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USGS M 2.5+ Earthquakes
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  • M 5.2, Alaska Peninsula
    56.542°N 156.480°W

    Saturday, May 30, 2015 04:40:05 UTC
    Friday, May 29, 2015 08:40:05 PM at epicenter

    Depth: 62.00 km (38.53 mi)

  • M 2.6, Puerto Rico region
    18.942°N 65.266°W

    Friday, May 29, 2015 23:44:15 UTC
    Friday, May 29, 2015 07:44:15 PM at epicenter

    Depth: 12.00 km (7.46 mi)

  • M 2.8, Puerto Rico region
    18.603°N 66.747°W

    Friday, May 29, 2015 13:18:58 UTC
    Friday, May 29, 2015 09:18:58 AM at epicenter

    Depth: 13.00 km (8.08 mi)

ReliefWeb Headlines
ReliefWeb - Headlines
  • Countries adopt declaration to protect schools and universities during conflict
    Source: Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack
    Country: World

    The Declaration also requires countries to record casualties from attacks on education, assist victims, and support humanitarian programming that promotes the continuation of education during armed conflict.

    (Oslo, May 29, 2015) -- 37 countries on May 29, 2015, joined an international Safe Schools Declaration that commits them to protect education from attack. In situations of conflict, widespread attacks on schools and universities, their students and staff, as well as the use of school buildings by armed parties is denying education to many thousands of people – with devastating results for individuals and their communities, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said. The Declaration was adopted at a meeting hosted by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry in Oslo. The Declaration is the result of a process initiated by the Coalition in 2012, and led by the governments of Norway and Argentina since 2014. “Targeted attacks on education are robbing a generation of the chance to realize their potential, with a huge long-term social cost,” said Diya Nijhowne, the Coalition director. “The countries adopting the Safe Schools Declaration are making a commitment to take concrete action to protect students and their education in times of conflict.” By joining the Declaration, countries agree to endorse and use new Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, which call for armed parties to avoid using educational buildings or making them targets of attack. The Declaration also requires countries to record casualties from attacks on education, assist victims, and support humanitarian programming that promotes the continuation of education during armed conflict. When armed forces use schools and universities as bases and barracks, weapons caches, training grounds, or detention centers, it may not only force students out, but it risks making those buildings a military target, the Coalition said. Often the armed forces do not recognize the immediate or long-term costs of military use of schools. By using the Guidelines, countries help safeguard their children, their education systems, and ultimately their societies. The Guidelines are intended to apply to non-state armed groups as well as government armed forces. In November 2014, the Guidelines were presented for discussion at a meeting of representatives from 35 non-state armed groups from 14 countries organized by Geneva Call, an organization that engages non-state armed groups to respect international humanitarian norms. In a declaration adopted at the end of the meeting, the non-state armed groups said they would take the Guidelines into consideration and expressed appreciation that non-state armed groups were being recognized as stake-holders in the effort to protect students and their education. In a recent study, the Coalition found that schools and universities have been used for military purposes by government forces and non-state armed groups in 26 countries since 2005 -- the majority of countries with an armed conflict during this period. In an earlier study, Education under Attack 2014, the Coalition found a systematic pattern of attacks on education in 30 countries around the world between 2009 and 2013. Among those at the Oslo ceremony was Ziauddin Yousafzai, the UN special adviser on global education, and the father and teacher of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and education rights campaigner shot by the Pakistan Taliban who went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He applauded the countries that attended the conference for putting the hope generated by education ahead of the despair resulting from violence. The countries supporting the Safe Schools Declaration see it as the beginning of a process to strengthen the protection of education and have committed to meet regularly to review progress. The group said the Declaration is still open to countries that have not yet joined. “Even though the Guidelines are flexible, some countries have been concerned about constraints on their armed forces,” Nijhowne said. “But the countries supporting the Safe Schools Declaration are making it clear that protecting education is a priority and that the work starts here to turn words into action.”

  • Flooding in Arauca, Colombia estimated to affect 30,000 people
    Source: ACT Alliance
    Country: Colombia

    The authorities have requested support from all humanitarian actors in the department, as water levels continue to rise. In addition, the security situation could worsen as FARC withdrew their unilateral cease fire.
    1. Brief description of the emergency and impact

    Since 22nd May, the Colombian north - east department of Arauca has experienced heavy rains creating emergency situations due to the floods caused by overflown rivers . In Saravena municipality a red alert has been published due to the level of severity of the situation .
    Arauquita and Arauca municipalities are also on high alert as water levels continue to rise .
    Local authorities are working to get more accurate figures about the affected population , as several main roads have being affected, isolating communities and even municipalities , both in urban and rural sectors. Houses and public spaces such as schools, health clinics and child centres which were being used as emergency shelter have now also been flooded, leaving population without secure shelter . The municipal structures for water distribution have been affected, as well as household and community wells. The population now has to depend on the river water that is severely polluted due to the pollution from the oil industry in the upper river. Energy supply also has been affected. Most of the rural population depend for subsistence on small scale farming and livestock, initial reports reflect the destruction of crops and death of animals. In the seven communities located next to the river , already 3,000 persons have been affected, therefore the global number in the whole department will be much higher, closer to 30, 000 persons is the current estimate .

    In addition, the ombudsman’s office has warned that the security situation could worsen in the Arauca department after the guerrilla group FARC withdrew their unilateral cease fire putting the civilian population at higher risk. The guerrilla group ELN has also been active in Arauca. Both groups are present in Saravena.

  • The struggle for survival across Ukraine's frontline
    Source: IRIN
    Country: Russian Federation, Ukraine

    Fighting in the Ukraine has not stopped despite the February ceasefire. A humanitarian disaster has unfolded on Europe's doorstep and aid isnt gettting through.

    Ukraine's frontline cuts across the country like a jagged scar. Despite a February ceasefire, the fighting hasn't stopped. In March and April, Kristina Jovanovski had rare access to rebel-held areas to investigate the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded on Europe's doorstep. Here is her exclusive report on why aid isn't getting through.

    Download PDF

    After navigating shattered glass, craters, a burnt-out car and a checkpoint, they stand in line, ready to get onto all fours and clamber down a precarious wall of rubble and crumbling cement in rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

    The 20 or so civilians, some of them quite elderly, make their way gingerly across the blown-up bridge that leads to government-controlled territory. More importantly, it will give them access to medicine, money and cheaper provisions.

    "When you're 56 of course it's hard, but we have to climb because we need money," Lena Vasilivna tells me after scaling the informal border on her return journey.

    Credit cards, banks and ATMs don't function at all in the rebel-held east. People are cut off from all the services the Ukrainian state would usually provide, such as pensions and benefits. The government made an official announcement in November, but locals say the funds dried up months before that.

    The conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatist rebels has claimed more than 6,334 lives since it erupted 13 months ago, according to conservative estimates from UN relief officials. The Ukrainian government of Petro Poroshenko puts the death toll above 8,600, including nearly 7,000 civilians.

    The war, which holds enormous geopolitical importance for Russia and Europe, grew out of protests by pro-Russian separatists, which escalated after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's southeastern peninsula of Crimea. Russia's move followed the February 2014 revolution that overthrew pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.

    Separatists took control of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and set up the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR) and "Luhansk People’s Republic" (LPR) in April. Kiev and NATO say the rebels are backed by Moscow, which Russia denies.

    The war’s frontline has become Ukraine’s de facto Berlin Wall, splitting the country east and west, dividing the two populations – sometimes members of the same family even – into haves and have-nots.

    An untold number of civilians cross the frontline every month to get money and supplies from the west. They can't afford to stay there and rent apartments, especially with no means of employment, so they return east with whatever they can carry.

    Vasilivna lives in the small village of Nikolaevka, seven kilometers from the bridge. When fighting intensified in February, she slept on the floor in the corridor, hoping the extra walls would provide greater protection if a shell hit.

    Once a month, she makes her way like hundreds of others across the bridge to the town of Stanytsia Luhanska to pick up her mother's medication for high blood pressure and her pension from the post office.

    In government-controlled territory, Vasilivna has access to cheaper goods. At home, she would pay $5.65 for one kilo of pork fat. Across the bridge, she can get it for $2.11. A box of teabags costs 70 cents on the western side versus $1.65 on the east.

    She has to stop at three checkpoints and is never sure she'll be allowed to pass. Sometimes, the guards say she cannot go through for security reasons. Other times, she is denied passage but given no explanation.

    Even when she does make it, difficult trade-offs have to be made: "If we buy medicine, we can't afford to buy some food," she explains.

    Who is helping?

    Most of the estimated 1.2 million Ukrainians in need of assistance in rebel-held Ukraine can't keep crossing to and fro like Vasilivna to make ends meet. Many have no income at all and are reliant on whatever aid comes their way.

    According to an extensive assessment of humanitarian needs conducted by the NGO Forum in Ukraine in March, of the more than 670,000 people who urgently needed food aid, almost 90 percent were in rebel-held areas.

    International aid agencies are struggling to fill the void left by the Ukrainian government, which cannot access the rebel-held east, and by the separatists, who are trying to build their own quasi-state with limited means.

    It is an impossible task, especially as February's truce is a ceasefire in name only.

    "There's a huge population that we will never be able to cover," Loïc Jaeger, deputy head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Ukraine, tells me.

    A limited number of aid convoys do cross quite regularly from the west, but they can't access certain areas, especially villages in lawless Luhansk region far from crossing points, down minor roads. Some help is provided by the Russian government, but it isn’t clear how widespread or regular this assistance is.

    Aid agencies are also hampered by a Ukrainian government policy, introduced in January, requiring people who travel from government-controlled areas into rebel-held territory to formally apply for permission first.

    Daniel Bunnskog, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representative in Luhansk, says this bureaucracy means dozens of trucks have been left languishing for days at Ukrainian checkpoints waiting for the correct passes.

    "It doesn't seem to be a unified system where everybody has the same opinion of what's supposed to happen when you come with your passes and trucks," he says. "It makes the timely delivery of the assistance very difficult."

    The policy has limited the amount of aid the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) can deliver in rebel territory.

    WFP reports officer Ryan Mcdonagh says figuring out how to get past the checkpoints has become a daily struggle because the process is so inconsistent and unreliable.

    "It's really important to get food in now… you have areas that have been cut off for months," he tells me. "At the same time that we’re trying to get in as much food as possible to some of these (rebel-held) areas, this administrative hurdle becomes an increasingly more burdensome challenge."

    Many people in the rebel-held part of Luhansk region have to rely on soup kitchens run by separatists. Apart from MSF and ICRC, few international aid organisations have a consistent presence here, where the humanitarian crisis is worst.

    "There are very few humanitarian actors to fill the gap which actually exists between needs and what is available," Bunnskog says. "The main provider of assistance is (the) so-called LPR government… mainly through the (assistance) it receives from the Russian side."

    Impossible security situation

    Even in Donetsk, a city of one million people before the war that is significantly better resourced than most, hundreds of people still seek food and medicine every day.

    When I visit in early spring, the majority of shops are closed down, but there are still markets and grocery stores open. This is also true for the rebel stronghold of Luhansk city, where most businesses are boarded up yet some supermarkets remain well-stocked.

    As I drive north or west from Luhansk city or north from Donetsk, however, a different story quickly emerges: the scale of the destruction increases dramatically as I enter the heavily shelled areas close to the frontline.

    The conditions I find are appalling in many towns and villages. But the security situation is calmer than it was, especially during the bouts of intense fighting that marked the long, hard winter.

    Access to rebel-held areas has significantly improved since a second ceasefire agreement was struck in February, allowing more aid convoys to make their way in (the first, in September, collapsed almost immediately).

    But the fighting has not stopped.

    Both sides blame each other for truce violations and mortar and grenade attacks are still reported regularly. The Ukrainian government accuses the rebels of continuing to use heavy weapons that should have been withdrawn under the peace deal. At least nine fatalities were reported just on Wednesday, most of them civilians.

    The security situation is particularly dicey in Luhansk region, where an increasing number of assassinations of rebel commanders in recent months has been interpreted by Kiev as a sign of growing divisions between rival separatist factions.

    Control of towns and checkpoints in the rebel-held part of Luhansk region are nominally split between the separatist LPR "government" and a group of Ukrainian Cossacks – famed for their traditional role in defending the borders of the Russian empire.

    But some frontline towns, like Pervomaisk, have witnessed bitter internal power struggles. In January, the Cossack mayor was shot dead, while a local warlord allied to another group of Cossacks, Alexander Bednov, known by his nickname "Batman," was killed along with six bodyguards when an anti-tank missile blew up his armoured car.

    Natalia Stupina, who heads LPR’s humanitarian operations, insists there has been no problem working with the Cossacks and says she would welcome more international agencies into the area. "Certainly, for the sake of people," she tells me.

    But in reality, even if LPR officials allow aid convoys in, they cannot guarantee them safe passage through the rebel-held part of the region.

    "When you don’t have a clear vision of who is where and who (you) should talk to to get access to Luhansk, you might not want to take the risk to come here," says Bunnskog.

    The dangers for international aid organisations operating in this environment are extreme.

    At the end of April, rebels raided the offices of the International Rescue Committee in Donetsk for alleged "spying," expelling five foreign nationals and taking two Americans hostage for nine days. In October, a Swiss ICRC worker was killed when a shell landed near his office in Donetsk.

    "You cross several checkpoints, and checkpoints along the frontline are often places where you have quite a lot of tension," says Bunnskog. "When you have convoys of 10, 12, 14 huge trucks going through these areas and being checked… sometimes (for) hours, you're basically exposing your teams to a high risk."

    'No hope for my life'

    On an overcast and cold March morning, rebels standing next to empty trenches at the checkpoint for Pervomaisk say it is a "closed" town and outsiders have to get special registration to enter. I am only allowed in with an escort.

    Boxes with MSF's logo on them are stacked at the entrance of a municipal building. Dozens of people have lined up nearby to register for free bread.

    The streets tell a tale of destruction: shell holes in the road; wires dangling down from broken telegraph poles; row after row of bombed-out apartment blocks – plastic sheets flapping violently in the wind, failing to cover glassless windows.

    Inside one building, I find 78-year-old local resident Anna Reshedko. Aside from her high blood pressure, she needs medication for a long-term heart condition.

    Even if Pervomaisk's badly damaged and under-resourced main hospital had what she needed, it is several miles away and too far for her to reach; she can only walk for 30 minutes a day.

    So she spends her time sitting in her unheated apartment with a coat covering the legs she can barely stand on. Cold air streams in from a bedroom window broken during the shelling. At one point in the winter, she says the inside temperature fell to just four degrees Celsius.

    Reshedko keeps her bathtub full because the water normally comes in just once a week. At times, she has gone weeks without running water.

    Once, she sat next to a window and cried out to passersby to get her food and water because she couldn’t walk out of her apartment. "When the cars with the aid came here, I couldn't go there," she says. "Everybody (got) the aid and I couldn't."

    She rarely uses her electric heating blanket because she is scared it might stop working when she really needs it.

    Reshedko worked as a nurse for 40 years but has not received her pension in 10 months.

    A pink beret conceals her partly bald head, the result of stress after her husband and mother died two months apart, 20 years ago. She has no family left. "There is no hope for my life," she says.

    Hiding underground

    Indiscriminate shelling, including in residential areas, cut off some towns from any international aid until after the second ceasefire.

    Nowhere was fought over more fiercely than the strategic town of Debaltseve, a vital rail and road junction that Ukrainian forces finally relinquished control of on 18 February after a long siege, at a heavy cost of both men and weaponry.

    Freight cars now litter the ditches on the way into town. At the checkpoint to enter, burnt-out military vehicles lie still like monuments behind the fighters who check documents and question those who come in.

    In the town centre on this bright and sunny day, rebels hand out boxes of food aid from the back of a truck. But only a few streets away, Oleg, who doesn’t want his last name used, emerges from the dark, damp underground shelter where he lived for six weeks with his wife and young son.

    Sleeping in a tiny room covered with carpets to keep the heat in, they created a makeshift kitchen next door to store jars of homemade preservatives stockpiled in preparation for the war.

    They are happy to return upstairs to their apartment despite the lack of electricity and running water. But Oleg, 45, fears their relief might only be fleeting. "Any moment they can start (to) fire here (again)," he tells me.

    Only a fraction of Debaltseve's 25,000 original inhabitants remain in the town, which is largely destroyed.

    Nearby Zorynsk, with a pre-war population of 7,500, is a ghost town. Only 20 kilometers from the frontline, it was also heavily shelled in February. But it did not have the same strategic value as Debaltseve so it garnered less attention.

    On one street, pieces of wood are scattered across a lawn. Those few beams are all that is left of an entire house. It would be impossible to tell had it not been for another badly shelled house next door.

    One or two vendors still ply their wares in the town's market, but most of the rusty stalls are all shut up.

    At the market entrance is 83-year-old Anna Vasiliyevna, wearing her roommate's old dress and selling cigarettes. She works from 5am to 5pm, earning 25 cents a day.

    For lunch she has a piece of bread and an onion. Sometimes, she gets a bowl of soup from a kitchen run by the local separatist authorities.

    While it means she can survive, she still goes hungry in a conflict she says is worse than the first one she had to live through 70 years ago: World War II.

    Vasiliyevna went without heating this winter in her damaged apartment. She stopped getting her pension in July and could no longer pay for gas, which increased in price, as did bread: “ I can’t afford the food if I pay the bills....It would be better if I died in my flat.”

    Health crisis?

    Without help, the humanitarian crisis already evident in eastern Ukraine will only deepen. An estimated 5.2 million people live in areas affected by the conflict and the elderly and disabled, left near the frontline, are among the most vulnerable.

    In rebel-held areas, 92 percent of households reported to ACAPS, an independent organisation that assesses humanitarian needs, that they were in need of medicine, while 34 percent said they had no access or unreliable access to water.

    With no free health care or drugs, patients are also suffering. Since many of those left in rebel-held areas are elderly, the need for medicines for chronic diseases is especially acute. Aid organisations focused on emergencies are ill-equipped to deliver the long-term solutions required.

    "No one knows how they’ll manage to provide insulin to the patients here in two months' time," says MSF's Jaeger.

    In yet another obstacle, Ukrainian law limits the type of drugs that can be imported and does not allow aid agencies to donate to hospitals – only to individuals.

    That is especially problematic for patients who cannot administer their own medicine, such as those with mental disabilities living in institutions where their doctors need to prescribe the drugs.

    "I cannot say that we have been blocked but I cannot say that it has been facilitated either," Jaeger tells me.

    MSF did manage to get enough drugs to run some mobile clinics, including at the hospital in the town of Novosvitlivka.

    The road to the town is dotted with small villages foreshadowing a former frontline. The houses are destroyed, belongings abandoned. The occasional pedestrian is often the only sign that the communities are not completely deserted. Residents have become stuck in a time capsule of war, living amongst the rubble.

    Valya Stepkina is one of about 300 patients to attend the MSF clinic the day I visit. Most people are seeking treatment for chronic diseases like diabetes or for pills to help regulate heart problems.

    Stepkina, 65, is picking up medication for her blood pressure, but what she is really hoping for are the pills she needs to treat her cancer.

    She waits anxiously until the doctor finally comes out only to tell her they don't have them. It has been the same story since September and Stepkina is worried about her growing tumour.

    She has tried going to Luhansk city but can’t find the pills there either. Having not received her pension in more than nine months, she says she wouldn’t be able to afford the medicine even if it was available.

    Back at her home, a baby carriage for her twin grandsons lies empty in the living room. They are at the hospital with a high fever that will not go away. So is Stepkina's son, who has a leg injury and can't get the right treatment.

    "Sometimes I (might) cry. But it is life. I can't do anything. We need to survive but nobody cares about us," she says, counting herself as one of the lucky ones. At least her house is still standing.

    What next?

    While the better summer weather will make it is easier for civilians and aid agencies to move around, it will also improve conditions for fighting.

    "Every indication has suggested this is a lull before the storm in so far as the fighting is concerned," says WFP's Mcdonagh, who expects the number of people requiring food aid to double if agencies can't get enough provisions across the frontline.

    The violence has already intensified through April and May, with both sides reporting causalities and accusing each other of shelling.

    A report this week appears to confirm statements from US officials that Russia has built up more troops on the border than at any time since October, and a NATO commander has warned that he believes the rebels are taking advantage of the ceasefire to prepare for a new offensive.

    Restrictions have been placed on residents crossing from rebel-held Luhansk to government-controlled territory. At least those who can still move between the warring sides of eastern Ukraine get some respite. Many others can't.

    While the summer may bring more fighting, the winter will almost certainly bring further misery. Analysts see no end to a cycle of conflict that could be frozen for years.

    For those trapped on Ukraine's frontline, like Anna Reshedko in Pervomaisk, there is little to no hope: "We don’t know what will happen tomorrow and I don't even want to think about [it] because the war is not over", she says. "I'm going to die because there's nobody to help."

  • Fighting in northern Mali forces thousands to flee their homes
    Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
    Country: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger

    Renewed fighting between armed groups in northern Mali has led to 57,000 people fleeing their homes. Mali's total number of IDPs stands now at over 100,000.

    GENEVA, May 29 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency, citing government figures, on Friday said renewed fighting between armed groups in the Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu areas of northern Mali in the past four weeks has led to some 57,000 people fleeing their homes.

    "The volatile security situation is hindering access for humanitarian workers to all affected areas and the growing insecurity in the region is making the provision of protection and assistance to the newly-displaced very challenging," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told journalists in Geneva.

    He explained that the newly-displaced join the ranks of more than 43,000 internally displaced people throughout the country who have not yet returned to their homes since the conflict in 2012 between governmental forces and various rebel groups. The total number of internally displaced people (IDP) in Mali stands now at just over 100,000, mainly in the northern part of the country.

    The deterioration in the security situation came days after the signing of a May 15 peace agreement between the government and several armed groups in the Mali capital, Bamako. Those most affected by population displacement live in the Timbuktu Region, where more than 53,000 IDPs have been registered.

    The government is also reporting the forced displacement of some 2,350 people in the Gao region and just over 1,600 in the Mopti area. "Our teams in northern Mali spoke to some of the newly displaced who said that they had fled their villages because of fear of violence or forced recruitment by armed groups," Spindler said.

    He noted that UNHCR, with IEDA Relief and Handicap International, had sent a team to Timbuktu to assess the needs. They found that many people had moved to locations considered safer around their villages of origin, or to neighbouring villages. "Many are sleeping outdoors and some are staying with friends or relatives. They report that many women and children are among the displaced, and that they urgently need shelter, water and food," Spindler said.

    He said that earlier this week, and despite the difficult situation, UNHCR had started to deliver relief items to more than 1,500 newly displaced people in Goundam, located 85 kilometres west of Timbuktu. The distribution is continuing with the help of a local partner, Stop Sahel.

    "We are also currently moving relief items to the Timbuktu area in order to organize the future distribution of kitchen sets, soap, mosquito nets, blankets and plastic sheeting to some 12,000 people newly displaced in Gourma Rharous, some 100 kilometres east of Timbuktu," Spindler said.

    In addition to internal displacement, small numbers of people are crossing to neighbouring countries. UNHCR teams have registered 258 new arrivals from Mali in Burkina Faso between May 11 and 28, while some 236 Malians have arrived in Mauritania since the end of April. In Niger, UNHCR teams report the arrival of 238 new refugees from Mali.

    "Although the numbers are still relatively low, this is an extremely worrying development since it shows the degree to which civil strife in Mali is undermining social cohesion. In Niger, the refugees originate from a single village in the Gao region where fighting between different armed groups took place earlier this month and civilians were killed," Spindler said, adding that as a result, the villagers fled to Niger but do not want to live in one camp as they accuse each other of having links to opposing armed groups.

    Malian refugees had been slowly but consistently returning home from Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger until the latest violence flared up. The Mali government estimates that 35,232 refugees have returned home since 2013. UNHCR has verified 16,500 of them, of whom 1,121 have returned since January this year.

    In return areas, we support returnees through community-based projects, such as rehabilitating schools, providing medicine to hospitals, digging wells, distributing shelter kits, supporting self-reliance activities, or assisting vulnerable people with relief items. In order to foster peaceful coexistence in return areas, these projects benefit both the host and returnee communities.

    Some 137,500 Malians remain refugees in neighbouring countries, including 33,400 in Burkina Faso, 52,000 in Mauritania, and some 50,000 in Niger.

  • Thousands fleeing violence in Ramadi and surrounds struggle to reach safety
    Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
    Country: Iraq

    More than 180,000 people are estimated to have been displaced from Ramadi since hostilities began in early April. 85 percent of this latest wave of displaced remain in Anbar governorate.

    UNHCR is deeply concerned about the desperate situation for thousands of people fleeing fighting in Ramadi who continue to face challenges reaching safe areas.

    An estimated 85,000 people have fled the latest escalation of violence in Ramadi and surrounds since 15 May, according to our partner IOM. The vast majority of this latest wave of displaced – about 85 per cent – remain in Anbar governorate. All together, more than 180,000 people are estimated to have been displaced from the Ramadi area since hostilities began in early April.

    Many people are still on the move and UNHCR alongside others in the humanitarian community is striving to locate them, and provide life-saving assistance. Our monitoring teams have found displaced civilians still face serious obstacles at various checkpoints out of Anbar into neighbouring provinces, as local authorities impose restrictions. As it stands, Babylon and Kerbala governorates are closed to displaced people from Anbar.

    The Bzebiz bridge, the main entry point from Anbar into Baghdad, was closed for four days at the start of this latest exodus from Ramadi from 15 May, leaving many people stranded daily in soaring temperatures as they waited their turn to have sponsorship arrangements processed. While the bottleneck at the bridge has now eased, our monitoring teams report that the requirement for displaced people to have a local sponsor in Baghdad remains a concern. It hampers swift access to safety, leaves people waiting in searing heat without proper shelter, and makes the displaced vulnerable to exploitation. UNHCR is urging the authorities to address this problem and more broadly to ensure freedom of movement and swift access to safety of all displaced Iraqis citizens.

    Onerous requirements for other documentation has also been a concern. Our partners have spent days helping 600 vulnerable people, many with disabilities or serious medical conditions get access to Baghdad governorate. This has involved providing transport back to Amriyat Al-Fallujah hospital to obtain required medical documents to gain access to Baghdad, when authorities were only admitting access for those in need of medical treatment.

    Unable to move to other provinces, thousands of displaced people congregated around the city of Al-Khalidiya (east of Ramadi and also the scene of direct fighting in recent weeks) then moved onwards to Al Madina Al Siyahiya (or Tourist City) in Al-Habbaniya and to Amriyat Al-Falujah, where UNHCR has provided aid at collective shelters. But much more support is needed in these districts, where many still live in overcrowded conditions, without access to clean water or proper sanitation.

    Some people are moving north towards the cities of Kalar (Diyala governorate) or Kirkuk. With thousands on the move and stiff competition for transport, journeys that would normally take a few hours are taking days. Our teams met with displaced families from Ramadi in the Qoratu camp, in Diyala governorate, who had spent three days stranded at the Kullajo check point, bordering Diayla and Sulyaymaniyah. They were only granted entry to Kalar on condition they would stay at the Qoratu camp, now hosting about 1,500 people. Local authorities in Sulaymaniyah governorate have indicated that displaced people from Ramadi would be denied entry and they must stay in Qoratu camp or return back towards Baghdad.

    Conditions are tough in the camp which is already experiencing temperatures of 47 degrees, still some months away from the height of summer. UNHCR is giving out fans as well as sleeping mats, jerry cans and plastic sheets to help reinforce the shade.

    Indeed, adequate shelter is one of the key needs for thousands of displaced people, who are out in the heat for long periods -- daily temperatures already exceed 40 degrees. Our current focus is to rapidly develop shelter options for the displaced, including in Baghdad governorate as well as Qoratu camp. We are also working with UN and NGO partners to monitor the dispersion of people and needs at different locations, and identify possible safe locations where temporary settlements can be set up. We are coordinating closely with the government’s Joint Coordination and Monitoring Centre to ensure that UN efforts complement those of the Iraqi government in mobilizing the assistance so desperately needed by the displaced people.

    Since the beginning of April, UNHCR and its partners have distributed relief items like mattresses, jerry cans and plastic sheeting to more than 33,000 people who have fled their homes in Ramadi, as part of an inter-agency response. We have also given tents and partitioning materials in collective shelters in several locations in Anbar and Baghdad governorates.

    The UN continues to advocate for the respect of the fundamental human rights of freedom of movement and access to safety for all Iraqis in flight. Being able to reach a place of safety makes the difference between life and death for desperate displaced people on the move. Once out of the immediate threat of the conflict around them, people do need continuing assistance, including emergency shelter and water and sanitation facilities. They also need access to basic services like education for their children so that they can regain a semblance of normalcy and stability.

    For more information on this topic, please contact:

    In Iraq, Bathoul Ahmed, on mobile +964 771 994 5332
    In Geneva, Ariane Rummery, on mobile +41 79 200 7617

  • Millions of people at risk of extended hunger in the Sahel
    Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies
    Country: Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal

    Caught in a vicious cycle of food insecurity and recurring epidemics, the people of the Sahel are again facing another year of food shortages and hunger.

    By Sirandou Fall and Katherine Mueller, IFRC

    The Sahel is one of the most fragile environments in Africa. Caught in a vicious cycle of food insecurity and recurring epidemics, people of the Sahel are again facing another year of food shortages and hunger. It comes on the heels of a drought in 2012 which affected nearly 18 million people.

    This year, the projections are worse. According to the last Regional Harmonized Framework in March, there are more than 23 million people currently suffering from food insecurity; almost 5 million are already in the crisis phase.

    A late start to the 2014 rains, combined with poor distribution of rainfall, has reduced grain and cereal production. The Ebola epidemic in countries such as Senegal and Mali, which border Guinea, one of the countries worst hit by the outbreak, has also caused a spike in food prices.

    “All signs are pointing to another challenging year for farmers and pastoralists in the Sahel who are trying to meet their minimum basic needs for their families,” says Bahram Amintorabi, disaster management coordinator, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Sahel region. “We need to act swiftly and proactively if we hope to assist and protect mothers and children, in particular, from excessive suffering from these food shortages.”

    IFRC has launched three emergency appeals in The Gambia, Mauritania, and Senegal. Totalling 5.1 million Swiss francs, the appeals aim to support the National Societies in the three affected countries through activities focusing on food security, nutrition promotion, building resilience, and disaster risk reduction.

    “We must ensure a special emphasis on the nutritional needs of young children and lactating mothers as they are among the most vulnerable and are greatly affected by food shortages,” adds Amintorabi. “When children are malnourished, they are highly susceptible to risk of infectious disease, they stop going to school, or have great learning difficulties. This affects their personal development, the development of the next generation and, ultimately, the development of the country itself.”

    Immediate interventions include distributing enriched flour for children under two years and for pregnant or lactating women who are at risk of malnutrition, to prevent a deterioration of their nutritional status, and to support the adoption of better nutritional practices which are essential to reducing malnutrition. Cash transfers will allow families to purchase what best suits their immediate needs, while longer term support will see families receive agricultural and livestock inputs to strengthen and protect their livelihoods.

    “The task that the Red Cross and Red Crescent is facing today is immense. We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of people to reach,” says Amintorabi. “However, funding constraints remain an obstacle in progressing towards delivering our humanitarian mission and we cannot do it without the generous support of our donors. To date, our three emergency appeals have not received any financial support. We appeal to the global community, on behalf of all those families who are desperately trying to minimize the effects of hunger and malnutrition, to support our activities.”

  • Despite growing threats, UN peacekeepers worldwide remain dedicated to serve
    Source: UN News Service
    Country: World

    More than one million military, police and civilian personnel have served as UN peacekeepers, helping countries gain independence, supporting historic elections and promoting human rights.

    28 May 2015 – More than one million military, police and civilian personnel have served as United Nations peacekeepers over the years, and despite growing security threats and the sacrifices that come with being deployed in challenging environments, over 100,000 men and women continue to work for the cause of peace.

    “This is one of the most admirable features in peacekeeping, that despite all the dangers and the risks… they want to go to these places and contribute,” said Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations.

    “This is what we admire and we appreciate enormously and it’s why we have UN Peacekeepers Day, in order to express our gratitude to them,” he added during an interview with the UN News Centre.

    The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, observed annually on 29 May, is an occasion to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.

    In its 70 years, the United Nations has established 71 peacekeeping operations. More than one million people have served as peacekeepers, helping countries gain independence, supporting historic elections, protecting civilians, disarming hundreds of thousands of ex-combatants, establishing the rule of law, promoting human rights and creating the conditions for refugees and displaced persons to return home.

    “It’s about tremendous gratitude to those people, men and women, and to the countries who actually contribute them, because without them, the partnership that is peacekeeping simply could not work,” Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous told the UN News Centre.

    Today, there are more than 107,000 uniformed peacekeepers from 122 troop- and police- contributing countries serving in 16 missions. However, their service does not come without costs. More than 3,300 women and men serving the organization as peacekeepers have lost their lives since the UN’s first operation in 1948. This year marks the seventh successive year in which the UN will honour more than 100 ‘blue helmets’ who lost their lives the previous year while serving the cause of peace.

    “Almost every day now, we’re losing peacekeepers around the world, especially in Mali,” noted Mr. Mulet. “Mali has become the most dangerous mission we have right now.”

    Earlier this week, another peacekeeper serving with the UN operation in Mali, known as MINUSMA, was killed, bringing the number of fatalities to 50 since the mission was established two years ago. For the UN, the safety and security of its staff is paramount.

    “Given the nature of the challenges that we are facing on the ground, we are experimenting with a number of new tools to improve the safety of our people but also to enhance the way they can perform their mandates,” said Mr. Ladsous.

    The UN has modernized its operations, introduced new technologies, broadened its base of contributors and strengthened its partnerships with regional organizations. At the same time, demands far outpace resources, and better funding, training and equipment is required.

    To assess the threats and explore how best to meet today’s challenges, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a High-Level Independent Panel to assess the state of UN peace operations today and the emerging needs of the future. Mr. Ladsous believes the Panel’s report will be critical for the future of UN peacekeeping.

    “I do hope, in fact I’m convinced, that that report, when it comes out sometime in mid-June, will actually help us chart the way ahead for the next 15 years or so of peacekeeping.”

  • About 1.4 million people in Nepal need food assistance
    Source: Government of Nepal, World Food Programme, Food Security Cluster
    Country: Nepal

    The majority of these people live in the most heavily damaged areas along the seismic belt. In the most food insecure areas, 80 per cent of households have lost their entire food stocks.

    KEY MESSAGES

    A major concern for both immediate and longer term food security are widespread losses of household food stocks. In the most food insecure areas, 80 percent of households have lost their entire food stocks, and overall 55 percent of households have lost more than half of their cereal stocks. Using baseline data on average food stocks available at this time of the year, this translates into an estimated total of 52,000 MT of lost grain stocks.

    Food assistance has played a critical role in ensuring that food insecurity does not escalate further: food assistance is the main source of cereals and pulses for close to 40 percent of surveyed households. While reaching remote, highly affected areas with no road access has been very challenging, humanitarian agencies are now using helicopters and porters to access these “unreachable” areas.

    The earthquake has severely impacted food security, with an estimated 1.4 million people in need of food assistance (excluding Kathmandu Valley). The majority of these live in the most heavily damaged areas along the seismic belt (1.1 million people), with the remaining living in the severely affected but sparsely populated remote mountain areas (90,000 people), and in the less severely damaged but highly dense southern areas (250,000 people).

    Food security has deteriorated in all affected areas, and is particularly worrying in remote mountain areas, where close to 70 percent of households have poor or borderline food consumption, and close to half have poor diet diversity. Households across all affected areas are resorting to negative food-based coping strategies, particularly reducing portion sizes and meal frequency.

    Crop production and livestock rearing are the primary livelihoods for almost two thirds of households in the affected areas. While damage to fields and standing crops have been less severe than originally expected (22 percent of households lost more than half of their standing crops), widespread seed losses and damage to agricultural tools are a major concern.

    Households dependent on daily labour and trade have been amongst the most affected in terms of income, with over two thirds reporting income losses of over 30 percent since the earthquake.

    Food markets are now largely functional in less affected areas and are fast recovering in the seismic belt. In remote mountain areas, however, markets remain mostly closed or difficult to access for both suppliers and households, due to destroyed roads or landslide risk. The upcoming monsoon is likely to exacerbate market access constraints in these areas.

  • What next for EU migration plans?
    Source: IRIN
    Country: Greece, Italy, Libya, World

    The European Commission has fleshed out its plans to manage record levels of irregular migration to the European Union’s shores, but questions remain on relocation and military action proposals.

    OXFORD, 28 May 2015 (IRIN) - The European Commission has fleshed out its plans to manage record levels of irregular migration to the European Union’s shores, but there are still question marks around how, when and to what degree the proposals will be implemented.

    Here’s an overview of the key issues and potential stumbling blocks:

    Resettlement scheme

    The European Agenda on Migration released two weeks ago included an EU-wide scheme to resettle 20,000 refugees over two years in addition to the 5,000 to 6,000 per year that about 12 member states currently take in.

    It was initially unclear whether the scheme would be voluntary or mandatory but details released on Wednesday clarified that member states’ participation in the scheme would be “on a voluntary basis”.

    Given the opposition to immigration of any kind in many EU countries, the degree to which member states will opt in to the scheme is highly uncertain.

    “It’s hard to see how they’re going to convince countries currently not resettling refugees, or only symbolic numbers,” said Kris Pollett, senior legal and policy officer with Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

    He expressed doubts that even the financial incentives on offer for countries that commit to more resettlement places would be enough.

    Relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy

    The proposal aims to ease pressure on frontline states, Greece and Italy, by relocating 40,000 asylum seekers to other EU states over two years. It relies on triggering an emergency mechanism for dealing with sudden inflows at the EU’s external borders that has never been used before.

    Less would not help Italy and Greece, more would not be accepted by others.

    “The proposed relocation mechanism constitutes fair burden sharing,” said EU Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday. “Less would not help Italy and Greece, more would not be accepted by others.”

    The UK and Denmark, which along with Ireland have the right to opt in or out of EU treaties, have already indicated that they will not participate in the relocation scheme. For other member states, participation will be mandatory if – and it’s a big ‘if’ at this stage – it is adopted by the European Council (meaning 55 percent of member states representing at least 65 percent of the EU’s population will need to vote for it).

    The Commission has tried to make the proposal as palatable as possible by offering member states 6,000 euros for each relocated person. Moreover, only citizens of countries from where at least 75 percent of asylum seekers are recognized as refugees will be relocated. Only Syria and Eritrea currently meet this threshold.

    While there is general consensus that Syrians are in need of international protection, Pollett pointed out that Eritreans are not universally recognized as refugees. France for example, accepts only about a quarter of asylum applications from Eritreans.

    Several countries have challenged the criteria used by the Commission to determine the number of asylum seekers each member state should take in, such as their population, GDP, unemployment rate and number of asylum applications received.

    “Countries like Spain say unemployment rate should weigh more in the calculations; other countries say you have to take into account other efforts states are taking in regards to border control. So it looks like there’s already going to be a discussion about the fundamentals,” said Pollett.

    More worryingly from the point of view of refugee rights groups like ECRE is the lack of consideration given to the individual circumstances of asylum seekers who, according to the proposal, will have no say as to which country they will be transferred to and can be sent back to it if they try to leave.

    “I think it’s ignoring the reality today for some of these people - for example, a Syrian engineer or doctor having to stay in Latvia or Lithuania where there’s hardly any other refugees, no real asylum system in place and no integration programmes for them,” Pollett told IRIN.

    The relocation scheme will also add an additional step to the asylum screening process. After an initial screening in Italy or Greece, applicants will then have to go through status determination procedures in the country they are relocated to. Pollett pointed out that some member states give Syrians and Eritreans full refugee status, while others offer only subsidiary or humanitarian protection that comes with fewer rights attached and often has a time limit.

    How far the proposal will actually relieve the pressure on Italy and Greece is also debatable. Italy alone received 170,000 migrants and asylum seekers in 2014, and is expecting even more in 2015. Under the relocation scheme, only 24,000 Syrians and Eritreans would be transferred to other member states (or 12,000 per year) and in return Italy will be expected to fingerprint all those arriving on its shores.

    Currently, a large number of arrivals are allowed to proceed north without being fingerprinted and registered in Italy – a way of circumventing the Dublin regulation which requires asylum seekers to be processed in the first member state they enter or risk being returned there.

    Military action against smugglers

    While the Commission is urging member states to support more burden sharing, the EU’s foreign and defence ministers are pursuing a plan to launch a military campaign targeting migrant smuggling networks operating out of Libya.

    EU ministers have approved the plan, which includes capturing and destroying the boats used by smugglers before they are loaded with migrants. But the use of military force requires a resolution from the UN Security Council which has yet to be granted.

    Leaked documents outlining the EU plan note the “high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life”. They also acknowledge that disrupting migratory flows in the Central Mediterranean could result in increased migratory flows in other areas such as the Eastern Mediterranean (the route between Turkey and Greece).

    Critics of the plan have pointed out both its practical shortcomings – the difficulty of identifying which boats are being used by smugglers and which by fishermen – and its impacts on migrants with few other options but to make use of smugglers’ services.

    Amnesty International has warned that destroying smugglers’ operations “would effectively contribute to migrants and refugees being trapped in Libya and expose them to a risk of serious human rights abuses”.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also expressed concerns about a military operation.

    However, for countries like the UK, France and Spain, the military plan is politically more attractive than the Commission’s proposal that they admit even a small additional number of refugees or asylum seekers.

    “It is becoming increasingly clear that EU member states may well reject the Commission's resettlement and relocation programmes, while supporting the proposal to destroy the smugglers boats by means of military action,” predicted Jeff Crisp, former head of policy and evaluation at UNHCR and now an advisor with Refugees International.

    Pollett of ECRE agreed that the Commission’s proposals to create more solidarity within the EU through resettlement and relocation “might not happen”.

    “If states aren’t willing to commit to this….then this whole exercise could end up being purely symbolic.”

    ks/am

  • CAR: Displaced families make the hard journey home
    Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
    Country: Central African Republic

    Hundreds of families are returning home, mainly to the 3rd and 5th districts of Bangui from Mpoko this month, as part of a voluntary de-registration process. Each family is receiving a cash grant, food rations, a tarpaulin and mosquito nets.

    Calm has finally returned to Bangui’s 5th district neighborhood. When Pauline Ofio, 54, felt safe enough, she packed her bags stuffed with cooking equipment and clothes, threw them onto a barge and, along with her three children and eight grandchildren, headed back home.

    “I am relieved… Even though we have nothing left, we can finally start to get our lives back where we left them,”she said. The Ofio family has spent the past year and a half at the Mpoko displaced site next to Bangui International Airport’s runway, along with 18,000 other displaced families. They fled to the airport under the protection of French troops after hearing gunfire near her house.

    Though Pauline is thankful to be back home, she knows the transition will be difficult. She first attempted to return a month ago, only to find her house looted and burnt down, as were most of her neighbours’ homes. For the time being – and as they wait for the house to be rebuilt – the family is sleeping on the ground under a tarpaulin.

    As in most crises, children bear the brunt of the crisis. According to a survey from March, one in three children of primary school age is out of school. Pauline’s nine-year-old grandson, Lionel, is one of them, and he has one hope: “I want to go back to my former school and to play with my old friends,” he told OCHA.

    The conflict in CAR displaced over 900,000 people nationwide at its height. Today, nearly 426,000 remain displaced in the country and 460,000 across borders.

    Hundreds of other families are also returning home, mainly to the 3rd and 5th districts of Bangui from Mpoko this month, as part of a voluntary de-registration process. The vast majority of the residents living in these areas fled during the crisis, and about half have now returned. Each displaced family receives a cash grant of US$200 financed by the Country Based Pooled Fund, two months of food rations from the World Food Programme, a tarpaulin from the International Organization of Migration, and mosquito nets from the International Federation of the Red Cross, all to be distributed by the NGO World Vision.

    Another displaced woman at Mpoko, Rosalie Barbo, 36, used to run a small business. All of her belongings were looted when she fled with her husband and two children, in December 2013. Although life was difficult at the camp, she soon started to sell cooked food to other displaced people to support her family financially. Now, she is eager to put her life back on track: “We just want to return to our lives and go back home,” she said.

    The Country Based Pooled Fund has directed US$1.5 million over six months to fund returns. The Transitional Government has actively engaged in the returns process, working hand in hand with humanitarians who met with community and neighborhood leaders to raise awareness on freedom of movement and choice in return locations.

    "I am impressed by the Government’s involvement in the returns process of the IDPs and the organization and support of the clusters,” said outgoing Senior Humanitarian Coordinator, Claire Bourgeois. “I remain convinced that these joint efforts will enable the IDPs to return voluntarily and with dignity to their areas of choice.”

    Related Links: OCHA Central African Republic Central African Republic: photo journey through Mpoko site

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