(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Nigerian challenges, cash aid headaches, and making mental health matter: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar


    New term, old problems for Nigeria’s Buhari


    Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, who won a second presidential term this week, faces a variety of security challenges: a decade-long and resurgent Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast; endemic insecurity in the oil-producing Niger Delta south, and – less reported but often the most deadly – spiralling violence between pastoralist Fulani herders and local farmers in the northwest. Despite Buhari's 2015 claim that Boko Haram was "technically defeated", jihadists continue gaining ground across Lake Chad and West Africa, where the humanitarian fallout is, if anything, worsening. For a comprehensive look at the causes and the consequences of militancy in the Sahel region, check out this curation of our long-term reporting. And for a personal and graphic account of covering Boko Haram over the course of several years, this reporter’s diary from Chika Oduah is a must-read.


    Headaches in the ‘cash revolution’?


    Humanitarian cash aid programmes in Kenya’s drought-prone northeast are plagued with problems, according to this recent article by Kenyan journalist Anthony Langat published by Devex. Beneficiaries describe them as confusing, unreliable, and wide open to corruption. Families report not receiving what they think they’re due and/or not knowing what they ought to get, and they say there’s no effective system to address complaints. Local leaders are accused of manipulating lists of entitled families, and money transfer agents allegedly skim off unauthorised transfer fees. The Kenyan government and the UN’s World Food Programme – who run different cash initiatives in the area – say some problems are simply clerical, such as wrongly registered mobile phone numbers or ID cards. Earlier research from NGO Ground Truth Solutions showed that 62 percent of a sample of Kenyans enrolled in cash aid projects said they were satisfied with the service. However, 88 percent “did not know “how aid agencies decide who gets cash support”.


    UN peers into a dark Myanmar mirror


    The UN is launching an inquiry into its actions in Myanmar, where critics accuse it of inaction and “complicity” in the face of widespread rights abuses that led to the violent exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya. The UN this week confirmed the appointment of Gert Rosenthal, a Guatemalan diplomat, to lead an internal review of UN operations in Myanmar. The news, first reported by The Guardian, follows a Human Rights Council resolution urging a probe into whether the UN did “everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises”, including the military’s Rohingya purge and abuses against minorities elsewhere in the country. Critics say the UN mission in Myanmar was “glaringly dysfunctional”, marred by infighting over how to engage with the government. A UN-mandated fact-finding mission has warned that problems continue and said that some UN entities refused to cooperate with its own investigation. In a statement, UN spokesman in Myanmar Stanislav Saling said the review will look at how the UN “works on the ground and possible lessons learned for the future”. It’s unclear whether Rosenthal’s findings will be made public.


    Growing recognition for mental health


    In humanitarian terms, psycho-social support is often treated as the poor cousin to aid like food and shelter, with few mental health services available in crisis settings, as we recently reported from South Sudan. But just as the economic cost and importance of mental health is increasingly being recognised in society at large, so the issue is picking up steam in humanitarian contexts too. On the sidelines of this week’s UN pledging conference for Yemen, Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Sigrid Kaag urged humanitarian donors to invest more in mental health (“second line” healthcare, which includes mental health, makes up only $72 million of the $4.2 billion appeal for Yemen). The Netherlands is funding the development of tools to help aid agencies integrate mental health services into their work and will host a conference later this year to mobilise commitments from others. Psychiatrists argue that mental health support is not just a human right; it also strengthens people’s ability to benefit from other aid, such as education or livelihood programmes.  


    Bond-holders in pandemic finance scheme untouched by Ebola outbreak


    On Thursday, the World Bank announced it was to provide up to $80 million of new funding to combat Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of that sum, $20 million is from its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, or PEF, set up after the 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. PEF is a leading example of harnessing private capital and donor resources in humanitarian response. Private investors in PEF bonds can lose their investment if a major epidemic happens. Otherwise they get interest (paid by conventional donors) at a rate described last month as “chunky” by the Financial Times. The catch? PEF investors haven’t paid out a penny in Congo. That’s because the outbreak hasn’t spread to a second country, one of the conditions for a payout. IRIN asked a disaster insurance expert about PEF last year; he said it was “quite expensive”.


    In case you missed it:


    The Democratic Republic of Congo: Médecins Sans Frontières has suspended work at two Ebola treatment centres after the facilities in Butembo and Katwa were partially destroyed in two separate attacks in the space of four days this week. The caretaker of one patient was reported to have died trying to flee. The motivation of the unidentified assailants remains unclear. The outbreak, which began seven months ago, continues, with 555 deaths and counting.


    Gaza: A UN commission of inquiry said in a report released Thursday that Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity in shooting unarmed civilians during mass Palestinian protests at the Gaza border last year.


    Indonesia: The country has recorded its first polio case since 2006. The World Health Organisation says a strain of vaccine-derived polio was confirmed this month in a child in a remote village of Papua province, one of Indonesia’s poorest regions. The WHO says the case is not linked to a polio outbreak in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.


    Iraq: Human Rights Watch says authorities in Mosul and other parts of the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh are harassing, threatening, and arresting aid workers, sometimes accusing them of ties to so-called Islamic State in an effort to change lists of people eligible for humanitarian assistance.


    Pakistan: Shortages of nutritional food and safe water could be leading to “alarmingly high” rates of disease and malnutrition in drought-hit Pakistan, especially for women and children, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.


    Somalia: Al-Shabab militants set off two deadly blasts outside a hotel in Mogadishu on Thursday, before seizing a nearby building. Soldiers battled through the night to try to dislodge them. As conflict and insecurity continue across the country, a new report revealed that 320,000 Somalis fled their homes in 2018 – a 58 percent rise on 2017. Some 2.6 million Somalis are now internally displaced.


    Weekend read


    UN probes substandard food aid for mothers and children

    The difficulty with this story, to steal from Donald Rumsfeld, are the known unknowns. The World Food Programme purchased 50,000 tonnes of porridge mix for mothers and malnourished children, and a proportion of it was lacking key nutrition-enhancing ingredients. It was sent to crisis zones around the world. It likely came from one of two producers who have a duopoly over the market. The deficiencies should have been picked up by third-party inspectors before the food aid was dispatched. But let’s look at what we don’t know – not for a lack of digging by IRIN’s Ben Parker or contributor Lorenzo D’Agostino in Rome. Where exactly did the faulty food aid go? What effect did the lack of protein and fat have on breastfeeding mothers, babies, and children? Which company produced the substandard porridge mix and why? How come the inspectors failed to find fault with the product? Who was told what, and when? Is operational error, negligence, or fraud, or a combination to blame? We await the findings of the investigation with interest.


    And finally...

    Life resumes on Vanuatu’s volcanic Ambae Island


    The most explosive volcanic eruption anywhere in the world last year came courtesy of Manaro Voui on Ambae Island, part of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The volcano spewed more than 540,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the air, according to NASA. Volcanologists may be fascinated by Manaro Voui’s rumblings, but for 11,000 Ambae residents, the eruptions have been life-changing. They covered parts of the island with volcanic ash, which destroyed crops and homes and polluted drinking water. Residents have repeatedly been forced to evacuate, and at one point the government declared the entire island uninhabitable. For now, the volcano continues to be a in a state of “major unrest”, but some residents are moving back, and the government is preparing to begin a new school term for some returning students.

    (TOP PHOTO: Destroyed cars by the side of the road after a suicide bomber detonated their vest in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, in 2017. CREDIT: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo)


    Nigerian challenges, cash aid headaches, and making mental health matter
  • 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)


    Mediterranean death rates, networking in a rush, and a shaky ceasefire in Yemen
  • Venezuela on the brink, WhatsApping hate, and a Davos bright spot: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar

    What next in Venezuela?


    The crisis in Venezuela has bubbled away for months, demanding media attention only when protests flare or the sheer number of people fleeing the freefalling economy and increasingly authoritarian state becomes difficult to ignore. Not now. Since President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in two weeks ago for a new six-year term, things have escalated quickly. No sooner was a revolt by members of the National Guard quelled than protesters took to the streets demanding he step down. Opposition challenger Juan Guaidó on Wednesday declared himself leader and has since been recognised as such by the United States and a clutch of regional powers. No one knows what will happen next. Talk of a US military intervention seems to be just that for now, but there’s no sign either that Maduro – still backed by Venezuela’s armed forces – is prepared to accept any offer of amnesty and leave quietly. If he does go, it won’t cure Venezuela’s ills overnight, but it would provide the change in government some argue is the only long-term solution to a humanitarian crisis Maduro has long denied – one that has left his people desperate, hungry, and sick. A study published in The Lancet Global Health Journal this week indicates that infant mortality rates have risen back to 1990s levels.


    “If you’re bitten by a snake, you’ll be afraid of a millipede”


    Around 9,000 Nigerians who say they fled armed clashes involving Boko Haram are “shuttling” back and forth in the Cameroon border area, a UN official said in Geneva. The group was pushed back after trying to take refuge in the neighbouring country, with Cameroonian officials admitting that insecurity forced the government to take exceptional measures, despite its supposed "open doors" policy. UN humanitarian coordinator for Cameroon Allegra Baiocchi told a press conference "the right of asylum is being tested". She said many of the group were women and children. Cameroon’s director of civil protection Yap Mariatou told IRIN that a recent attack on the border town of Achigashia by an armed group had put the authorities on edge. “If you’re bitten by a snake, you’ll be afraid of a millipede,” she said. The UN is appealing for $299 million to help 2.3 million people in Cameroon, including about 100,000 refugees from Nigeria and more than 400,000 internally displaced by an ongoing separatist rebellion.


    Mediterranean crossing just got even more dangerous


    The EU’s troubled naval mission against people smuggling in the Mediterranean faced yet another setback this week as Germany announced it was suspending participation, a decision MPs said was the result of Italy’s consistent refusal to allow rescued migrants entry at its ports. The removal of Germany’s ship leaves the mission, Operation Sophia, with only two vessels. Meanwhile, migrants continue to drown in the Mediterranean – 201 so far this year – including in two recent shipwrecks, one off the coast of Libya, the second between Morocco and Spain. Many of those rescued are being brought to Libya, and Médecins Sans Frontières says it has seen a “sharp increase” in the number of people held in crowded detention centres there – conditions are dire, with shortages of clean water and food. Human Rights Watch said EU policies, including the decision to enable the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return people, are contributing to a “cycle of extreme abuse” against migrants in the country. For a forensic examination of one Mediterranean incident in 2017 in which at least 20 migrants died, check out this film, “How Europe Outsources Migrant Suffering at Sea”, from Times Insider.


    Forwarding hate


    There’s increasing scrutiny on the real-world impacts of the spread of misinformation and hate speech on social media. This week, messaging app WhatsApp announced a five-recipient limit for message forwarding. WhatsApp messages – which can be rapidly distributed through group and broadcast features – have been linked to a spate of lynchings in India and a pre-election flood of false news in Brazil. Sri Lanka also temporarily shut down Facebook, WhatsApp, and others after anti-Muslim violence last March. WhatsApp recipient limits were recommended in a “human rights impact assessment” commissioned by Facebook, which owns WhatsApp. That report focused on Facebook usage in Myanmar, where UN investigators say the company was ”slow and ineffective” in stemming hate speech on its platform amid the violent 2017 purge of more than 700,000 Rohingya. But hate speech on WhatsApp could prove even tougher to contain: the company may enforce “community standards” on Facebook, but WhatsApp messages are encrypted.


    Overheard in Davos


    Sure, the mood at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this week was generally sombre, but there was a bright spot for some: the increasing spotlight on social issues, including humanitarian response. Humanitarian topics included sessions on private sector investment in fragile states and the use of artificial intelligence in crises. The WEF, the World Bank, and the International Committee of the Red Cross launched an initiative to promote so-called humanitarian investing – the private sector working to boost economies in crisis-affected areas in order to help people get back on their feet and avoid becoming dependent on aid. The IKEA Foundation pledged 6.8 million euros to help create livelihoods for refugees in Jordan. Still, investors were honest about the constraints of putting capital into fragile states at scale. On the tech side, AI was front and centre with discussions on its use in crisis zones. It has huge potential – from predicting famines to chatbots that help refugees further their education to facial recognition for identifying family members separated by war. But what happens when AI-aggregated data falls into the wrong hands? Or when machines reinforce political or human biases in the data? Many agencies, one observer noted, are pushing ahead with pilot projects and thinking about due diligence later. For more from Davos, see our roundup on IRIN’s event, “Meet the new humanitarians changing the face of aid.”

    In case you missed it:


    Central African Republic: Talks aimed at ending CAR’s long-running conflict began in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, this week. Brokered by the African Union, the negotiations involve representatives of the government and 14 armed groups. Aid officials say a successful peace accord is critical to ensuring the ongoing humanitarian crisis doesn’t deepen.


    Indonesia: Dozens of people were killed after heavy rains battered Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province this week, leading to floods and landslides. Local authorities say the rains caused rivers to burst their banks, inundating homes and forcing more than 3,000 people to evacuate.


    Philippines: A majority voted to ratify a long-awaited peace deal in the conflict-torn Mindanao region, according to unofficial results from the first stage of a referendum held this week. A vote in favour will expand autonomy for Mindanao’s Muslim community.


    Yemen: After just a month on the job, the retired Dutch general overseeing the not-yet-implemented ceasefire for the port city of Hodeidah is reportedly about to step down. It’s not clear why. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen thinks the deal is make-or-break for peace negotiations: read our interview with him to find out why.


    Zimbabwe: Half-a-million government workers have gone on strike across the country, adding to uncertainty after fuel protests and a violent crackdown by security forces left several people dead and hundreds arrested. Accusations that protesters were raped by members of the military have been accompanied by warnings that social unrest and instability are spiralling out of control. Look out for our full briefing next week.


    Weekend read


    Fleeing the last days of Islamic State in Syria


    No, as we flagged in our 10 crises to watch in 2019, the war in Syria is not over. The focus towards the end of last year was on the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe if President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed forces moved in to retake Idlib. While this risk hasn’t gone away, especially as al-Qaeda-linked fighters cement control over parts of the northwestern province, our weekend read takes us elsewhere. In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a US-backed Kurdish-led alliance of militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces is trying to snuff out the last pockets of so-called Islamic State in Syria. This photo feature takes us inside their operations as they intercept a convoy of people escaping what remains of the militant group’s territory. But with IS members disguising themselves as civilians to make last-gasp attacks, how do you tell who is who? Those fleeing – nearly 5,000 in just two days this week – are hungry and exhausted. Some say there’s no food at all in areas under IS control.


    And finally…


    Top Libyan photographer dies in crossfire


    Libyan freelance journalist – and occasional IRIN contributor – Mohamed Ben Khalifa was killed last Saturday while covering militia clashes in the capital city of Tripoli, prompting demonstrations by his colleagues denouncing violence against journalists. Ben Khalifa was 35, and is survived by his wife and young daughter. A well-respected photographer who covered the often violent instability that has plagued Libya since the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, Ben Khalifa was known for his sensitive portrayals of the migrants whose bodies washed up on Libya’s shores, including this 2015 IRIN piece. His death “is a reminder of the utter lack of protection for journalists in Libya, as well as the dangers of photojournalists in the battlefield,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists. The week of fighting in Tripoli left 16 people dead (including Khalifa) and 65 injured, and rival militias have since agreed to a new ceasefire deal.



    Venezuela on the brink, WhatsApping hate, and a Davos bright spot
  • 2018 in Review: Local aid

    This series

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

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


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


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


    Aid sector imbalances

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


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

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


    Stepping in

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


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

    closeup of a people in jeans as they sit waiting


    Agile response

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

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

    Twins look directly at the camera in front of a chalkboard


    ‘Informal humanitarians’

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


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

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


    Aid at home

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


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

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


    Slow-going reforms

    In Bangladesh, a Rohingya strike highlights growing refugee activism


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

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



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

    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Local aid
  • Briefing: Volcanic eruption and tsunami catches Indonesia ‘off guard’

    The search for survivors continues after a tsunami hit Indonesia’s Sunda Strait coast on Saturday night, killing at least 429 and injuring 1,485.


    Heavy rains are complicating the job of rescue and aid workers, who fear the death toll may rise as they reach more remote areas. Officials admitted some communities were caught “off guard” due to nature of the disaster.

    What happened?


    Early images and statements from the Indonesian meteorological agency suggest a chunk of the volcanic Anak Krakatau island collapsed after an eruption, causing an underwater landslide and waves as high as three metres (10 feet) to hit the islands of Java and Sumatra. But  scientists won’t be able to tell for certain what caused the tsunami until they can get closer to the volcano.


    Indonesia is still recovering from a series of earthquakes and a tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi province in late September, killing 2,100 people and sending 80,000 into flight.


    Aerial footage of a volcano erupting, ash billowing
    Nurul Hidayat/AFP

    Are people still at risk?

    Additional tsunamis are still a possibility, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency. Anak Krakatau has been erupting since June, but at a relatively low level.


    "Recommendations from [the] Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency are that people should not carry out activities on the beach and stay away from the coast for a while," he said.


    Margarettha Siregar, humanitarian and emergency affairs director at Wahana Visi Indonesia, a local NGO affiliated with World Vision, told IRIN that the weather was still a main concern. The rain could make it difficult for aid workers to access people in need, she said, and could also increase the risk of communicable disease as people gather in temporary shelters.

    How many people are affected?


    Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said Tuesday that more than 16,000 people had been displaced by the tsunami.


    Banten and Lampung provinces were the hardest hit, particularly Banten’s Pandeglang district, where in addition to a high number of fatalities many homes, hotels, boats, and cars were reported damaged and destroyed.

    What do they need?


    Siregar told IRIN that the immediate needs were food, medical care, clean water, and sanitation in temporary shelter. Aid workers were also delivering tarpaulins and blankets and teams were still out assessing the damage.


    She said some people evacuated from the coasts are staying in sports stadiums and parking structures, while others are renting space in hotels and guesthouses.


    In addition to this sort of emergency support, Siregar said there are still “children who need to be reunited with their families.”


    Siregar added that her organisation would be keeping an eye on the longer-term impacts on communities, as many people in beach areas that largely rely on tourism could lose their main sources of income, and some may have to relocate altogether.

    Who is helping?


    A host of NGOs and government agencies are on the ground, and OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, said the government of Indonesia had not requested international assistance.


    Laura Ngo-Fontaine, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of the Red Cross in Geneva, emphasised that while the IFRC was providing support from Jakarta to the Indonesian Red Cross, “it is a nationally led response”.


    “The Indonesian Red Cross has a really strong capacity,” she told IRIN. “They have dealt with these kinds of disasters a lot over the years; especially this year, there have been tsunamis in Lombok and Sulawesi.”


    OCHA listed the groups providing immediate assistance as: “Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), together with the military, police, the National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS), local government, Ministry of Social Affairs Volunteers (TAGANA), Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), volunteers and the community.”


    Volunteers were reportedly pitching in, cooking meals for those who had fled the disaster area.

    Were there warnings?


    There was no warning. Indonesia has a network of 22 buoys that should alert the national meteorological agency to deep sea level changes, which in turn should tell local authorities. But the system hasn’t been operational since 2012.


    In a tweet on Monday, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho blamed the inactive system on “vandalism, budget limitations, and technical damage”. He has been warning about the problem for years.


    Indonesia has other warning systems, but they are for detecting tsunamis caused by earthquakes, not those due to volcanic activity and underground landslides. And they, too, have failed in the past: During September’s quakes and tsunami in Central Sulawesi, mobile phone towers were destroyed before alerts could go out, and warning sirens failed to sound in all impacted areas.


    Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday that he had ordered the country to buy tsunami detectors "that can provide early warnings” as none of Indonesia’s current systems could predict this sort of wave.


    "Usually [tsunamis are] preceded by earthquake. That's why the residents and visitors in Carita and Labuan beaches and Tanjung Lesung and Sumur beaches were not prepared to escape," he said.


    Dwikorita Karnawati, the chief of Indonesia’s meteorological agency, said he would look into installing tidal gates that could detect waves as they near land.


    Indonesia sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific. After two volcanic eruptions in 2014, experts questioned if the country was prepared to deal with the ongoing threat.


    Siregar said the areas hit hardest by the tsunami were part of a national simulation exercise this year that practised readiness for natural disasters.


    “In this area the government... has some preparedness, and some evacuation buildings,” she said. “The problem is we didn’t expect a tsunami without any earthquake or any early warnings. So that’s why the community there was caught off guard.”



    Briefing: Volcanic eruption and tsunami catches Indonesia ‘off guard’
  • Climate disasters, Congo elections, and charitable countries: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar


    Respite for Yemen’s Hodeidah


    It’s been a busy week for Yemen, at least in the realms of diplomacy and foreign politics. After a week of peace talks in Sweden, on Thursday the UN announced the warring sides had agreed to a ceasefire in the key port city of Hodeidah and the wider province of the same name. Their fighters are to withdraw the city within 21 days, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the “UN will play a leading role in the port”. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this deal and what it means for civilians; you can read the fine print here. Later on Thursday, the US Senate voted to withdraw support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen. It was a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s backing for the kingdom’s crown prince despite mounting evidence of his involvement in the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, but a largely symbolic one, as Trump has vowed to veto the measure if it passes the House of Representatives and reaches his desk.


    Challenges as Congo prepares to replace Kabila


    The Democratic Republic of Congo's long-delayed presidential election is now just over a week away. But it's still far from smooth sailing, as thousands of voting machines were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the capital, Kinshasa, this week. Officials said the blaze seemed to be criminal in nature, but gave assurances it would not affect the poll. Use of the machines, a first in Congo, have raised opposition concerns of possible voter manipulation in favour of ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was chosen by President Joseph Kabila as his preferred successor. Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, won’t stand for re-election on 23 December, but said he may contest the 2023 poll. The EU meanwhile renewed sanctions on leading Congolese politicians, including Shadary, saying they were open to reviewing the decision after the election. Kabila, however, has refused to accredit EU election observers, calling the sanctions “politically motivated” and promising to retaliate. One to watch.


    Linking climate change and extreme weather


    Heatwaves in China and the Mediterranean; drought in East Africa and the United States, heavy flooding from parts of Asia to South America: all of these weather extremes that struck across the globe in 2017 would have been “virtually impossible” without the impacts of climate change, according to new research released this week. The study, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is part of the growing body of “attribution science”, which explores the links between climate change and extreme weather events. The AMS says 70 percent of its research on the topic has found a “substantial link” between extreme events and climate change. There’s a growing push among vulnerable nations to be compensated for loss and damages from climate-linked disasters, but it’s among the more sensitive topics in global climate negotiations – including the COP24 summit set to conclude 14 December in Poland. While countries debate a path forward, communities on the front lines of climate change are already struggling to adjust. Read more on what coping with climate change means for people already living with its impacts.


    Gas guzzlers put on notice


    Humanitarian organisations are large-scale polluters, don't have renewable energy strategies and waste $517 million a year on fuel costs. Those are some of the blunt messages of a new report published by think tank Chatham House. It finds that although it  makes up about five percent of spending, fuel use is not closely tracked and there are few incentives to be more efficient. The study surveyed 21 aid operations in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Jordan. In Kenya, partly because of heavy generator usage in remote locations, seven agencies were found to spend $6.7 million a year on fuel and related maintenance. There are some exceptions: solar systems for refugee camps in Jordan save $7.5 million a year; adding solar and wind power at a single WFP store in Afghanistan should save $60,000 a year. Donors could push for higher standards by demanding data on emissions, efficiency, and usage, the report argues.

    In case you missed it


    Ebola: Frontline health workers in South Sudan will begin receiving vaccinations for Ebola next week, the WHO said, as the country faces “very high risk” from an outbreak that's killed more than 300 people in neighbouring Congo. Ebola has not spread beyond Congo, but as a precaution, vaccinations also began in Uganda last month.


    International Humanitarian Law: The latest multinational effort to shore up respect for the laws of war has failed. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed "strong disappointment" that states could not agree on a “safe space” concept to consider war crimes.


    Papua New Guinea: Powerful volcanic eruptions on Manam Island, off Papua New Guinea’s northern coast, have triggered lava flows and ash fall and displaced multiple villages. A previous eruption in August destroyed two villages, while eruptions in 2004 forced the entire island to evacuate.


    The Philippines: The Philippine Congress this week extended martial law on the southern island of Mindanao through December 2019 – drawing criticism from rights groups. Parts of the island are preparing for a January plebiscite that could create a new autonomous region comprising majority-Muslim areas.


    Syria: UNICEF said that two sick babies died in the past week at Rukban, an isolated camp where 45,000 Syrians are trapped between the Jordanian border and Syrian government front lines. A convoy delivered supplies to the area in November. Before that civilians had gone with almost no aid since January. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council extended authorisation for cross-border aid deliveries elsewhere.


    Weekend read


    South Sudan: The humanitarian toll of a half decade of war


    The statistics speak for themselves: an estimated 400,000 dead, 4.5 million displaced, seven million said to be in need of aid. As South Sudan marks five years of war on 15 December, there is no question that the conflict has exacted an enormous human cost. Our weekend read curates our recent coverage along with a new slideshow and updated timeline of the conflict. As the war enters its sixth year on Sunday only the most optimistic of observers is voicing much hope that the revitalised peace agreement, signed in September by President Salva Kiir and his former rival and soon-to-be vice president (again) Riek Machar, will hold for very long. Regardless, it hasn’t brought an end to the violence, the hunger, and the need for broad-based reconciliation. Look out too for South Sudan analyst Alan Boswell’s stark assessment of where things stand heading into 2019.


    And finally...


    The axis of helpful

    Indonesia, take a bow. A new survey, The World’s Most Generous Countries Report, finds that Indonesians are the most charitable nationality. 153,000 interviewees in 146 countries were asked by pollster Gallup if they a) donated money, b) volunteered their time, or c) helped a stranger. Extrapolating the numbers, Gallup suggests 2.2 billion people helped a stranger in 2017 (about 43 percent of the world's adults). Glass half full: good neighbourliness is alive and well. Glass half empty: what is wrong with the other half? Gallup combines the results into a score per country. Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United States make up the rest of the top four. The bottom scorers for "civic engagement" are China, Greece, and Yemen. Does that seem fair?

    (TOP PHOTO: A woman who fled fighting in Hodeidah arrives at an informal shelter in Aden, Yemen. CREDIT: Ammar Bamatraf/UNHCR)


    Climate disasters, Congo elections, and charitable countries
  • “Nowhere to go” on the front lines of climate change

    In a report released this week during the UN climate change summit in Poland, the UN Environment Programme warned of a widening gap between the cost of adaptation in developing countries – as much as $500 billion annually by 2050 – and what wealthier nations have promised.


    But while global leaders negotiate a path forward, communities on the front lines of climate change are already struggling to adjust to the impacts of extreme weather, shifting seasons, and volatile temperatures.


    IRIN reporters met with people coping with staggering changes to their ways of life. For some, the shifts have been life-altering: a family forced to flee their land for a city slum; a fisherman trying to farm because the seas are no longer productive; a drought-stricken herder who abandoned his livelihood only to see his new one threatened.


    Their stories, presented below, are a snapshot of everyday efforts to cope – and a sign of the enormity of adapting to climate change for those already living with its impacts.


    Lower-income countries say previous global commitments of $100 billion a year in climate financing for vulnerable nations are already short of what’s needed, and fail to account for the spiralling costs of disaster-inflicted loss and damages.


    “There are limits to the extent to which human and natural systems can adapt,” a bloc of 47 least-developed countries warned. “People are already suffering from the devastation that climate change brings.”

    “Nowhere to go” on the front lines of climate change
    “I have nowhere else to turn”
    From land to lake, drought threatens livelihoods in Kenya’s Turkana
    Fishermen with fish on the shore of Lake Turkana

    Severe drought forced lifelong pastoralist Eperit Naporon to abandon his goat herd to become a fisherman on northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana. But climate change is again threatening his livelihood.


    When 200 of his goats died during a drought last year, Naporon decided he had to find another way to feed his family and survive. For decades he had fished the waters of Lake Turkana – the world’s largest desert lake – not as a job, but to supplement the family’s diet. Now, the former herder is a full-time fisherman, supplying his catch to small-scale traders along the shore.


    But already, fish in the water have dwindled. “We used to get big and many fish very close to the shores. Now we have to go deeper in conflicted areas with our neighbours as that’s the only way to get a catch,” said the 43-year-old father of nine.


    “And what you bring home is much smaller fish compared to what we caught years ago.”


    Turkana County has long experienced periods of recurrent drought. However, increasing temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are expected to increase the rates of evaporation at Lake Turkana. Government meteorological data show temperatures in Turkana County increased between two and three degrees Celsius (3.5 and 5.5°F) between 1967 and 2012.


    Naporon says the droughts have become longer, more frequent, and more economically damaging: “Nowadays, it dries almost annually. And when it hits, we lose everything... the cows, the goats; it's frustrating.”


    Now his second source of hope, the desert lake, is also under threat – not only from high levels of evaporation due to increased temperatures, but also from human interference.


    Hydroelectric and irrigation projects constructed along the Omo River will dramatically reduce freshwater input from the river into Lake Turkana, increasing its salinity levels and reducing fish-breeding areas and mature fish populations. The Omo River provides 90 percent of the water in Lake Turkana.


    As world leaders deliberate how to implement climate commitments aimed at limiting global temperature rise, the best Naporon can do is hope that the source of his current livelihood holds.


    “This is my only hope! I have nowhere else to turn,” he said. “Yes, I still keep a few goats, but with them dying in huge numbers nearly annually, it is no longer possible. So, this lake has to yield.”

    “When the river erodes, it takes away everything”
    Displaced by erosion, climate migrants cause Bangladesh’s slums to swell
    Portrait of a woman close up

    Raima Begum has little idea about global warming, but she’s living proof of the toll climate change is already exacting on the coastal communities of low-lying Bangladesh.


    In 2009, the Meghna River swallowed up her entire home and land on Bhola, an island perched near the mouth of the river on the Bay of Bengal. Bhola has gradually been shrinking over decades due to soil erosion exacerbated by rising sea levels and frequent flooding.


    “When the river erodes, it takes away everything,” Begum said.


    With her land and possessions gone, the 30-year-old mother of two made the lengthy upriver journey here to Kallyanpur Pora Bastee, a slum community on the margins of Bangladesh’s crowded capital, Dhaka. She wasn’t alone: residents say 80 percent of the people here are migrants from Bhola.


    Begum’s journey is part of a familiar rural exodus in Bangladesh, where some 300,000 to 400,000 new migrants head to urban centres like Dhaka each year. Reasons for migration are often complex, but wrapped in the economic motivations are environmental pressures – like drought, floods, and disappearing land – that force people like Begum to leave.


    Research by the World Bank warns there could be more than 40 million “internal climate migrants” in South Asia by 2050 – one third of them in Bangladesh.


    Today, river erosion claims about 10,000 hectares of land each year. Climate change accelerates this damage by increasing the risk and magnitude of extreme disasters such as Bangladesh’s worsening annual floods. A 2013 study on climate change’s impacts suggested that erosion along Bangladesh’s three major rivers could increase by 13 percent by 2050. Researchers say this rising loss of land could swell the ranks of Bangladesh’s climate migrants, like Begum and her family.


    The Begums lived off the land back on Bhola. But in the slums of Dhaka, they struggle to make ends meet. Her husband earns less than $100 a month, which is mostly taken up by rent and medicine for her ill son. She blames her family’s problems on the erosion that robbed them of their home, and drove them to the unfamiliar capital.


    “Isn’t erosion doing harm to us? Isn’t it our loss?” she said. “We’re now suffering in a foreign land.”

    “When there is no rain, you can’t grow anything”
    In Madagascar, “no rain” pushes farmers to the city
    Woman and child in front of a food market stall

    In a quiet corner of a market in Morondava, a city on Madagascar’s west coast, Alatsoa is tidying her stall: she sells spices and pulses, neatly displayed in their wholesale sacks.


    But this wasn’t always her life. Alatsoa, her husband, and their two sons arrived in the city in 2013 after drought in their home region of Androy in southern Madagascar made it impossible to continue working as farmers.


    “We grew maize and yam and sold it in local markets,” she said. “But when there is no rain, you can’t grow anything.”

    “No rain” has become an increasingly common concern in Androy as a result of climate change. The region has been in the grips of unprecedented drought since 2013, accentuated by an El Niño phenomenon that brought prolonged rain shortages. This has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with more than a million people now facing food shortages and malnutrition.


    This may be a sign of worse to come: forecasts agree that temperatures in the southernmost region will increase, drought will become more common, and rainfall more variable. With farming dependent almost entirely on rainfall, and very little in the way of formal irrigation or modern farming practices in Androy, drought has a disproportionate impact on this poor, underdeveloped region.

    “There is famine there, there is no water. Our future would have been very bleak if we had stayed,” said Alatsoa. “We would have managed to survive, but not live.”


    Climate change exacerbates internal migration flows in Madagascar, according to the UN. This trend is clear in Morondava’s market, where dozens of traders from Androy sell produce including bananas, mangoes, and poultry.

    Accompanying Alatsoa at the market, her youngest child Riantsoa, who was born in Morondava, is now three and looks small for her age. But she is likely in better health than many children back in Androy: the World Food Programme estimates that nearly half the children under the age of five in Madagascar suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting, and the south is the worst-affected region.


    “Life here is good,” Alatsoa said. “We eat well and we are healthy. That’s the most important thing.”


    But she hopes that one day things will improve enough for the family to return to Androy. “When you’re old, you must go back to your homeland,” she said.

    “It’s all gone”
    Rising sea levels uproot coastal communities in Liberia
    A family in front of a broken building

    Before the sea removed a large chunk of his home in August, 30-year-old Lawrence Saweh sold dry goods at the market.


    “The sea damaged what I used to do for work,” he said. “I’m not doing anything now. It’s all gone.”


    Over the space of a weekend, his five-room house in the Funday quarter of Monrovia’s New Kru Town district was reduced to two. The sea tore through the concrete structure, demolishing the external walls and claiming what was inside, including his stock of goods to sell and his mother’s bed.


    Anything spared by the water was taken by looters who arrived once the sea had receded. “They even stole the zinc roofing,” he said, looking up at the sunlight streaming in from large holes through the remains of his home.


    In this coastal suburb, which sits on Bushrod Island, a portion of the capital that lies between the Saint Paul River and the Atlantic Ocean, many homes consist of a hotchpotch of corrugated iron sheets stuck into the sand.


    But Saweh’s home wasn’t always a beachside district.


    Since the 1970s, coastal erosion has reduced the size of Monrovia’s beachside communities by between two and seven metres annually and the densely populated New Kru Town, which is situated less than a metre above sea level, is among the worst-hit areas. Today, fishing boats nudge against the exposed foundations of Saweh’s home; 30 years ago, the neighbourhood extended more than 200 metres further out.


    Rising sea levels caused by climate change are expected to continue causing destruction to Monrovia’s coastal communities. A defence barrier is being built nearby, but this comes as small consolation to Saweh, whose home remains vulnerable and unprotected. “The sea is still finding a way,” he said, watching the saltwater washing into a channel behind his house.


    Saweh’s options are limited in the likely event of further destruction. “Where will I go?” he asked. “There’s nowhere to go; no money. That’s why we’re still here.”

    “I can’t predict it anymore”
    Warming oceans, erratic storms disrupt Indonesian fishing villages
    A fisherman in front of a boat and the sea

    Tuna fisherman Salsabila Makatika no longer trusts the ocean that has sustained his community for generations.


    Salsabila depends on tuna to support his family of 11 in Asilulu village, a small fishing community on Ambon Island near Indonesia’s eastern edges. But fish that used to be plentiful at the start of the traditional fishing season in early March now appear weeks later. And the storm season that once set in toward the end of the year begins weeks earlier, effectively shrinking his window to make a living.


    “I can’t predict it anymore,” said Salsabila, 51. “With the sudden wind changes, I can’t operate. I’ve gone many times out to the ocean but come back with nothing.”


    Climate researchers say ocean warming – one consequence of climate change – has already had a “profound” effect on global fisheries, shrinking fish catches in some regions and increasing them elsewhere. Climate change is expected to drive tuna stock here in the western Pacific further eastward and to higher latitudes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that Indonesia will be among the hardest hit in Asia by this ongoing “redistribution” of fisheries.


    The volatility is already having an impact here in northern Ambon, where 90 percent of the families depend on fisheries. The tuna is sold to Indonesian companies, who ship it around the country and further abroad.


    Salsabila said he used to regularly return with seven large tuna in his boat’s icebox; these days, he catches two at most.


    This new reality has pushed some fishing families here to try and diversify their income: catching other types of fish, or balancing their fishing with farming. But other varieties of fish fetch far lower prices, and the amount of land suitable for farming on Ambon is relatively small, said Subair Abdullah, a professor at Ambon Islamic State University who has researched how Asilulu fishers are adapting to climate change.


    Subair believes the changing climate is putting the fishing community here at risk of a “food crisis” for which they are not prepared.


    “The fishermen impacted aren’t yet aware that what they’re experiencing is climate change,” Subair said. “It makes it hard to adapt.”

    This story was reported by Sophie Mbugua in Kenya, AZM Anas in Bangladesh, Emilie Filou in Madagascar, Lucinda Rouse in Liberia, and Ian Morse in Indonesia.

    (TOP PHOTO: Fishermen in Madagascar, threatened by the effects of global warming. CREDIT: Marco Longari/AFP)

  • 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)


    Congo data, South Sudan attacks, and UNAIDS in crisis
  • Behind Indonesia’s tsunami response, a patchwork army of volunteers

    The first humanitarian aid to reach Labuana village along the disaster-hit coast of Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province didn’t come from the government, the Red Cross, or a big international NGO. It came from a 36-year-old volunteer shuttling donated supplies in a borrowed canoe.


    Norma Tandjokara and a team of friends heaved boxes of rice, diapers, and clothing onto the sand in front of the battered village. “Whoever asks, gets!” she announced.


    It was mid-October – about 10 days after a series of powerful earthquakes knocked down homes, liquefied the ground under entire neighbourhoods in the provincial capital, Palu, and sent towering tsunami waves crashing against the length of Central Sulawesi’s western coastline.


    Hamza, a Labuana fisherman whose boat was destroyed in the disaster, eyed the boxes piled up on the sand, grateful but dismayed to find only a small bag of rice among the supplies – not nearly enough to feed his village of 500.


    “We’ve been eating bananas for a week,” he said. “We need rice.”


    Norma, a civil servant in Palu, is one of the thousands of volunteers who have become the unheralded backbone of the response and recovery efforts in Central Sulawesi. “I’m following my conscience,” she said. “I feel a moral duty.”


    Ad hoc groups were the first to reach many of the remote villages like Labuana.


    “The local government is very slow, so we were very lucky that there were a lot of volunteers,” said Chalid Muhammad, an environmentalist who mobilised his connections to create a start-up organisation called Sulteng Bergerak, made up of nearly 200 volunteers. “In the early days you had to be fast, and only the volunteers were fast.”

    Disaster management experts say such local volunteer efforts are a crucial but often undervalued element of emergency response.


    “There were a lot of local organisations that mobilised. That is very unique,” said Amar Jyoti Nayak, global humanitarian adviser for ActionAid, which partners with local organisations in emergencies around the world. “Before international aid came here, the local organisations organised themselves, and they are reaching out to the most needy families.”


    But without proper training in humanitarian work or formal integration into the official government-led response, some of these ad hoc volunteers have struggled to navigate the aid system or secure the right supplies, especially early on. And veteran aid workers say that while volunteer efforts are essential in any disaster, more must be done to ensure the outpouring of goodwill contributes, rather than detracts, from an emergency response.



    ☰ READ MORE: Why the aid sector wants to go local


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


    What is local aid?


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


    Why local aid?


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


    Who are local aid workers?


    Local humanitarian aid includes a broad spectrum of potential on-the-ground responders to crises and disasters: local NGOs, civil society groups and leaders, indigenous peoples, local governments, faith groups, as well as people who are themselves affected by crises. The global aid sector is also beginning to recognise the importance of so-called “informal” humanitarians, including the everyday volunteers that are the first to respond to emergencies in their own communities.


    More than a month after the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami, which claimed at least 2,100 lives (1,300 people are still missing), volunteers in Central Sulawesi still see themselves as a crucial part of a response that is not reaching all who need help with consistent aid.


    Groups like the Red Cross have opened temporary tent camps. The UN estimates there are some 211,000 people displaced across more than 900 makeshift sites and in damaged villages. Electricity and running water have mostly returned across Palu, but some rural areas in Donggala and Sigi, south of Palu, continue to depend on fresh water from rivers or deliveries of bottled water.


    Ian Morse/IRIN
    Norma Tandjokara filled two small boats with donated aid supplies, which she delivered to remote communities along Central Sulawesi’s coastline.

    Volunteers could react quickly


    According to official tallies, there are some 14,000 civilian volunteers, military, and police personnel involved in the Sulawesi response. This includes hundreds of civilian volunteers working on behalf of local and international humanitarian groups as part of the formal government-led response – the Indonesian Red Cross, for example, says it has deployed more than 800 volunteers from around the province and the country.


    But there are also thousands of independent volunteers who have rushed in to help. The Palu branch of Indonesia’s Ministry of Social Affairs has registered about 4,400 independent volunteers as of late October. Some are people like Norma, who saw a need to help her community but had never before done humanitarian work. Other volunteers like Chalid bring years of experience from their work in Indonesia’s civil society sector.

    These volunteers say they are filling in the gaps where official aid efforts have fallen short. The earthquakes and tsunami blocked major roads and damaged key infrastructure like Palu’s air and sea ports, and outside aid was slow to arrive. Amid fuel shortages, electricity blackouts, and local government bureaucracy, volunteer groups got moving with what they had.


    When the earthquakes hit, Lian Gogali, a women’s rights activist based in the nearby city of Poso, started raising funds on social media, and made plans to send small teams of volunteers to the damaged areas.


    “We decided the next morning at 6 am to send a motorbike to Palu with two people with the instant noodles we had,” Gogali said. “It was just one backpack.”


    But within two weeks, Gogali and her group of volunteers had set up 148 public kitchens in remote areas that had gone days without any help; 30 of these kitchens are still running.


    Ian Morse/IRIN
    Volunteers unload aid supplies in Labuana. The 28 September tsunami submerged three rows of homes in the remote village in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.

    Amin Panto, a sports coach in Palu, said he and a team of data collectors visited the worst-hit areas to learn about injuries and destroyed homes on the first day after the quake. Within a week, they had set up an aid distribution centre in Palu with almost 100 volunteers. The volunteers sort through piles of relief items that have been sent in by the truckload from across the country, and target the aid to lower-income communities, women, and children.

    “The community here still needs so much, and for some reason the government was not there to help, and still has not been very present,” Amin said. “There are still so many people from outside who are sending things, so we are also here to make sure the aid keeps flowing.”

    Others have been enlisted by local government bodies, which are meant to be intricately involved in disaster response, but were crippled after the earthquakes and tsunami.


    Asmia Karim, the manager of a Palu chocolate shop run by the the Ministry of Industry, said the government told her to prepare the shop to receive aid shipments two weeks after the disaster. The trucks arrived, but Asmia worried that bureaucracy, which sees the aid trickle down through multiple layers of government before it’s distributed, would prevent the supplies from actually reaching their destination.


    “I begged them for one truck,” the 44-year-old mother said. “I wanted to make sure it was distributed well. Everyone is efficient, but when we have to go through the government, we have to have so many documents that it slows the process down.”


    In late October, residents of Palu protested outside the city court demanding the resignation of the city’s mayor, who took so long to make a public appearance that some here assumed he was a victim of the earthquake.


    Ian Morse/IRIN
    Survivors of the earthquake queue to register to receive aid from Sulteng Bergerak.

    In an interview with IRIN, the mayor, Hidayat, defended the local government response.


    “All local government offices were working in the aid efforts and we hope the independent volunteers report to the local government so we can coordinate,” he said.


    Good intentions


    The spontaneous nature of these independent volunteers means some of their efforts have been haphazard, especially in the early days of the crisis.


    Volunteers with Sulteng Bergerak made the first aid trips into Donggala District, north of Palu,  six days after the earthquake. At the time, Indonesian authorities said the remote area was inaccessible due to landslides, but the Sulteng Bergerak volunteers managed to navigate the route in three hours with a car packed with bottles of drinking water.


    Ian Morse/IRIN
    Residents of this village painted “HELP” on several roads to get the attention of helicopters flying overhead. They complained official government aid was slow to arrive.

    When the group arrived, they found villages without power and angry residents without aid. But their assessment was off: people there needed food, not water, which they could gather from nearby rivers.


    “The local volunteers immediately got moving, but it was spontaneous and disorganised,” Chalid said.


    Humanitarian Forum Indonesia, a consortium of local NGOs, has about 700 people on the ground, including staff and volunteers. Dear Sinandang, a spokeswoman for the organisation, says volunteer efforts have been essential, especially in the early days when the local government in Palu had “collapsed”.  


    But while the urge to help is understandable, she said that injecting hundreds of untrained volunteers into an emergency can also be counterproductive if they don’t have useful skills.


    “If somebody goes to the field without having any capacity at all, then it would create a second disaster,” Dear said. “We would have to help feed the volunteers rather than feed the affected community.”


    She said volunteers must coordinate with the broader aid system, and be trained on how to protect and work with trauma-affected people: basic principles like not taking and sharing photos of naked children, for example, but also more nuanced aspects like not raising false hopes of a quick rebuild among families who have lost their homes.


    “That’s not really well understood among some volunteers,” Dear said. “They just do what they need to do.”



    ☰ READ MORE: Volunteer aid in the wider humanitarian sector


    Volunteers are frequently the first to respond during disasters, but their efforts are often discounted or ignored in the wider humanitarian sector.


    During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for example, local communities and individual citizens were some of the first to arrive in disaster zones in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Maldives. In the immediate days after the tsunami, which killed about 160,000 people in Indonesia and an estimated 220,000 around the region, nearly all the life-saving aid and relief came from local people, according to research on ”spontaneous volunteers” published last year in the journal Environment and Urbanization.


    But agencies responding to disasters may often ”resent citizen involvement, because of the perceived implication that professional responses are inadequate,” the researchers said.


    “Ordinary citizens, existing groups and organisations, and emergent groups are often under-utilised or even rejected during emergencies,” the researchers said.


    Christina Bennett, who heads the Humanitarian Policy Group at UK-based think tank ODI, said the international aid sector often overlooks the work of volunteers on the ground, because they aren’t always recognised as part of local response “capacity”.


    ”Volunteers are doing a lot of good work everywhere and we don't consider them part of the capacity that exists,” she said. “We don't look for the right capacity. We look for people and organisations that look like us.”


    Sulteng Bergerak is still delivering aid to people in Donggala’s remote villages who tell volunteers they aren’t getting enough help.


    “The government isn’t going to where people evacuated in tents,” said Aris Bira, who leads the group’s response efforts. “All the residents here depend on us. They come to us as if we were the government, because they aren’t playing that role.”


    Muhammad Ichsan, a farmer in Sigi, said official government supplies haven’t been enough in his village: larger families are receiving the same one-kilo ration of rice as smaller families.


    “We think the volunteers help us more because they don’t go through a long government procedure,” Muhammad said. “They go straight to the residents themselves.”



    “Volunteers help us more. They go straight to the residents themselves.”
    Behind Indonesia’s tsunami response, a patchwork army of volunteers
  • Typhoon Yutu, refugee investment, and climate dragons: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.


    On our radar


    Typhoon Yutu holds the record — for now

    The strongest storm recorded anywhere on the planet this year has caused “catastrophic” damage on the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the northern Pacific Ocean, northeast of Guam. Super Typhoon Yutu reached speeds of up to 255 km/h before it slammed into the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota on Thursday. Local officials reported 133 injuries, downed power lines, and more than 100 homes flattened. US President Donald Trump authorised emergency aid for the islands. Yutu is heading west and weakening, but the danger isn’t over: over the weekend or early next week, the storm is expected to threaten 1.8 million people in the northern Philippines, where it has been given the name Rosita. If it feels like we’ve been reporting on an unusual number of powerful storms lately, there’s a reason for that. Yutu is the 10th storm this year to reach category-5 – indicating wind speeds topping 252 km/h. According to NASA, that’s the second-highest number ever recorded in a single year (there were 12 such storms recorded in 1997).


    The F-word in Yemen

    As you may have noticed, there has been some buzz of late about the F-word in Yemen: famine, that is. This week, UN humanitarian relief chief Mark Lowcock warned of “a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing” the country, a few days after Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland said the only way to reverse the “fatal trend” towards famine was to bring about a political solution to Yemen’s war. Médecins Sans Frontières has since weighed in, saying that while it had witnessed an increase in severe acute malnutrition in some areas, so much of Yemen is inaccessible that it’s impossible for humanitarians to get a full picture of malnutrition across the country. “There is no quality data available to declare that a famine is imminent,” a MSF statement noted. It’s true that a declaration of famine is based on surpassing precise numerical thresholds, but there are political concerns at play here too. Catch up on Yemen’s hunger crisis – which is impacting millions, official famine or not, with our briefing.

    Ebola + conflict zone = peril for aid workers

    Two health workers responding to the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were killed last weekend when rebels opened fire just outside the city of Butembo in the northeast of the country. The pair were members of a Congolese military medical unit stationed in "dangerous zones" to assist national border health officials, the country’s health ministry said. It added that health teams in crisis-affected areas are coming under attack an average of three or four times per week, a level of violence not seen in any of the country’s previous nine Ebola outbreaks. The current one has killed more than 90 people, mostly in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which have been plagued by armed rebellions and inter-communal killings since two civil wars in the late 1990s. The weekend attack appeared to be the first time Ebola health workers were killed. Due to the worsening security situation, the World Health Organization last month revised its risk assessment of the outbreak, from “high” to “very high”. It has highlighted the perils of dealing with Ebola in “an active conflict zone” and warned that security incidents could severely impact response activities in the region. And that, of course, means the risk that the virus will continue to spread may rise.


    Water worries in Basra schools

    It’s the start of the academic year in Iraq, and with Basra’s main river still contaminated and water and sanitation facilities having collapsed, the Norwegian Refugee Council is warning that 277,000 children in the southern city are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases such as cholera while at school. Unemployment and shortages of public services, including water, caused months of protests in the city. In a recently released survey by PAX, and NGO, 81 percent of respondents in Basra said “poverty or lack of livelihood opportunities” was one of the two main factors likely to cause local conflict in the coming year. Twenty-two percent cited a lack of basic services, which remains a problem for Basra’s children and adults alike. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reports that 110,000 people have been poisoned in some way by the bad water. That includes the EU’s ambassador to Iraq, Ramon Blecua, who tweeted earlier this month that water pollution had made him sick, too.


    Indonesian tsunami, one month later

    Aid groups responding to the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province are warning of new risks emerging in the coming weeks. Early assessments estimate that at least 211,000 people are displaced, staying in about 250 damaged villages or nearly 1,000 campsites. Many are living in makeshift shelters made of “little more than flimsy plastic, bamboo, cloth, and grain sacks”, according to the Indonesian Red Cross. World Vision and its local partner, Wahana Visi, say at least 110,000 survivors are children now living in evacuation centres. Aid groups say the looming rainy season adds to the health threats, with warnings of diarrhoea, malaria, dengue, and respiratory infections. The Salvation Army says there is a crucial need for mental health care and trauma counselling, while UNAIDS says a reduction in stocks of antiretroviral drugs poses a risk for people living with HIV. The official government death toll from the disaster still stands at about 2,100, though it’s believed the actual total could be much higher.


    Banking on refugees

    Refugees are a good credit risk. Data from micro-lender Kiva shows that refugees' loans in Jordan have a perfect 100 percent repayment rate (slightly higher than their hosts). NGO International Rescue Committee reports that refugees in the US pay off car loans at a higher than average rate. As traditional aid groans under the weight of high numbers of displaced people and refugees, can't for-profit finance plug some gaps? A recent report from the new Refugee Investment Network defines what ought to qualify as a "refugee investment" – in terms of ownership, impact, or management. RIN describes itself as a groundbreaking "impact investing and blended finance collaborative". It’s study gets ahead of controversial clichés like "entrepreneurial" refugees (no sewing machines are mentioned) to analyse what a range of market players deem "investable" and what type of "connective tissue" is needed to stimulate deal flow and an investment "ecosystem".


    In case you missed it


    Afghanistan: Afghanistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in the southern province of Kandahar on 27 October. A planned nationwide vote was postponed in Kandahar last week following a Taliban attack that killed a prominent police chief. There’s no word yet on when elections will reach the province of Ghazni, which briefly fell to the Taliban in August.


    Australia: The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, this week urged Australia to “immediately evacuate” all refugees and asylum seekers still held on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the Pacific island of Nauru. In a statement, the agency said there’s a growing recognition that “lives are at immediate and critical risk”. Australia’s controversial asylum policies forced some 3,000 asylum seekers arriving by boat to have their refugee claims processed offshore. UNHCR estimates roughly half this number remains. This month, Nauru’s government forced Médecins Sans Frontières to leave.


    Bosnia-Croatia border: Six people were injured this week as Croatian police and migrants clashed on the border with Bosnia. Hundreds of migrants and refugees blocked the main road into Croatia, a European Union member, after receiving false information that Croatia would let them enter, according to Balkan Insight. Another 90 migrants and refugees leaving northern Bosnia by train this week were not allowed to disembark in Sarajevo and were returned to the Bosnian border town of Bihac. Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees are trying to leave Bosnia, just one of the many stops on the so-called Balkan route. Watch for our report on the situation at the Bosnia-Croatia border next week.


    Cameroon: Cameroon’s Paul Biya, 85, Africa’s oldest leader, won a seventh term in office in a presidential election held on 7 October, according to results announced this week. Nationally, turnout was 53 percent, but in some English-speaking northwestern and southwestern regions affected by a separatist rebellion that has displaced some 240,000 people, it was as low as five percent, according to the International Crisis Group. Some would-be voters in these regions were reportedly intimidated not to cast ballots.


    Honduras: The US is expected to send 800 or more troops to its southern border in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of people, mostly from Honduras, who are walking to the US in the hopes of seeking asylum. The migrant caravan has garnered plenty of publicity and a fair bit of misinformation, too – check out this New York Times debunker of viral images of the walk and stay tuned for our own coverage of what’s happening at the border.


    South Sudan: Hundreds of civilians were abducted by South Sudanese rebels and government forces between April and August this year, with many still held in captivity, the UN Mission in South Sudan reported, saying the abductions might amount to war crimes. The army denied the accusations; a rebel spokesman said they would be investigated.


    Tanzania: Police have arrested 104 suspected militants, charging them with planning to establish bases in neighbouring Mozambique, where a growing insurgency has killed at least 50 people this year. Since October 2017, Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province has seen periodic attacks by suspected Islamists reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim majority province. Last week,Tanzanian police inspector general Simon Sirro said security forces had launched operations over the last few months against “criminals” in areas bordering Cabo Delgado, but that some suspects had managed to flee. Earlier this month, Mozambique put more than 180 suspected militants on trial over this year's attacks.


    The weekend read

    What economic meltdown looks like in Venezuela

    Save some time this weekend for the first of our reports from inside Venezuela. Journalist Susan Schulman has chronicled the humanitarian impacts of the country’s economic collapse, which has seen more than 1.6 million people flee the country in the last three years. That’s roughly five percent of its total population. Venezuela’s government says there is no humanitarian crisis, but the stories of worried families and frustrated medical personnel navigating a crumbling health system suggest otherwise.  Venezuelans now rely on dozens of tiny local medical foundations for life-saving drugs, yet these provide a mere band-aid over an imploding health system. And Schulman’s photo essay from inside a hospital depicts a debilitated health system: shortages or a complete dearth of antibiotics and other medicine, run-down equipment, dirty facilities, and often no running water. For more on those fleeing Venezuela, see IRIN’s earlier coverage on border crossings into Colombia and on local aid for asylum seekers in Trinidad and Tobago.


    And finally


    1.5 dragons or two?

    It’s an unsettling fairy tale with an ambiguous ending – not your typical childhood bedtime story, perhaps, but that’s what you get when a climate scientist writes an allegory for a world facing a changing climate. Scientist Kate Marvel published her fairy tale, “Slaying the Climate Dragon”, in the Scientific American this month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes” would be required to stave off climate change’s most severe impacts. The world’s leaders have pledged to try to limit global temperature rise to “well below 2°C”, but smaller nations in particular say a target of 1.5°C is essential to avoid the worst impacts – a point made clear in the IPCC report. Marvel told NPR that she wrote her fairy tale “because it’s really hard to relate to things that we can’t tell stories about”. When it comes to climate change, she said, “there are no heroes and we are kind of all the villains”. So how does this tale end? Is it even possible to slay half a dragon? Read it here.



    Typhoon Yutu, refugee investment, and climate dragons

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