Journalism from the heart of crises

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  • Mozambique storm; North Korea aid; and conflict spikes in South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    UN warns of ‘worst humanitarian catastrophe’ in Syria

     

    The UN said it had received $6.97 billion in pledges at a Brussels donor conference for Syria this week, shy of the $8.8 billion it had asked for to aid Syrian refugees as well as those still in the country in 2019. While participants emphasised the need for a political solution to Syria’s war, now entering its ninth year, the uptick in violence in rebel-held northwestern Idlib province is a stark reminder that it is far from over. Conflict monitor Action on Armed Violence said Russian airstrikes in Idlib city killed 10 civilians and injured 45 on Wednesday; Russia said it was targeting weapons owned by the al-Qaeda linked group Tahrir al-Sham. A Russia-Turkey deal has so far been holding off a full-scale government offensive on the territory. UN relief chief Mark Lowcock warned the audience in Brussels that such an offensive would “create the worst humanitarian catastrophe the world has seen in the 21st century”.

     

    Storms, floods, and a cyclone batter southeast Africa

     

    Half a million people in Mozambique's fourth largest city of Beira were plunged into darkness when tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall late on Thursday night, knocking down trees and power lines and destroying homes. This follows a week of heavy rains and flooding across southeast Africa that has already killed at least 126 people in Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa. More than a million people have been affected in all. In Mozambique, the floods have already destroyed more than 5,700 homes, while in neighbouring Malawi, over 230,000 people are left without shelter. Both countries are prone to extreme weather events. In Mozambique, floods in 2000 claimed at least 800 lives and another 100 in 2015. In Malawi, the 2015 floods left at least 100 people dead and more than 300,000 others displaced.

     

    North Korea sanctions disrupt aid programmes

     

    Broad economic sanctions against North Korea are disrupting humanitarian work and having a detrimental impact on ordinary citizens, a UN rights watchdog says. In a report to the Human Rights Council this week, the special rapporteur for rights in North Korea, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said aid programming continues to see significant delays due to UN and government-imposed sanctions. Banks, suppliers, and transport companies are afraid of running afoul of sanctions, leading to humanitarian supply chains breaking down. The US government has also imposed travel restrictions on its citizens and blocked the delivery of essential supplies like hospital equipment, he said. The UN this month called for $120 million in aid funding. But last year’s appeal was only one-quarter funded, and humanitarian aid only reached one third of the people targeted.

     

    Uptick of violence threatens Yemen peace bid

     

    The UN-brokered ceasefire deal for Yemen’s northern port city of Hodeidah suffered yet another blow this week, with a group of NGOs warning that there had been a “major outbreak of violence” in the city in the last few days. As we (and plenty of others) have pointed out, the Hodeidah agreement was meant to lead to further peace talks for the whole of Yemen. Don’t hold your breath. Just to the north of Hodeidah, in Hajjah province, recent airstrikes and renewed fighting have killed and injured civilians. UNICEF reported that more than 37,000 people were forced to flee their homes inside Hajjah in March alone, and humanitarians are having trouble accessing those who need help. As Nigel Tricks, East Africa and Yemen regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, put it in a Wednesday statement: “Whilst the eyes of the world are on Hodeidah, airstrikes and shells continue to rain down on civilians in other parts of Yemen, killing with impunity.”

     

    A backtrack from the UN’s refugee agency

     

    UNHCR has reversed a decision that could have seen tens of thousands of ethnic Chin refugees from Myanmar stripped of refugee status. Last year, the UN agency controversially began a review process to determine whether the refugees, originally from Chin State and other parts of western Myanmar, still required international protection. But UNHCR said this week that a “worsening security situation” in parts of Chin State “has affirmed that Chin refugees may still have ongoing international protection needs”. The agency also announced that it would stop its protection re-evaluation process for Chin refugees. In recent months, renewed clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine militia, have displaced thousands in Rakhine and southern Chin states, including more than 3,200 in Rakhine this month. But even before the latest violence, refugee rights groups say reviewing refugee protections for ethnic Chin was clearly premature. The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network says there are more than 33,000 Chin refugees living in Malaysia and India.

    In case you missed it:

     

    The Democratic Republic of Congo: Cases of deadly pneumonic plague have emerged along Uganda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organisation said, including in the Congolese province of Ituri, where health teams are struggling to tackle an ongoing Ebola outbreak.

     

    Rwanda-Uganda: Tension is rising between East African neighbours. Uganda denies it harasses Rwandan citizens and backs rebels. It says Rwanda is blocking trade. Rwanda’s president says it will never be "brought to its knees". His Ugandan counterpart said a “troublemaker” (unnamed) “cannot survive”. Regional mediation efforts have begun.

     

    Sudan: Diseases including measles, dysentery, and pneumonia are spreading rapidly in Darfur's Jebel Marra area, according to a rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW), that controls much of the territory. It called for outside assistance, saying dozens of people had already died from a shortage of medicines and medical staff.

     

    Venezuela: Week-long power outages crippled water supplies and cut off telephone and internet services to millions of Venezuelans already struggling with shortages of food and medicines. Amid reports of chaos and looting in the second city of Maracaibo, President Nicolás Maduro blamed “sabotage” and “American imperialism”. Others pointed to a bush fire and crumbling infrastructure.

     

    Yemen: The US Senate voted for a second time on Wednesday to end US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s war. The resolution is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, but President Donald Trump has vowed to veto should it reach his desk.

     

    Weekend read

     

    In South Sudan, a ‘war on civilians’ despite six months of supposed peace

     

    On 15 December, South Sudan marked five years of war – almost 400,000 people dead, millions displaced, but also signs a peace deal was taking hold, with more people returning home to rebuild shattered lives. Sceptics, embittered by too many false dawns, advised against hoping too hard. It seems they were right. Not only, according to our weekend read, has fighting resumed, but it resumed some time ago – locals in the troubled Yei region even accuse the government of covering up violence to keep up the pretence of control. Tens of thousands of people have been newly displaced, Sam Mednick reports, many of them inaccessible to aid groups. Without new ideas and renewed international engagement, more violence and displacement appear inevitable, according to the International Crisis Group. First test ahead: the formation of a unity government in May.

     

    And finally…

     

    ‘Toothless’ UN migration document becomes far-right rallying cry

     

    Propaganda scrawled by a gunman involved in killing at least 49 people in New Zealand today referred to the Global Compact for Migration. A non-binding international agreement that one expert called “toothless” has become a rallying cry for the far-right and white supremacists worldwide. The three-year UN negotiation process aimed to agree “safe and orderly” migration after arrivals to Europe increased in 2015. It also hoped to stem xenophobia in wealthy countries and reassure developing nations that the walls were not going up entirely. But nationalist politicians pulled out of the process, led by President Trump, claiming the document would pave the way to more immigration. The compact sparked fierce political debate in New Zealand, even though it commits no member state to do anything. One analyst told IRIN it “doesn’t actually do much”. Well, you’d be forgiven for asking now whether it does, but in all the wrong ways.

    (TOP PHOTO: Families have taken shelter in a new makeshift camp north of Idlib, fleeing violence in southern rural Idlib. CREDIT: Aaref Watad/UNICEF)

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    Mozambique storm; North Korea aid; and conflict spikes in South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
  • Local NGO risks, White Saviours, and the Sahel’s million new displaced: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    Sahel violence displaces another million people

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

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

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

    First drought, now floods

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

    Algeria rising

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

    An international treaty to protect women?

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

    A guide to ‘White Saviour’ media debates

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

    In case you missed it

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

     

    Weekend read

     

    How dire climate change warnings are becoming a reality in Bangladesh

     

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

    And finally

     

    Somali Night Fever

     

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

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

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    Local NGO risks, White Saviours, and the Sahel’s million new displaced
  • North Korea’s silent health crisis

    Questions over the future of denuclearisation and economic sanctions dominate the build-up to this week’s summit between the United States and North Korea. But what’s missing is a focus on a key issue affecting ordinary North Koreans: the country’s silent healthcare crisis.

     

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump are scheduled to begin talks on 27 February in Hanoi, Vietnam – the second encounter between the two men after last June’s summit in Singapore, which sparked reams of analysis but few tangible results.

     

    Speculation abounds over what might materialise this time: concessions on sanctions, a path toward denuclearisation, perhaps even – if comments from South Korean officials this week are to be believed – an official peace declaration.

    As the two leaders meet, however, everyday North Koreans are struggling with widespread malnutrition and food insecurity. The UN says many North Koreans have difficulty accessing basic services, while more than 40 percent of the country’s population need some form of humanitarian aid.

     

    Health indicators have improved in the two decades since the country’s 1990s famine – during which hundreds of thousands of people starved to death. But there are still major problems. Levels of malnutrition, maternal health, and tuberculosis are worrying enough, but a lack of accurate data on HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B presents new cause for alarm.

     

    Malnutrition: The common denominator

     

    North Korea is frequently portrayed as an unknowable, impenetrable land. However, a substantial amount of data on health indicators is readily available. While it must be treated with caution – malnutrition figures, for example, don’t include political prisoners languishing in camps – the data can be useful for showing longer-term trends.

    Undernourishment is a common denominator for many of the health problems afflicting North Koreans.

    When it comes to the effects of malnutrition, the data shows an improvement in the two decades since the famine ended – but also clear indications of a continuing problem. In 1998, a UNICEF survey found evidence of child stunting – when a child’s height falls considerably below what would be expected at that age. About 62 percent of children younger than seven years of age showed stunted growth, while 60 percent were considered underweight. In 2017, UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey – drawn from household survey data – reported that roughly 19 percent of children were stunted, while about 9.3 percent were underweight.

     

    This is clearly an improvement. But one in five children are still considered stunted. The children in the 1998 survey are now in their 20s, many likely with children of their own. Today, the World Food Programme estimates that 10.9 million people are undernourished – about 43 percent of the population. And undernourishment is a common denominator for many of the health problems afflicting North Koreans.

     

    Undernourishment in pregnant women

     

    Indicators gauging maternal health in North Korea vary widely. The maternal mortality ratio estimates the proportion of women who die during pregnancy – essentially the risk associated with pregnancy in a given country. World Bank data suggests the maternal mortality ratio in North Korea has fallen steadily since a peak in 1999. However, data from North Korea’s own Central Bureau of Statistics says the maternal mortality ratio has fluctuated and even risen in recent years: from 72 per 100,000 live births, to 62.7 in 2014, then a notable jump to 82 in 2015.

     

    Even using the World Bank’s more optimistic figures, North Korea’s maternal mortality ratio still hasn’t reached pre-famine levels – estimated at 56 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1992. And it’s still far off the mark set by South Korea, where the ratio is 11.

     

    Current indicators suggest cause for concern. According to UNICEF, nearly one in three women of reproductive age are undernourished, and nearly one in four are underweight. And the UN agency says it couldn’t distribute nutritional supplements to 95 percent of pregnant and lactating women during a nationwide child health campaign last year, due to funding shortfalls.

     

    Tuberculosis trouble ahead

     

    There is a funding crisis for tuberculosis treatment in North Korea, and the disease may be killing people at an increasing rate. World Health Organisation estimates for tuberculosis deaths in North Korea are on the rise: from a low of 42 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, to 63 in 2017.

     

    The Global Fund – the donor agency financing treatment for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria around the world – pulled funding for tuberculosis and malaria programmes last year citing oversight concerns in North Korea’s ”unique operating environment”. The decision was met with worried opinion pieces, open letters, and pleas of concern from the medical community.

     

    With the impact of sanctions and the Global Fund’s withdrawal, there are fears this upward trend may continue. In an open letter published in the British medical journal The Lancet, the director of the Korean American Medical Association, which works on tuberculosis treatment programmes in North Korea, warned that medicine rationing triggered by drugs shortages could fuel the ”rapid creation of drug-resistant TB strains”.

     

    North Korea already struggles with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which cannot be cured with the two most powerful drugs usually used to treat TB. The WHO estimated there were 4,100 such cases in the country in 2017, but less than half of affected patients had started treatment.

     

    The Eugene Bell Foundation is another prominent NGO working on tuberculosis in North Korea. However, the group says its 12 treatment centres for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis can only hold 1,500 patients combined, meaning many North Koreans are unable to access its programmes.

     

    Misplaced HIV assumptions?

     

    Malnutrition, maternal mortality, and tuberculosis are relatively well documented in North Korea, but much less is known about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B. This is particularly concerning given the scarcity of medical infrastructure, accurate screening, and specialised doctors and medicines.

     

    The prevalence of HIV is one of the least understood health issues in North Korea. The government has claimed there are no HIV cases in the entire country. But the situation is opaque at best, hidden by stigma and the government’s reluctance to acknowledge the issue let alone openly tackle it. UN agency reports from the late 1990s and early 2000s mirrored the government’s assumptions that the country’s long isolation, low (official) migration, low drug use, and conservative sexual attitudes made HIV and AIDS a non-issue.

     

    Over time, however, UN reports suggest multiple factors that could lead to a growing vulnerability among North Koreans. Surveys and analyses – conducted by UN agencies on reproductive health between 2002 and 2012 – point to increasing vulnerabilities to HIV transmission particularly among women. Condom use is extremely low, while the quality of blood transfusion is often poor. These conditions are amplified in border regions and in disadvantaged remote areas.

     

    UN agencies note that on North Korea’s northern border with China, drug use and prostitution are on the rise, as are cross-border mobility and trafficking. A 2014 study  by the South Korean Ministry of Unification noted that HIV-testing facilities and materials have long been scarcely available in North Korea, which challenges past assumptions of a nearly HIV-free country. Rather than a lack of infections, what we see in North Korea may actually be insufficient testing and misplaced assumptions.  

     

    Healthcare not on the agenda

     

    For North Koreans grappling with the long-term impacts of an inadequate health system, a peace agreement and an end to hostilities will not, on their own, bring an improvement to their lives.

    Available health statistics do not point to a country with a “brighter future”, but to a nation that will need prolonged and extensive care.

    To reverse the impacts of years of undernutrition, North Koreans need reliable and consistent treatment delivered through a robust and well-functioning health system. That will require significant commitment from both the North Korean government and the wary international community. Without adequate funding, access, and the increased capacity to cope with today’s health burdens – including the ones we don’t yet fully grasp – many ordinary North Koreans will continue to struggle to live a full and healthy life.

     

    North Korea may be keen to see the end of punishing UN sanctions, and long-term American objectives ahead of this week’s summit are clear: “the complete, verifiable denuclearisation of the peninsula”.

     

    Realistically, however, the available health statistics do not point to a country with a “brighter future”, as repeatedly promised by US officials, but to a nation that will need prolonged and extensive care.

    (TOP PHOTO: North Koreans gather in Pyongyang on 16 February 2019. CREDIT: Ed Jones/AFP)

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    ...

    The authors are researching a book about North Korea and international cooperation.

    North Korea’s silent health crisis
    There’s a healthcare emergency in North Korea, and a peace declaration won’t fix it
  • Iraq’s new blues, Lake Chad’s daily perils, and that G-word: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s editorial team offers our take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

     

    Iraq’s Basra blues

     

    A year ago Iraqi forces took back the country’s second city, Mosul, from so-called Islamic State. National elections in May passed off peacefully (even if turnout was low), and attacks and bombings have been punctuating daily life less frequently. In Baghdad, the proliferation of cafés, clubs, and bars is encouraging talk of a rebirth, even of the capital getting its groove back. So, is Iraq’s endless cycle of violence finally ending? It doesn’t look that way down south, in Basra. On Saturday the Iraqi parliament will meet in emergency session after imposing a curfew on the city to control protests in which nine demonstrators were killed since Tuesday – raising the toll since July to 26. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into an allegedly heavy-handed crackdown by the security forces. At issue is the delivery of basic public services – 30,000 people have been hospitalised after drinking polluted water – but a wider narrative is at play, too. Now that the “war” is over, the political class is under fire from angry citizens wondering when some of the billions of dollars of foreign investment promised to the oil-rich country might trickle down to them. Four months after the elections, efforts to forge a new government are beset by in-fighting and allegations of interference from Iran and the United States. So it’s 15 and a half years after the US-led invasion, and Iraq is still a long way from peace. The country, it seems, has a long road to recovery, as this longread from Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod suggests: Searching for Othman.

     

    Lake Chad’s protection gap

     

    Ever struggle to get to grips with the somewhat ambiguous humanitarian term, “protection”? The crisis in Africa’s Lake Chad region – propelled by armed conflict, climate change, and poverty – puts it in sharp focus. “One day they told me it was my turn to make a suicide attack,” Halima, a young Chadian woman whose husband had forced her to join the Boko Haram insurgency, said in a short film played to delegates at a donor conference in Berlin earlier this week. “When I asked them when, they said, ‘today’.” Halima survived the blast but lost both her legs. Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told conference attendees that insecurity, abductions, the forced use of children as human bombs, and gender-based violence were part of daily life in the region, which encompasses parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria and where more than 10 million people need life-saving assistance every day. “At the heart of this crisis, it is a crisis of protection,” he said. More than $2 billion was pledged at the conference towards humanitarian needs and long-term resilience, more than th $1.5 billion sought and three times the disappointing haul last year.

     

    Yemen consultations on hold

     

    They aren’t negotiations, and they’re not off to a brilliant start. A fresh phase of UN-brokered “consultations” between two key blocs in Yemen’s war was planned for mid-week in Geneva but haven’t got underway. On Wednesday afternoon, UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters he hoped the consultations, the first in two years, could offer a “flickering signal of hope” to Yemenis after years of war that have “driven so many Yemenis to despair”. The first steps, he said, could be “confidence-building” agreements – for example, agreeing to facilitate vaccinations or release prisoners. The talks were to feature the internationally recognised Gulf-backed government and the Houthi Ansarullah group. A non-partisan group of Yemeni women were to act as a “technical advisory group”, Griffiths said. On Friday, a spokesperson said Griffiths is “still working on getting the Ansarullah delegation to Geneva” – some reports say the group’s demand to evacuate wounded colleagues on the same flight was a sticking point.

     

    ICC Rohingya ruling hurdles jurisdiction roadblock

     

    It’s an unprecedented ruling that could have far-reaching implications for international justice. This week, the International Criminal Court ruled the court has jurisdiction to examine the alleged deportation of Rohingya civilians from Myanmar to Bangladesh. After months of inaction, the ruling opens a possible legal pathway to international accountability for violence committed during last year’s Rohingya refugee exodus. Our June deep dive on this issue is worth another read to explore why the case is so unusual (and what it may mean for international crimes elsewhere). Myanmar’s top generals are accused of genocide, but the ICC prosecutor’s legal examination hinges on a specific alleged crime: deportation. That may be a narrow focus given the scale of accusations, but the ICC ruling leaves the door open to examining other crimes – as long as some part of those crimes took place in Bangladesh, which is the basis of the deportation ruling.

     

     

    About the G-word

     

    “Crimes against humanity”, “war crimes”, or “genocide”? How to categorise the extreme violence enacted on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority has been a long-running debate. Last week a UN rights investigation trotted out the G-word, calling for Myanmar’s military commanders to be investigated for the crime of genocide – which, unlike the evocative term “ethnic cleansing”, is a specific crime under the Rome Statute. But time spent debating what to call the violence may further delay legal action. That’s the argument from Charles Petrie, a former UN official critical of the UN’s actions (or lack of) at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. Petrie writes in an op-ed this week in the Guardian: “However we refer to them, immense crimes have been and are being committed in Myanmar. It is time for the world to stop debating how to categorise them.”

     

     

    In case you missed it:

     

    North Korea: Severe flooding has killed 76 people and left just as many missing in the provinces of North and South Hwanghae. The Red Cross says recent heavy rainfall led to widespread floods and landslides that destroyed 800 homes and left thousands homeless.

     

    Papua New Guinea: Health authorities this week confirmed there have been nine cases of vaccine-derived polio so far this year – although the country was declared free of the virus in 2000. The World Health Organisation has said it is investigating at least 65 cases and warned that the risk in the country is “high”. The government has launched a nationwide immunisation campaign, but the country’s remote terrain and poor weather have posed a challenge.

     

    Burundi: Crimes against humanity may have taken place in Burundi, where abuses by state security forces continue, a UN panel reported this week. Their report, available only in French so far, says the judiciary lacks independence and raises particular alarm at the “regimentation” enforced by Imbonerakure militia, affiliated with the ruling party. The report includes first-person testimonies of torture and beatings.

     

    Japan: It has been a summer of disasters. This week, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck the northern island of Hokkaido, killing at least 16, and Typhoon Jebi, the strongest storm to hit the country in 25 years, caused widespread flooding. In July, hundreds died as extreme rainfall and a severe regional heatwave hit parts of the country.

     

     

    Weekend read:

    “I have lost everything”: In central Mali, rising extremism stirs inter-communal conflict

     

    This Tuesday, Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was sworn in for a second term after winning more than two thirds of the vote in the August run-off election. In a low-key ceremony, Keita promised to address the country’s deteriorating security. He will find this hard. Since 2012, the country’s north has been dominated by Tuareg rebels and loosely allied Islamist groups. Now, extremists linked to al-Qaeda have been recruiting Fulani herders in central Mali, sparking clashes between rival ethnic groups and presenting a fresh challenge to the stalled implementation of a 2015 peace accord. As attacks on polling day showed, the Mopti region is fast becoming the epicentre of this new unrest. Regular IRIN contributor Philip Kleinfeld travelled there to take a look. He discovered that dozens of villages have been burned down in recent months as Fulani pastoralists clash with largely sedentary Dogon, Bambara, and Songhai farming communities. In our weekend read, Kleinfeld chronicles this emerging crisis in central Mali, the part Islamist groups are playing, and the extent to which self-defence militias are fuelling broader conflict.

     

    And finally:

     

    Wealth vs. physical activity

     

    Exercise can help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers, but 1.4 billion people aren’t getting enough, WHO researchers say. Those who get off the couch the least? Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The most active? The less wealthy countries, led by Uganda and Mozambique. Men are more physically active than women in 95 percent of the countries surveyed. Read more at The Lancet.

     

    bp-am-il/ag/js

     

    Iraq’s new blues, Lake Chad’s daily perils, and that G-word
  • Destination Europe: Overlooked

    As the EU sets new policies and makes deals with African nations to deter hundreds of thousands of migrants from seeking new lives on the continent, what does it mean for those following dreams northwards and the countries they transit through? From returnees in Sierra Leone and refugees resettled in France to smugglers in Niger and migrants in detention centres in Libya, IRIN explores their choices and challenges in this multi-part special report, Destination Europe.

    Read the other instalments: Homecoming, Evacuation, Frustration, Desperation, Deportation, Demoralised, Misery and misunderstanding part 1 and part 2

    While the EU and the UN channel funds into deportations, evacuations, and patrolling the central Mediterranean, the vast desert border in Libya’s neglected south remains largely unsecured, leaving people smugglers, stripped of other work opportunities, to operate with impunity.

     

    Great attention has been focused on curbing the arrival of migrants to Europe by sea and repatriating those detained in Libya – especially as the Mediterranean death rate soars to levels not seen since the height of the 2015 crisis and militia violence flares in Tripoli, forcing detention centres to be evacuated.

     

    Yet the real solution to the migration crisis, argue Libyan officials, journalists, and activists, is securing Libya’s south. Why, they ask, are the EU and the UN spending so much money on initiatives that can do little to truly curb migration if the country’s borders are allowed to stand open?

     

    “Illegal immigration must be stopped in the desert, not just the sea, and all the world knows this,” said Captain Wajidi al-Bashir al-Montassir, the head of Tripoli’s Airport Road Detention Centre.

     

    Yet in the economically devastated south, there’s little evidence of efforts to curb the only thriving business, people smuggling.        

     

    That business is focused on delivering people to Sebha, which since 2011 has been left to flourish as a central hub of goods and people smuggling, with a volatile security situation rendering it one of Libya’s most lawless towns.

     

    Entire districts are no-go areas for rival tribes; free movement across the whole town is impossible; and it remains a hotspot for tribal violence that can erupt with little warning.

     

    Major Mohamed Tamimi has worked for decades in Sebha and now runs a key checkpoint north of the town, from where he powerlessly watches smugglers gather migrants in a warehouse just 200 metres from his checkpoint.

     

    Speaking to IRIN over the phone in May, he said that he was not aware of any representatives from the EU or the UN visiting Sebha to meet with security forces or illegal immigration officials, even directly after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, when security was adequate.

    “We are completely on our own here. Immediately after 2011 we had a modest amount of support from the Libyan transitional government and then that stopped,” he said. “Some of us are at least being paid again now, but many, especially newer recruits, haven’t been paid for two years. Amongst our guys, there is a huge will to work, but this is a dangerous job that no one wants to do without a salary.”

     

    Libyan border security and Coast Guard officials are fiercely critical of current EU and UN initiatives, including deportations, evacuations, and rescue operations at sea. Some even accuse the international community of encouraging rather than curbing migration.

     

    “Based on the support we see here from the EU and its weak cooperation with us, we really think the EU does not want to stop illegal immigration,” said al-Montassir, the head of the Tripoli detention centre. “We need practical help and technical equipment, like satellite and tracking systems. We’ve been collecting smugglers phone numbers from migrant’s phones, but we need equipment to be able to track these numbers and catch them.”

     

    Tebu country and southern neglect

     

    Since official border guards fled their posts in Libya’s 2011 uprising, the country’s vast southern borders have stood wide open, facilitating unregulated illegal immigration in unprecedented numbers.

     

    Every week tens of Toyotas packed with 23-30 migrants each speed across the Sahara near the Tummo border crossing with Niger, which local voluntary militia have manned since 2011.

     

    Heading north, they follow tyre tracks towards a 600-kilometre stretch of weather-beaten, sand-strewn tarmac formerly known as “Qaddafi’s Road”, leading to Sebha.

     

     

    The Toyotas weave on and off the road to avoid checkpoints, but apart from this token nod of respect to the region’s largely powerless local security teams, people smuggling here is conducted in the open.

     

    This is Tebu country, mainly populated by members of this indigenous Saharan ethnic group, which, since 2011, has become one of Libya’s most marginalised minorities. The members of volunteer militias at Tummo and checkpoints up to Sebha are Tebu, as are nearly all the people smugglers working this route.

     

    None of Libya’s faltering post-2011 governments have maintained control over or given support to this southern area for years. That has left the Tebu to become semi-autonomous, operating basic local governance and security systems that tribal elders preside over.

     

    Daily life is tough. Staple goods, electricity, and fuel are often in short supply; fuel is only available on the black market at inordinate cost. Only the most basic education is available, and most young people have been unable to attend colleges or universities in Sebha since tribal conflicts erupted there in 2012.

     

    Stripped of study and work opportunities and faced with rising poverty, local Tebu youth have increasingly turned to people smuggling, working what has become the busiest migrant route into Libya.  

     

    ☰ READ MORE: Who are the Tebu?

     

    If you’re a migrant who has made your way into Libya, chances are you’ve met a Tebu. Nearly all the smugglers plying the busiest migration route from Agadez in Niger to the outskirts of the Libyan people smuggling hub of Sebha belong to this indigenous Saharan ethnic group.

     

    Although increasingly ashamed of the role their young men now play in illegal immigration and desperate to improve their situation, community leaders insist people smuggling will not stop unless there is significant local and regional development to help improve the dire economic situation in southern Libya and offer other opportunities.

     

    “Given that the bulk of illegal immigrants are being brought in by Tebu people smugglers, if Italy and the EU really want to reduce the flow, they must tackle the roots of the problem and work closely with municipalities in the south, where the influx of migrants arrive at the border,” said Libyan journalist Jamal Adel, who is Tebu.

     

    “Municipalities in the south can make real changes on the ground if they are sufficiently assisted, including supporting border guards with logistics and training and improving opportunities for young people,” Adel said. “With the deteriorating economic situation, for too many young unemployed Tebu, human trafficking has become the only way to make a living.”

     

    A senior Tebu figure in the southern Libyan town of Murzuq – on the main route from the Niger border crossing at Tummo to Sebha – Mohamed Ibrahim, described most smugglers as intelligent and resourceful people, including many undergraduates forced to abandon their studies.    

     

    “No one wants to be a people smuggler, so a real and straightforward solution to illegal migration through Libya would be to provide funds for local development and offer alternative and sustainable opportunities to the smugglers themselves,” he said.

     

    “The international community needs to actually talk to these guys. If they want to study, help them access universities; if they want scholarships to study abroad, facilitate that; if they want to start a local business, offer funds and support, first making them sign contracts to renounce smuggling.”

     

    Ibrahim said this was something that could be done remotely through civil society organisations, if security concerns prevented the EU and the UN from working in Libya’s south. He estimated the costs of providing all Tebu people smugglers with their desired alternatives would be a fraction of the millions the EU and UN continue to plough into deportations, evacuations, and funding governments in Niger or Libya, which, he said, were largely powerless to control the vast Sahara desert.

     

    “If there were sustainable options and opportunities on the ground for these guys, I’m confident this smuggling door could be permanently closed,” he said. However, similar schemes in Niger’s smuggling hub of Agadez have had only limited success.

     

    Nori and Ahmed, two Tebu smugglers working the Niger-Sebhu route, both told IRIN they dream of travelling abroad and studying in a safe and peaceful environment – an aspiration ironically shared by many of those they are illegally transporting into Libya – and would welcome opportunities and support to pursue new careers.

     

    “Talking to the Tebu is the real key to stopping illegal immigration into Libya,” said Ibrahim, noting that any dialogue should include all aspects of society, not only smugglers.

     

    Basic security at the Tummo border crossing point and checkpoints along the road to Sebha – all easily avoided by smugglers – is provided by volunteer Tebu militias from some of Libya’s remotest desert towns. They say they haven’t received support from any of Libya’s competing governments for years.

     

    With no funding, few weapons, little fuel, and only a handful of battered vehicles, older and less powerful than those used by the smugglers, the volunteers are unable to attempt anti-immigration operations or undertake desert patrols. And, with no functioning detention centres anywhere in southern Libya, if they do stop smugglers, they can only order them back to Niger, from where the Toyotas can merely re-enter Libya via a different route.

     

    “Since the revolution, not one person from any government has been here, even though we are trying to protect our people and our land,” Tebu checkpoint commander Agi Lundi told IRIN during a visit to the south in 2015. “1,900 kilometres of desert border is manned by volunteers who don’t have vehicles, weapons, or even petrol.”  

     

    He showed folders of immaculately kept records of desert deportations run between 2011 and 2013, explaining how these ceased after his militia stopped being reimbursed by the Libyan government for vehicle rental and petrol costs.

     

    At the Tummo border crossing in 2015, Commander Salah Galmah Saleh admitted that, with no government support, his forces were so powerless, smugglers could easily cross into Libya. He said they were waiting for the then nascent UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to take full control. Three years later, the GNA still has little control beyond the capital.

     

    Several local sources confirmed to IRIN that the situation remains the same now as it was in 2015: border guards still go unpaid, and their sole support is basic supplies provided by the local council and “gifts” of fuel from goods’ smugglers.

     

     

    Ahmed, 24, started working the Niger-Sebha route five years ago, after his family’s financial hardship forced him to abandon his studies. Other Tebu say they were pushed towards smuggling after being displaced by civil conflict; Nori, 23, moved south from Sebha to the oasis town of Murzuq in 2014 after losing his home and possessions.

     

    “The circumstances that have befallen our youth have pushed them into this activity and, in our current situation, we are unable to offer them anything else,” Hussein Shaha, a Tebu social activist from Libya’s southernmost town of Qatrun, told IRIN. “The Tebu are at the border and at the end of Libya, and we ask the international community to recognise this and look at us with new eyes.”

     

    Little help from abroad

     

    The situation at Libya’s borders, and in the south more broadly, has been largely ignored not only by the various post-Qaddafi governments but also by the international community.

     

    Tens of millions of euros have been poured into the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM), established in 2013 to support Libya in improving and developing the security of its borders. Headquartered in Tunisia since mid-2014 (recently with an “enhanced presence in Tripoli”), the mission has so far accomplished little in terms of boosting the security of Libya’s  land borders.

     

    EUBAM Chief of Staff Peter-Bastian Halberg described the EU initiative, which has an operational budget of €31.2 million, as a civilian mission currently finalising its planning for an operational mission.

     

    “More effective border control and security is a technical aspect of implementing the Libyan migration management, and essential to stop transnational criminal networks that put lives at risk,” Halberg told IRIN, clarifying that the EU’s aim isn’t to stop migration but to ensure it that it takes place in a safe way and as a choice rather than a last resort.

     

    However, a former EUBAM employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IRIN that the organisation should be investigated for wasting public funds, while a senior Libyan source close to the UN described EUBAM as “a totally unacceptable institution”.

     

    “They are doing absolutely nothing, and are lying to the international community saying they are helping secure Libya’s borders,” the Libyan said. “They’re working in Tunisia, not Libya, just making long reports but actually doing nothing on the ground.”

     

    One of Tripoli’s most senior officials in the Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency, or AIIA, said Libya urgently needed direct and practical border support, pointing out that, before 2011, borders were monitored by twice-weekly land and air patrols.

     

    “The first thing is to reactivate agreements and treaties, especially the treaty signed in 2007 and 2008 between Libya and Italy to protect Libya’s borders, erecting cameras and using modern electronic methods to monitor and control the southern borders,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “None of this happened, none of these agreements were ever put into practice.”

     

    Helped through Niger

     

    Some migrants do cross the Algerian and Sudanese borders, but the Libya-Niger border attracts the largest number by far.

     

    Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman in Niger for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, praised the Nigerien government for allowing evacuations from Tripoli, saying it showed “huge solidarity” as it also hosts more than 108,000 Nigerian refugees and over 57,000 Malian refugees.

     

    “By expanding its asylum space and enabling UNHCR to temporarily evacuate refugees to Niger, the government of Niger is already providing a huge amount of support – which is not necessarily forthcoming from other countries,” Donovan told IRIN.

     

    Due to access challenges, IRIN was unable to reach the south during a recent reporting trip to Libya in May, but smugglers on the ground said they had seen no changes since IRIN was last there in 2015. “The Nigerien army are still escorting smuggler convoys and the numbers of migrants we are transporting has not decreased at all,” said Ahmed, the Tebu smuggler from Murzuq.

     

    Four or five military trucks escort convoys of 40-80 vehicles every week along the most dangerous 670-kilometre stretch of Niger desert, from Agadez to Dirkou. The Niger military says this is to protect the vehicles from bandits who attack convoys and try to steal vehicles, migrants, food, or fuel. Smugglers have a different view. One told IRIN the military rarely intervenes when bandits drive into convoys looking for faltering vehicles to attack.

     

    This military escort, underway since 2013, is free (to Nigerien smugglers), but bribes must be paid at each Niger checkpoint by non-Nigerien smugglers and passengers, smugglers say. These bribes not only bolster the meagre wages of Nigerien troops manning desert outposts but also pay for the military’s basic necessities, including fuel. Some female migrants unable to afford the bribes reported being raped by Niger checkpoint guards, saying that incident was the start of a cycle of sexual abuse that often characterises women’s illegal journeys towards Europe.

     

    Suspicion of foreign motives

     

    The migration crisis, al-Montassir stressed, is a transnational problem that requires transnational solutions. “For example,” he said, “current African protocols allow extensive freedom of movement without papers, which has made it easy for people to come in their thousands, and this should be controlled and monitored. Neighbouring countries should also secure their borders and deploy greater restrictions on entries.”

     

    Ordinary citizens in southern Libya who regularly witness people smuggling and are familiar with the latest trends also criticised current initiatives. “Everyone is making money from migration, and I see the sending back of migrants also like a business. Everyone is using migrant numbers on paper to get more money,” said Shaha, the Tebu social activist. “Migration is a chain, and the Tebu are just one link in that chain, and if there was no demand further up the chain there wouldn’t be so many migrants.”

     

    A tribal elder in southern Libya told IRIN the EU isn’t serious about stopping migration and attacked its policy of giving millions of euros to Niger to encourage it to crack down on people smuggling.

     

    “The [Nigerien] government takes photos of security forces in the desert and maybe curbs migrant numbers for a month, then lets the numbers return to normal until they get more millions, and [then] reduces it again for another month,” the source said. “Qaddafi did the same. He’d get money and just close the borders for a few months. But it’s not in the interests of the Niger government to stop illegal immigration because, if it actually stops, they won’t get any more money.”

     

    Libyan Navy Spokesman General Ayoub Ghassem went further, suggesting there was an international agenda to increase migration.

     

    “The EU and UN want to send a message of encouragement to Africans that, if they get to Libya, they will be rescued in the sea. None of this should happen, but Africans have been brainwashed into just dreaming of living in this land of promise – Europe,” he said. “These migrants are victims of some larger plan we do not fully understand, to empty African lands of their people, and Libya is a victim of its location.”

     

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    Read the series from the start with Destination Europe: Homecoming

    What happens when migrants end up back home with less than when they started? After arduous and traumatic journeys, would-be migrants accept repatriation offers with a promise of support. Only, upon returning home, support is hard to find and they are rejected by their loved ones as failures out of shame. Susan Schulman reports from Sierra Leone on migration's push and pull factors and the lives of those affected.

    Read the other instalments: Homecoming, Evacuation, Frustration, Desperation, Deportation, Demoralised, Misery and misunderstanding part 1 and  part 2

    At Libya’s unchecked southern borders, a key to easing the migration crisis
    Destination Europe: Overlooked
  • Rohingya returns, counting the dead, and a MeToo round-up: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a curation of humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

     

    The women of Syria’s war prisons

    Over the past few months, the Syrian government has been quietly issuing death notices for hundreds of political prisoners who died in its jails. Many of the deaths appear to have taken place in the early years of the country’s seven year war, and analysts believe that the flurry of notices suggests president Bashar al-Assad’s regime may be signalling it is firmly in control of the country and no longer fears the anger that admitting these deaths could provoke.

     

    Many thousands of detainees have gone into Syria’s notorious detention system, and among those who actually made it out is artist Azza Abo Rebieh, whose drawings of her fellow prisoners in Damascus’ Adra prison are profiled in the New York Times this week. Abo Rabieh, who painted protest murals at the start of the uprising against al-Assad and later smuggled food and medicine to displaced people, draws the women she met in detention from 2015 to 2016. She lives and draws in Beirut now, and the images she makes, as well as the stories she tells, are haunting.

     

    And still the war is not over for civilians in northwestern Idlib province, where the UN estimates a looming government offensive on the last major rebel-held territory in the country could displace as many as 700,000 people. Many of Idlib’s 2.5 million civilians have already fled or been evacuated from their homes elsewhere in Syria, and the government has begun dropping leaflets over the province urging residents to cooperate with the army.

     

    In search of “tangible progress” in Myanmar

     

    It was billed as the first step in a long process to return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. But two months after UN agencies signed a secretive agreement to explore repatriation with Myanmar’s government, there’s been little “tangible progress” to do just that. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and its development arm, UNDP, released a statement this week urging the government to “improve conditions” in northern Rakhine State, where a military campaign last August pushed hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people into neighbouring Bangladesh. Calling for “tangible” progress, of course, implies there has been anything but. One key takeaway: the very basis of the controversial agreement was that UNHCR and UNDP would be given access to northern Rakhine, which has largely been closed off to international aid groups for the last year. This hasn’t happened. Both UN agencies submitted travel requests to start working in mid-June; the government hasn’t replied. In the meantime, remaining Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities in the state continue to “live in fear of one another” and there’s been no movement at all on the core issue for most Rohingya – a clear path to citizenship.

     

    The ripples of #MeToo

     

    The recent scandals in aid agencies and subsequent crackdown mean more cases of sexual harassment or abuse are being dealt with, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For example, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children disclosed increases in reported cases in 2018 compared to last year. Others told TRF they expected cases to rise, while some in the survey of 21 agencies gave fewer details or were unable to report numbers yet. A few more developments on #MeToo issues:

     

    - An IRIN investigation in Central African Republic, “I have no power to complain”, reveals new allegations of abuse by UN peacekeepers as well as broken promises on follow-up care for victims and botched investigations

    - A pattern of alleged harassment by an official of UN Women was reported by Newsweek, and the UN agency has called upon investigators to wrap up the case, without offering details

    - The British Parliament issued a report on sexual exploitation in the aid sector finding "complacency verging on complicity" and more concern for reputations than victims

    - UN OCHA will provide a $1 million fund to help aid agencies conduct thorough investigations

    - The Geneva-based policy group, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, has published a detailed account of measures under discussion to prevent “transgressors” being re-hired

     

    The civilian cost of bombing Islamic State

    It has been four years since the United States first announced it was using airstrikes against so-called Islamic State in Iraq, an operation that began near Erbil. Other countries later joined the anti-IS coalition in Iraq and Syria. Nearly 30,000 airstrikes plus plenty of ground fighting later, the militants now hold little in the way of territory and are on the back foot. But, as casualty monitor Airwars points out, civilians paid dearly for the liberation of cities like Raqqa and Mosul. Counting casualties in war is tricky, but Airwars estimates that between 6,500 and 10,000 civilians were killed in coalition air and artillery strikes. The coalition puts the numbers much lower, at just over 1,000, but Amnesty International this week said its own investigations had prompted the US-led coalition to admit that its aerial bombardments during the Raqqa offensive killed 77 civilians. And the human rights watchdog says that’s likely just “the tip of the iceberg”. Meanwhile, without any major cities to its name, IS is reverting to the horrifying tactics that first brought it notoriety: executions and kidnapping minorities.

    Counting the dead, correctly

     

    On a related and similarly morbid topic, humanitarian situations that ought to ring alarm bells don't do so because mortality data is badly calculated on the basis of a 30-year-old benchmark, according to researcher Fabrice Weissman. What makes a crisis severe is the numbers dying. As people still die of natural causes, emergency workers need to know how many deaths are above normal. To do this, they calculate the crude mortality rate (CMR) of "deaths per 10,000 per day". Many humanitarian organisations work on the basis that a rate of one or more death per 10,000 per day is an emergency. (It can get worse than that: UNHCR benchmarks say 5/10,000 per day is a "major catastrophe"). (This primer from think tank ODI can tell you more.)

     

    In a new blog, MSF veteran Weissman says the 1/10,000/day threshold is based on the assumption that twice the underlying rate should count as an emergency. But he finds that the underlying rate (0.5/10,000/day) was based on a US review of routine mortality rates in various African countries in the 1980s (which may have since halved). A more careful application of the benchmark should, where possible, be set at double the real normal rate in the surrounding population but too often is not, Weissman suggests. (This is also recommended by the Sphere humanitarian standards group). Taking the example of northeastern Nigeria, he cites an MSF study where people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency had a mortality rate of more than double the local population (0.41 compared to 0.19) but since neither passed the 1/10,000/day cutoff, field teams couldn't convince their management that the situation was as serious as it really was. Weissman writes that this issue is "highly political" as it defines what is "excessive" and therefore requiring exceptional action. He has a simple proposal: cut the threshold in half.

     

    In case you missed it, 6 August-10 August

    Indonesia: The death toll continues to climb after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Lombok on 5 August, but the government has so far “strongly” declined international aid, according to the AHA Centre, a regional inter-governmental disaster coordination agency. The government says at least 321 people have died. Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik, a local NGO, says communities an hour’s drive from the district capital in North Lombok have been cut off by landslides and are living in tents without any help.

    South Sudan: Rival leaders in the world’s youngest country may have taken another step towards ending one of the world’s most brutal and devastating civil wars by signing a deal on power-sharing and governance that’s meant to pave the way for a comprehensive peace accord. President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar expressed regret for the “untold human suffering” their rivalry has brought about since December 2013, but similar deals in the past have done nothing to end the killing, so optimism over this new document is at best “cautious”. Look out for our upcoming analysis.

    United Nations: UN Secretary-General António Guterres has nominated Michelle Bachelet to be the organisation’s top human rights official. If approved by the General Assembly, the two-time president of Chile will succeed Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Zeid has been an outspoken critic of powerful countries, and chose not seek a second four-year term, saying last December that doing so “might involve bending a knee in supplication”.

    Yemen: On Thursday morning, a bus carrying children in a Houthi-controlled area in northern Saada province was hit by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, killing dozens. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the official toll is 51 dead, including 40 children, as well as 79 wounded, 56 of whom are children. The coalition said in a statement that the strike was a “legitimate military action” aimed at rocket launchers used to strike Saudi Arabia, and accused the Houthis of using children as soldiers and human shields.

     

     

    Our weekend read:

     

    Briefing: Another Ebola outbreak, this time in a conflict zone

     

    The Democratic Republic of Congo has more experience than any country when it comes to tackling Ebola. The latest outbreak, announced on 1 August, is its 10th since the virus emerged in the country (near the Ebola River) in 1976. Gabon, Sudan, and Uganda would be next on that list, with three major outbreaks apiece. However, this time around, there’s an added problem: it broke out in North Kivu Province, where dozens of armed groups operate and where decades of conflict have devastated key infrastructure. Hopes are high that the vaccine that may have helped quickly contain the previous outbreak last month in Equateur Province can do the same now. But, as our weekend read spells out, tracing all those who have come into contact with suspected cases in the midst of an active warzone and then vaccinating them in time may not be possible. There are also large population centres nearby, and international borders. As of Friday, the outbreak had claimed 37 lives (nine confirmed as Ebola, 28 still being verified), but it’s worth getting up to speed now in case things get worse from here.

     

    And finally:

    You can leave your hat on

     

    We don’t strive to be your go-to source for sartorial matters here on the Cheat Sheet (well, sometimes we do), but we couldn’t help but take note of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s slimmed-down wardrobe. Pictures published in state media this week show Kim ditching his usual Mao suit for a loosely buttoned white T-shirt and a breezy hat. Blistering heat waves around the globe have also hit North Korea, which likely has something to do with Kim’s recent fashion choices. But more importantly, humanitarian groups warn the soaring heat is likely to wither crop yields in a country where chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are widespread. And, as we pointed out last month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization was already projecting a 652,000-tonne cereal shortfall, in part due to low rainfall and soaring temperatures earlier this year. State media have called the heatwave an “unprecedented natural disaster”. The UN’s humanitarian aid chief, Mark Lowcock, recently warned of declining aid funds for North Korea, but such entreaties haven’t been enough for donors to overcome years of misgivings: this year’s UN-wide appeal for North Korea is only 10.8-percent funded – the second-lowest commitment to any emergency.

    (TOP PHOTO: Rohingya refugees who came to Bangladesh by boat in November 2017. CREDIT: Patrick Brown/UNICEF)

    bp-as-il-am/ag

    Rohingya returns, counting the dead, and a MeToo round-up
  • Doubtful donors, Afghan balancing act and football felines: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

     

    Donors, North Korea awaits

    The few humanitarian groups working in North Korea had quietly hoped this year’s cautious detente with the US would see donors gradually loosen the purse strings after years of plummeting funding and sanctions. They’re still waiting. Donors have kicked in barely 10 percent of a $111-million UN-led appeal for 2018, which could, among other things, help the more than ten million people whom the World Food Programme estimate are undernourished. This week, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, toured aid programmes in North Korea to highlight “pervasive humanitarian challenges”. He emphasised that UN staff now have “improved” access to monitor aid delivery – one of many concerns that have deterred donors in the past. Regardless of this year’s humanitarian funding, in a newly released report, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts North Korea will need 652,000 more tonnes of cereals than it can grow – the deficit is more than double the previous year’s shortfall.

     

    Help Afghans stay home

    Aiding people affected by drought in Afghanistan is good. But making them leave their homes to get that aid isn’t so good — it could add to the country’s displacement crisis. That’s the warning from a group of major NGOs in the country, who say more must be done to reach drought-affected people where they live. The fear is that humanitarian assistance distributed near urban centres like western Afghanistan’s Herat City – where at least 2,000 drought-stricken families have already headed – could inadvertently encourage more people to head for already troubled urban areas. Instead, they argue, pair relief with longer-term assistance at home. “Emergency assistance to drought-induced IDPs should be a last resort,” the NGOs, which include Action Against Hunger, the Danish Refugee Council, and Oxfam, said in a statement. The Red Cross says 50,000 people could soon lose their crops and livestock and be on the move, while the UN predicts 1.4 million people from farming households could end up needing emergency aid. Yet reaching people at home isn’t always so easy, even without the drought. Many families seeking relief in Herat are from areas hit by conflict, including districts controlled or influenced by the Taliban. That means access is a constant issue for humanitarian groups; many have scaled back their presence in remote districts as insecurity climbs.

     

    Bringing up baby, Trump style

    Early this week, the New York Times reported that US officials (unsuccessfully) used some hardcore diplomatic pressure to undermine a World Health Assembly resolution in support of breastfeeding, going so far as to threaten punishing trade measures and the withdrawal of military aid from Ecuador, the country first set to introduce the measure. This might seem like much ado about nothing — as it must have to an anonymous Ecuadorian official who called breastfeeding “a small matter” — but the consensus among public health experts and the World Health Organization has long been that breast milk is the healthiest option for newborns. US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to call the story fake news, writing that the US “strongly supports breastfeeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula.” Formula manufacturers have used aggressive and sometimes illegal tactics to encourage the use of formula in poor countries, where it can sometimes be dangerous when combined with unsafe water – check out this February investigation from the Guardian and Save the Children for more.

     

    We need to talk about the weather

    As Afghanistan deals with drought, the World Meteorological Organization is noting “high-impact weather” around the globe: record rainfall, tropical storms, and soaring temperatures over the first two weeks of July. This week, Typhoon Maria slammed into eastern China, while record rainfall triggered deadly landslides that killed nearly 200 in Japan. There’s also a new “highest low” temperature, recorded in Oman: 42.6°C overnight, which the WMO says is likely the highest “low” temperature ever recorded. Algeria saw a record high on 5 July (51°C), there’s a drought in northern Europe, and extreme heat waves swept over parts of North America. All this comes after the European Union’s climate change service declared last month to be the second-warmest June on record. Today’s volatile weather may well be a sign of tomorrow’s new humanitarian challenges: There’s increasing recognition that climate change is a key driver of migration, and the World Bank warns that 140 million people could be on the move by 2050 as crop failure, water scarcity, and other “slow-onset” impacts set in.

     

    The emerging field of attribution science continues to piece together the links between individual examples of extreme weather and climate change, but the WMO says it’s not possible to definitively say the events of the last few weeks were caused by a changing climate. Still, the UN agency notes, “they are compatible with the general long-term trend due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases”.

     

    Your weekend read:

     

    Destination Europe: Demoralised

    We were afraid this would happen: our ongoing special migration series has been made even more timely by a spate of new deaths in Mediterranean crossings. As MSF reports, the last four weeks have seen more than 600 people drown in the Central Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe – that’s half the total deaths for 2018 in the past month alone. And people are beginning to cotton on to the fact that although the number of migrant and refugee arrivals into Europe has fallen dramatically year-on-year, the mortality rate of those attempting to cross is actually rising. As lives are lost, European politicians trade insults over “burden-sharing” and hit out at the supposed pull factor of NGO rescue ships. So what’s the EU’s solution? Why, to outsource and offshore asylum processing to countries around the Mediterranean, preferably North Africa. Isn’t there another way, you might wonder, as did the International Rescue Committee: check out their “Ten Point Action Plan” and report. For a different perspective on migration to the EU, hop across the Mediterranean with our weekend read, as Tom Westcott reports from Libya. From there, the view of EU immigration policy is not, as you might imagine, too pretty. Libya’s Coast Guard believes the drop in migrant departures isn’t due to EU policies but to local factors and will be short-lived. As a Libyan official says, a backlog of a million people are waiting on Libya’s coast, and they all want to come to Europe.

    Ethiopia's peace dividend?

     

    Last month, an old IRIN article popped up again in our top-ten most popular reads. It was about controversy about people being moved near to a village called Badme. Why? Ethiopia's reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has stunned observers at home and abroad with a whirlwind of changes on domestic dissent, economic policy, the country's formidable security apparatus, and international relations. One of his most dramatic moves has been to begin to normalise relations with Ethiopia's northern neighbour, Eritrea. The village of Badme, and the question of which country it belongs to, was the spark for tens of thousands of deaths in a 1998-2000 war between the two Horn of Africa nations over the disputed area. A peace settlement was never fully implemented: the subsequent standoff has shaped the region's politics for the nearly twenty years. Peace with Eritrea could address some of Ethiopia's long list of problems: not least that Ethiopia hosts 169,000 Eritrean refugees. But the country has a sputtering economy, has long-unresolved political tensions, and a new report from the International Organisation for Migration reports that 800,000 people are now displaced by various internal conflicts. Ethiopia's UN-coordinated humanitarian appeal of $1.62 billion is only 17 percent funded.

    One to listen to:

    Centuries of civilians and war

    Craving some serious intellectual thought while you sip your summer beverage of choice? The BBC’s annual Reith Lectures always hit the spot. Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan recently recorded her latest entry to the series in Beirut, tracing the relationship between war and the civilian over centuries. It’s a full hour long, and we’re looking forward to diving in on a lazy summer afternoon.

     

    A bit more red, white, and blue for UNHCR

    Don’t offer the US a demur ‘thank you.’ The US government expects more credit for its funding to the UN Refugee Agency. UN-watchdog blog PassBlue reported that a May agreement between the US State Department and UNHCR includes more demanding conditions for “visibility” — donor thank yous on websites, publications, and supplies. By the end of the year, the deal says, 75 percent of UNHCR’s public information tools will “more clearly and prominently acknowledge US contributions”. By the end of 2019, the figure should be 100 percent. Other donors have similar demands, often intended to shore up domestic support for aid spending. But a recent paper from think-tank Center for Global Development argues that donor logos on aid projects can have “corrosive” effects, undermining the authority of local government. For more on the pros and cons of aid branding, take a look at this piece from National Public Radio.

     

    And finally:

    Croatia or France? The Cat Man of Aleppo can help

    Mohammed Alla Aljaleel (aka The Cat Man of Aleppo) won the internet’s collective heart during the siege of then rebel-held east Aleppo, as he lovingly took care of strays and the cats of neighbours who had been forced to flee the city. The Cat Man has since been displaced himself, to Idlib (along with half a million people this year alone). He has restarted his sanctuary with the few felines he managed to rescue from Aleppo as well as new arrivals. Lately, his cats have been predicting the World Cup match results on a Twitter account, Syria’s Superfans, run by activist groups The Syria Campaign and Aleppo Media Center. The cats’ predictions are mixed on accuracy but score 100 percent for cuteness. Go ahead, take a look. There’s serious stuff, too — no one will know you came for the cats and the football.

     

    Doubtful donors, Afghan balancing act and football felines
  • Syria strike, Congo no-show, and North Korea funding in freefall: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers this round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

    Syria: Less doubt, lots of debate

     

    Evidence is mounting that the Syrian government did indeed use chemical weapons on the Damascus suburb of Douma last weekend. The attack, which killed at least 43 people, has left the international community debating how to respond to the latest overstep of a red line that has been crossed more times than many care to mention. President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, his chief ally, say the accusations are bogus, but the attack was brutal enough (victims reportedly foamed from the mouth and nose) that the remaining rebels agreed to leave Douma in short order. Soon after, Russia announced that the Syrian flag was flying over the town, which had been the last rebel holdout in besieged Eastern Ghouta.

     

    So what now? The UN Security Council failed to pass multiple draft resolutions on chemical weapons in Syria this week; the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says its investigators are on the way; and much of the world seems to be waiting for US President Donald Trump, who tweeted Thursday that an airstrike on Syria “could be very soon or not so soon at all!” The hive of diplomatic activity between Washington, London, and Paris going into the weekend suggests the former is more likely.

    A Kinshasa no-show in Geneva

     

    “At war with its own people.” That was the Human Rights Watch verdict after President Joseph Kabila’s government refused to attend today’s UN donor conference on the grounds that the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is overblown and being manipulated by the opposition. Framing the no-show as a “sinister attempt to attract foreign investment and further enrich those in power, while avoiding outside scrutiny,” the advocacy group said Congolese security forces had killed thousands of civilians over the past two years. There was plenty of opprobrium too in Geneva, where the UN and aid agencies were hoping to raise as much as possible of the $1.7 billion they say is needed to help an estimated 13 million people in need of assistance. Belgium has its own issues from its troubled history in Congo – it upped its contribution to a record high of 25 million euros – but even its deputy prime minister, Alexander De Croo, didn’t mince his words: "The absence of the DRC at this conference is not only regrettable; it is incomprehensible. The Congolese government... must take this humanitarian crisis seriously." However, as far as Kabila's government is concerned, the country is being unfairly portrayed as a basket case, a gift to the opposition. It took particular offense at parts of Congo being categorised by the UN as “Level 3” emergencies – but even a controversial 11th-hour decision last week to drop this worst-of-the-worst crisis designation wasn't enough to bring a change of heart about attending the event.

     

    For detailed reportage and analysis of what’s going on in Congo, see our updated in-depth page.

    Funding freefall for North Korea

     

    Humanitarian groups say they need $111 million for aid in North Korea this year. The money is earmarked for some six million people – almost a quarter of North Korea’s population. It aims to help with malnutrition, natural disasters, food production and immunisation, as well as water and sanitation programmes. But donors aren’t exactly queuing up to pay. After another year of missile tests, sanctions, and Twitter diplomacy, gaping questions remain over the supposedly forthcoming summit meeting between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. Funding to North Korea has been in freefall for years, though; this year’s donor appeal bemoans a “radical decline” in pledges since 2012. Last year, aid groups asked for a comparable amount, but only seven individual governments contributed. Even if donors do dish out the cash this year, aid groups may still have trouble getting the money. Sanctions aren’t intended to block aid, but humanitarian groups say banking channels are frequently disrupted because banks, suppliers, and government officials fear breaking the rules. This uncertainty has already claimed a recent casualty: Last year, Save the Children suspended operations in North Korea because of funding problems and, according to the UN, other agencies are also “considering their longer-term sustainability”.

     

    Iraq’s long haul: 15 years and counting

     

    This week marks 15 years since the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, a moment (exaggerated for television) that came to symbolise the US invasion and the toppling of a regime. After years of al-Qaeda violence, three years of war with so-called Islamic State, and a government that admits it has a corruption problem, even the man who first took a sledgehammer to the bronze dictator regrets it. Our Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod is in Iraq right now – keep an eye out for her reporting on a country struggling to deal with the aftermath of horrors that are still being uncovered.

     

    Imagine a world with peace correspondents

     

    “If it bleeds, it leads.” This common critique of sensational and simplistic war reporting was under the spotlight this week as journalists and peacebuilders gathered in New York City to promote alternatives to the “bang bang” approach to covering conflict. Participants, including IRIN Executive Director Heba Aly, called for alternative and more holistic stories from war zones, including coverage that explains root causes and presents local people as subjects rather than victims and reporting that looks at efforts towards peace as much as it highlights tensions and divisions.

     

    In a country like Yemen, for example, it’s easy to focus on the fact that there is no food, no water, no political process, no access for aid agencies. “If you make a list of ‘have-nots’, it can last forever,” said Mike Jobbins, of peacebuilding organisation Search for Common Ground. On the back of a very public critique of a recent column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, which describes the Central African Republic as “maybe the world’s most wretched country,” Jobbins warned against presenting conflict zones as hopeless and encouraged journalists to start telling the other part of the story. He noted, for example, that despite the crisis in Yemen, 90 percent of its schools remain open and many young Yemenis have chosen to go to school instead of joining the ranks of militias.

     

    What if we had peace correspondents, instead of war correspondents? What if journalists began challenging the notion that war is inevitable?

     

    Our weekend read: Afghanistan’s tent cities

     

    The burgeoning tent and shanty cities in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province have become a teeming microcosm for the country's chronic displacement crisis. What does this volatility look like on the ground? Find out this weekend by reading As conflict spreads, chronic displacement becomes a powderkeg in Afghanistan. IRIN visited one crowded district to find families fleeing both the Taliban and the Islamic State, breadwinners with no jobs, and aid groups running out of aid. “The future is somewhat bleak,” one aid worker told IRIN, in a restrained understatement about a province where one in three people is either displaced or a returned refugee.   

     

    Conflict drives this displacement – and a death toll that has continued to soar through the first three months of the year. The UN mission in Afghanistan recorded more than 2,250 deaths and injuries from armed conflict from January to March, according to newly released stats. These numbers reflect a decades-long escalation in conflict casualties:

     

    (TOP PHOTO: View of the vote in favour of the draft resolution on Syria. CREDIT: Loey Felipe/UN Photo)

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    Syria strike, Congo no-show, and North Korea funding in freefall
  • Donors lose appetite for North Korean food aid

    After a year of nuclear threats, fiery brinksmanship, and retaliatory sanctions, the global aid sector is at a crossroads with North Korea.

     

    There’s a question mark hovering over the immediate future of aid delivery as food assistance – once a symbolic thread of engagement with North Korea – has become wrapped up in red tape and is starting to weigh heavily on weary donors.

     

    Dwindling funds forced the World Food Programme to claw back nutrition programmes for some 190,000 children in November. And this came after the UN organisation had already shrunk its food rations to the bare minimum required to have any nutritional impact whatsoever.

     

    The WFP says it desperately needs $14.25 million to restock its shelves and deliver aid through the winter. But a turbulent year filled with nuclear bluster may have exhausted any lingering goodwill among most international donors. Both donors and aid groups now face a mounting ethical debate – and a potential public relations catastrophe – when engaging with volatile North Korea.  

     

    Balancing act

     

    Delivering aid to North Korea has always been an ethical conundrum for donor governments and aid organisations. 

     

    Over the years, aid has helped to feed millions in a country where crippling drought, floods, and harsh winters exacerbate already precarious conditions. But North Korea’s own policies and economic mismanagement have also fuelled its shortages and starved its own population.

    Today, access to food in North Korea remains haphazard and glaringly unequal. Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur for rights in North Korea, told the UN General Assembly that the country’s public food distribution system still amounts to “discriminatory and unequal access to food, with many people either left out of the system or given irregular rations”.

     

    Aid groups face heavy restrictions – a major problem in a country that has in the past been accused of diverting food aid. In 2006, North Korea’s government forced the WFP to slash its programmes. The number of international staff was reduced to 10 people based in Pyongyang, and the government reportedly refused to allow the WFP to employ Korean speakers, hampering the organisation’s ability to monitor aid.

     

    “We have negotiated the best possible terms under the circumstances,” Anthony Banbury, then a WFP regional director, said at the time.

     

    And while large parts of the population go undernourished, Pyongyang continues to pour money into its nuclear arsenal. Marcus Noland, director of studies at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, points out that the money Pyongyang would need to close its food gap is “a pretty trivial sum” compared to its defence budget.

     

    Years of these contradictions have left donor governments wary – and aid groups like the WFP with gaping shortfalls.

     

    “It's a pretty complicated and discouraging story of provision of aid over a long period of time: less than completely sincere behaviour on both sides of the equation, questionable results, and now a situation where everybody is just sort of fed up,” Noland told IRIN. “And so there's not a lot of goodwill left.”

     

    Aid’s ebb and flow

     

    But for more than two decades, WFP food aid has been a rare avenue for the global community to engage with North Korea. The WFP began working in the country in 1995, as a devastating famine was taking hold. Hundreds of thousands of people – and possibly more – likely starved to death.

     

    In the ensuing years, the international community has sent a wavering but sizeable stream of humanitarian aid flowing in as North Korea lurched between belligerence and more food shortages. 

     

     

    But these funds have ebbed as donor fatigue set in. The United States, which had forked out more than $1.3 billion in aid for North Korea since 1995, effectively stopped assistance in 2009 (though the administration of then-US president Barack Obama quietly earmarked a modest $1 million contribution to UNICEF in January 2017, two days before Donald Trump took office).

     

    Today, UN-wide appeals for North Korea are chronically underfunded. Only seven individual governments, led by Russia and Switzerland, have contributed to the UN’s $113.5-million ask for 2017; together, these seven countries have pledged less than $13 million.

     

    And new rounds of sanctions that inevitably follow North Korea’s escalating missile tests have made delivering humanitarian aid even more uncertain.

     

    Sanctions have disrupted the banking channels aid groups rely on to access funds, forcing long delays or cancellations of key projects. Quintana said sanctions have prevented the import of chemotherapy medication and equipment for people with disabilities. While the restrictions weren’t intended to block humanitarian aid – the Security Council took the unusual step of issuing a press release to “clarify” the matter in December – they have magnified the hurdles for aid groups.

     

    The WFP says more than 10 million North Koreans – 40 percent of the country – are likely undernourished. But after another year of cuts, the WFP’s cupboards are quickly emptying.

     

    “Any further decrease in funding due to the current political situation will significantly affect WFP’s ability to continue… lifesaving interventions,” the organisation stated in August.

     

    2018 is likely to prove to be another tough year, for groups like the WFP but especially for the children and pregnant women who make up the majority of its beneficiaries.

     

    As political pressure builds and the cavernous funding gap swells, Noland says aid groups could be debating whether the risks of operating in North Korea are worth it.

    “I think it's going to be very tough sledding for them,” he said.

    (TOP PHOTO: A cooperative farm storage filled with corn in Hamhung, North Korea. CREDIT: Swithun Goodbody/FAO)

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    Escalating tensions bring the ethical quandaries of dealing with Pyongyang to the fore
    Donors lose appetite for North Korean food aid
    Part of an in-depth series looking at the enormous scale and range of food crises around the globe heading into 2018
  • Libyan migrant “prisons”, climate change inequality, and evidence-based aid: The Cheat Sheet

    Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:

     

    UN bracing for 40,000 Cameroonians fleeing to Nigeria

     

    Thousands of Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria following mounting political violence in the anglophone west of the country, UNHCR warned this week. The UN refugee agency said so far 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria. “Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch warned on Tuesday. Cameroon's anglophone regions have seen boycotts and demonstrations over the past year as tensions have mounted over what the country's English-speakers see as discrimination against them in favour of the majority French-speaking population. Some protesters are demanding greater autonomy under a federal system, while others want outright secession. The government has responded with an increasingly bloody crackdown. Last month, at least eight people were reportedly shot dead by soldiers. Check out IRIN’s timeline of the unfolding crisis.

     

    What’s the score?

     

    Which emergency aid programmes actually work? It's a reasonable question... with fewer straight answers than you might think. For example: "psychological first aid" for traumatised Rohingya refugees: it may sound like an appealing concept, but does it actually work? Is there any science behind it? (Spoiler alert: not much, as this video explains). From 6-12 November, a series of debates, lectures, launches, and training sessions are due to "promote a more evidence-based approach to humanitarian aid". Humanitarian Evidence Week is put on by UK-based NGO Evidence Aid and involves a range of some 20 institutions. A set of recent reviews by Oxfam and Tufts University have brought a new level of rigour to topics as diverse as food aid for pastoralists or water supply in epidemics, but there's still a long way to go. Swathes of humanitarian action are not well measured. According to a blog posted by Geneva-based Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection, the sector seems to some like a football team that doesn't keep score.

     

    The inequality of climate displacement

     

    Staying loosely with the subject of evidence, experts have long been aware of the links between climate change and migration, even if they’ve struggled to bring this crucial topic to the forefront of policy discussions. Establishing clear and quantitative causal links is tricky because although climate change is known to increase the frequency and severity of weather shocks over the long term, it’s not possible to attribute specific droughts, floods, and storms to climate change. Still, available data is worrying: since the 1970s, the amount of human displacement due to natural disasters has doubled. And, according to research published this week by Oxfam, the risks are spread extremely unequally and borne disproportionately by those least responsible for climate change: “between 2008 and 2016, people in low- and lower-middle-income countries were around five times more likely than people in high-income countries to be displaced by sudden-onset extreme weather disasters.” With world leaders poised to gather in Bonn for COP 23, Oxfam stressed that reductions in global climate emissions must be made far more rapidly and called on rich countries to step up their adaptation support for poorer ones.

     

    … meanwhile, in North Korea

     

    In the latest sign that international tensions and sanctions are putting the squeeze on aid groups trying to operate in North Korea, the Red Cross has slashed its budget for emergency response there, citing “inadequate funding”. Severe flooding in August 2016 killed 138 people and displaced tens of thousands more. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had initially sketched out a plan to deliver aid and recovery to 330,000 people through the end of 2017. But on 1 November, the IFRC cut its plans in a revised appeal, dropping its food aid targets and shrinking its budget to about $5 million, down from the original $7.4 million. It now aims to reach about 110,000 people with assistance. In revising its appeal, the IFRC cited “limitations that have resulted from inadequate funding”. Aid groups operating in North Korea have long had to balance international sanctions and donor misgivings about working in the repressive country, where floods and drought are persistent and 18 million people – three quarters of the country – don’t get enough food. But the regime’s repeated missile tests and the resulting rounds of sanctions continue to complicate aid plans. Humanitarian aid is exempt from the sanctions regime, but banks are still reluctant to make financial transfers. In its most recent briefing on North Korea, the World Food Programme cited “funding constraints” as its most pressing challenge. “Any further decrease in funding due to the current political situation will significantly affect WFP’s ability to continue… lifesaving interventions,” the organisation stated, noting WFP-supplied food rations are already at the bare minimum required to have any nutritional impact.

     

    Did you miss it?

     

    The Libyan migrant “prisons” of Europe’s making

     

    Some 20,000 refugees and migrants escaped last month from farms, houses, and warehouses in and around Sabratha where they were being held captive by smugglers, as rival militias battled for control of the Libyan city. It was a dramatic and shocking event, but you would be forgiven for not knowing about it as it barely caused a ripple of media attention. It did, however, catch the eye of regular IRIN contributor Eric Reidy as he embarked on a month-long reporting trip to explore Italian migration issues. Suddenly, he found himself distracted by the fact that the most disturbing impacts of Italy’s policies were unfolding across the Mediterranean. Gathering testimony form recently arrived migrants in Sicily and over the phone from Libya, he pieced together the chaotic aftermath of the Sabratha “escape”. Most of the escapees, including pregant women and children, were rounded up again, loaded onto lorries, and re-detained in supposedly official centres. But Reidy soon discovered these were more like abuse-ridden “prisons” run by smugglers and militiamen. The awful truth laid bare by this fascinating multimedia feature is that while EU and Italian policies have been very effective at preventing people leaving Libya by sea, this just means more and more people are now trapped in horrifying circumstances in Libya. How many tens of thousands is anyone’s guess.

     

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    Libyan migrant “prisons”, climate change inequality, and evidence-based aid

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