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Category Archives: International Affairs

Keep Calm, but Stay Alert!

This week, we saw our first real glimpse into the Trump Administration’s budgetary priorities and I think it’s critical to know and understand that this is the very first, preliminary step in what will undoubtedly be a very long process.

Depending on your personal priorities, it’s easy to understand how someone could be alarmed or elated by the news of this release; however, it’s important to monitor this process, understand it, and know where, when and how to insert yourself into the conversation.  And even though it might feel like there is no way to do that, there is – just keep calm, and stay alert!

The Trump Administration’s release of the blueprint was simply an overview – without much detail – on his “America First” budget.  The blueprint does suggest an intent to reduce the size of government by implementing major cuts, but more importantly, because it was simply a blueprint, the plan released this week is devoid of detail.  The plan only addresses discretionary spending (about 1/3 of the budget).  It did not address any mandatory or entitlement spending – a category that contains major programs like Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and farm price supports. Nor did the proposal include anything on the revenue side of the books.

The budget blueprint proposed very significant cuts to numerous non-defense discretionary programs, with the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and related international programs, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor facing the largest proposed reductions.

It is important to know that legislative branch of government is the only branch that can spend money – no matter what the president suggests in his budget submission.  As such – getting to know your congressional representatives and obtaining the facts on the budget as it makes its way through Congress will be critical.

Your elected officials need to hear from you, because the release of the president’s budget proposal is not the end, it’s only the beginning of this process.

Frankly, it is hard to believe that any staunch conservative is happy with this proposal.  Sure, they might be happy with an increase in defense and security spending, but it is derelict not to address the deficit, entitlement reform, or mandatory spending.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, cutting major resources from health and human services programs, foreign assistance, and health initiatives while only re-directing those resources to defense spending cannot possibly sit well with liberals in Congress.

For any of these initiatives to be implemented, a budget must be passed, and members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the committee of jurisdiction over drafting the legislation that allocates specific sums for discretionary programs each year, must make their initial moves.  Please note that although Congress has this authority, and is unlikely to accept the president’s suggestions as submitted, historically, the president’s budget proposal can influence the spending levels Congress ultimately adopts.

But safeguards do exist –

  • First, do not underestimate your voice – know the part(s) of the budget you are interested in, develop clear talking points and start calling your representatives;
  • Democrats retain the ability to filibuster appropriations bills in the Senate, and in 2015, they were very successful at maintaining a unified position that they would not consider any appropriations measures on the floor of the Senate until there was an agreement to treat defense and non-defense discretionary spending similarly;
  • Caps on discretionary spending put in place by the Budget Control Act in 2011 would prevent the kind of increases to defense spending proposed by Trump unless the caps are relaxed or the funding is channeled through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which does not count against the BCA limits; and
  • Finally, Republicans in the House and Senate, especially members of the Appropriations Committees, are hardly united behind the President’s proposed budget plan and have already raised concerns about the plan.

 

 

 

 

Women’s Rights and Access to Maternal and Reproductive Healthcare

As someone who has worked on international development issues from my desk in Washington, I was excited to participate in the 2013 Women Deliver Conference last week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The conference afforded me an amazing opportunity to listen and talk to a variety of people from 149 countries about their experiences and views related to the health and well-being of women and girls. A recurring theme that emerged from the week was the issue of women’s sexual and reproductive health. I have never written about reproductive health before, but I’ll credit that up to never spending a week at a conference focused on maternal and reproductive health before this experience.

Since returning home, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the issue of reproductive health and I firmly believe that we need to start thinking about this issue in a different way – through the lens of a woman or a young girl in a developing country, and with an eye on equality.

In the U.S., we all face the reality that a majority of young adults engage in sexual relations outside marriage, and we educate our kids to wait to have sexual relationships – preferably until marriage. But as parents, we also want to ensure that they know how to protect themselves when they decide to engage in such activities.

This was a key part of the international dialogue I participated in; however, on the international front, in many poor or developing countries, access to reproductive health includes a very different reality.

That reality is that girls and women’s rights are systematically violated in too many places around the world today. (I would encourage anyone reading this or interested in this issue to check out the trailer, and the movie called Girl Rising, an innovative new feature film that highlights the struggles of women and girls around the world). In some cultures, it is still considered acceptable for a husband to beat his wife for not having sex. In too many places, girls are forced into marriage at far too young an age. HIV disproportionately impacts women. In many cultures, when reproductive health options are available, a woman’s male partner often vetoes her decision to use those options.

Women and girls in developing nations are more likely to become mothers at a young age. We know that pregnancy during adolescence has serious health impacts for girls and their babies. There are complications from pregnancy and childbirth – which is the leading cause of death among girls, aged 15-19 in developing countries.

Approximately one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. In some pacific countries, more than 60% of women and girls experienced violence at the hands of their partners.

I met a woman from the Congo at the conference. We were discussing access to female contraception and she explained to me that access to female condoms in her village have been transformative because women and girls are now using these resources when walking miles to the wells to get water. The incidence of rape is so great, that these women and girls have decided to use female condoms to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

In developing countries, desire for smaller families and the motivation for healthy spacing of births has steadily increased. Yet, 222 million women in developing countries do not have the ability to determine the size of their families, or have a say in the planning of their families.

MDG 5 — Improve Maternal Health — has two sub targets. Target 5A set a target of reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015, while Target 5B set a target of universal access to reproductive health.

The achievement of the MDGs is strongly underpinned by the progress that the world makes on sexual and reproductive health. It is a pillar for supporting the overall health of communities, in particular, that of women. Ill health from causes related to sexuality and reproduction remains a major cause of preventable death, disability, and suffering among women. Apart from the health consequences, poor sexual and reproductive health contributes significantly to poverty, inhibiting affected individuals’ full participation in their own social and economic development.

I was surprised to learn that the world has not made as much progress on this front as is needed to meet MDG5 by 2015. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have shown little progress in recent years; some have even lost ground. Globally, the rate of death from pregnancy and childbirth declined between 1990 and 2005 by only 1% per year. In order to be on track to achieve MDG 5, a 5.5% annual rate of decline was needed from 2005 to 2015.

During my week at the conference, our group was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Melinda Gates. We were all enlightened and her comments during our conversation were extremely helpful to me. Mrs. Gates stated that when she talks about health with women from developing countries, they explain to her that their job is to feed the children. They explain that if they cannot space out their births, they cannot work or properly care for and feed the other children. In many places, Melinda explained that while condoms might be readily available, women – due to cultural perceptions – couldn’t even fathom negotiating the use of condoms because it means they are suggesting that their partner might have AIDs or that she is trying to say she has AIDs.

The Gates Foundation does not fund abortions, and has it right when they state that we need to put girls and women at the center of this debate. We need to start trusting one another and realize that “family planning” is not code for anything else in this debate.

As the week progressed, I became certain that the only way for the world to begin to correct this problem is for us to start trusting one another and to look at this issue as an equality rights one, not something else. Advancing equality among boys and girls and men and women is a goal we can all support.

I am confident that if we are successful in achieving equality, many other aspects of this problem begin to fall into place. Perhaps, once achieved, we might even begin to have a significant impact on achieving MDG5.

Just think of all the good that could come from advocating for ensuring that women and girls have the right to access maternal and reproductive health care. Treating women and girls all around the world equally might eradicate early and forced marriage, keep girls in school, give women a say in their family planning, and end gender-based violence.

One of my take-aways from the conference was that women’s rights and access to maternal and reproductive healthcare must be a highlight of our global development agenda. The issue is too important to ignore, or be mired in obtuse political innuendo. With the right focus and attention, we can ensure that sexual and reproductive health is readily available and sustainable for all women.

 

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Global Maternal Health in 2013

Our week in Kuala Lumpur is almost over and we’ve had an amazingly busy and informative week of meetings, briefings and field visits. Whether visiting with the Malaysian government’s ministry of health, touring government facilities, sharing thoughts with one of the 4,000 delegates from around the world, or participating in roundtable discussions with experts in the field, I have been immersed in the issue and focus of the conference.

In 2000, all UN Member States committed to eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which aim to significantly reduce extreme poverty and disease, ensure environmental sustainability, and enhance international coordination around development by 2015. That means that 189 countries committed to ending extreme poverty worldwide through the achievement of these MDG’s. The MDGs are the FIRST and ONLY international framework for improving the human condition of the world’s poor.

MDG 5 — Improve Maternal Health — set a target of reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015. And that has been one of the key focal points of this conference. Every year, between 350,000 – 500,000 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes.

Medical solutions exist, but increased government attention is needed to implement policies to improve the supply of and demand for services that will help. While the numbers of deaths are decreasing, the progress is not enough or fast enough to meet the MDG goal by 2015. Almost all maternal deaths occur in developing countries; especially vulnerable are poor women. In fact, maternal mortality represents one of the greatest health disparities between rich and poor and between the rich and poor populations within every country.

Interestingly enough, providing the essential services needed to make significant improvements in maternal health are estimated to cost less than $1.50 per person in the 75 countries where 95% of maternal mortality occurs. The great majority of maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented through simple, cost-effective measures.

For instance, using a country closer to home, in Haiti, the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the Western Hemisphere with 350 deaths per 100,000 live births. In comparison, the rate in the U.S. is 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births and Afghanistan’s rate was 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births (2002). Several programs in Haiti have trained over 700 traditional birth attendants to assist with child birth since only 37% of all births in Haiti take place in a health facility.

Thanks to these attendants, pregnant women in Haiti have increased access to trained assistants who assist with safe deliveries. Identifying signs of high-risk pregnancies, and referring at-risk pregnant women to health facilities for care. In Afghanistan, thanks to skilled birth attendants and access to education about pregnancy, the maternal mortality rates went from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 327 deaths in 2010.

Achieving MDG 5 is not only an important goal by itself, it is also central to the achievement of the other MDGs: reducing poverty, reducing child mortality, stopping HIV and AIDS, providing education, promoting gender equality, ensuring adequate food, and promoting a healthy environment.

The U.S. is a leader in funding these programs, but this is not just a U.S. government problem. It’s one that will take government, in partnership with other donors, governments, academia, the private sector, religious institutions, civil society and individual advocates.

Failure to invest in the maternal health of women in developing countries is a missed opportunity for development in those countries that need critical development gains the most.l

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in International Affairs

 

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Global Health Investments: Why It Matters to Main Street, USA

Getting here was a challenge and on the day we landed, we took advantage of our limited free time to explore the city. But on Sunday, the real work began! All day long, we participated in interactive and engaging round table discussions with some of the world’s most engaged and passionate people on the issues that I believe are vital to the United States. It was a pre-curser to the rest of our week in KL.

We are here to participate in the 2013 Women Deliver Global Conference. This is third international conference of its kind intended to bring world leaders and experts in the field together to discuss one aspect of our foreign assistance agenda. The Women Deliver conference builds on commitments, partnerships, and networks mobilized at the groundbreaking Women Deliver conferences in 2007 and 2010, fighting to end the deluge of preventable deaths that kill approximately 287,000 girls and women from pregnancy-related causes every year.

Many people back home wonder why the United States is engaged in funding activities like global health concerns and sometimes its hard to explain. But when you’re in a place like this, surrounded by people who address these concerns daily, it’s more than clear why.

Despite the fact that many people view foreign assistance as unnecessary – particularly in austere budgetary climates – I would argue that drastically reducing foreign assistance is not the answer to balancing the budget, nor is it our best interest as a nation.

To help frame the discussion, its important to note that sixty percent of people questioned in a CNN/ORC poll conducted early in 2012 said they’d like to put foreign aid on the budget chopping block; however, at the same time, the public grossly overestimated how much the U.S. is spending on foreign aid. Americans estimate that foreign aid takes up 10% of the federal budget, and one in five think it represents about 30% of the money the government spends. The reality is, it amounts to less than one percent of our budget and I contend, it may be one of the most important annual expenditures and investments we make.

We are a nation blessed with an abundance of wealth and opportunity and I firmly believe that we have a moral responsibility to invest in the world around us. For one percent of total federal spending, the United States is able to respond to humanitarian needs, promote a more secure world, help those most in need around the world, and spur economic development to improve people’s lives. But just as important as our moral responsibility in this arena is the fact that these precious taxpayer resources are an investment in America’s long-term national security.

No matter your political persuasion, it is a fact that the money we spend on global health and development is a cost effective investment. The threat of terrorism and extremism are two of this generation’s greatest challenges. Families all around the world want the same thing. A happy, healthy family, one that promotes and stabilizes the family unit, that leads to a strong village filled with hope and optimism for tomorrow, which leads to stable governments, stronger economies, more friends abroad, and ultimately, a peaceful world.

While it might sound naive, it is the truth….promoting peace and stability through effective foreign assistance ultimately means the promotion of healthy societies, which are often the best defense against extremism and protects our overall national security interests.

Today’s briefings and discussions focused more pointedly on women’s health and we had robust discussions with numerous groups working on the ground. We heard from advocates like Mandy Moore and Barbara Bush, plus numerous experts from the field. Funding programs that improve the health and lives of girls and women in the developing world is a smart investment for the United States. Every year of schooling for a girl increases her future earning potential between 10-20 percent. Simply ensuring skilled care during a delivery would reduce maternal deaths by 74%.

Women are important contributors to the global economy. They make up 40% of the global labor force and more than 60% of the workers in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. When women thrive, families flourish, communities do well, and nations grow.

The math is rather simple, investing in women pays dividends. I am looking forward to meeting experts from the field over the next few days and the dynamic conversations that will follow!

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in International Affairs

 

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Visiting Kuala Lumpur

Visiting the City…

Or how to kill yourself your first day in KL after a twenty hour flight! I think our group should receive an award for making the most out of 7 hours of free time in Kuala Lumpur. After a fast turn around this morning, we set out on our adventure through the city, hitting all of the city’s key attractions, all while facing what felt like 100 degrees and higher humidity than I’ve ever felt before.

Any perceived notions I may have had about Kuala Lumpur were shattered today. This is a vibrant, modern city with a vast infrastructure and bustling neighborhoods. Kuala Lumpur has an estimated population of 1.6 million. The population’s diversity is amazing. Which is the key reasoning for the incredibly mix of ethnic and cultural influences you find here.

From the “just because I thought you might like to know” files, Malaysia’s constitution declares Islam the state religion while protecting freedom of religion. The government system is closely modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system and the legal system is based on English Common Law. The head of state is the King, but he is known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. He is an elected monarch chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine Malay states every five years. The head of government is the Prime Minister. In 1957, the Federation of Malaya gained its independence from British rule. Kuala Lumpur remained the capital through the formation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963.

The geography of Kuala Lumpur is characterized by a huge valley known as Klang Valley. The valley is bordered by the Titiwangsa Mountains in the east, several minor ranges in the north and the south and the Strait of Malacca in the west. Kuala Lumpur has a tropical rainforest climate, which is warm and sunny and complete with regular rainfall. Temperatures tend to remain constant with maximums between 88 and 91 °F and minimums ranging between 72 and 74 °F. Apparently, the temperatures have never gotten higher than 103 degrees and have never fallen below and have never fallen below 58 degrees. My kind of weather!!

Since the 1990s, Kuala Lumpur has played host to many international sporting, political and cultural events including the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the Formula One Grand Prix. And this week they are hosting the third international “Women Deliver” conference with 5,000 delegates from all over the world, including me and my colleagues from the Congress. Kuala Lumpur is also home to one of the tallest twin buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers, which have become an iconic symbol of Malaysia’s futuristic development.

Malaysia is a relatively open state-oriented and newly industrialized market economy. Since independence, Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia, with GDP growing an average 6.5% for almost 50 years. The economy has traditionally been fueled by its natural resources, but is expanding in the sectors of science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism. In 2011 the GDP (PPP) was about $450 billion, the 3rd largest economy in ASEAN and 29th largest in the world. In 1991, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad outlined his ideal, called Vision 2020, in which Malaysia would become a self-sufficient industrialized nation by 2020. And several independent sources confirm that Malaysia not only has all of the right ingredients to become a developed nation, but they are also well on their way to meeting the Vision 2020 goals outlined by the government. After touring around yesterday, I cannot believe that they will not do so!

Exploring the city was wonderful, and we decided to do so using the Hop Off Hop On bus, which costs RYM 38 or about $13.00, for a two and a half hour drive around the city with 28 different stops. We decided as a group to hit some of the highlights and began our journey around 10:45 with our first stop in Kuala Lumpur (KL as the locals call it) at Petaling Street, KL’s very own Chinatown! As you might imagine, Petaling Street was a hive of sound and activities. The street seemed to be a bargain hunter’s paradise, with stall after stall of what started to seem like the same stuff….but you know what I mean! I did see Chinese herbs, food specialities, and tons of imitation goods. I understand that at night, Petaling Street transforms into a lively and vibrant night market.

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We decided to walk to two other sites, the Sri Mahamariaman Temple and Central Market. The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest and richest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. Founded in 1873, it is located at edge of Chinatown. In 1968, a new structure was built, featuring the ornate ‘Raja Gopuram’ tower. From the temple’s inception, it provided an important place of worship for early Indian immigrants and is now an important cultural and national heritage. The temple catches your eye on an otherwise crowded and busy street. It is the most elaborate Hindu temple in the country and its gate tower is adorned with ornate sculptures of Hindu deities. The floors and walls inside are marbled with Italian and Spanish tiles. Outside and all around the temple, we found multiple street stalls with hand crafted flower tributes for believers to purchase and place in the temple.

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After the temple, we continued our journey and found our next destination – The Central Market. Its an old building – built in 1928 – but it had air-conditioning, a by pleasant surprise on this warm and muggy day!

The building has won awards for its architectural design and was founded in 1888 and originally used as a wet market. It has since been classified as a Heritage Site by the Malaysian Heritage Society and it is now a landmark for Malaysian culture and heritage. Today, Central Market is arranged in a stall concept, representing the traditional market that has existed in Kuala Lumpur since the 1800s.

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After Central Market, it was back on the bus! Our next stop, Little India! Ok, this was just a drive by, but this block was a huge project unveiled by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Malaysia’s PM. Little India is an area that caters to KL’s Indian community and includes shops and stores that carry Indian specialities and goods. There’s a 35-foot fountain at the center of this part of town, an information kiosk at Jalan Thamby Abdullah and a three-story Indian bazaar at the end of Jalan Tun Sambanthan. The brick-paved Jalan Tun Sambanthan is lined with white street lamps and creamy-yellow arches with purple embellishments to match the newly painted purple buildings along the street.

Our next stop was also a drive-by…we saw the Istana Negara or National Palace. This was the official residence of His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia. It stands on a 28 acre site, located on the slope of a hill of Bukit Bintang overlooking the Klang River, along Jalan Syed Putra. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of state of Malaysia. The office was established in 1957 when the Federation of Malaya gained independence. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is one of the few elected monarchs in the world.

The 14th and current Yang di-Pertuan Agong is Sultan Abdul Halim of Kedah. His reign began on December 13, 2011 after his election by the Conference of Rulers. He previously served as the fifth Yang di-Pertuan Agong from 1970 to 1975. He is the first ruler to hold the position twice, as well as the oldest elected to the office at 83 years old. The installation of the new Yang di-Pertuan Agong was held on 11 April 2012, at the new Istana Negara at Jalan Duta. This building is now used a museum.

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We also visited the National Museum. It is a palatial structure built in the style of Minangkabau architecture. Located atop a hill on Jalan Travers, it provides an introduction to the history and culture of Malaysia.

Our next stop, Lake Gardens, is Kuala Lumpur’s first large-scale recreational park. It is located in the heart of the city and established in 1888. Lake Gardens served as place of refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city during colonial times. It contains large sculpted and manicured gardens and a host of attractions. Among the tourist attractions located here are the National Monument, deer park, Hibiscus garden, Orchid Garden, Kuala Lumpur Bird Park and Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park. Lake Gardens, we learned, is also the where the Malaysian House of Parliament is located. So, hopping off at this location was a must! The Malaysian Parliament is divided into three components: Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, Senate and House of Representatives.

We spent some time visiting the Orchid Garden, which has over 800 species of exotic Malaysian orchids. The orchid is truly exotic and special flower and i have never seen so many of them in one place at one time. Despite how beautiful this park was, everyone told us a must see was the bird park and we needed to visit that before our at ran out! Across the street from the Orchid Garden is the KL Bird Park, a fascinating and slightly uncomfortable park that puts people inside a giant aviary.

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I must admit, I felt like I was entering that scene in Jurassic Park! The KL Bird Park is a 20.9-acre public aviary in the city. It is a popular tourist attraction in the country, receiving an annual average of 200,000 visitors. The Bird Park houses more than 3000 birds representing more than 200 species in an enclosed aviary. 90% are local birds and 10% were imported from overseas. Feeding time at the Eagle enclosure was frightening when the other birds got all excited about the eagles getting lunch.

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One the way back to our hotel, we passed the Masjid Negara, the national mosque of Malaysia. It has a capacity of 15,000 people. Originally built in 1965, it is a bold and modern approach in reinforced concrete, symbolic of the aspirations of the newly-independent Malaysia.

Our last stop for the day was the Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s tallest twin buildings. A mix of offices and commercial, the towers are huge and a part of the KL skyline. As we cut through the building to get to our hotel, we saw the famous mall inside the towers.

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After a quick shower, we all ran to our dinner and briefing to discuss the week’s goals. At 9:00 pm, an extremely long, exhausting, but productive day finally came to an end!

 
 

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Thoughts from Jordan…..The Realities of Syria’s Civil War

Every human has innate survival instincts.  Every parent is protective of his or her children.  Today I witnessed something I never thought I would see, the absolute look of despair and the need to survive in the eyes of women and men in the Al Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp along the north Jordanian border near Syria.

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The human toll and suffering at the hands of another makes one wonder why the world response to the crisis of Syria is not more commanding, decisive, and united.  It is hard, no the word hard is an understatement, its unimaginable, when trying to comprehend the actions of one man and how his hold on power is so overwhelming that he cannot and will not do what is best for his people.

As families in Syria fear for their lives, that protective survival instinct kicks in, and people will do almost anything to survive.  In so many cases today in northern Jordan, I saw that.  Mothers and fathers were so desperate that they left their homes in darkness with just what they could carry to move into a tent pitched in the middle of the desert.

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Please don’t misunderstand, the country of Jordan is doing more than any one nation should be asked to do. And just eight months ago, there was only desert where 120,000 people now live in tents and temporary mobile units.  Yes, the residents have food, some security, health care, and education.  But this is no way for families and children to live.  There is overcrowding and a sense of hopelessness in many of the eyes that I gazed into.  The international response has been good, but with 2,000 refugees fleeing Syria into Jordan every night, the camp is now the 4th largest city in Jordan and by the end of this year, another 500,000 refugees are expected to cross into Jordan.

I watched new arrivals today setting up tents in the outskirts of the existing camp boundary as the planners and managers of the camp prepare for the newest influx of residents.  It’s hot and sandy in the desert, there is frustration. Life at a refugee camp is heartless, families live there with their children and are secluded, refugees are deprived of any social interaction with the surrounding community. As frustration grows, and money runs low, social norms begin to break down.  Without the proper resources, Jordan cannot provide the correct level of security and gang violence beings to invade the camp.  Burglary, vandalism, and violence against women are on the rise and trafficking is occurring.

No words can come close to properly conveying what I saw today.  But I know one thing, countless people are working hard to ensure that as many people as possible remain safe and secure.  Despite this Herculean effort on behalf of Jordan and its international partners, there appears to be no easy solution to the Syrian crisis.  A reasonable and sustainable political solution must be found to address the Syrian crisis immediately.

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Then and only then will these people be able to return home to their villages and towns  and the life they knew before coming here.  As I left the camp today, I looked out the window of the bus and thanked God for all that the world was providing to these people, prayed for resolution in Syria, and prayed that the inevitable clash of survival instincts and reality did not result in more pain and suffering for these people struggling to survive in a harsh place in a strange land.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2013 in International Affairs

 

Thoughts from Jordan – Reforming Government and Sandstorms!

Today started with visiting the Jordanian Speaker of the House and then the President of the Senate.  We had some lively discussions, generally in the Senate and mostly about the Middle East peace process.

As a result of the Arab Spring, Jordan passed a new electoral law that allowed voters to cast two ballots; one for a candidate in their constituency and one for party lists elected by proportional representation at the national level.  The Parliament in Jordan is made up of two bodies, the House and the Senate.  There are now 150 seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate has members appointed by the King and does not exceed half the number of the total Members of Parliament.  We ended our visit there by watching one if the two weekly sessions of parliament.  Absolutely fascinating compared to watching a House Session!

We also visited with the newly created Independent Election Commission, which was part of the reforms enacted and was established to oversee the election process.  It is indeed a fascinating time in Jordan.  As a matter of fact, around 70% of eligible voters registered to vote.  We met with the new director of the commission and he has a lot of work to do but learned a lot from the last election cycle.

After a great morning learning about the legislative process, we went out to visit the Jordanian International Police Training Center (JIPTC).  The center is ground zero for the transformation of US-allied security forces not only for the Kingdom of Jordan, but also for Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.  After a briefing and watching some Palestinian forces running through a training exercise, we went out to a shooting range for a demonstration.

Mother Nature had another plan and I experienced my first massive sand storm!  Check out my photo on Facebook.  It was insane, but now I can check that off my bucket list!

That’s it for now from Amman!

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in International Affairs