(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • “Nowhere to go” on the front lines of climate change

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

  • Old drains and dirty water: Zimbabwe’s chronic cholera crisis

    Dry taps, burst pipes, human excrement flowing out of leaking sewer lines.


    Residents of Harare’s poor suburbs of Glen View and Budiriro endure these challenges daily. Worse still, they now live in the epicentre of Zimbabwe’s deadliest cholera outbreak in a decade.


    As of 19 October, the current outbreak – one of several in Zimbabwe this year – had claimed at least 54 lives nationwide, with three quarters of the nearly 10,000 infections in densely populated Glen View and Budiriro.


    The cash-strapped government has taken to crowdfunding and launched an international appeal for $63 million to try to contain the outbreak. It has also suspended food vending on the street and banned public gatherings in central Harare and other suburbs affected by the disease.


    According to health officials, the outbreak began in early September after two boreholes and a well used by Glen View and Budiriro residents for drinking water became contaminated by water from burst sewage pipes.


    The inadequate public water supply and decaying delivery system was designed decades ago for a fraction of the 4.5 million people who now live in greater Harare. Residents often have no choice now but to turn to unsafe alternatives, including hand-dug wells and boreholes that also risk contamination.


    “Drilling a borehole for the school was the only way for us,” explained an official at Glen View 5 Primary School, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisals. “Municipal water is not reliable,” he said. “It is erratic, and we can go for a week without getting it.”


    Since the latest cholera outbreak erupted, the government has decomissioned the school’s borehole, along with others in the city, citing contamination.


    NGOs and private companies stepped in to provide tanks of water for the school, which needs to provide drinking water, toilets, and washing facilities for its 2,000 children. But those stocks were only due to last six weeks and the school has since reverted to using the condemned borehole, adding chlorine tablets to try to keep disease at bay.

    Good and bad boreholes


    Caltas Hlerima, 67, who lives in Glen View, has been using borehole water since the country’s deadliest cholera outbreak in 2008-2009, when some 100,000 Zimbabweans became infected and more than 4,000 people died.


    “We only use municipal water for watering the garden and washing clothes. We do not risk our lives by trying to drink it,” she said. “The water has a stench, contains several impurities and even when you boil it, it produces a green froth.”


    Hlerima is a leading member of the Kuwiririna Health Club, a community organisation that supplies 500 households with safe and chlorinated water from a borehole drilled with the help of Médecins Sans Frontières.


    MSF, which has been assisting with cholera treatment and borehole rehabilitation projects, said wells and boreholes in Harare are only 25 to 35 metres deep on average, while a safe depth should be more than 35 metres.


    Bjorn Nissen, MSF’s country director, told IRIN that boreholes drilled using new and improved techniques must be embraced as a solution until the city can provide clean and safe water in sufficient quantities to everyone.


    He said there was a tendency from the city authorities to see them as “competition” that may excuse residents from wanting to pay for water services, leaving less revenue for municipalities.


    Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IRIN
    A Kuwiririna Health Club water point.

    “These improved boreholes must not be looked upon as competition, but as the best tool in the interim period to keep the population safe,” he said. “They should not be stigmatised. They should be emphasised.”


    A chronic problem


    Cholera, which is endemic in Zimbabwe, is caught by eating food or drinking water contaminated with cholera bacteria. It is preventable by using safe drinking water and observing good hygiene and sanitation. Causing severe diarrhoea, the infectious disease can lead to dehydration and death if untreated, and death rates can soar when combined with other factors like malnutrition or HIV.


    Children are particularly at risk as they are more likely to drink from unsafe sources or eat contaminated food. Girls are especially vulnerable in Zimbabwe due to a lack of proper toilet facilities that encourages unsafe practices.


    Cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe have become more frequent since the early 1990s, triggered mostly by poor water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and the lack of access to clean water, especially for the soaring population in the capital.


    In the first quarter of the year, another cholera outbreak that affected Harare, the nearby satellite town of Chitungwiza, and Chegutu, a township to the west of the capital, claimed seven lives and left 177 people sick.

    While studies are planned to try to prove the link between Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreaks and groundwater contamination in the affected areas, an 18 September briefing note from humanitarian assessment specialists ACAPS blamed broken and burst sewers and poor WASH infrastructure.


    In areas like Glen View and Budiriro, waste from burst sewage pipes easily flows into shallow wells, contaminating the water table. Boreholes drilled in areas plagued by sewer leaks are often highly contaminated, particularly if the borehole is not deep enough.


    Hardlife Mudzingwa, director of the Community Water Alliance, a local NGO, told IRIN that Harare residents have no choice but to develop alternative sources as the local authority is failing to provide long-term solutions.


    These alternatives include unprotected wells that lie open or hold stores of unchlorinated water, and borehole water, much of which is contaminated by burst sewers and sewage treatment plants discharging effluent.


    “The water authority is supplying water to the affected cholera areas from bowsers (tankers) with the help of private companies and NGOs. But that is not a lasting solution,” he said. “I don’t see the bulk water supplies being sustained beyond three months and that means people will resort back to their usual dirty sources of water.”


    A new drilling technique


    MSF has been rehabilitating boreholes in Zimbabwe since 2015 and reckons it may have come up with at least part of the solution.


    “We have rehabilitated more than 70 boreholes in 13 suburbs in Harare. During the rehabilitation, we realised that the construction of the boreholes was not done properly,” said Danish Malik, a water and sanitation engineer working with MSF.


    “When constructing a borehole there are few things one must consider, like which drilling technique to use based on the soils and hard rock that form the ground, and how deep the water-bearing rock (aquifer) is,” Malik explained.


    MSF is now conducting geophysical surveys to determine the best places to drill and employing a new technique that uses a super seal to protect boreholes from infiltration in highly contaminated ground. New chlorination systems and diagnostic tool kits that include a camera lowered into the borehole can also help make the water safer, MSF said.


    So far, Malik said, there has been “zero contamination” in boreholes drilled using the new and improved technique, and MSF is in discussion with the City of Harare to roll it out more widely.


    But, as in the past, the response to the current cholera outbreak is reactive. WASH experts say the longer-term solutions include replacing the antiquated water and sewage systems, building new dams, urban planning, and a sustainable waste disposal system.


    But all that takes a lot of money. According to Mudzingwa, most programmes in Zimbabwe are donor driven, and when funds deplete, the country plunges into water crisis yet again.


    “What we need is fiscal commitment from both the local authorities and government towards WASH. We need a water budget. Presently, the [Harare] municipality budget is swallowed by salaries,” he said. “Government should show fiscal commitment to improve access to water through a meaningful budget allocation [five percent] to the local authorities. Harare has not received any cent from national government for the past 10 years.”



    Old drains and dirty water: Zimbabwe’s chronic cholera crisis
    “We do not risk our lives by trying to drink it”
  • Caribbean tsunamis, migration art and humanitarians and climate change: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar


    Australian asylum policies under fire


    Kicked off the Pacific nation of Nauru, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) this week called for the “immediate evacuation” of all asylum seekers and refugees on the island and an end to Australia’s detention policies for asylum seekers arriving by boat. MSF say the mental health situation on Nauru is “beyond desperate” for an estimated 900 asylum seekers or refugees, including 115 children. Staff psychiatrists forced to leave the island this week described suicide attempts, self-harm, and cases of children who were so traumatised that they were “unable to eat, drink, or even walk to the toilet”. They warned that MSF’s withdrawal from Nauru “will claim lives”. Nauru’s government told MSF that its services were not needed, according to the aid group. Nauru’s government frequently disputes the portrayal of conditions for refugees on the island, calling them “outrageous false allegations by advocates”. Under Australia’s controversial offshore detention policies, asylum seekers arriving by boat were sent to Nauru and Manus Island on Papua New Guinea and barred from ever resettling in Australia even if their refugee claims were verified. Following a March visit to Nauru, the UN refugee agency’s director for Asia and the Pacific said refugees were living under “desperate conditions” and called the policies that keep them there “an abomination”.

    Child hunger: a tale of inequality


    Angola, Rwanda, and Ethiopia have made the most progress in reducing hunger since 2000, according to a new report. Figuring out which countries have gotten worse is harder, as seven candidates (including Syria, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan) don't offer reliable data. An annual survey tracking child malnutrition and mortality, the Global Hunger Index, produced by NGOs Concern and Welt Hunger Hilfe, this week reported some “promising” progress in reducing malnutrition since 2000. What it also shows is that child malnutrition can tell a striking story about inequality: in the most extreme example, stunting rates veer between 10 percent in prosperous areas of southern Nigeria to over 50 percent in parts of the north.


    Preparing for tsunamis in the Caribbean


    Tsunami preparedness and early warning is an urgent topic these days after Indonesia’s 28 September disaster. Across the world, scientists are studying the possible impacts if a significant tsunami were to strike the Caribbean. Writing for Eos, an earth sciences news site published by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say the “enclosed nature” of the Caribbean basin could see tsunami waves reach populated coastlines in a matter of minutes. There have been 100 tsunamis in the region over the past 500 years. The research is aimed at helping emergency planning to lower tsunami risk in the region.


    Ebola makes a comeback


    Six new cases of Ebola were confirmed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week, as the country’s health ministry, the Red Cross and health NGOs continue to tackle the second major outbreak of the disease this year. To date, 200 cases have been reported, of which 165 have been confirmed by laboratory tests, and 90 people have died, according to the DRC ministry of health on 11 October. MSF emergency coordinator Laurence Sailly said the situation remains worrying: "There are confirmed patients in big cities like Beni and Butembo, but also in places far away from the epicentre, close to the Ugandan border. That makes it difficult to contain the epidemic.” Last month the World Health Organisation cautioned that the risk of Ebola spreading nationally and regionally was "very high", adding that it was important for neighbouring provinces and countries to enhance their surveillance and preparedness activities.


    One to listen to

    Our audio offering this week is from the BBC’s “Seriously…” podcast, and it intersperses reporting from the US border fence with a discussion of art inspired by the journeys migrants make, or attempt to make, into the country. Here’s a sample: an installation of bricks, each one made with sand from the location where a migrant’s body was found in or around Tucson, Arizona; a virtual reality film by an Oscar-winning director that takes viewers through capture and detention in the desert; and photographs of items (rosaries, family photos, even combs) confiscated and thrown away by authorities, taken by an artist who worked as a janitor at a US Customs and Border Patrol station. It’s worth a listen just to hear how the ring of a pipe on one spot on the border fence has become part of a moving composition.


    In case you missed it

    Angola: Tens of thousands of refugees and migrant workers living in Angola were reportedly forced to return to the DRC this week, after the Angolan government issued a notice urging all foreigners without documentation or temporary residence permits to vacate the country. After the outbreak of violence in the DRC’s Kasai region last March, 1.4 million people were displaced while an estimated over 35,000 refugees fled into Angola’s Lunda Norte Province. Since being forcibly returned, reports say that some people are now sleeping out in the open or in churches. Kasai remains volatile, and clashes between militias and government forces regularly occur.


    Cameroon: Last Sunday, Cameroonians voted against the backdrop of conflict and instability in the northwest and southwest Anglophone regions. With at least 246,000 people internally displaced, voter turnout was stifled in parts of the country. Election results are expected to be announced on 22 October, with President Paul Biya predicted to enter his seventh consecutive term despite a vocal opposition, including candidate Maurice Kamto who, a day after the election, claimed victory – a claim the government called “irresponsible, illegal”.


    Indonesia: With news headlines from Indonesia dominated by the Sulawesi earthquakes and tsunami, it’s easy to forget that the government is still dealing with a separate humanitarian response on the island of Lombok, which was hit by an earthquake in August. Data released this month shows there are still 432,000 people displaced. The IOM, the UN’s migration agency, says some people are choosing to live in tents outside their homes.


    Pakistan will allow registered Afghan refugees to stay legally in the country until 30 June 2019, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. It’s a relatively lengthy reprieve for some 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The government this year imposed multiple short-term deadlines for refugees to leave, extending them by mere months at time.


    Syria: A Turkey-Russia negotiated truce is set to come into force in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on 15 October, and this week one group of Turkey-backed rebels withdrew their heavy weaponry from what is intended to become a demilitarised zone. But it’s still not clear if a key group of jihadist fighters intends to cooperate or if calm will hold for 2.5 million civilians in the area. Catch up on the deal here and the rebels on the ground here.


    United States: Nikki Haley’s resignation announcement on Tuesday as US ambassador to the UN has brought attention to the legacy she’ll leave after nearly two years in the role. In humanitarian terms, it has been one of loss. Haley withdrew US funding from various UN projects — most controversially the UNRWA for Palestinians — and threatened to cut peacekeeping budgets and suspend aid to nearly 40 nations that voted against US interests. She also pulled the US out of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Global Compact on Migration, echoing Donald Trump’s distaste for multilateralism.


    The weekend read

    How climate change is plunging Senegal’s herders into poverty

    This week, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of the devastating impact of a rapidly warming planet, saying the consequences of not halting the rise in global temperatures will rapidly change the way people live, with sea levels rising, coral reefs declining, and livestock and crops dying out. For the Fulani herders of West Africa’s Sahel region, the news is confirmation of what they already live through every day: drought, floods, and land degradation that increasingly threatens their way of life. Over the past six months, IRIN contributor Lucinda Rouse intermittently followed life in the herding communities of the drought-stricken Sahel region. For a timely weekend read, take a look at her first instalment in a three-part series on those herders and their families, exploring how they are coping with the impact of the worst “lean season” in years. Six million people in the Sahel faced severe food shortages between January and August this year, and the worst may be yet to come; 2.5 million livestock herders and crop growers now risk losing their incomes.


    Humanitarians and climate change

    In a week when the IPCC report spurred headlines that trumpeted dire warnings on the impacts of two degrees of global warming, diplomats, humanitarian policymakers, and some of the scientists behind the report came together in Geneva to take a different approach: how must aid workers and crisis responders act differently to anticipate and better address the humanitarian implications of climate change? Humanitarian response has long addressed climate crises, “we just don’t frame it as such”, Caroline Kende-Robb, secretary-general of CARE International, told the group gathered at the Palais des Nations for the “Climate Science and Humanitarian Dialogue” on Friday. IRIN’s own reporting regularly chronicles the human effects of climate change, including displacement, lost livelihoods, and malnutrition from drought, famine, and flooding. So what’s the key to humanitarian action now? Data is one. Forecast-based financing can spur early action, several speakers noted during a morning panel moderated by IRIN director Heba Aly. (For more on forecast-based financing, see our analysis on the initiative announced last month by the World Bank to address famine.) Documenting the current impacts of climate change is important, too, panelists noted, as a way to anticipate need. “The most vulnerable places have the weakest science,” Myles Allen, who contributed to the report, noted. He urged that humanitarians report on what they are seeing now and tell the stories of people whose lives are already changed by a warming world.


    As Marshall Islands citizen and poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner wrote in “2 Degrees”,


    the discussions

    are faces

    all the way out here

    And finally


    This Thursday was International Day of the Girl, so we’re taking this opportunity (with the help of CARE and our back catalogue of coverage) to remind Cheat Sheet readers that while fleeing home is hard for everyone, displaced and refugee girls face extra challenges. Child marriage rates shoot up in hard economic times; girls often bear the brunt of gender-based violence; and the UN says girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to be out of school during conflict. But the theme of this year’s Day of the Girl is all about persistence, so watch this for some serious strength from Millie Wonder and her students in Kenya.


    Caribbean tsunamis, migration art and humanitarians and climate change
  • Tsunami aid, Spanish surge, and sexual violence in war: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar:


    Sulawesi waits for clean water and unwelcome rain


    Aid is trickling into areas hit hard by the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia – far too slowly for many survivors, as we reported on the ground in Central Sulawesi this week. While Indonesian authorities and humanitarian groups are sorting through the logistics of bringing aid to a vast island with damaged infrastructure, new problems are on the horizon. The spread of disease and other health risks are a threat in any disaster, but there’s a shortage of clean water and sanitation facilities even in Palu, the provincial capital where most of the relief efforts have been concentrated so far. Most water supply infrastructure was damaged in the earthquakes. While the Red Cross is sending in drinking water by truck, Oxfam says it won’t be enough for the tens of thousands of people needing access to clean water every day. Save the Children calls clean water shortages a “recipe for disaster”. Indonesia’s government has requested limited amounts of aid from international donors and aid groups, and water purification kits are near the top of the list. But the logistics of even delivering aid supplies is daunting. Authorities are routing all international aid to Balikpapan, on neighbouring Kalimantan island, but Palu’s air and sea ports were damaged in the earthquakes. Conditions could soon get worse: meteorologists are predicting above-average rainfall for the next two weeks, which could trigger landslides in the very places aid responders are trying to reach.


    Second-class citizens


    There were 11 million new internal displacements due to conflict alone in 2017, far more than new refugees. There's an international treaty about refugees, but none for the much larger number of people who flee war or persecution but stay within their own country. Laws that cover their treatment are few and far between: only 12 countries have laws specific to internal displacement. The closest thing to international law for internally displaced people (IDPs) is the "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement". It's a body of "soft law", drawn up in 2008, that lays out rights and principles that states can use to guide their own actions and law-making. To mark the 20th anniversary, a special issue of Forced Migration magazine explores the fate of the internally displaced in several countries, including Ethiopia and Myanmar, and in fields such as data collection and legal protection.


    Nobel moves sexual violence in war into the spotlight


    No it wasn’t Donald Trump, and it wasn’t the North Korean or South Korean leader either. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. If you’ve never heard of Mukwege, here’s a no-holds-barred IRIN profile of the doctor’s work from 12 years ago, by which time he had already dedicated himself for six years to fistula repairs for women suffering an epidemic of rape and sexual mutilation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Murad came to prominence more recently, as the public face of Yazidi victims of so-called Islamic State. She was one of approximately 7,000 women abducted from Sinjar province in northern Iraq in 2014 and endured three months as a sex slave of IS militants. We featured the 25-year-old campaigner in this September 2016 story on human trafficking and sex slavery. In today’s announcement, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee chair, said both Mukwege and Murad had won the award for their "efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war". Look for a collection of IRIN’s work highlighting this issue next week.


    Spanish surge


    At least 34 people died this week in the Mediterranean when the inflatable boat they were trying to take to Spain capsized off the Moroccan coast. The UN says there are believed to be 26 survivors, all from sub-Saharan Africa. Spain is an increasingly popular entry point to Europe: a total of 37,441 migrants and asylum seekers had arrived in the country this year by the end of September by sea, an increase of 201 percent from the same period last year (the number of deaths at sea has also doubled). Spain has sometimes allowed ships refused entry elsewhere to dock on its shores, but it’s not always a warm welcome for newcomers: migrants have clashed violently with police after storming the fence that separates Morocco from Spain at Cueta, and those who make it into Europe rarely have it easy. Stay tuned for our coverage of the crush at Europe’s only land border with Africa.


    One to listen to:


    Operation Fiction Writer


    This week, we’re nominating an episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast for weekend listening. In only 35 minutes, you get a complicated story of asylum mills – law firms that for years helped some Chinese game the US asylum system by fabricating stories that fit the criteria of targeted persecution that the US looks for in asylum claims. One of the people who wrote those stories, and later helped the government bring the mills down as part of “Operation Fiction Writer” is Lawrence, himself an immigrant from China. These days, the government is reviewing the asylum status of 30,000 people, most of them family members of people who used these law firms and have been in the US for years. But Lawrence has refused to help in possible deportations – he says there’s a difference between what is legal and what is right – so he’s using a fake name, and is in hiding from the government. It’s a complex story with shades of grey. Make time to listen for yourself.


    In case you missed it:


    INDIA: This week the Indian government deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar, drawing criticism from rights groups who say the men have been put at “grave risk of oppression and abuse” in their home country, where a violent military purge last year uprooted more than 700,000 people. The UN says 200 other Rohingya are detained in India. There are fears that this week’s deportation is a sign authorities plan to act on year-old threats to expel the estimated 40,000 Rohingya living in India.


    IRAQ: After months of political jockeying, Shia politician Adel Abdul Mahdi was named prime minister of Iraq this week and has 30 days to form a government. Among the challenges the compromise candidate will face are ongoing protests against unemployment and a lack of public services in the southern city of Basra, where tens of thousands of people have sought medical treatment thanks to contaminated water.


    MOZAMBIQUE: The trial of more than 180 suspected militants began this week in northern Cabo Delgado province, where more than 50 people have been killed in attacks linked to a growing insurgency. The defendants – including Mozambicans, Tanzanians, Congolese, Somalis and Burundians – are accused of deadly gun, grenade and knife assaults. Locals and authorities call the assailants “al-Shabaab”, although the group has no known links to the Somali group of the same name. They are reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim-majority province. The trial is the first since the attacks began a year ago.


    PAKISTAN: The government has ordered several international NGOs to leave the country. ActionAid, one of the affected organisations, called it a “worrying escalation of recent attacks on civil society”. Authorities in Pakistan have slapped increasing restrictions and registration requirements on international NGOs in recent years, accusing them of overstepping their humanitarian and development mandates.


    SOUTH SUDAN: Based on recent findings, three UN agencies have warned that South Sudan’s “relentless conflict” has left more than six million people — almost 60 percent of the entire population — facing crisis levels of hunger, as people are forced to flee their homes and fields, and trade routes and markets are disrupted.


    YEMEN: Cholera is making a comeback, with the World Health Organisation reporting a suspected 10,000 cases per week, double the previous rate. In Hodeidah province, where a battle for the key port rattles on, Save the Children said facilities it supports have seen a 170 percent increase in suspected cases since fighting escalated in June.


    Our weekend read:


    A vote without a say: Cameroon's displaced anglophones wait for peace to return


    It’s presidential election weekend in Cameroon, but for the thousands now displaced from home as a result of the conflict in the anglophone regions, it’s a vote, but no real say. After the francophone government’s violent clampdown on English-speaking separatist activists last year, the humanitarian situation has only worsened. The UN estimates that 246,000 people in the country’s Southwest region are now internally displaced, while another 25,000 have fled across the border to Nigeria. While the government has promised a calm election process, and the country’s main election body urges IDPs to return to their homes to vote, the conflict is casting a long shadow over the polls. Earlier this year, we featured a special report from regular IRIN contributor Emmanuel Freudenthal who became the first journalist to embed with Cameroon’s separatist forces. For our weekend read this week, Arison Tamfu travelled into the forests of the Southwest region to meet displaced anglophones now living on the run, many of whom feel like strangers in their own country.


    And finally:


    Germany's humanitarian spending has risen fast in recent years. The ecosystem of NGOs and aid agencies in Bonn and Berlin has grown to match. Now it has a new think tank, officially launched in July: The Centre for Humanitarian Action is housed at the Maecenata Foundation, and involves church groups Caritas Germany and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe as well as MSF Germany.



    Tsunami aid, Spanish surge, and sexual violence in war
  • Angry Iraqis, fed-up Nicaraguans, and a Mosul blooper: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar:

    Latin America’s new exodus


    We’ve been banging the IRIN news drum regularly about Venezuela’s meltdown and how it’s causing regional problems as hundreds of thousands of hungry and desperate people flee south into Colombia and Brazil. Meanwhile, a bit further north another crisis has been brewing, and it hasn’t been getting nearly the attention it should. As Elizabeth Gonzalez points out in this podcast for Americas Society/Council of the Americas, more people (more than 300 in fact) have been killed in protests against President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly repressive regime in Nicaragua since April than were killed in similar circumstances in Venezuela during the whole of 2017. Again, the pressure is visible on the borders: this time, Nicaragua’s with Costa Rica, where 100-150 Nicaraguans are reportedly crossing every day through one point alone – that’s on top of some 23,000 who’ve already fled. What’s the problem? In a word: Ortega. Over the past 39 years he has carefully consolidated his power, largely propped up by Venezuelan oil money. He’s done that so successfully that the country now appears to be headed toward dictatorship. The current unrest was set off by his government’s April attempt to pass really unpopular changes to social security policy, but it soon morphed into broader anti-Ortega protests. The ensuing crackdown – killings, arrests, disappearances – has been extended from the students leading the demonstrations to the media and even the Catholic Church. As political analyst Javier Arguello tells Gonzalez: “We have a little North Korea now in Central America.”


    Hooked and want an alternative listen? Check out “The Crisis and Politics in Nicaragua, Explained”, a podcast by The Daily Signal.

    Zimbabwe: votes and hope


    On 30 July, Zimbabweans voted peacefully in an election that the ruling Zanu-PF party had widely promised would signal a new start after nearly four decades of repressive rule by Robert Mugabe, who was ousted as president late last year. He left an economy in shambles and nearly 2.5 million people at risk of hunger. As the vote counting began, though, so did opposition charges of vote rigging. Fingers were pointed at supporters of the incumbent president and leader of the ruling (and military-backed) Zanu-PF party, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Protesters filled the streets, the army responded, and three people were killed. Not that anyone was surprised: a survey by Afrobarometer released 20 July found that more than 40 percent of the population feared election-related intimidation, violence, and military intervention. And claims of electoral corruption and manipulation were not hard to find leading up to the polling, including accusations of the ruling party using food aid to buy votes, as IRIN reported. The electoral commission has now declared Mnangagwa the winner, with 50.8 percent of the votes. As an International Crisis Group report noted, if “citizens accept credible results” the election could open a path toward the “country’s recovery from misrule.” Here’s hoping.  


    Basra asks, where’s our oil money?


    Iraq’s much-needed post-war recovery is on shaky ground these days, as weeks of anti-government demonstrations that rocked the south and even reached Baghdad show no signs of slowing down. Protesters are frustrated by a lack of jobs, water, and electricity. Notably, while sectarianism is still part of Iraq’s system of governance and many people’s thinking (have you read “Searching for Othman” yet?), the unrest started in Basra – that’s the Shia heartland lashing out at a Shia-run central government. The protests started in early July, when Iran cut off its electricity supply to Iraq over unpaid bills, though some parts of the country had already been experiencing rolling blackouts. But there’s more going on here. As this helpful briefing from Crisis Group points out, many locals of oil-rich Basra are frustrated that the wealth their natural resources provide is not trickling down. A sample protest sign (above), courtesy of Babylon FM: “2,500,000 barrels per day; $70 per barrel; 2,500,000 x 70 = 0. Sorry, Pythagoras: we’re in Basra.”



    Same old, same old: diversity in the aid sector


    The leadership of humanitarian organisations is among the world’s most inclusive and diverse, right? After all, the global aid industry works to relieve suffering, improve lives, and protect some of the world’s most vulnerable — and diverse — populations. Well, maybe it’s time to think again, a new discussion paper from Melbourne-based Humanitarian Advisory Group suggests. After reviewing studies on leadership diversity published over the last eight years, the report’s authors conclude that “humanitarian leadership is not adequately diverse across gender, ethnicity, race, disability, or age”. This lack of diversity includes the conspicuous dominance of “Anglo-Saxon men” in decision-making positions, while women are “greatly under-represented” in leadership roles across the UN. One recent study found 80 percent of charities in the UK had no ethnic minorities whatsoever on their leadership teams. In addition, the aid sector as a whole has done little to track and understand diversity in its ranks. The researchers suggest that a lack of diversity can hinder effective humanitarian response. Over the next two years, they plan to study whether there’s evidence that more diverse leadership teams lead to better results on the ground during humanitarian emergencies.


    In case you missed it, 30 July-3 August:

    Afghanistan: Afghan staff employed by the International Organization for Migration and the International Rescue Committee were among at least 13 civilians killed in a 31 July attack on a government refugee office in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Officials are attributing the attack to fighters aligned with the so-called Islamic State, which also claimed responsibility for a January strike on the Jalalabad offices of Save the Children. There had already been a record-high 1,692 civilian deaths from conflict in Afghanistan through the first half of the year, according to the UN.

    Congo: In a Cheat Sheet item last month, we drew your attention to the overturning on appeal of the 18-year sentence of ex-Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court. After a decade in prison in The Hague, the former warlord returned to Kinshasa this week to a hero’s welcome and threw his hat into the ring for the presidential election in December. Currently, there are more questions than answers. Will the country’s courts allow his candidacy? Will Joseph Kabila, the current president, stand himself? Will leading opposition figure Moise Katumbi be arrested if he tries to come back and stand? What is clear is that Congo is deeply unstable and facing huge humanitarian challenges, from Kasai to Ituri to the Kivus.

    India: Up to 4 million names have been left off a list of citizens in Assam in northeast India, raising fears that authorities are in effect stripping citizenship from the state’s Bengali-speaking minority. State officials in Assam say the move is an attempt to identify migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. But rights groups say there are troubling parallels with Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority, who were stripped of rights and citizenship over decades. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh last year following a military purge.

    Somalia: When ICRC, an organisation designed to work in war zones, is forced to reduce its work, it means things are bad. On 26 July, ICRC announced it has suspended food, cash, livelihoods and prison monitoring in Somalia due to poor security. A staff member was killed in Mogadishu in March and another, a German nurse, was abducted in May and is still missing. The statement said ICRC will continue to support hospitals in Mogadishu, Baidoa and Kismayo, but Simon Brooks, its Somalia head of delegation, warned: "if we cannot work in safety, then we cannot reach victims. We will only resume operations fully once we have clarity on the security and respect of our staff." One of the largest operators in Somalia relief, last year ICRC helped 582,000 people with cash grants and 624,000 with food and other items.

    Yemen: Airstrikes hit a sanitation facility and water center in Hodeidah province this week, and the UN is now warning that cholera could be poised to make a comeback in Yemen. The waterborne disease was taking one life an hour at the height of an outbreak last year, with a total of 2,310 killed and more than 115,000 infected since April 2017. Cholera should be easy to treat, but Yemen’s decimated healthcare system made it hard to identify and contain, especially at the start of the epidemic. Now Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian chief in Yemen, says the country “could be one airstrike away from an unstoppable epidemic.”


    UN OCHA: under (some) new management

    The UN's humanitarian coordination body, OCHA, is assembling a new management team after a period of budget cuts and reorganisation going back to 2016. In an email obtained by IRIN, three senior appointments were announced: US citizen Lisa Carty is to be director of humanitarian financing and resource mobilisation; Reena Ghelani will be director of operations and advocacy; and Ramesh Rajasingham will become director of coordination. Carty comes to OCHA from a career in the State Department and UN agencies, while Ghelani and Rajasingham are long-serving OCHA staff promoted from within. OCHA's chief, Mark Lowcock, told IRIN in December he had set up five new senior positions and was recruiting "the world’s best people". Additional appointments in the areas of policy, information, and communication are expected to be announced before a September management gathering, staff told IRIN.



    Our weekend read:


    From WhatsApp to amulets – how Cameroon’s anglophone war is waged


    In the first instalment of his special report from a remote part of western Cameroon, Emmanuel Freudenthal introduced the Ambazonia Defense Forces, or ADF, the main separatist group fighting an intensifying war for independence. The first journalist to live with the anglophone fighters and report from inside their camps, he revealed how most of them used to be farmers and are now taking on the heavily armed, US-trained, French-funded Cameroonian army with old hunting rifles. In his newest article, he reveals a conflict waged with a bizarre mix of the old and the new – where WhatsApp is needed to receive orders from political leaders in Europe but magical “Odeshi” amulets are called upon to protect the fighters from bullets. His piece offers a first-time and up-close glimpse of who the fighters really are, what they believe, what motivates them, and what their lives are really like. With the UN Security Council reportedly beginning to take notice, and this under-covered conflict likely to flare up with presidential elections looming in early October, this is the weekend to get up to speed.


    And finally:


    8 million tons of fact checking


    A dispatch from Euronews caught our eye recently. It claimed that the UN says there are 8 million tons of explosives in the rubble of the Iraqi city of Mosul. That seems, despite the battering the city took, well, an absolute sh*t load. The report was part of a segment called Aid Zone, funded by the European Commission's humanitarian aid department, ECHO.


    We decided to have a comb through the rubble behind this alarming "fact". To back the figure, the EuroNews report, "Mosul and its people rise from the ruins", cited an 11 July press release by NGO Handicap International, which aids the disabled in humanitarian crises. That release stated that "8 million tons [1] of explosive remnants still contaminate the city". The reference, footnote [1], cites "UN Habitat and the United Nations Environment Programme".


    After some searching, we found the original source. And it doesn't say 8 million tons of explosives.


    In a March 2018 report, UN Environment stated that there are "colossal volumes" of debris that is "highly contaminated with unexploded ordnance, booby-traps and potentially other hazardous materials." The report explains that UN Environment worked with other groups to devise that figure by using  "satellite image analysis and field surveys” to estimate “that the city has around 8 million tons of conflict debris [our emphasis] which is equivalent to three times the Great Pyramid of Giza."


    While the number is exaggerated, the threat is real. From January 2017 to April 2018, the UN cleared 45,000 explosive remnants of war (such as mines, homemade bombs, or unexploded weapons) in Mosul. That’s in addition to those the Iraqi military cleared.




    Angry Iraqis, fed-up Nicaraguans, and a Mosul blooper
  • Zimbabwe ruling party accused of using food aid to buy votes

    Zimbabwe heads to the polls on Monday for landmark elections, the first since Robert Mugabe was ousted in November after 37 years in power. But despite promises of a new corruption-free era, monitors, experts, and the opposition allege that once again the ruling party is trying to buy votes with food aid.

    Almost two and a half million Zimbabweans are at risk of hunger, but as the country gears up for 30 July presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, government promises that food aid will be distributed according to need rather than party affiliation are ringing hollow.


    After taking the helm when Mugabe was ousted in November, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged Zimbabwe would turn over a new leaf, ending corruption such as the politicisation of food aid. He also promised the elections would be “free and fair” and extended the first invitations in almost two decades to foreign governments to observe the polls.

    Now, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an NGO monitoring the pre-election environment, says it has received reports from across the country of people excluded from food aid because of their political affiliation, allegations echoed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


    “People are being deprived of food aid on account of them being supporters of the opposition. That must stop,” MDC presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa told the Africa Report website. Chamisa, who according to a recent report by Afrobarometer is polling just three points behind Mnangagwa, has repeated the allegation several times on the campaign trail.


    A Bulawayo woman carries rice donated by the Chinese and distributed to Zanu-PF supporters last month.

    Mugabe’s regime was often accused of using food aid as a political tool. In 2016, amid a spate of anti-government protests and a devastating drought, Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Commission said officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party “were the major perpetrators in violations linked to distribution of food, agricultural inputs and other forms of aid,” and that such practices violated UN Principles on Fundamental Human Rights to Food.


    Government-run handouts


    In Zimbabwe, the coordination of food distribution is done by provincial governors, who are appointed by the central government.


    Opposition parties have criticised placing food aid in the hands of government officers, claiming it has led to politicisation as most are ruling Zanu-PF party supporters, some of whom are contesting parliamentary or local seats but have not – in line with election laws – resigned from their posts.


    “There is undoubtedly political manipulation,” said Pat Thaker from the Economist Intelligence Unit, a London-based analyst group. There are “many reports of people who require aid being required to show a Zanu-PF card,” she told IRIN.

    When Zanu-PF campaigned last month in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, ruling party officials distributed rice donated by China only to party members, several witnesses told IRIN.


    Some Bulawayo residents said they were unaware that food aid was available in the city.

    “We are hearing it from you,” an elderly widow told IRIN.


    “They usually give this food to their supporters, and since I do not know anything about politics I guess that’s why we did not hear about the rice,” she said.


    Acting Minister of Information Simon Khaya Moyo, who doubles as Zanu-PF national spokesman, told IRIN that any grassroots party officials found selectively distributing food aid would face internal party disciplinary measures as “the president has made it clear no one should be discriminated against.”

    Massive needs

    An estimated 2.4 million Zimbabweans - about 28 percent of the rural population - are projected to require food assistance during the coming peak hunger season, which runs from January to March, 2019, according to the 2018 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee Report.

    Lloyd Chadzingwa, advocacy and communications officer at the Food and Nutrition Council (FNC), a government agency set up to monitor and advise on food insecurity and malnutrition issues, referred IRIN’s questions to local officials, noting that “they are the ones who coordinate food distribution on behalf of government.”


    Chadzingwa did say the number of food insecure people in urban areas jumped from 1.1 million in 2016 to 1.5 million in 2018, largely because incomes remained stagnant as the prices of basic commodities rose.


    Across the country, “widespread poverty, HIV/AIDS, limited employment opportunities, liquidity challenges, recurrent climate-induced shocks and economic instability all contribute to limiting adequate access to food,” according to the WFP.


    The latest forecast from US-funded food security and malnutrition watchdog FEWS NET says crisis levels of food insecurity are expected across much of the country between August 2018 and January 2019.

    (TOP PHOTO: Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader Nelson Chamisa holds a press conference at the MDC headquarters in Harare, on 17 July 2018. CREDIT: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP. BODY PHOTO: A Bulawayo woman carries rice donated by the Chinese and distributed to Zanu-PF supporters last month. CREDIT: IRIN)


    2.4 million people at risk of hunger on eve of first post-Mugabe elections
    Zimbabwe ruling party accused of using food aid to buy votes
  • From alms and Artificial Intelligence to Malala and Madagascar: The Cheat Sheet

    Our editors’ Friday roundup of humanitarian trends and developments.


    On our radar:


    Alms race


    The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week. As well as fasting and prayer, it's a time for charity in the form of alms known as zakat. NGOs often mount Ramadan fundraising campaigns, an extra source of scarce humanitarian funding. A 2015 study on zakat by consultancy Development Initiatives found billions in play but "conflicting opinions on whether non-Muslims can benefit from zakat and where it can be used." No such doubts blocked one fund, however. A Malaysian state zakat initiative gave $1.2 million for a Red Cross water and agriculture project in Kenya last year, and the communities helped were largely Christian – a deal brokered by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Meanwhile, British NGO Islamic Relief put out a new advert just before Ramadan to encourage donations, with a message about do-it-yourself aid expeditions. In the three-minute video, well-meaning young Yusuf raises money online in the UK and sets off for Niger to personally deliver his own package of aid.


    Let's just say, things don't go as he planned…


    Madagascar on edge

    Keep an eye on Madagascar. Following contested changes to the country’s electoral laws, things are in danger of unravelling. That’s the warning the Institute of Security Studies issued to the Southern African Development Community this week regarding intensifying violence between supporters of two former presidents and the government of President Hery Rajaonarimampianina; two people were killed during protests in April. The Pretoria-based research institute predicted “another full-scale crisis” unless a free election takes place with a level-playing field. The tension is fuelled by fears that popular ex-presidents Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina could be barred from the race. Amnesty International has urged the government to refrain from criminalising freedom of peaceful assembly and called on the opposition not to intimidate or harass citizens, including schoolchildren, into joining its demonstrations.


    In Myanmar, displacement goes way beyond the Rohingya


    With so much attention on Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, it’s easy to forget that Myanmar also has multiple internal displacement crises on its hands. More than 100,000 people are still uprooted in the north, and aid groups say more than 6,800 people have joined them since early April, fleeing indiscriminate shelling by the military in its clashes with a Kachin rebel group.


    Elsewhere, a trickle of refugees returned this week to eastern Myanmar after decades in camps in Thailand. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, announced it had helped 93 people return under a voluntary programme. If that strikes you as an infinitesimally small number, you’re right. Almost 100,000 people live in camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border, according to The Border Consortium, which represents aid groups that have worked with the refugees since the 1980s. While Myanmar’s political reforms once filled donors with hope, a national peace process has stalled and many refugees in Thailand aren’t sure if it’s safe to return. Aid funding has fallen, both in the camps and in eastern Myanmar, leaving refugees with an unenviable choice. While the UNHCR returns programme is ongoing, many refugees don’t want to take part because their names could be given to Myanmar’s government. Instead, an estimated 18,000 refugees have returned home on their own since 2012, with no official support.  

    More than Malala


    We’re not sure who actually reads 300-page reports, but this one covers a scary and important reality – indiscriminate and deadly attacks on schools, universities, students, and staff are becoming more widespread. This exhaustive research from the Global Coalition to Prevent Education from Attack contains plenty of facts and figures: the headline number is 12,700 attacks from 2013 to 2017, harming more than 21,000 students and educators. In many countries, female students and teachers are targeted because of their gender (see: Malala, but also plenty of other girls). For those without the patience to get through the whole thing, you can skip to helpful country profiles, and you don’t need to read it all to get the point. As GCPEA’s Executive Director Diya Nijhowne puts it: “Teaching and learning has become increasingly dangerous.”


    Getting to grips with cholera


    Last year, the World Health Organisation and Yemeni authorities cancelled plans to vaccinate against cholera: a huge epidemic was raging, supplies were uncertain, and permissions, security, and access difficult. On 6 May, a new operation to vaccinate 350,000 people in and around the port of Aden began. This time, a total of 4.6 million doses have been earmarked for Yemen with funding from the vaccine alliance, GAVI. Improvements in the effectiveness and supply of the cholera vaccine mean it’s now feasible to control outbreaks better than ever. In the first four months of 2018, 15 million doses of the oral vaccine have been allocated, more than the 11 million used in the whole of 2017. Billed the “largest cholera vaccination drive in history”, two million people in Malawi, Nigeria, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia are to get the oral vaccine in upcoming campaigns. Speaking at a briefing in Geneva, GAVI chief Seth Berkley also said that thanks to access allowing vaccination and good immunisation coverage a cholera epidemic “never came” to the high-risk refugee camps of Rohingya in Bangladesh. Another round of vaccinations for up to one million people there is underway, but a senior WHO official warned: “we’re not out of the woods yet”.


    Keep in mind:


    AI for good


    Satellites, cities, health, and trust: four themes pack the programme for an Artificial Intelligence conference in Geneva next week. The AI for Good Summit brings together academics, philanthropists and development types to come up with ideas for good bots to help with the sustainable development goals. You can’t get to the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva in person? The event will also be available on webcast. Oh yes, and a little nugget: one of the conference sponsors is Saudi Arabia, which granted “citizenship” to a robot last year called Sophia, drawing scorn from women’s rights activists.


    Our weekend read:


    Niger sends Sudanese refugees back to Libya


    Last week, we drew your attention to the arrest of more than 100 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Agadez. They are part of a reversal of usual migration trends that has seen some 1,700 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers moving south to Niger from Libya in search of more secure lives, prompted, at least in part, by European Union efforts to stem migration.


    On 10 May, we published this exclusive story about the deportation of 135 of those arrested Sudanese from Niger back to Libya. They were forcefully loaded onto trucks and taken from Agadez on 7 May. Since then, their whereabouts had been unknown. The regular IRIN contributor who broke the story, Eric Reidy, reached one of the deported Sudanese by phone this afternoon. He said they are still stranded at the Madama border crossing, in a no man’s land between Niger and Libya, uncertain where to go from there. “We left Libya because of the security situation to apply for asylum,” the Sudanese man said. But now they can’t go back to Niger. “No one will try because we were in Agadez and they kicked us out,” he said.


    And finally:


    Four calendars for the Rohingya  


    “We will distribute food at the end of the month.” Straightforward, right? Not in Bangladesh’s crowded Rohingya refugee camps. The Rohingya use four different calendars: the Bangla calendar used in parts of South Asia, the Gregorian or Western calendar, an Islamic calendar for religious occasions, and the Burmese calendar for some official documents back in Myanmar – from where an estimated 693,000 Rohingya have fled since August 2017. But not all these calendars overlap, and some Rohingya refer to all four depending on the subject, according to BBC Media Action, Internews, and Translators Without Borders, which have been collecting feedback from Rohingya refugees.


    So what does this mean for the Rohingya and the local and international aid workers assisting them? Be aware of the nuances, and “communicate clearly,” the groups advise. Aid groups have already been criticised for not doing enough to listen to the Rohingya themselves – including relying on complaints boxes with English instructions, despite high levels of illiteracy among the Rohingya. The Rohingya dialect is most similar to the Chittagonian spoken by locals in Cox’s Bazar, but a step removed from Bangla, Bangladesh’s dominant tongue. Failing to recognise these differences could be disastrous, according to a separate Translators Without Borders study on language barriers. In Bangla, the word used to describe a cyclone is jhor. In Rohingya, the same word may describe heavy rain – but not a storm. With cyclone and monsoon season imminent, such subtleties, TWB says, “could be the difference of life and death”.

    (TOP PHOTO: Posters for Madagascar's President Hery Rajaonarimampianina. CREDIT: Zo Andriamifidisoa/Flickr)


    From alms and Artificial Intelligence to Malala and Madagascar
  • School for Syrians, France’s Indian Ocean border and British NGOs say sorry: 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:


    This just in


    Whatever the Security Council decides, this is everything you need to know about Syria’s Eastern Ghouta: a new briefing from contributor Aron Lund.


    Syria and Turkey


    The vast majority of Turkey’s 3.7 million refugees do not live in camps, and as a report from the International Crisis Group points out, hostility towards Syrians in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir is growing. At least 35 people died in violence between refugees and locals last year. One tried and tested (elsewhere, at least) avenue towards coexistence is education. Turkey plans to phase out refugee-only schools where students study in Arabic by the end of 2018 and shift them  to the Turkish curriculum in the Turkish language. How and if this will work is not yet clear – watch this space for an update soon.


    Meanwhile, Turkish troops and their Syrian allies are working together in a very different sort of way, fighting US-backed Kurdish troops in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin. So far this has meant loss of life and mass displacement, but this week a key advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added a new dimension, saying he expects tens of thousands of Syrians to return to Afrin after the military operation is complete. Given current violence (not to mention the sentiments of the Kurdish residents of Afrin) this does seem a stretch, but might it provide a window into Turkish strategic thinking?


    America’s endless war


    The death of four US special forces soldiers in Niger last year continues to resonate in the US media. In a reconstruction of the soldiers’ final hours, The New York Times this week also told a broader story of the sprawl of US military intervention around the globe. Initially based on a narrow mandate after 9/11, US special forces are now engaged in an almost unlimited war. Previously unremarkable Niger is now the Department of Defence’s second largest deployment in Africa outside Djibouti. And that footprint will be larger still once a giant drone base in Agadez is completed. Joe Penny of the Intercept does a comprehensive dive into the issues, from the constitutional legality of the base, to the political economy of Agadez and, vividly, local opposition to the US presence.

    Also noting the potential for destabilisation, War on the Rocks warns that “terrorism is not a useful lens for understanding violence in the Sahel, nor is counterterrorism a proper policy response”. Indeed. And a new Rand report  sifts through historical data from around the world and concludes that US military assistance is “associated with increased state repression and incidence of civil war” rather than stability. If you need to know where to avoid, see IRIN’s map on foreign military bases in Africa.


    Disaster insurance: dull but fast


    Days after powerful Cyclone Gita barged across Tonga’s main island last week, a new disaster insurance scheme paid out more than $3.5 million to help the Pacific Island country’s recovery. The World Bank says it’s the first payment made by the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Company, which was set up in 2016 to support select countries in the disaster-prone Pacific Islands. Proponents say disaster insurance is an innovative solution for quickly dispatching funding where it’s needed, even if the concept itself may sound rather dull — as an IRIN op-ed pointed out during last year’s destructive Caribbean hurricane season.


    Funding for disaster preparedness and response is a big issue in many Pacific Island countries, where resources are scarce and aid is often slowly filtered through the labyrinthine international system. But while disaster insurance may act fast, it’s still just one part of the overall funding picture. After Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu in 2015, the pilot predecessor of the Pacific insurance scheme released $1.9 million directly to the country within two weeks. Total losses and damages, though, were pegged at more than $400 million — two thirds of Vanuatu’s GDP.


    Sorry, say British NGOs


    In a sign of mutual solidarity that took some time coming, 23 UK NGO executives promised to do more to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. In a joint letter, Oxfam, Save the Children and other major groups tried to shore up public confidence following a toxic scandal, while not denying they may have a problem: “As we take every necessary step to right these deep wrongs, we also have a clear responsibility to ensure that the communities we seek to help are not the ones punished for our mistakes.” The move comes after the glare of publicity moved, at least temporarily, onto Save the Children from Oxfam; former Save CEO Justin Forsyth stepped down from his job at UNICEF after his own workplace misconduct at the British agency was exposed by the BBC. The priority measures highlighted in the joint letter were: more funding, better systems and legal methods for work references and background checks.


    Why are children dying from measles in Indonesia?


    Vaccine-preventable measles is killing children in Indonesia’s Papua province and pointing an international spotlight on the central government. Measles and malnutrition have killed dozens of children in the eastern province since an outbreak began last October, according to the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination arm. It’s become a sensitive issue for the Indonesian government: a BBC journalist was ejected from Papua after tweeting photos of food deliveries.


    Indonesia’s military has for decades suppressed an independence movement in Papua and West Papua. Today, the two provinces lag behind the rest of the country on a range of key health indicators; infant, child and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the country. The outbreak comes after Indonesia had touted a large-scale measles vaccination campaign (half-funded by major international donors), leading critics to question why vaccinations hadn’t reached children in the Papua district hardest hit by the outbreak.


    In case you missed it


    The other European migration frontline

    Drownings, deportations, recriminations and xenophobia: the vestiges of France’s colonial past provide the ingredients of a rolling migration crisis in the present-day Indian Ocean. A risky sea crossing has claimed the lives of up to 10,000 people since 1995. The unresolved crisis sees some 20,000 people a year thrown out from a tiny speck of France near Madagascar to the neighbouring island nation of Comoros. The whole situation adds up to lives uprooted, hopes dashed, and a surprising source of support for the right-wing party of Marine le Pen in France. IRIN visited Mayotte to find out more.
    School for Syrians, France’s Indian Ocean border and British NGOs say sorry
  • Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: 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:


    Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector


    By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.


    While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.  


    Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 linksOxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".


    Iraq’s long road ahead


    This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.


    In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”


    More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties. 

    The new statistics underscore an alarming trend: more than one quarter of civilian casualties last year came in attacks that explicitly targeted civilians, mostly through suicide bombings and other forms of violence. There were almost 2,300 casualties from such attacks – a nine-year high. Many of these came on a single day, 31 May, when a truck bomb exploded near the German embassy in the heart of Kabul. 

    The new figures also show the growing impact of the group known as Islamic State Khorasan Province – an offshoot of the so-called Islamic State group. Its recent emergence has added a new layer of violence to Afghanistan’s conflict. In 2015, the UN attributed 82 casualties to the group; two years later, it accounted for almost 10 percent of casualties nationwide, the majority in suicide attacks. Anti-government groups including the Taliban were responsible for two thirds of all casualties last year, the UN says. According to data from the US military, the use of airstrikes is soaring. More than 631 civilians were killed or injured in aerial attacks in Afghanistan in 2017 – a year in which the US Air Force recorded a six-year high for airstrikes. Compare airstrike data with the UN’s casualty figures:

    Afghanistan’s pattern of violence has continued into 2018. January saw a string of high-profile attacks on civilians, including the 24 January assault on the Jalalabad office of the NGO Save the Children, and a massive Taliban-claimed blast that killed more than 100 people in Kabul.


    Read IRIN’s recent reporting on how the growing insecurity has pushed aid groups to make tough decisions: Afghan attacks force aid rethink, leave local NGOs more exposed


    Africa’s week of high political drama


    It began with the resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma: suspenseful, but hardly surprising following the election of reformist Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader. But real reform, beyond just getting the ANC elected in 2019, will be a harder road. South Africa is saddled with multiple crises of poverty, inequality, and corruption, topped off by factionalism within the ANC. Zuma’s misgovernance was a symptom of “much deeper problems inherent to contemporary capitalist development and the contradictions of state-building in the Global South” – which might make no sense, until you read the analysis by Alex Beresford.


    In neighbouring Zimbabwe, it was sadder news: the death of opposition stalwart Morgan Tsvangirai. A man of immense personal courage, he has left the political stage at a critical time. The opposition is divided, the government militarised, and elections are due later this year, for the first time without the name of Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper. The tragedy is that Mugabe has nevertheless succeeded in outliving Tsvangirai, his main rival.


    And then there was the surprise resignation of Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn. He said he was stepping down to end more than two years of unrest over demands for reform. A state of emergency has not quelled the protest, and the release of political prisoners only triggered more demonstrations this week calling for the freeing of all detainees. Who replaces Hailemariam is now the crucial decision for the ruling EPRDF. It has the opportunity to choose a leader from the majority Oromo region, where the reform protests began in 2015. But there is also the fear of a potential backlash from the Tigrayan political and military class. Although they are ethnically in the minority, they have pulled the strings in Ethiopia since 1991. Real victory for reformers or simply an expedient adjustment? On that may hang the future of the EPRDF itself. Whatever the answer, uncertain times lie ahead for Ethiopia. Just as this was published, the state broadcaster announced a state of emergency following fresh anti-government protests.


    Did you miss it?


    Urban displacement in the 21st Century


    The increasingly long-term nature of displacement means camp settings aren’t a sustainable option, but we have only limited insights about the impact of displacement on urban systems. This new thematic series by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre seeks to fill the gap. The first report is on Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri, swollen by people fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency. Employment is clearly a key need. But the report also finds that despite the challenges, there are actions the government, UN agencies, and NGOs can take to help IDPs re-establish their lives and livelihoods. They include: coordinating programming across sectors to facilitate integration into the local economy; expanding access to financing to enable the purchase of agricultural inputs; and promoting women’s livelihoods by helping female agricultural labourers receive fair and equitable pay for their work.


    For more, read IRIN’s in-depth series on urban reform.

    (TOP PHOTO: Hundreds of homes in Mosul's Old City have been reduced to rubble. CREDIT: Tom Westcott/IRIN)


    Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal
  • Mayotte: the French migration frontline you’ve never heard of

    Last month, Ousseni Souffiani’s life was turned upside down. He had lived in a hillside shantytown on the island of Mayotte, but a torrential downpour swept his flimsy home away, killing his wife and four of his children who were sheltering inside.


    Like many other Comorian immigrants on Mayotte, a speck of French territory in the Indian Ocean, Souffiani’s home was a banga – made of corrugated sheet metal.


    All that was left after the tragedy was an old foam mattress and a refrigerator, half-buried beneath the rubble.


    When IRIN met Souffiani several weeks later, he was carrying an empty pot covered in cloth. He and his only surviving child, a six-year-old son, were going to a friend’s to ask for food. “We’re starting over at zero,” he said.


    Souffiani had most recently worked as a labourer on a manioc field. But his life, like that of other undocumented migrants who’ve made the dangerous sea crossing from the Comoros – just 90 kilometres away – is a precarious one. They face discrimination, and are fearful of being caught by the government’s deportation machine.


    Mayotte was once one of the four main islands in the Comoros, all under French control. But during the decolonisation period in the 1970s, it alone voted to join Paris rather than an independent Comoros, splitting the archipelago.


    Despite its far-flung location and Comorian claims to the island, Mayotte has most of the trappings and advantages of an official French department – including membership of the EU.


    A mirror image of the Mediterranean


    So, just as migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, Comorians cross a thin strip of the Mozambique Channel to reach Mayotte and the chance of a better life, usually on small kwassa kwassa fishing boats.


    Edward Carver/IRIN
    A banga in the Mayotte capital, Mamoudzou

    As in the Mediterranean, these boats are often in poor condition – they are frequently seized, so smugglers don’t use their best vessels – and they are overloaded.


    About 7,000-10,000 Comorians – more than one percent of the islands’ population – died on the crossing between 1995 and 2012, according to a report from the French Senate. Many local observers cite higher figures, and the Comorian authorities claim it is “the world’s largest marine cemetery”.


    French border patrols catch several kwassa kwassa per night. In most cases, the people on board are deported the very next day. Mayotte has a population of just over 200,000, and yet manages to deport about 20,000 people each year.


    Mayotte is exempt from certain French immigration laws, and the border police do not always respect those that do exist. In a report last year, France’s human rights commission condemned the quick deportations in Mayotte, where most migrants don’t even see a lawyer or a judge before expulsion.

    The commission wrote that seeking asylum in Mayotte was “mission impossible” and that this “worrying phenomenon” was unique in France. For Comorians, these difficulties are compounded by the fact that they believe themselves to be on their own land when they are on Mayotte.


    Social tensions


    The people of Mayotte and the Comoros have a common, if complicated, ethnic background, with ancestors arriving over the centuries from Africa, islands in the Pacific, Madagascar, and the Middle East. They also share a language and religion.


    Most people on the islands speak some form of the main Comorian language, Shikomori, and adhere to the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam.


    Yet the long-settled Mahorans (people of Mayotte) resent the large presence of other Comorians on their island, which puts pressure on public services. Schools are now full of children from the other islands, and at Mayotte’s main hospital, most of the women giving birth are undocumented migrants.


    Mansour Kamardine, one of Mayotte’s two representatives in the French parliament, considers the Comorian presence an “invasion” and regularly bemoans the grand remplacement of his island’s population. In 2016, he said Mayotte was on the verge of a “civil war”. In legislative elections last year, he easily won a seat in Paris.


    Edward Carver/IRIN
    Comorians wait in line outside the office for foreign affairs in Mayotte

    Anti-migrant sentiment was also evident in the presidential election a few months earlier. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right party, received significant support in Mayotte, even though most Mahoran voters are Muslim people of colour – not Le Pen’s normal supporters (only about one percent of Mayotte’s population comes from metropole France).


    Le Pen has won popularity here by decrying the influx of migrants and criticising the Comoros. She recently expressed exasperation that the Comoros has the gall to “question the integrity of French territory”.


    Some Mahorans refer to all other Comorians, no matter which island they’re from, as mdzwani, a slur derived from the name of the closest Comorian island. In 2016, a series of violent evictions by anti-migrant mobs left Comorians camped out in city squares.


    In an online manifesto, one local group claims migrants insult, rape, rob, plunder, and burglarise the people of Mayotte, and disfigure the landscape with their banga huts.


    But not all Mahoran agree with this depiction of Comorians. Ambidi Said Mattoir, a Mahoran activist who believes his island should still be part of the Comoros, says that many who speak out against immigration are hypocrites who employ undocumented Comorians in their homes and their fields. Without the labour these migrants provide, the economy might collapse, he told IRIN.  


    The “Dreamers” of Mayotte


    Like undocumented “Dreamers” in the United States, people who were brought to Mayotte at a young age often grow up to find themselves treated like foreigners.


    Chakour Ali, a 20-year-old electrician, came to Mayotte with his mother on a kwassa kwassa when he was five. He hasn’t left since. His request for nationality has been pending for more than two years; he’s still awaiting a response.


    In the meantime, he can’t work legally or continue his education. He’d like to study electrical engineering. He graduated from high school two years ago, but now that he’s an adult he’s at greater risk of deportation.


    If he had papers that would let him come and go, Ali says he would visit his father on Grande Comore. But, having no memory of the island, he has no interest in living there. “I know nothing about the Comoros,” he told IRIN. “I wouldn’t know how to live there.”


    Edward Carver/IRIN
    Many police on Mayotte are from metropole France


    Closing borders and opening up divisions


    France helped create the tensions now visible among the Comorian population.


    In the 1970s, the Comoros voted for independence, but France retroactively interpreted the vote island by island – a way of holding onto Mayotte, the one island that had voted against independence.


    In splitting the Comoros, France violated a UN mandate and an agreement with the Comoros to respect existing boundaries during decolonisation. This led the UN to repeatedly condemn France’s occupation of Mayotte, including in a resolution from 1976, just after the split.


    In 1995, France introduced a “Balladur” visa requirement for Comorians wishing to travel to Mayotte. The visa was expensive and required an invitation from a Mayotte resident, so most Comorians turned to the kwassa kwassa, and the death toll started to climb.


    Billboards in the Comoros proclaim that “Mayotte is Comorian and always will be”, “Balladur visa = legalised genocide”, “[International] law is flouted in the Comoros”, and so on.


    Over the decades, France upgraded Mayotte’s status, with the support of the Mahoran people, who consistently voted for closer ties to France. But some activists say the referendums were masquerades controlled by France and influenced by French propaganda.


    In 2011, in order to fulfill a campaign promise by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, France made Mayotte a full overseas department – a move that enraged Comorians. Last year, current French President Emmanuel Macron made an insensitive joke about the kwassa kwassa boats, causing another diplomatic row with the Comoros.


    Yet in September, a new French policy seemed possible: Paris announced a “road map” to opening up travel restrictions between the Comoros and Mayotte so that people would stop risking their lives to make the treacherous journey.


    However, many Mahoran protested the plan, seeing it as too soft on illegal immigration. The original road map has now been scrapped and the Balladur visa requirement remains in place, the Mayotte prefecture told IRIN in an email.


    Nowhere to go


    After the accident in which Souffiani lost his family, his entire shantytown was deemed unsafe. The local government forced everyone out of their banga. However, for most people, including Souffiani, emergency housing was provided for only three weeks (for documented residents, it was three months).


    Several people in the community told IRIN they had nowhere to go; they just wanted to return to their banga. Though these huts seem makeshift in construction, many are hooked up to the electricity grid, and some families have televisions and refrigerators. Souffiani will have to rely on his friends until he can once again afford such amenities.


    As a young man, he crossed to Mayotte and spent years saving money, then went back to the Comoros to start a business selling clothes. But customs fees, corruption, and political instability derailed his business – the Comoros has endured more than 20 coup d’états in the four decades since independence.


    Souffiani and his family ended up on a kwassa kwassa back to Mayotte so the children could receive a good education. That education is what he still wants for his six-year-old boy. “His future is what’s on my mind,” he explained simply.



    TOP PHOTO: Deported - the Mayotte authorities daily send home Comorian migrants

    Thousands of people have died trying to make the hazardous Indian Ocean crossing
    Mayotte: the French migration frontline you’ve never heard of

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