Despite there being no shortage of reasons for despair, we must start this new year with hope. There is no doubt that the situation in Syria is dire. But just as with Ebola, we can mitigate the dreadful human toll if we retain our instincts for empathy, and remain steadfast in our defence of fundamental humanitarian principles.
For every tragic incident in the world today, there are countless more women and men humanitarians -- changemakers -- making the world a better place in their own respective capacities. Light is more potent and powerful in effacing darkness; let's each of us resolve to spread more light around us, in our communities, and throughout our world.
People don't abandon their homes out of choice, and they are not unaware of the risks they will face along their journeys. It is out of desperation that they flee war and torture, misery, poverty and persecution. Doctors Without Borders delivers humanitarian medical care and sees first-hand the suffering and horrible conditions that drive people to risk their lives for the chance of a better future.
I am in Sierra Leone to visit some of the Ebola treatment centres run by Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in response to the West African epidemic that began just over one year ago. That the Prince of Wales centre in Freetown, and other Ebola centres are closing is a sign case numbers have plummeted from the historic highs seen in the outbreak.
There is simply no compatibility between humanitarian action and the use of military force in combat. One has as its singular objective the alleviation of human suffering, regardless of the sufferer's identity or affiliation; the other, by definition, involves taking the side of one group against the other. That's also why it is very worrying to hear that humanitarian assistance is being used as strategic tactic in military action.
The number of major crises taking place around the globe this past year has been unparalleled in recent history. In fact, 2014 often seemed filled with intractable emergencies that were simply too big, too complex and too daunting to fathom, let alone solve. This felt particularly true when it came to humanitarian action.
Tents seem to sprout from flooded ditches that meander in serpentine fashion through the haphazard settlements. Even in daylight, wading through the camp is a challenge, with gumboots sinking constantly into a quicksand of sewage and muck. It is no wonder that at night many relieve themselves directly in the ditches rather than venture out.
The former residents of this place -- whether of Shilluk, Dinka or Nuer ethnicity -- all suffered at the hands of the fighters who have been waging an indiscriminate and vicious tug-of-war over Malakal. Those who are currently sheltered where aid has reached, in the POC sites and displacement camps, are the fortunate ones.
Overcrowded, disease-infested and sometimes flooded by sewage, the POC sites are failing to truly protect the civilians in their care. A true commitment to protection must include safeguarding vulnerable people against hunger, disease, sexual violence, unnecessary mental anguish and being forced back out into conflict zones merely to survive.
The actors who built South Sudan knew what they were creating: a country barely emerged from decades of devastating conflict, led by a generation with no access to education or any kind of functioning infrastructure; a completely impoverished petro-state, entirely dependent on oil resources but with no capacity to develop them on its own; and a nation deeply split by ethnic divisions.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement is being negotiated in secret, but leaked documents from the negotiations have revealed that the United States is pushing hard for strict intellectual property rules that would protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of patients. These rules would extend patent monopolies and delay the introduction of cheaper generic drugs, allowing the big brand-name drug companies to maintain their high prices for longer periods of time. This would put lifesaving medicines out of reach for millions of poor people around the world. It could also lead to higher drug prices here at home.
With one-million people displaced -- a quarter of CAR's population -- the need for massive humanitarian assistance is obvious. Yet the response has been totally inadequate. While things appear bleak, there is still time. We can't lose hope and abandon the people of CAR, nor lose our empathy and desire to accompany both sides in their hour of need.
Early last month I was on an airplane to Mumbai. As the plane descended, I tried to imagine 20-million people living in a single city. As an Olympian, I'd been to a lot of places in the world, but never anywhere like India. I'd also never travelled the way I was about to: over 230 km by bicycle from Bangalore to Vellore, in three Indian states over rough, dusty roads.
A squalid shanty town has sprung up in Central African Republic's capital, home to scared inhabitants seeking shelter and safety from the violence that has engulfed the city since December 2013. What is the cause of all this suffering? It's complicated. Much of the world has chosen to look the other way. There is little sign of other aid actors in CAR and the UN is perennially understaffed.
Our organization works mainly in conflict-affected and unstable settings. Of these, we have chosen three to watch in 2014. In each country, governments are unable or unwilling to care for their populations, the ability of aid actors to respond has been curtailed, and populations are left to fend for themselves.
Imagine four-million people uprooted by war and struggling to survive. I came away in awe of the perseverance, dignity and fortitude of the Syrian people. They were also wondering why the international community for the most part seems to have abandoned them in their hour of need. It was a fairly straightforward question, the answer to which I am still struggling to find.
Adel was in Homs during the heavy shelling which obliterated the Syrian city's Baba Amr district. He had been studying English at the university and had stayed on to do his military service. Running out of options and funds, he then made his way to the border and crossed into Iraq, becoming a refugee. For the past eight months, Adel has been working tirelessly as an interpreter.