Concern Worldwide’s Anne O’Mahony feels there are reasons to to be optimistic about 2016 but also sees many challenges ahead, especially if we all don’t work together.
WE LOOK forward to the year ahead with a mixture of optimism and realism.
The economy is doing well; unemployment rates are falling and people are beginning to have the confidence to spend again.
But we live in an increasingly connected world and what happens “over there” is going to impact on us here and vice versa, from climate change to the Syrian crisis and much in between.
As we plan for the year ahead, there are the regular programmes where we systematically work with people on a long-term basis to lift them out of grinding poverty but, then, we always have events that are completely unforeseeable and we must be ready to scale up and deal with the humanitarian consequences.
Take last spring, when the earth began to shake violently under the mountains of Nepal. Two earthquakes hit the tiny, landlocked Asian country in April and May. Badly constructed houses crumbled to rocks.
Roads quickly became impassable and many rural villages were cut off. With monsoon rains looming, thousands of people were in urgent need of shelter and everyday basics. Like most such disasters it is the poor who suffered most.
Concern’s team remains on the ground today, helping thousands of people to rebuild their lives. We won’t stay there forever, but we will stay as long as it takes to get people up and running again.
Other emergencies will undoubtedly happen in 2016, and we must be ready to attend to those in most urgent need in the immediate aftermath of such large-scale disasters.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there will be many people re-establishing their former lives in Syria anytime in the near future. The Syria crisis highlighted the fact that problems in the world are no longer “over there”.
If anyone needed any more evidence of that, they need only recall the despair and upset many felt at the sight of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi dead, face-down on a Turkish beach last September. If 2015 had “a moment”, this was it.
This war, halfway across the world, was the major catalyst for the huge flows of refugees we saw attempting to get into Europe and beyond, of which little Aylan was just one. More than 4m Syrians have fled their home country, seeking safety and refuge anywhere they can.
Despite common misperceptions in the media, the majority of these refugees have not come to western countries — they are instead living in neighbouring countries, namely Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey alone is hosting more than 2m Syrian refugees, Lebanon 1.2m. Such generosity is extraordinary.
Alas, Syria isn’t the only country caught up in an ongoing brutal and incessant conflict. South Sudan, Central African Republic, Yemen, and Burundi — among others — are ongoing battle zones requiring humanitarian responses by aid agencies.
The ebola outbreak in West Africa was also a reminder that “over there” could quickly become relevant “over here”. Thankfully, in recent months, Liberia was officially declared ebola-free and Sierra Leone soon followed suit, and Guinea more recently.
The virus was finally defeated with deep collaboration and co-operation between national governments, NGOs, health experts, and frontline teams on the ground. Uniquely, Concern teamed up the Glasnevin Trust for a safe and dignified burials programme, for which we won an EU health award.
With West Africa now officially free of the virus, this won’t guarantee complete eradication of the disease and we may still get one or two isolated cases in 2016. Many lessons have been learned by all involved, but no-one should get complacent as we move through the new 2016.
Efforts to make the world a better place for all in 2016 and beyond, saw heads of state from 193 countries, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins, gather in New York to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals last September.
Diseases and mass displacement of people are everyone’s problem, and everyone’s responsibility. As is climate change.
Recent unusual weather patterns — in Ireland, the UK, South America, and the USA — will see droughts, floods and food shortages in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa escalate in the coming months as El Niño takes full effect.
Agreement at the recent gathering of world leaders at the COP21 summit in Paris, however, marked a milestone in international environmental policy and while, overall, 2015 was a tumultuous year, as it reached its end there were seeds of hope and optimism.
These can be further built upon in May of this year when we will see the World Humanitarian Summit take place in Istanbul.
There are real and tangible reasons for optimism, but we must continue to help those around the world who need it. The world, its many challenges and its peoples are more interconnected than they have ever been.
We ignore such universality at our peril.
Anne O’Mahony is director of international programmes, Concern Worldwide
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