At Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, workers face few humane options.
From Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Ethiopia, refugee workers are being forced to make painful choices regarding the future of more than 21 million refugees, part of a record 65 million displaced persons around the world. They must choose between political and economic refugees, individuals and families, the healthy and the sick, the elderly and unaccompanied children, gay and straight. They try to move those most in need of help to the front of the line for resettlement somewhere safe.
But when it comes to triaging the world’s humanitarian crises, there are few humane choices.
Read the full feature article in the February 27, 2017 edition of The Nation magazine or online.
Kijabe, Kenya – At the bottom of a winding, tree-lined road, a crowd of patients spills out of the entrance of a private hospital waiting room on to a patio and a dirt parking lot. It begins to rain, and a man on crutches tries to hobble into the cramped building for cover.
Sitting in a wheelchair outside the door is Dorcas Kiteng’e, a 25-year-old woman suffering from cancerous growths in her ovaries.
“They’re pressing down on the spine, they’re paralysing her,” says Mwende Mutambuki, Kiteng’e’s sister-in-law. “She can’t walk. Back pain, leg pain – I’m hoping it hasn’t spread.”
Kijabe is the third hospital they’ve visited since they arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week, looking for an oncologist who could perform the surgery, only to be turned away.
“They sent us to Agha Khan,” says Mutambuki, referring to the private Nairobi hospital that’s regarded as one of the nation’s finest. “But we know we were not going to be able to afford that.”
She fears time is running out to save her sister-in-law: “It’s a matter of life or death.”
Two months ago Kenya’s public sector doctors walked out on strike, and millions of Kenyans who normally depend on them are beginning to overwhelm the nation’s private hospitals, particularly in rural areas.
In 1992, the U.N. formally recognized Kakuma as a refugee camp — a temporary shelter. A quarter-century later, Kakuma hosts more than 150,000 refugees — victims of all manner of East African calamities, from Ugandan homophobia to political unrest in Burundi. Presently, it is filling up once again with people fleeing civil war in South Sudan.
Long before the Syrian civil war, before millions of people began fleeing to camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere in search of safety, Kakuma was something of an icon in the global refugee crisis. Today, it stands as a solemn reminder of the permanence of humanity’s displaced masses.
Meet Fathom, the world’s first-ever cruise line for vacationers who don’t just want to do beaches, spas, and shopping, but to do good.
Launched in April, Fathom consists of a 704-person ship, the Adonia, that sets sail every two weeks from Miami to Puerto Plata, where cruisers volunteer to plant trees, build floors, teach English, and otherwise make the Dominican Republic a better place. (On the off-week, the boat heads to Cuba.) But Fathom isn’t the handiwork of some Christian missionary or celebrity NGO. It’s a subsidiary of Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, with revenues of $16 billion a year.
Fathom exists to make money, but it also exists to fill a growing demand in the global-tourism industry: volunteering, a trend widely referred to as “voluntourism.” More than 1.5 million people vacation to volunteer, spending about $2 billion annually. Fathom may be the largest single manifestation of that trend to date: In its first year, it claims it could ferry 18,000 passengers who could generate upward of 200,000 volunteer-hours—the equivalent of more than 100 full-time NGO workers. It calls its program “impact+travel.”
It’s a bold claim.
Read the full article at VICE.com or in the November 2016 issue of VICE Magazine.
The death toll from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti—now officially at 336, though likely far higher—is a big part of why the world is paying attention to Haiti right now. It’s in the headlines, it’s in the ledes. It’s the reason news agencies continuously hunt for the highest figures: The higher your death toll, the more fresh, the more ominous your reporting appears, and the more likely it is that TV news stations, newspapers and news websites will choose your story over your competitor’s.
We should care that hundreds of people have died. But we shouldn’t only care when a storm hits. More than 9,000 Haitians have died from cholera in the six years since the United Nations introduced the disease there. Diarrhoeal diseases kill at least 4,600 Haitians each year. Those diseases are usually brought on by lack of clean water and sanitation — things with relatively simple and low-cost fixes that neither Haiti’s government nor the international aid community has invested in sufficiently to fix.
A friend of mine who works for a major aid organization in Haiti messaged me last week that “it’s awful trying to get to the south with the bridge down, blocked roads, etc. So sad.” She’s talking about a bridge on the same road I traveled back in 2010 to cover hurricane Thomas as it struck Haiti’s south. Indeed, bridges in Haiti fall frequently when storms hit. Without them, aid workers can’t get to the affected areas easily, or at all.
How many of us have opened our wallets in the past five years to donate to the construction of bridges in Haiti — or roads?
More to the point, how many news outlets that are gaining clicks and ad revenue by reporting on the current death toll in Haiti bothered to report on any solutions to Haiti’s chronic infrastructure or health problems in the past? Absent any solutions-oriented coverage, the recent barrage of news about the tragic toll of Hurricane Matthew feels an awful lot like disaster porn.
“We have a bad, bad story,” begins Gloria Ibara, a refugee from Burundi and the mother of four. Sitting on a mattress in a simple Nairobi apartment, she tells me of her problem: “They want to kill our family.”
Gloria, whose bright smile accents her worn face, was born in rural Gitega province to a family of farmers. As her children grew, Gloria came to realize her son Eric was gay. (The names of the family members have been changed out of concern for their safety.)
At first “I told him to stop, that it’s not good,” Gloria says. But over time she decided that “that’s the way he was, and he couldn’t change it.” So she went on loving and caring for him just the same.
In many parts of East and Central Africa where homophobia is rife, parents react harshly on learning that a child is gay. Parents feel enormous pressure to either “fix” their gay kids or disown them. I’ve met dozens of LGBT refugees who have fled their home countries and escaped to Kenya, and only one—a woman, also from Burundi—wasn’t disowned by her family. So when Gloria learned that her son Eric was gay, it was extraordinary for her not to reject them. Stunned as she was when she later found out that her older son, Claude, then well into his teens, too was gay, she supported him too. It’s for that reason that they are now a family on the run.
Randomized controlled trials are the popular centerpiece of an emerging data-driven approach to figuring out precisely the best way to end poverty. Can a return to the scientific method fix the global aid industry?
For too long, “accountability” in the aid industry has meant nothing more than ensuring that a donor’s money was spent the way an agency said it would be. Rarely did organizations examine whether their spending achieved a positive impact (improved access to water, for example), much less one that stood the test of time (meaning the well didn’t dry up).
But recently, many aid organizations, including theInternational Rescue Committee, a New York humanitarian aid group specializing in refugee assistance, have used RCTs to, among other things, evaluate methods for nudging parents in Liberia toward more effective parenting techniques and tocreate highly effective community savings-and-loan programs to combat poverty in Burundi. It’s easy to see why charities are attracted to RCTs: They can make an aid agency’s work more efficient and generate solid evidence of progress to show funders.
As organizations continue to conduct more of them, RCTs are disproving many myths upon which we’ve designed development aid for years, not least of which is our longtime preference for projects over cash. If the data shows, as the RCT of GiveDirectly’s Kenya program did, that it’s most effective to hand a family $1,000 with no strings attached, then that’s precisely what we should do.
Read the full article in the July/August print edition of Pacific Standard or online.
For months, nearly two dozen gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans had been living in a large house on the outskirts of Nairobi in an area called Rongai. Long after a court struck down Uganda’s infamous anti-gay law—dubbed the “Kill the Gays” bill for a death penalty provision in an early draft—LGBT people in Uganda were still being disowned by their families, hunted down by neighbors, jailed by police, even killed. Hundreds fled Uganda—mostly to Kenya, where they are faring little better.
Many of these refugees grew up in urban, middle-class families and loathe living in a hot, squalid refugee camp, as Kenyan law requires of all refugees. They are city people, accustomed to partying at secret gay clubs in Kampala.
One afternoon last December, a Kenyan man came to the gate of the Rongai house with a warning: Neighbors were plotting to attack the gay refugees that night and run them out of town. The refugees didn’t wait. They fled, scattering to different apartments across the city.
Read the full story in the June 10, 2016 print edition of Newsweek, or online.
TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK, Kenya—When it comes to darting elephants from helicopters and fitting heavy GPS tracking collars around their massive necks, “a lot of things can go wrong,” David Daballen says. “An elephant can fall on its chest. Imagine, a six-ton animal just sitting on its chest—they crush their lungs.”
As dawn breaks, Daballen, who works with Save the Elephants, is leading a collaring team of a couple dozen people, including nine Kenya Wildlife Service rangers dressed in camouflage and brandishing rifles. They are equipped with a Cessna, a helicopter, and a caravan of Toyota Land Cruisers and other SUVs.
The Cessna, circling overhead, spots an elephant and radios the team. Within seconds the chopper swoops in low, disappearing behind the bushes and trees. A moment later it swoops upward, and the vehicles race toward the spot. Lying on his right side is a bull. His skin is brown and rough, with pokey black hairs.
The team sets immediately to work unrolling the collar onto the elephant’s neck and attempting to tug it underneath. Someone pours water on the animal’s side to keep him cool. Another puts a small stick into the tip of his trunk to keep the airway open.
After struggling 20 minutes to get the collar on, Daballen uses a socket wrench to tighten the two ends together. The job done, a man injects an antidote to wake the animal up, and the team hurries to their vehicles. Everyone is silent as they watch the bull rise. He stands, looks toward the vehicles, then he turns and walks swiftly in the opposite direction.
The bull was the first of 10 elephants the team tranquilized over a week to fit with tracking collars. Their mission: to see how well Tsavo’s estimated 12,000 savanna elephants traverse a new rail line that has recently split their habitat in two. It is the first time in history, Daballen’s organization believes, that elephants are being collared specifically to study how they interact with human infrastructure.
Read the full feature story at National Geographic.
HISPANIOLA – On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, home to the sovereign nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two large lakes are rising dramatically.
Lake Azuéi in Haiti submerged an entire community; across the border in the Dominican Republic, Lake Enriquillo has risen nearly 33 feet in just 10 years. As their land flooded, many farmers began cut-ting down trees to make charcoal to earn a living, leading to deforestation.
Scientists from across the globe have tried to solve the mystery behind the rising lakes. Some think climate change is to blame, arguing that warming sea created more evaporation and clouds, which led to more rainfall. But if true, that would be strange, because in most of the world climate change is causing lakes to shrink.
The phenomenon is spur- ring calls for more research to help explain – and mitigate – the situation. Until scientists are able to identify the cause and work toward a solution, thousands of farmers on this Caribbean island will have to adapt.