The Humanitarian Times

December 24, 1999


- COTE D'IVOIRE's MILITARY ATTEMPTS COUP, PROCLAIMS PARLIAMENT DISSOLVED, today as troops visibly occupied streets of the capital, Abidjan, the 1st military intervention in the history of this democratic state. No armed fighting or conflict has been reported. It is unclear whether Pres. Bedie can re-assert authority. Cote D'Ivoire has graciously hosted 10,000s of Liberian refugees, settled in villages inside its western border.

- RUSSIA CUTS AID TO SOME CHECHEN REFUGEES IN EFFORT TO COERCE RETURN to Chechnya, a violation of the intl. principle of non-refoulement. Last weekend Russia unsuccessfully tried to herd 1,000s of Chechen refugees in Ingushetia into railroad cars to take them to Russian army-controlled areas of Chechnya. Meanwhile, several thousand residents of Grozny have fled increased Russian shelling of the capital. Human Rights Watch reports that Russian troops, including mercenaries, have executed civilians, in particular when looting their homes.

- VENEZUELA RELOCATES 100,000 AFTER 2-WEEK RAINS & MUDSLIDES led to a declared state of emergency for the depts of Vargas, the federal districts of Caracas, plus 7 states (Zulia, Falcon, Yaracuy, N Esparta, Carabobo, Tachira & Miranda); among those who remain with their land, the absence of potable water is the dominant humanitarian problem. In the longer-term, property-rights will be the problem. Pres. Chavez, who criticized the former govt for allowing these risks to accumulate among the poor of Vargas, said he intended to relocate displaced to the country's tropical interior regions (no where near their current homes or areas of employment). Caracas' main intl airport, Maiquetia, which sits at the juncture of the coastal highway & the boulevard from Caracas north to the ocean, has been closed to intl flights & used as a staging center for helicopter rescue of survivors. Vargas is roughly half an hour's drive east of this juncture. The nearby port of La Guaira is also closed for several weeks of repairs. 23,000 houses were destroyed. 100,000 survivors have been relocated, while ~30,000 remain in Vargas. Estimates of total deaths vary widely, from 4,000 to 40,000. The disaster risk of shantytowns built on steeply sloped hillsides remains for 100,000s more, including most of the population around Caracas itself; Caracas sits atop a major earthquake-prone fault line. $3.6m in relief was donated by the European Commission Humanitarian Office & hundreds of intl NGOs & the Red Cross are providing material support & personnel with search & rescue.

The US military Army Corps of Engineers was asked by the Govt of Venezuela to construct 1,000 houses.

- UN SPECIAL ENVOY WARNS OF POSSIBLE MASSACRES IN EASTERN D.REP. CONGO in the near future unless conditions for peace are enforced, including intl. observers & intl. military liaison officers. A UNHCR team is attempting to locate thousands of Congolese refugees believed to be scattered in the Congo Republic.



"There are 1,000s & 1,000s of people killed in Ethiopia or Eritrea, but one may barely know it," UNICEF Exec. Dir. C Bellamy said this week, noting that only 2/3 of last year's UNICEF emergencies appeal was funded; though places like Kosovo receive large funding,, UNICEF receives a small fraction of what is needed to save the lives of children in other less- celebrated crises.

- RELIEF-WEB WILL MONITOR Y2K CRISES FOR THE UN: WWW.RELIEFWEB.INT as this week Relief-Web is also shifting to a new layout with increased functionality.




- NEW BOOKS EXAMINE EXTREME BASES OF WEATHER PHENOMENON: "Furious Earth" by Ellen Prager (2000 NY: McGraw Hill) gives a science- insiders' story of the gradual progress in modeling geologic disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis & volcanoes, including the recent recognition that tidal waves are often the result of deep-sea landslides, not directly from underwater quakes. Also: "Skies of Fury" by P & T Barnes-Svarney (1999 NY: Touchstone) is an accessible primer on weird weather phenomenon: atypical lightning, down-ward falling winds, tornadoes & cloudbursts/flash floods; but does not discuss human impacts.

- RECENT BOOKS EXAMINE LESSONS OF (U.S.) NATURAL DISASTER MITIGATION "Disasters by Design: A Re-Assessment of Natural Hazards in the US" by D Mileti (1999 WashDC: Nat. Academy Sciences) provides an outstanding survey of disaster preparedness lessons, organized as "tools for sustainable hazards mitigation," & with projections for future crises including the collapse of the intl. municipal bond market which allows insurers to cover recovery costs. It finds "while fatalities in developed countries have steadily decreased by 75% during the past 50 years, economic losses are rapidly increasing." The author(s) promote the concept of the integrated sustainable disaster-resilient communities." Also: "Disaster Hits Home" by M Comerio, (1998 Berkeley: Univ California Press) is perhaps the most thorough review of data on the costs of disaster recovery in urban areas, looking at alternate policies for estimation, insurance & mitigation. It recommends that income tax incentives be given for hazard mitigation in housing & "require insurers to offer discounts to policy-holders who have undertaken significant mitigation."

- Also see older "Flirting with Disaster: Public Management in Crisis Situations" (by S Schneider, 1995 London: ME Sharpe); & R Platt's 1999 "Disasters & Democracy - the Politics of Extreme Natural Events" (WashDC: Island Press) both of which look at how govts declare disasters, & regulate & intermediate conflicting interests (including property rights, loss compensation).




- AMREF IS 1999 SELECTION OF CONRAD. N HILTON HUMANITARIAN PRIZE FOR NGOs: African Medical Relief Fund garnered $1,000,000 in support of its unique efforts as an Kenya-based NGO that now works in many countries. AMREF delivers disaster relief as well as aid to long-term public health efforts. AMREF also has offices in London & NY.

- MSF, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER, CALLS FOR ATTENTION TO NEGLECTED DISEASES in particular leishmaniasis & sleeping sickness, in their acceptance speech. With the prize proceeds, Medecins sans Frontieres is creating the "Neglected Disease Fund" to support research/procurement of new treatments, in conjunction with MSF's intl campaign, "Access to Essential Medicines." MSF is unique among NGOs for being both highly operational & highly political, saying: "wherever in the world there is manifest distress...MSF acts.. to relieve suffering, to witness the truth & insist on political responsibility." MSF was last year's (1998) winner of the Humanitarian Prize given by the Conrad N Hilton Foundation.

- ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE HONORS LEON SULLIVAN who initiated the Sullivan Principles, an early step in the fight for racial justice in S Africa. Also honored was Dolores Huerta, co-founder, along with Caesar Chavez, in 1962 of the United Farm Workers which played a critical role in bringing attention to the rights (both labor & human) of Latin-Americans living in the US; Charlotte Bunch, long-time advocate against discrimination against women & founder of the Rutgers Univ. Cent. for Women's Global Leadership; Sister Jean Marshall who founded the St. Rita's Cent. for Immigrant & Refugee Services in NY; & civil-rights activist Burke Marshall. Note: there is also an Eleanor Roosevelt humanitarian award given by the League for the Hard of Hearing, usually to someone in the corporate sector.

- BARBARA CROSETTE, NY TIMES JOURNALIST, IS TOP CORRESPONDENT in winning this year's award for Excellence in Intl. Reporting, given by InterAction, the NGO consortium. Crossette's stellar reporting of UN & intl. news ranges from the N Korea famine to trends in complex emergencies & the organization of response. Crossette has written several books on Asia & has also covered C. America & the Caribbean.

- INTERACTION HUMANITARIAN AWARD GIVEN TO SITHEMBISO NYONI Zimbabwe's Minister of State, for her leadership in promoting sustainable devt., including founding the Org of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP, an NGO), & the Zimbabwe Progress Fund which provides micro-enterprise loans.

- 1999 WORLD FOOD PRIZE GIVEN TO DR. WALTER PLOWRIGHT who developed a vaccine against Rinderpest, an epidemic disease of cattle which has frequently led to famines among cattle-herding societies.

Plowright, based in Kenya, received $250,000 with the award, given at the Royal Society in London. The World Food Prize is typically given to a scientist who has advanced humanity's ability to feed the hungry. For more info:

- "AFRICAN WOMAN FOOD FARMER" FOCUS KICKS OFF NEW $1M INITIATIVE This year, The Hunger Project's annual "Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger" honors all African women, & is the basis for a new campaign to empower them.

- REEBOK HUMAN RIGHTS AWARDS 4 YOUNG ACTIVISTS: Julie Dogbadzi of Ghana for her campaign against coerced labor, Tanya Greene who has lobbied against capital punishment, Suba Meshack of Kenya & Ka Hsaw Wa who co-founded Earth Rights Intl, an NGO.

- RED CROSS FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE MEDAL GIVEN TO MARGARET BRYSON, of New Zealand, who worked in in Kosovo last year; 3 Chinese Red Cross Soc. nurses also won. The award is presented by ICRC every 2 years, in honor of the British philanthropist Florence Nightingale.

- GEORGE MAGAZINE/PAUL NEWMAN CITE AS MOST HUMANITARIAN COMPANY: IDYLL (a tourism company) which donates 100% of its profits to the Idyll Devt foundation which supports microenterprize. Honorable mention also went to Kenneth Cole for his leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and to Give -Something-Back Business Products, to Home Depot, to Byer's Choice, to Coborn's Inc, & Bellsouth for extensive contributions to local charities. The George/ Newman's Own award has been given annually for 2 years.

- G.Q. MAG's 1st HUMANITARIAN MAN-OF-YEAR AWARD HONORS STEPHEN SPIELBERG (film-maker) for creating the Shoah Fndn, which documents the Holocaust, & his film work to educate the public about the Holocaust.


The Humanitarian Times