communities, to fully address its issues with sufficient international assistance.
As it is, Ukraine’s extended political, military, economic and social crisis is straining the country’s social fabric, Karbowska and others said in the USIP discussion. Soldiers coming home to an economy with no jobs are lashing out at their families. Local residents resent the priority given displaced Ukrainians for the precious kindergarten spaces. And then there’s the backdrop of tensions between the east and west that contributed sparks to the war in the first place.
Karbowska noted a growing lack of tolerance in communities amid the new competition for resources. That creates tensions between those displaced and local residents.
Ukraine is, in some ways, at a tipping point, said Lauren Van Metre, USIP’s acting vice president for applied research on conflict.
The significant support of the central government despite its strained coffers and the leadership that civil society “allows us to imagine very important possibilities for Ukraine,” Van Metre said. “Could this goodwill and community openness contribute to internal reconciliation?”
“Could this change perceptions of Kyiv by populations from the east?” Van Metre said. “While the potential for constructive engagement…does exist, winter is also near and local economies are constrained.”
Oksana Shulyar, a political affairs counselor at the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington D.C., notes that Ukrainians staying in the country alleviates the risk of adding to the flow of refugees entering western Europe. About 1.12 million have fled Ukraine, most to Russia, according to U.N. figures.
“The winter is coming and we urgently need additional assistance for rebuilding infrastructure in the conflict-affected areas,” said Shulyar, who attended the USIP event. “The solution to the IDP problem in Ukraine is an inclusive combination of larger financial support, Ukraine’s further reforms efforts and continued pressure on Russia until the Minsk agreements are implemented in full.”
'The Ground Truth'
Women particularly are critical to addressing the plight of internally displaced people, pressing for government reform and shepherding any reconciliation efforts that might emerge, said Karbowska and Verveer. Fully two-thirds of those displaced in Ukraine are women, and the economic crisis has thwarted their ability to get jobs to earn a living if they are the only source of income while men are deployed.
“Women are critical agents of change,” Verveer said. “They have the ground truth.”
Women’s non-government organizations have provided emergency aid, jobs skills training and initiatives to prevent domestic and community violence. They also are trying to advance women’s participation in decision-making and dialogue to defuse conflict.
“We see that society is really ready for new faces in politics, for new values in politics,” Karbowska said. “And we do think that women could bring these values.”
Verveer said women in parliament – they make up 11 percent of the members -- are working together across party lines to address the country’s crisis, even traveling to the East in groups to assess conditions. They expressed a serious need for information from other places that have experienced similar situations, to learn about practices and policies that work, she said.
With Ukraine considering decentralization of authority to address grievances in the east by distributing more government revenue to the local level, citizens need training in how to analyze policies and lobby for change, Karbowska said. “There is also a need for initiatives to build tolerance in communities,” Karbowska said.
Building the capacity of local civic organizations to provide humanitarian assistance also strengthens civil society in transitional countries by connecting it to official structures still struggling to break their top-down habits. And it can prepare citizens for more active roles when they return home.
USIP and the Ukrainian Women’s Fund will conduct a needs assessment to determine what skills and resources IDPs require, beyond immediate humanitarian assistance, so that they can advocate for their rights, and perhaps catalyze future reconciliation and war recovery efforts.
“We as peacebuilders know that successful IDP resettlements secure durable peace processes,” Van Metre said. “We know that giving IDPs a voice introduces critical local knowledge into policy discussions.”
In the meantime, Karbowska urged the U.S. and others in the international community to keep up the pressure on the Ukrainian government to implement the reforms they have promised and to improve conditions for citizens, including those displaced by the war.
“It is important for us that you all do not give up on Ukraine,” Karbowska said. “I know there are many terrible events happening in the world these days, but I do think that they are connected. After the Paris [attacks] last week, pro-Kremlin separatists in Ukraine became more active.”
She said more people are being killed again and there is a danger that the ceasefire will be broken by the end of the year. She hearkened back to the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, recalling that Ukrainians sympathized but “thought it was far away.”
“But now we know it is not,” Karbowska said. “We all live in the same reality…the problem of one country might become a global problem in just one day.”
Viola Gienger is a senior editor and writer at USIP.