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Just a follow-up to Wednesday’s post on flooding in Pakistan. Here is an interesting article from Ron Scherer at the Christian Science Monitor. He argues that the tepid response to the disaster is, at least in some respects, a direct result of corruption in the Pakistani government. Many Pakistani-Americans, Scherer reports, have declined to donate money because they fear the Pakistani government will divert money away from relief efforts. Their fears are probably not unfounded – indeed, it sometimes seems every natural disaster is followed by allegations of officials attempting to profit from relief funds.

That said, the situation in Pakistan is particularly dire and stands only to get worse in the near-term. Moreover, a number of international nonprofits are currently collecting funds to support their own relief efforts. While there can be no guarantees, it would seem that donations made through these organizations are more likely to reach their intended recipients.

Three internationally recognized relief organizations with strong track records for effectively delivering aid are: Oxfam, Care, and World Vision. Each of these organizations is accepting donations for flood relief, which can be accessed here, here, and here. Giving your dollars to these organizations would be a wise choice and a good deed.


Today at the UN Headquarters in New York, an international donors’ conference kicked off with the goal of raising money for Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction after the devastating earthquake this past January.

However, beyond Haiti’s president, no other Haitian voices will be at this conference. No community leaders or poor people from Haiti were invited. The people who need this money most need to be a part of the recovery process, and that means calling on Secretary Clinton to push for a Haitian presence.

Click here to make sure that Haitian voices are heard at the UN donors’ conference!

Click here for more information on the survey Oxfam just conducted in preparation for this conference.

Click here for more information on recovery and autonomy in Haiti.

Pirates have long been subjects of fascination and intrigue in the Western literary imagination. Authors have published accounts of looting, mustachsomali-piratesed, one-legged bandits toiling over treacherous waters in such epic masterpieces as “Peter Pan.” But in Somalia, where many forge a living by capturing commercial cargo ships in the Indian Ocean, the motives for pursuing a life of piracy aren’t so romantic.

Reports of Somali pirates hijacking foreign ships have circulated through the news quite frequently in the past few months. Last September, for example, the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reported a band of Somali pirates snatched a Ukrainian arms vessel headed for Kenya.  Much of the article delved into the details of the attack, the great conundrums that Somali piracy presents for the international community and African law-making bodies, as well as the deviance of the criminals responsible for the attack. Gettleman describes the pirates in the following manner:

“The gun-toting, seafaring thieves, who routinely pounce on cargo ships bobbing along on the Indian Ocean, suddenly found themselves in command of a vessel crammed with $30 million worth of grenade launchers, piles of ammunition, even battle tanks.”

While his word choice certainly grabs the reader’s attention, the analysis provided notably fails to examine driving forces behind the growing trend of Somali piracy. Might there be reasons beyond an assumed natural affinity to  lawlessness and violence?  What of the public perception of piracy as a form of national defense among Somalis?

Much to the ire of the United States and Russia, the pirates refused to turn over the Ukrainian ship, claiming the charged ransom money was to be used to fund public service projects to clean up toxic waste along the Somali coast. That is, uranium radioactive waste European and Asian companies have dumped in Somali waters for over a decade. Yes, the same Europe that is crying foul each time Somali pirates attack. Not to mention that foreign powers have been illegally draining Somali fisheries and other marine resources since 2000.

Mainstream news outlets also fail to mention the devastating poverty and weak rule of law that has drawn many Somalis to piracy as a means of livelihood. Without a reliable government or a functioning economy, most Somalis end up desperate for a means of income.

In other words, it seems convenient for the international community to dismiss Somali pirates as third-rate thugs. But, it would prove more constructive for major world powers to address the bloody conflict with U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces that has been ripping through Somalia for the past nineteen years. A thoughtful letter to the editor for the UK’s Financial Times pointed out that over the past two years, battles between the Somalis and U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops have resulted in the displacement of one million and the death of 10,000 Somali citizens. Locked in violence and pandemonium, Somalis have increasingly turned to less conventional industries, such as piracy, as a means of survival and way to exercise power over the terms of their own lives.

What can the world’s major powers do? For one, the United States should stop its funding and support of Ethiopia’s invasion and violation of Somalia’s territorial integrity. In addition, wildly hazardous, health-threatening toxic waste dumping on the part of European and Asian  companies should cease. Finally, as per usual, diplomatic intervention and humanitiarian aid will go much farther than bellicose rhetoric and short-sighted interventionist policies  in stemming the Somali piracy problem.

Oh, and the illegal usurpation and abuse of a sovereign country’s resources and territory have never been the best way to stamp out crime.

On his transition website, President-elect Obama has outlined his agenda for service and defense.  These plans include initiatives to expand domestic community service opportunities as well as civilian-military cooperation (details below the fold).  These plans are a step in the right direction, but I believe we should go even further to provide civilians and especially youth opportunities for foreign service (in addition to domestic service).

I envision a Humanitarian Corps, analogous to the military, but equipped to pursue humanitarian and peace building missions.  While the Peace Corps is a valuable institution that should be expanded and supported, as Obama plans to do, we need a civilian agency that can take on large scale projects and crises as well.  The Peace Corps places individuals or small groups in communities where they are needed.  What we need in addition is an agency that can place large units of people trained in development, reconstruction, and emergency response in areas recovering from conflict, natural disaster, and/or humanitarian crisis.  This humanitarian corps would also assist with general development projects like the Peace Corps does, but on a larger scale.  Corps members would receive training on the local area (culture, language, history) so they could best meet the needs of the communities they serve.  Lastly, this group would be able to coordinate their efforts with the military, USAID, NGOs, the UN, and other agencies, and fill the capacity gaps within our development, foreign aid, and military missions.

A humanitarian corps would serve several purposes.  First, it would bolster U.S. relations and global security with a long-term “hearts and minds” approach.  Second, it would alleviate strains on our troops by allowing them to focus on military concerns.   Third, and most importantly, it would provide an invaluable opportunity for youth to engage in public diplomacy and become more informed and involved in the world around them.

There are thousands of college graduates each year searching for opportunities to travel, learn, and explore before settling into a career or grad school.  More and more of them are pursuing careers in the non-profit sector and they need real international expertise and on-the-ground experience.  Furthermore, student activists around the country are clamoring for opportunities to take direct action on issues they are passionate about  – genocide, HIV/AIDS, climate change, Millennium Development Goals – I believe that given the opportunity, these young people would embrace a civilian humanitarian corps, I know I would.

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As this post is being read, violence continues in the Darfur region of Sudan. Without engaging in the debate concerning whether or not the atrocities in Darfur may indeed be deemed genocide according to international law, mass atrocities continue to be committed. The mass violence in Darfur is an issue that affects the ‘international community’ as well as smaller communities in the US and the people who are victims of genocide in Sudan, and while it is a challenging issue to discuss, there are solutions. There are obvious and less obvious community sectors and major global and local forces contributing to the problem. What is needed? A creative solution that operates both within existing state structures and outside the nation-state is what is needed.

The crisis in Darfur has many root causes and has grown out of several separate but intersecting conflicts (Straus 125). The first is a civil war between the Islamist, Khartoum-based national government, and two rebel groups based in Darfur (The Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality movement). “The rebels, angered by Darfur’s political and economic marginalization by Khartoum, first appeared in February 2003” (Straus 124). The government did not begin a major counteroffensive until the rebels carried out a major attack on a military airfield. Khartoum responded by “arming irregular militia forces and directing them to eradicate the rebellion. The militias set out to do just that, but mass violence against civilians is what followed” (Straus 125). The government essentially decided to covertly fight the rebels. In 2004, the government and main southern rebels entered negotiations and neared a comprehensive agreement. However, the Darfur region was never represented in these discussions: “the Darfur rebels decided to strike partly to avoid being left out of any new political settlement” (Straus 125). Here it can be seen that a community that was marginalized was merely attempting to fight for their rights.

More specifically, Darfur, which is about the size of Texas, is home to about six million people and several dozen tribes, which are then split between “those who claim ‘African’ descent and primarily practice sedentary agriculture, and those who claim ‘Arab’ descent and are mostly semi-nomadic livestock herders” (Straus 126). However, these divisions are far from clear since all Sudanese are technically African, and Darfurians are nearly all Muslim. In addition, years of intermarriage have decreased obvious physical differences between ‘Arabs and black ‘Africans’ (Straus 126). Extended drought and environmental factors have caused increased land disputes and have escalated the tensions in the region. The Khartoum government did not help matters by supporting and arming Arab tribes in the mid-1980s to “prevent the southern rebels from gaining a foothold in the region” (Straus 126). In response to rebel uprisings the government armed Arab militias to target black African civilians who came from the same tribes as the rebel groups.

While one person may be able to make a small mark, what is really needed in this solution is for people to come together and lobby governments all over the world to take action, while at the same time working outside the government structure to support projects such as solar cookers in refugee camps or NGO’s on the ground providing much-needed assistance. Gary Delgado, Oakland organizer writes in his introduction how his own experience as an organizer led him to believe, “the ground-breaking work, the innovation, the experimentation, and the motivating livid anger that comes from the truly oppressed is at the heart of the work in immigrants’ rights organizations, gay and lesbian organizations, disabled people’s organizations and organizations of people of color” (7). Organizers must not only focus on those who have money to donate, but also incorporate all oppressed people to illustrate that these actions will not be tolerated.
What should be included? Elements of activist using people power “to embarrass, disrupt, and publicly challenge key decision makers, forcing them to adhere to the group’s demands” (Delgado 20) and using “indigenous leadership with a professional staff.” It is also important to recognize where the solution fits into the larger picture and whether or not it can solve the root causes or serve as a band-aid. The situation in Sudan seems more similar to an analogy of a hemorrhage in that you cannot stop a hemorrhage with band-aids, “however many you apply; for a hemorrhage, you need major surgery. And I worry that as we fritter away our time and energies debating the minutia of small scale do-it-yourself-type community initiatives, the patient will bleed to death” (Gilligan 10). At the same time as we try slowing to patch up the patient, Sudan, we must also be aware of the larger picture, but it is these smaller scale initiatives that will hopefully lead to change.

According to Colin Fletcher, who writes on community problems, the problems must first be acknowledged as a shared. As Fletcher says, “the problems of society today can only be solved when society has become a community. Community occurs when a common predicament is shared. Sharing requires sympathetic understanding which in turn is the beginning of wisdom” (Fletcher 44). If we, as an international community, can recognize that this is indeed an issue that is important, than as individuals we can lobby our governments by movements in the street such as the Stop Genocide Rally on the Washington Mall in April 2006. Also by increasing awareness and continually showing that as an international community, we care.
This will also be a period calling for more collaboration between many diverse communities around the world (Calderon 53). As Calderon says, “Changing relations between all peoples and all countries are developing a more interdependent world. Today, we live with the reality that no community, no economy, and no country is able to exist separately” (Calderon 54). Although it may be hard to see at first glance how the victims of the genocide in Darfur are connected to us, as students in the US we are able to transcend national boundaries and work alongside communities as diverse as those in Sudan.

Since the movement to stop genocide is so strong in the US we can expand outwards and help train and mobilize others to lobby their governments to take some kind of action on the issue of Sudan. As a former student at Pitzer College, I brought together students, staff, faculty and anyone else interested to discuss current events in Sudan. I asked people with indigenous knowledge such as Lako Tongun, who is originally from the Sudan to work with Jerry Fowler, a visiting professor from the Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscious and student activists across the five colleges to come together to increase awareness of an important issue. Small groups must connect to schools outside the US, and tell them about what they are doing to help educate others about Darfur in hopes that schools can pass the message forward and contact other schools to mobilize transnational activism to stop genocide in Sudan, or at least assuage the situation.

Looking at the problem of genocide in Darfur, as students, we cannot change the ecological factors, we cannot individually choose to go in to fight against government-backed militias, nor can all of us travel to Sudan to speak to the refugees. We may not all agree on the measures that should be taken by the US or so-called international community to stop the atrocities: Should there be an invasion to stop the violence, an increased African Union force, targeted sanctions, comprehensive sanctions, or suspension of UN membership? The conditions are further complicated by the changes that are taking place day to day, as time goes by. What we can control is our own activism.

For more information:


Fletcher, Colin, “The Meanings of ‘Community’ in Community Education,” in Community Education: An Agenda for Educational Reform, ed. Allen Garth, et al., Philadelphia: open University Press, 1987, 33-49.

Calderon, Jose, “An Essay on Sources of Intercommunity Conflict and Models of Collaboration,” California Politics and Policy, (10-1998), p.53-57.

Gilligan, James (2001) “Who Benefits from Violence” Preventing Violence. London: Thames and Hudson, 7-28 and 131-38.

Straus, Scott. “Darfur and the Genocide Debate,” Foreign Affairs, volume 84, No. 1 available at

I found this article from AlertNet interesting. I’m not sure if I should be depressed by it, or retain some hope that aid work can become apolitical again. I guess my feelings are clouded by my now ever-present outrage and disgust at the actions of the Bush Administration and my horror at the bloody mess in Iraq.

Judge for yourself. Is Malloch-Brown right? 

In the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, aid workers have come to be seen as part of the West’s political machinery, and so have lost much of their protection, Malloch Brown warned, pointing to attacks on the United Nations and Red Cross in Iraq.

It has also become politically impossible to talk to some groups who control access to needy populations, he said. "I, and my generation, thought nothing of talking to the Khmer Rouge, the Taliban, internationally unrecognised rabble and terrorist groups to negotiate humanitarian access… Getting these leaders, even war criminals, to allow us to reach civilians did not in our minds constitute political recognition of them. In the Age of the War on Terror, such contacts have become near impossible."

At the same time, he said it was important the world should realize it had a right and responsibility to intervene in sovereign states that were committing gross abuses.

"If the old humanitarian work had an internal fault, it was in its belief that food or medicine was neutral… We cannot be neutral about suffering and rights," he said. "And we must hold the perpetrators of abuses to account."

It wasn’t dissimilar to some of the rhetoric that preceded the Iraq war. And when a young international lawyer shot back that apparent failure in Iraq might be seen to undermine that argument, Malloch Brown conceded he had a point.

"We have been dealt to the worst hand possible," he said as he shared the stage with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the war and then its envoy to post-war Baghdad.

But Iraq was also an opportunity, Malloch Brown argued, drawing a parallel between it and the aftermath of the Vietnam, when torrents of young humanitarians rushed to help in the aftermath of another unpopular war.

"For most of us each argument for the war – weapons of mass destruction, the promotion of democracy, bringing stability and freedom to Iraq and the wider region – lies shattered," he said. "That is why the argument for helping has never been stronger. At a humanitarian, as well as a political level, we need to try and fix a broken country."

In my office, we talk about Iraq frequently, and my colleagues have told me that many Bosnians are doing aid work in Iraq now. My emotions tell me I should be in Iraq, where humanitarian assistance is so desperately needed by so many, but my brain reminds me that my mere presence, as an American, would endanger the lives of everyone around me.


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