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Syria Turns the School Playgrounds into Vegetable Gardens to Feed Hungry Children

The ongoing crisis in Syria is having a devastating effect on the health and nutrition of an entire generation of children

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A boy sells vegetables and fruits along a street in the Damascus suburb of Qudsaya, Syria
A boy sells vegetables and fruits along a street in the Damascus suburb of Qudsaya, Syria. VOA
  • Young children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition in a crisis
  • Good nutrition is a child’s first defense against common diseases

School playgrounds across Syria are being transformed into vegetable gardens where children whose diets have been devastated by six years of war can learn to grow and then eat — aubergines, lettuces, peppers, cabbages, and cucumbers.

Traditional Syrian cuisine is typical of the region and rich in vegetables. Its mainstays include hummus, minced lamb cooked with pine nuts and spices, varied salads, stews made with green beans, okra or courgettes and tomatoes, stuffed cabbage leaves and artichoke hearts.

But the six-year war has changed that for much of the population, and many now live mainly on bread or food aid.

According to U.N. figures, unemployment now stands at more than 50 percent, and nearly 70 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty, in what was once a relatively wealthy country.

“The ongoing crisis in Syria is having a devastating effect on the health and nutrition of an entire generation of children,” Adam Yao, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) acting representative in Syria, said on Tuesday, ahead of the start of the school year.FAO is helping some 17 primary schools in both government and opposition-controlled areas to plant up to 500 meter-square fruit and vegetable plots in war-torn areas including Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus.

FAO is helping some 17 primary schools in both government and opposition-controlled areas to plant up to 500 meter-square fruit and vegetable plots in war-torn areas including Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus.Young children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition in a crisis, which can have serious and long-lasting effects on their growth and future development.

Young children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition in a crisis, which can have serious and long-lasting effects on their growth and future development.

“Good nutrition is a child’s first defense against common diseases and important for children to be able to lead an active and healthy life,” Yao added.

The primary schools, which began planting in May, have produced 12 tons of fruit and vegetables. Another 35 schools are expected to start transforming their playgrounds soon in Aleppo and in rural areas around Damascus.

Also Read: Ground Report: How ISIS is ruining lives of people in Syria and Iraq

Rising prices, falling production

The price of food has risen since the start of the war — agriculture production has plummeted, and the country now relies on food imports to make up the shortfall. Transporting food around the country has also become difficult and costly.

About 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. Of those, 7 million are unable to meet their basic food needs.

Some 5 million people receive international food aid, but not everyone in need can be reached, and the World Food Program says it has had to cut a number of calories in its family food baskets because of funding shortages.

“The donors are generous, but we don’t know how long they can continue to be generous and rely on taxpayers’ money,” the FAO’s Yao told Reuters.

Vulnerable families are receiving help from FAO to grow food at home, so they can become less reliant on food aid.

“Food aid is very important, but … we should combine both, in a way that people grow their own food and move away from food aid gradually,” he said.

In a country where more than half the population has been forced to flee their homes, many moving several times, investing in agriculture helps people to stay put for as long as it is safe, Yao added.

“Agriculture has become a hope for [many] because they can grow their own food and survive — even in the besieged areas.” (VOA)

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Dalveer Bhandari re-elected as the judge of ICJ

Bhandari has also served as the judge of Supreme Court of India

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The judge of the international court of justice.
Dalveer Bhandari got 121 votes in a 193 members assembly. IANS

Arul Louis

United Nations, November 21

Judge Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Tuesday as the General Assembly rallied behind him in a show of strength that made Britain bow to the majority and withdraw its candidate Christopher Greenwood.

“I am grateful to all the nations who have supported me,” Bhandari told IANS in the Assembly chamber after the election. “It was a big election as you know.” The withdrawal of its candidate by Britain, which had the backing of its fellow permanent members, was a setback for the Security Council that had been locked in a test of wills with the Assembly.

A candidate has to win a majority in both the chambers. Bhandari won majorities in the Assembly in the first 11 rounds of voting over two meetings, while the Council blocked his election by giving majorities to Greenwood in the ten rounds of balloting it held.

“The British ultimately had to bow down to the will of the majority,” a diplomat said. “The Indians stared them down.” The Council’s permanent members have traditionally had a judge in the ICJ, assuming it to be a matter of right. This time the 193-member Assembly asserted itself, forcing the Council to back down and put at risk the continuation of the ICJ perk of the permanent members.

In letters written to the Presidents Miroslav Lajcak of the Assembly and Sebastiano Cardi of the Council, Britain’s Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft said that his country was withdrawing Greenwood’s candidature keeping “in mind the close relationship that the United Kingdom and India always enjoyed and will continue to enjoy”.

Bhandari’s election was a dramatic face-saving turn of fortunes for India, as he lost the Asian seat on the ICJ to Lebanese lawyer-turned-diplomat Nawaf Salam, who had been campaigning for two years and had the backing of the powerful Organisation of Islamic Cooperation with 55 members in the UN.

Bhandari got a second chance only because an unpopular Britain could not get an Assembly majority for a remaining judgeship requiring a runoff where the two chambers of the UN split in their voting.

Bhandari’s cause became a rallying point for the nations not a member of the Council, who were chafing under the domination of the unrepresentative Council to make a popular show of force.

India hammered home the representative character of the Assembly compared to the Council and insisted that the UN members follow democratic principles and re-elect Bhandari by accepting the global majority he has received in the Assembly.

In the last round of voting on November 13, Bhandari received 121 votes, just short of a two-thirds majority in the 193-member Assembly, while Greenwood received nine in the Council.

“The precedent is clear,” India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin said at a reception for Bhandari attended by representatives of over 160 countries on Thursday.

“As is expected in the 21st century, the candidate who enjoys the overwhelming support of the General Assembly membership can be the only legitimate candidate to go through.” Diplomats familiar with behind-the-scenes manoeuvres said Britain indicated late last week that it would withdraw Greenwood, but over the weekend changed course with the backing of some fellow permanent members and came up with a plan for the Council to call for ending the balloting and set up a joint conference to resolve the deadlock.

The statutes of the ICJ provides for a joint conference made up of three members each from the Council and the Assembly to resolve a deadlock that persists after three election meetings.

India feared the outcome and campaigned resolutely to avoid it, pointing to the precedents in the elections in 2011 and 2014 and earlier when the candidate leading in the Council withdrew in favour of the candidate with the majority in the Assembly even though in those cases permanent members were not involved.

Bhandari’s election upsets what has become a traditional balance in the ICJ. Besides a permanent member going unrepresented, four Asian countries will be represented on the ICJ bench instead of the usual three.

Three incumbent judges of the ICJ — President Ronny Abraham of France, Vice President, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, and Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade of Brazil – were elected along with Salam in the first four rounds of voting on November 9.

Bhandari and the others elected will start their term in February next year. (IANS)

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

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Travel Ban
A sign for International Arrivals is shown at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.VOA

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive Travel Ban order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel ban order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke
Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”(VOA)

 

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UN Report on Rohingya Hunger Crisis Suspended on Order of Myanmar Government

The current crisis began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked police checkpoints on Myanmar's Rakhine state and killed 12 security personnel.

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Rohingya
Rohingya refugees collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia, at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017, VOA

United Nations, October 17, 2017: The UN food aid agency withdrew a critical report revealing desperate hunger among the Rohingya Muslim minority after the Myanmar government ordered it to be taken down, the media reported on Tuesday.

The July assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that more than 80,000 children under the age of five were “wasting” – a potentially fatal condition of rapid weight loss, reports the Guardian.

The six-page document has since been replaced with a statement saying Myanmar and WFP were “collaborating on a revised version”.

That process would involve “representatives from various ministries, and will respond to the need for a common approach” that was in line with “WFP’s future cooperation with the government”.

When asked why the July report was removed, the WFP said it was withdrawn from the website “following a request by the government to conduct a joint review”, the Guardian reported.

In a statement, the agency said: “The WFP stands by its original assessment, which was conducted jointly with local authorities in Rakhine state… However WFP recognises that in a dynamic and evolving situation, it is important to coordinate closely with all partners, including the government.”

Meanwhile, the UN’s most senior official in the country is scheduled to leave at the end of the month amid allegations she suppressed another report and also attempted to shut down public advocacy on Rohingya suffering.

The current crisis began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked police checkpoints on Myanmar’s Rakhine state and killed 12 security personnel.

It resulted in over half a million Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, many alleging that the Myanmar Army conducted a counter-offensive that included mass killings and rapes.(IANS)