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  • Rival Venezuela pop concerts, the “triple nexus”, arming US aid officials: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    Civilians may still be trapped in last Islamic State pocket in Syria

    A reported 2,000 people were evacuated from so-called Islamic State’s last pocket of territory in eastern Syria this week, but the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said there may still be civilians remaining in the village of Baghouz. Once screened for membership in the extremist group, many leaving the territory are taken to al-Hol camp. The UN says 61 young children have died since December on the way there or soon after arrival. The World Health Organisation’s head in Syria told IRIN recently that the security checks were delaying urgent healthcare and that local authorities had denied a request to set up a medical waystation. The SDF denied the charges, but since then UN agencies say they have set up just such a transit site “to address the high number of child deaths”. Some people who had fled Baghouz told Human Rights Watch of hunger and being trapped under heavy shelling, air strikes, and IS threats.

     

    “One after the other”: Tropical storms swarm the Pacific

    The cyclone season has put parts of the southwestern Pacific on high alert. Cyclone Oma threatened the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu for five days, sending over 1,000 to evacuation centres. The storm later brushed New Caledonia’s coast and was due to push towards Australia. Earlier this month, the cyclone warning system in Tonga sent out repeated alerts as four separate “extreme tropical weather systems” threatened the country. Tonga escaped severe damage, but the country’s head meteorologist said facing so many in quick succession was exceptional. Storms in the Pacific islands needn’t cause headline-grabbing death tolls to leave a lasting impact; officials in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were expecting food shortages after Oma wiped out some smallholdings. Vast distances make repairs and recovery difficult. For more on preparing for Pacific disaster, see our recent story on women fighting for a seat at the table: Fiji’s storm-watchers.

     

    South Sudan rights violations may amount to war crimes

    Despite the signing of last year's peace agreement in South Sudan, ongoing violations including rape and sexual violence "may amount to international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity," according to a new UN report. Investigators with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan noted a "confirmed pattern" in the way combatants attacked and destroyed villages, plundered homes, and took women as sexual slaves. Sexual violence has worsened markedly since the commission's last update in December 2017; those targeted included children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Many sides of the conflict, including the army, national security forces, and rebel groups, were blamed for the violence, while the commission also investigated sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. South Sudan remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises: 4.5 million people are displaced, seven million are in need of aid, and nearly 60 percent of the population will face severe food insecurity this year.

    Joining up billions in development, humanitarian, and peace spending

    The “triple nexus” may sound like an ice skating move, but it’s the new orthodoxy in aid. A “recommendation” was adopted today by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD says its donor states command over $74 billion of international funding in “fragile” situations. The new Development Assistance Committee policy says long-term development, peacemaking, and emergency relief should have complementary goals and together could “avoid the occurrence of humanitarian needs”. One aid agency nexus-watcher told IRIN that after much discussion in the aid community it was a relief to see clear definitions and terminology emerge. A source familiar with the discussions said “more must be done to prevent crises and deal with structural issues and root causes, rather than leaving the humanitarian system to pick up the pieces”. The text refers six times to continued respect for humanitarian principles: critics question how humanitarian neutrality and independence sit with politically-flavoured development and peace efforts.

    In case you missed it

    Burkina Faso: More than 100,000 people have been displaced by instability and fighting in the West African country, according to the UN. Tens of thousands have fled this year, as rising militancy and attacks by armed groups affect the North, Sahel, and Eastern regions.

     

    Madagascar: More than 900 people have died since a measles epidemic began in the huge island nation in September, the WHO said. Over 68,000 cases have been documented; those most at risk are infants from nine to 11 months old.

     

    Myanmar: Restrictions on humanitarian access in Rakhine State are affecting some 95,000 people due to ongoing clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgent group, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordination arm. More than 5,500 people have been displaced since December.

     

    Refugee resettlement 2018: UNHCR says 55,692 refugees were permanently resettled in 2018. The UN refugee agency says that’s only about five percent of those they think were eligible. Despite deep cuts in its quota, the US took in more than any other nation. IRIN explored the numbers here.

     

    Yemen: UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on 19 February that the two main sides in Yemen’s war had agreed to withdraw from a small port and oil facility near the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, in a first step towards implementing a much-discussed ceasefire deal for the city.

     

     

    Weekend read

    Opinion: Why the Venezuelan opposition’s high-stakes aid gamble must pay off

    As we write this, Venezuela is top of many media headlines as a quarter of a million people are estimated to be assembling on the border, in Colombia. The presidents of Colombia and Chile are expected – and maybe even Richard Branson. He is backing the concert they’re all there to see, Venezuela Aid Live. The event’s sponsors say it will raise $100 million to help the millions of Venezuelans living with shortages of, well, nearly everything. Branson even suggests that the performance could help persuade Venezuela’s military to defy orders and open the border – sealed tight by President Nicolás Maduro – to aid shipments; shipments that opposition leader Juan Guaidó is inviting. Meanwhile, on the Venezuelan side of the border, Maduro is hosting his own benefit concerts on Friday and Saturday. What’s a humanitarian to make of all this? Analyst and columnist Francisco Toro offers a reality check in his essay on what he calls the “increasingly blatant politicisation of aid”. $100 million for food and medicine, for instance, “is completely out of proportion” with the scale of need in Venezuela. And if you’re concerned about the politicisation of aid, you might like to check out this from The Guardian, on the politicisation of, um, bread.

    And finally

    US-armed donor proposal stirs alarm

    A new type of US government aid official could be embedded with US intelligence or military forces in insecure hotspots to work on certain tactical projects. They would be “super enablers”, according to a proposal developed by consultants hired by USAID. The proposed two-person Rapid Expeditionary Development (RED) teams would be physically fit, armed, and able to deploy where USAID can’t send civilians. The proposals met with some support in the US military and intelligence communities, and mixed views from within USAID, the 75-page report said. The concept, first reported by Devex, has been met with dismay by some in the humanitarian Twittersphere, earning reactions such as “wannabe SEALS” and “incredibly unwise”. Also, it’s been met with a humanitarian principles meme (a Ranger tab is a badge indicating completion of a very tough two-month US Army training course):

    (TOP PHOTO: Some of those fleeing besieged IS territory in Syria. CREDIT: Constantin Gouvy/IRIN)

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    Rival Venezuela pop concerts, the “triple nexus”, arming US aid officials
  • Madagascar measles, Venezuela aid, and a dodgy data deal: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    MSF rejects claims it didn’t follow plans to avoid Yemen bombing

    An investigation into the bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières cholera treatment centre in Yemen in June 2018 has “dismayed” the NGO. A panel appointed by the Saudi Arabia-led alliance found that the new and still-empty building had been bombed by the coalition in “an unintended error”. The investigators, however, disputed details of how the location’s coordinates were supplied to Riyadh and whether there were markings on the roof of the building identifying it as a humanitarian site. At a Riyadh press conference in mid-January, the official spokesman for the investigators said the coalition was acting on intelligence the building was used for arms and ammunition storage. MSF said the findings were “unacceptable and contradictory”, noting that under international law, “It is the sole responsibility of armed parties to the conflict to proactively take all necessary measures to ensure that protected facilities are not attacked.” For more on notifications and coordinates, read our IRIN explainer on “deconfliction”.

    Measles kills more than 300 in Madagascar

    Madagascar is suffering its worst measles outbreak in decades. More than 50,000 people have been infected and at least 300 killed, most of them children, according to health officials. Cases have been reported in all major towns and cities, as well as in rural areas. Supported by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, the government has initiated fresh vaccination campaigns. Deaths from measles are avoidable if such campaigns are thorough enough. The virus gained ground in Madagascar as immunisation rates fell below 50 percent (from the recommended 90 percent), mostly due to access difficulties. This IRIN story from the archives is evidence that this is not a new problem: health experts were expressing concerns about falling rates (then from 81 percent to 64 percent) as far back as 2011. Although worst hit, Madagascar is not alone in having to tackle the virus. Measles has also struck parts of the United States and Europe, where cases tripled last year. Health authorities in the Philippines are also urging immunisations following an outbreak in Manila and nearby regions that has left 1,500 people infected and caused at least 25 deaths.

    Atrocities feared amid rising militancy in Burkina Faso

    Attacks and counter-attacks between militants and security forces in Burkina Faso are taking a heavy toll on civilians. This week, jihadists attacked the northern village of Kain near the Malian border, killing 14 people. Security forces retaliated, launching ground and air assaults that left 146 militants dead. Soon after, another attack in Oursi in the Sahel Region left 21 militants and five gendarmes dead. Human Rights Watch has called out atrocities on both sides, saying the army "executed" some suspected militants in front of their own families. The UN says persistent armed attacks and violence displaced 36,000 people in January alone, as insecurity risks impeded access to aid. For three years, Burkina Faso has been battling an escalating wave of attacks, while regional Sahel neighbours Mali and Niger face similar threats. Rising militancy across Africa is a trend we’re  watching in 2019.

    Aid stuck on Venezuela border

    As a former Venezuelan diplomat now working with the opposition as a go-between with international aid groups in Geneva told IRIN  this week, the current situation is “something that doesn’t make any sense”. The Venezuelan people are desperately short of food and medicine, some three to four million people have fled the country since 2015, and their president, Nicolás Maduro, is refusing to allow humanitarian aid in. That’s not to say the offers of assistance, from the United States in particular, might not be something of a Trojan Horse. Maduro says, “no one will enter, not one invading soldier”, and the United States has a chequered past of military intervention and regime change in Latin America. For now, the aid arriving in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta is going nowhere. Maduro’s forces have blocked the bridge into Venezuela and seem to have no intention of allowing it in. Opposition leader and self-declared president-in-waiting Juan Guaidó has suggested stockpiling it in three locations at the border in the hope this will change. More from on this unfolding story next week.

    Mixed picture in South Sudan as refugees return

    Political violence has “dropped dramatically" since the signing of September's peace deal, David Shearer, the UN envoy in South Sudan, said in the same week that nine people were killed in clashes between rebel factions in the Western Equatoria region. More than 20,000 South Sudanese refugees have so far voluntarily returned from neighbouring Uganda, according to Joel Boutroue, the UN refugee agency's representative in Uganda. However, in December, UNHCR said that despite reduced violence in some areas, South Sudan was not yet "conducive” for the safe return of refugees. Although Shearer praised some of the "positive" developments in recent months, including rebel leader Riek Machar's plan to return to Juba in May, he also flagged concerns about ongoing conflict and a loss of momentum in the peace process, with recent meetings reportedly lacking substance or real outcomes.

    One to listen to:

    In this week’s story on Yemen’s shaky ceasefire deal, we mentioned that Yemeni rights watchdog Mwatana for Human Rights had documented 624 civilian cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture in 2018. Here’s your chance to find out more about where that number came from: Radya al-Mutawakel, the organisation’s co-founder, is interviewed at length on the latest episode of the International Rescue Committee’s podcast, “Displaced”. She talks about the challenges of independently verifying information on human rights violations in the midst of a divisive war, including airstrikes, torture, disappearances, and detention, and explains why she thinks it is important to build what she calls a “human rights memory” in Yemen. Al-Mutawakel and Mwatana’s latest challenge? Figuring out how to document starvation as a  violation, as the link between victim and perpetrator is not always clear cut.

    In case you missed it

    Ethiopia: In 2009, Ethiopia banned local NGOs from raising more than 10 percent of income from abroad. The provision in the law governing civil society was criticised as a means to stifle dissent. Local media report that new rules lifting the limit have passed the Ethiopian parliament this week, part of wide-ranging reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

     

    Syria: A joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy arrived on Thursday at Rukban, an informal camp located in a no man’s land near the Syria-Jordan border. The last delivery of aid to more than 40,000 people sheltering in the area known as “the berm” was in November.

     

    Tonga: Authorities in the Pacific Island nation are warning of gale-force winds, floods, and damaging waves as a tropical depression brushes past the country over the weekend. Last year, Cyclone Gita landed a direct hit on parts of Tonga, including its main island, Tongatapu.

     

    Yemen: This week’s Amman talks on a Yemen prisoner swap have not yet resulted in agreement on the lists of names to be exchanged, but a UN spokesman said separate talks on a UN boat had yielded a “preliminary compromise” on withdrawing forces from Hodeidah. For background, read this.

     

    Weekend read

    New UN deal with data mining firm Palantir raises protection concerns

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll be aware of our weekend read: CIA-funded data-mining company Palantir signs a $45 million five-year deal to help the UN’s World Food Programme pool its data and find cost-saving efficiencies. To say data privacy and protection activists are unamused is an understatement: this is a company that provided software to US customs officials to help them deport migrants. “The recipients of WFP aid are already in extremely vulnerable situations; they should not be put at additional risk of harm or exploitation,” Privacy International told IRIN’s Ben Parker. But WFP insists there will be no “data-sharing”, and hit back with a statement outlining its thinking and the safeguards it feels are in place. This wasn’t enough, however, to assuage critics, who penned an open letter to WFP urging them to reconsider the agreement and be more transparent. As Centre for Innovation protection experts suggest here, this isn’t a new conundrum, and the Palantir furore might jolt the humanitarian sector into some belated engagement on data privacy and protection concerns.

     

    And finally...

    Hot in here

    The last four years have been the four warmest years on record, according to separate analyses released this week by organisations including NASA and the WMO, the UN’s meteorological agency. Analysts say it’s a “clear sign” of long-term climate change, along with “extreme and high-impact weather” that affected millions. The WMO says the average global temperature in 2018 was 1.0° Celsius above pre-industrial levels – climate scientists say temperature rise must be limited to less than 2.0° to stave off the worst impacts.

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    Madagascar measles, Venezuela aid, and a dodgy data deal
  • In eastern Burkina Faso, local grievances help militancy take root

    It is part of one of the most important nature reserves in West Africa, home to endangered lions, cheetahs, and elephants, attracting tourists from around the world. But in the forests of eastern Burkina Faso – a landlocked former French colony of roughly 17 million people – a new type of visitor can now be found: Islamist militants.

     

    The militants, whose affiliation remains unclear, are gaining ground by tapping into long-standing social grievances linked to poverty, poor social services, and the conservation of protected parks, local analysts and officials say.

     

    Since early last year, they have launched a string of deadly attacks on government officials, soldiers, and residents, turning the sparsely populated eastern region into the latest front of Burkina Faso’s three-year struggle against violent extremists.

     

    These attacks mark a significant geographical shift for militants operating in Burkina Faso, who were until recently limited to the country’s arid north, close to the border with Mali. This has left states that border the eastern region – Togo, Benin and Ghana, all on West Africa’s coastline – fearing they might be the next targets of a similar militant insurgency.

     

    With two battlefronts now open, the number of violent attacks in Burkina Faso is rising fast. Earlier this month ethnic clashes triggered by militant incursions in the north left at least 46 dead, while an ambush on government forces in late December killed 10 gendarmerie and injured three others, according to Burkina Faso’s security ministry. Last week, authorities extended the state of emergency imposed after the attack for another six months.

     

    In just 12 months, the number of people fleeing their homes – mostly in the north – has risen from 9,000 to more than 50,000. As medical workers abandon their posts, around 100,000 people have been left without access to healthcare facilities, while 96,000 children lack formal education following threats and attacks on schools.

     

    In 2019 the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, estimates that 1.2 million people will be in need of emergency assistance.

     

    “The country has never experienced what it is going through now,” said Metsi Makhetha, the top UN official in Burkina Faso.

     

    Local grievances

     

    Much of the eastern area falls within the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) ecological complex, a series of protected parks spanning Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger, parts of which are listed by international agencies and conventions including UNESCO and Ramsar.

    “They offer people dignity, economic opportunity, and land. They offer them back what the state has taken.”

    The protection of these spaces has led to conflicts over public access to land and mining sites, while new boundaries for pastoral zones for grazing animals has resulted in some residents being forcibly evicted from their villages. These are the kinds of grievances the militants have been quick to seize upon.

     

    “They offer people dignity, economic opportunity, and land,” said independent Burkinabe researcher Mahamoudou Savadogo. “They offer them back what the state has taken.”

     

    Mining sites, hunting concessions, tourism, and cotton production contribute substantial amounts to the national economy, but locals rarely benefit, Savadogo said.

     

    “It is a rich region, but people are very poor.”

     

    The militants also feed into wider national and regional dynamics. Burkina Faso is among a number of countries in the Sahel, including Mali and Niger, that are witnessing an alarming increase in violent extremism that is destabilising the region.

     

    In Burkina Faso, the extremists have found a country with a security apparatus weakened by the fall of Blaise Compaoré, who ruled the country for 27 years before a popular revolution sent him packing in 2014. It has been weakened further by the dissolution of Compaoré’s elite army unit, the Regiment of Presidential Security, or RSP.

     

    Hundreds of attacks have since been recorded, including major assaults on the capital, Ouagadougou, while a homegrown Burkinabe Islamist group known as Ansaroul Islam – which has close links to militants in Mali – has emerged in the country’s northern Soum province.

     

    Ansaroul Islam are now among the groups thought to be involved in the violence in the east, as are Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), armed bandits, and young local men radicalised while studying at Islamic schools in Mali. In hushed voices some government officials even suspect the long arm of Compaoré and his dissolved, disgruntled RSP troops.

     

    “All analyses are plausible,” said Ousmane Traoré, the governor of the eastern region.

    Civilians targeted

     

    While the militants have found common interests with some local residents in the east, the cost has been high for many others. In recent months dozens of troops have died in roadside bombs and ambushes, while a growing number of civilians are also being targeted.

     

    “They take root, then they show their true colours,” said a local official from one of the east’s most conflict-affected towns, who like many people interviewed by IRIN did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

     

    School teachers, in particular, are in the firing line. Just 150 kilometres to the east of Fada N’gourma, in the commune of Kantchari, schools are closed and students are idle.

     

    In late November, militants forced the administrator of the largest primary school in town to round up the French language textbooks and set them on fire. A classroom and office burnt down in the blaze; the nearby schools closed down in fear.

    “Every day I am afraid of what might happen to my parents.”

    Only a fortunate few students have been able to relocate to safer areas like Fada N’gourma. But even in safety, life is challenging. A rail-thin 15-year-old girl with a deep cough said she is living alone in Fada N’gourma with her younger sister – only the generosity of her teachers ensuring she is properly fed.

     

    She was recently moved down a school year because there was no space left in her own age group and spends her days paralysed by fear of what is going on back in her village. “Every day I am afraid of what might happen to my parents,” said the girl.

    As state officials flee the east, the government’s already limited capacity to help those in need is dwindling. In September, a landslide at a militant-controlled gold mine in the eastern town of Kabonga left between 50 to 100 people dead. Nobody knows the precise number because the state was unable to launch a rescue mission.

     

    A 35-year-old farmer on his first ever trip to the mine “had hoped to be blessed by God and find gold”, according to his younger cousin. Instead, he was buried alive – “immediately and brutally” – leaving behind a young wife and two small children with little means of support.

     

    “It is heartbreaking,” the cousin said.

     

    ‘They have hurt us so much’

     

    While the humanitarian toll of the violence in the east remains relatively low level, signs of what might come can be found in the Soum province of northern Burkina Faso, where clashes between militants and the army have caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in the past few months.

     

    It is here that Ansaroul Islam first set up base in late 2016 using a similar strategy of tapping into social grievances, and it is here where they continue to gain strength despite recent military operations against them.

     

    A 59-year-old farmer from Belede, a small village in Soum, said Ansaroul Islam militants spent two years harassing his neighbours for money and information on the whereabouts of local authority figures. When the villagers finally stopped cooperating, the militants grew angry. One day, three months ago, they rounded up locals at the market and told them to leave.

     

    “They said: ‘if we come back and find you here, you won't escape’,” the farmer recalled from a flyblown cafe in Kongoussi, 90 kilometres south of Soum. “When somebody tells you this, you do what they say.”

     

    Among the displaced are many who have fled abuses by the Burkinabe armed forces. They have engaged in killings and arbitrary detention during counterterrorism operations, according to Human Rights Watch.

     

    Most at risk are members of Soum’s majority Fulani ethnic group, who are targeted for recruitment by the militants and are stigmatised by security forces. One Fulani teacher who shares his surname – Dicko – with the founder of Ansaroul Islam, said four members of his family (all Dickos) were loaded onto the back of a military pickup truck near the village of Damba roughly a year ago, driven into the bush, and executed.

     

    “If you are a Fulani and a Dicko you are in trouble,” said the teacher.

     

    For months, humanitarians said the displaced in Soum did not want to register for aid because they were so afraid the militants would accuse them of speaking with “outsiders”. But as healthcare centres and schools closed and agricultural activities became harder to perform, many are left with few options.

    The farmer from Belede said 18 members of his family now share a small rented house in Djibo, the provincial capital of Soum, one mattress and one mosquito net between them. As his savings dwindle, evening meals have become increasingly rare.

     

    “We need to act,” said Makhetha, the UN official, “and act urgently”.

     

    Military operations

     

    In the east, as in the north, the government's response has been to launch military operations. They have been supported by French troops from a 3,000-strong counterterrorism force in the Sahel called Operation Barkhane, on its first mission in Burkina Faso.

     

    But analysts say military force is unlikely to address the local grievances militants in the east are tapping into. Instead, they fear it will create a cycle of killings, distrust, and displacement – a cycle some feel has already begun.

     

    In December, a young homeless boy was found strangled to death outside the house of a local preacher in Namoungou, a village close to Fada N'gourma. Many say he was killed by militants after startling them with the light of a torch during an early morning operation. Others say he was killed by the army who mistook him for a militant.

     

    Whatever the truth, one local teacher said the sound of an approaching motorbike – the militants’ preferred mode of transport – is now enough to make the few students still in class freeze in terror.

     

    “Shocked,” said the teacher. “Everybody here is shocked.”

     

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    “The country has never experienced what it is going through now”
    In eastern Burkina Faso, local grievances help militancy take root
  • 2018 in Review: Local aid

    This series

    In this week-long series, IRIN’s editors highlight five themes from across our reporting that will continue to inform our coverage of the humanitarian sector in the new year: local aid; women and girls; returns and rebuilding; policy and practice; and migration. Are there untold stories we should be covering in 2019 on these or other themes? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here. Happy reading.

    The aid sector has made broad commitments to “localise” aid by shifting more power and funding to humanitarians on the ground where crises hit. But change has been slow, and the costs of delivering aid in emergencies continue to soar.

     

    In sprawling refugee camps and ravaged disaster zones, however, local aid workers are already on the front lines of the world’s most pressing crises, as our 2018 reporting on local aid in emergencies demonstrated.

     

    Below are highlights from our reporting, which will continue to explore how these local humanitarians – from grassroots NGOs and community leaders to local governments and everyday citizens – step in to respond, and to examine how this shift impacts the wider aid sector.

     

    Aid sector imbalances

    From evacuee to humanitarian: aid goes local in conflict-torn Marawi

     

    Local humanitarians rushed to respond when fierce urban warfare and martial law turned the Philippine city of Marawi into a no-go zone for most international aid groups last year. But they also put themselves at immense risk, foregoing basic protections that international staff would demand – exposing imbalances in the aid sector.

    A woman with an umbrella stands on rubble as light breaks through

     

    Stepping in

    In the Caribbean, local aid helps tackle a surge in Venezuelan asylum seekers

     

    Venezuelans continue to flee their country, and the region is struggling to absorb the influx. In small Caribbean nations like Trinidad and Tobago – home to an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans – local aid groups are some of the only agencies helping the growing number of asylum seekers.

    closeup of a people in jeans as they sit waiting

     

    Agile response

    In Burkina Faso, a local drive to educate children fleeing extremist violence

    In 2018, jihadist attacks forced hundreds of schools to close in Burkina Faso’s north. One school in the capital, Ouagadougou, adapted to the emergency by taking in and providing psychological support to children displaced by the violence.

    Twins look directly at the camera in front of a chalkboard

     

    ‘Informal humanitarians’

    Behind Indonesia’s tsunami response, a patchwork army of volunteers

     

    Everyday volunteers are playing a crucial role in the ongoing response to the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province in 2018. These “informal humanitarians” were first on the ground, while official aid was hampered by damaged infrastructure and red tape. However, the effort was also “spontaneous and disorganised”, as one volunteer told IRIN.

    A woman with a headscarf and sunglasses on a boat carrying a box of aid on her lap

     

    Aid at home

    First person: Bringing aid to my neighbours in Hodeidah just got harder

     

    “The days are long, the dangers many, and the obstacles to aid workers’ jobs in Hodeidah never seem to end,” a local aid worker wrote in his on-the-ground account of the mounting challenges in Yemen’s Red Sea port.

    A family sits on the floor inside and looks up at the camera

     

    Slow-going reforms

    In Bangladesh, a Rohingya strike highlights growing refugee activism

     

    For proponents of the “localisation” agenda, the response to the Rohingya refugee emergency in Bangladesh is evidence of just how slow reforms have been: local aid groups say they’ve been pushed aside while dozens of big international agencies have flooded into the camps. But the voices of Rohingya refugees themselves have also been conspicuously absent.

    Three adult men in a white have a discussion inside a temporary structure

     


     

    Read more of our local aid coverage here. In 2019 we’ll deepen our reporting on local aid, spotlighting the new humanitarians on the front lines of crises around the globe, tracking progress toward “localisation” and examining the implications of this continuing shift. Any stories we should be covering? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here.

    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Local aid
  • In Burkina Faso, a local drive to educate children fleeing extremist violence

    When nine-year-old twins Jan and Jannick started their new school term at the beginning of October, they admitted that for the first time in years they weren’t scared to attend class.

     

    Months earlier, the family escaped Oursi – a Burkinabé town in the restive Sahel region – after the twins’ former school closed due to fighting and extremist attacks. The boys are among the lucky ones, able to continue their education safely 400 kilometres away in the capital, Ouagadougou, at a school started by a local couple.

     

    “Our parents decided to leave because of the jihadists,” says Jan, wearing a green uniform and sitting outside his new classroom. “We heard gunshots often at school. When fighting started, classes would stop.”

     

    “I was afraid when we left,” his brother Jannick says, remembering the day they fled Oursi. “We sat in a crowded bus with all of our luggage. There were jihadists in our town. They killed one of the teachers and kidnapped people.”

     

    Violence has been on the rise in Burkina Faso: from armed attacks by jihadists on villages, roadside bombs, kidnappings, and, earlier this year, targeted attacks on the army headquarters and the French embassy in the capital. The fighting has displaced almost 40,000 people, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, with an additional 7,000 fleeing across the border to Mali.

     

    Before they left Oursi, life was a daily struggle for the twins: their parents – a teacher and a businessman – both battled to earn an income or keep their jobs; and with frequent gunfire, more schools closed, officially putting their education on hold.

     

    Their former primary school is one of 473 (55 percent of the total) in the country’s Northern and Sahel regions forced to close because of this year’s violence, according to OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body. Some 65,000 pupils and more than 2,000 teachers were driven from schools in the northern borderlands, it said.

     

    Today the twins are safe at CEFISE, the centre for integrated education and training of the deaf and hearing, a local initiative committed to providing for the needs of all children, including those with disabilities and those like Jan and Jannick who fled armed conflict.

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    A teacher and a student in front of a chalk board
    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN

    But teachers say the boys, like other classmates, are still traumatised by their experiences.

     

    “Displacement affects children’s learning. Many are afraid and recall attacks,” explains Elie Bagbila, country director of Light for the World, a non-profit supporting CEFISE and helping children with disabilities. “At the same time, they have to get used to a new school and new teacher.”

     

    CEFISE has an annual tuition fee of roughly $300, but the school says education should be accessible to all, and fees are often reduced or covered by the school’s partners.

     

    While many other schools offer free education, they often lack resources, especially when it comes to helping disabled children or those who may have additional needs due to psychological trauma.

     

    Home-grown help

     

    “Children need to find a welcoming environment, otherwise they will never feel safe again,” Thérèse Kafando, CEFISE’s co-founder and director, tells IRIN.

     

    Together with her late husband, the couple started the institution 30 years ago, when, according to Kadando, “nobody saw the need for inclusive education” for the disabled or those suffering mental health problems.

    Even today, she says, there aren’t many schools like CEFISE; but the initiative is expanding. While a particular focus is put on children living with disabilities, the school’s unique curriculum – including on-site psychologists – makes it an open and welcoming environment for children who had to flee conflict.

     

    ☰ Read more: Why the aid sector wants to go local

     

    The global humanitarian system is overstretched. In 2017, the UN asked for a record $22.2 billion to cover 33 emergencies around the world. But the funding gap continues to widen as the price tag soars.

     

    What is local aid?

     

    The global aid sector has broadly committed to an agenda to “localise” aid – putting more power in the hands of locals working on the ground where emergencies hit.

     

    Why local aid?

     

    The aim of of the “localisation” agenda is to improve humanitarian response by making it faster, less costly, and more in tune with the needs of the tens of millions of people who receive humanitarian aid each year. Local aid workers are closer to the ground, they have local knowledge and skills, they can often access areas that international aid groups can’t reach, and they know the needs of their own communities.

     

    Who are local aid workers?

     

    Local humanitarian aid includes a broad spectrum of potential on-the-ground responders to crises and disasters: local NGOs, civil society groups and leaders, indigenous peoples, local governments, faith groups, as well as people who are themselves affected by crises, including displaced people and the everyday volunteers working to help their own communities.

     

     

    Sitting in her office, she is surrounded by awards and medals that student groups have won over the years. While she can’t put a number to exactly how many of her students fled conflict, she says that numbers are growing due to the recent uptick in violence. A total of over 4,000 students, more than 500 with disabilities, both from the capital and beyond, currently attend classes here.

     

    Initial funding for CEFISE first came out of Kafando’s own pocket. “I really believed in the concept and at first, we had to prove ourselves,” she says. “Today we receive some government support as well as training and funds from Light for the World, an organisation that works on inclusive education.”

     

    However, aid workers and organisations like Light for the World face their own challenges in Burkina Faso, including providing emergency education and serving the needs of disabled children in areas of conflict; increasingly difficult in the country’s Sahel region.

     

    “Our community-based rehabilitation workers, who visit remote villages to ensure that children with disabilities are cared for and receive an education, haven’t been able to access the northern regions they usually work in,” Bagbila explains. This is largely due to weighing risks and making sure that both beneficiaries and aid workers can be kept safe.

    e21b9388_edit.jpg

    Portrait of a woman
    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN

    “There are no easy solutions and children are especially affected in this conflict. They need to be in a place where they can access services,” he says.

     

    Schools under threat

     

    Burkina Faso is on the front lines of jihadism in the Sahel region and the situation continues to deteriorate. While the government tries to weaken the power of Islamist groups in the north, many people say they feel unsupported by a state that has weaker security forces than other West African nations.

     

    Providing education in this environment has been tough.

     

    Attacks or threats against schools have increased fear among the local population, especially teachers, UNICEF said in July. Violence and displacement have surged, and more than half  of those registered as internally displaced are children, according to OCHA.

     

    Children who haven’t fled as far as Ouagadougou often attend “safe schools”, either set up in IDP camps or in other areas were people have settled. The government has organised special remedial sessions for children who have missed exams due to conflict – most of these happening in the camps – but needs are growing too fast to be adequately met.

     

    Against this backdrop, initiatives like CEFISE in the relative safety of the capital continue to draw students, especially from the restive areas. While Ouagadougou has experienced violence, the larger military and UN presence arguably make it harder for armed groups to launch attacks there.

     

    In the Sahel region, families with disabled children face additional hardships. As one of the least urbanised countries in the world, Burkina Faso boasts high levels of poverty, and outside the cities jihadists target the most vulnerable.

     

    The government of Burkina Faso signed a law on the promotion and protection of persons with disabilities in 2010 but admits that most of the work is left to NGOs or local initiatives such as CEFISE.

     

    “Even with 20 percent of the national budget allocated for education, the government has little capacity and is overwhelmed when it comes to working with children with disabilities,” says Rasmata Ouédraogo, director for the promotion of inclusive education at the ministry of education.

    A shy 13-year-old girl with braided hair and wearing a summer dress, and who prefers not to be named, tells IRIN how she came to CEFISE a few years ago and now stays with distant relatives while her parents live in a camp in the north.

     

    Born deaf, she originally didn't attend school, but when the conflict intensified at home, her parents sent her to Ouagadougou. “Back home, I was scared because it wasn’t safe and I wasn’t able to hear anything,” she explains in sign language.

     

    Jan and Jannick recall struggles that children with disabilities face in their hometown Oursi, including fear, neglect, stigmatisation and ridicule.

    “There was a deaf boy and whenever we had to run away [from the fighting], he didn’t know what to do. It was more dangerous for him,” says Jan.

     

    For vulnerable children, and for those who have escaped conflict like Jan and Jannick, CEFISE has become a better alternative. Here, those needing psychological support have found care and a safe place to study alongside children living with physical as well as mental disabilities.

     

    But the twins still remember the other children in Oursi who have not been as lucky.

     

    Talking about his deaf friend back home, Jan says: “I think about him sometimes. It would be good for him if he was here too.”

     

    “I don’t think he is in school now,” he adds. “I don’t think most of my friends are in school.”

     

    sg/si/ag

    Hundreds of schools have been forced to close in the north as jihadist attacks spread
    In Burkina Faso, a local drive to educate children fleeing extremist violence
  • Shifting relationships, growing threats: Who’s who of insurgent groups in the Sahel

    In the six years since a separatist rebellion broke out in northern Mali in January 2012, armed groups in West Africa’s Sahel region have grown considerably in both number and the complexity of their ever-evolving relationships with one another.

    Some of Mali’s armed groups signed a peace accord in 2015. But implementation of its provisions has been very slow, while insecurity - especially in the central region - continues to deteriorate with the emergence of new jihadist elements, which are also active near the borders in Burkina Faso and Niger.

    Meanwhile, in Nigeria and some of its neighbouring states, Boko Haram is still causing havoc almost a decade after it started its insurgency.

    Here’s a brief overview of the key non-state armed actors in the region:

    Signatories to Mali’s 2015 peace accord

     

    These comprise two opposing camps:

    Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (The Coordination of Azawad Movements, or CMA)

    A loose coalition of former rebel movements with shared interests, such as self-determination (full independence is no longer on their official agenda). Azawad was the name given to the short-lived and unrecognised state in northern Mali in 2012 by the separatist Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA). The CMA also includes the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA), and the Haut Comité pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA).

     

    La Plateforme des groupes armées (The Platform of Armed Groups)

    This is a diverse range of nominally pro-government groups, which purport to defend Mali’s territorial sovereignty and sometimes fight alongside the regular army. They also have their own individual interests.

    The Platform comprises the Groupe d’autodéfense touareg Imrad et alliés (Tuareg Imrad Self-defence Group and its Allies, or GATIA), a branch of the MAA, and the Coordination des mouvements et Front patriotique de résistance (Coordination of Movements and Patriotic Resistance Front, or CM-FPR).

    Since the peace accord was signed, clashes have frequently broken out between the two camps, delaying the deal’s implementation, worsening the plight of civilians, and playing into the hands of jihadist groups.

    In 2016, CMA and Platform members were implicated in 174 cases of abuses against civilians, and a further 72 in the first quarter of 2017, according to the human rights division of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

    Tensions eased somewhat between two camps after they signed a ceasefire in September 2017.

    Non-signatories and dissidents

    Former rebels unhappy with the way in which the CMA is handling the peace process, especially its emphasis on the Kidal region and the Ifoghas confederation of Tuareg clans, have formed several new entities based on geography and community.

    Congrès pour la Justice de l’Azawad (Congress for Azawad Justice, or CJA) in the Timbuktu region

    Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad (Movement for Azawad Salvation, or MSA) in the Menaka region

    Branche dissidente de la CM-MPR (Dissident wing of the CM-MPR)

     

    The exclusion of these new groups from some mechanisms of the peace process, despite their military strength and the portion of the population they represent, calls into question its relevance, given that the context it was signed in has since changed so significantly.

    In early February 2018, GATIA said it was impossible for the terms of the peace accord to solve Mali’s crisis in its current form, and called for inclusive dialogue on all of the deal’s shortcomings.

     

    Jihadist and related groups

     

    Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam wal-Mouslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM or GNIM).

     

    In March 2017, the main jihadist groups in the Sahel – Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun, and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – announced they had formed an alliance under the banner of this new entity.

     

    JNIM bills itself as the official branch of al-Qaeda in Mali. As such, it consolidates that group’s presence in the Sahel and puts Sahel players, especially Ansar Dine, firmly on the global jihadist map. Since the alliance was formed, “terrorist groups [in Mali] appear to have improved their operational capacity and expanded their area of operations [leading to] an increase in the number of casualties owing to terrorist attacks,” UN Secretary General António Guterres wrote in his latest update to the Security Council on 26 December.

     

    Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

     

    Ten years after its inception as an offshoot of the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat – GSPC), which itself emerged from Algeria’s Groupe Islamique Armé, AQIM has increasingly made its presence felt, especially in some areas around Timbuktu and the far north of the country, where the leaders of some of its cells have spent years forming alliances with the local population.

    “The aim of building these bridges is to make it so that our Mujahedeen are no longer isolated in society, and to integrate with the different factions, including the big tribes and the main rebel movement and tribal chiefs,” AQIM leader Abdel Malek Droukdel wrote in a document discovered after the jihadists were chased out of Timbuktu by French troops in 2013.

    The scarcity of foreigners in northern Mali these days has reduced AQIM’s income from kidnap-for-ransom, but the lawless region continues to offer rich pickings from all sorts of trafficking, including of people and narcotics.

     

    Ansar Dine

     

    In the past, Mali’s Tuaregs were seen as a bulwark against AQIM and Islamic extremism in the north. Founded in 2012, Ansar Dine is proof that those days are over. Its leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, was a key a player in the Tuareg rebellions of the 1990s but has since been radicalised, and his group took the helm of JNIM in 2017.

     

    Even though Ansar Dine has caused an increasing number of civilian casualties in its offensives, a “conference of national understanding” held last year recommended that negotiations be held with Iyad Ag Ghali (and other Islamists), but no such talks have yet taken place. For its part, France has ruled out any such discussions with “terrorists”, and its regional Operation Barkhane attacked an Ansar Dine base in mid-February, killing a close associate of the group’s leader.

     

    Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS, or French EIGS)

     

    ISGS was formed in 2015 by the spokesman for the now-defunct Mouvement pour l'unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO) and the following year gained recognition from the self-styled Islamic State group as its official branch in the Sahel.

    The group is active in the region where the borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso meet. It has fought international forces and some local armed groups. It gained considerable publicity with its October 2017 attack on a unit of US and Nigerien special forces in which five Nigeriens and four Americans were killed.

     

    Boko Haram

     

    Founded in northern Nigeria in 2002, Boko Haram (full name: Jamā'at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da'wah wa'l-Jihād – Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad) developed into a violent insurgency in 2009. As well as Nigeria, Boko Haram also operates in northern Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. The insurgency has claimed at least 25,000 lives and forced more than 2.5 million people from their homes.

     

    Although the Nigerian army has dislodged Boko Haram from much of the territory it claimed as a caliphate in 2014, the group continues to launch attacks against civilians, government officials and troops.

     

    In 2015, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the head of so-called Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But a year later, IS named Abu Musab al-Barnawi – son of Boko Haram founder Mohamed Yusuf – as the leader of its “West Africa province”. Al-Barnawi has been critical of Shekau’s position, that only Boko Haram followers are true Muslims, thereby legitimising attacks on civilians. The split led to fighting between the two factions. Boko Haram has also been weakened by the food crisis in the northeast that it helped generate, but it remains far from defeated, despite recent military offensives on its strongholds in the Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest regions.

     

    To read IRIN’s extensive coverage of Boko Haram see our in-depths here and here.

     

    Ansarul Islam (Defenders of Islam)

     

    This Burkina Faso-based umbrella group of jihadist fighters came to prominence in December 2016, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a military base in northeastern Soum Province that killed 12 members of a counter-terrorism unit. Since then the group has been implicated in – or itself asserted responsibility for – dozens of attacks on civilians or state and military personnel. Ansarul Islam leader Ibrahim Dicko is said to have previously fought in the ranks of a jihadist group in neighbouring Mali, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (see above).Despite its name, the group “is as much a social uprising as it is a religious movement,” according to a recent International Crisis Group report on Burkina Faso.

    Blurred lines

    As well as hardcore jihadism, the ingredients of this region’s conflict dynamics also include long-standing and often violent rivalries, trafficking, and self-defence activities. Jihadist groups such as ISGS include in their ranks numerous members of Niger’s Fulani community, which has long been in conflict with Tuaregs in Mali.

    “Jihadist violence often intertwines with local intercommunal tensions related to competition over natural resources and trafficking, making it difficult to distinguish the real nature and motives of many incidents,” the International Crisis Group wrote after the October Niger attack.

    The rivalry between IS and Al-Qaeda seen elsewhere in the world seems to be absent in the Sahel, where, according to the UN secretary-general’s report, JNIM and ISGS are reported to be “operating in parallel and possibly cooperating”.

    Moreover, the lines between former separatist insurgents and jihadist groups are also blurred. Late last year, the then head of the Mali contingent of France’s regional Barhkane intervention force spoke of the “collusion” between some members of groups that signed the 2015 peace accord and “armed terrorist groups”.

    After France’s military Operation Serval dislodged jihadist groups from northern towns in Mali, many of the groups’ members re-emerged in new guises: some from Ansar Dine joined the nascent HCUA, which is now an important player in the CMA coalition. Some MUJAO members are now among the ranks of the “loyalist” wing of the MAA.

    The blurring of supposedly separate groups of non-state actors takes on added importance when you consider the aid France gave the MNLA to help in the fight against jihadist groups.

    Nevertheless, deadly animosity prevails, and former rebels are paying the price for entering into the peace process – many have been assassinated. On 18 January 2017, dozens of people were killed in a suicide attack – claimed by al-Mourabitoun – in the central town of Gao. The attack took place inside a camp housing both government soldiers and members of signatory armed groups working together under the Operational Coordination Mechanism created by the peace accord.

    See our guide to the international players of counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel

    fo/am/oa/ag

     

     

    A who’s who of insurgent groups in the Sahel
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe’s migration front line

    Speed, endurance, dexterity and an eye for colour: just some of the skills needed when weaving on a loom. Eveline Ouédraogo masters them all. Without visible effort, this Burkinabé woman rapidly moves her feet over the pedals, her hands manoeuvring 40 brightly coloured coils of thread.

     

    With each thread going back and forth, Ouédraogo, 37, earns a little bit more. Every fling on the loom brings her children a step closer to a better future: one the EU hopes – as the funder of the micro-enterprise where she works – will keep them at home rather than migrating north.

     

    Ouédraogo is employed by the Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme, and the fabric they produce has featured in international fashion magazines. “Did you know there’s even a picture of Beyoncé wearing our fabrics?” said Ouédraogo, well within her rights to boast.

     

    The association’s small workshop on the outskirts of the capital, Ouagadougou, is supported by the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a programme run by the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the UN and the World Trade Organisation.

     

    Major fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are linked by EFI with artisans in poor countries, supporting the idea of “fashion as a vehicle for development”.

     

    Ouédraogo earns two to five euros per metre depending on the complexity of the fabric. On a good day, she can weave up to one and a half metres – making just a little over the average wage in Burkina Faso.

     

    Investing in people

     

    Last year, the EFI received €5 million from the multi-billion-dollar EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to expand its programmes in Burkina Faso.

     

    The fund, launched in 2015, aims to tackle the root causes of outward migration through development aid, security and peacebuilding support, as well as financing for migration management.

     

    But in a country like Burkina Faso where remittances from migration represent real financial benefits for families, are projects like EFI – or more traditional EU rural development assistance – enough to dissuade young people from taking the risk of travelling to Europe?

     

    Some €3.3 billion has been pledged to the EUTF, according to the European Commission. Burkina Faso is one of 21 sub-Saharan African countries contributing to migration flows to Europe that is benefitting from the fund, to the tune of €84 million.

     

    Simone Cipriani, founder and head of EFI, believes the EUTF’s job creation strategy makes sense. “With this project, I think we will stabilise some jobs here, and tens, if not some hundreds, of people will decide to stay,” he told IRIN.

     

    By investing in new technology and expanding the customer order book, he believes the “hundreds of jobs” EFI supports could be transformed into “almost 2,800 jobs”.

     

    However, the evidence suggests that while increasing prosperity at home may encourage some people to stay, it also enables many more to leave. Cipriani acknowledged this. “People in Europe sometimes forget that people here in Africa have the freedom to go and migrate,” he added.

    weaving_workshop5.jpg

    Workshop at Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme
    Saskia Houttuin/Sarah Haaij/IRIN

     

    Take Christiane Zoungrana. Five days a week the 42-year-old wheelchair-bound weaver pushes herself to work to help provide for her family. She has no plans to migrate, but her eldest son has recently been talking a lot about leaving.

     

    Zoungrana would prefer to keep him as far away as possible from the dangers of the desert and Mediterranean, but he can’t seem to find a job. “If he really wants to go, I’ll help him,” she said, seeing the potential positive of having the means to employ someone to take care of her in the future if he made a success of himself elsewhere.

     

    Migration hotspot

     

    Burkina Faso is a poor, agriculture-based country. It historically provided workers to neighbouring economic powerhouse Cote d’Ivoire, until the country’s civil war in the early 2000s. Now destinations are far more diverse, from Europe to Libya, South Africa, oil-rich Gabon, even Morocco.

     

    The growing insecurity in Burkina Faso as a result of jihadist attacks in recent years – an outflow of the crisis in next-door Mali – is another incentive for young Burkinabé to leave their struggling country.

     

    “This country is very fragile. We are convinced that eventually the population density, the demographic growth, will force Burkinabé to migrate even more,” Thierry Barbé, head of EU Cooperation in Burkina Faso, told IRIN. “So, it is very important that we can fully pursue stability with the Trust Fund.”

     

    Western Union

     

    Approaching the southeastern province of Boulgou, small thatched houses make way for the occasional three-storey building. But this relative wealth is not as a result of the EUTF – it’s the fruit of migration.

     

    Boulgou is home to the Bissa people. They have a history of travel, since the 1980s to Italy in particular, typically to work on tomato farms in the south of the country.

     

    In the town of Béguédo, 230 kilometres southeast of Ougadougou, an unmissable bright yellow Western Union building greets visitors – testimony to the importance of remittances to this community. The World Bank estimates that as much as $454 million flowed home to families in Burkina Faso last year.

     

    Adama Bara, 32, returned to Béguédo from Libya a year ago when he failed to reach Europe. After a gruelling desert crossing, he was arrested and held in a detention centre where he says he was tortured.  

     

    “While they hit me, they called my parents and demanded ransom,” Bara said. With help from relatives and neighbours in Béguédo, his family was able to set him free. To repay his debts, he took a job at a Libyan construction site. When he realised he wasn’t going to get paid, he hitched a ride on the back of a lorry home to Béguédo.

     

    Bara is now pondering whether he should leave again, to try and join his brother and sister who are working in Italy. His four children, wife, and parents are all counting on him. He can’t support them with the few euros he earns each day from his small phone shop.

     

    His fear of failing his family is stronger than the dread of doing it all again. “I don’t care how difficult it is,” he told IRIN. “I know what to expect now.”

    adama_bara1.jpg

    Adama Bara
    Saskia Houttuin/Sarah Haaij/IRIN

     

    Give youth a chance

     

    According to Béatrice Bara [no relation], the mayor of Béguédo, there’s only one option that can make a difference: “We must offer the youth a chance here,” she said. “Make sure they get work here.”

     

    She is full of ideas, such as setting up a garbage pickup service for unemployed young men. But, according to Bara, the means to implement the projects is what’s holding her back.

     

    “I hear stories about money and projects set up here in Burkina Faso by the EU,” the mayor said. “But I haven’t seen anything so far. Nobody has come to talk to me about the future of our youth.”

     

    The EUTF is providing the UN’s International Organisation for Migration with €8.3 million to implement a voluntary return programme for Burkinabé stuck in Libya. The agency says that at least 80 percent of all Burkinabé migrants there are from this rural commune.

     

    As part of the return programme, the IOM intends to help young people like Adama Bara reintegrate and set up small businesses – which the mayor welcomes.

     

    But last year, the IOM also dug two new boreholes, financed by the governments of Belgium and Italy. That sort of traditional aid left people in Béguédo wondering what the shiny new pumps have to do with migration. “Water doesn’t keep these young people from leaving,” said the mayor.

     

    She is also sceptical of the efficacy of return flights and awareness campaigns. “The reality on the ground is that people leave and will continue to leave,” she noted.

     

    The mayor believes that anyone who thinks you should, or even can, stop migration ignores the fact that in departure countries like Burkina Faso, people think very differently about it.  

     

    Freedom of movement

     

    “It’s not our ambition to fight migration,” said Gustave Bambara, an official with the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning. “On the contrary, it’s an opportunity. We want to make the most out of it.”

     

    Like other African governments, Burkina Faso wants to increase legal migration routes. That runs counter to the EU’s priorities, as underlined by its spending. According to Oxfam, the EUTF devotes just three percent of funding to developing safe and legal pathways.

     

    “We live in a globalised world; free movement of people is important. It can’t just be goods; it’s also human beings,” said Bambara.

     

    If Brussels is intent simply on holding back migration, “that’s too bad,” he said. “This fund will serve them little purpose.”

     

    sh/sh/oa/ag

    The EU is pumping millions of euros of development aid into the poor Sahelian country to keep migrants at bay
    How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe’s migration front line
  • A dozen shades of khaki: counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel

    In 2011, several African states warned about the likely consequences of an international military intervention in Libya aimed at toppling Muammar Gaddafi. Now, six years after his death, security in the Sahel region has never been worse.

    In a domino effect, from 2012, the spillover from the Libyan crisis bolstered the Tuareg rebellion in Mali, which in turn facilitated a jihadist incursion, which, after briefly being halted by France’s Operation Serval, arose from the ashes stronger than ever and spread across neighbouring states.

    “Mali’s roots were rotten, it just needed a breeze to make it collapse,” summarised a former Malian minister recently.

    In Mali, the state is now hardly present across much of the country. In mid-December, barely a quarter of state agents were in their posts in the six northern and central regions.

    According to an opposition party tally, 2017 was Mali’s most deadly year since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power in 2013.

    Yet the Sahel region has never been so militarised; it is rife with insurgencies and counter-insurgency forces of various stripes. Relative veterans from France and the United States have recently been joined by troops from Italy and Germany, and by a new regional coalition, as well as by forms of warfare new to the region.

    Presented as solutions by their political masters, the military missions detailed below are seen by others as pouring fuel on the fire, and as simplistic responses to complex problems.

    United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

    Created in April 2013, this UN mission, now consisting of 13,000 troops, was supposed to stabilise northern regions of Mali after the lightning assault launched against jihadist groups there three months earlier by France’s Operation Serval (see below).

    Instead, MINUSMA faced a resurgence of these groups outside major urban centres and found itself exposed to mobile and seasoned guerrillas. They proved to be beyond the mission’s capabilities to control, and, arguably, peripheral to its mandate.

    “The UN deployed [here] without a peace accord, which is normally a precursor for a peacekeeping mission,” MINUSMA chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif told IRIN. “On the other hand, the idea that MINUSMA came here to fight terrorists has always been a major misunderstanding between Malians and MINUSMA, and unfortunately one that still exists.”

    Annual revisions of the mission’s mandate aimed at making the force more reactive have failed to silence critics. Both within and outside Mali, questions have been raised about the utility of spending more than a billion dollars in a single year when the mission has proved unable to fulfil its core tasks of protecting civilians and defending human rights.

    The killing of civilians during demonstrations by peacekeepers and accusations of rape have helped to sour pubic opinion of MINUMSA.

    The mission’s relations with the Malian government have frequently been strained, not least over the neutrality MINUSMA has shown towards certain rebel groups, a stance Bamako viewed as impeding the state’s recovery of its sovereignty over the entire country.

    The force’s limitations have frequently been highlighted. The latest report on Mali by the UN secretary-general, for example, noted that, “the lack of armoured troop carriers, especially of vehicles protected against landmines, remains a major obstacle to the mission's operations”.

    The previous report, issued in September, said MINUSMA’s civilian protection mandate had been compromised by the “absence of adequate air assets”.

    Both publically and in private, MINUSMA officials have made no secret of their frustration at being used as a punching ball and cash cow by Malian politicians.

    harandane_dicko_minusma_2.jpg

    Harandane Dicko/MINUSMA

    Another prominent component of the force’s mandate is to oversee the implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. MINUSMA itself is paying the price for the breakdown of that accord: 133 blue helmets have died in Mali, making the mission the fourth most deadly for UN peacekeepers in term of deaths caused by hostile acts. In Mali, jihadist groups have made specific targets of the blue helmets.

    A recent UN Security Council resolution added another element to MINUSMA’s mandate: providing operational and logistical support within Mali to the joint force recently formed by the G5 states of the Sahel (see below). The council said the creation of the force should allow MINUSMA to “better carry out its stabilisation mandate”.

    The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF)

     

    This formation was originally set up in Nigeria under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission in 1994 but remained largely dormant until 2012 when its mandate was widened to include combatting the Boko Haram insurgency.

     

    The MNJTF comprises some 7,500 military and non-military personnel from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.

     

    The force suffered a major setback in January 2015 when its headquarters, in the Nigerian town of Baga, was overrun by Boko Haram fighters. Its base has now been moved to the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.

     

    Shortly after that incident, the force won official approval from the African Union, with a mandate (renewed this month for a further year) to conduct military operations, achieve coordination at inter-state level, conduct border patrols, find abducted persons, stop the flow of arms, reintegrate insurgents into society, and bring those responsible for crimes to justice.

     

    The force receives intelligence and training support from the United States, Britain, and France and, although theoretically financially self-reliant, money from the EU, which in August 2016 agreed to allocate some 50 million euros to it, paid through the AU.  Serious budgetary shortfalls and delays in procuring equipment, which left MNJTF troops without essential equipment for over a year and strained AU-EU relations, have hindered the force’s effectiveness.

     

    Since it become operational in 2016, the MNJTF has, despite tense relations between some contributor states, recorded significant gains against Boko Haram, killing or arresting many hundreds of the group’s members and releasing many of its hostages.

     

    In December 2017, the AU’s Peace and Security Council said the MNJTF had “significantly weakened the capability of the terrorist group and continued to successfully dislodge it from its strongholds”.

     

    But, it added, “Boko Haram still remains a serious threat for the countries of the region.”

     

    A March 2017 paper published by the African Identities journal argued that the MNJTF’s “sole reliance on a concerted military approach in countering terrorism will not address the root causes and may further incubate violent extremism” in the region.

     

    Force conjointe du G5 Sahel (FC-G5 S)

    The most recent arrival among international armed contingents deployed to counter the spread and intensification of jihadist groups’ activity in the Sahel consists of 5,000 troops from the region’s G5 states: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.

    Malian President Boubacar Keita has described the forces as “an innovative approach to collective security, one that puts cooperation and mutual action at the heart of our response”.

    The force is set to deploy under a joint command in three geographic sectors. Its primary objective is to “fight terrorism and transnational crime” committed by various groups, some of which have already joined forces in Mali under the banner of Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin' (JNIM), which is allied to al-Qaeda.

    According to analyst Nicolas Degrais, contrary to media reports, the joint force came into being more as a result of G5 member states’ own initiative and political will than at the instigation of France, which somewhat resents having done so much of the heavy lifting on counter-terrorism over recent years.

     

    Yet, for the time being at least, it owes its very existence to foreign assistance, notably that of the region’s former colonial power, which has been militarily active in the region since 2013. France has been the new force’s most ardent champion, and has backed it to the tune of eight million euros.

     

    Other sources of finance are the EU (50 million euros), G5 member states (50 million euros), Saudi Arabia (100 million euros), and the United Arab Emirates (30 million euros). These last two donors are regular customers of the French arms industry.

     

    It is hoped that further donor conferences will ensure the budget for the FC-G5 S’s first year of operations, some 423 million euros, will be fully funded.

     

    In November 2017, the force conducted a pilot mission, codenamed “Haw Bi” (“Black Cow”), in the Liptako-Gourma region, where the borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso intersect, and which is a centre of insurgent activity. According to at least one analysis, the operation did little to demonstrate the new force was able to operate effectively without French support.

     

    The FC-G5 S, which is expected to reach its full capacity by March 2018, faces numerous challenges. These include coordinating armies of varying quality deployed by countries whose leaders have different security priorities. And some of these armies stand accused of committing abuses against civilians they suspect of collaborating with jihadist groups.

     

    Given how hard it is proving to raise enough money for the first year of operations, securing sufficient long-term financing will be, in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, a “significant challenge.”

    France                                                        

    France never fully left Africa when it ceased to be a colonial power, and it keeps making new appearances. 2018 sees it embark on a sixth year of military operations in the Sahel. These began in January 2013 with Operation Serval (in Mali), superseded in August 2014 by the more regional Operation Barkhane, which includes 4,000 troops and is run from N’Djamena.

    Barkhane’s successes include the killing of dozens of jihadists, some of them very senior, and the capture or destruction of more than 22 tonnes of weapons. But it has been unable to prevent extremist groups reappearing and carrying out attacks in central Mali, Burkina Faso, or Niger.

    The days when former French president François “Papa” Hollande was feted from Bamako to Timbuktu are long gone. In Mali’s northern Kidal region, some armed Tuareg groups regard French forces as an army of occupation, while others don’t understand why Barkhane doesn’t come to their aid when they engage with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the Timbuktu region. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, some people suspect Paris of having a hidden agenda to support secessionist movements. Eighty percent of respondents to a recent opinion poll in Bamako said they believed France was in Mali "solely for its own interests."

    In neighbouring Burkina Faso, where a popular revolt toppled France’s long-time protégé Blaise Compaore in 2015, many people, fed up of repeated promises that Paris is putting an end to la Françafrique (its enduring sphere of influence in Africa), resent the French military presence, which they suspect is more of a magnet for jihadist groups than a deterrent.

    Despite these criticisms, Barkhane has had more success against extremist groups than any other military forces.

    United States

    It took the 4 October death in Niger of four special forces on a “reconnaissance mission” to shine a light on the US “shadow war” in the Sahel, even though there was nothing new about its presence there.

    Since 2002, the United States has conducted a succession of counter-terrorism training missions in the region to “support local forces in dealing with the threat”, as General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in October.

    Niger, a key partner in this endeavour, currently plays host to 800 US troops, the largest American contingent in Africa. It will soon have two US military bases on its soil, after one dedicated to drones is built near the city of Agadez.

    The October attack, near the village of Tongo Tongo, seemed to signal an escalation of US military engagement. In November, Niger gave its approval for US drones to be armed and thus for the introduction to the Sahel of a mode of warfare already in use – with deadly effect and numerous mishaps – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

    “This is exactly what we never wanted to see in West Africa: very powerful bombs which, despite their reputed precision, cause dozens of civilian casualties, and provide armed, anti-Western jihadist groups with hundreds of new candidates for recruitment,” warned Gilles Yabi of the Wathi think-tank.

    8456641644_d6ce6fdd82_h.jpg

    Sébastien Rieussec/EU

    European Union

    The EU is taking a greater interest in the Sahel amid concerns over migration and security resulting from the region’s growing destabilisation.

    The bloc currently has three outfits deployed there: the EU Training Mission-Mali, launched in 2013 to instruct the country’s armed forces; and a capacity-building mission each in Mali and Niger to support domestic agencies countering extremism and organised crime.

    Separately, Germany is shortly to open a military base in Niger to support MINUSMA, while Italy has announced it will sent 470 troops to the country to counter people-smuggling and combat extremism. Meanwhile, Britain is reportedly in talks with France with a view to supplying military helicopters or surveillance aircraft in support of Operation Barkhane.

    (TOP PHOTO: French soldiers from Operation Barkhane in Mali. CREDIT: Fred Marie/Flickr)

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    The region has never been so militarised. Here’s an overview of the international players in uniform
    A dozen shades of khaki: counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • New Sahel anti-terror force: risks and opportunities

    Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are teaming up to take on Islamist militants with the launch of a the 5,000-strong "FC-G5S" force in the restive Sahel. But are more boots on the ground the answer?

    UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, which votes today on whether to fund the nascent multinational military force, that supporting it was “an opportunity that cannot be missed” and that failing to back it would carry serious risks for a region where insecurity has become “extremely worrying”.

    The Security Council “welcomed the deployment” of the force in a resolution adopted in June, but put off a decision about financing. The resolution's wording was the subject of a prolonged tussle between France – the G5 force’s main proponent – and the United States, which didn’t believe a resolution was necessary, sees the force’s mandate as too broad, and, as the world body’s biggest contributor, isn’t convinced the UN should bankroll it.

    On Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Washington wants to know “what the strategy would be, how they see this playing out, what’s involved in it, before we ever commit to UN-assessed funding”. 

    France has been working hard to win over the United States. On a visit to Washington last week, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said the former colonial power had no desire to become the “Praetorian Guard of sovereign African countries”.

    Existing forces

    In 2013 and 2014, France’s Operation Serval drove back militants in Mali’s northern desert from some of the towns and other sanctuaries they had taken. With attacks nevertheless continuing and having spread beyond Mali’s borders, 4,000 French troops are currently deployed under the banner of Operation Barkhane across all the G5 states.

    Mali is also home to the 14,000-strong MINUSMA force, one of the UN’s most expensive peacekeeping missions. It has come under frequent attack by militant groups such as the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qaeda-linked coalition forged last March. Some 86 blue helmets have been killed in militant attacks since MINUSMA was established in July 2013.  

    Meanwhile, efforts by civil society groups to negotiate with some jihadist groups have come to nought, while parties to a 2015 peace agreement between Mali’s government and two coalitions of domestic armed groups – a deal that excluded the jihadists – are embroiled in violent divisions among themselves. Some of these domestic groups are also responsible for attacks against the state. 

    These divisions have dimmed hopes of forging any kind of common front against the jihadists, and even of properly implementing the 2015 accord. The government’s failure to address widespread political and economic grievance further undermines its position.

    35615802845_d4b24c6b83_k.jpg

    Sylvain Liechti/UN Photo
    Humanitarian fallout

    All this insecurity comes at a high price for Mali’s civilians. At the end of the 2016-17 academic year, 500 schools were closed, up from 296 the previous year, while the numbers of refugees and internally displaced reached a record 140,000 and 55,000 respectively.

    Acute malnutrition among children under five has reached “critical levels” in conflict-affected areas around Timbuktu and Gao, according to UNICEF. The agency predicts that 165,000 children across the country will be acutely malnourished next year.

    “Repeated criminal acts” prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend its operations in the northern Kidal region in mid-October.

    Funding concerns

    The primary mandate of the G5 force will be to secure the bloc’s common borders and fight “terrorist” and criminal groups.

    The force’s headquarters were established in September in the central Malian town of Sévaré, but its financing has yet to be secured.

    “Estimates still vary; nothing has been settled,” said a diplomat who has followed the latest developments. “If we get to 250 million euros at the donors’ conference in December, that would be very good. But even if financing is obtained in December, the force will not be operational the next day.”

    The G5 says it needs 423 million euros to set things up and run the force for its first year, but so far only a quarter of this sum has materialised, with the G5 and the EU both coming up with 50 million euros and France another eight million.

    "Mobilising sustainable and consistent financial support over a period of several years will remain a significant challenge,” conceded Guterres in his report.

    Money is far from the only uncertainty: Trust between G5 member states remains shaky.

    “The Burkina military believe their Malian counterparts are ‘lazy’ and joined the army to get an income and not to defend the country,” the International Crisis Group said, for example, in its latest report on Burkina Faso.

    And the security and political agendas of G5 states are not always aligned. Facing an economic and social crisis, regional powerhouse Chad, which already has troops in MINUSMA and in a separate regional force fighting Boko Haram, hopes to make the most of its involvement in the force, whose remit it would like to see expanded to include other regional threats closer to home.

    Risks

    Given how often existing forces in Mali, including the army, are attacked (losing weapons and vehicles in the process), deploying yet more troops in the region carries a real risk of further boosting jihadists groups’ military assets.

    “Malian armed movements have employed an increasing proportion of heavy weaponry from Malian government stockpiles – particularly ammunition for larger weapon systems such as rockets and artillery – as opposed to Libyan or other foreign sources,” Conflict Armament Research said in a 2016 report on the Sahel.

    Human Rights Watch recently reported on “killings, forced disappearances and acts of torture” committed by security forces in Mali and Burkina Faso against suspected members of jihadists groups.

    Even if they are only committed by a minority of soldiers, such acts lead civilians to mistrust the armies supposed to protect them, and in some cases to join the armed groups to seek their protection instead.

    “The fighters are found among the greater population, are part of them and live with them. It is not easy to identify them. That makes combat difficult, even if there are far fewer jihadist than soldiers,” explained Ibrahim Maîga, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies.

    “You can’t defeat these people without helping the population caught in the middle. One side accuses them of being terrorists, the other of collaborating with national or foreign armies. This is why it is imperative that the state gains more legitimacy,” he added.

    The G5 joint force’s first operations are expected to take place in the Liptako-Gourma region, where the borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso meet. These states have been particularly affected by the attacks carried out by JNIM, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansarul Islam against national and foreign security forces.

    On 21 October, 13 gendarmes were killed when their barracks in Ayorou in Niger’s Tillaberi region came under attack.

    The joint force will be deployed in an environment rife with trafficking of all kinds, and with globalised jihad, and where myriad local conflicts merge with and fuel each other.

    On the border between Mali and Niger, economic rivalry between Tuareg and Fulani communities has deepened since becoming militarised and politicised.

    Fulani youth – too simplistically – are seen as ready recruits to jihadist groups, and Nigerien Tuareg militia are being used by the government to hunt them.

    In northern Burkina Faso, Ansarul Islam built its popularity by challenging social structures widely seen as inequitable, according to the ICG.

    minusmaharandane_dicko.jpg

    Harandane Dicko/MINUSMA
    US role

    None of the groups operating in the region has claimed responsibility for the 2 October attack in which four US and four Nigerien soliders were killed 200 kilometres north of Niamey – an attack a top US general has attributed to a local IS-affiliated group. The incident served to bring international attention to US military presence in the region, described by some media as a “shadow war” at a time when the US is in the process of moving its drone operations from Niamey to the central Niger town of Agadez.

     “Our American colleagues believe the [Niger] attack against their troops exposes a dilemma: Do too much and be exposed, or don’t do enough,” a French diplomat remarked.

    It seems the Pentagon is going for the first option: US Defense Secretary James Mattis recently informed Congress that the United States was increasing its anti-terrorism activities in Africa and that new rules of engagement were being introduced, allowing troops to open fire on mere suspects.

    But for the jihadist groups in the region, a greater US military footprint will feed their rhetoric of occupation and help swell their ranks.

    fo/am/oa/ag

    New Sahel anti-terror force: risks and opportunities
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • The Grinch’s not-so-festive guide to food ration cuts

    Across much of the world, the festive season is a time of indulgence. But what if you’re too busy fleeing violence and upheaval, or stuck in a refugee camp on reduced rations?

    It’s been a hard year for the most vulnerable among us. This is partly due to tightening aid budgets, but it’s also the result of there simply being so many more people in crisis who need help.

    “It's not just a question of falling donor funding; most donors have continued to be generous, providing funds at relatively consistent levels for years,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Challiss McDonough told IRIN.  “But the number of [those in need] is much larger.”

    A prime example is Uganda, where 602,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering. As a result of the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, “we are now supporting nearly twice as many refugees as we were just six months ago”, explained McDonough.

    WFP, as the global emergency food responder, is feeling the strain. “I'd say there are probably very few countries where we have not had to make some kind of adjustment to our assistance plans because of a lack of funding,” said McDonough.

    The following is a not-so-festive guide to where WFP has been forced to make cuts to already minimal food rations in Africa. It includes some non-refugee national programmes, which have also been impacted by funding shortfalls.

    Burkina Faso

    Rations have been reduced and cash assistance suspended for the 31,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. As a result, about a quarter of refugees do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs.

    “Most refugees in the camps depend solely on humanitarian assistance to survive,” said WFP country director Jean-Charles Dei. “When assistance is interrupted or insufficient, the food security and nutrition situation dramatically deteriorate, especially for women, children, and elderly people.”

    Burundi

    Lack of funding has impacted a range of activities targeting vulnerable communities. Food-for-training for Congolese refugees and Burundian migrants expelled from Tanzania and Rwanda has been suspended. The number of children reached through an anti-stunting campaign has been reduced by 70 percent, with the programme halted entirely in Ruramvya and Rutana provinces.

    Cameroon

    Monthly food rations for Central African Republic refugees in Cameroon was cut by 50 percent in November and December. The 150,000 refugees are entirely dependent on international aid.

    In May, WFP also halted its meals programme to 16 primary schools in northern Cameroon due to a lack of funding.

    Central African Republic

    WFP has been unable to assist more than 500,000 people in urgent need of aid and has been forced to halve the amount of food it has provided to those it can reach. Emergency school meals have been suspended in the capital, Bangui, and rations to displaced people in the violence-hit central town of Kaga Bandoro have been slashed by 75 percent. “WFP needs to urgently mobilise flexible contributions to cover for distributions from January onwards,” the agency has warned.

    Chad

    For the past two years, refugees in Chad have survived on monthly rations well below the minimum requirement. For some, the cuts have been by as much as 60 percent. A joint assessment released in November by WFP and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, found more than 40 percent of the 400,000 refugees in Chad are malnourished and the majority of children are anaemic.

    Ethiopia

    Since November 2015, ration cuts have affected more than 760,000 refugees, the bulk of them from South Sudan and Somalia. Although there was an improvement in general food rations from June this year, UNHCR has warned that households still face difficulties. The cuts have, in particular, affected children aged under the age of five, with global acute malnutrition above the 15 percent emergency threshold in 10 out of 22 assessed refugee camps.

    Gambia

    All nutrition and livelihood related activities have been suspended due to a lack of funding.

    Kenya

    In December, WFP cut monthly rations by half for the 400,000 refugees in Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma camps. It warned that unless urgent new funding is received, it will completely run out of food by February. Most refugees in Dadaab have already had their rations cut down to 70 percent of June 2015 levels, and UNHCR has warned of a likely increase in malnutrition as a result of the new squeeze.

    Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Given Kenya’s threat to deport Somalis has already triggered illegal forced refugee return, the UN ([World] Food Programme’s decision to further reduce refugee food rations could not have come at a worse time.”

    Malawi

    Ration cuts to 27,000 refugees meant that at the beginning of 2016 they were only receiving 40 percent of the recommended minimum number of daily kilocalories. Those shortages began six months earlier. By March, only three out of seven food items – maize, beans, and cooking oil – were being supplied. The Dzaleka camp hosts people mainly from the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions, with new arrivals escaping unrest across the border in Mozambique.

    Mauritania

    In November, WFP halved food rations to 42,500 Malian refugees. Without fresh funding, it says it will be forced to suspend general food distributions, including cash transfers, from next month. A school meals programme for vulnerable Mauritanian children has also been put on hold and will only partially resume in January.

    Rwanda

    A nationwide prevention of stunting programme for children aged six-23 months, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers has been discontinued due to limited funding.

    Somalia

    WFP will “significantly scale down” its livelihoods programmes in December 2016. If no additional resources are confirmed, it will only be able to continue with minimal programmes (mainly nutrition) from February 2017. WFP is targeting 1.4 million vulnerable Somalis in food-insecure areas.

    Uganda

    Rations have been cut by 50 percent for some 200,000 refugees who arrived in Uganda prior to July 2015. Low levels of funding, together with the large numbers of new arrivals fleeing fighting in South Sudan has left WFP workers “with no choice but to re-prioritise their focus on those refugees in greatest need.” The humanitarian response to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda was already severely underfunded even before the latest outbreak of violence in Juba in July.

    (TOP PHOTO: Residents of an IDP camp in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo receive food rations distributed by WFP. WFP)

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    The Grinch’s not-so-festive guide to food ration cuts

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