Monday, 8 February 2016

Zika: Fast & Furious

I have to admit, as insensitive as it will sound, that when I heard last week that the Brazilian military were set loose on the favelas of Rio and Recife, searching out and destroying potential breeding spots for mosquitos that my mind went immediately to the movie “Fast & Furious 5”. I can see Vin Diesel and The Rock stomping through the narrow alleyways, chasing each other over the roofs and dodging flying cars all in the hunt for the elusive Zika Mosquitio.

Sorry for the insensitivity of the detour of my mind - it is so much more frightening and serious than that. When WHO director general, Margaret Chan called Zika an "extraordinary event" that needed a coordinated response she was acting on the knowledge that this virus, with its genesis in the mosquito, is already impacting millions of people and has the potential to spread and affect millions more. This is a public health emergency of international concern." (Announcement)

One clinic in Recife, a run down, underfunded medical facility was treating maybe 5 cases of microcephaly a month, until last month when they treated 300. While the medical evidence, (hard data) is still not available to say that the virus causes microcephaly the anecdotal evidence and the belief of most, especially the mothers of the affected babies, is that the link is undeniable.

We operate in 14 countries in Latin America but we are prioritizing interventions in the most affected countries of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Brazil is the most affected, with over 4,000 suspected and 400 confirmed cases of microcephaly caused by the Zika virus among newborn babies, according to the country's health minister. In the next six months the estimated budget for our response is US $3 million to reach 300,000 direct beneficiaries and 1.5 million indirect beneficiaries in the five countries targeted.

The frustration for Brazilian’s must be that this virus has been around for years, microcephaly and the link has been investigated for at least the last 18 months, but when the world begins to focus on the Olympics and athletes (especially young women of child bearing years) from all over the world, when the virus looks like it could perhaps jump Dutton’s border security, avoid off-shore incarceration and take residence among us – then we take notice.

There is information available, and you can follow our progress (and contribute to the effort to assist the people of Latin America if you’re able). 

Monday, 1 February 2016

#NoLostGeneration : Syria

There are a number of memory and association triggers – the smell that reminds you of Granny, the taste that reminds you of that horrible meal, the song that makes you laugh, or cry. For me, some of those associations now come with the names of countries or cities: Earthquake - Haiti and Christchurch; Typhoon & floods – Philippines and Taiwan; Refugees – Rwanda… One of the other associations has now become Geneva – location of some of the most important talks and opportunity for some of the worlds most oppressed people.

This weekend talks commenced to try and stop the fighting in Syria. Numerous actors from around the globe are sitting in a meeting facilitated by the UN. At this stage one of the opposition parties is refusing to even enter the room unless some of the preconditions are met – including allowing access to Syria for humanitarian workers and stopping the bombing of civilians – seems reasonable. There is a very long way to go, but these talks are the newest and currently best opportunity there is to stop the unimaginable destruction of people and country.

On March 15 this year the crisis will enter its 6th year and among the inconceivable statistics of internally displaced, refugees, starving and dead – there are a total of 5.4 million Syrian children and youth inside Syria (2.1 million out of school) and 1.4 million Syrian refugee children and youth in the five host countries (50 per cent of whom are out of school) – that need educational assistance.

The conflict has taken a tremendous toll on children’s access to educational services and protection.

Children in Syria suffer protracted and multiple displacement, continuous exposure to violence, family separation, chronic psychosocial distress, recruitment into armed groups and economic exploitation. Grave child-rights violations continue to be widely documented, including the killing and maiming of children and attacks on education facilities. In most host countries, refugee parents’ lack of access to legal, safe and decent employment impacts their ability to meet the children’s needs, with negative coping mechanisms such as child labour and early marriage on the rise.

On Thursday, in London, another conference will get underway; “Supporting Syria and the Region” will bring together international donors, including Australia. Hopefully these donors will commit to supporting the crisis.

Among the agenda items, is the hope to create a long-term commitment on education for Syria and the region to avoid a lost generation of children and youth through a total ask of US$1.4 billion. Around 4 million Syrian and affected host-community children and youth (aged 5-17 years) need to have access to, and learn in, safe, inclusive and quality formal and non-formal certified learning opportunities. In particular, the objective is to reach 1.7 million Syrian refugee and affected host-community children and youth in the five host countries with a total cost of US$0.9 billion, and 2.1 million out-of-school children inside Syria with a total cost of US$0.5 billion. Specific attention will be given to post-basic education opportunities that increase life skills for employability and social cohesion.

A whole generation of children and youth is at risk of losing hope. Education is key for their survival and preparation to rebuild a peaceful Syria. Failing to provide adequate funding would have an immensely negative impact on their future, that of the region and beyond.

Looking for something to pray for this week? Pray for these conferences and for the people that are hoping this time will make a difference.