The World Divided by a Line Is a Dead Body Cut in Two

Rana Javadi, Never-Ending Chaos, 2013.

By Vijay Prashad
May 31 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(Tricontinental) – Word comes from friends in Iran of foreboding, a general sense of fear that the United States might bomb the country at any time.

A friend in Tehran asks me to read Simin Behbahani’s The World is Shaped Like a Sphere, a poem for our times. Behbahani (1927-2014), a superb lyricist, wrote this poem in 1981 (translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa):

It was our agreement to call this the East,
though we could push it westwards, with ease.
Don’t speak to me of the West, where the sun sets,
if you always run after the sun,
you will never see a sunset.

The world divided by a line is a dead body cut in two
on which the vulture and the hyena are feasting.

Iraq – at the behest of the Arab Gulf and the United States – had attacked Iran in 1980, inaugurating a futile war that would go on till 1988. Angry that the Gulf Arabs had not properly financed the war nor honoured the sovereignty of Iraq’s oil fields, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in August 1990. It is worth recalling that in the summer of 1990, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – set up out of anxiety for the Iranian Revolution of 1979 – hastened to normalize relations with Iran. Kuwait resumed flights to Iran and linked investment and shipping deals with Iran. The GCC, which had egged Saddam to attack Iran, now seemed to curry favour with Iran against Iraq. The blood of Iraqis and Iranians stained the long border between those two countries; the people of both countries had been treated as pliable marionettes by the Gulf Arabs and the West. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait started the Gulf War, which does not seem to have ended. Today, the Gulf War manifests itself in the fierce siege against Iran.

Gohar Dashti, Today’s Life and War, 2008.

Iran sits at the precipice of disaster. US President Donald Trump’s harsh sanctions and his threats of war send shockwaves through the region. Buyers of Iranian oil have decided to wait and see how the situation unfolds. The key player here is China. How China will react defines the next stage, as I write in my column. All is tense. Shahram Khosravi, an anthropologist, wrote a moving account of a conversation with his friend Hamid – a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. Our newsletter this week features Shahram’s account, a window into the life of one Iranian rattled by the sanctions and by the premonition of war. It is below:

Shahram Khosravi, Hamid, 2018.

In Iran, the term ‘war’ is often used in reference to the US sanctions. ‘Why don’t they [the US] leave us in peace?’, asked my friend Hamid late last year.

Hamid and I were both born in 1966 in the same village along the Zagros mountains in the Bakhtiari region of southwestern Iran. At nineteen, Hamid was sent do to two years of compulsory military service. The Iran-Iraq War was in its fourth year. Hundreds of thousands of young men, many teenagers, had already been killed. After ten days of training, Hamid went – Kalashnikov in hand – to the front. On a cold February day in 1986, the gates of hell opened. Saddam Hussein’s forces unleashed mustard gas on the Iranian troops. Twenty thousand died immediately, while an additional 80,000 survivors suffered—and many continue to suffer— the impact. Hamid’s lungs were badly damaged; he cannot talk without coughing. His skin is burnt in many places. He suffers from depression.

Hamid blames the US and the Iraqi government for his injuries. He is right. Recent CIA documents confirm US complicity in the use of mustard gas on young people like Hamid. Now the US sanctions have become harsher. As a temporary labourer, Hamid can barely tolerate the unbearable economic pressure of the sanctions on his weak shoulders.

Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. Three months later, the first shockwave hit Iranians. Iran’s currency collapsed by 70%, causing high inflation. The cost of basic needs went up. Workers’ purchasing power dropped by 53%. A kilogramme of meat costs more than the entire day’s wage of a worker.

Sanctions have shrunk the official corridors of trade, opening up space for informal trade networks and various forms of smuggling. The weak Iranian currency has meant the widening the price of goods inside and outside of Iran. Livestock is increasingly being smuggled into Iraq, which is a key factor in the rising price of meat. As sanctions increased, so did cross-border smuggling. One study suggests that this smuggling has increased by thirty-seven times its pre-sanctions frequency.

Medicines are exempt from the sanctions, but they are nonetheless scarce and expensive. Companies that sell medicines to Iran shy away from the unstable economic situation and fear retribution from the United States. Sanctions target shipping and banking, making it hard to get the medicines to the country and pay for them. Insecure markets are a good business environment for speculators, who buy and hoard medicines, forcing prices upwards.

Foreign investments collapsed, and capital fled the country. An official source says that since the summer of 2017, about US $20 billion has left Iran. Companies have also fled, which means that parts for machinery and cars cannot be easily sourced. Production of vehicles has fallen by 72%.

Unemployment has increased. Workers are often told by their employers that they cannot get paid because ‘there is no money anywhere’. The informal sector has grown, with precarious jobs without health and unemployment insurance becoming the norm.

Hamid has been in the informal sector for decades. He rarely gets paid in time. Not getting paid on time is now normal – often with six months of salary in arrears. Each week, workers somewhere in Iran go on strike to demand their salaries. Delayed salaries mean workers have to take out loans to meet their basic needs. Less fortunate people turn to usurious moneylenders (who charge interest rates at 70%). The interest eats into their unpaid salaries. The US sanctions have cut their lifeline. They are drowning.

While Hamid – in a small village – struggles to survive, middle-class Iranians seek a way to flee the country. I have never seen such widespread desire to leave the country. People from the middle-class do not see any future in Iran. Lines outside European embassies are getting longer and longer, as announcements of property auctions ‘due to emigration’ are getting more common. Buyers are few. The ‘bazaar is sleeping’, people say. ‘Nothing happens now. No one sells, no one buys’.

Hamid says, ‘When the dollar’s price goes up, the price of everything goes up: tomato, rice, meat, medicine– everything. They never come down, even if the dollar’s price goes down’.

‘Iranians’, it is said, ‘have become like calculators’. Life is filled with numbers. Following the exchange rate of the dollar has become an obsession. Everyone waits to find out where the Rial – Iran’s currency – will settle. The structure of social life is suspended. Hamid checks the dollar’s price each day. Far from his village, Donald Trump tweets about the war against Iran. On 19 May, Trump threatened Iranians with an ‘official end’ – a threat of extermination. When he does so, the Rial responds and Hamid sees and feels the impact. Sanctions and Trump’s threats cast a shadow of death, even as no gun has yet been fired. Premature death is so frequent that it is now seen as normal. Iran has become preoccupied with death due to the sanctions and the rhetoric of war. Shortages of medicines have already killed people.

So have plane crashes. In 1995, US President Bill Clinton put sanctions against Iran’s civilian aviation industry. This prevented Iran from buying new aircraft and spare parts. Iran’s dozen airlines have the oldest fleets in the world. In February 2018, an Aseman Airlines flight with 66 on board crashed in the Zagros mountains – not far from Hamid’s village.

Hamid worries for his son, Omid, now age 19. ‘If they start a new war….’, he says, and then stops, his eyes down, coughs overcoming him. He has seen how wars break bodies and souls. If the US felt no compunction in providing Iraq with chemical weapons to use against Iran in the 1980s, why would they not allow Saudi Arabia and Israel to do the same now? Our generation was gassed by the US-backed Saddam Hussein. Is it now Omid’s generation turn to break down under the harsh sanctions and the shadow of American bombers?

Kiarash Eghbali, Old woman at Shariati Hospital, Tehran, 2016.

A war against Iran – as Hamid says – will be catastrophic, not only for Iran but for Eurasia. It would divide the world into two, vultures and hyenas feasting on both halves.

We Can’t Halt Extinctions Unless We Protect Water

A fisherman of the Abume community, Lake Volta, Ghana. Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah/International Water Management Institute

By Claudia Sadoff
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, May 31 2019 – Global biodiversity loss has reached critical levels. One million species of plants and animals are now estimated to be at risk of extinction. The window for action is closing, and the world needs to urgently take note.

Countries would do well to consider this: our ability to preserve species hinges to a great extent on the actions we take to protect freshwater ecosystems. Safeguarding water for the environment is critical for biodiversity and for people.

Freshwater ecosystems are major biodiversity hotspots. We derive much value from them, even though we may not realise it. Wetlands purify drinking water; fish is one of the most traded food commodities on the planet; and floodplains can provide vital buffers that lessen the impacts of flooding.

The people who depend most on the services provided by aquatic ecosystems are generally the poorest and most marginalized in developing countries and consequently those hardest hit by biodiversity loss.

However, all of us, both rich and poor, depend on healthy ecosystems, so degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity pose an enormous threat for everyone.

About 35 per cent of the world’s biodiversity-rich wetlands, for example, have been lost or seriously degraded since 1970. The annual value of the benefits these wetlands (freshwater and coastal) provide is estimated at a staggering USD 36.2 trillion; nearly double the benefits derived from all the world’s forests.

Sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems (and of water resources in general) must aim to ensure that ecosystems continue providing these services.

A key approach for reversing this trend centres on ensuring that water continues to flow in a way that will sustain aquatic ecosystems, thereby supporting populations, economies, sustainable livelihoods, and well-being.

Pumping water by hand in mid-Western Nepal. Credit: Satyam Joshi/USAID

This means maintaining the right quality, quantity and timing of water flows – which scientists call “environmental flows”, or “E-flows” for short.

Managing tradeoffs

Water, through contributions to economic growth, environmental health and human well-being, plays a critical role in many of our broader sustainable development goals. It will therefore be necessary to consider some inevitable tradeoffs when planning for the sustainable management of water.

Take the expansion of irrigation for more intensive crop production, for example, which is essential for ending hunger. The alternative to increasing irrigation would be massive encroachment of agriculture on forests and other fragile ecosystems, thus undermining the protection of biodiversity.

At the same time, increased irrigation will, by removing water from rivers and aquifers, inevitably have some negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

The challenge is to maximize synergies and minimize tradeoffs, and to do so in ways that are transparent and equitable, based on scientific evidence. Undertaking detailed assessments of E-flows helps make the tradeoffs explicit.
The information derived from E-flow assessments can contribute to important discussions between different sectors and actors, helping to determine which outcomes are acceptable to society and likely to be sustainable.

E-flows assessment in action

For more than a decade, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has been devising and steadily improving methods for E-flow assessment. In a 2007 project, IWMI partnered with World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) to carry out the country’s first-ever holistic environmental flow assessment, focused on the iconic Ganges River.

The Indian government subsequently incorporated the concept of E-flows into the aims and objectives of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the implementation arm of the National Ganga River Basin Authority.

Working with partners, IWMI researchers have now developed E-flow calculators, a family of software formaking rapid, assessments anywhere in the world from a computer.

More recently, IWMI researchers have further adapted their E-flow calculator for specific river basins, such as those in western Nepal. As a result of those developments, E-flow assessment is now poised for wider application in diverse settings.

In support of national efforts to better manage tradeoffs in water management, information provided by E-flow calculators can also contribute to tracking “water stress”.

For instance, how much freshwater economic activities withdraw compared to the total renewable supply, and how much water should be left in rivers to maintain basic ecological functions and ecosystem services.

Too much of our biodiversity depends on water for us to overlook sustainable water management as a key part of the solution to species extinction. The time has come for a more concerted effort to stem the loss of aquatic ecosystems and of the myriad species that inhabit them.

Lost in Globalisation

the term globalisation has been systematically given positive connotations, while it could be rightfully interpreted as a process of gradual “monetisation” and even “dollarisation” of livelihoods, and soon became an aggressive ‘massification’ of imported habits, blind consumption, hysterical greed, irrational imitation, the death of what used to be considered ‘truth’ (the post-truth era), the dominance of disinformation and misinformation (the ‘fake news’).

Credit: Artem Beliaikin_Unsplash

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, May 31 2019 – Do not panic! This is not about telling you how bank accounts and pension funds have been used to finance the production of nuclear bombs (they call it ‘investment’).

Nor is it about the four dozens of major and minor wars that the so-called “traditional weapons,” which are being manufactured and exported by civilised, democratic countries, continue to systematically fuel.

It is not about the irrational depletion of natural resources, the destruction of forests, the massive provision of arms to “rebel groups’ to burn entire villages, rape girls and women, and recruit child soldiers in more than one African country, for the sake of ‘cleaning’ the mines area for big multinationals to continue extracting precious minerals which serve to produce more (and more expensive) smartphones.

Not even it is about how today’s youth will see more plastic than fish in all seas.

More: this article will not focus on the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of so many mediocre apprentices of self-called ‘politicians’, who embrace dangerous fanaticisms while, in some ‘very democratic’ countries, calling their own selves “centre-right” (some dare saying they are simply “centre”), slipping further into ‘dictato-cracy.’

The term “globalisation” has been systematically given positive connotations, while it could be rightfully interpreted as a process of gradual “monetisation” and even “dollarisation” of livelihoods, and soon became an aggressive ‘massification’ of imported habits, blind consumption, hysterical greed, irrational imitation, the death of what used to be considered ‘truth’ (the post-truth era), the dominance of disinformation and misinformation (the ‘fake news’).

Nor it is about those so many States which were once net exporters of emigrants (Italy, Spain, Greece, etc), but which now stand as die-hard enemies of immigrants… all under the pretext of the “crisis” they have created and the resulting high unemployment rates, and “national security,” post-truth arguments.

Let alone big powers such as the United States, which have been entirely built up by migrants at the easy cost of exterminating the original, native populations. What to say about Canada? And Australia…?

Now those migrants who are forced to flee created armed conflicts, impoverishment, climate change (which they did not contribute to generate), are easy prey to arbitrary measures – walls, fences, and shame pacts to send them to detention centres and slavery markets in countries like Libya.


So What?

So, what the hell is this article all about? Well, it is about a scarce handful of examples on the biggest damages the so-called globalisation has caused to human species.

Let’s begin with the term globalisation itself, a process that was somehow formalised in the beginning of the 80’s with the performance on power stage of British “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher and US actor who became President, Ronald Reagan.

The Iron Lady-Premier and the Actor-President represented the visible face of the also so-called ‘neo-liberalism’, which in poor, simple words has led to the steady dismantlement of all aspects of painfully gained social welfare services – from public healthcare, to retirement pensions, through the suppression of workers rights, labour unions, public education and a very long etcetera.

Instead, neo-liberalism rapidly paved the way to a wild wave of privatisation, the supremacy of the uncontrolled marked rules, record-high youth unemployment rates, abysmal inequalities…

Let alone infinite greed, including the unleashing of endless wars, for the sake of keeping happy gigantic weapons industry and the business of ‘reconstruction’ of destroyed countries, all in exchange of their generous funding for electoral campaigns.

This Anglo-saxon neo-liberal hegemony soon spreat through European States, which rapidly adapted their ‘values’ to those new ones coming from Washington and London. Business as usual for Europeans, some would say.

Rather than providing a longish list of documented, figure-supported examples of what such process has meant at the macro and micro-economic levels, this quick, chaotic tale modestly pretends to focus on some of its biggest impacts on human beings. Human beings that are now considered as mere numbers of ‘voters’ (mind you not any more ‘electors’).



One point is that the term “globalisation” has been systematically given positive connotations, while it could be rightfully interpreted as a process of gradual “monetisation” and even “dollarisation” of livelihoods, and soon became an aggressive ‘massification’ of imported habits, blind consumption, hysterical greed, irrational imitation, the death of what used to be considered ‘truth’ (the post-truth era), the dominance of disinformation and misinformation (the ‘fake news’).

In the course of this process, the so-called “low classes” have been provided with easy bank credits to purchase houses, latest model of cars, travel across the world… Psychologically, this led them to believe that they had become “middle class” and later on “high middle class”, thus approaching the enviable status of “high class.”

Then came the crisis. With it, the most vulnerable groups, falsely transformed in privileged groups, lost everything—the loans, the houses, the cars, travelling, etc.


The result

One of the most dramatic consequences is the loss of identity—both individual and collective identity. Simply, identity has become ‘virtual.’

Such a dangerous consequence is now being rapidly aggravated by the arrival of hi-tech products—robots replacing humans.

Sorry for this quick, chaotic tale about some of the most perilous impacts of the globalisation process that, according to some interpretations, would be now dismantled. The fact is such massification appears to have no end.

In exchange, the ‘voters’ hare now being told that they will receive, sooner or later, a basic income (also called unconditional basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demo-grant), which implies that all citizens or residents of a country will regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

According to its defenders, this would be financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. A difficult exercise given that the private sector has been taking over the roles of the states, which have been gradually dismantled.

This way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are expected to do: that’s to consume all what industries produce and, by the way, continue playing their role as ‘voters’ (not electors, mind you again!).


Baher Kamal is Director and Editor of Human Wrongs Watch, where this article was originally published.

Pakistani and Afghan Refugees Seek Safe Haven in Sri Lanka

The Amadiyya community centre in Pasyala hosts refugees and asylum seekers forced to leave their homes since the April 21 attacks in Sri Lanka. Credit: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

By Caroline Gluck
NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka, May 31 2019 – Thirteen-year-old Bariea, a Pakistani asylum seeker in Sri Lanka, is taking shelter at a mosque in the city of Negombo, where an uneasy mix of high anxiety and extreme boredom hover over the room.

“We just have a few small bags, mostly clothes,” said Bariea. “We thought we would only be here for a few days. But now it’s been weeks.”

“We want to leave. We don’t feel safe. Pakistan wasn’t safe either …. I know many people were killed and injured. But it was not our fault.”

Around 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers like Bariea, most from Pakistan, some from Afghanistan, have sought shelter in mosques and police stations in Negombo and Pasyala, near the capital Colombo, for the past month.

While many from the local community stepped in to try and help, they were driven out of their rented homes by others who accused them of being connected to bomb attacks on churches and hotels around the country on April 21 that killed 250 people and injured many more.

As they shelter in the city, which was the site of one of the church attacks, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working closely with Sri Lankan authorities to find more suitable, temporary places to move the families so they can live in dignity and safety during this difficult time. But in the climate of fear following the attacks, it has not been easy.

Some of the people displaced from their homes in Negombo have already moved to safer areas. More will be relocated in the coming days.

Family’s like Bariea’s, who sought safety in Sri Lanka after fleeing violence, persecution, and extremism in their own countries, say they were made scapegoats. Bariea has not only had to leave her home with her family to shelter in the crowded mosque but, with her two brothers, forced to drop out of class.

“I really miss school; I worry about getting behind in class. Education is my future. I don’t think I can go to school now,” she says.

Afghan mother Anisa and family shelter with over 100 other refugees and asylum seekers at the police station in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Credit: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

Her mother, Sehrish, 34, has many other worries. Her children have all been sick with coughs and fevers, and she is six months’ pregnant, like several women in the mosque and she is unable to sleep properly in the confined space.

She said she was grateful for the help they have received from UNHCR, its partners and local Sri Lankan groups, but also worried about what will happen next. “We are getting assistance but we cannot live here for much longer,” she says.

“People have been generous. Some groups have come and provided us with food and clothes.”

UNHCR’s head of office in Sri Lanka, Menique Amarasinghe, said: “Our top priority is to make sure these people are safe and well-protected, and to ensure they can access basic services.

“We’ve been extremely grateful to the Sri Lankan government who have acknowledged their responsibility to care for these people and have been doing everything they can in really very difficult circumstances.”

UNHCR has reinforced its staffing in Sri Lanka to respond to the emergency. It is working with the authorities and partner agencies to provide food, medicine, hygiene material, water and sanitation, and other basic support to refugees and asylum-seekers.

A short drive away from the Amadiyya mosque, around 100 Pakistanis and Afghans are sheltering in the semi open-air car park at Negombo’s police station. The police have provided security and assistance, but facilities are inadequate, with just a handful of toilets shared by the police and new arrivals.

It is so hot, that most people have broken out in skin rashes and their arms and legs covered in infected mosquito bites.

While some in the local community reacted in anger after the attacks, other Sri Lankans have rallied round the refugees and asylum seekers who they counted as neighbours.

“People have been generous. Some groups have come and provided us with food and clothes. Sri Lankan people have helped us,” said Anisa, an ethnic Hazara from Afghanistan, nursing her six month old daughter.

She has lived in Sri Lanka for four years and says people were friendly – but the attacks changed everything. “The owner of our house told us we could stay, but the neighbours said no. He said he wouldn’t be able to protect us, so we came here, a safe place.” Her niece, a confident English-speaker, 12-year-old Sadaf, chimes in.

“After the blast, people blamed us and hated us. It made us really upset.”

Sadaf used to study at a school supported by UNHCR. But right now she cannot go back to class. “I learnt lots of things. I need school for a better future and now I can’t go … it makes me sad. I think I won’t have a good future. Children like me are worried.”

OwnBackup Closes $23.25 Million Investment to Continue Global Expansion of Its Cloud-to-Cloud Backup and Recovery Platform

LONDON, FORT LEE, N.J. and TEL AVIV, Israel, May 30, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — OwnBackup, a leading cloud–to–cloud backup and recovery vendor, today announced the close of a $23.25 million Series C round of financing co–led by Insight Venture Partners and Vertex Ventures. Existing investors Innovation Endeavors, Oryzn Capital and Salesforce Ventures also participated in the round. The company also announced the aggressive expansion of its international leadership team and general availability of OwnBackup Archiver, which empowers businesses to efficiently meet internal and external compliance policies for SaaS data.

"Thanks to the unwavering support of our committed investment partners, we will be able to continue to scale to meet escalating market demand for our solutions as companies realize the need to claim ownership of cloud data security concerns and proactively ensure their data is protected and accessible at all times," noted OwnBackup CEO Sam Gutmann. "As we set the bar for cloud data protection, our focus continues to be growing the team and leading the pack in cloud data protection innovation."

Owning Cloud Backup for Cloud Data
OwnBackup helps more than 1,000 businesses worldwide protect critical cloud data""securing trillions of SaaS and PaaS records to prevent data corruption/data loss, ensure business continuity, minimize operational disruptions and meet compliance mandates. Achieving 100 percent year–over–year revenue growth for its award–winning cloud data protection platform, OwnBackup will use the investment to build on its tremendous momentum in the Salesforce ecosystem. With plans to deepen its partner network and double both its engineering and European teams, OwnBackup will increase its presence around the globe and expand its product offerings to support a wide range of cloud data needs.

"OwnBackup has demonstrated value for Salesforce customers and partners," noted Mike Wolff, SVP Global ISV Partners, Salesforce. "OwnBackup data protection solutions are a welcome addition to Salesforce AppExchange, and we are thrilled by the company's steadfast commitment to the Salesforce community."

In addition to the funding, OwnBackup announced the general availability of OwnBackup Archiver, its highly anticipated product that addresses regulatory compliance needs while optimizing the performance of users' SaaS platforms. The robust archiving tool automatically archives data and attachments that are no longer needed in production "" while maintaining their integrity, data access and security to comply with a wide range of regulations and policies.

Expert Expansion
To drive growth across Europe, OwnBackup also appointed seasoned technology sales leader Gareth Morris as VP of Sales for EMEA. Bringing almost two decades of enterprise software sales and leadership to his new role, Morris will focus on expanding the company's European footprint. Based in OwnBackup's London office, he will grow and manage the EMEA sales team.

Before joining OwnBackup, Morris held various roles in which he grew and led high–performance sales teams across Europe. He previously served as the VP and GM of EMEA for Model N, regional vice president for Salesforce in the UK, and technology sales manager for Oracle. He currently also serves as a Board Advisor for TheSearchBase.

Deepening its expert bench, Nikitas Koutoupes of Insight Venture Partners, Harpinder Singh of Innovation Endeavors, and Bob DeSantis, president and COO of Conga, joined the OwnBackup Board to help the company navigate market opportunities.

"OwnBackup's visionary leadership team and pioneering products have driven extraordinary growth over the last few years. As the call for data protection in cloud environments intensifies, OwnBackup will continue to lead the market," added Koutoupes. "With OwnBackup, organizations can confidently embrace the cloud and trust that their critical data is safe and secure. OwnBackup users rely on its products to manage the disaster recovery process and ensure they have immediate access to the comprehensive backups they need to quickly restore their data and prove compliance."

For complete details on the latest OwnBackup products here or read its five–star reviews on Salesforce AppExchange.

About OwnBackup
OwnBackup, a leading cloud–to–cloud backup and restore vendor, provides secure, automated, daily backups of SaaS and PaaS data, as well as sophisticated data compare and restore tools for disaster recovery. OwnBackup covers data loss and corruption caused by human errors, malicious intent, integration errors and rogue applications. Built for security and privacy, OwnBackup exceeds the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements for backed–up data. Co–founded by seasoned data–recovery, data–protection and information–security experts, OwnBackup is a top–ranked backup and restore ISV on Salesforce AppExchange and was named a Gartner "Cool Vendor" in Business Continuity and IT Disaster Recovery. Headquartered in Fort Lee, New Jersey, with R&D, support and other functions in Tel Aviv and London, OwnBackup is the vendor of choice for some of the world's largest users of SaaS applications.

For more information, visit

Salesforce Ventures
Salesforce is the fastest growing top five enterprise software company and the #1 CRM provider globally. Salesforce Ventures""the company's corporate investment group""invests in the next generation of enterprise technology that extends the power of the Salesforce Customer Success Platform, helping companies connect with their customers in entirely new ways. Portfolio companies receive funding as well as access to the world's largest cloud ecosystem and the guidance of Salesforce's innovators and executives. With Salesforce Ventures, portfolio companies can also leverage Salesforce's expertise in corporate philanthropy by joining Pledge 1% to make giving back part of their business model. Salesforce Ventures has invested in more than 300 enterprise cloud startups in 20 different countries since 2009. For more information, please visit

Media Contact:
Erica Camilo
Connexa Communications for OwnBackup
C: 610.639.5644

Water Research & Education Needs to Flow Towards Developing World

By Colin Mayfield and Hamid Mehmood
HAMILTON, Canada, May 30 2019 – Post-secondary education relevant to the global water crisis is concentrated in wealthy countries rather than the poorer, developing places where it is needed most.

Meanwhile, water research is largely assessed by counting the number of papers published and their citation by other researchers rather than whether the work actually leads to successful, practical solutions.

Twin papers from UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health highlight and document these weaknesses in the global effort to address inadequate water supply and sanitation, problems that rank among the top-10 global risks.

There’s no global source of information on water-related academic activities. To uncover trends in water-related publications, therefore, we had to devise indirect measures using several databases, including one that indexes 22,800 journals, magazines and reports from more than 5,000 publishers.

Nor is there a list of water resource-related post-secondary programs. Similar detective work was required, therefore, to locate the world’s 28,000 or so universities that offer degrees in water-related programs.

Our most troubling finding at the end of the day: altogether too little training and research takes place where water problems are most acute. Instead, global water research relies on Western – particularly US – scientific outputs.

Globally, we found, water-related research is published in 88 countries but just two of them — the United States and China — accounted for 33% of the 1.2 million papers published between 2012 and 2017.

About 70% of the academic journals that publish water research are based in just four countries — the United States, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands; 2% are in China.

All 15 countries leading in publications per million population are among the world’s wealthiest, suggesting water research does not emerge as a reaction to water scarcity but, instead, to some economic value in a supply and sanitation industry expected to be worth $1 trillion (US) in 2020.

The average number of citations for any given paper dropped precipitously, from 22 in 2012 to just three in 2017. This suggests, at least in part, that lower quality papers are being written to conform with government sponsored policies on publication, or reflects increasing pressure in academia to produce research — publish or perish.

This pressure might be critical for researchers to survive, but it is hardly conducive from a development perspective.

Meanwhile, most universities offering water-related courses are in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, which faces severe water shortages, very few postgraduate institutions offer recognised programs on water.

And many students from water-stressed countries who attend university in North America or Europe don’t return home after graduation, depriving their countries of badly needed expertise.

Any incentive, process or practice that encourages the return of these highly-qualified students to jobs in the water sector could benefit the home country.

Given the highly autonomous nature of universities and their faculty members, it’s unreasonable to expect widespread cooperation in curriculum design and delivery but some sharing of materials would be very beneficial.

We suggest that a consortium of universities offer large-scale water studies, courses or programs using the specific expertise of their combined faculty members.

Other recommendations: encourage more women to enter the water-resources field. And find better ways to convey in a practical way the research findings, learning and knowledge in research publications to actual users in need of the knowledge.

Teacher and teaching ratings should likewise be based on outcomes — including assessments by previous students at different intervals since graduation about the quality, content and relevance of their programs.

The bottom line: When it comes to water research, the publish or perish philosophy that drives many researchers must take second place to the goal of on-the-ground results, especially in the developing world, where there also must be a more structured focus on water education.

The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sets ambitious targets for improvement in water supply and sanitation. To achieve the water-related SDGs, however, we need to use insights into academic shortcomings to make reforms, and soon.

*Their papers, “Higher Education in the Water Sector: A Global Overview” and “Bibliometrics of Water Research: A Global Snapshot,” are available at UNU-INWEH is supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and hosted by McMaster University.

The New Face of Activism: Youth

There are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 to 24 and it has become more essential than ever for young people to mobilise in order to achieve the change they want and need in their communities and the world. Thousands of youth gathered in Rome on Friday, Mar. 15, to join the climate strike, a global movement that aims to make governments and institutions aware of taking serious steps to implement the Paris Agreements and save the planet. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2019 – Rather than waiting for adults to act, more young girls and boys are standing up and speaking out on the world’s pressing issues.

In recent years, the international community has seen a rise in youth engagement from education activist Malala Yousafzai to climate change warrior Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez.

“More often than not, young people in our world today are a lightning rod for change. You show the courage and persistence that is often lacking among older generations,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the recent Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum.

“Because it is your future, your livelihoods, your freedom, your security, your environment, you do not and you must not take no for an answer.…engaging youth globally is essential for the well-being of the entire world,” he added.

According to the UN, there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24, 90 percent of whom live in developing countries. These figures are only expected to grow as closer to 2 billion young people are projected to turn 15 between 2015 and 2030.

It is therefore more essential than ever for young people to mobilise in order to achieve the change they want and need in their communities and the world.

Most recently, youth walked out of classrooms and onto the streets, demanding political action on climate change. On May 24, there were over 2,300 school strikes in more than 130 countries.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student who sparked the global youth climate movement stated: “We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference.”

“Your voices give me hope,” said Guterres in response to the climate strikes.

In Northern Bangladesh, Kumar Bishwajit Barman has also worked to improve his community and those who live there.

At just 18 years old, Barman and his friends established the Ashar Allo Pathshala school to help stop child marriage and drug abuse.

According to the UN Children’s Fund, Bangladesh has the fourth-highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world and the second-highest number of absolute child brides.

Approximately 59 percent of girls in the South Asian country are married before their 18th birthday ad 22 percent are married before the age of 15.

In 2010, Barman saw that an 11-year-old student was going to drop out of school to be married off and decided to act.

“She is one of many such girls who are made to tie the knot before getting done with primary education…one can only imagine how ruthless I had to be at that time to stop the marriage and get her back to education,” said Bishwajit.

“We went to her house and promised to bear all the expenditure required for her study. That was the beginning of our movement against child marriage,” he added.

Since then, Bishwajit has helped save at least 1,000 girls from child marriage and provides free education, helping girls pursue higher education.

But such feats were not easy. Barman often received threats whenever he tried to stop an early marriage and struggled financially to sustain operations.

“While we had to survive on tuition jobs, we provided all financial supports for their study…now we have 1,800 volunteers in the entire district to oversee the issues of education and stopping child marriage,” he said.

The Ashar Allo Pathshala school also provides education and vocational training to adults, including more than 450 women.

Earlier this year, Bishwajit established a mini-garment factory for women to help create employment.

In 2015, Bishwajit received the Joy Bangla Youth Award for his work in community development and was recently awarded Zonta Club’s Centennial Anniversary Award for contributions to women’s empowerment.

“All my vision and efforts now center around students,” Bishwajit said, who turned down university to continue his work.

These Aliens Are Here to Stay (And They Are Dangerous)

Invasive alien species cross the world chiefly on board of ships, harming human health, biodiversity and the whole ecosystem

Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, May 29 2019 – No, no, no. Nothing to do with what US and Europe’s far-right fanatics now use to vociferate, saying once and again that “migrants come here to destroy our democracy, our civilisation, and our life-style”.

Rather the complete opposite—this is about a major damage that precisely “our civilisation” and “our lifestyle” have been causing: invasive alien species crossing the world chiefly on board of ships, and harming human health, biodiversity and the whole ecosystem.


Who are they?

“Invasive alien species are plants, animals, pathogens and other organisms that are non-native to an ecosystem, and which may cause economic or environmental harm or adversely affect human health…

For a species to become invasive, it must successfully out-compete native organisms for food and habitat, spread through its new environment, increase its population and harm ecosystems in its introduced range.

“In particular, they impact adversely upon biodiversity, including decline or elimination of native species -through competition, predation, or transmission of pathogens- and the disruption of local ecosystems and ecosystem functions…

“Invasive alien species, introduced and/or spread outside their natural habitats, have affected native biodiversity in almost every ecosystem type on earth and are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. Since the 17th century, invasive alien species have contributed to nearly 40 percent of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known.” [2006 data]

This is how the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines the alien invasive species.

It warns that this problem continues to grow “at great socio-economic, health and ecological cost” around the world.

“Invasive alien species exacerbate poverty and threaten development through their impact on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and natural systems, which are an important basis of peoples’ livelihoods in developing countries. This damage is aggravated by climate change, pollution, habitat loss and human-induced disturbance.”


Invasive alien species cross the world chiefly on board of ships, and harm human health, biodiversity and the whole ecosystem

A ship crosses the Paraná River on its way to the port of Rosario, Argentina. Credit: Marcela Valente/IPS


Where do they come from?

Globalisation has resulted in greater trade, transport, travel and tourism, all of which can facilitate the introduction and spread of species that are not native to an area, CBD experts the Convention on Biological Diversity explain.

For a species to become invasive, it must successfully out-compete native organisms for food and habitat, spread through its new environment, increase its population and harm ecosystems in its introduced range.

Most countries are grappling with complex and costly invasive species problems. For example, the annual environmental losses caused by introduced pests in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India and Brazil have been calculated at over 100 billion dollars (CBD, 2006).

The Convention also warns that addressing the problem of invasive alien species is “urgent” because “the threat is growing daily, and the economic and environmental impacts are severe.”


Ballast water

Cargo ship de-ballasting | CSIRO | Permission | Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Cargo ship de-ballasting | CSIRO | Permission | Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

In poor words, ships transporting merchandise from one extreme of the world to another, once they discharged their cargo, they once upon a time used to load heavy stones and rocks to ensure more stability to the vessels in their new maritime crossing. Later on, they started to load sea water instead of stones. This is the ballast water.

Then, upon their arrival to a new port, and before loading another cargo, they would discharge the water (ballast water) they loaded in another sea.

The point is that the water taken from one sea is full of living species and organisms which are natives of that specific ecosystem. The discharge of this ballast water obviously implies discharging those species and organisms to a different marine ecosystem.

Some of them would simply perish, but many more would survive at the cost of species and organisms, natives of the new habitat.


A major threat

“Ballast water is essential for the safe operation of ships. It provides stability and manoeuvrability during a voyage and during loading and unloading operations,” explains the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). Management of ballast water also reduces the hull stress caused by adverse sea conditions or by changes in cargo weight as well as fuel and water.

However, EMSA also explains that the process of loading and unloading untreated ballast water poses a major threat to the environment, public health and the economy as ships become a vector for the transfer of organisms between ecosystems, from one part of the world to another.

“When ballast water is taken up in port, many microscopic organisms and sediments are introduced into the ships ballast tanks. Many of these organisms are able to survive in these tanks, and, when ballast water is discharged, they are released into new environments.”

If suitable conditions exist in this release environment, these species will survive and reproduce and become invasive species.

“In some cases, there is a high probability that the organism will become a dominant species, potentially resulting in: the extinction of native species, effects on local/regional biodiversity, effects on coastal industries that use water extraction, effects on public health and impacts on local economies based on fisheries.”


The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis. This male specimen was found ashore in 150 metres distance to the banks of the Elbe river in the German federal state of Brandenburg | Christian Fischer | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis. This male specimen was found ashore in 150 metres distance to the banks of the Elbe river in the German federal state of Brandenburg | Christian Fischer | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Extensive damage

The European Maritime Safety Agency further warns that “ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plantsanimalsviruses, and bacteria. These materials often include non-native, nuisance, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems, along with serious human health issues including death.”

For its part, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) explains that ballast water is routinely taken on by ships for stability and structural integrity. It can contain thousands of aquatic microbes, algae and animals, which are then carried across the world’s oceans and released into ecosystems where they are not native.

“Untreated ballast water released at a ship’s destination could potentially introduce new invasive aquatic species. Expanded ship trade and traffic volume over the last few decades have increased the likelihood of invasive species being released. Hundreds of invasions have already taken place, sometimes “with devastating consequences for the local ecosystem, economy and infrastructure.”



The dominating ‘life-style’, generated by the “Take-Make-Dispose” economic model, which is based on over-production/over-consumption/over-commercial benefits, has massively increased international transporting systems.

From big trucks using fossil fuel, to giant cargo ships over-loaded with enormous containers –let alone huge oil tankers, the fact now is that around 80 percent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide. Updated estimates situate these figures in 90 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2016 estimated that there are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) also in 2016 estimated that some 1.1 trillion dollars-worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year.

This “Take-Make-Dispose” economic model has proved to be one of the world’s main killers due to the huge pollution it causes for air, land and soil, marine and freshwater.

Moreover, this prevailing economic model implies that over one third of food is lost and/or wasted, enough to feed all hungry people.



Invasive alien species arrive in new habitats through various channels, being shipping the main one. Though important, they are not the sole problem the voracious production-consumption model brings.

For instance: containers. According to the Floating Threat report, “shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually.”

“It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”


There are increasing warnings of an imminent new financial crisis, not only from the billionaire investor George Soros, but also from eminent economists associated with the Bank of International Settlements, the bank of central banks.

Credit: Bigstock


More floating threats

In addition to the invasive alien species, the fact that over 80 per cent of global trade is carried by sea also implies other invisible treats –while ships bring coffee, snacks and TV sets, they also carry pests and diseases.

In its ‘A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’, FAO highlights that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

The specialised world body also reminds that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

The report A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’ estimates that up to 90 percent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

The list of dangers the current economic model –and “our civilisation” and “our life-style” pose day after day is too long to be summarised in just one report. The uncontrolled threats of the invasive alien species are just an example.

Any hope that humans wake up… perhaps by attentively listening to Greta Thunberg –and with her the already mobilised world’s youth:

“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes… We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis…if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then… we should change the system itself.”


Baher Kamal is Director and Editor of Human Wrongs Watch, where this article was originally published.

US “Emergency” Arms Sales to Mideast Nations Under Fire

Children walk through a damaged part of downtown Craiter in Aden, Yemen. The area was badly damaged by airstrikes in 2015 as the Houthi’s were driven out of the city by coalition forces. Credit: UN OCHA/Giles Clarke

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2019 – When the UN Security Council met last week to discuss the deaths and devastation caused to civilians in ongoing military conflicts and civil wars, the killings in Yemen and the air attacks on hospitals, schools, mosques, and market places—whether deliberate or otherwise– were singled out as the worst ever.

But the destruction and irreparable damage to civilian infrastructure and human lives were caused by weapons provided by some of the permanent members of the Security Council, including the US, France and UK.

And last week, in defiance of US Congressional opposition to arms sales to some of the warring Middle Eastern nations, the Trump administration went one better: it justified the proposed sale of a hefty $8.1 billion dollars in American arms to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia under a so-called “emergency notification”.

All three countries are part of a Saudi-led coalition unleashing attacks on Yemen battling Houthi insurgents backed by Iran– and the new weapons systems are expected to add more fire power to the coalition.

The “emergency notification” for arms sales was not only an act of defiance against the US Congress but also an attempt to placate American allies in the Middle East and, more importantly, the powerful arms lobby in the United States.

One of arguments adduced by the Trump administration is that increasing arms sales to Middle Eastern allies are meant to counter an “anticipated Iranian aggression”.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS this is not about deterring Iranian aggression and it is certainly not an “emergency.”

“It’s about the profits of American arms manufacturers at the expense of countless Yemeni lives.”

“This is but the most extreme manifestation, however, of a longstanding bipartisan policy of transferring deadly and sophisticated armaments to the family dictatorships in the Middle East”, said Zunes, who also serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

He pointed out that It is ironic that a nation which emerged in revolution against monarchy, would be the world’s number one arms supplier of absolute monarchies today.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal May 25, the Houthis are less ideologically aligned with Tehran, and Iran denies arming the group. But US officials disagree, saying Iran has trained them and provided them with weapons.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council May 23 that civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict, with more than 22,800 civilians dying or being injured in 2018 in just six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

He stressed the need for the Security Council to do more to enhance compliance with the laws of war.

In a statement released last week, the London-based Amnesty International was dead on target when it ridiculed the US argument that some of the weapons supplied to the Saudi-led coalition were “precision-guided” to avoid civilian casualties.

“The great military powers cynically boast about ‘precision’ warfare and ‘surgical’ strikes that distinguish between fighters and civilians. But the reality on the ground is that civilians are routinely targeted where they live, work, study, worship and seek medical care.”, the statement added.

AI said parties to armed conflict unlawfully kill, maim and forcibly displace millions of civilians while world leaders shirk their responsibility and turn their backs on war crimes and immense suffering.

Asked for his comments, Philippe Nassif, Advocacy Director – Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, told IPS decision made by President Trump to circumvent Congress and authorize billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to serial human rights abusers Saudi Arabia and the UAE is extremely unfortunate and reckless.

“Both these countries have used US made weapons to commit war crimes in Yemen, a country mired in conflict that has been made worse by the conduct of the UAE and Saudi led coalition,” he added.

The Trump administration has had a blank check policy when it comes to arming its Middle Eastern allies, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

Nassif pointed out that the atrocious human rights records of these governments, where executions, extrajudicial killings, mass incarceration, torture, and indefinite detentions are part of daily life for their citizens, is made worse by the US continuing to arm these governments.

“Now that the UAE and Saudi Arabia will receive new American weapons, we can expect a continuation of the hell that has been brought upon Yemen, where 11 million people are suffering from famine, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and thousands killed,” he noted.

“We can also expect weapons to fall into the wrong hands, such as Al Qaeda, or be sent to other conflict zones where the Saudi’s and UAE are backing ascending autocrats, such as Haftar in Libya,” Nassif declared.

In a statement released May 24, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “I made a determination pursuant to section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act and directed the Department to complete immediately the formal notification of 22 pending arms transfers to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia totaling approximately $8.1 billion to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity”.

“These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.

Delaying this shipment, Pompeo argued, could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance that could create severe airworthiness and interoperability concerns for key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility.

He argued that national security concerns have been exacerbated by many months of Congressional delay in addressing these critical requirements, “and have called into doubt our reliability as a provider of defense capabilities, opening opportunities for U.S. adversaries to exploit.”

The equipment to the three countries includes aircraft support maintenance; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); munitions; and other supplies.

“Today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to U.S. posture in the region to deter Iran. I intend for this determination to be a one-time event,” Pompeo added.

He pointed out that Section 36 is a long-recognized authority and has been utilized by at least four previous administrations since 1979, including Presidents Reagan and Carter.

“This specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to develop prudent measures to advance and protect U.S. national security interests in the region,” he declared.

The United States is, and must remain, a reliable security partner to our allies and partners around the world. These partnerships are a cornerstone of our National Security Strategy, which this decision reaffirms, Pompeo said.

The writer can be contacted at

A Call for Concrete Changes to Achieve a More Gender Equal World

By Princess Sarah Zeid
AMMAN, May 29 2019 – On the eve of the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver June 3-6, Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan interviewed Dr. Olfat Mahmoud, a Palestinian refugee and women’s rights advocate.

Princess Sarah spoke with Dr. Olfat about what the humanitarian system would look like if organizations like hers could help shape it, and the messages she hopes to bring to Women Deliver.

Excerpts from the interview:

Princess Sarah: Tell me a little about yourself. What drew you to your work and why does it matter?

Dr. Olfat: I was born a Palestinian refugee, so witnessed injustice all my life. Yet what defines me is not that I grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon, or that I spent most of my life in a war zone, but that I am a nurse and advocate in my community.

Even amid crisis, my parents were open-minded and encouraged me to be independent, so that is exactly what I set out to do. I studied and practiced nursing during the Lebanese civil war, and through that work witnessed the overlooked hardships faced by refugee women and children.

As a medical practitioner, I saw how essential services for girls and women of all ages – such as psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive health care– were chronically overlooked. And as an advocate in my community, I found that supporting women empowered me as well.

I established the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organization (PWHO) to fill these gaps and fulfill the needs of refugee girls and women so they can lead better futures. Not a single international organization stepped up to do this important work – so I knew that change had to come from those of us within the community.

Princess Sarah: What are the main challenges girls and women face in your community? What makes women-focused civil society organizations (CSOs) like yours most well-equipped to respond to these challenges?

Dr. Olfat: For girls and women, life in refugee settings require superhuman strength. We are particularly vulnerable when it comes to access to essential health services, information, and education, and disproportionately suffer from gender-based violence.

Women-focused civil society organizations are most well-equipped to respond to these challenges because women are the best experts on our lives. Our lived experiences make us better advocates for ourselves and for others in similar situations.
For example, the PWHO women’s centers – staffed by refugee women themselves– have gained unparalleled trust from the community, and become a second home for many.

With that trust, we can more easily identify what women want and need – like access to non-discriminatory health services, psychosocial support, rights-based education, and leadership skills – and design programs that are tailored for them. We can also negotiate with local leaders to push for a more supportive environment for women’s rights – a key ingredient to driving lasting change in conservative contexts.

UNHCR Patron, HRH Sarah Zeid of Jordan, meets with a women’s group at Doro refugee camp in South Sudan. Credit: UNHCR/Jan Møller Hansen

Princess Sarah: What could the international community – including donors, decision-makers, and practitioners – do more or less of to maximize sustainable positive impact for the populations you serve?

Dr. Olfat: The international community wields a lot of power – especially the power of money and the power of influence. To drive real change in my community, international actors must use those powers more efficiently.

First, there is a critical need to fill funding gaps for programs that are specifically designed for refugee girls and women. With more girls and women displaced today than ever before in global history, their needs are rising – yet funding for them is decreasing.

We need smarter investments in programs that enable refugee girls and women to lead better futures, including through education and quality vocational and life skills training, as well as access to sexual and reproductive health care.

Yet money alone is not enough. The international community must also use their influence to challenge national and regional political barriers that hold us back.

This includes respecting and upholding international agreements, including UN resolutions, which support and protect refugees. It also means addressing legal restrictions that keep refugee women from working, obtaining formal education, and exercising other basic human rights in their host countries.

Princess Sarah: Currently only 3% of humanitarian aid goes to local and national organizations – and even less to those focused on girls and women. What types of concrete investments does your organization need to extend your impact and plan for the future?

Dr. Olfat: Right now, the needs we see are greater than the resources we have. To meet those needs, we don’t just need more funding – but more of the right kinds of funding.

Too often, grants and funding opportunities for women-focused CSOs are designed without consulting us on the types of investments we know girls and women in our communities need the most.

Other times, we aren’t able to access grants because of unrealistic reporting requirements that are either unsuitable or unmanageable for a small grassroots organization like ours.

For example, many grants for vocational programs in Lebanon require organizations to report success by the number of jobs their beneficiaries gain as a result – which isn’t possible in a context where refugees aren’t legally allowed to work. To support women-focused CSOs and the communities they serve, we must be more meaningfully engaged in setting investment agendas at the start.

We also need access to more flexible and sustainable funding opportunities, including core funding. It’s impossible to plan for the future when we rely on six- to twelve- month grants. We’re committed to supporting refugee girls and women in our community for as long as we’re needed – but require the right resources to fulfill that goal.

Princess Sarah: You have also been advocating for the international community to more meaningfully engage women-focused CSOs in humanitarian decision-making. In your view, what concrete steps can the international community take to put more power and influence in the hands of women-focused CSOs like yours, and why should this be an urgent priority?

Dr. Olfat: Women-focused CSOs must be heard in humanitarian policy meetings to ensure decisions reflect realities on the ground. This requires inviting us to important discussions held in New York and Geneva, but it also means making sure we can get there through travel and logistics support. And when we are there, it means carving out spaces for us to safely and honestly share the solutions we need with the assurance that we will be heard.

The alternative – excluding refugee women from decisions that affect their work and lives – isn’t acceptable and isn’t working. When we are engaged, we make humanitarian policy and practice stronger and more effective.

Princess Sarah: What do you hope to achieve at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, Canada? What advocacy asks do you hope to bring forward at this meeting?

I hope to raise awareness to the needs of Palestinian refugee girls and women in Lebanon, to ensure that they are not forgotten. And I want to highlight solutions women-focused CSOs like PWHO need – money, influence, and power – to push for the change I’ve wanted to see all my life.

At the same time, I hope to learn from other advocates around the world, and build networks so we can collectively push for a humanitarian system that puts girls and women at the center. Solidarity is our strength and our power – and we need to be stronger together to achieve a better world for all of us.