(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Afghans battle with flood aftermath

    Besieged by months of drought and long-term conflict, rural communities in large swathes of Afghanistan are facing yet another emergency: widespread flooding that will leave some rebuilding their lives for years.

     

    Sudden heavy rainfall this month triggered flash floods that swept away thousands of homes and killed dozens in nine Afghan provinces.

     

    More than 112,000 people are affected, with numbers rising as humanitarian assessments trickle in from insecure areas, according to tallies by UN agencies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

     

    Afghanistan is seeing unusually heavy rainfall due to the El Niño weather phenomenon declared in February, which can bring extreme weather across the globe. Forecasts predict there could be warmer temperatures and 40 to 50 percent more rain than usual into May, according to the Red Cross. Months of severe drought also make it harder for soil to absorb excess water, raising the risk of sudden floods.

     

    In hard-hit Nawa-i-Barakzai district in the southern province of Helmand, communities were still waiting for help – and fearing a fresh onslaught of rain – amid destroyed mud homes and dead livestock.

     

    2-mohammed-e21b6879_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Ali Mohammed searches for the remains of his animals, which were crushed when his stable’s roof collapsed during heavy rains this month. Many residents in the area lost everything during the floods.

     

    In one flattened village, Ali Mohammed, 42, stood on his collapsed roof, the smell of rotting flesh seeping through the mud that used to form the walls of his house.

     

    “It’s my sheep,” he said, pointing to a crack that exposed parts of the dead animals, killed in the floods.

     

    The rains started at night. Mohammed said he and his neighbours rushed to wake their families as the waters from a nearby river rapidly rose and heavy downpours started to tear apart rooftops.

     

    They scrambled to higher ground. But when the waters receded hours later the entire village had been washed away – along with a lifetime of hard work and savings.

     

    The rains came and went quickly, but the aftermath is likely to last years for farmers like Mohammed. He said his personal losses, including dozens of sheep and his entire food supply, totalled a steep 900,000 Afghani, or $12,000. His wife packed a few remaining belongings and took the family’s children to the relative safety of the provincial capital, Lashkargah.

     

    “We didn’t think it could be this bad,” he said.

    5-whiteshirt-e21b6877_1920.jpg

    A man walks among destroyed homes
    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Locals say the floods affected some 3,000 families in Nawa-i-Barakzai district, and many of the worst-hit farming families had little to begin with.

    Afghanistan’s neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, have also been hit by floods. In Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, which shares a border with Helmand, aid agencies are warning of disease outbreaks due to damaged health clinics, low vaccination rates, and health conditions already worsened by drought.

     

    Here in Helmand, traditionally a Taliban heartland, the latest disaster is exacerbated by widespread poverty and active conflict. Government-controlled Nawa-i-Barakzai borders one of the war’s front lines, and the district has seen a rise in clashes and killings in recent weeks.

     

    7-naebalison-e21b6858_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    A boy watches his family’s remaining sheep after most were killed in the flood. Blue tarps offer temporary shelter to the family.

    The district governor, Ayub Omar Omari, believes the floods are evidence of a changing climate.

     

    “We’ve had a bad drought, followed by the worst floods I’ve seen here in decades,” he said. “People’s entire livelihoods have been swept away.”

     

    Few structures are left standing in areas far from the bigger markets and paved roads, where fragile mud homes are prevalent. Most families have fled, finding refuge with relatives in nearby towns. Those who stayed behind continue to sort through debris, hoping to recover what remains of their belongings.

    9-hajibadardigs-e21b6746_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Haji Badar sorts through what’s left of his home and belongings. He estimates his total losses, including 13 sheep, to be the equivalent of about $4,000 – a substantial sum in rural Afghanistan.

     

    “It’s not safe for my family to stay outside, but we have little option,” said Haji Badar, 75. He stood surrounded by his daughters on a muddy plateau – his house has literally melted away.

     

    “We’re hoping for help, but none has come yet,” he said, two weeks after the initial rains.

     

    The sky is blue for now, but Badar fears what will come: “Our wettest season has just started.”

    (TOP PHOTO: A boy sits on his bed in Nawa-i-Barakzai district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Heavy rains and floods destroyed his home, forcing his entire family to sleep outside. CREDIT: Stefanie Glinski/IRIN)

    sg/il/ag

    “People’s entire livelihoods have been swept away”
    Afghans battle with flood aftermath
  • Local NGO risks, White Saviours, and the Sahel’s million new displaced: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    Sahel violence displaces another million people

    Rising conflict and insecurity are accelerating forced displacement across the Sahel, and a new upsurge of violence along the Mali-Niger border has left 10,000 people in "appalling conditions" in improvised camps in Niger's Tillabéri region. The UN says IDP numbers in Mali have tripled to around 120,000. The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, has allocated $4 million to assist 70,000 people who have fled their homes in just two months in Burkina Faso. Around 4.2 million people – a million more than a year ago – are currently displaced across the Sahel due to a combination of armed attacks by extremist militants, retaliation by regional militaries, and inter-communal violence.

    All NGOs are not equal, especially when it comes to risk

    When it comes to safety, security, and risk, power differences between local and international NGOs can lead to “perverse incentives”, according to the summary of a new report. Local NGOs often do the last mile of humanitarian work, especially in insecure situations. They are funded by much bigger INGOs that act as donors. But while INGOs have sophisticated risk management (10 cooperated with this study by US-based NGO alliance InterAction), their downstream “partners” are not treated the same. The physical safety of local NGO staff, for example, gets much less attention than compliance with financial and counter-terrorism regulations. The report spells it out: INGOs “put a far greater emphasis on the risks of their local partners as opposed to the risks to them.” The study includes case studies from Nigeria and South Sudan, as well as recommendations based on examples of improved practice found during the research.

    First drought, now floods

    Flash floods and landslides have killed more than 70 people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, with numbers expected to rise as on-the-ground assessments trickle in. Parts of Afghanistan are particularly hard hit, with nine provinces reporting displacement or damage to homes and agriculture. Some 21,000 people need aid in the southern province of Kandahar alone, according to the UN. Aid groups worry the situation could worsen with continued rain and snowfall expected. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran have been grappling with severe drought over the last several months, and heavy rainfall can increase the threat of floods on degraded land. An El Niño weather pattern could also bring more rainfall, combining with the drought impacts to make floods “more ruinous” this year, according to the UN. Which makes this a good time to read more on the complications of responding to emergencies in conflict-hit Afghanistan.

    Algeria rising

    Mass protests triggered by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for re-election in April were not quelled by the announcement that he “would not be a candidate” in future elections (after next month’s, that is). Bouteflika has been in power since 1999, was paralysed by a stroke in 2013, and does not speak in public. Demonstrators are speaking out about corruption, poverty, and poor social services – all issues causing young Algerians to attempt the journey to Europe, according to Omar Belchouchet, editor of an independent Algerian newspaper. “They are fed up with this authoritarian regime which is stifling people, which is pushing its own citizens to die in the Mediterranean,” he said. According to the UN, 7,300 Algerians arrived on Europe’s shores in 2018, up from 5,900 in 2017.

    An international treaty to protect women?

    Today is International Women’s Day, with events taking place across the globe. But this week also saw the launch of the campaign for an Every Woman Treaty, which would seek to limit violence against women the same way existing international agreements limit landmines and smoking. It’s a bold step, but systemic gender inequalities mean it’s more than just direct violence – like rape as a weapon of war – that the humanitarian sector needs to worry about. Women are disproportionately affected, whether they’re subsistence farmers most acutely feeling the effects of climate change, people displaced during conflict, or those abused by the very aid workers who are supposed to be helping them in times of crisis. Although women are also often on the front lines of disasters, leading the response in their communities, they still face barriers to inclusion. Explore our recent reporting to learn more about some of the key humanitarian issues facing women and girls today.

    A guide to ‘White Saviour’ media debates

    British TV audiences have a week’s blizzard of jokey fundraising to come, as Comic Relief gears up for a “Red Nose Nose Day” telethon. Almost as predictable as the line-up of UK comedians is controversy about its video packages from projects abroad. The use of famous Britons to frame field-based segments is accused of being sentimental, simplistic, and disrespectful. This year, early critics included online activists No White Saviours and British member of parliament David Lammy. Comic Relief responded by saying that “people working with or supported by Comic Relief projects tell their own stories in their own words.” The accusations and counter-arguments have a familiar feel: last year, Comic Relief’s segment with musician Ed Sheeran came under fire. Thinking you’d like someone to explain the cycle of critique and outrage from all sides? Take a look at  this blog, from communication academic Tobias Denskus of Malmö University: “White saviour communication rituals in 10 easy steps.”

    In case you missed it

    Central African Republic: Four of the 14 rebel groups that signed a peace deal with the government have reportedly withdrawn in protest of a newly formed government, which they believe is not representative. The fragile agreement was forged after negotiations in the Sudanese capital last month. For an inside look at efforts to keep the peace in CAR, check out our three-part special report.

     

    Iraq: Rather than considering children affiliated with so-called Islamic State as victims in need of rehabilitation, authorities in Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government have charged hundreds of young people with terrorism offenses because of affiliation with the group, according to Human Rights Watch. In a report released on Thursday, it said confessions are often obtained through torture.

     

    North Korea: The UN this week called for $120 million in funding for North Korea, warning of potential food shortages and the unintended impacts of sanctions blocking humanitarian aid. Nearly 11 million people in the country are considered undernourished – the root of health problems for many North Koreans. New reports suggest North Korea’s sanctions-hit economy has been imploding, with huge declines in exports in 2018.

    Syria: The UN says that as of 3 March, 90 people had died either en route or shortly after arrival to al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, two thirds of them children under five. The camp’s population has swollen to more than 62,000 – 90 percent of them women and children – as thousands of people flee the last IS territory in the country. More than 5,200 new arrivals were reported by the UN between Tuesday and Thursday.

    US-Mexico: US officials say February was the busiest month for apprehensions at its southern border with Mexico in more than a decade – more than 76,100 people in total. The vast majority were families and unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The rise is unusual, but still well below the highs of the 1990s and 2000s when as many as 1.6 million people were apprehended annually.

     

    Weekend read

     

    How dire climate change warnings are becoming a reality in Bangladesh

     

    The extent to which specific extreme weather events – and related humanitarian disasters – can be attributed to climate change can be a contentious subject and remains a matter of some debate. But try telling that to rice farmers in Bangladesh’s northeast. They have been left bewildered by a succession of warmer winters, drier summers, and more erratic rains. Our weekend read offers a real-time glimpse of how dire climate displacement warnings can become a reality: village by depleted village; family by displaced family. Scientists in December published research that showed that human-induced climate change “doubled the likelihood of extreme pre-monsoon rainfall” in Bangladesh during March and April 2017. Farmers like Shites Das in the northeastern village of Daiyya are in no doubt. "We have no fertility of land like in the past,” Das says. “This has happened because of climate change.”

    And finally

     

    Somali Night Fever

     

    Check out this film for a different take on Somali refugees and for a rare glimpse into a Mogadishu of the 1970s and 1980s, when trendy nightclubs were graced by “musicians rocking afros and bell-bottom trousers”. When civil war erupted in Somalia in the 1990s, it separated friends and families, and destroyed a once cosmopolitan way of life. As people fled, they took their culture and music with them. As Somalia changed, so the sounds of funk, disco, soul, and reggae that once filled the airwaves also fell silent. Decades later, many Somalis still live in exile – some resettled in other countries, others in refugee camps. Meet Habib, now in Sweden, and Abdulkadir, living in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya: two former band mates and best friends. Separated by the war, they remain wonderfully united by their love of music, and by their memories of a bygone era.

    (TOP PHOTO: An informal refugee settlement of Garin-Wazam in Diffa region, Niger. CREDIT: Vincent Tremeau/UNICEF)

    bp-il-si-as-ve/ag

    Local NGO risks, White Saviours, and the Sahel’s million new displaced
  • As Afghanistan’s capital grows, its residents scramble for clean water

    Twice a week, Farid Rahimi gets up at dawn, wraps a blanket around his shoulders to keep warm, gathers his empty jerrycans, and waits beside the tap outside his house in a hillside neighbourhood above Kabul.

     

    At 7am sharp, water bursts from the pipes, filling Rahimi’s tank and buckets. He labours away, saving every drop until – just an hour later – the last drop falls.

     

    “We can’t afford to miss it,” said the 35-year-old. “It’s barely enough.“

     

    Afghanistan’s capital is running dry – its groundwater levels depleted by an expanding population and the long-term impacts of climate change. But its teeming informal settlements continue to grow as decades-long conflict and – more recently – drought drive people like Rahimi into the cities, straining already scarce water supplies.

     

    With large numbers migrating to Kabul, the city’s resources are overstretched and aid agencies and the government are facing a new problem: how to adjust to a shifting population still dependent on some form of humanitarian assistance.

    e21b5337_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Farid Rahimi prepares to fill jerrycans with water. His family has access to clean drinking water twice a week for only an hour. Rahimi fills up every available bucket and jerrycan to make sure the water lasts through the rest of the week.

    Rahimi came to Kabul nine years ago to find safety and better job opportunities, but he says it hasn’t been easy. He now shares his house with 12 family members and each month he pays a steep 1,500 Afghani, or $20, for water from a private company.

     

    “Last year we shut down our well,” Rahimi said. “There wasn’t any water left. A few years ago, the situation was a lot better.”

     

    On the move

     

    The UN says more than half a million people in Afghanistan were forced to leave their homes in 2018 due to conflict and drought. An even greater number of Afghans, more than 800,000, returned from Pakistan and Iran during the same year. About seven percent of Kabul’s population are either displaced by war or returnees who previously fled the country, according to estimates from the UN’s migration agency, IOM.

    The majority migrate toward cities, which are now home to one third of Afghanistan’s population of 36 million. According to UN Habitat, 80 percent of urban areas in Kabul are informal settlements.

    e21b4210_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Kabul’s outskirts are home to informal settlements where the majority of residents are people displaced from the countryside by fighting and drought. While some families arrived in recent months, others have lived in these settlements for years.

    In Rahimi’s case this means that a muddy, unpaved road winds its way through his neighbourhood and up an overpopulated hill, where simple mud or concrete houses have been built on “grab land”, claimed by those who arrived in Kabul over the past decade without initially registering or even purchasing the property. Electricity is available sporadically, while health facilities and schools are either absent or far away. A private company is in the process of installing water pipes throughout the neighbourhood, but most public services are yet to be provided by the government.

    Read more: As conflict spreads, chronic displacement becomes a powderkeg in Afghanistan

    But when people from rural areas leave their homes for the cities, they may also leave behind the humanitarian aid they had previously relied on.

     

    Pir Mohammed arrived in Kabul five months ago, escaping violence and bombings in his native Helmand province, a Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan.

     

    The 35-year-old had hoped the move would make his life safer and easier. But the family lives in a tent in the middle of Afghanistan’s bitter winter; his cousin has pneumonia.

     

    “It’s just so cold. In Helmand, we received some assistance. Here, we were told the government would help us, but nothing has happened so far,” Mohammed said, while digging a trench outside his shelter to prevent water from leaking into the tent.

    e21b4661_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Pir Mohammed shovels dirt in front of his cousin's tent. His family arrived in Kabul five months ago, fleeing fighting and air strikes in Helmand province. He says it’s safer in Kabul, but he can’t access the humanitarian aid he relied on back home.

    Much of the snow falling onto the family’s home is melted and used as drinking water. The current winter has been harsh, with temperatures dropping well below zero most nights.

     

    Rethinking aid

     

    Alison Parker, UNICEF’s communications chief, said the urban shift means aid groups must also rethink how to help people who may still need assistance in the cities.

     

    “Rurally, it’s easier because you engage with communities at the local level. In Kabul, we need to engage with the government and other actors,” Parker said. “It needs a shift in thought and more players need to be on board.”

     

    Yet city planning and humanitarian work often do not go hand in hand, says the city’s deputy mayor, Shoaib Rahim. “Humanitarian services are meeting immediate needs, but urban planning is for the long term,” he said.

     

    While aid agencies do provide some services in urban areas, especially in places where newly displaced people have settled, both private companies and the government take up large – yet still insufficient – chunks of the work.

     

    “Aid professionals often distinguish between humanitarian work and development, but they are intertwined,” said Oxfam Afghanistan country director Ruby Ajanee.

     

    The majority of former refugees and asylum seekers returning from abroad, for example, settle in urban areas, where they may need both short-term aid and and more long-lasting help.

     

    “While their immediate needs for food and shelter are addressed by humanitarian agencies, the long-term development needs of reintegration are addressed by the development agencies, with often a disconnect from the humanitarian agencies,” Ajanee said. “These two sectors have to work together seamlessly where humanitarian effort is linked with development work.”

     

    Rainfall patterns

     

    Comparatively, urban residents are still better off than their rural counterparts. The proportion of people with access to basic water is 63 percent countrywide – 89 percent for the urban population and 53 percent for rural households, according to UNICEF. But migration patterns and a changing climate point to long-term strains on water supplies.

     

    e21b5657_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    A man draws water from a public pump in Kabul. Many households lack access to water in their homes, and groundwater levels have been depleted in recent years.

    Afghanistan is one of the world’s top eight countries affected by climate change-induced water shortages, says Paulos Workneh, who heads the water, sanitation and hygiene programme for UNICEF in Afghanistan. As groundwater deteriorates, city dwellers are robbed of their main source of clean water.

     

    “Most of Kabul’s water was accessed through wells, but the situation is now under stress,” Workneh said. “Surface water is polluted by industrial waste, pit latrines and chemicals leaping into the rivers. With rainfall patterns decreasing, sources don’t fill up as quickly anymore.”

     

    While Kabul is starting to tackle the issue of informally built properties – including the registration of many houses initially constructed without permission – one fact remains: the capital grew too quickly.

     

    “The city had 4.6 million people in 2002 and, by 2012, the numbers went up to 7.1 million,” said Koussay Boulaich of UN Habitat, which is offering technical support to a government project responding to the city’s urbanisation trend.

     

    By 2050, one in two Afghans will live in cities, Boulaich said. A similar shift will be needed among the many humanitarian and development groups now concentrating their work in Afghanistan’s rural areas.

     

    “Imagine how important the correlation between urbanisation and development is,” Boulaich said. “In some areas, humanitarian and development work merge, supporting the government in providing long-term sustainable solutions, and urbanisation has to be one of these areas.”

    e21b5353_1920.jpg

    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    A private company has started drilling and construction for new water pipes in this Kabul neighbourhood. Informally built homes line the hillsides in the background.

    Reverse city planning

     

    One of the government’s programmes for urban development, including water, is its “City for All” scheme, which aims to turn the country’s urban migration into economic growth, increase living standards, and even contribute to peace. As part of the plan, informal areas in Kabul are now being registered, roads are being built, and water systems are being set up slowly, with technical help from international agencies.

     

    Mohammed Atik, 60, lives in a Kabul neighbourhood currently undergoing development.

    “The government has built the pipes in our area. There are none in my house yet, but I do see progress,” he said.

     

    For now, however, his household well has dried up. He gets water for his family only by filling up buckets at a neighbour’s house, and he’s worried what will happen if this supply also evaporates.

     

    “I just hope we don't run further out of water,” Atik said. “We’re already using a lot less than a few years ago.”

     

    In Rahimi’s hillside neighbourhood, the government has promised to pave the road in the coming months, while mainly private companies supply the available water.

     

    Merza Mohammed, a 42-year-old employee with Absharan Tagyet, the company laying pipes down Rahimi’s street, said the new infrastructure will serve roughly 1,300 households – though at a price more expensive than the city government’s standard rates.

     

    “We’re a local business supplying areas that the government has not yet reached,” he said.

     

    A few years ago, water was more widely available throughout the city. But prices have more than doubled, he said.

     

    “Today, we’re scrambling. Water is becoming a pricey commodity in Afghanistan.”

    (TOP PHOTO: Winter has been harsh in Kabul, with temperatures dropping well below zero degrees Celsius most nights. CREDIT: Stefanie Glinski/IRIN)

    sg/il/ag

    “Here, we were told the government would help us, but nothing has happened so far”
    As Afghanistan’s capital grows, its residents scramble for clean water
  • Mediterranean death rates, networking in a rush, and a shaky ceasefire in Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    Yemen deal in the balance

    So what about that ceasefire deal for Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, the one agreed in late December, the same one Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the country told IRIN was key to moving the peace process? It has still not been implemented. A UN-led committee to redeploy (i.e. withdraw) fighters from the city and province has only met twice so far, and each side has accused the other of multiple violations. The two sides swapped a small number of prisoners this week, but nowhere near the scale of a larger swap agreement the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is still waiting to carry out (the sticking point appears to involve lists of names). UN envoy Martin Griffiths says the Hodeidah ceasefire is “generally holding”, despite the extension of deadlines on key elements of the deal: “The initial timelines were rather ambitious,” he said this week. “We are dealing with a complex situation on the ground.”

    Mediterranean more dangerous for migrants

    The figures are in and EU leaders, through their migration policies, are “complicit in the tragedy”, according to a letter signed by dozens of NGOs. Arrivals to Europe across the Mediterranean and the overall number of deaths both fell sharply in 2018, but deaths per arrival went the other way: one in 269 in 2015 became one in 51 in 2018 (one in 14 from Libya) – and the number of deaths across the Western Mediterranean to Spain quadrupled last year. Two years since the EU-backed Italy-Libya deal sought to stem the flow by supporting the Libyan coastguard while Tripoli cracked down on smuggling operations, anger is growing as EU nations prevent rescue operations and refuse to allow migrant-carrying vessels to dock. The NGO letter sent on Wednesday to the EU contained three main demands: support search and rescue operations; adopt timely and predictable disembarkation arrangements; end returns to Libya. Renewing its criticism in a statement on Friday, Oxfam said "people are now in even more danger at sea and are being taken back by the Libyan coastguard to face human rights abuses in Libya". A double migrant boat disaster off the coast of Djibouti this week – more than 100 people dead or missing – was a reminder that this is not just a problem in the Mediterranean.

     

    For more on EU policies and how they affect migrants and refugees in Africa, read our “Destination Europe” series.

    “Speed-networking” at mass humanitarian hook-up

    A big-tent gathering of the humanitarian community kicks off Monday. The Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) offers a sprawling programme of 100 sessions across five days and 19 rooms in a Geneva conference centre. Over 2,100 relief professionals, diplomats, company representatives, NGO officials, and students have registered for the free event, backed by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, and the Swiss government. Organiser Jesper Lund told IRIN the aim is the “acceleration of collaboration”. In its fifth year, HNPW prides itself on being an open forum, allowing parallel sessions of like-minded networks, and tries to avoid predictable formats. This year there will be speed-networking sessions to match up interested parties for one-on-one contacts. (The IRIN team will be around, and we’re always up for some speed-tipoffs, obvs). The range of topics for the week covers everything from airport readiness for disasters to (oh look!) humanitarian journalism (that's on Friday).

    Talking peace, losing ground

    The Afghan government’s control of its own territory continues to shrink. The government now has control or influence in about 54 percent of its districts, according to numbers released this week by SIGAR – the US-government mandated watchdog tracking reconstruction in Afghanistan. Afghan control is at its lowest since SIGAR began reporting the data in 2015 (other metrics suggest the government’s grip is even more tenuous, and that the insurgent Taliban need not directly control territory to wield influence). It’s another sign of the rocky road ahead in Afghanistan, despite recent talks of Taliban peace negotiations. In the aid sector, there’s plenty of concern about what a bargained Taliban peace might mean, particularly for the rights of women and minorities. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Jan Egeland says “dialogue for humanitarian access and protection have been pushed off the table”. For now, Afghanistan remains mired in crisis: hundreds of thousands displaced by war and an ongoing severe drought, refugees and migrants returning to instability, and rising civilian casualties.

    Opposition arrests in Cameroon

    Cameroonian opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who maintains he won last year's presidential election, was among some 200 people arrested this week after new protests took place against the re-election of veteran leader Paul Biya. Further marches, planned for this weekend and into next week, were also banned by the government. The October vote was marred by violence, especially in the Northwest and Southwest anglophone regions, which are in the midst of a separatist rebellion against the francophone government. Last year, IRIN embedded with Cameroon’s separatist forces to get an inside look at the fledgling armed struggle.

    In case you missed it

     

    Democratic Republic of Congo: More than 50 mass graves have been found by a UN fact-finding mission near the western town of Yumbi, where a spate of inter-communal violence last December left almost 900 people dead in just three days.

     

    Indonesia: Dengue killed more than 100 people across the country in January. The mosquito-borne illness is endemic in parts of Indonesia, but health authorities are reporting a surge in cases during the current rainy season.

     

    Nigeria: Some 30,000 people fled the northeastern town of Rann last weekend for neighbouring Cameroon, about a week after 9,000 refugees were reported to have been forcibly returned by the Cameroonian authorities. Further violence has sent another 6,000 Nigerians fleeing into Chad.

     

    Syria: The UN says 23,000 people, including 10,000 in the past week, have fled so-called Islamic State’s last territory in Syria since December, most of them to al-Hol camp in Hassakeh province. The World Health Organisation says the camp is overwhelmed, with thousands of people sleeping in the open without so much as blankets. In the past eight weeks at least 29 children are reported to have died, mostly from hypothermia, on the way to the camp or just after arrival.

     

    USAID: The US government is reshuffling its aid portfolio, bringing the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and Food for Peace under a single humanitarian department. The new arrangement should reduce unnecessary fragmentation, according to a Twitter thread by former OFDA chief Jeremy Konyndyk.

     

    Weekend read

    The choices they made: Hondurans at the US-Mexico border

    As US President Donald Trump orders “several thousand” more US troops to the Mexican border, what about those on the other side? Take some time this weekend to delve into this feature from award-winning photojournalist Tomás Ayuso. A Honduran native, Ayuso wanted to better understand the motivations of countrymen and countrywomen who continue to make the long march north, even as the welcome they can expect looks increasingly hostile. What he found was not a uniform answer. From the man left for dead after being “executed” for refusing to become a drug dealer, to the woman whose husband died suddenly and felt compelled to find a better life for her and her son, the choices people made were all different. At the US border, there are choices too. One man has had enough and is heading home. The woman and son mentioned above also had enough of waiting. They headed across the border with smugglers shortly after Ayuso interviewed them and haven’t been heard from since.

    IRIN Event

    The future of the UN agency for Palestine refugees

    On Wednesday, IRIN Director Heba Aly sat down for a public conversation in Geneva with Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees. They talked about the agency’s funding ask for this year (it’s $1.2 billion), how UNRWA was only meant to be a temporary stop-gap but still exists 70 years on, and why it is frequently broke (Krähenbühl says those last two are related). The commissioner-general also addressed the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding from UNRWA, which serves some 5.4 million registered refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Speaking of East Jerusalem, the commissioner-general said he’d had “no indication” from the Israeli government that the schools UNRWA runs there would be shut down, despite multiple statements to the contrary from the local municipality.

    And finally...

    “Australia’s loss”

    Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani is making a name for himself in Australia – but he’s not allowed to set foot in the country. Boochani is an unwitting resident of Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where he was sent in 2013 after trying to seek asylum in Australia. This week, Boochani’s book, “No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison”, cleaned up at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, an annual contest in Australia. Judges called Boochani’s book, composed on a mobile phone, “a literary triumph, devastating and transcendent”, awarding it the non-fiction prize as well as the top honour – a haul worth 125,000 Australian dollars (more than 90,000 US dollars) . There are still about 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and another island, Nauru – part of Australia’s criticised asylum policy, which saw boat arrivals pushed to offshore detention camps and barred from ever entering Australia. In an opinion piece published this week, the US official who signed a deal to take in hundreds of people stuck on Nauru or Manus says resettled refugees are putting down roots in their new American homes. Anne Richard, a former assistant secretary of state, writes about meeting the former detainees, now working in restaurants, attending evening classes, or sending their own kids to school. “Australia’s loss,” she writes, “is America’s gain”.

    (TOP PHOTO: Abdulrahman Mohammed Jahia (33) and his family heard a loud explosion outside their house in Sana'a, Yemen. Their neighbouring building was hit by airstrikes. CREDIT: Becky Bakr Abdulla/NRC)

    bp-il-as-si/wp/ag

    Mediterranean death rates, networking in a rush, and a shaky ceasefire in Yemen
  • Editors’ picks: Why you need to read these 2018 stories

    Our top 10 most popular stories are those you clicked on most in 2018, but we also had our own favourites.

     

    Over the past 12 months, IRIN reporters spanned out across the globe to examine under-reported crises, long-running conflicts, extremism, sudden disasters, slow-burning emergencies, and the humanitarian consequences of migration.

     

    Here are some of the stories we wish more people had read, and why they’ll matter in 2019. If you haven’t read them yet, there’s still time.

     

    Evidence unearthed

    burnt-out_vehicle_on_the_road_from_brazzavile_to_kinkala.jpg

    Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
    Burnt-out vehicle on the road from Brazzavile to Kinkala

    Congo-Brazzaville’s hidden war

     

    Unlike better-known conflicts in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, unrest in Congo-Brazzaville after disputed elections in 2016 occurred with little international attention or outside scrutiny. At the end of 2017, Philip Kleinfeld gained rare access to the Pool region, where he documented the toll of two years of conflict. In the government’s crackdown on former militias, villages were bombed from the air while others were pillaged by ground troops. Entire areas were left empty and, despite huge suffering, the government refused to recognise the existence of the crisis for more than a year. Our two-part series took an exclusive look at the lives upended in this brutal hidden war. Satellite images obtained by Emmanuel Freudenthal months after Kleinfeld’s story was published in January 2018 allowed us to update it in June with more evidence of the scale of the government’s scorched-earth campaign.

    Why it matters in 2019:

    A year on, the ceasefire the government announced with rebels in Pool is still holding, while the political space has opened with the release of several political prisoners. The accord paves the way for tens of thousands of displaced civilians to return, but humanitarian needs remain high, especially as the region was largely sealed off from aid organisations at the height of the crisis. Activists remain concerned by the absence of justice, and fear the conflict will flare up again if its root causes are not addressed. The information gathered by Kleinfeld and Freudenthal is meanwhile being used by Congolese lawyers hoping to bring a case before the International Criminal Court.

     


     

    Counter-terror compliance gets harder

    usaid.png

    USAID

    Shutdowns, suspensions, and legal threats put relief at risk

     

    Tougher donor restrictions on relief operations in areas controlled by extremist groups are “out of control”, impeding life-saving work, and could lead aid groups to pull out of the most challenging responses, senior humanitarian officials and rights experts warned. IRIN reporting revealed that aid to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in northwestern Syria had been quietly halted on counter-terrorism grounds. And, in a parallel development, a Norwegian NGO paid $2.05 million to settle a case brought by the US government regarding its relations with Iran and Palestinian group Hamas.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    Millions of vulnerable people in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere live under the sway of “terrorist” groups they don't necessarily support. How will they receive aid if humanitarian agencies can’t comply with new counter-terrorism regulation? New US court cases and USAID investigations appear likely in 2019.

     

     


     

    Afghan drought solutions

    afghanistan-droughtsolutions-1.jpg

    Two men in Afghanistan in a farm field.
    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    In drought-hit Abkamari District in western Afghanistan’s Badghis Province, farmers work on a plot of land that is irrigated by a new solar-powered water system.

    Oasis amid the drought: Local water systems give Afghans a reason to stay home

     

    Afghanistan is in the middle of a severe drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock, and in 2018 uprooted nearly as many people as conflict. We’ve tracked the issue early and often on our weekly Cheat Sheet, as well as in stories examining ongoing impacts such as displacement and child marriage. Conflict has made access difficult for humanitarian groups, and some NGOs fear concentrating aid in the comparatively accessible urban centres of western Afghanistan may be pulling people from their homes in search of help. Is there a better solution? In one parched district, reporter Stefanie Glinski examined how simple water systems are convincing hundreds of families to stay home, even though they have lost their livelihoods to the drought. Many people in need of help live in these remote districts, but not all aid groups are prepared to manage the risks of working there.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    Analysts are projecting that food security will worsen in the coming months, with more than 10 million Afghans in a “crisis” or “emergency” situation by February 2019. Yet humanitarian budgets are overstretched and conflict is worsening.

     

     


     

    Iraq’s future

    img_3275.jpg

    Annie Slemrod/IRIN

    Searching for Othman

     

    War. Displacement. Return. What do these words mean to the lives of people on the ground? Join Middle East editor Annie Slemrod in Iraq as she searches for one boy whose name she did not know in a country of 37 million people. She not only finds out his name, but that these words, so common in press releases and news articles, don’t even begin to express how the last few years and the fight against so-called Islamic State have changed the lives of many Iraqis – including one young boy whose life continues to be shaped by that struggle.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    Iraq is making a rebound of sorts: it has mostly defeated IS, and millions of displaced people have gone home. But nearly two million more have not. Some of the grievances that allowed IS to flourish have not been addressed, and large-scale protests over shortages of electricity, water, and jobs erupted in 2018 in parts of the country. Othman’s story highlights how hard it will be in 2019, and in the coming years, for many in the country to break a long cycle of violence and build any semblance of a future.

     

     


     

    Migrant journeys

    migrant_shelter_in_sonoyta_mexico_4.jpg

    Migrant shelter in Sonoyta, Mexico.
    Eric Reidy/IRIN
    Migrant shelter in Sonoyta, Mexico.

    By sand or by sea

    Are the journeys of Central Americans through Mexico to the US border really a world apart from those of sub-Saharan Africans through Niger and Libya to the Mediterranean Sea? No, journalist Eric Reidy, who has covered both over the past four years, suggests in this reporter’s notebook. He points to “the raw desperation and danger of the journey; the political backlash in Europe and the United States fuelling the rise of the far right; the attempts to stop people from crossing borders that have empowered criminals and increased suffering and abuse.” And, most glaring of all, the “basic inhumanity” of an official response based on prevention rather than legal alternatives. Some things about the two situations are starkly different, of course, so a clear ‘yes/no’ answer isn’t really possible. As he notes, 1.8 million people crossed the sea to Europe in the few years since 2014, compared to the reduction of the undocumented population in the United States over the past decade. And international aid workers have been omnipresent in the Mediterranean crisis but are conspicuous by their absence at the US-Mexico border.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    The trend for migration globally is upward, and the political mood in both Europe and the United States heading into the new year only appears to be hardening.

     

     


     

    Hunger and healthcare

    tukuko523.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN

    Venezuela: A humanitarian crisis denied

    By October the number of Venezuelans estimated to have fled their country since the economy began to implode in 2015 hit three million. Given the rate of departures, it won’t be long before that figure reaches four million. Much media attention in 2018 focused on the exodus, on desperate mothers and children fleeing to places like Colombia and Brazil. But what of the many more millions left behind? Susan Schulman spent two weeks in August and September travelling across the country. She found pervasive hunger, resurgent disease, and babies dying because of an absence of standard medicines – an acute humanitarian crisis denied by Venezuela’s own government.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    There are signs President Nicolás Maduro is beginning to accept the need for outside help, but next year is likely to see the situation deteriorate further. The International Monetary Fund has warned that inflation could reach 10 million percent, while the UN expects the exodus to swell to 5.3 million.

     

     


     

    Sahel climate crisis

    How climate change is plunging Senegal’s herders into poverty

    Climate change is about more than just data and science. It’s about the everyday changes that impact the lives of millions – especially those who are poor and vulnerable. In sub-Saharan Africa’s Sahel region, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, drought, floods, and land degradation are threatening the future of livestock herders and crop growers, some of whom have already lost half their income because of depleted harvests and severe food shortages this year. And if the current climatic patterns continue, as they likely will, it may get worse still. Reporter Lucinda Rouse followed life in the herding communities of the Sahel over a six-month period this year. In this series, she meets people barely getting by due to the climate crisis, delves into the political and economic factors making their lives more difficult, and learns about a green solution that local communities believe may help.

    Why it matters in 2019:

    In October, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that time was rapidly running out to reverse the devastating effects of climate change, and rising Islamist militancy now threatens to deepen the crisis for many in the Sahel region.

     

     


     

    Peace in Myanmar

    myanmar-peacebuilders-4.jpg

    Verena Hölzl/IRIN
    Nyi Nyi Zaw, an ethnic Rakhine teacher with the peacebuilding organisation People to People, says he was formerly prejudiced against his Rohingya neighbours: ”I used to be blinded just like the people who come to our trainings.”

    The uphill battle to forge peace in Myanmar's Rakhine State

    Generations of Rohingya have been denied citizenship, segregated, and pushed from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Animosity towards the Rohingya runs deep, but there are also more nuanced views – even in deeply divided Rakhine. Reporter Verena Hölzl met with ethnic Rakhine activists trying to build peace in their troubled state. These local peacebuilders face government restrictions and threats from sceptical hardliners.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    There are no overnight solutions to a crisis that has simmered over decades of mistrust and marginalisation. But these local efforts may be a small yet important step to building trust among Myanmar’s ethnic communities: “People have to start to listen to each other,” said one Rakhine student, “or we will never have peace”.

     

    Editors’ picks: Why you need to read these 2018 stories
  • Trump pullouts, aid from mining firms, and that Amnesty ad: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    Trouble at the top

     

    The overall coordination body for humanitarian aid lacks a vision, mission, strategy, and sound funding, according to a UN audit. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, or IASC, formed in 1991, brings together the UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, and NGOs in a humanitarian über-cabinet. It is chaired by the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock. His office says he has been working to sort out the group since the period of the audit (2016 to mid-2017). A well-placed senior aid official, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivities, said the committee was making progress on a few issues, such as preventing sexual abuse. The audit revealed problems found in confidential reviews in 2003 and 2014 persisted, notably “insufficient commitment to collective leadership”. The official said there is a “fundamental problem”: if members don’t have stronger incentives to cooperate, further attention to the IASC’s structure "is going to be tinkering at the edges".

     

    Strange bedfellows: mining firms and humanitarians?

     

    In February, a magnitude-7.5 earthquake rattled Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands region, toppling villages, killing dozens, and leaving some 270,000 in need of help. Aid groups requested $62 million to respond. International donors have pitched in, but the largest contribution – equivalent to nearly two thirds of the appeal – came from the private sector, including the mining, oil, and gas industries. A briefing released this week by the Melbourne-based Humanitarian Advisory Group explores how extractives companies responded. It’s a polarising issue for many in the aid sector: some organisations, researchers note, refuse to work with or accept money from extractives companies, which have been accused of causing environmental damage and “serious human rights problems” in the past. The HAG briefing notes that extractives companies often responded faster than aid groups after this year’s earthquake, and used their logistics resources to access remote areas blocked by the damage. But they also lacked formal training on humanitarian practices and principles: some aid workers thought companies were targeting only communities in their business areas, for example; others said companies dumped supplies without monitoring to ensure they actually reached their intended targets. Despite the problems, the researchers conclude there is “enormous potential” for engaging extractives companies in disaster response in the Pacific.

     

    Concerns around aid operations in South Sudan

     

    Médecins Sans Frontières is concerned its operations in South Sudan may be at risk due to revelations it made about mass rapes in the town of Bentiu in November. This week officials from the medical NGO said the report that at least 125 women and girls were raped by armed men – some in military uniform – had caused friction. “The government of South Sudan is not happy,” an MSF official was anonymously quoted as saying by Kenyan newspaper The East African. “So who knows, maybe our massive operations in Bentiu will come to a close and place at a risk thousands of lives.” The UN condemned the attacks, sent a team of human rights investigators to Bentiu, and called for the culprits to face justice. Human Rights Watch also called for an urgent investigation into the violence. Under pressure, the South Sudanese government sent an investigation team to Bentiu, but this week it claimed there was a “lack of evidence” to substantiate the rape allegations.

     

    Amnesty backs down over “offensive” online campaign

     

    Human rights group Amnesty International was forced to pull an online campaign about refugees in Greece after a cover photo was accused of being “fetishised and eroticised”. The picture, in an online magazine produced at its Dutch branch, showed a model apparently naked except for life jackets, intended as a parody of a fashion shoot. After protests on social media, Amnesty Netherlands apologised for “any offence caused” and for the “error of judgement”, but replaced the picture with a model with barbed wire over her eyes. Later, the parent organisation, Amnesty International, also apologised and took the whole project offline.

     

    Healthcare boost for Yazidis in Iraq’s Sinjar

     

    Some good news for a change. You may recall a series of three stories we did back in March and April on the Yazidis in Iraq’s Sinjar province, where the religious minority fled massacres and enslavement by so-called Islamic State in 2014. Reporter Tom Westcott found that tens of thousands of families had been returning to towns and villages once ruled by IS, only to face a healthcare crisis. In the bullet-ridden hospital of Sinjar town itself, one doctor with no ambulance was struggling to meet the needs of the many returnees. Today, the situation is greatly improved, Westcott reports. The hospital has moved to new and better premises, has several ambulances, and is being assisted by NGOs. In a visit on 15 December, Nadia Murad said she planned to use her $1 million Nobel Peace Prize money to build another hospital in Sinjar, her hometown.

    In case you missed it:

     

    AFGHANISTAN/SYRIA: President Donald Trump ordered a full US withdrawal from Syria and the drawdown of about half the 14,000 remaining American troops in Afghanistan. Critics rounded on both decisions as premature, with particular concern raised over the possibility of a new humanitarian disaster if the situation unravels in northern Syria. US Defence Secretary James Mattis announced his resignation on the back of the moves.

     

    THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Elections to replace President Joseph Kabila were postponed yet again this week, following a previous delay of more than two years. The country is on the cusp of its first ever democratic transfer of power, but a host of humanitarian crises – from Ebola to protracted conflicts – awaits the next leader.

     

    MADAGASCAR: The leading candidates in Madagascar’s election – both former presidents – have each claimed victory in this week’s polls. Marc Ravalomanana, who came to power in 2002, is up against Andry Rajoelina, who ousted him in a military coup in 2009. Rajoelina then ruled for five years until he was forced out in protests led by Ravalomanana. Official results are due next week. Nine in 10 of Madagascar’s 25 million population live on less than $2 a day, and the island faces huge health and malnutrition problems, made worse by drought and devastating El Niños.

     

    MYANMAR: Clashes between Myanmar soldiers and the Arakan Army, an armed group that advocates for the ethnic Rakhine community, have displaced hundreds of civilians this month in western Myanmar.

     

    Weekend read

     

    A generation of unschooled Cameroonians, another generation of conflict?

     

    Latest UN estimates put the number of people forced from their homes by conflict between Cameroon’s anglophone minority and the francophone-majority state at 437,500. Many have taken to hiding in the bush, including tens of thousands of school-age children. An untold number are missing out on an education as the insurgency escalates, school attacks and kidnappings spike, and separatist fighters demand schools stay closed. Our weekend read includes interviews with parents, officials, and kidnapped children, and explores how education was the starting point for this crisis, and how a generation of children now risks being recruited by armed groups and perpetuating the conflict.

    For more on the origins of the conflict and the motivations of the separatists, read our two-part special report, the first from inside rebel ranks.

    And finally…

     

    A vaccine with wings

     

    This week in a remote corner of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, a commercial drone buzzed 40 kilometres above rocky terrain to deliver an important payload: vaccines to immunise 18 people, including a one-month-old child. It could be an early step toward Vanuatu’s health ministry integrating drone technology into its immunisation programme, which is challenged by scattered communities and inaccessible terrain. According to UNICEF, only one third of Vanuatu’s populated islands have airfields or roads, and one in five children in remote areas don’t have access to vaccines. Aid groups and health agencies have been testing humanitarian uses for drones for years. A US company uses drones to deliver medical supplies in Rwanda; humanitarians have explored using drones for post-disaster mapping; a non-profit in Fiji is trialling drones to unleash a swarm of dengue-fighting mosquitoes. In Vanuatu, proponents of the ongoing vaccine delivery trials say this week’s successful handoff is a ”big leap for global health”.

     

    To our readers: This is the last Cheat Sheet of 2018. We’ll be back on 11 January, but watch for special Friday coverage during the next two weeks. Best wishes for a brighter 2019.

     

    bp-il-si/nc/ag

    Trump pullouts, aid from mining firms, and that Amnesty ad
  • Congo data, South Sudan attacks, and UNAIDS in crisis: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    "Brutal attacks" against women and girls in South Sudan

     

    Despite some cautious optimism around a new peace agreement, civilians are still far from safe in South Sudan. Aid groups say more than 150 women and girls were raped, beaten, and brutalised over a 10-day period at the end of November. Armed men, many in uniform, carried out the “abhorrent” attacks near the city of Bentiu, the UN said. Médecins Sans Frontières, which provided emergency medical care to survivors, expressed deep concerns. “Some are girls under 10 years old and others are women older than 65. Even pregnant women have not been spared from these brutal attacks,” said MSF midwife Ruth Okello. Since the war began in 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence. In the first half of 2018, 2,300 cases were reported; more than 20 percent of victims were children, the UN said. For more on the conflict and what it’s like to live in Juba and report on it, watch this frank Q&A interview with IRIN contributor Stefanie Glinski. And look out for our special package next week as the war marks its five-year milestone.

     

    UN accused of manipulating data in Congo

     

    Aid groups working in the Democratic Republic of Congo have accused the UN of "manipulating" data and bowing to government pressure ahead of elections later this month. In a statement in November, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, put the overall number of people needing assistance in Congo in 2019 at 12.8 million, a slight decrease on last year, despite the fact that according to the authoritative IPC scale 13.1 million Congolese are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity next year (up from 7.7 million in 2018). The OCHA overall needs figure appears to only count the displaced as 1.37 million people newly displaced between January and August 2018. Aid groups say that overlooking three million people who had already been displaced prior to that will dramatically impact their ability to respond to needs, and may encourage forced closures of IDP camps. A letter obtained by IRIN – addressed to UN aid chief Mark Lowcock and Kim Bolduc, the UN’s most senior humanitarian official in Congo – from a forum of 45 international NGOs working in the country, blames the decision on "increased politicisation of humanitarian data", which they say sends a misleading message that the situation is improving "despite clear evidence to the contrary". OCHA has denied manipulating data. Read our report from April on how relations were already strained between aid groups and the Congolese government, after it failed to attend its own donor conference in March.

    UNAIDS: "A broken organisational culture"

     

    An independent report on harassment and management culture at the UN's specialised HIV/AIDS body, UNAIDS, is out today and it's damning. The executive director, Michel Sidibé, is found to have set up a "patriarchal culture", and the organisation to be in crisis. The four-month review followed reports that a senior UNAIDS official's sexual misconduct was not properly handled. The report plants the blame at the feet of Sidibé. He has been "tolerating harassment and abuse of authority" and "accepted no responsibility for actions and effects of decisions and practices creating the conditions that led to this review,” it said. In an email to staff, Sidibé wrote: "I have taken on board the criticisms."

     

    Disputed Papua killings raise tensions in Indonesia

     

    Violence this week in the Papua region put the spotlight back on a decades-long pro-independence movement along Indonesia’s eastern edge. Indonesian authorities say pro-independence fighters killed up to 31 people working on a controversial infrastructure project in Papua province this week, though an armed group that reportedly claimed responsibility said those killed were not civilians. A separate pro-independence leader called for restraint and warned of retaliatory attacks by Indonesia’s military. For decades, Indonesia has quashed Papuan nationalism, which includes both armed elements and a peaceful movement by activists who have called for a referendum on independence. Over that time, the heavily militarised region has been mired in poverty and under-development, letting treatable health problems fester. Earlier this year, a measles outbreak killed dozens of children.

     

    One year after victory, is Iraq IS-free?

     

    One year ago (on 9 December, to be exact) Iraq declared victory against so-called Islamic State. The country’s recovery has come in fits and starts. There were elections and a new prime minister, but he’s not yet managed to form a government. November saw the lowest number of civilian deaths and injuries in violence, terrorism, and armed conflict in six years, but a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies says IS is regrouping, operating in a cell structure, and targeting the Iraqi government, especially local village heads. And while 4.1 million Iraqis who fled their homes during the IS years have returned home, 1.9 remain displaced, half of them for more than three years. The UN says it’s increasingly clear many of these people don’t want to (or can’t) go home, many still rely on aid, and it’s not clear what their future holds.

     

    Plus ça change

     

    MSF employs more people than any other relief organisation, and there are 570,000 people working in humanitarian aid overall. Just two new data points from an ambitious report, the State of the Humanitarian System 2018, released this week. The study finds that the global political climate is causing a "decline in performance in the areas of coverage (the ability to reach everyone in need) and coherence (the ability to conduct operations in line with international humanitarian and refugee law)". The report, from the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance, or ALNAP, also gives a lukewarm appraisal of the humanitarian system: “incremental improvement in some areas, and a lack of movement in others”. While UN agencies dominate the funding picture, six large NGOs command 23 percent of the spending in 2017, the report finds. The 331 page report came hard on the heels of the UN-led omnibus humanitarian appeal for 2019, which signalled the need for $25 billion in aid for more than 90 million people.

    In case you missed it

     

    Afghanistan: Two bodies managing October parliamentary elections are clashing over poll results in the capital, Kabul. The elections complaints commission declared fraud and invalidated all votes cast in Kabul, but the agency overseeing the vote said it would ignore the ruling.

     

    China: More than 7,400 women and girls could be victims of forced marriage in just a few remote districts along the northern Myanmar-China border, according to a new study. Nearly 40 percent of women interviewed for the research said they’d been forced to marry.

     

    Ebola: Eighteen new Ebola cases and five more deaths have been recorded in just two days in Congo. The health ministry expressed particular concern about the spread in Butembo, a major trading city in North Kivu province. With 471 cases, including 273 deaths, the outbreak is now the second-largest ever.

     

    Libya: Locals say a US strike in Libya killed as many as 11 civilians at the end of November, the casualty monitor Airwars reports. The US says the strike targeted a local faction of al-Qaeda.

     

    Mediterranean: MSF and SOS Méditerranée say they have been “forced” to stop operating their Aquarius migrant rescue vessel. The ship, which has saved countless lives in the Mediterranean since 2015, has been docked in Marseilles since Panama revoked its registration in September after sustained legal pressure, in particular from Italy.

     

    Yemen: Two sides in the war kicked off talks in Sweden on Thursday, as a new report said that 20 million people back in Yemen are hungry, including nearly a quarter of a million who could soon be on the “brink of death”, but the threshold for famine has not been met.

     

    Our weekend read

     

    “Yes, the babies die”: Tales of despair and dismay from Venezuela

     

    To get a sense of how fast and how far Venezuela has fallen, look no further than the University Hospital of Maracaibo. Once a shining beacon of the South American nation’s oil-rich economy, this modernist building that once pioneered liver transplants now peels into disrepair and lacks electricity, water, even basic medicines. Inside, the shelves lie empty, coated with flies. Outside, a large mound of blue rubbish bags grows, rotting, by the day. “Hospitals have become like extermination camps,” says surgeon and professor Dr. Dora Colomenares. Our weekend read is the latest instalment of Susan Schulman’s special report on the humanitarian impacts of Venezuela’s economic collapse. Through the graphic accounts of patients and doctors, it lays bare the collapse of a healthcare system that has lost most of its capability to treat the sick. As more and more medical personnel join the mass exodus from the country, malnutrition is weakening immune systems and long-dormant diseases are returning. “We feel very helpless because there is nothing we can do,” Colomenares says. “Yes,” she nods, “yes, the babies die.”

     

    And finally…

     

    The muppets are coming to the Rohingya refugee camps. The Lego Foundation this week announced a $100 million grant to the Sesame Workshop – the non-profit behind the long-running US children’s TV show. The money will be used to bring “play-based early childhood development” targeted to Rohingya and Syrian refugee children, including a curriculum featuring Sesame Street’s fuzzy muppet puppets (yes, they are muppets). In Bangladesh, this will include partnering with the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC, whose work in the camps includes running “learning centres” for children – Bangladesh’s government does not allow formal schooling for Rohingya refugees. In case you’re wondering, there is indeed a Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street, and the proponents of this initiative say it will be a part of the programming.

    (TOP PHOTO: South Sudanese students at an event for the International Day for eliminating Sexual Violence in Conflict. CREDIT: UNMISS)

    il-bp-as-si/ns/ag

    Congo data, South Sudan attacks, and UNAIDS in crisis
  • Sex for jobs, fake aid workers, and women responders: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    COP24 opens with stark warnings

     

    The UN climate change conference, COP24, begins 2 December in Poland, and vulnerable countries and aid groups are paying particularly close attention. Negotiators are under pressure to hammer out the so-called “rulebook” that lays the ground rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. The 2015 accord outlined broad commitments for tackling climate change – limiting temperature rise, financing to help lower-income countries, developing national climate strategies – but now negotiators must agree on how to make it all work. Nations most susceptible to climate change will be looking for consensus on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and for more concrete commitments to climate funding – Vanuatu’s foreign minister has pledged to “optimistically but aggressively” engage at COP24, challenging climate polluters and urging progress on the divisive issue of “loss and damage” compensation to vulnerable nations. Humanitarian groups are increasingly witnessing the effects of climate change in everyday aid response. Oxfam says governments at COP24 face “life and death” decisions. For more, read our reporting on the humanitarian impacts of climate change.

     

    Upsurge in Boko Haram attacks

     

    A spike in jihadist attacks against military and civilian targets in northeastern Nigeria is undermining claims that Boko Haram has been "defeated". Around 100 Nigerian soldiers were reportedly killed in an attack on an army base earlier this month by Islamic State West Africa Province, a Boko Haram splinter group. AFP has reported at least 17 attempts to overrun army bases in the region since July. Speaking this week in Maiduguri, the birthplace of the insurgency, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said defeating Boko Haram was "a must-win war”, adding: "Our troops must not be distracted. They should be committed to the task of eliminating Boko Haram from the face of the Earth.” During the nine-year rebellion, more than 27,000 people have been killed and 1.8 million displaced. Read more of IRIN’s in-depth coverage: Countering militancy in the Sahel.

     

    Fake humanitarians in Gaza?

     

    Remember that mid-November flare-up of violence in Gaza, said to be the worst since 2014 and eventually paused by an Egypt-brokered ceasefire? It all began with a botched Israeli operation in the Palestinian enclave, and reports in the Israeli media recently emerged (based in part on information from Hamas and limited by Israel’s official military censor) that soldiers may have been posing as Palestinian aid workers, having entered the strip with forged documents. We can’t (for now) independently confirm these reports, but it’s worth noting that with Gaza’s economy in steady decline, the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, says 80 percent of the area’s 1.9 million residents depend on aid to get by. Just this week, the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières said a “slow-motion healthcare emergency is unfolding” in Gaza as the healthcare system is overwhelmed by the number of patients shot or injured by the Israeli army during ongoing protests.  

     

    'Sex-for-jobs’ scandal hits AU

     

    An internal investigation by the African Union has uncovered a de facto system whereby "young women are exploited for sex in exchange for jobs”. The findings, made public last week, found widespread reports of mistreatment, and said sexual harassment in particular was confirmed by all 88 women interviewed as part of the probe; youth volunteers and interns were found to be most vulnerable. The inquiry into harassment and gender discrimination was launched in May after three dozen women made allegations about what they called “professional apartheid against female employees in the commission”. In response to the findings, the continental body will establish a comprehensive sexual harassment policy – something that did not previously exist. Although the AU has made ‘women, gender and development’ a key part of its external priorities, internally, more needs to be done to protect victims and ensure perpetrators are called to account. Read more of IRIN’s in-depth coverage on #MeToo in the aid sector.

     

    Women in disaster response

     

    Women face greater risks during and after disasters, but they’re often overlooked when it comes to participating in humanitarian responses – despite sector-wide commitments to boost the role of women and girls during crises. New research by CARE International, released during the ongoing 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign, examines what’s preventing more women responders from being included, and outlines potential solutions to the problem. Social norms and discrimination may be obvious barriers to participation, but aid groups and donors must also do more to ensure women take part, the report states. Sidelining women isn’t simply unjust – it’s also a “significant missed opportunity” to make responses better, it notes. Read the research here.

    In case you missed it

    Afghanistan: President Ashraf Ghani this week announced the formation of a 12-person negotiation team aimed at striking a peace agreement with the Taliban. But it’s unclear whether the militant group is open to direct negotiations with the government, which has not been involved in separate preliminary discussions between Taliban and US officials.

    Afghanistan: At least 23 civilians were killed in an airstrike in southern Helmand Province on 27 November, according to the UN mission. The US military said it is investigating. The UN says the number of civilian deaths caused by airstrikes this year – 649 through the end of September – is the highest in nearly a decade.

    Iraq: Heavy rains last weekend caused severe flooding, displacing thousands as tents were wiped out, homes destroyed, and an unknown number of people killed.

    Measles: In 2017, cases of measles increased 6,358 percent in the Americas (fuelled by an outbreak in Venezuela) and 458 percent in Europe (driven by “falsehoods” about the vaccine), according to a new study and press release from leading health agencies warning that the disease is in a “resurgence”.

    Vanuatu: The government of the Pacific nation is telling residents of Ambae to stay away from the island, which was completely evacuated in July due to an erupting volcano. It’s unclear when – or if – the estimated 9,000 or more residents will be allowed to return.

    Yemen: The US Senate voted on Wednesday to move forward with debate on a measure that would (if it succeeds, and that’s a big if) end American military support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

     

    Coming up

     

    In Geneva on 4 December, the UN will appeal for humanitarian funding in 2019. The UN agencies, along with governments and many NGOs, put together annual plans to respond to the most urgent emergency situations. This year the Global Humanitarian Overview sought about $25 billion, to help 97 million people, and so far got about $14 billion. Donors are finding more to give, but needs keep rising. Things to watch: How big will Yemen's appeal need to get to ward off famine? Which countries will no longer need an appeal? Which will join the sorry ranks of the world's top crises? These giant funding appeals don't include all international efforts, by the way: the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and MSF, for example, operate independently. While we’re digesting that, on 5 December, a beefy 330-page report lands, reviewing the sector over the last three years. ALNAP's sweeping State of the Humanitarian System publication is based on literature reviews, evaluations, original case studies, hundreds of interviews, surveys of recipients of aid and data analysis.

     

    Our weekend read

     

    Exposed: UNHCR's role in Uganda refugee aid scandal

     

    What do 15,000 solar lamps, 50,000 wheelbarrows, and 288,000 blankets have in common? It’s not a joke. Unbelievably, they are just part of the litany of waste the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, presided over in Uganda, where hundreds of thousands of civilians fled war and hunger in South Sudan needing every bit of help they could get. In February, when the scandal first broke, it was Ugandan officials in the firing line over a string of offences ranging from theft of relief items to appropriating land meant for refugees. Now, as IRIN Senior Editor Ben Parker lays bare in our weekend read, it is very much UNHCR. An explosive audit by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services reveals a catalogue of errors and mismanagement totalling tens of millions of dollars. How and why could this happen? For clues, look at the vertiginous extent to which Uganda was being held up – during a period of rising xenophobia globally – as a model refugee-hosting nation. “Does that influence the oversight and dissuade UNHCR from digging a little deeper and uncovering corruption and mismanagement? Who has leverage on who?” asks one humanitarian insider.

     

    And finally…

     

    "They think I'm different"

     

    A 15-year-old boy is shoved to the ground by a bigger youth, who with one hand on his throat pours water on his face saying: "I'll drown you". A viral video of a sports pitch incident in northern England has led to police charges for the bully and an outpouring of help. In a TV interview, the boy, whose family are refugees resettled from Syria in 2016, said he and his sister had put up with a barrage of bullying and name-calling at school. "When I came to the UK, I felt I was going to be safe,” he said. While the school, police, and local authorities are facing questions over their handling of the case, a crowdfunding campaign has quickly raised about £150,000 ($190,000) to support the family.

     

    bp-si-as-il/ag

     

    Sex for jobs, fake aid workers, and women responders
  • Aid emojis, El Nino warnings, and an Afghan summit: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    Just-in-time funding for Palestinian refugees

     

    The UN's relief agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, has plugged a major hole in this year's finances left by the cancellation of an expected $300 million from the United States. Speaking to the agency's Advisory Commission this week, UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl said the income shortfall now stands at $21 million, after donors contributed $425 million since January. A wide range of donors increased their contributions to make up the difference. Krähenbühl said Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait had provided $50 million each. The agency has made cost savings of $197 million from 2015-17, he added, and will in future benefit from an Islamic waqf fund (a form of endowment) and a World Bank trust fund.

     

    Taking stock in Afghanistan

     

    There are plenty of humanitarian issues in Afghanistan: soaring civilian casualties and mass displacement caused by conflict; drought-parched land; the yearly return of hundreds of thousands of refugees and undocumented migrants pushed out of neighbouring countries. These and other critical topics will be on the table as Afghanistan’s leaders meet with international donors, senior aid officials, civil society groups, and humanitarian and development experts at a UN-hosted conference in Geneva on 27 and 28 November. Organisers say it’s a “crucial moment” for both the government itself and the international community. The government will be looking to bolster international support; donors will be measuring progress on some of the billions in funding promised to the country. Presidential elections are scheduled for April, but the country is mired in an increasingly complex war and progress on possible peace talks with the Taliban has been elusive.

     

    Preparing for El Niño

     

    The Food and Agriculture Organization is urging early action to prepare for the impacts of a possible El Niño event in the coming months. Global El Niño weather phenomena, which are linked to a cycle of warming ocean temperatures in the Pacific, sharpen the risk of extreme weather in volatile ways: heavy rains and flooding in some areas; severe drought in others. Countries already dealing with humanitarian crises could be among those most at risk. An FAO bulletin released this week cites nations from Venezuela and Colombia, to DRC and Malawi, to the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu as being at risk of rainfall shortages. In turn, countries like Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan, and Afghanistan could see excess rains. Parts of Kiribati in the Pacific could see both wet and dry conditions. The FAO says it’s important that policymakers and planners realise that El Niño’s impacts “can be mitigated before they generate large-scale food security emergencies”.  The risks can be steep: the last severe El Niño in 2015 and 2016 triggered appeals for international humanitarian aid in 23 countries, totalling more than $5 billion, the FAO notes.

     

    Climate vulnerable but fighting back

     

    The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu intends to challenge the big polluters it holds responsible for costly climate-linked destruction on its soil. Vanuatu’s foreign affairs minister, Ralph Regenvanu, said the country will explore taking legal action against the fossil fuel industry – as well as governments that profit from it – as part of a movement to “shift the costs of climate protection” back onto those most responsible for climate change. Regenvanu made his comments on Thursday at a virtual climate summit staged by the Climate Vulnerable Forum – a group of nearly 50 developing countries pushing for the world to take stronger action on climate change. The CVF summit is intended to galvanise international efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius ahead of this year’s iteration of the annual UN climate conference, COP24, slated for December in Poland. But smaller countries – which are some of the most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts but often have the least to do with its causes – are also growing increasingly frustrated about global commitments to address monetary damages caused by climate-linked disasters. Regenvanu said Vanuatu lost nearly two thirds of its GDP from a single tropical storm – Cyclone Pam in 2015. “The climate loss and damages ravaging Vanuatu will not go unchallenged,” Regenvanu said.

    As part of the summit, IRIN director Heba Aly also moderated a panel examining climate change’s disproportionate impacts on women – and how women are also taking the lead in addressing it. Read more of IRIN’s reporting on the humanitarian impacts of climate change.

    In case you missed it

     

    AFGHANISTAN: Attacks on religious targets continue to claim lives. An explosion killed at least 26 people attending Friday prayers at a mosque in eastern Afghanistan on 23 November, while a 20 November suicide blast at a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul killed at least 50 and injured dozens more.

     

    AFGHANISTAN: Drought is adding to the continuing humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan, but it's also bad for the opium business. According to figures released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime this week, the estimated land area used for opium cultivation this year has fallen by one fifth since 2017’s record high – partly due to severe drought impacts in western Afghanistan.

     

    MALARIA: No significant progress was made to reduce global malaria cases between 2015 and 2017, according to a new report by the World Health Organization, which said that the pace of fighting the disease has stalled. An estimated 219 million malaria cases were reported in 2017, and the disease still kills more than 435,000 people annually, mainly in Africa. Meanwhile, in a separate effort to try and reduce transmission, thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes are set to be released in a village in Burkina Faso as part of a project aimed at wiping out the malaria-carrying insects. Not everyone is convinced.

     

    YEMEN: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week pledged a combined $500 million to relief efforts in Yemen. The new funding comes as diplomatic pressure increased on them and other warring parties in Yemen to pause fighting and start peace talks. Humanitarian needs are vast, although experts are still considering whether to classify any part of Yemen as a famine. Earlier this year, the two Gulf donors had already put $1 billion towards UN-led relief plans, in addition, they say, to propping up the currency and weak government with billions more.

     

    One to listen to

     

    ‘Number One Ladies’ Landmine Agency’

     

    At the northwestern corner of the African continent lies one of the world’s least reported but longest-running conflicts – Western Sahara. At the heart of it are the region’s Sahrawi people. In this BBC radio documentary, we get a peek into the lives of a unique band of frontline workers: the self-appointed ‘Number One Ladies’ Landmine Agency’, a collective of local women working to clear unexploded bombs along the world’s longest (2,700-kilometre) minefield. Operating in temperatures exceeding 42 degrees Celsius, and at least four hours away from the nearest hospital, they risk their lives and limbs ridding the so-called “Liberated Territories” of some of the seven million mines left over from the unresolved conflict between Morocco and a Sahrawi liberation movement called the Polisario Front. While the group of mostly young women are committed to their part in making their home region safer, they also forge ahead socially – challenging cultural and religious stereotypes, and pushing boundaries to rewrite the role of women in their traditional community. But the team also faces significant challenges: living in Africa’s last-remaining colony as refugees; working in a physically and politically hostile environment; and knowing that an accident is only a footstep away.

     

    Our weekend read

     

    A humanitarian crisis denied

     

    Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world and yet, despite suffering no conflict, its people have been fleeing on a scale and at a rate comparable in recent memory only to Syrians at the height of the civil war and the Rohingya from Myanmar.

    Millions have escaped the economic meltdown since 2015 and started afresh in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. But what of the many millions more who remain in Venezuela? Regular IRIN contributor Susan Schulman spent weeks covering 1,400 kilometres from Carupano in the east to Tucuco in the far west to seek answers. Take time this weekend to read the latest instalment of her ongoing multimedia series. The government of President Nicolás Maduro insists there is no humanitarian crisis, but find out the hungry reality of the "Maduro diet", how ordinary people have taken to hijacking lorries for food and stashing their supplies in graves to survive.

     

    And finally…

     

    Emergency emojis

    Notorious for its acronyms, jargon, and lengthy documents, some would argue the international aid sector needs all the help it can get in non-verbal communication. Flood, fire, volcano, earthquake: some disaster events are easy enough to condense down to a monochrome icon. In 2012, graphic designers at the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, released into the public domain about 500 graphical icons that can be used in emergency-related reports, maps, and infographics. They include, for example, a wilted plant to symbolise drought, and a fax machine. Other concepts in the humanitarian world are not the easiest to communicate in a tiny black-and-white visual. How would you draw "harassment", "submersible pump", or "rural exodus"? In a new release, OCHA has updated some of the icons (even tweaking the trusty old fax machine) and added new ones. Some are depressing signs of the times: "roadblock", "burned house", and "sexual violence". Other novelties show changes in the humanitarian work environment: "cash transfer" , "reconstruction",  and "cell-tower". You can pick up the icons hosted at the Noun Project here. We can only salute the graphic designer who was given the task of making "gap analysis", "humanitarian programme cycle", and "multi-cluster-multi-sector" into universally-understandable symbols.

    (TOP PHOTO: Palestinians search through the rubble of their destroyed homes hit by Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. CREDIT: Shareef Sarhan/UN Photo)

    bp-il-si/nc/ag

    Aid emojis, El Nino warnings, and an Afghan summit
  • Hospital refuge, urban crisis, and laser detection: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    A 'horror scene' in CAR

     

    More than 5,000 civilians are seeking refuge in a hospital in Batangafo in northern Central African Republic after clashes displaced some 25,000 people from their homes. "It was like a horror scene. We saw hundreds of households in flames,” says the MSF field coordinator in the town, Helena Cardellach. "Batangafo is a ghost town. In the morning when there is a lull, people come out of their refuge in the hospital to try to live their lives, and then they go back to the hospital at night." Many lost everything in the fires that ravaged their homes while others are hiding in the bush with little access to food or water. Meanwhile, across CAR, nearly 643,000 people remain internally displaced, while another 575,000 live as refugees in neighbouring countries. For more on the situation in the country, read our three-part special report on peacekeeping, aid access, and sexual abuse.

     

    Reanimating the peace process in Yemen

     

    After 10 days of fierce clashes around Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, the Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in the area has reportedly ordered a pause in the offensive. While this move appears to be a reaction to growing international pressure ahead of possible UN-led peace talks, there is no official ceasefire, and some skirmishes continue. The uptick in airstrikes, shelling, and gunfire made it difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance in some parts of the city, and the UN counts 34 civilian deaths in the first week of November – although the real number is likely to be higher. There are other signs Yemen’s long-stalled peace process may be about to get an injection of energy, including an announcement from the UK’s foreign office that the coalition would allow the evacuation of some injured Houthi fighters by plane. We’ll have more for you soon on the negotiations to end Yemen’s long war.

     

    African cities on the front line of climate change

     

    Will urban centres be the future sites of global conflict and humanitarian crisis? In a world of rising temperatures, growing populations, and dwindling natural resources, cities – especially those in Africa – face huge threats over the next 30 years. According to the 2018 Climate Vulnerability Index, 84 of the world's 100 fastest-growing cities are at "extreme risk" from the effects of climate change, and 79 of these are in Africa. Verisk Maplecroft, the risk consultancy group responsible for the study, warns that the poorest will pay the highest price, saying: “The highest risk cities already lack adequate healthcare services and disaster mitigation systems.” Among major potential threats: disease outbreaks; an increase in crime and civil unrest; drought; crop failure; and instability leading to cross-border and rural migration. The list of highest risk cities includes dozens of the continent’s capitals and commercial hubs, among them Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lagos in Nigeria, and Luanda in Angola. For more, read our in-depth series last year on the challenge of urbanisation in Africa.

     

    Polio progress stalls

     

    Global progress on stopping polio transmission has “stalled and may well have reversed”. In a report this month, the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative blamed insecurity in polio hotspots for the rise in the number of wild poliovirus cases detected this year – 25 as of October – more than in all of 2017. “Access limitations due to insecurity continue to represent the biggest threat to polio eradication,” the board said in its report, citing a year-on-year doubling of cases in Afghanistan, and a black hole of information in areas of Nigeria controlled by Boko Haram. Insecurity is not the only factor: In Afghanistan, large numbers of children miss repeated rounds of polio vaccination due to misinformation and outright refusal by sceptical parents (we took a firsthand look at some of the problems earlier this year). Recent research published by UNICEF delves into this issue, asking, “Why do some Afghan parents say ‘no’ to polio drops?”

     

    US votes against new deal for refugees

     

    Two years of international negotiations have drawn up a new package of support for 25 million refugees, and the countries hosting them. The global compact for refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency, aims for a "stronger, fairer response to global refugee movements”, to help refugees become self-reliant, and to ease pressure on hosting countries. The agreement is due to be adopted by the UN General Assembly after passing committee stage this week. The United States was the only vote against the refugee compact taken on 13 November, and had pulled out of a sister compact on migration last year. A US representative told a UN committee the text is "inconsistent with United States immigration policy". Three other countries abstained on the non-binding agreement: Eritrea, Liberia, and Libya.

    In case you missed it:

     

    AFGHANISTAN: Escalating clashes this month between the Taliban and pro-government forces have displaced thousands and left districts in Uruzgan and Ghazni provinces in a state of “siege” with no access to healthcare, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination arm. The UN says the violence, which has engulfed previously peaceful areas, reflects “increasing inter-communal tensions”.

     

    ERITREA: International sanctions imposed against Eritrea nearly a decade ago were lifted by the UN Security Council this week, months after the country signed an historic peace agreement with Ethiopia in July. After two decades of tensions, Addis Ababa and Asmara are working towards peace, also reopening their border in September. While communities in both countries welcomed the move, our report from the border this week reveals how the diplomatic thaw has also led to a new surge of Eritrean refugees into heavily burdened Ethiopia.

     

    LIBYA: Italy hosted a two-day summit on Libya this week, but a chance for the country’s competing leaders to discuss key economic, security, and political issues was overshadowed by one general’s late arrival and a Turkish walk-out. The UN got no binding agreement to its timetable for elections, but its envoy for Libya nonetheless said the conference was a “first step in the right direction”.

     

    MYANMAR: Authorities in Myanmar say they have detained more than 100 Rohingya found on board a boat near the commercial capital of Yangon on Friday. Bangladesh authorities earlier intercepted a boat carrying 33 Rohingya, raising fears of a repeat of 2015’s regional boat crisis, which saw thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants stranded when traffickers abandoned their human cargo on the open waters.

     

    PALESTINE: An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire appears to be holding in Gaza after a major flare-up in violence at the start of this week prompted by a Sunday night botched Israeli raid in the Palestinian enclave. For now, Israeli airstrikes have stopped, as have mortar and rockets from Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

     

    Weekend read

     

    Rakhine peace efforts, amid concerns over forced returns

     

    Plans to begin returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on Thursday were met with protests in Bangladesh’s refugee camps. Authorities said they were ready to begin repatriations but couldn’t find any Rohingya refugees willing to go. The situation remains volatile: rights groups say Bangladesh authorities have been pressuring hundreds of refugees to return, while aid workers in the camps told IRIN some Rohingya had gone into hiding. The UN and others say it’s not yet safe for Rohingya to return to their former homes in Myanmar’s impoverished Rakhine State. Rohingya there face enforced segregation, heavy restrictions, and animosity from the ethnic Rakhine community. But not everyone in Rakhine shuns the Rohingya. For our weekend read, reporter Verena Hölzl profiles the Rakhine peacebuilders working to bridge the deep rifts. They’re often forced to work in the shadows, facing threats from sceptical hardliners and increasing government restrictions. Read more on the uphill battle to forge peace in Rakhine.

     

    And finally…

     

    A fair trade trade fair?

     

    Tents, Land Cruisers, and *checks notes* a sarin gas detector were among the goods on view in a cavernous exhibition hall on the outskirts of Brussels this week. Nearly 200 exhibitors set up stands at AidEx, whose organisers claim it's the largest trade show for the international development community. Although there are billions of dollars in supply contracts every year, ranging from food to blankets, it's a tricky market to sell to, several vendors told IRIN. Dealing with the purchasing bureaucracies of the big aid agencies "drives me insane", one said. Another stallholder thought the sector was "clubby" and hard to break into. A third bemoaned a gaggle of buyers who "all want to run their own race". Malmo University academic Tobias Denskus, attending the event as part of his research into communications in the development sector, said he was struck by how the "outdoorsy" and "yurts and glamping" markets overlap with the relief sector. IRIN too found plenty of "dual-use" suppliers – water purification systems, survival equipment, life jackets – who said they often have more lucrative outdoor and military customers but keep plugging away at the nonprofit sector anyway. Swedish firm Serstech was showing a battery-operated laser device that can detect and identify illegal drugs, commercial pharmaceuticals, and toxins in a matter of seconds. CEO Stefan Sandor said he had talked with health organisations about detecting poisons in floodwaters, or air pollution. He said the device was already in use to verify usage of chemical weapons in Syria. See this Twitter thread from IRIN’s Ben Parker for more products at the show.

     

    bp-as-il-si/nc/ag

    Hospital refuge, urban crisis, and laser detection

Support our work

Donate now

advertisement

advertisement