(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

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

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

    On our radar

    UN warns of ‘worst humanitarian catastrophe’ in Syria

     

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

     

    Storms, floods, and a cyclone batter southeast Africa

     

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

     

    North Korea sanctions disrupt aid programmes

     

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

     

    Uptick of violence threatens Yemen peace bid

     

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

     

    A backtrack from the UN’s refugee agency

     

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

    In case you missed it:

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Weekend read

     

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

     

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

     

    And finally…

     

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

     

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

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

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    Mozambique storm; North Korea aid; and conflict spikes in South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
  • Key donors freeze Uganda refugee aid after UN mismanagement scandal

    Uganda’s refugee sector may run into trouble after two major European donor countries froze funds to the UN refugee agency as a result of fraud, corruption, and mismanagement unearthed in an internal UN audit last year.

     

    Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting nation in Africa, catering to more than 1.2 million refugees, the vast majority of whom have fled conflict in the neighbouring countries of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

     

    Germany and the UK’s Department for International Development, or DFID, both confirmed to IRIN that they have frozen funding to UNHCR Uganda, following issues raised in last November’s audit report by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, or OIOS.

     

    The report found that the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda in 2016-2017.

     

    Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness, and refugees, Musa Ecweru, called for continued and increased support from the international community, saying refugee hosting was a “shared responsibility”.

     

    “We have kept our doors open to refugees,” Ecweru told IRIN. “More refugees are coming despite the peace accord in South Sudan and elections in Democratic Republic of Congo. This is putting a strain on us.”

     

    The move by the UK and Germany – two of UNHCR Uganda’s top four country donors last year – could cause disruptions to essential life-saving assistance for refugees, the UN refugee agency says.

     

    Cécile Pouilly, a Geneva-based UNHCR spokeswoman, confirmed the aid freeze without naming the donors. Pouilly said education, water, and mental health support were among the services most at risk, and that negotiations with donors were ongoing.

     

    Read more: Audit finds UN refugee agency critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda

     

    The November audit revealed that UNHCR Uganda wasted tens of millions of dollars, overpaying for goods and services, awarding major contracts improperly, and failing to avoid fraud, corruption, and waste.

     

    The European Anti-Fraud Office in December confirmed to IRIN that it was “investigating allegations of fraud and irregularities regarding specific projects funded by the European Union to support refugee settlements in Uganda.”

    “It's high time to hold individuals involved in corruption scandals accountable and find ways to continue to support refugees while minimising the risk of financial mismanagement.”

    Four Ugandan officials who were forcefully asked to step aside in February 2018, pending investigations – including the commissioner for refugees in the Office of the Prime Minister, Apollo Kazungu, and three of his staff – are yet to be arraigned and charged in court. UNHCR has not provided any information about disciplinary action, if any, taken against its employees.

     

    “It's high time to hold individuals involved in corruption scandals accountable and find ways to continue to support refugees while minimising the risk of financial mismanagement,” said Thijs Van Laer, programme director at the International Refugee Rights Initiative.

     

    Frozen funds

     

    With the exception of emergency funding to help prevent an Ebola outbreak, “DFID has released no further funds to UNHCR in Uganda since the allegations of corruption emerged,” a spokesperson for DFID in London told IRIN. The statement listed funding in 2016 and 2017, suggesting that DFID has not provided funding since January 2018.

     

    “We will only provide further funding when we are confident that UNHCR has properly addressed the issues raised in the recent audit,” the DFID spokesperson said. “We have asked UNHCR to provide detailed information on whether any UK funding has been lost due to issues raised in the audit.”

     

    DFID provided £20.1 million (about $25.9 million) in funding to UNHCR in Uganda during 2016 and 2017, according to the DFID spokesperson.

     

    “DFID has a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption of any kind,” the spokesperson said, adding, “where British taxpayers’ money is misused, we expect our partners to take firm and immediate action.”

     

    In an emailed statement, German diplomats told IRIN their government’s money was “contingent on the implementation of stringent integrity measures”, and said Germany “will continue its funding in Uganda once the necessary measures have been adequately implemented.”

    Germany, UNHCR Uganda’s second largest donor last year with funding of over $15 million, continues to support the refugee agency’s other projects worldwide, the diplomats said, emphasising that funds allocated for humanitarian assistance must be used in the “most effective and efficient way”.

     

    UNHCR’s Pouilly said four of 12 critical issues identified in the audit had been resolved, including: strengthening partner selection and procurement; improving reception and registration or refugees; and bolstering management and oversight capacity.

     

    “While there have not been any funding cuts per se, two donors have decided to freeze funds until they receive additional information on the strengthening of our operational response in Uganda and our efforts to mitigate risks in a sustainable manner,” she said. “We are closely working with these donors to ensure that they receive the information and assurances they need to be able to restart funding our operations in Uganda.”

     

    Risks for the response

     

    UNHCR said the fund freeze threatened to disrupt humanitarian aid programmes and would put further strain on Uganda’s already limited public services. A drastic reduction in resources for UNHCR and its partners in Uganda will impact the range, the quality, and the management of life-saving services we are providing on the ground,” according to Pouilly.

     

    UNHCR had set a target of $448 million to raise for 2019 Uganda operations – for it and its 30 partner organisations. It only raised $173 million of its target in 2018 and currently has $130 million on hand.

    “The last thing refugees in Uganda need is a reduction in the means to support."

    “In addition to the $130 million I have authority to spend, we need 30 to 40 million now to be able to retain this minimum level access to services,” UNHCR country representative Joel Boutroue told journalists in the capital, Kampala. “The lack of funding directly translates into more hardships for the refugees, more hardships to the host communities and more tensions.”

     

    In December last year, South Sudanese refugees in Bidi Bidi, until recently the world’s largest refugee settlement, staged a violent protest over lack of food, destroying NGO vehicles and looting property. Similar protests have occurred in Uganda’s Arua and Adjumani districts.

     

    “Uganda can’t handle this crisis alone,” Ecweru said. “We continue to remind our donors, partners and friends [in the international community] that this is a shared responsibility. They should communicate to their capitals and government so that more support continues to come.”

     

    Pouilly said that without additional funding, reception facilities for new arrivals would remain inadequate – a particular concern given the risk of Ebola spreading from Congo.

     

    Read more: Inside efforts to prevent a regional Ebola crisis in Africa

     

    “The last thing refugees in Uganda need is a reduction in the means to support them,”  said Van Laer, from the International Refugee Rights Initiative. “The refugee response is already seriously underfunded and 2019 risks becoming a challenging year.”

    (TOP PHOTO: A South Sudanese woman walks back to her home in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in northwestern Uganda. CREDIT: Edward Echwalu/ECHO)

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    Key donors freeze Uganda refugee aid after UN mismanagement scandal
    “The lack of funding directly translates into more hardships for the refugees”
  • South Sudan clashes, local aid partners, and a €500 million grant: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    Thousands flee renewed violence in South Sudan

    Last week, UN envoy for South Sudan David Shearer said fighting had “diminished greatly” since a September peace agreement. He may have spoken too soon. It has since emerged that clashes in the Equatoria region have displaced about 8,000 people internally and sent 5,000 more fleeing across the border into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which is in the midst of an Ebola outbreak. Most of the refugees and IDPs are women, children, and the elderly – many traumatised after they “witnessed violent incidents, including armed men reportedly murdering and raping civilians and looting villages," according to Babar Baloch, spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. The clashes began last month between the army and the National Salvation Front, or NAS, one of more than 70 armed groups in South Sudan – and one that didn’t sign last year's accord. Five years of civil war have left 1.9 million South Sudanese internally displaced and 2.4 million living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

    Overhead costs in focus for world’s largest aid grant

    The World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are among those competing with the UN's World Food Programme for a €500 million European Commission grant. The project supports 1.5 million refugees with cash allowances in Turkey. It’s the largest single humanitarian grant in the world, accounting for about 31 percent of the EC’s emergency aid budget. One of the issues will be indirect costs. A recent EC audit questioned the seven percent overhead fee paid to WFP (to be reduced to 6.5%), which ran the first phase of the project. WFP told IRIN it is following the financial rules set by its board, which includes EU member states. The Emergency Social Safety Net project is largely implemented by the Turkish Red Crescent. Its chief, Kerem Kinik, in a statement to IRIN, declined to back a bidder, saying his organisation "remains in promotion of an impactful and cost-efficient programme design".

    Yemen heading towards ‘catastrophe’: UN experts

    The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen released its annual report to the public this week. It makes for grim reading on 2018, a period during which the country “continued its slide towards humanitarian and economic catastrophe”. In 224 pages, the group details “widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by the various parties involved in the conflict”. Tip: For the group’s look at humanitarian assistance – including the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s obstruction of civilian flights out of Sana’a, and the Houthi rebels’ arrest of aid workers and interference in the selection of aid beneficiaries – skip to page 56. In other Yemen news, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the country’s support for the war. It still has to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and President Donald Trump’s pen. If you’re confused, yes, last year a similar resolution failed in the House and passed in the Senate, but members have come and gone since then, and the resolution has changed too.

    Counting the cost of internal displacement

    People displaced within their own borders could be costing the global economy nearly $13 billion a year, according to new research by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Researchers assessed costs for eight countries experiencing conflicts or disasters, including Central African Republic, Libya, the Philippines, South Sudan, and Yemen. CAR was found to have the highest financial impact for each displaced person – about $230 million, or 11 percent of the country's GDP, per year. The research found that the highest burdens come from lost income, support for housing, and healthcare. People in low-income countries were also impacted worse than those in lower-middle or upper-middle income countries. Internal displacement "places a heavy burden on the economy," said Alexandra Bilak, director of the IDMC, "generating specific needs that must be paid for by those affected, their hosts, governments or aid providers". For more on how IDPs need greater protection, read this opinion we published earlier in the week.

    Examining aid partnerships

    Major donors and aid groups have made broad promises to “localise” aid – putting more power and funding in the hands of locals when crises hit. But change has been slow on the ground, to the frustration of many local NGOs, as we’ve documented in our continuing reporting on locally driven aid. So how can local and international groups make this all work? New research examines aid partnerships in four countries – Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Sudan – to look at what kinds of practices might contribute to “localising” aid. There are the positives (locals participating in project design and budgeting), and the negatives (internationals taking credit for local work). But, unsurprisingly, most of the local humanitarians interviewed in the studies said existing partnerships between international and local organisations are not equitable – closer to the subcontracting that characterises many aid relationships. Yet genuine, long-term partnerships are seen as the most likely to accelerate “localisation” reforms. The ongoing research, which you can read here, comes from a consortium of NGOs including Action Aid, CAFOD, CARE, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Tearfund.

    ‘I am free from the conflict, but I do not feel free’

    The number of child soldiers around the world has more than doubled since 2012, according to Child Soldiers International’s analysis of six years of UN reports on children and armed conflict. The latest report verified 8,185 cases of child recruitment in 15 countries – a 159 percent rise on the 3,159 cases verified in 2012.

    Co-produced by a former child soldier, a new project brings to life the voices of 27 children who were recruited into conflict in northern Uganda. There’s a taster below, but you can view the full comic here.

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    © YOLRED and courtesy of Jassi Sandhar (University of Bristol)

    In case you missed it

    Germany: The German authorities have arrested two former officers of Bashar al-Assad’s secret service alleged to have tortured critics of the Syrian president. A third man is reported to have been arrested in France. Germany accepts the principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing its courts to try individuals accused of international crimes committed elsewhere – including war crimes, crimes against humanity, even genocide.

    Haiti: After more than a week of protests over corruption amid soaring prices and inflation, President Jovenel Moïse finally broke his silence on Thursday, refusing to step down and urging patience. At least seven people have been killed during demonstrations sparked by anger at the government and the business elite over a $2 billion development aid scandal. More protests and street gunfire was reported in the capital, Port-au-Prince, after Moïse’s speech.

    Kashmir: The deadliest militant attack to hit Indian-administered Kashmir in three decades killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troops this week, raising tensions in a disputed region that has seen frequent civilian demonstrations against military abuses. The bomb blast was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammad, a banned Islamist group.

    Myanmar: The military is shelling villages and blocking humanitarian access in Rakhine State, according to Amnesty International. Rights groups say some of the same army divisions involved in the violent 2017 ouster of 700,000 Rohingya – labelled as a likely genocide by UN investigators – are now being deployed in a crackdown on the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.

    Sudan: Sudanese government forces have used "extreme violence and shocking abuses" against largely peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said, urging the UN to conduct an independent investigation into the violations. Activists estimate that more than 50 people have died since anti-government demonstrations began in mid-December, while at least 79 journalists have reportedly been arrested.

     

    Weekend read

    International politics and humanitarian aid collide in Venezuela

    The new D-Day for Venezuela is 23 February. This is when opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó has said humanitarian aid will enter the country to alleviate the suffering of Venezuelans gripped by widespread shortages of food and medicine. Guaidó has urged the armed forces, who remain loyal to President Nicolás Maduro, to allow the aid in. But there’s no indication Maduro, whose presidency Guaidó denounces as illegitimate, intends to do any such thing. In our weekend read, journalist Paula Dupraz-Dobias unpicks the different strands of what has become an international aid stand-off, with aid agencies caught in the middle and uncertain what to do next. This briefing is essential reading as the showdown continues to obscure a humanitarian crisis that may be denied by Maduro, but shows no sign of letting up.

    And finally

    We recommend you check out this entry to the New York Times’ Lens blog, which features the work of photographer Wesaam al-Badry. Al-Badry and his family fled Iraq just before the Gulf War for Nebraska, and his photos beautifully document their life in the United States, warts and all. There are weddings, a prison release ankle monitor, and an Arabic-language American newspaper. “My family are not one dimensional characters in a refugee story,” al-Badry says. “They have multiple layers, they have their own personalities, their own agency and ways of manoeuvring through life.”

    (TOP PHOTO: A child holds up a map in the Protection of Civilians site in Bor, South Sudan. CREDIT: JC McIlwaine​/UN Photo)

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    South Sudan clashes, local aid partners, and a €500 million grant
  • Our 10 most popular stories of 2018

    Investigations, exclusives, and special reports dominate our most-read stories this year, but there’s room for some timely analysis and the odd news feature. Find out which IRIN articles created the most buzz in 2018 (by unique pageviews, most-viewed first). And once you’re on top of the news, why not test yourself with our year-end quiz?

    Cameroon’s anglophone war, part 1 and part 2

    Emmanuel Freudenthal became the first journalist to spend time with an anglophone armed group, trekking for a week with them in the sun and rain, across rivers and up steep hills, through dark rainforests and fields of giant grass. In this two-part series, he explored the make-up and motivation of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, and how the civil war brewing in Cameroon was changing the lives of fighters, civilians, and refugees.

    A gun in the foreground as soldiers stand in file in mismatched clothing

     

    EXCLUSIVE: Oxfam sexual exploiter in Haiti caught seven years earlier in Liberia

    IRIN found that the man at the centre of Oxfam sexual exploitation scandal was dismissed by another British NGO seven years earlier for similar misconduct. A former colleague revealed that Roland van Hauwermeiren was sent home from Liberia in 2004 after her complaints prompted an investigation into sex parties there with young local women.

    People walk in the distances abstractly

     

    Understanding Eastern Ghouta in Syria

    In February, the UN said nearly 400,000 civilians were trapped in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, the latest battleground in a series of bloody rebel defeats in Syria’s cities. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his Russian allies seemed poised for a major ground offensive on the besieged insurgent enclave. Syria analyst Aron Lund unpicked what we knew, and what we didn’t.

    A dust cloud from an explosion on a city

     

    Audit finds UN refugee agency critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda

    This damning internal probe by the UN into waste and corruption in refugee operations in Uganda in 2017 went unnoticed by many. Ben Parker read the fine print and exposed the extent of mismanagement by the UN’s refugee agency, including a $7.9 million contract for road repairs awarded to a contractor with no experience in road construction.

    Two girls in a refugee camp one with her arm on the other

     

    Eritrea-Ethiopia peace leads to a refugee surge

    Inter-ethnic conflict over scarce resources saw more people internally displaced in Ethiopia in the first half of 2018 than in any other country. In the second half of the year, peace and an open border with Eritrea saw a sudden spike in Eritrean refugees. Addis Ababa-based reporter James Jeffrey travelled to the border regions to speak to new arrivals.

    Closeup of two Eritrean men looking away from the camera

     

    Inside the EU’s flawed $200 million migration deal with Sudan

    As millions of dollars in EU funds flow into Sudan to stem African migration, asylum seekers say they are increasingly afraid and living in fear of exploitation. In interviews with dozens of Eritreans and Ethiopians, as well as local journalists and lawyers, reporter Caitlin Chandler documented allegations of endemic police abuse, including extortion, violence, and sexual assault.

    An obscured portrait of a man's face behind purple and white drapes

     

    Former Save the Children staffers speak out on abusive culture under Justin Forsyth

    2018 was a year in which #AidToo scandals tarnished the image of the sector. In February, Justin Forsyth resigned from UNICEF, becoming the highest-profile departure in the widening scandal sparked by the Oxfam sexual exploitation case. Former colleagues of Forsyth told IRIN of their disappointment at what they saw as a half-hearted apology that failed to properly acknowledge his past misconduct.

    A man with a notebook sits on the floor with two people facing away from the camera

     

    EXCLUSIVE: Audit exposes UN food agency’s poor data-handling

    The year that brought us GDPR disclaimers also brought some belated realisation in the aid sector about the importance of data protection. In January, after an internal audit slammed failings across its systems, the World Food Programme told IRIN’s Ben Parker it was “working to get ahead of the curve” on data-handling, would address weaknesses, and spend more on systems.

    Two cards like credit cards that read: Humanitarian Assistance

     

    EXCLUSIVE: Refugees in Sudan allege chronic corruption in UN resettlement process

    Sudan, again. This time allegations of corruption within the UN’s refugee resettlement operations in Khartoum. Investigating the programme over a 10-month period, journalist Sally Hayden uncovered a bribery scheme that prompted it to be shut down while the UN refugee agency mounted an investigation. Her follow-up in July found further problems as potential witnesses expressed fears of retaliation and concerns over a lack of protection.

    Outside of an office with barbed wire

     

    Yemen PR wars: Saudi Arabia employs UK/US firms to push multi-billion dollar aid plan

    In a year in which Yemen was described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the aid largesse of Saudi Arabia came under the microscope. IRIN revealed the extent of Riyadh’s PR offensive as critics suggested its multi-billion dollar aid plan amounted to propaganda and could reduce imports of vital goods into a key port held by the Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia’s opponents in the three-year war.

    Men in camo, one with a camera, offload aid on a pallet

    (TOP PHOTO: Refugees from anglophone areas of Cameroon in camps across the border in Nigeria. CREDIT: Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN)

     

    From #AidToo and UN mismanagement to Cameroon and a siege in Syria
    Our 10 most popular stories of 2018
  • What to do about climate change? Ask women – they have the most to lose

    Climate change has always been a political issue. At its root are huge imbalances of power and inequality, which were on display at the recent UN climate talks in Poland. Those imbalances define who is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, whose lives and livelihoods will be or already are upended. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the gender divide: the struggle for climate justice and gender justice must go hand in hand.

     

    Climate change affects women in a profoundly different way than men. Culture and tradition in many places puts the role of caring for families on women. It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, and growing food to feed hungry mouths. So as the impacts of climate change take grip, it is women who must be on the front lines of adapting and finding solutions: new sources of water; new ways to feed their families; new crops to grow and new ways to grow them; new ways to cook.

     

    In my country – Uganda – women already walk up to six hours a day to fetch water. As dry seasons become longer, women will be forced to walk further still. As I told the (mainly male) leaders of the G7 on behalf of the Gender Advisory Council earlier this year – anyone who doubts the science of climate change should try debating it with women walking further each year to collect water.

     

    Rich nations were put to shame at the climate talks for their failure to recognise the urgency to limit the impacts of climate change. While climate-vulnerable countries called for an emergency response, a handful of wealthy and largely oil exporting countries – including Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States – denied the science behind those calls for urgent action.

     

    Climate change affects everyone, but poor people who already live in the ecological margins are hit hardest. They often rely on rain to grow crops, live in poorly built structures, and lack savings or insurance to fall back on when disaster hits.

     

    It would take my aunt – a farmer in rural Uganda – 175 years to produce the same emissions as one of the 1%.

    When disaster strikes, like the hunger crisis in the Sahel right now, it is girls who are being pulled out of school to help struggling families make ends meet. It is women who go without when there is not enough food to go around. Women have fewer assets to fall back on – and they are largely absent from decision-making, compounding their vulnerability.

     

    How vulnerable you are to start with – what your status is in our unequal society – has a huge influence on how you will be impacted by climate change. For women, already vulnerable, climate change exacerbates their existing burdens of care.

     

    Few disagree that women are hit hardest by climate change – but there is little agreement on what to do about it. It was a long struggle to elevate the importance of gender in the climate talks. Last year a Gender Action Plan was agreed after a decade of pressure from dedicated activists. Yet, the idea that the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics as it develops and implement climate change policies remains highly sensitive. Repeated efforts in the first week of negotiations in Poland to address the disproportionate impact of forced migration on women failed, blocked by a negotiator from the Arab Group of countries. It seems the mention of human rights, particularly women’s rights, is too much for some countries to stomach: the topic was struck out of the agreement.

     

    If we are to stop climate change from trampling on the rights of women and the most vulnerable, then we need to fight for more equal societies. This means questioning unequal gender roles, sharing work more evenly between men and women, and increasing women’s participation in decision-making.  

    It also means we need to look at our economies, which do not value women’s contributions. Our economies ignore the invisible, unpaid care work of billions of women around the world.

    There is a striking parallel with how our economy overlooks the cost of runaway climate change – failing to make the polluters pay. These are both consequences of a broken economy. It’s an economy that counts the wrong things, pursuing GDP growth at any cost.

     

    The people in the boardrooms and governments who make the decisions that fuel climate disaster and inequality are mostly wealthy, white men. Billionaires are rewarded at the expense of poverty wages for the many, and at the expense of a habitable planet.

     

    Remember, eight out of every 10 billionaires are men; the majority of the world’s poor are women. It is boom time for billionaires and their disproportionate share of emissions! It would take my aunt – a farmer in rural Uganda – 175 years to produce the same emissions as one of the 1%.

     

    At Oxfam, and in the wider humanitarian sector, we believe in a world free from the injustice of poverty, a struggle that cannot be isolated from the fight for climate justice and gender equality. To get there, we need far-reaching changes to our dominant economic model, and to the way we conduct politics. We need to recognise the burdens and inequities placed on women in the home, in crisis situations, and in our economic structure and begin to address gender when addressing the impacts of climate change. And with the scientific community telling us we have just 12 years to prevent global temperatures soaring out of control, we need change fast.

     

    In the months ahead, governments must follow the lead of the world’s most vulnerable nations and immediately begin strengthening their commitments to take action, including adding women's voices in the process.

     

    Byanyima was one of the all-women champions for the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s recent virtual climate summit. The CVF led efforts to inject greater urgency and ambition into the UN Climate Talks in Poland.

    What to do about climate change? Ask women – they have the most to lose
    A fight for climate justice is a fight for gender justice
  • Sex for jobs, fake aid workers, and women responders: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    COP24 opens with stark warnings

     

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

     

    Upsurge in Boko Haram attacks

     

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

     

    Fake humanitarians in Gaza?

     

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

     

    'Sex-for-jobs’ scandal hits AU

     

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

     

    Women in disaster response

     

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

    In case you missed it

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Coming up

     

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

     

    Our weekend read

     

    Exposed: UNHCR's role in Uganda refugee aid scandal

     

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

     

    And finally…

     

    "They think I'm different"

     

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

     

    bp-si-as-il/ag

     

    Sex for jobs, fake aid workers, and women responders
  • Audit finds UN refugee agency critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda

    The UN’s refugee agency wasted tens of millions of dollars in Uganda in 2017, overpaying for goods and services, awarding major contracts improperly, and failing to avoid fraud, corruption, and waste, according to a damning internal probe.

     

    The audit, by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, found multiple areas of mismanagement that were UNHCR’s responsibility, such as a $7.9 million contract for road repairs awarded to a contractor with no experience in road construction, and questionable payments to trucking and bus companies worth $7.7 million.

     

    It noted “pervasive non-compliance” with regulations on “vast sums” spent on water trucking and that UNHCR paid at least $10 million more VAT than it needed to.

     

    Tens of millions of transport-related invoices are still being disputed with contractors. The audit also found stockpiled goods, more lying idle than had been distributed in the previous 12 months, including 288,000 blankets and 50,000 wheelbarrows. In addition, 15,000 solar lamps worth $279,860 were found to have gone missing, and no proper investigation was done.

     

    Uganda, a low-income country in East Africa of about 42 million people, hosts over a million refugees, more than anywhere bar Turkey and Pakistan. From 2013, worsening conflict in South Sudan led to a mass exodus into northern Uganda; the pace accelerated from mid-2016 onwards.

     

    By 2017 Kampala’s goodwill was seen as critical to providing a safe harbour for hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees, and an aid official familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issues, said UNHCR seemed “desperately cautious not to upset the Uganda government.”

     

    The aid official explained that the international community had been “singing Uganda’s praises” as a “model country” due to its liberal and progressive refugee-hosting policies at a time of rising anti-refugee sentiment.

     

    Uganda “was branded globally as the example to follow”, said Julien Schopp, director of humanitarian practice at US NGO consortium InterAction. “Does that influence the oversight and dissuade UNHCR from digging a little deeper and uncovering corruption and mismanagement? Who has leverage on who?”

     

    Layers of blame

     

    UNHCR’s expenditure in Uganda jumped from $125 million in 2016 to $205 million in 2017,  Four donors (Britain, the EU, Germany, and the United States) contributed about 80 percent of the 2017 funding, according to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service.

     

    Major problems first emerged in February 2018. The UN alleged that Ugandan officials were diverting aid by colluding to pocket supplies issued to fake refugee identities. A threat of a freeze on donor funds led the Ugandan government to replace its head of refugee affairs and agree to a complete recount of its refugee population, managed by UNHCR.

     

    UNHCR announced in February that its Inspector General’s Office, which can refer staff for disciplinary or other measures, had opened an investigation into “fuel embezzlement, one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse, irregular tendering of water trucking, and fraud in procurement and food distribution.”

     

    The internal watchdog also reported in July that UNHCR was assisting Ugandan investigations into “corruption by government officials relating to, among others, irregularities in land allocation to refugees, bridge construction, theft of food and non-food items and fuel mismanagement.”

     

    But the UN’s internal audit, released last week to the public but not previously reported, provides a wealth of new detail on UNHCR’s role in mismanagement – and likely fraud – affecting refugee registration and services in 2017. It also offers new details on UNHCR’s relations with the Ugandan government.

     

    Refugees fall under the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Ruhakana Rugunda. Julius Mucunguzi, a spokesperson for the OPM, told IRIN that investigations were still ongoing, including into four employees suspended by the government. Mucunguzi declined to comment on the audit, saying, “UNHCR has got its own processes”.

     

    Wrong number

     

    A persistent challenge in the Uganda aid operations was accurately counting the number of refugees.

    The audit found that from 2015-2017 UNHCR paid the government $14.6 million to set up and run a new refugee registration platform. However the IT and biometrics system couldn’t cope with the South Sudanese 2017 influx and couldn’t be fixed in time. The audit also found that UNHCR rarely had access to the data required for planning and verification.

     

    To help restore donor confidence, refugees in Uganda were recounted and re-registered from March to October using UNHCR’s latest systems, at an additional cost of $11 million. The audit warned, however, that using two systems could cause problems in future. The re-registration process counted 24 percent fewer refugees than reported by the Ugandan government, a reduction from about 1.4 million to 1.154 milion.

     

    However, the government spokesman Mucunguzi added that Uganda “has nothing to hide” and said that this year’s biometric recount helped build a much stronger system with “no gaps and loopholes”.

     

    The audit found a range of inappropriate arrangements between the Uganda UNHCR office and the OPM. For example, UNHCR agreed to contract three underqualified local NGOs recommended by the OPM, one of which had defrauded UNHCR before.

     

    It also paid $2,000 a month to senior Ugandan officials who signed off on UNHCR-related paperwork and provided them cars and fuel. In addition, the OPM had not reimbursed UNHCR a previous demand for $250,000 of excessive fuel usage. UNHCR also paid $283,000 to subsidise the costs of 72 civil servants whose work contracts could not be shown to the the auditors.

     

    The UN’s refugee agency also paid for OPM to buy a plot of land adjacent to its office, ostensibly to expand refugee handling capacity. However the price, $320,000, was more than double the government’s valuation, and the OPM couldn’t produce a title deed to prove ownership. The audit found the plot is now being used for car parking.

     

    Accountability

     

    The audit is unusual in the high number of problems it found. It has six “critical” recommendations, more than any other audit of the 907 the UN’s oversight office has published in the last five years. Over 770 audits passed without any critical findings.

     

    The report notes that UNHCR was warned about many of the weaknesses cited in the recent report in a similar 2016 review, but had failed to fully resolve them. “Critical” recommendations apply to “significant and/or pervasive deficiencies or weaknesses”. UNHCR Uganda received seven of the lesser category of “important” recommendations in 2016, and six in 2017.

     

    The European Commission, a major donor to the refugee operation, said in February it had referred the Uganda corruption case to its anti-fraud office.

     

    The audit demands “accountability” for failures over the water trucking and over refugee registration. UNHCR declined to answer if there were any disciplinary actions yet. Its statements have so far backed its country representative, Bornwell Kantande, and emphasised the alleged failings of the Ugandan government.

     

    Four Ugandan officials were forced to step aside in February, pending investigations, including the head of the refugee department in the OPM, Apollo Kazungu. Three others were in more junior roles. Kazungu told IRIN he faces no specific charges yet but is off duty.

     

    UNHCR’s Kantande was replaced in March 2018 by a veteran UNHCR manager, Joel Boudreau. Kantande now holds the post of Head of the UNHCR Regional Service Center for East and Horn of Africa.

     

    UNHCR says it has “zero-tolerance” for fraud and corruption. The Uganda office, according to the audit report, has begun a wide range of reforms and tightened up procedures since the issues came to a head in early 2018.

     

    UNHCR declined to answer a list of questions from IRIN. In an emailed statement, its spokesperson, Babar Baloch, said the organisation accepts the recommendations of the audit, adding “we acknowledge that serious shortcomings were found and have started taking action.”

     

    bp/js/ag

    Audit finds UN refugee agency critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda
    Massive fraud and corruption noted in services for more than one million refugees
  • Tough choices for Uganda landslide survivors

    Cracks on the dormant volcano of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda continue to widen in the wake of last month’s landslides, sparking fears a similar tragedy may be imminent. But the land slated for relocation might be equally at risk, leaving survivors with distressing choices.

     

    At least 46 people were killed and more than 850 displaced when floodwaters triggered by a landslide washed away much of the town of Bukalasi and surrounding villages in the district of Bududa on 11 October.

     

    Exacerbated by climate change, deforestation, a growing population living off the land, and years of government inaction, such disasters have become increasingly common in mountainous eastern Uganda. In March 2010, over 350 people died in landslides, followed by similar disasters in 2011 and 2012.

     

    For those around Bukalasi whose lives have been upended, and for tens of thousands of residents considered at risk of future landslides, there is no easy solution: home has become hazardous, but the land the government has earmarked for relocation is shrouded in warnings and controversy.

     

    Esther Nambuba’s house, bar, and restaurant were completely destroyed when heavy rains caused the Tsume River to burst its banks, sending water and boulders rushing towards her village of Naposhi.

    “I am here stranded. Where do I start a new life from? All the plans and investments I had were in this place,” says the 35-year-old mother of five. “I lost everything.”

     

    Risks, delays, and disputes

     

    Last month President Yoweri Museveni apologised for not having relocated people since previous landslide disasters, blaming local politicians and vowing to make sure they acted quickly this time around. An official statement said at-risk communities would “immediately” begin moving to a new 2,868-acre plot marked out for them 60 kilometres to the north, in the neighbouring district of Bulambuli.

     

    However, some local leaders have condemned the new site, saying much of it lies in wetlands that are prone to flooding and is just as risky as the land people are on now.

     

    “You can’t shift victims from a frying pan to a fire,” John Baptist Nambeshe, a county legislator in Bududa, told IRIN. “How can you relocate people from one disaster hotspot to another?”

     

    Efforts to relocate people have in the past also been frustrated by local politicians wanting to keep voters in their districts and by those who would rather stay near their fertile land on the slopes of the mountain.

     

    “There have been long delays in resettlement of persons at risk of landslides because of two factors,” said Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness, and refugees. “The people themselves were at first unwilling to be relocated, and there were also senior politicians… who were mobilising the people not to accept relocation.”

    “I am here stranded. Where do I start a new life from? All the plans and investments I had were in this place. I lost everything.”

    Ecweru insisted the risk of flooding at Bulambuli is a temporary problem that can and will be fixed. But there is also a dispute about who owns the land there and local political leaders, like Nambeshe, are calling for relocation to approved centres within Bududa district instead.

     

    “We are determined to fight for our land because nobody ever consulted us; OPM [Office of the Prime Minister] was duped,” Stephen Waisi, one of the Bulambuli land claimants told a daily online website last month. “Nobody should even bring people here for settlement before we are compensated; let the government take these people elsewhere.”

     

    Destroyed villages

     

    The villages of Naposhi, Wanjenuwa, and Shilos were all busy trading hubs on the Tsume River before the disaster. They are now covered with heaps of soil and huge boulders that tumbled down the mountain. Residents counted many losses, including 144 houses washed away and many businesses destroyed.

     

    “This place remains very dangerous,” Simon Mashipwe, 38, a resident of Shilos, told IRIN. “As the rains continue to pound, another disaster is likely to occur anytime.”

     

    Like Mashipwe, Sylvia Nandutu, 41, wants to be moved somewhere safe as soon as possible. “This is not the first time landslides are happening here,” said Nandutu. “Previously we were told to avoid staying up in the mountains and we moved down the valleys. It’s the same disaster. We need to relocate from here.”

     

     

    Bids to move vulnerable people have faced fierce resistance in the past. In 2010, the government resettled hundreds of Bududa landslide survivors to the district of Kiryandongo, about 400 kilometres away. But many returned, citing ancestral links and the need for more fertile soil.

     

    “The previous relocation attempts failed because people were taken very far,” said Lawrence Khisa, 57, a resident of Wanjenuwa and father of 10. “Those who were taken to Kiryandongo came back because of unfavourable living conditions... Whatever you planted dried up. So we had to come back to our fertile soils and favourable weather.”

     

    Growing population and deforestation

     

    Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, with an average fertility rate of 5.4 children. As more people settle on the mountain, more trees are felled to make way for homes and agriculture, making mudslides and flooding more common.

     

    At least 67 landslides were recorded following heavy rains between May and October in the Mount Elgon region, according to the government.

     

    Climate change may be causing more flooding generally, but Mary Goretti Kitutu, a former environmentalist who is now Uganda’s state minister for environment, said the “main driver” of landslide risk in the region is a growing population dependent on agriculture.

     

    “The people who were hit by flash floods and boulders had settled on the banks of the river. They had established trading centres, a school, and market along the river bank, which is very dangerous,” said Kitutu. “Steep slopes and river banks should not be used for settlement. People should be removed and resettled somewhere else. Then plant trees on the slopes of the mountain to conserve environment to curb landslides.”

     

    The Uganda Red Cross Society has launched an emergency appeal to support the Bududa victims with services, including temporary shelters and medical assistance, and to help train disaster responders and volunteers to raise awareness about the effects of climate change.

     

    Martin Owor, Uganda’s commissioner for disaster preparedness and management, said the government had established strong links with local communities along the mountainside, distributing some 750 smart phones and 150 megaphones to community leaders so they can raise the alarm more quickly when they spot the first signs of future landslides.

     

    Two roads

     

    Under the government’s new resettlement plan, Ecweru said more than 900 households (or the 6,300 people considered most at risk) will immediately be relocated from Bududa to Bulambuli; each household will be given building materials to construct a two-bedroom house.

     

    From the next financial year, beginning in July 2019, the government will then relocate 10,000 people per year until it resettles the entire target population of 100,000. The resettlement process is expected to last 10 years.

    While staying puts their lives in danger, moving could pose even higher risks.

    “All persons at risk will be resettled, and the places they will have vacated will be planted with trees for environment protection and eco-tourism,” Ecweru said, referring to at-risk areas near Mount Elgon national park that are popular with tourists.

     

    But those living in the areas at risk of landslides remain concerned. While staying puts their lives in danger, moving could pose even higher risks.

     

    Some want to go.

     

    “I have a lot of fear and trauma to continue staying in this place,” said 34-year-old John Namutambo. “The government should expedite the process of relocation to Butembatye in Bulambuli. Even if they haven’t built for us, we shall start life in the tents.

     

    “I better go there and die with the waters, but not these big boulders.”

     

    But others, like 40-year-old Fred Wesonga, who saw his house and business “washed away within minutes”, say they can’t take another risk and wonder why they can’t just be given money to purchase land somewhere they feel secure.

     

    “Bulambuli is not safe,” said Wesonga. “Our leaders tell us it’s a wetland prone to flash floods. We also hear of cattle rustlers who sneak to kill people in that area… We appeal to the government to compensate us for the lost property so we can start a new life.”

     

    so/si/ag

    “You can’t shift victims from a frying pan to a fire”
    Tough choices for Uganda landslide survivors
  • ‘Washed away within minutes’: Uganda’s landslide survivors tell their stories

    On 11 October, torrential rains caused the Tsume River in eastern Uganda’s Bududa district to burst its banks, sending vast volumes of water and huge boulders crashing down Mount Elgon.

     

    The town of Bukalasi and nearby villages were worst affected: 144 houses washed away, at least 46 people killed, dozens injured, 858 displaced, and 12,000 left at risk of further landslides, according to statistics from the Office of the Prime Minister.

     

    Read more: Tough choices for Ugandan landslide survivors

     

     

    Landslides have become more common in this part of Uganda in recent years, as increasing human settlement and land cultivation strip the mountainside of vegetation. Among the most disaster-prone districts, Bududa experienced similar landslides in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

     

    Late last month, IRIN visited the villages of Naposhi, Wanjenuwa, and Shilos, where survivors described how the disaster struck on a busy market day and took away their homes, businesses, and loved-ones.

     

    “I scampered to save my life”

    Esther Nambuba, 35, local business owner from Naposhi

     

    The disaster occurred on a Thursday, which was a market day. It was raining. I had so many customers in my bar and restaurant enjoying themselves. They were eating, drinking, and dancing.

     

    At around 1pm I heard a funny sound and people raising the alarm. The customers didn’t hear. Some of them were already drunk. The music was loud. I got out. I saw people running. I realised there was something happening. I scampered to save my life. I couldn’t go back inside the bar to alert the customers [that] there is a disaster coming.

     

    I fell several times. The stones hit and hurt me, but I couldn’t stop. Although I managed to save my life, I failed those who were inside my bar and restaurant. I have the pain and trauma.

     

    I lost my sister who had come to visit, and 32 customers who were drinking and partying. They were washed away by the flash floods and boulders.

     

    I am here stranded. Where do I start a new life from? All the plans and investments I had were in this place. I lost everything.

     

    I haven’t received anything since the devastating disaster occurred. I am struggling with five children. My name is not on the list of the affected persons.

     

    I fear to remain and stay in this place anymore. It’s dangerous. I might be the next person to perish like my sisters and customers. I am willing to be relocated anywhere.

     

    “I lost everything”

    John Namutambo, 34, shopkeeper from Wanjenuwa

     

    I was in the shop. I heard a loud explosion around 1pm. I got out immediately. I checked up the mountain. I saw water and stones coming down with speed. I took off and ran to cross the bridge.

     

    Whoever heard the sound and came out of their houses were able to run and survive. Those who stayed in the houses all went with the waters, mud, and stones. There was no chance for them to survive the water and boulders.

     

    Two of the people whom I was seated [with] inside [the] shop died in the disaster. They failed to get out and run because they doubted the sound and people’s alarm. They were kind of confused of what was happening. They were washed away. We managed to recover their bodies and buried them. It’s tragedy to lose a cousin and friend whom you were seated [with].

     

    I feel a lot of pain in my body. I sustained injuries to my hands, knees, and back in the process of running to save my life. I don’t have any money to get proper medication.

     

    Life is hard and difficult. I lost everything. All items and money in the shop were destroyed and washed away. I am sharing a small tent with my wife and seven children.

     

    We have to depend on the church, humanitarian agencies, and government relief assistance. But the posho [maize grains], beans, and cooking oil is not enough.

     

    “It was a miracle that I survived”

    Vailsa Wazemba, 89, grandmother of 56 grandchildren from Wanjenuwa

     

    Everybody ran away and left me. I was abandoned. My daughter, who was feeding, fled and left me alone. She didn’t bother about [her] paralysed and elderly mother.

     

    I couldn’t get out and run. I remained seated in bed. I prayed to God to save me. The water entered the house and covered it. I knew I was dead. It was a miracle that I survived. The flash floods and boulders didn’t destroy the whole house. The waters washed away half of the house where one of my grandsons was. Unfortunately, he [grandson] wasn’t lucky. He was swept away.

     

    His body was recovered and buried there. When my children and grandchildren came back they couldn’t believe I was still alive. They picked me up and carried me away. I was all wet, shaking and shivering.

     

    They didn’t have a proper place to keep me. After a few days they brought me back to this dangerous place.

     

    The landslides have become common. People are cutting trees, cultivating on steep slopes, and staying along the river banks, which is risky and dangerous. Let people agree to be relocated and these places planted with trees to conserve the soils and environment.   

     

    “All those in the houses were washed away”

    Fred Wesonga, 40, father of 10 children from Shilos

     

    I had a permanent house and shop. But all destroyed and washed away within minutes. I was in the shop selling. I heard people raising the alarm and running in different directions. They were screaming ‘soil and water [landslides] are coming to finish us’. I ran and crossed the bridge.

     

    My nephew who was following me from behind couldn’t make it. He was caught by the speeding water while trying to cross the bridge and washed away. I watched in disbelief as he was swept off. I couldn’t help.      

     

    Most of the people who died were caught while running to cross the bridge. Some were got while resting, eating, and drinking in the local bars. All those in the houses were washed away.

     

    I am still struggling to come to terms with what happened. I mourn my relatives, friends, and customers I lost in this landslide.  

     

    We lost everything. We appeal to government to compensate us for the losses and property destroyed by the landslides to start new life.  

     

    It’s so dangerous. We can’t continue to stay here. The government should expedite the process to see that people are taken to safer places where we are not killed by the natural calamities [landslides and flooding].

     

    “I couldn’t see my house, neighbours and friends”

    Lawrence Khisa 57, husband of two wives and a father of 10 children from Wanjenuwa

     

    It’s the sickness and rain that saved me. This disaster occurred when I was returning back from Bududa hospital. My wife had accompanied me for treatment since I was weak.

     

    As we were returned home after hospital it started to rain and we branched to some place to take refuge for the rain to stop.

     

    A few minutes [later] we saw [fast] running water and boulders along the river. It was carrying iron sheets and trees. We knew a landslide had occurred up the mountain.

     

    When it stopped raining we tried to cross Nakwasi Bridge, but the water levels were high and we waited for it to subside. We saw two bodies and managed to retrieve them. One, the head was smashed, and the other’s leg was cut off.

     

    When I got to our village centre I found it completely destroyed. It was all covered with huge boulders. I couldn’t see my house, neighbours, and friends. They were all carried away.

     

    If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, I would be in the house resting or sleeping. The floods would have carried me away.

     

    The trauma is much. I lost an eight-year-old girl, my clan leader, two brothers, a neighbour, and three friends in this devastating disaster.

     

    We don’t want to be caught in another landslide. Let the government speed up the process for our relocation.

     

    “I had to run to save my life”

    Simon Mashipwe, 38, father of five children from Shilos

     

    This disaster happened when I had just returned back from the garden and opened the shop. I had four friends and customers who were drinking local brew. I heard people raising the alarm and I got out. The four stayed behind. They thought people were chasing a common thief.  

     

    I stared up. I saw the terrible flash floods coming. I didn’t waste any time. I took off and didn’t bother to go back to the shop to alert and warn those inside that there is danger. I had to run to save my life. The four perished.    

     

    When the water calmed down we started searching for the bodies. We managed to retrieve the body of an old woman who was selling local brew near my place and three of the four people who were drinking at the shop. We haven’t yet recovered one.

     

    I have stopped taking alcohol. My friends died because they were drunk. They couldn’t hear any sound.

     

    I am counting huge losses. The lockup shop I was using for my coffee and onions business was washed [away]. The rentals had were washed away too.

    ‘Washed away within minutes’: Uganda’s landslide survivors tell their stories
  • Afghan voting, Ugandan mudslides and Burundi’s rusty old signs: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    A vote for stability in Afghanistan

     

    This weekend, analysts will be keeping an eye on voter turnout for parliamentary elections – seen as a harbinger of public confidence ahead of presidential elections scheduled for next April – as well as signs of voter fraud, which has marred previous polls. Afghan authorities had hoped the 20 October elections would bring a measure of stability to the country after another year of tumult, but the lead-up to the weekend vote has only added to the uncertainty. On Thursday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination of a prominent police chief in Kandahar Province. Earlier this month, a suicide attack struck an election rally, killing at least 14 civilians, in volatile Nangarhar – an eastern province where both the Taliban and fighters aligned with the so-called Islamic State have wrestled for control. The UN says hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured this year in “disturbing” attacks on voter registration centres, schools, and mosques set up for election-related purposes. This includes a 22 April suicide attack outside a distribution centre for national ID cards in Kabul, which killed at least 60 people. The election risks are adding to already pressing humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan. Conflict this year has displaced a quarter million people, and severe drought has uprooted even more. A survey this week from Save the Children looked at the effects of this instability on Afghan children deported from Europe. Most of the children surveyed had been unable to attend school in Afghanistan, while one in five said they had been asked to fight in combat or join an armed group.

     

    How healthy in 2040?

     

    In Afghanistan, the third biggest cause of death now is conflict. In 2040, it will be road accidents. In Côte d’Ivoire, heart disease will take over from malaria as the top killer. Progress, of a sort? A new study, from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published in The Lancet, estimates the toll of illness and likely life expectancy across the world in 2040. Non-communicable diseases like diabetes and lung and kidney conditions will become more significant. Winners? The Spanish and Japanese will live longest. Syrian life expectancy will jump back up (assuming peace). But Palestinians’ life expectancy is expected to drop the most relative to other nations – from a ranking of 114th in 2016 to 152nd in 2040.

     

    Yes, another dark week for Yemen

     

    We know the competition of misery doesn’t much help anyone, but every time we think it can’t get worse in Yemen – which the UN calls the world’s largest humanitarian crisis – it does. This week, the UN said at least 15 civilians were killed and 20 injured when airstrikes hit two minibuses in Hodeidah province, where a Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led assault against Houthi rebels is intensifying. The value of the Yemeni currency continued to plummet, causing the prices of food and fuel to skyrocket. That, in turn, brought more warnings of famine. Cholera has once again spread to almost all of Yemen (check back with us next week for more on that), and a tropical cyclone hit the coast near the border with Oman. Three people were confirmed killed; more are missing and injured. Homes have been destroyed, an estimated 3,000 families are displaced, and flood damage means aid workers are having trouble providing help. In short: not much good news.

     

    Northward from Honduras

     

    As a growing caravan of as many as 4,000 migrants continued walking from Honduras to the US-Mexico border this week, local groups and ordinary citizens offered support along the way. A bakery distributed bread, middle schools and migrant shelters opened their doors at night, and charity groups cooked meals for people who have been on traveling on foot for days. Those moving northward are often looking for economic opportunity, but they are also fleeing gang and other violence as well as political repression. Doctors Without Borders noted last year that the “unrelenting violence and emotional suffering” in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is similar to that in conflict zones, and that migrants are “re-victimised” as they make the trek north. Yet governments on the migrants’ route have framed their presence as a security issue, not a humanitarian one, with US President Donald Trump describing the march in a tweet as “the assault on our country from our southern border.” He threatened to cut development aid to Honduras if the migrants reached the US border, echoing his campaign promise to stem immigration. Guatemala and Mexico drew fire from human rights organisations this week for sending hundreds of police officers to their borders. On Thursday, the situation seemed to take a turn, as Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the marchers deserve “humanitarian treatment” and announced a work visa plan for Central American migrants (as reported by the Mexican paper Excelsior) and that his government would ask the UN for assistance processing asylum requests. An Amnesty International report found, however, that 75 percent of migrants detained by Mexico are not informed of their right to seek asylum. There may be more news to come: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Mexico on Friday.

     

    Deaths aren’t the only civilian toll in Somalia attacks

     

    Last week, US forces launched their deadliest attack in nearly a year on Somalia’s al-Shabab, killing 60 of the militant group’s members, US Africa Command (Africom) reported on Tuesday. Last November, the US said another significant strike against the group killed 100 of its fighters. Al-Shabab has lost large swathes of territory to the Somali army this year, bolstered by US and African Union troops. Africom said no civilians were killed or wounded in last Friday’s air attack, near the al-Shabab-controlled town of Harardhere in Mudug region. Yet the ongoing cycle of violence has taken a devastating toll on many communities.  Among them are current and former child soldiers, who are often forcibly recruited at age eight or nine. For more on this, watch for our piece next week by Somali-Canadian journalist Hassan Ghedi Santur, who recently travelled to Mogadishu and met with child defectors from al-Shabab.

     

    Uganda: apologies don’t stop landslides

     

    The death toll from last week's landslides in eastern Uganda’s Bududa district has risen to 43, while the disaster has destroyed some 139 households. Of those affected, 278 are reportedly children under five. Following heavy rains, the Sume river burst its banks last Thursday, forcing large volumes of water and boulders toward peoples’ homes in the sub-county of Bukalasi. This week, the Red Cross launched an emergency appeal to support victims, warning that three other areas are at risk. Bududa is among the most disaster-prone districts in Uganda; in 2010, over 350 people died in landslides there, followed by similar disasters in 2011 and 2012. President Yoweri Museveni this week apologised for the delay in relocating communities from landslide-prone areas, while the government unveiled a plan to resettle those most at risk. But is resettlement the way to address landslides in the eastern mountainous region? Regular IRIN contributor Samuel Okiror explores this question next week, after visiting landslide-affected communities in Uganda. Stay tuned.

     

    Humanitarian journalism: how are we doing?

     

    Nearly 200 interviews, four years, three researchers, and countless thousands of words published by specialist and mainstream English-language media informed a new academic study on humanitarian journalism released this week. The State of Humanitarian Journalism is a report card of sorts on how the media covers humanitarian crises, what influences that coverage, and whether audiences care about any of it. (If you’re wondering whether IRIN News was included in the study, yes, we were.) The good news: readers care. Or at least they say they do. In a survey of readers in the UK, France, Germany, and the US, more respondents said they followed news about humanitarian disasters either “closely” or “fairly closely”, paying more attention to it than other international reporting. The not so good news: the high cost of practicing humanitarian journalism. The authors – Martin Scott of the University of East Anglia, Kate Wright of the University of Edinburgh, and Mel Bunce of City University of London – note that few mainstream news organizations cover humanitarian issues other than high-profile emergencies. And most humanitarian journalism is supported by government subsidies or private foundations, which, the authors say, “is worrying because claiming that particular actors or activities are ‘humanitarian’ is a powerful form of legitimacy.” They add: “It is important that media about the suffering does not become a vehicle for commercial or political interests.” Among the gaps in coverage the study identified were reporting on issues affecting women and girls and investigative reporting. We agree. We hope to do more of both as we look toward 2019. In the meantime, check out our latest investigations and reporting on women in Mosul, Cox’s Bazar, and Uganda.

     

    Add riverbanks to Bangladesh’s disaster list

     

    Cyclones, floods, drought, storm surge, and even earthquakes: Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to disasters. Another frequent risk is soil erosion along the coastal country’s waterways. In September, five kilometres of riverbank along the Padma River collapsed, displacing more than 43,000 people. The European Union’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, says local food shortages have been reported as the erosion caused “significant damage” to cropland. NASA says more than 66,000 hectares of riverbank land along the Padma – a distributary of the Ganges River – have eroded over the last half-century. There are many factors that contribute to soil erosion, both natural and manmade. The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society says the September damage was exacerbated by heavy rains and the opening of a dam gate upstream.  

     

    One to listen to

     

    Aid for arms

     

    Twenty-five years ago, news broke of what’s now known as the “Pergau dam affair” - a secret agreement that linked the promise of UK development aid to Malaysia with arms sales. The scandal, named for an expensive hydroelectric dam project, ended up in headlines, select committees, investigations, a court case against the UK government, and eventually the creation of DFID, the UK government department that administers overseas aid today. Have a listen to this short look back at the furore with the BBC’s Witness for more from a senior civil servant who was at the centre of the whole thing.

     

    In case you missed it:

    Bangladesh: The risk of forced labour and abuse is rising for Rohingya children, as most families in Bangladesh’s packed refugee camps have few other ways to earn money, the UN’s migration agency, IOM, warned this week. Advocates for children have called the Rohingya camps “a child protection disaster waiting to happen”, citing a lack of economic opportunities for refugee families and a shortage of safe spaces for vulnerable kids.

     

    DRC: The outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), an emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization decided on Wednesday. But it remains “deeply concerned” about the region and called for response to be “intensified” to ensure the situation doesn’t worsen. The WHO said nine neighbouring countries are at high risk, particularly Uganda and Rwanda. Burundi and South Sudan have also been supported with equipment and personnel in case the outbreak reaches them. The situation is particularly complex because the affected area is “in an active conflict zone amidst prolonged humanitarian crises," the WHO said.

     

    The Gambia: The Gambia this week launched a truth commission intended to shed light on summary executions, disappearances, torture, rape, and other crimes under Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the small West African nation for 22 years. President Adama Barrow, who was voted in to power in December 2016, said in a tweet: "I hope this exercise provides us the opportunity to forge on resolutely as one people, united in our diversity, with the common belief that we can set aside our differences and confront our past."

     

    Indonesia: The number of people displaced by the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi has jumped to more than 222,000, according to figures released Friday by the AHA Centre, a regional coordination body. It’s nearly triple the previous official tally. The official death toll stands at 2,100, but this is also expected to rise with large numbers of people believed missing.  

     

    Iran: Faced with a stumbling economy, Iranians are increasingly seeking asylum in European Union countries. Nearly 2,500 Iranians applied for asylum in the EU in August – the highest monthly total in two years and part of a rising trend, according to newly released data from the European Asylum Support Office.

     

    Nigeria: The second medical aid worker in a month was executed in Borno State this week by a faction of the extremist group Boko Haram. The killing has appalled the international aid community and highlighted the exceptional dangers associated with bringing aid to over seven million civilians in the wider conflict-affected region.

     

    Syria: The UN’s envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, announced this week that he would step down at the end of November. The diplomat has been on the job for the past four years and has vowed to focus the rest of his time working to assemble a committee to rewrite Syria’s constitution, as agreed at January talks. In news from inside Syria, the UN says Damascus will for the first time allow a convoy of aid to reach people trapped at Rukban, on the Jordan/Syria border next week. Next week IRIN will report on that desert pressure-cooker, the border area known as “the berm”. Have views or tips for us?  Contact us on Twitter or [email protected]

     

    Venezuela: Mexican companies and individuals will pay reparations to the UN Refugee Agency for speculating on food items sold to Venezuela, which subsidises basic goods. The scheme, which involved officials and businesspeople from several Latin American countries, has been said to enrich those who exploit the subsidies program while exacerbating acute food shortages in Venezuela.

     

    The weekend read

     

    ‘Do no digital harm’

     

    As humanitarian aid is increasingly distributed, and streamlined using big data, privacy risks are piling up. Technologies are evolving quickly, and the aid sector is trying to catch up. It’s time for humanitarian organizations to ask themselves some serious ethical questions, a panel of humanitarian data professionals chaired by IRIN’s Ben Parker pointed out recently. Speaking at the first-ever talk on data security at the Humanitarian Congress Berlin, the panelists warned about the dangers of commercialising sensitive data, the perils of sharing data with irresponsible governments in emergency situations, and the need to avert a breach before it’s too late. Possible solutions to what one panelist called a “digital apocalypse” in terms of privacy and personal agency over data include a moratorium on new technologies like biometrics and alternative technologies (think blockchain and Bitcoin), and smaller privacy-by-design initiatives that minimise the amount of data collected and store it responsibly. If you’re doing the data collection, keep in mind the power you hold over the people whose data is in your hands. Think about rebalancing that relationship through moves like providing safe internet access to clearly explaining rights and conditions of consent. For tips, find some time this weekend to take a look at our excerpts from the discussion.

    And finally

    A new reading of rusty old aid signage

    30154369887_c95e1b188b_k.jpg

    Two signs on the roadside
    Astrid Jamar
    Billboards in Rutana, Burundi.

    Burundi’s stunning landscape has an unusual feature – an infestation of sign boards marking aid projects and offering foreign-funded public service messages. Researcher Astrid Jamar, based at the University of Edinburgh, was struck by this aid signage and took out an analytical lens. The signs have become part of the landscape, she reports: “residents use aid billboards for various purposes such as drying clothes or as landmarks when giving directions – eg ‘Take the road on the right after USAID AIDS billboard, and then second left after the IOM billboard.’” She counted (and photographed) 20 signs in a 200 metre stretch of road in the town of Rutana. In a blog at the London School of Economics, Jamar reflects on what this might say about Burundi’s fraught relations with donors and foreign aid organisations. (From 1 October it has suspended most international NGO activities, requiring groups to re-register under new terms.) The boards, often years out of date, rusting and faded, symbolise the “cacophonic and disorganised nature of aid efforts”, and an appetite amongst aid operators for “visibility”, Jamar suggests. The signs occupy an ambiguous space, she argues, straddling the neocolonial tendencies of aid and “the current regime’s use of accusations of neo-colonialism to counter criticism of human rights violations”. And she points out that a number of billboards take a banal and paternalistic tone that belittles citizens. Two examples: “Let’s eat food rich in nutrients” and “Let’s avoid adultery because it has negative impacts on the family.”

     

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    Afghan voting, Ugandan mudslides and Burundi’s rusty old signs

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