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UN Appeals for $7.7 Billion in Emergency Aid December 15, 2011

The United Nations is appealing for $7.7 billion to provide emergency aid during 2012 to 51 million people across 16 countries. Eleven of the 16 nations are in Africa. The beneficiary countries include Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Niger, the occupied Palestinian territory, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

The United Nations warns many of the tens of millions of people in 16 beneficiary countries will not survive without emergency aid. It calls them the most vulnerable people in the world — people who suffer from a range of crises, including war, drought, famine and disease.  

The U.N. reports nine of the 16 countries will need significantly more money this year than last to meet their humanitarian needs in 2012. Somalia, by far, is the largest recipient. It will require one-half billion dollars more in 2012 than in 2011.

Valerie Amos, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, says the Horn of Africa is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. She says 4 million people in Somalia alone need urgent humanitarian aid, as well as nearly 600,000 Somali refugees who have sought protection in Kenya.

“Humanitarian action has already had a significant impact in many regions of Somalia. But mass vaccination campaigns have reduced cases of measles by almost 50 percent, more than 2.5 million people are receiving regular food aid, 1.2 million people are accessing clean water, and emergency nutritional treatment has reached 242,000 acutely malnourished children. Three areas of Somalia have moved from being “famine” areas to “emergency,” Amos explained. 

However, Amos notes the situation remains fragile and these improvements will not be sustained unless the current level of assistance continues.

The appeal exposes vulnerabilities in other countries as well. Chad, for instance, is struggling with a widespread food crisis compounded by a devastating cholera epidemic. The U.N. notes people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are subject to attacks by armed groups. Their livelihoods and access to basic needs are affected by human rights violations. It says large- scale food assistance will be needed in the Sahel region, especially in Niger, in 2012.

Amos says violence in newly independent South Sudan is increasing and causing thousands of people to flee their homes. “Rising food insecurity, disease outbreaks and seasonal flooding continue to impact humanitarian conditions on the ground. The appeal seeks $763 million to help 3.1 million people. In Sudan, humanitarian need is driven by conflict, displacement and vulnerability. Humanitarian action will support up to 4.2 million people to ensure food security, access to basic services, shelter and livelihoods opportunities,” she added. 

Turning from Africa, the appeal notes with concern that Afghanistan continues to suffer severe humanitarian needs, much of it caused by a harsh drought in the center and north of the country.

U.N. officials note significant progress is being made in improving conditions for hundreds of thousands of victims of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. But they note critical humanitarian needs remain to be addressed.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Amos says Yemen is facing a complex emergency, which includes conflict, displacement, a food crisis, malnutrition and disease. She says 4 million people,or 44 percent of the population, will need help to survive next year.

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US freezes $700m in Pakistan aid December 14, 2011

Homemade bombs made in Pakistan are used in Afghanistan, it is alleged

A US Congressional panel has frozen $700m (£450m) in aid to Pakistan until it gives assurances it is tackling the spread of homemade bombs in the region.

The move – the second such freeze this year – reflects US frustration over what it sees as Islamabad’s reluctance to act against militant groups.

But it has has been criticised by senior Pakistani politicians.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden by US forces and ongoing US drone strikes in Pakistan have strained bilateral ties.

Washington is also known to be unhappy about what it sees as lacklustre Pakistani efforts to counter the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, which it believes operates out of Pakistan and fights US troops in Afghanistan.

Correspondents say that Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid and the cutback announced on Tuesday is only a small proportion of the billions of dollars it receives from Washington every year in civil and military assistance.

But the freeze in aid – part of a defence bill that is expected to be passed by Congress later this week – could presage even greater cuts, correspondents say.

Washington has provided about $20bn (£12.8bn) in security and economic aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form of reimbursements for assistance in fighting militants.

In July the US said it was withholding some $800m (£500m) in military aid to Pakistan – about a third of the annual US security assistance to Pakistan.

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC television at that time that Pakistan had “taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid”.

Justifying the latest aid freeze, some in Congress say that Islamabad has not only failed to act against militant groups but that in some cases it has actively provided them with help, a charge Pakistani officials deny.

Members of Congress are particularly aggrieved over suspicions that homemade bombs – or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – are being made by militants based in Pakistan for use against US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

IEDs are among the most effective weapons of the militants, and are responsible for most coalition casualties in Afghanistan.

Many are reportedly made using ammonium nitrate, a common fertiliser which Washington believes is being smuggled across the border from Pakistan.

The US wants “assurances that Pakistan is countering improvised explosive devices in their country that are targeting our coalition forces”, Representative Howard McKeon, a House Republican, said.

Pakistan, however, argues that it is doing its utmost to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban – and hundreds of its soldiers have been killed since it joined the US-led war in Afghanistan in 2001.

“It [the latest freeze] is most unfortunate and untimely,” Pakistani senate committee on foreign affairs chairman Salim Saifullah Khan told the AFP news agency.

“I think we will survive without aid, but it is most unfortunate to see these things after 31 years of sacrifices by Pakistan.”

Last month Pakistan accused Nato of killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in an air strike near the Afghan border – and has stopped fuel being supplied from Pakistan to Nato forces in Afghanistan as a sign of its anger.

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Nigeria’s bill to outlaw gay marriage threatens HIV/Aids cash December 4, 2011

A bill to outlaw gay marriage in Nigeria could jeopardise millions of dollars of western aid given to help stop the spread of HIV and Aids in Africa‘s most populous nation.

Nigeria has the continent’s second highest number of people living with the disease, says the United Nations. More than three million people are infected and many do not know their status.

“There are about 400,000 people on anti-retrovirals in Nigeria at the moment and 95% of those are paid for by donor funds,” said public health doctor and health blogger Chikwe Ihekweazu.

Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria since British colonial rule. Gay and lesbian people face open discrimination in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. In parts of the north where sharia law has been enforced for about a decade, they can face death by stoning.

Under the proposed law passed by the Senate, same-sex couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps a marriage could be sentenced to 10 years. The bill also punishes the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly” with 10 years in prison.

A newly added power, punishing those found guilty of organising, operating or supporting gay clubs, organisations and meetings with a 10-year sentence, worries advocates in Nigeria. They fear the law could be used against groups providing assistance for HIV and Aids outreach programmes that traditionally consider gay men as an at-risk group.

“We work with them trying to reduce their risk factors, trying to make them more healthy and have safer sex practices,” said Meyiwa Ede of the Society for Family Health, which is funded by donations. “If we can’t work with them anymore, then they are vulnerable.”

Lawmakers playing to the religious antipathy towards gays and lesbians have said donor nations who threaten to cut aid over the bill can keep their assistance, putting at risk the lives of people reliant on anti-retroviral drugs.

The US and British governments funnel huge sums into Nigeria for Aids and HIV outreach. The US, under the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, has given an average of $308m (£197m) a year to groups working in HIV prevention, treatment, and support, according to the US Consulate in Lagos.

Britain spends an average of £19.9m a year on HIV/Aids programmes in Nigeria, the Abuja office of the Department for International Development, funding which local partners spend on projects for gay and straight people. Heterosexual sex accounts for 80% of HIV transmissions in Nigeria, the National Agency for the Control of Aids reported recently.

David Cameron recently threatened to cut British aid to countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Both the US and UK governments say they are watching the Nigerian bill closely, but declined to comment on how it may affect their outreach.

President Goodluck Jonathan promised the UN general assembly in June that his administration was “committing to increase national ownership of HIV and Aids responses” and to make those responses inclusive. Six months later, little has changed.

The health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the bill outlawing gay groups would not affect state-funded HIV and Aids programmes. The health ministry has no programmes specifically targeting these communities, said spokeswoman Rekia Zubairu.

Rights groups say the politicians’ resolve to pass the bill reflects widespread homophobia in Nigeria, but also shows their disconnect from working-class Nigerians, regardless of sexual orientation.

“They have the resources to go abroad for treatment, with their big salaries, so they don’t give a hoot about ordinary people,” gay rights organizer Dorothy Akenova said. “The majority of Nigerians are the ones who will suffer for it.”

The bill must still be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Jonathan before becoming law.

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Three NATO troops killed by bomb in Afghanistan December 3, 2011

December 3, 2011

by legitgov


Three NATO troops killed by bomb in Afghanistan 03 Dec 2011 Three troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan Saturday, officials said. ISAF did not say which country the dead troops were from or give further details of the incident, in line with policy.

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Number of N.J. residents receiving food stamps doubled in last four years November 30, 2011

November 29, 2011

by legitgov


Number of N.J. residents receiving food stamps doubled in last four years 27 Nov 2011 The number of New Jersey residents receiving food stamps has doubled in the past four years and is at its highest level in more than a decade, state and federal data show. As of September, the most recent data released by the state Department of Human Services, more than 400,000 households and nearly 822,000 people were enrolled in the food stamp program, meaning nearly one out of every 10 residents in New Jersey receives assistance.

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