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Reckless Development Worsens Maldives’ Environmental Crisis

Flooded streets in Haadhaal Kulhudhuffushi, Maldives on December 1, 2019.

© 2019 Adam Isham

To most of the world, the Maldives are a tempting tourist destination, with over 1,192 islands of coral reefs and pristine beaches.

But the Maldivian government has long ignored its own environmental regulations and the needs of communities in developing these precarious, low-lying islands.

Foreigners generally only see the luxury resorts, not the islands where most Maldivians live. During a torrential downpour this month while I was on Kulhudhufushi, the island flooded within hours. Residents rushed to bolster embankments with sandbags and dig channels to clear waterlogging.

As the waters receded, residents told me that flooding now happens more frequently and affects more homes than anything like in previous years. In the past, mangroves provided a natural protection against flooding. Kulhudhufushi, they said, has grown more vulnerable since 70 percent of the island’s mangroves were bulldozed to make way for a new airport. Areas adjacent to the destroyed natural mangrove buffers were worst hit by the floods.  

An environmental impact assessment had already raised concerns over the airport, as had local community activists I met who were worried about the impact on local livelihoods, particularly for women who depend on resources from the mangroves and adjacent palm forest. Despite these concerns, the airport project was expedited by then-President Abdulla Yameen before the 2018 presidential elections. Maldivian activists alleged that the environment minister at the time pressured the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency to issue the permit despite objections from local residents.

Yameen was defeated in the 2018 elections, and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has pledged to ensure that environmental assessments are sound, and their recommendations followed. But the large-scale removal and destruction of trees on inhabited islands continues.

The Maldives are one the most vulnerable countries on earth to climate change, with the projected global sea-level rise potentially inundating many of its islands. While not responsible for global climate change, the Maldives and other small island nations will bear the brunt of the resulting devastation.

With flooding, erosion, and other ecological disasters on the rise, the Maldives are running out of time to save their island communities. President Solih’s government can’t ignore the evidence of the high human cost of environmental abuse.


Massachusetts Medical Society Supports Intersex Rights

A poster by intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) passed a resolution supporting the principle that intersex children should not be operated on until they are old enough to make the decision themselves.

This deferral of all medically unnecessary intervention is in line with medical evidence, bioethics, human rights standards, and every intersex-led policy organization in the US.

“Intersex” refers to the estimated 1.7 percent of people born with sex characteristics – such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals – that differ from social expectations of female or male. Except in very rare cases when the child cannot urinate or internal organs are exposed, these natural variations are medically benign and do not require surgery.

But in the 1960s, surgeons in the United States popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations on intersex infants, including reducing the size of the clitoris or increasing the size of the vagina. These procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem and there is no evidence such operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is their aim. Every intersex-led policy organization in the world opposes the operations, which carry risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma.

For decades, intersex advocates have asked governments and the medical community to defer these surgeries until the patient can participate in the decision about what will happen to their own bodies. but a small subset of surgeons who defend the practice have thwarted efforts to protect intersex people’s rights.

The United Nations have condemned the operations 48 times since 2011. They’re joined by the World Health Organization, three former US surgeons-general, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Academy of Family Physicians – the largest support group in the country for intersex people and their families – Lambda Legal, and the ACLU.

Massachusetts senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren tweeted in October that “Intersex people must have a say in decisions that affect their bodies.”

Kimberly Zieselman, an intersex woman and executive director of Massachusetts-based interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, testified in support of the MMS resolution when it was introduced in 2018. The resulting policy states that MMS: “Respects the rights of the patient to participate in decisions and, except when life-threatening circumstances require emergency intervention, defers medical or surgical intervention until the child is able to participate in decision making.”

It’s an example of how centering patient autonomy can withstand bias against bodily diversity.


An estimated 897,000 people need humanitarian assistance in Libya in 2020

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Country: Libya

Those in need of humanitarian assistance include internally displaced persons, returnees, non-displaced conflict-affected people, refugees and migrants.


Since 2011, Libya has been affected by political, security and economic volatility. Continued violence and insecurity, including escalations in conflict, coupled with political stalemate, has resulted in a governance vacuum which has created significant security, rule of law, and social and economic consequences.

An estimate of 897,000 people are considered to be in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya in 2020. This reflects the most vulnerable people that have been identified as having the most severe needs (severe, catastrophic and extreme). Those in need of humanitarian assistance include internally displaced persons, returnees, non-displaced conflict-affected people, refugees and migrants.


The humanitarian situation in Libya is increasingly complex. The protracted nature of the conflict severely impacts on people’s wellbeing and livelihoods. Political stalemate has resulted in a governance vacuum, and coupled with widespread violence and insecurity, including direct attacks on public infrastructure, have disrupted the economy and public service delivery across the country.
Furthermore, spikes in violence, such as the escalation of conflict in Tripoli since April 2019 and clashes in Murzuq in August 2019, have resulted in increased civilian casualties and further displacement.

Across the country, over 301,000 Libyans remain displaced, including 128,000 people due to the Tripoli conflict, reversing the declining trend in displacement. As displacement has increased, so has the number of Libyans who are returning to their homes, around 447,000 people.
Living conditions, including access to clean drinking water, medical services, and safe housing have all degraded due to the protracted situation in the country, particularly for women and children.

Despite the crisis, Libya remains an attractive destination for migrant workers due to an economy that relies on foreign labour, higher salaries and historical ties, as well as being a transitory route for people seeking opportunities or asylum in Europe. An estimated 655,000 refugees and migrants are in Libya, including 48,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers. However, refugees and migrants continue to be exposed to protection risks, human rights violations, exploitation and abuse.


UNHCR head appeals to South Sudan parties to ensure long-lasting peace

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Country: South Sudan

Despite the signing of the peace agreement last year, the situation remains critical, with millions of South Sudanese displaced and in need of safety and humanitarian assistance.

Six years after the outbreak of violence in South Sudan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi is calling on all parties to boost efforts to form an inclusive national unity government in order to achieve permanent peace.

Despite the signing of the peace agreement last year, the situation remains critical, with millions of South Sudanese displaced and in need of safety and humanitarian assistance.

“South Sudanese people long for lasting peace,” said High Commissioner Grandi. “Only a political solution can end the crisis and bring relief to those who have been displaced over and over again.”

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, is Africa’s largest humanitarian and refugee crisis with over two million of its people seeking safety in neighboring countries and an equal number displaced inside the country.

For those already forced to flee their homes disrupting their daily lives, climate change has become an additional challenge. Recent flooding resulted in the loss of life, homes, and livelihood. South Sudan also remains one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarians to deliver aid.

“The momentum towards the implementation of the peace agreement must be sustained in order to ensure the safety of civilians and guarantee solutions for those affected. It is their only ray of hope,” said Grandi.

UNHCR is also urging parties to continue to include South Sudanese refugees and IDPs in discussions on the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.

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