Spanish Red Cross worker killed by patient in Afghanistan

11 September 2017

A Spanish physiotherapist working for the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan was shot and killed Monday by a wheelchair-bound patient, in the latest attack on the international charity.

Lorena Enebral Perez, 38, was shot inside the aid group's rehabilitation centre in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where she treated disabled children, women and men including amputees, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

Perez was taken to the NATO military base hospital at Camp Marmal where she died of her wounds.

"Energetic and full of laughter, Lorena was the heart of our office in Mazar. Today, our hearts are broken," said Monica Zanarelli, the ICRC´s chief in Afghanistan.

"Lorena was a skilled and caring physiotherapist who assisted patients, especially children. The violent fluctuations of life seem particularly cruel today."

Two people have been arrested over the deadly attack, including the 21-year-old shooter whom police said was a "regular patient".

"He had hidden the pistol in his wheelchair which he used to shoot the victim," police spokesman Shir Jan Durrani told AFP.

Deputy police chief Abdul Razaq Qaderi said the man "opened fire on the doctor as soon as she entered the consultation room". The motive for the attack was not clear.

It was the latest deadly assault on the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan, where Taliban and Islamic State militants have been terrorising the local population.

Aid workers have increasingly become casualties of a surge in militant violence in recent years.

Most of the Red Cross's programmes in the north have been on hold since February, after six Afghan employees of the ICRC were shot dead when their convoy was ambushed in Jowzjan province.

Two of their colleagues were abducted and only released by their captors last week.

No group claimed responsibility for the abduction or killings but Jowzjan police had blamed local IS jihadists.

Last December a Spanish Red Cross employee was abducted when workers from the charity were travelling between Mazar-i-Sharif and the neighbouring Taliban hotbed of Kunduz.

He was released several weeks later.

UN Says World Faces Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945

March 10, 2017

United Nations (AP) -- The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the United Nations was founded in 1945 with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Friday.

Stephen O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council that "without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death" and "many more will suffer and die from disease."

He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid "to avert a catastrophe."

"To be precise," O'Brien said, "we need $4.4 billion by July."

Without a major infusion of money, he said, children will be stunted by severe malnutrition and won't be able to go to school, gains in economic development will be reversed and "livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost."

U.N. and food organizations define famine as when more than 30 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria.

"Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations," O'Brien said. "Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine."

O'Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis is in Yemen where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and don't know where their next meal will come from. "That is three million people more than in January," he said.

The Arab world's poorest nation is engulfed in conflict and O'Brien said more than 48,000 people fled fighting just in the past two months.

During his recent visit to Yemen, O'Brien said he met senior leaders of the government and the Shiite Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa, and all promised access for aid.

"Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid," he said, warning if that behavior doesn't change now "they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow."

For 2017, O'Brien said $2.1 billion is needed to reach 12 million Yemenis "with life-saving assistance and protection" but only 6 percent has been received so far. He announced that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on April 25 in Geneva.

The U.N. humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world's newest nation which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, and said "the situation is worse than it has ever been."

"The famine in South Sudan is man-made," he said. "Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine — as are those not intervening to make the violence stop."

O'Brien said more than 7.5 million people need aid, up by

1.4 million from last year, and about 3.4 million South Sudanese are displaced by fighting including almost 200,000 who have fled the country since January.

"More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance," he said. "Meanwhile, the cholera outbreak that began in June 2016 has spread to more locations."

In Somalia, which O'Brien also visited, more than half the population — 6.2 million people — need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 2.9 million who are at risk of famine and require immediate help "to save or sustain their lives."

He warned that close to one million children under the age of five will be "acutely malnourished" this year.

"What I saw and heard during my visit to Somalia was distressing — women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water. They have lost their livestock, water sources have dried up and they have nothing left to survive on," O'Brien said. "With everything lost, women, boys, girls and men now move to urban centers."

The humanitarian chief said current indicators mirror "the tragic picture of 2011 when Somalia last suffered a famine." But he said the U.N.'s humanitarian partners have a larger footprint, better controls on resources, and a stronger partnership with the new government which recently declared the drought a national disaster.

"To be clear, we can avert a famine," O'Brien said. "We're ready despite incredible risk and danger ... but we need those huge funds now."

In northeast Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes. A U.N. humanitarian coordinator said last month that malnutrition in the northeast is so pronounced that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.

Al Qaeda Splinter Group Claims Deadly Attack on Red Cross Aid Workers in Mali

By Matthieu Jublin
March 31, 2015
Vice News

An al Qaeda offshoot in North Africa has claimed responsibility for an attack Monday in northern Mali on an International Red Cross vehicle that killed one aid worker and left one injured.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a splinter group of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said its fighters were behind deadly attack.

The gunmen opened fire on the truck around 11am Monday as it traveled from the northern city of Gao to Niamey, the capital of neighboring Niger, to pick up equipment for a medical facility in Gao. Malian Red Cross spokesman Valery Mbaoh Nana told VICE News the vehicle was "clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem."

"It is hard to imagine that this attack will be without consequence for the people who enjoy free healthcare at the hospital in Gao," Mbaoh Nana said, noting that the Red Cross has provided the facility with "logistical and human resources since 2012."

Mbaoh Nana said the Red Cross has suspended all travel in the region until further notice.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Claire Kaplan told VICE News that the aid worker killed in the attack was a 38-year-old Malian employee of the Red Cross, and that his wounded colleague is also from Mali.

An African military source with MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, told France 24 that the ambush was "carefully planned," and "carried out by at least six terrorists."

"With the help of the hand of Allah, we killed near Gao, in Muslim territory, a driver who worked for the enemy," MUJAO spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui told AFP, adding that the group had "achieved what we wanted with this attack."

MUJAO formed in 2011 and took control of Gao, northern Mali's largest city, the following year. The militants also occupied and shared control of several surrounding towns with other insurgent groups.

In January 2013, an unprecedented attack by Islamist forces on the south of the country triggered Operation Serval, a French military intervention that halted the jihadist advance and helped the Malian government regain control of Gao.

The UN launched MINUSMA after Operation Serval ended in July 2014. France redeployed its troops as part of Operation Barkhane, an anti-Islamist military campaign spread across Africa's Sahel region.

Alain Antil, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations and an expert on the region, told VICE News that the French military operations have failed to "neutralize" MUJAO and other militant groups, and that reports from the region suggest they are now slowly "regaining their strength."

"These groups are in no state to control entire regions like they did in 2012," Antil said, "but they can still carry out attacks."

According to Antil, there aren't enough UN peacekeepers and French troops on the ground to secure a region as large as northern Mali.

"Operation Barkhane and the MINUSMA deploy 10,000 men across a territory that is bigger than metropolitan France," Antil said. "When you consider how important an axis the road from Gao to Niamey is, you can see how fragile the system is."

Mbaoh Nana, the Red Cross spokesman, said the organization is "aware of the threat" that comes with operating in northern Mali and will typically "alert key players in the region to our movements, so that all the forces present in the region are aware that the Red Cross is on the ground."

He couldn't understand why militants would choose to target aid workers.

"We have had a steady presence here for a long time," Mbaoh Nana said. "Even back in 2012. We were one of the only humanitarian organizations still present."

Six women among seven NGO workers gunned down in Swabi

By Muhammad Farooq
Wednesday, January 02, 2013

SWABI: Unidentified gunmen shot dead six women and a male medical technician working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) near the Anbar Interchange on the Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway on Tuesday.
Sources said the armed men opened fire on the van (LE-1094) taking the workers home after performing duty at the Ujala Community Centre, killing six women and the technician on the spot.
The driver of the vehicle sustained injuries while four-year-old Ahsan, son of one of the women, miraculously escaped unhurt in the attack. The victims belonged to different parts of Swabi. The van’s left and back side were pockmarked with bullet holes. The community centre is being run by the Support With Working Solutions (SWWS), a local NGO, and the deceased were working there. Established in Sher Afzal Banda, the centre was providing health and education services to the poverty-stricken people in the area.
The injured driver, identified as Abdul Majid, was taken to the Bacha Khan Medical Complex at Shahmansoor town from where he was referred to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar due to his critical condition. The victims were identified as Amjad Ali, Naila Naz, Gul Naz, Asmat Begum, Raheela Gul, Zahida Begum and Shuharat Begum.
Talking to this scribe, District CoordinationOfficer (DCO) Syed Muhammad Shah said unidentified terrorists killed the NGO workers.He said the victims were ordered to disembark from the vehicle and killed one by one. “How can someone kill women? There is no doubt that it is an act of terrorism,” he said.
District Police Officer (DPO) Abdul Rashid, who was present at the hospital, said that it was the first incident in the district that the members of an NGO were targeted. “There are a number of such bodies that are providing services to the people. In the past no such incident occurred in Swabi,” the DPO said. He said police were put on alert after the incident, but no arrest could be made.
He dismissed the reports that the attackers were four in number. “In fact there were two motorcyclists who attacked the victims,” he said. Shahid Khan, senior social organiser at SWWS, told this correspondent that the school and the health centre had been set up with the view to provide health and education facilities to the people at Sher Afzal Banda and its surroundings.
He said their main office was located at the Kernal Sher Khan Killay and had another office in Chaknoda union council.Shahid Khan said the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) and other donor agencies were providing funds to their organisation.
He said they had not received any threat and were imparting education to the children and providing health services to the destitute people. “This is the first time that our workers have been targeted,” he said.
He said the SWWS management would decide whether to continue its activities or not.SWWS Chief Executive Javed Akhtar said they have suspended services in the country after the gruesome attack on their staff members in Swabi. “We have suspended operations due to the threats to our staffers. We have 160 staffers, mostly women, working in health and education sectors in the underdeveloped areas,” Javed Akhtar said.
Javed Akhtar said they had been working in Swabi for last two years, but never faced any security threat. “We have been working in Pakistan since 1992 and started services in Swabi two years ago. We have never faced any threat as all our staff is local. This incident seems to be linked to the attacks on polio teams,” he said.

Captive British aid worker killed in Pakistan

By ABDUL SATTAR, Associated Press
April 29, 2012

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — The body of a British Red Cross worker held captive in Pakistan since January was found in an orchard Sunday, his throat slit and a note attached to his body saying he was killed because no ransom was paid, police said.

Khalil Rasjed Dale, 60, was managing a health program in the city of Quetta in southwestern Pakistan when armed men seized him from a street close to his office. The identities of his captors are unknown, but the region is home to separatist and Islamist militants who have kidnapped for ransom before.

The director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the "barbaric act."

"All of us at the ICRC and at the British Red Cross share the grief and outrage of Khalil's family and friends," said Yves Daccord.

Dale's throat had been slit, according to Safdar Hussain, a doctor who examined the body.

Quetta police chief Ahsan Mahboob said the note attached to it read: "This is the body of Khalil who we have slaughtered for not paying a ransom amount."

Militants and criminal gangs often kidnap wealthy Pakistanis and less commonly, foreigners.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned Dale's killing, and said "tireless efforts" had been under way to secure his release after he was kidnapped.

Khalil had worked for the Red Cross for years, carrying out assignments in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the group said.

Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, lies close to the Afghan border and for decades has hosted thousands of refugees from that country. The Red Cross operates clinics in the city that treat people wounded in the war in Afghanistan, including Taliban insurgents.

Much of Baluchistan and the tribal regions close to Afghanistan are out of Pakistani government control, and make good places to keep hostages. Large ransoms are often paid to secure their release, but such payments are rarely confirmed.

There are at least four other foreigners being held in Pakistan.

Last August, a 70-year-old American humanitarian aid worker was kidnapped from his house in the Punjabi city of Lahore. Al-Qaida claimed to be holding the man, Warren Weinstein, and said in a video he would be released if the United States stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

In March, a Swiss couple held captive for eight months by the Taliban turned up at an army checkpoint close to the Afghan border. Insurgents have claimed a large ransom was paid to secure their freedom. That has not been confirmed by Pakistani or Swiss authorities, who are unlikely to acknowledge it even if they did.

The couple was kidnapped in Baluchistan.

Also Sunday, American missiles killed three suspected Islamist militants sheltering in an abandoned school in North Waziristan, said intelligence officials, who did not give their names because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The strike comes as the U.S. is trying to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan, which opposes the missile attacks and has demanded they stop. The frequency of the attacks, which critics say kill innocents and energize the insurgency, has dropped dramatically this year.

Associated Press Writer Rasool Dawar in Peshawar contributed to this report.

Female suicide bomber was behind deadly Pakistan blast, official says

From Nasir Habib, For CNN
December 26, 2010

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A young, female suicide bomber was behind a blast in Pakistan that killed at least 46 people and injured 105 others at a food distribution point, an official said Sunday.

Zakir Hussain Afridi, the top government official in Bajaur Agency, Pakistan, said that the preliminary investigation into the explosion shows that a woman between the ages of 16 and 18 blew herself up. The determination was made from remains of the bomber that were recovered.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday's blast in that Asian nation's tribal region.

Azam Tariq, the central spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, told CNN in a phone call that it targeted people who had formed what he called a pro-government and anti-Taliban group.

The blast took place about 600 meters from a U.N. World Food Programme distribution point at a security checkpoint in Khar, according to Amjad Jamal, a spokesman for the agency. He said that more than 300 people were going through a security screening to get food and other items at the time of the explosion.

Khar is the headquarters of Bajaur Agency, one of the seven districts of Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Jamal said that those who had been internally displaced during military efforts in Bajaur Agency get a month's supply of food and other goods.

Afridi said that the suicide bomber was in a burqa, a traditional full-body covering worn by some Muslim women. He said she was stopped for a security check at a checkpoint, where she detonated herself.

The official said it was the first instance of a female suicide bomber in Pakistan that he could recall.

The Pakistani Taliban denied that the bomber was a woman.

"We have thousands of male suicide bombers ready who are keenly waiting for their turns. Then why would we use a woman, which is against the traditions of Islam?" the Pakistani Taliban's Azam Tariq said.

Jamal said all staff members of the World Food Programme and its partner organizations are safe, but added that all four of the program's food distribution points in Bajaur Agency have been temporarily closed for security reasons. Still, the U.N. agency will continue to provide services elsewhere in the country, Jamal said.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement condemning Saturday's "outrageous terrorist attack," which he called "an affront to the people of Pakistan and to all humanity."

"The United States stands with the people of Pakistan in this difficult time, and will strongly support Pakistan's efforts to ensure greater peace, security and justice for its people," Obama said.

The blast took place a day after about 150 militants fired at five security checkpoints in Mohmand Agency -- another of the seven districts in Pakistan's volatile tribal region along the Afghan border -- killing 11 soldiers. Security forces later killed 40 militants who were among the group, authorities said Saturday.

The security forces pounded militant hideouts in Mohmand Agency with helicopter gunships, said Maqsood Amin, a senior government official in the area. Twenty-four militants were killed during retaliation Friday while 16 were targeted Saturday.


Christian Aid Groups Tread Lightly In Muslim World

by Scott Neuman
August 12, 2010

An attack on a Christian aid group in Afghanistan that left 10 medical workers dead a week ago underscores the perils of faith-based organizations that operate in Muslim nations and the perception that they are promoting a Western agenda.

Six Americans, two Afghans, a German and a Briton working for the International Assistance Mission were gunned down in northern Badakhshan province in what Afghan officials say is the worst such attack in the country's history. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the medical workers were trying to convert Muslims and were carrying Bibles written in Dari, one of the country's two main languages.

"Our faith motivates and inspires us — but we do not proselytize," IAM's executive director, Dirk Frans, said in a statement shortly after the attack. He discounted the Taliban claim, telling reporters Thursday that he believes it was an "opportunistic ambush" by Pakistan-based militants.

Christian groups are often viewed with suspicion in Muslim nations, and some say they face a level of violence and intimidation that has made it difficult to carry out humanitarian missions.

Faith-Based Groups Vulnerable To Violence

The overall number of attacks on humanitarian aid workers worldwide has risen sharply over the past decade, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. Since 2006, most of the violence has occurred in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan, all predominately Muslim countries.

Although there is no clear indication that faith-based organizations have been disproportionately singled out, it is "reasonable to assume that organizations with a clear Christian identity face an additional layer of vulnerability," said Abby Stoddard of the consultancy Humanitarian Outcomes, which produces the aid database.

"This is a dangerous business, no question about it," said Dean Owen, a spokesman for World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid group that has missions in nearly 100 countries.

In March, a World Vision office in a small town in northwestern Pakistan was stormed by suspected militants carrying rifles and grenades. Six Pakistani Muslim staff members, including four women, and one Western aid worker were killed. World Vision said the attack in Ogi was the deadliest in the group's history and suspended all operations in Pakistan for about a month.

Suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, who have issued statements against Christian aid organizations in the past. But Owen said he's "not sure we will ever fully know what happened" or the reason for the killings.

World Vision has since been forced to beef up security, Owen said, and staff members have had to complete the same "hostile environments" training courses often taken by journalists heading to conflict zones.

While the group was founded in 1950 in part to spread a Christian message, Owen said that for decades, it has been extremely careful to separate humanitarian activities from anything to do with religion.

But accusations of proselytizing persist. Earlier this week, World Vision and two other Christian groups — U.S.-based Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Sweden-based Diakonia — were expelled from areas of south and central Somalia controlled by the insurgent group Al-Shabab for what it charged was missionary activities "in the guise of humanitarian work."

"I can assure you that's not the case, because most of our staff in Somalia are Muslim," Owen said.

A Separation Of Church And Aid

Elizabeth Ferris, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on the international community's response to humanitarian crises, said established faith-based organizations rarely mix religion and aid. Most, she said, "are doing everything they can to avoid charges of proselytism and to keep missionary work separate from the humanitarian work."

Ferris acknowledges, however, that some organizations are more overt about their evangelical message and have contributed to a perception in Muslim countries that Western humanitarian groups have ulterior motives in providing aid. That's especially true for U.S. groups operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"One of the trends we see in the last decade or so has been a tendency to see the humanitarian enterprise … as Western, liberal, Christian — as pushing a particular political agenda quite apart from the activities of these groups," Ferris said.

Most aid groups have signed a code of conduct laid out by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that specifically prohibits humanitarian organizations from using aid "to further a particular political or religious standpoint." Many U.S.-based Christian relief groups also receive federal money through USAID's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which sets similar conditions on any funds it issues.

Problems Of Perception

Compassion International USA says it has had no problem openly spreading an evangelical message.

"We're open-handed and transparent to the families that we work with," said Mark Hanlon, senior vice president. "We let them know that there's a spiritual element and that a child will be exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most parents say that's fine."

He added, "We certainly don't coerce the children or say, 'We'll feed you if you convert.' "

The group doesn't operate in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hanlon said, "because we're committed to carrying out our work through the local Christian church, and there simply isn't much of a Christian presence in those countries."

Secular groups such as Doctors Without Borders say they are careful to delineate their work from Christian aid groups and even from United Nations agencies, which are frequently seen as an extension of Western governments.

"There's a suspicion that we are all in the same pot, so we're very clear about making a distinction," said Brice de la Vigne, the Doctors Without Borders operational coordinator for Afghanistan.

David Smock, who studies conflict resolution and religion at the U.S. Institute of Peace, agrees that when groups preach their faith in the Muslim world, it's a perception that "rubs off on everyone else."

But even for those organizations that make a point of separating aid and religion, they are still Christian at the core.

"What happens if someone asks them to see a Bible or asks them about Christianity, or they are in a group and they fall into a religious discussion? Are the Christians going to remain silent?" Smock said.

"Those are gray areas that different groups would handle differently."


An Evolution of Threats Against UN Aid Workers in Somalia

Mark Leon Goldberg - January 6, 2010
UN Dispatch

Somalia has long been one of the most dangerous places in the world for UN-affiliated aid workers.  Beyond the general lawlessness of the place is the fact that one of the main insurgent groups, al Shabaab, has specificily targeted aid workers and UN agencies as enemies.

What is striking about al Shabaab's campaign against aid workers was that, until recently, the group displayed a relatively nuanced approach to its violence. They differentiated between aid agencies should be allowed to work in al-Shabaab held territory and which should be targeted for violence.  For example, in a July 27, 2009 press release, al Shabaab decreed that the UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Political Office for Somalia (UNOPS), and the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDOSS) can be considered “enemies of Islam” for supporting the Somali government and must cease their operations. Al Shabaab accused these agencies of “working against the benefits of the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic State in Somalia." The release further accused the these organizations of financially supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to “continue their mission of oppression and massacre of the Somali Muslim people.”

Not included in the list of agencies non-grata were strictly humanitarian agencies, like the World Food Program. As opposed to UNDP and UNPOS, the WFP has no political agenda. Their role is simply to deliver food and aid to vulnerable populations.  As such, al Shabaab permitted WFP to operate in Shabaab controlled territory where the WFP kept ordinary Somalis fed.  That changed toward the end of last year, however, when al Shabaab apparently tried to shakedown the WFP for cash.  The group delivered an ultimatum that by January 1, the World Food Program to either purchase food locally (read: from al Shabaab) or cease its operations.   Via Bloomberg the WFP says that al Shabaab demanded $20,000 payments every six months to allow the WFP to continue its operations in Shabaab-controlled territory.   This, predictably, has forced the World Food Program to cease its operations in southern and central Somalia, where al Shabaab has a foothold.

I do worry, though, that the WFP will soon become a declared al Shabaab target elsewhere in Somalia, where it continues its operations.  This has brought pretty devastating consequences to agencies like the UNDP, which was the target of a suicide bomb attack in northern Somalia, and the AMISOM, which lost 9 peacekeepers, including the deputy force commander, in a suicide attack on its base in September.   It is also worth noting that a top Somali WFP official was assassinated by unknown assailants in October 2008.

The bottom line is:  Somalia was already a perilous place to conduct humanitarian operations. But these developments may presage a new era of violence directed against the only lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Somalis.   Now, more than ever, the WFP deserves our support.   

Aid workers in Pakistan told how to dress

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - International relief agencies working in Pakistan's earthquake affected areas have been told to observe dress codes and behavior that don't offend local sensitivities, an official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities in conservative North West Frontier Province are drawing up a code of conduct for the NGOs after some Muslim clerics demanded the expulsion of women workers including Pakistanis from Mansehra town.

The clerics had set a deadline of Aug 1 for authorities to expel the women whom they accused of dressing improperly, mixing with men and drinking alcohol, which is banned in Pakistan.

"We have constituted a coordination committee that will issue guidelines to the NGOs about dress codes the local culture and values," Sardar Yousuf, the district nazim, or mayor, told Reuters.

The coordination committee is comprised of clerics, army officers, local officials, and representatives of the NGOs.

"Generally many of them know how to conduct themselves. But we don't want to hear anyone complaining about their dressing or conduct and creating an issue," Sardar said and added." We advise them to wear proper fitting clothes that keep the body and head covered.

More than 50 international NGOs are based in Mansehra carrying out relief and rehabilitation projects for the victims of a massive earthquake that killed over 73,000 people and rendered millions homeless in Pakistan's Kashmir and Frontier province last October.

"The NGOs have done a lot of work in the affected areas and we don't want that derailed due to local sensitivities," Yousuf said.

Mansehra is the district where Balakot, one of the towns hardest hit by a massive earthquake last October, is located.

Tehreek-e-Islaha Muashra, or Movement to Cleanse Society, started the agitation against the NGOs, and members said they would follow whatever instructions their religious leaders gave.

"We have our reservations, but our leaders are in touch with the local authorities and know what is best," said Mujahid Mohiuddin, a member of the movement. 


Violence halts food aid to 355,000 people in Darfur

Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 12 (AP): Violence has prevented food aid from reaching some 355,000 people in North Darfur for the past three months, the U.N.'s World Food Program said Monday, expressing fears that the humanitarian situation could worsen when African peacekeepers' mandate expires at the end of September.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government maintained its opposition to plans for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur, criticising the U.N. response to its own proposal to restore order to the conflict-wracked area.

Violence has increased sharply in the arid area of western Sudan since the government and a rebel group signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in May.

North Darfur has been so volatile since June that delivery of U.N. food aid has been impossible.

The lack of assistance comes at a critical time, amid what the program called the ``hunger season'' _ at the end of the rainy season lasting from June through September and right before the harvest of cereal crops sorghum and millet.

``Without food aid, things will become more volatile. Hunger exacerbates the already precarious security situation. It will add fuel to the fire,'' Kenro Oshidari, the World Food Program's representative in Sudan, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. ``Food aid is vital to stability.''

Uncertainty over the security of food shipments is mounting as the African Union's 7,000-strong peacekeeping mandate in Darfur is scheduled to end Sept. 30.

``Should the AU leave, we are concerned tensions could increase,'' Emilia Cassella of the program's Khartoum office told the AP by telephone. Nonetheless, the program will continue its work in Darfur, ``whatever political solution is decided,'' she added.


Wary Pakistanis doubt motives of U.S. charity

By Susan Milligan The Boston Globe
Published: October 12, 2006

SAHIWAL, Pakistan: The X-ray machine at the Christian Hospital here is emblazoned with the sticker of the U.S. Agency for International Development to promote its donation of top-of-the- line medical equipment. So are the blood bank refrigerator, the auditorium for medical lectures and the radiology computer - all sparkling new messages of help for the people of Pakistan, a crucial ally in the war on terrorism.

With a cleanliness and order that are in stark contrast to the crowded and filthy conditions at the municipal hospital across town, the Christian Hospital, run by the Christian group World Witness with U.S. government assistance, seems an easy choice for the nearly all-Muslim community it offers to serve. The public hospital is understaffed and under-equipped, with patients slumped in dirty hallways and worried parents holding crying, sickly babies awaiting doctors' attention.

But like many Christian facilities in this Muslim nation, the Christian Hospital is an entity apart. It cares for 14,000 to 15,000 patients a year, compared with one million at the municipal hospital, and the neediest patients say they cannot afford the few dollars for admission and blood tests.

Only a dozen or so patients sat in the waiting room during a recent visit, their traditional Muslim dress looking out of place in a facility with tile crosses in the walls and a chapel in the courtyard.

A rifle-carrying guard patrols the entrance in a grim sign of the danger Christian groups face in a nation where some citizens believe their Muslim faith is under attack by the largely Christian West.

Christian groups are providing health care, education and disaster relief in many Muslim nations, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has awarded about $53 million from 2001 to 2005 to finance projects by Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Both the private aid organizations and the U.S. government hope the projects will sow good will in a region growing increasingly wary of the West.

But the war in Iraq and the detention of Muslims at Guantánamo Bay have greatly angered some residents, who are finding it hard to separate the policies they vehemently oppose from the activities of Christian aid groups, local Islamic leaders said.

"People hate America as a whole. People in general think the West, and Bush especially, have a double standard for Muslims; they are killing Muslims," said Ameer-ul-Azim, secretary of the Jama'at-e-Islami Party in Lahore. "It can come to the point where it can affect the relationship between the Muslim community and the Christian community."

While Christian Hospital officials insist they are there to heal, not to proselytize, World Witness's own literature suggests that part of its mission is to spread Christianity. A brochure for the hospital says that "The Jesus Film" is shown to all patients and that "the hospital and staff feel that through Christ, terrorism will be eliminated in this part of the world," a sentence that offended Muslim leaders who say Islam is about peace, not violence.

"If I am given such a message, I ask: 'Why are you spreading hatred among human beings? What is your agenda?'" said Abdul Rauf Farooqi, a member of the board of the National Religious Schools Council who is based in Lahore.

Christian groups say that view is mistaken. The Reverend Frank van Dalen, World Witness's executive director, said "The Jesus Film" was shown only in the waiting room and not constantly. He winced when he was shown the brochure's reference to eliminating terrorism through Christ.

"That's a dumb thing to say; it doesn't work that way," he said.

Still, critics say, the Bush administration's special efforts to reach out to U.S. faith-based providers, the vast majority of whom are Christian, may raise suspicions in Muslim countries.

Meanwhile, defenders of the Christian groups say they should be judged on how they deliver aid and should not face discrimination because of their religious motivation.

But far from suffering discrimination, USAID has become a growing source of funds for Christian groups in the Muslim world. USAID spent $57 million from 2001-2005 (out of a total of $390 million to nongovernmental agencies) to fund almost a dozen projects run by faith-based organizations in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Afghanistan, according to records obtained by the Freedom of Information Act. Only 5 percent of that sum went to a Muslim group, the Aga Khan Foundation of the USA, which was given approximately $3.5 million for projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And even that amount is well below what the Aga Khan Foundation received under the Clinton administration, including $4.9 million in the 2000 fiscal year alone.

Since the devastating 2004 tsunami, no Muslim organization has been given a prime award from USAID for relief work in Indonesia. Of the nearly 160 faith- based organizations that have received prime contracts from the agency in the past five years, only two are Muslim.

Mark Ward, the agency's senior deputy assistant administrator for Asia and the Near East, speculated that Muslim groups may be disadvantaged because larger, more established groups have mastered the grant application process.

"We like the diversity it shows in a program if we have a group that is tied to Islam," Ward said, adding that Islamic groups are encouraged to apply.

Bush's faith-based initiative is geared to help faith-based groups navigate the application process. But it has worked mostly for Christian groups, whose share of the agency's funding has roughly doubled under Bush and accounts for 98.3 percent of all money to faith-based groups.

The Pakistani government says it has no problems with Christian aid groups, as long as they do not break laws against blasphemy. But tension is evident.

"I have never had a problem with any Christian organizations - charity work has no religion," said Tasmin Aslam, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. "It's certainly not like Muslim organizations in the West, who are seeing that they are perceived that if they are collecting money they must be doing it for terrorist purposes."


Darfur: Aid Workers Are the New Targets

Darfur: The newest targets in the territory's widening violence are the aid workers keeping its people alive.
By Rod Nordland


Jan. 29, 2007 issue - Last Sept. 11 was a momentous day in Darfur, too. After unidentified militiamen attacked aid workers from the Nobel Prize-winning Médecins sans Frontières at a roadblock on that date, most of the international aid groups ministering to Darfur's 6 million people stopped using the roads. On Dec. 18, in the southern town of Gereida, unrelated gunmen attacked the compounds of Oxfam and Action Contre la Faim. More than 70 aid workers subsequently pulled out of the refugee camp there—Darfur's largest, with 130,000 people—leaving only 10 Red Cross employees behind. Yet at the time no one revealed what had really sparked the dramatic pullbacks. In both cases, international staff, including three French aid workers, were either raped or sexually assaulted in territory controlled by the Sudanese government and its allies.

Rape as a weapon has become depressingly commonplace in Darfur, where 200,000 Africans have been killed and a third of the population have been sent fleeing into camps in three years of war. But the attacks on international aid workers herald a dramatic and dangerous new trend—the deliberate targeting of those helping to keep Darfur's millions of refugees alive. A dozen staffers from foreign NGOs have been killed in just the past six months, more than in the previous two years. There are an estimated 14,000 aid workers in Darfur now, the majority of them Sudanese, working for foreign NGOs and U.N. agencies and delivering $1 billion a year in aid. Just a few more horrific attacks could throw that massive operation into jeopardy. Last week 14 U.N. agencies working in Darfur issued a stark warning that "the humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues."

Médecins sans Frontières country director Jean Vataux confirms that two MSF staffers, a Sudanese and a European, were subjected to a serious sexual assault on Sept. 11 after being forced out of their vehicle near Zalingei, in an area under government control. While the women were not raped, Vataux says, "there was a clear desire to hurt and humiliate." The women were badly beaten as well. Vataux says MSF reported the incident to Sudanese authorities, who promised to investigate but so far have not reported any outcome. Action Contre la Faim's country director Philippe Conraud confirms that two Frenchwomen working for ACF in Gereida were raped by armed men, but would not provide details. In the Gereida attack, aid agencies' compounds were systematically looted, numerous vehicles stolen and staff terrorized at gunpoint for six hours.

The two incidents add to a pattern of increased violence since a peace agreement was signed last May between the government and some rebels. After that, rebel factions splintered further. In some areas, the government is working with rebel signatories; in others, it's fighting them, and in some places the rebels are fighting one another. The version of the conflict that has seized the imagination of the world—and that prompted former secretary of State Colin Powell to describe the killing there as "genocide"—involved marauding Arab militiamen known as Janjaweed, often backed up by Sudanese military forces, laying waste to scattered villages. Now as many as 12 different groups are at each other's throats, tussling over control of huge refugee camps or angling for their share of promised government compensation. On Jan. 10, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced he had brokered a 60-day ceasefire; so far, it has yet to start. "The ceasefire?" says a senior officer with the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of offending Sudanese authorities. "That's like the peace. We haven't seen either."

Assaults on aid organizations have wide repercussions. After a Dec. 8 attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross compound in Kutum, in northern Darfur, all but three of the international staff pulled out. Villagers driven from their homes by Janjaweed have since dispersed rather than seek refuge in the camp there. "We don't know where 30,000 people are," says Rebecca Dale of the International Rescue Committee. "Only about two or three thousand have shown up."

Khartoum has pledged to give aid agencies unfettered access to Darfur, and has frequently boasted of its cooperation with the international community. Yet the NGOs say their workers, especially those from Western countries, are frequently denied visas and travel permits, while key equipment and supplies are held up in Sudanese Customs. And they cannot complain too loudly. "We can't afford to be kicked out," says Dawn Blalock, spokesman for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The stakes are too high: Blalock points out that the aid groups have managed to lower the overall malnutrition rate in Darfur below the emergency level of 15 percent. Without them, no one knows how bad it could get.

Those who speak out have paid a price. The Norwegian Refugee Council, serving 250,000 displaced Darfurians, was expelled in November to hardly a murmur from the United Nations. Late last year the U.N. secretary-general's representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, the highest U.N. mission official there, was thrown out by Khartoum after he complained publicly about continued Janjaweed attacks. He has yet to be replaced, leaving the U.N. mission leaderless. "The international community have been taken for a ride," says Pronk. And yet again, the ones suffering most are the people of Darfur.