October 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the October 31, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!
As promised in the last newsletter this brief newsletter focuses on the Syrian crisis and possible responses we can make. In addition there is further news on oil drilling in the Arctic and disturbing new about tuberculosis.

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RESPONDING TO THE SYRIAN CRISIS

The Western world has been bombarded with images of desperation as waves of refugees have boarded rickety boats or endured parched and hostile journeys. This crisis has reached a threshold in our world, resulting in a call for extraordinary action, just like the “Vietnamese Boat People” of the 1980s.

This article will not attempt to cover the complexities of this crisis (though please raise any issues of concern via the above blog link). What follows is simply a quick sketch of possible responses:

1. An acknowledgement of our primitive dynamics. Human creativity has put men on the moon and created driverless cars. Canadians just spent $1 billion on Halloween. Contrasting that incredible ability and such disposable income with all the preventable and curable diseases that still ravage the world; with the existing 60 million refugees and others suffering unnecessarily (eg., Darfur’s forgotten yet continuing atrocities); and with an earth that still has enough and to spare, seems – at best – like the definition of “primitive”. I start here, not to evoke any guilt, but to step back, attempt to ground myself better in what life is really about, and thus hopefully engage in new possibilities.

2. Support credible humanitarian help. One aspect of the deluge has been the under-funding of the normal crisis agencies. For example, the World Food Programme had to cut its funding to Syrian refugee camps by 50%. Such underfunding forces people who were desperate enough to go to refugee camps, to consider leaving them, thereby adding to the exodus to Europe.

To be clear this point must be seen in the context of the entire list. It is not a subtle attempt to keep such people “over there, away from my country”, nor that refugee camps should be seen as normal, permanent fixtures on the world scene. It is more basic – for now they are simply the first line of refuge for a traumatized people and should be able to provide all essential resources for this stage. But they do not. There are many issues outside the scope of this article – the inconsistency of other stages, issues of land and local relations for the camps, etc. – that must be left for another article.

Thus within the context of this entire list, this aspect does need support and it can take two forms:

a. Donate to the reputable charitable aid agencies;
b. Press your country to increase its funding to the UN aid agencies;

3. Support agencies in your area that provide resources that help refugees adjust to life in Canada. These are not the sponsoring groups themselves, but agencies that assist immigrants with the basic tools and resources to integrate into one’s society (language classes, translation resources, basic living skills, etc.). Support could be donations of money or time;

4. Sponsor one or more families with another group. Details for this will depend on your country. But if feasible it is an easier path to join with a group who already has expertise in sponsorship;

5. Fully sponsor a family. Again this will depend on your country. But if feasible one must be clear-eyed about the commitment. The very basics usually involve:
a. A substantial cash outlay (usually at least $30,000 for a one year commitment to fully support their needs);
b. Enough volunteer time to help them get established (housing, schooling, medical, language, jobs, etc.). It would involve substantial time at the start, though a pitfall can be that once the basics are stablished that the continued support falls off. As well, some people will have extra needs due to trauma, low literacy rates, etc. (This must be clearly factored in, but is also a doubly wonderful gift to give them if it is viable). One needs to be clear-eyed about this year-long commitment, and hopefully beyond;
c. For both this point, and the one above, “sponsorship” does not need to mean a Syrian family. If your country has a good policy on refugees, it can be best to simply take what they deem the most critical need. Remember, there are currently 60 million refugees around the world (4 million Syrians). Our longitudinal study of Darfur should have taught us that “being in the spotlight” does not necessarily mean “the most critical need”.

6. Advocate an end to the civil war via all political and diplomatic means, so that the exodus will be stopped and the people will be able to return home. Again the complexity and layers involved are well outside the scope of this article;

The above barely touches all the factors in this complex disaster. But “complex” does not need to mean “immobilized”! The above responses do make a difference.

Finally, I do what to raise up a counter sentiment to the start of this article. While it is clear how primitive we are, especially on point #6, there are also numerous people and organizations using the creative human ability to envision and create organizations and resources that are slowly building alternative patterns to move us forward (such as the value of transparency and good governance, the transformative role women can play, the indicators of a failing state so that it can be caught before it fails, and so on). World conditions are improving, due to such wonderful people and efforts. Unfortunately it remains at an abysmal pace and is continually undercut by other dynamics, thus keeping the word “primitive” the most apt overall label.

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=== FOLLOW-UP TO PREVIOUS ISSUES ===
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US curbs Arctic offshore oil and gas drilling
The US government has announced new curbs on oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast. It comes after oil giant Royal Dutch Shell last month stopped its Arctic activity citing “disappointing” tests. These are further hopeful steps on this issue.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34557099

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=== ARTICLES OF INTEREST ===
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TB ‘joins HIV as most deadly infection’
Tuberculosis now ranks alongside HIV as the world’s most deadly infectious disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. While there had been a great drop in TB rates (cut in half since 1990) it is more difficult now due to more resistant strains of TB, and a lack of global focus.
   http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34658015