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November 10, 2014

Life for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

By Noelle Fitzpatrick, Trócaire’s Syria Response Officer, reports on her recent experiences meeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon
 
Winter is coming but it is still 28 degrees in Beirut. The prolonged summer weather is putting huge pressure on water reserves. Daily electricity cuts across the city have been the norm for years and when the water supply is reduced, power is even more restricted. 
 
In the north of the country, I visited a farming area where 12 Syrian families live together in polytunnels. Even in mid-October they were stiflingly hot – I cannot imagine what they would have been like in the height of summer. 
 
The families pay up to $200 per month to the land owner but earn only $1 per hour for the work they do. The internal walls of the homes were made out of washing powder bags glued together. Mattresses on the floor were the only furniture apart from a few pots for cooking.  
 
Outside, we practiced kicking points with some boys and girls across the top of the polytunnels, using a small plastic tub. 
 
Pre-conflict, only a four-hour drive separated Beirut in Lebanon from Damascus in Syria. Depending on the security situation it can take much longer these days.  
 
buildings before and after bombing in aleppo
Buildings in Aleppo, Syria, before and after bomb damage (Photo: Caritas)
 
I spoke to a woman who had made the journey from the Syrian capital. She told me about the crowds of people at the border who had been refused entry into Lebanon. This was the first time she had witnessed people being turned back like that. There was one woman who was in floods of tears because her daughter was giving birth to her first baby in Lebanon and she wanted to be with her, but she was refused entry.
 
I met a young boy selling lottery tickets on the street in Beirut. I knew he was Syrian, and he asked for something to eat. I bought him a KFC and though he knew no other English, but he must have said 'thank you' to me a dozen times. 
 
The girl at the cash register told me he was from Hama in Syria and was here with his family. Many children like him are exposed to dangers on the streets of Lebanon. With no resources and little possibility to work or earn enough to cover increasing rental costs, many families see no choice other than to encourage their children to find ways of earning some income in this way.
 
On Saturday I visited a 'retention centre' for migrant workers in Lebanon. It is where migrant workers who have irregular status in Lebanon go until their status is regularised. The retention centre is under a bridge in a busy city centre thoroughfare. There is no natural light and bad air quality from the traffic fumes. 
 
Up to 600 people – 400 women and 200 men - are kept in a handful of cells. Water rationing and limited space and services means they are lucky to have a short shower every few days. One hot meal per day is provided by Trócaire's partner Caritas and nearby religious sisters – the detainees must eat, wash and defecate in their cells. Caritas provides medical, psycho-social and legal support, as well as group activity for some of the women’s groups in the afternoon. 
 
Syrian refugees receive assistance from Caritas
Caritas staff helping Syrians who have arrived in Lebanon (Photo: Caritas)
 
One of the workers there has spent 8 years working in this underground project – for up to twelve hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. She says it has taken its toll on her health, but the conditions had improved over time as a result of Caritas support for air filtration, medical, legal and other supports. 
 
She told me about being in Damascus before the conflict in Syria erupted. She took a taxi and when she arrived at her destination the taxi driver refused to charge her. She asked why and the driver told her he could never forget the face of the person who had helped him with some simple medications when he had been locked in that detention centre under the bridge in Beirut a few years previously. This, she said, is one of the reasons she stayed with that project so long. 
 
I was at an afternoon meeting on the outskirts of Beirut when a burst of gunfire erupted. One of our Caritas colleagues from Damascus jumped and look around terrified. It turned out there was a training ground for Lebanese Armed Forces nearby. 
 
You can step out of a war zone for a few days, but it doesn’t step out of you so easily.
 
November 06, 2014

One year after Typhoon Haiyan

By Meabh Smith, reporting from the Philippines. All photos by Peter O'Doherty.

It’s 12 months since Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest ever storm to make landfall, struck the Philippines. Thousands died and the damage was catastrophic. 

People in Ireland donated over €3 million towards our emergency appeal to support survivors.  

Trócaire has been supporting brave Filipino people to rebuild their lives, as part of the global Caritas network, funding new homes, debris clearance, water, sanitation and psychosocial care. 

Thank you so much to all who supported our appeal. Here are some of the people you have helped...

 

Apolonio Orbito Philippines

 

Apolonio Orbia (above) from San Antonio on Cebu Island was found sitting on the side of a hill after his home and all he had was blown away. Sr. Anne Healy, an Irish nun from the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary missionary order, received funding from Trócaire to build new homes for Apolonio and his community. 

 

Sister Anne Healy Philippines
 
 
Sr. Anne (above) drove for hours to reach affected villages after the typhoon hit. “The fear on their faces. They didn’t know what was going to happen. Afterwards the children were scared when they saw the rain. It was very hard... People have helped each other to rebuild.”
 
Lucrisia Pepito Philippines
 
“I cried when the typhoon hit. The fog was so bad. I couldn’t see my neighbours and it was so windy. I’m very happy now,” says Lucrisia Pepito (pictured above).
 
rebuilding schools on bantayan island
 
Trócaire is supporting school reconstruction on Bantayan island. Schools were used as a place of refuge after the typhoon. 
 
Feliso Deo Philippines
 
Local parent Feliso Deo (above) explained: “We saw the roof of our house fly off. We ran from room to room... We went to the school. It was flooded. The water was up to my knee, so we put holes in the walls to drain it. At night we put roof insulation of the floor to sleep on. The young children lay down, the older children and adults slept sitting up. People had no food. I shared what I had. We are happy that the schools are being rebuilt and that our houses are repaired.”
 
Argie and Julie Anne outside Trocaire funded house in Tacloban
 
“The storm surge came in three big tidal waves. We heard a loud noise, then the water. There was metal and trees flying around” say Julie Anne and Argie Barigon (pictured outside their Trócaire-funded house above).
 
“There were lots of people going to the airport to leave this place. On our way there we saw dead bodies all over the road. The smell was so bad in the airport. My children got rashes and got sick from drinking dirty water. After two days a navy ship brought us to Cebu.

 

“This house is better than the one we had before the typhoon. Now, we are alert all the time and keep safe. We have a cell phone and track the news and radio to hear if there is a storm coming.”

 

mildred taboso tacloban
 

Single mother, Mildred Taboso, holds a picture of her two children who were killed in the typhoon. She said: “The work of Trócaire and CRS [Trócaire partner] has really helped, to have this house and not have to build it myself. When the typhoon came we stayed here because we didn’t know that there would be a flood. The water was over 15 feet. We left after the second wave came. My two children were taken by the water within an hour. I miss them sleeping in my arms.” 

 
November 05, 2014

Ireland’s carbon emissions equal to that of 400 million of the world’s poor

"Climate change threatens to undo all the gains that have been made against poverty", according to Trócaire's new in-depth report ‘Feeling the Heat: How climate change is driving extreme weather in the developing world'.

The report published today (Wednesday, 5 November) analyses of the impact of climate change on the developing world and calls for the Irish government to introduce binding targets to reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint.feeling the heat trocaire climate change report

It was officially launched today by Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Speaking at the launch, Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan said:

“People in Ireland emit an average of 8.8 metric tonnes of carbon each year compared to just 0.1 metric tonne for Ethiopians. Each Irish person is responsible for as much carbon emissions as 88 Ethiopians, meaning that it would take 404 million Ethiopians – over four times the population of the country – to match Ireland’s carbon footprint.

“Ireland is significantly off-track for meeting our 2020 emission reduction targets. Given that we are the eighth highest carbon emitter per capita in Europe, and the 35th highest globally, we need to step-up to the plate. We need a binding roadmap to guide Ireland towards a fossil-free economy and we need investment in sustainable lifestyles that give people the options they need to reduce their carbon footprint.”

‘Feeling the Heat’ analyses the impact of climate change in five developing countries: the Philippines, Ethiopia, Malawi, Honduras and Kenya. The report is released on the week that marks the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan, which resulted in over 6,000 deaths in the Philippines last November.

Amongst the report’s findings for the Philippines are:

  • At least 75 million people in the Philippines are at direct risk from the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, storms and damage to agriculture.
  • Temperatures in the Philippines have risen by 0.64 degree Celsius since 1951.
  • There has been a significant increase in weather extremes, with regular drought during dry spells and floods during wet seasons.
  • Without urgent remedial action temperatures in the Philippines will rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, with even the ‘best case scenario’ predicting a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature by the end of 2100.
  • A 4 degree Celsius rise in temperature will significantly increase both the intensity and frequency of storms in the Philippines, putting millions of people at risk.
  • Impacts on agriculture will cost the Philippines 2.2 per cent of GDP annually by 2100.
  • The report concludes that climate change in the Philippines is set to result in “more malnutrition, higher poverty levels and possibly heightened social unrest and conflict in certain areas in the country due to loss of land.”

 

Amongst the report’s other findings are:

  • 90% of the population of Malawi are at risk of hunger due to drought. Rainfall in Malawi could fall by as much as 25 per cent by the end of the century.
  • Floods and storms have increased in frequency in Honduras, with 65 extreme weather events recorded in the last 20 years at a cost of $4.7bn.
  • Yields from food crops in Honduras will drop by up to 10 per cent by 2020 due to increased drought.
  • Rainfall in Kenya has reduced significantly over the last 30 years and temperatures are set to rise by up to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
  • Net economic costs of climate change could be equivalent to a loss of almost 3 per cent of GDP each year by 2030 in Kenya.
  • Agricultural output in Ethiopia could fall by as much as 10 per cent as a result of climate change.
  • The growing season in Ethiopia has already reduced by 15 per cent as a result of drought.

 

Commenting on the report’s findings, Éamonn Meehan said: “This report brings home the reality of the impacts of climate change on people’s lives. Climate change is not just a scientific concept or a threat for the future, it is very real and it is affecting people today.

“The most recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report has warned that climate change will increase poverty and hunger over the coming decades. What our research shows is that this is already happening to a frightening degree. The poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are on the front lines and are seeing their ability to grow food and earn an income diminish by the day.

“Climate change threatens to undo all the gains that have been made against poverty over recent decades. It is the single biggest threat to humanity but yet the political system has refused to move quickly enough to address it.”

Read the full report: ‘Feeling the Heat: How climate change is driving extreme weather in the developing world'

 

October 30, 2014

How Trad music can change lives

By Lauren O’Kelly
 
In September and October, wonderful people held hundreds of Trad for Trócaire sessions up and down the island of Ireland.
 
So many people gave their time, energy and amazing talent, to bring ceoil agus craic to towns, villages and cities across the country – raising awareness and invaluable funds for Trócaire’s work in developing countries.
 
We’d like to say a huge thank you to all who took part in organising the events, and everyone who came along to support them. 
 
 
Students in Millstreet Community School (pictured below) were certainly demonstrating how hard work and commitment combined with music can certainly make a difference and change the lives of others. 
 
In September, they held a Trad for Trócaire event which raised an impressive €375.00! The event was attended by many guests, as well as some exceptionally talented students including the winners of the Gerald Whelan Memorial Cup Grupa Ceoil (15-18 years) and the under-18 winners of the Fleadh Cheoil half-set.
 
Millstreet Community College Trad for Trocaire event
 
There are still a few more sessions in the coming days in Belfast, Derry, Tipperary, Meath, Roscommon, Longford, Limerick and Kildare.
 
 
Once again, we'd like to thank everyone who has been involved in this year's Trad for Trócaire
 
Go raibh mile maith agat!
 
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October 30, 2014

We have five weeks to bring the Ebola outbreak under control

By Éamonn Meehan

From localised beginnings, the Ebola outbreak has rapidly grown into first a national and now a regional crisis. Health services outside of West Africa, including our own in Ireland, are on high alert to ensure that this does not become a full-blown international outbreak.

Having just returned from Sierra Leone, where I saw first-hand the potential for the virus to spread at a frightening rate, one thing is very clear: the battle against Ebola will be won or lost in West Africa.

There are currently 10,000 cases throughout the region but at the rate it is spreading, it is feared that by December there could be 3,000 new cases a week in Sierra Leone alone. If that were to happen, the country simply could not cope. We have a strict time-frame of five weeks in which to bring this outbreak under control.

Prevent the spread of EbolaPhoto caption: Fatu Sesay washes her hands at a handwashing station. In Sierra Leone, Trócaire is working with Caritas to prevent the spread of Ebola. Photo credit: Tommy Trenchard for Caritas

Sierra Leone is already a desperately poor country. The health services here were extremely weak even before this outbreak. To give an illustration of just how poor Sierra Leone is, one in five children do not reach their fifth birthday.

The weak structures that exist in Sierra Leone are desperately struggling to contain the most serious threat to the country since the brutal civil war came to an end in 2002.

There is an urgent need for more health centres, more beds and more medically trained personnel. Resources simply aren't coming on stream fast enough and the world needs to take note.


Attempts to halt the spread of the virus were hampered in the early weeks by a lack of information about how to reduce the risk of contamination. A mistrust of Government made matters worse as people did not believe what they were being told.


Trócaire is working with local leaders, both religious and civic, to get vital messages into communities. These initiatives are helping to tackle the spread of the virus.


The potential spread of the virus in the capital city, Freetown, is particularly worrying. There are over one million people living in Freetown and there are already 1,000 cases of Ebola in the city. Given how close people live together, there is a real fear that it could spread quickly.

Aside from the health risks posed by Ebola, this crisis has had many devastating side-effects. People are now too scared to go to health clinics and are dying of other diseases, such as malaria. Tens of thousands of women will give birth over the coming months without any medical assistance.

The crisis has also increased poverty. There have been redundancies due to businesses closing, while restrictions on movement have meant that farmers can't bring their crops to market. The lowest paid and most vulnerable are suffering most.

In addition, schools are closed and there is a likelihood that many children will not return to the classroom.  

Even if the Ebola outbreak was to be contained today, these long-term issues will pose enormous challenges for Sierra Leone over the coming months and years. Neighbouring countries, including Guinea and Liberia, face similar problems.

Trócaire will work with communities for long-term responses to these problems. Right now, however, the focus has to be on stopping the virus from taking any more lives.

There is a global panic about the possibility of Ebola crossing seas and continents with the same ease at which it crossed national borders. We must avoid knee-jerk reactions, however. The decision of Australia to suspend entry visas for people from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa will needlessly increase fear and stigma.

As the director of a local organisation said to me in Freetown: “Isolate the virus, but don't isolate Sierra Leone”.

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