(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Why Indonesia’s rules on foreign tsunami relief are rattling the aid sector

    Indonesian government restrictions on foreign aid workers in disaster-hit Sulawesi are forcing some humanitarian groups to rethink their response plans – and spurring a larger debate about how the aid sector prepares for crises around the world.


    The government last week told international aid groups that foreign staff will not be allowed on the ground in Central Sulawesi Province, which was hit by 28 September earthquakes and a tsunami that washed away homes, destroyed entire neighbourhoods, and uprooted more than 80,000 people. More than 2,100 people are confirmed dead, and these numbers are set to rise with the government officially calling an end to search and rescue operations last Friday.


    The regulations, which were first enforced during a separate earthquake that rattled the island of Lombok in August, have left some international aid groups scrambling to clarify the rules nearly three weeks after the Sulawesi response began. A staff member at an international NGO told IRIN that several agencies are meeting with government ministries to propose programmes and to gauge what will be allowed.


    “The confusing thing is that the Indonesian government asked for international assistance. So if they hadn’t asked for international assistance, that would be one thing,” said the aid worker, who asked not to be identified because the issue was considered sensitive. “But they clearly don’t want an international NGO presence.”


    The government says restrictions on foreign staff are necessary to coordinate aid among the 85 international NGOs that have offered help. A spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign affairs ministry told media that without the regulations, “the presence of foreign aid workers, who have good intentions, may hamper the rescue and recovery work carried out by the national team”.


    Officials say that foreign NGOs must apply for accreditation and work through local aid organisations, rather than sending expatriate staff to the quake-hit area around the provincial capital, Palu.  


    Many international groups are directing resources to local non-governmental organisations that have been on the ground since the emergency’s early days – either through long-standing partnerships or more recent arrangements spurred by the government regulations.


    Yenni Suryani, the Indonesian country manager for Catholic Relief Services, said the organisation has applied for permission to bring in three temporary international staff members who will support its work with local organisations like the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Centre and PKPU Human Initiative.


    “We only have so much staff,” she said. “For this scale of response, I need more.”


    Analysts see Indonesia’s regulations as evidence of a growing trend that is challenging long-held assumptions throughout the humanitarian sector.

    “Gone are the days when you're going to have a humanitarian sector that comes into a disaster situation with a very heavy footprint and sets up as almost an auxiliary, or a replacement of government services.”

    Christina Bennett, who heads the Humanitarian Policy Group at UK-based think tank ODI, said international donors and big NGOs have grown used to automatically jumping in when a major disaster hits, marshalling resources, supplies, and a brigade of global staff – and at times overtaking or overwhelming governments and local aid responders.


    “I think there has been a lot of recognition in the past couple of years that that maybe isn't the best way,” Bennett said. “I think gone are the days when you're going to have a humanitarian sector that comes into a disaster situation with a very heavy footprint and sets up as almost an auxiliary, or a replacement of government services.”


    If countries like Indonesia are increasingly exerting more control over disasters on their own soil, the global aid sector will be forced to rethink the way help is funded and delivered, said Kate Sutton, director of the Humanitarian Advisory Group, based in Melbourne.


    “All the assumptions we make are being overturned: that visas will be given, [that] medical assistance teams will be welcomed,” she said.  


    This could mean relying more on regional expertise in disaster management. During the Sulawesi response, for example, the AHA Centre – part of ASEAN, the Southeast Asian inter-governmental body – has taken on coordination roles that are often dominated by United Nations agencies. It also means ramping up funding for local aid groups, Sutton said.


    “If the only way that assistance is going to be provided is through those national and local organisations, then [international organisations] need to be investing a lot more in those partnerships prior to an emergency response,” Sutton said.


    ☰ Read more: Local aid and the global humanitarian sector


    Dozens of the world’s largest donors and humanitarian groups have already pledged to shift more resources and power into the hands of local aid organisations and governments during disasters. But such commitments are often forgotten when major emergencies erupt.


    International aid groups say their skills and resources can help leverage donor funding and amplify the local response. But governments are increasingly conscious of maintaining control. And local aid groups say they’re routinely sidelined and see a fraction of the funding that big NGOs enjoy.


    Some of these dynamics are prevalent in Indonesia as the humanitarian sector navigates the government’s restrictions on foreign NGOs.


    “We want to complement what the government does,” said one aid worker at an international NGO with experience responding to disasters in Indonesia. “We don’t want to take over. We don’t want to replace them. But we are painfully mindful of their limitations.”


    Others say there’s little evidence an injection of foreign aid workers would have sped up the response in Central Sulawesi or elsewhere.


    “In the first days and weeks of a crisis, it’s chaotic and it’s really difficult whatever the circumstances,” said Kate Sutton, director of the Humanitarian Advisory Group.


    She remembers working in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed an estimated 220,000 people, including roughly 160,000 in Indonesia.


    “It was a chaotic response. Absolutely chaotic,” she said. “And very often having a plethora of international actors there can make it even more chaotic. I remember there were like 200 NGOs at a coordination meeting we were at in Banda Aceh. And trying to organise that vast number of different actors can add to the complexity.”


    Some major international agencies are already registered in Indonesia as local NGOs. The US-based Mercy Corps, for example, operates as a local NGO in Indonesia. A spokesman told IRIN its entire team on the ground is Indonesian. Other major aid groups like Save the Children and World Vision also work through locally registered organisations – Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik and Wahana Visi Indonesia, respectively.


    For others, adapting to increased regulations would mean a more significant shift in thinking on how disasters are handled – and who may be best placed to respond.


    “People are going to have to think a little bit more about their [human resources] capacity and their ability to hire national staff, rather than, as you might normally do, parachute in an international team,” said a staff member at an international NGO, who asked not to be identified.


    ‘We were all surprised’


    Regulations on international aid workers aren’t new in Indonesia: the government already has limits on the number of foreign staff working at accredited NGOs in the country. But aid workers told IRIN that Indonesian authorities began preventing foreign NGO staff from working in disaster areas after the Lombok earthquake in August.


    “We were all surprised and shocked,” said Yenni of Catholic Relief Services.


    “Disasters, floods, and earthquakes happen all the time in Indonesia, and there are always organisations responding,” she said. “With Lombok, we were all surprised. To be honest, none of us really understand what’s the reason behind this.”


    The difference now, many aid groups say, is that the scale of the damage in Sulawesi is more extensive. The World Bank estimates that economic damages from the Sulawesi earthquakes and tsunami could exceed $500 million – on top of the still-mounting death toll and loss of livelihoods.

    “There is a concern among international agencies that maybe we don’t appreciate the real impact. Maybe we don’t have the exact figures. People have been literally swept away by the waves. Houses have been destroyed.”

    Some fear that the full scope of the damage is unknown and may require more help than what’s available – particularly as the government is responding to the parallel emergency in Lombok.


    “There is a concern among international agencies that maybe we don’t appreciate the real impact. Maybe we don’t have the exact figures,” said one aid worker. “People have been literally swept away by the waves. Houses have been destroyed.”


    On the ground in quake-hit Sulawesi, some have criticised an official response that has struggled to deliver help to remote areas.


    There are also fears the looming rainy season and inadequate sanitation could make matters worse in the coming weeks. The AHA Centre says there are shortages of supplies like tents, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits – basic supplies that the government specifically requested from international donors.


    Aries Bira, head of the Central Sulawesi branch of Walhi, an Indonesian environmental organisation whose volunteers have brought food and water into disaster-affected areas, said he feared that the government’s directives on international aid could discourage donor support.


    “The process of getting the required approval takes a long time, but the needs of disaster relief have to be fast,” he said.


    Yenni, the Catholic Relief Services head, said she believes the government’s rules are aimed at regulating, rather than restricting aid work. But the lengthy application process, she said, has been “difficult”.


    “Even for Indonesians like me, having support would really speed up the process of supporting the affected population, and accelerate the recovery,” she said. “And without support, yes, the government has resources, but how much and how far can they go?”


    (Additional reporting by Ian Morse in Palu, Central Sulawesi)

    (TOP PHOTO: Wreckage and debris are seen at the quake-hit Petobo village in Palu on 11 October 2018. CREDIT: Olagondronk/AFP)


    “All the assumptions we make are being overturned”
    Why Indonesia’s rules on foreign tsunami relief are rattling the aid sector
  • Caribbean tsunamis, migration art and humanitarians and climate change: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar


    Australian asylum policies under fire


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

    Child hunger: a tale of inequality


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


    Preparing for tsunamis in the Caribbean


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


    Ebola makes a comeback


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


    One to listen to

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


    In case you missed it

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


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


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


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


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


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


    The weekend read

    How climate change is plunging Senegal’s herders into poverty

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


    Humanitarians and climate change

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


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


    the discussions

    are faces

    all the way out here

    And finally


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


    Caribbean tsunamis, migration art and humanitarians and climate change
  • New health threats emerge for Sulawesi survivors

    Water shortages and cramped conditions are posing new problems in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, where medical workers are reporting increasing cases of diarrhoea, skin rashes, and respiratory infections.


    The confirmed death toll has climbed above 2,000 after earthquakes and a tsunami crippled the provincial capital of Palu and nearby areas on 28 September. Authorities say the missing may number in the thousands, buried under collapsed homes or in flattened neighbourhoods swallowed up by the earthquakes. The country’s disaster management agency says it’s preparing to call off the official search for survivors later this week.


    The disaster damaged water infrastructure and treatment facilities, according to aid groups, and much of Palu now lacks clean running water. More than 82,000 people are displaced throughout the area – some are living with relatives, while others have camped out in the open or in overcrowded tent camps dotted throughout Palu and more distant areas where official aid hasn’t reached.


    Iskandar Avan, 35, came to an Indonesian Red Cross clinic in Palu on Saturday to ask for medicine for his two daughters. The family slept the first two nights after the earthquakes in an open field. By the third day, Ratur, 6, and Moni, 4, had developed an itchy skin rash.


    “We shower in the river,” Iskandar said. “Well, not a river. Just the flowing water by the side of the road.”


    Health workers say poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition, and overcrowding in temporary shelters could trigger the spread of infectious diseases – and early signs of trouble are emerging in damaged hospitals and makeshift clinics.

    “We shower in the river. Well, not a river. Just the flowing water by the side of the road.”

    Felix Andrianus, a medic with the Indonesian Red Cross, said he treated broken bones and severe wounds in the initial days after the disaster. Now, most patients are coming in with fever, diarrhoea, and skin infections.


    The Red Cross is shipping in drinking water by the truckload, but aid groups say a steady supply and proper sanitation will be crucial as the crisis continues.


    Indonesian authorities have asked for a limited amount of aid from the international community. They have warned foreign NGO staff not to work directly in disaster-affected areas, but to coordinate their aid through local aid organisations already on the ground.


    But the government is asking for water treatment equipment as a top priority from international donors and aid groups. An assessment of 70 villages by an emergency response team with regional body ASEAN estimated that more than one-third of displaced people had no access to clean water.


    A truck is buried under the rubble of a collapsed building along the shoreline of Palu, the capital of Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.
    Ian Morse/IRIN
    A truck is buried under the rubble of a collapsed building along the shoreline of Palu, the capital of Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province. Palu and other areas sustained heavy damage during 28 September earthquakes and a tsunami that struck the area.

    “A lack of clean water and sanitation infrastructure means that hygiene levels in the camps will likely deteriorate without intervention,” said Genadi Aryawan, who works with the NGO Mercy Corps. “This poses a serious threat of them becoming incubators for diseases like cholera or dysentery.”


    Waiting for aid to reach remote areas


    Outside Palu’s biggest hospital, Undata, two patients with severe respiratory infections lay next to each other under tents, where the maimed and the dying were treated after the earthquakes and tsunami hit.


    Twelve-year-old Firawaty struggled to get a gasp of air before doctors removed a small bottle’s worth of liquid from her lungs.


    “She couldn’t breathe and was stuck in the foetal position,” said her father Darlin, 56.

    Short on petrol, he had waited five days to be sure her condition was serious enough to make the three-hour trip to the hospital from Tompe, a coastal village in Donggala district near the epicentre of the quake.


    Darlin pointed to a boy lying next to his daughter. The boy had just arrived and his chest heaved up and down with each struggling breath. “She was worse,” he said.


    Indonesian authorities say medical services are available in 15 hospitals in the affected area; nearly all of these are in Palu.


    Medical volunteers from local universities and around the province, some local NGOs like the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center, and organisations like the Red Cross have also set up emergency health posts. But official help hasn’t reached everywhere it’s needed.


    In outlying villages up the coast, for example, some survivors have spread into the surrounding mountains.


    Irham, who uses one name, heads a volunteer team of professors and students from the medical department of Palu’s Tadulako University. The group has been sending small teams to assess conditions and provide medical check-ups in remote places like Tompe, which volunteers visited last Friday – a full week after the disaster hit.


    “There hadn’t been anyone [else] there,” Irham said. “We had 146 patients, mostly diarrhoea and respiratory infections.”


    A single minaret stands among hundreds of flattened houses in Mamboro district, Palu, in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.
    Ian Morse/IRIN
    A single minaret stands among hundreds of flattened houses in Mamboro district, Palu, in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.

    Irham, who sleeps at his healthcare station in Palu, said his group’s supply of diarrhoea medication is nearly finished, and he’s not sure when he’ll be able to get a new batch. He said the coordination and communication of official aid has been poor for volunteer groups like his.


    Preventable health problems


    Other health facilities are also running low on key supplies, and staff are unsure of when they’ll be replenished.


    “We can’t really hope that much for the medicine we need, because the people who coordinate the aid are at the city health office, not us,” said Oktoviandri, a doctor at Woodward Palu Hospital, a facility run by the Salvation Army.

    The hospital sustained relatively little damage compared to the worst-hit parts of Palu. Oktoviandri, who uses one name, said more people from these other areas are coming in with respiratory infections and diarrhoea, but the hospital doesn’t have the staff to handle the extra workload.

    Many health clinics are also short-staffed as local employees were themselves affected by the disaster. In Dolo, a village in Sigi to Palu’s south, only 30 percent of the staff at one heavily damaged local clinic are coming to work, said Vlatko Uzevski, programme manager with the US-based medical NGO Project Hope, which is working at the clinic.


    “Most of the patients are complaining of upper respiratory tract infection, hypertension, anxiety,” he said. “But we also have trauma patients. It’s usually wounds on the limbs [and] head that haven’t been treated because they thought it’s not serious, and now we have to clean the wounds.”

    “There are a lot of people who appear here with diseases that could be prevented with a more hygienic environment, with better sanitation.”


    More than 10 days after the disaster struck, some basic infrastructure is being restored in Palu. Phone service is coming back across the city, but it’s still paralysed in parts of Donggala, north of Palu, as well as Sigi.


    Shipments of food, clothes, water, and fuel have started to arrive – last week’s lengthy queues outside petrol stations have mostly disappeared. Electricity has been restored to a few parts of the city, though entire neighbourhoods are still in the dark.


    Irham, the university volunteer, says it’s essential that authorities ensure a steady supply of clean water throughout the disaster area.


    “There are a lot of people who appear here with diseases that could be prevented with a more hygienic environment, with better sanitation,” he said.



    From diarrhoea to skin infections, early signs of trouble are surfacing in damaged hospitals and makeshift clinics
    New health threats emerge for Sulawesi survivors
  • Tsunami aid, Spanish surge, and sexual violence in war: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar:


    Sulawesi waits for clean water and unwelcome rain


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


    Second-class citizens


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


    Nobel moves sexual violence in war into the spotlight


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


    Spanish surge


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


    One to listen to:


    Operation Fiction Writer


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


    In case you missed it:


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


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


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


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


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


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


    Our weekend read:


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


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


    And finally:


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



    Tsunami aid, Spanish surge, and sexual violence in war
  • Toilets and tents: A week after Indonesia’s tsunami, survivors still need basic aid

    Frustrations are mounting in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province as survivors wait for help that’s slow to arrive nearly a week after earthquakes and a tsunami destroyed homes and villages and buried an unknown number of people under rubble.


    Indonesian authorities in charge of the response say they’re waiting for larger aid shipments to reach the city. Damaged infrastructure and long distances continue to slow aid delivery, while fuel and electricity shortages have hampered search and rescue efforts.


    “The most important thing I need is tents,” said Willem Rampangilei, who heads Indonesia’s disaster management agency. “The second thing is sanitation – clean water and mobile toilets.”


    Officials believe the death toll from the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami – more than 1,580 as of 4 October – will continue to rise. More than 70,000 people have been displaced and at least 191,000 are in need of urgent assistance, according to initial assessments.


    Local aid workers and volunteers say remote areas closer to the epicentre of the earthquake – at least a four-hour drive north of the badly hit provincial capital of Palu – are even worse off, yet no official aid has reached them.


    Ade Nuriadin, a volunteer with Walhi, an Indonesian environmental organisation, told IRIN he travelled to four sub-districts in Donggala District, from where little official information has emerged. Ade said he saw widespread devastation, and homeless families told him they had received no help at all.


    “Shelter has to be built immediately, because about 15 to 20 percent of the houses have collapsed,” he said. “About 60 to 70 percent of the houses are falling apart.”


    Ade said he and others reached the area on Wednesday with only an hour-long detour. Other local volunteers have also set up public kitchens to offer cooked food to displaced residents in Donggala.


    “In my opinion, this seems like a crisis of leadership,” Ade said. “No one wants to start the movement. There's no instruction from above.”


    Ian Morse/IRIN
    Wahyu Triwandi and his friends lift a motorcycle stuck in the dirt in Petobo, a village near Palu in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, which was devastated by a 28 September 2018 earthquake.

    Villages gouged from the land


    In Palu, crumpled sections of the city have yet to be excavated and many residents say they haven’t received any help at all.

    The devastation in Petobo, a village on the outskirts of Palu, underscores the scale of the damage here. When the earthquake struck, the soil underneath Petobo turned to liquid, swept away houses, and split them in half.


    “The ground ripped open,” recalled 23-year-old Wahyu Triwandi, who ran from his home as the earth gave way.


    Nearly a week later, Wahyu and his family live in a tent and say they haven’t received any kind of aid. His former home sits nearby, the crushed structure swallowed up by the ground, along with most of the buildings in his village.



    Satellite images taken on 17 August and 1 October show the destruction caused by 28 September earthquakes in Petobo village in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi. Images ©2018 DigitalGlobe


    Some residents have received basic supplies, but people like Muhamad David, a 31-year-old driver whose house in Palu was levelled, said the two boxes of small water bottles he was given barely lasted a day, split among three households.


    “Aid from the government is not enough,” he said.


    Vast distances


    Indonesia’s government has asked for limited help from international donors and aid agencies. This includes tents for the growing number of people whose homes were destroyed, water purification kits, and generators for electricity.


    But the arrival of more substantial aid supplies continues to be slowed by long distances and wrecked infrastructure.


    Part of the runway at Palu’s airport was damaged in Friday’s earthquakes and is only open to small aircraft and military planes. International aid groups are beginning to ship supplies to Balikpapan, a city on neighbouring Kalimantan island to the west – more than a day by sea from Palu’s port, which also sustained damage.


    Some aid responders are transporting relief items through distant hubs such as Makassar, a port city in neighbouring South Sulawesi province. The Indonesian Red Cross, for example, sent water trucks by boat to Makassar from the capital, Jakarta. It will take another 24 hours for the trucks to make the long journey up Sulawesi and reach Palu by land, the Red Cross said today.


    These transportation problems have made it particularly difficult to respond, said Rai, who heads Project Karma, an Indonesian charity that has provided medical assistance in Palu and in Lombok, which was hit by an earthquake in August.


    "Sulawesi is very big, and when the airport doesn't work for three days, there has to be other ways to get food,” said Rai, who uses one name. “In Lombok, it was easy to bring [aid] from Bali. But even from Makassar, it's difficult because it could take 18 hours. Along the way as well, there are people who want the aid because they may need it too."

    But what angered him the most, he said, was a lack of communication and help from the authorities.

    Fuel shortages


    For now, disaster management officials say they’re concentrating relief and rescue efforts in two of the hardest-hit areas in Palu: Petobo and Balaroa, which also saw extensive damage when the earthquake liquefied a large swathe of land beneath the village.


    In the city, electricity and petrol shortages have crippled daily life. Taju Rampewa, a 40-year-old with three children, complained that the only washing water available was what was left in dirty street gutters.


    He stood near the front of a queue stretching 100 metres from a petrol station. Taju said he had been waiting for the previous 24 hours, recruiting his kids to hold the spot. But what angered him the most, he said, was a lack of communication and help from the authorities.


    “I’d go back to my hometown in Makassar if I could buy the petrol,” Taju said.


    Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola said the province was functioning with only 20 percent of its electricity needs – making it impossible for people like Taju to withdraw money from the city’s cash machines. In the first days after the earthquake, only three public areas offered free electricity, but coverage has gradually increased.


    This – and an initial shortage of heavy equipment – hampered search and rescue operations in the immediate days after the earthquakes.

    “I sometimes panicked, I cried. So I prayed, I sang songs.”

    Hotel Roa Roa, a seven-floor building in central Palu that collapsed during the earthquake, has become a focus of efforts to find and save people trapped beneath the debris. Disaster management officials say seven of the 21 people found so far in the hotel have been alive, including Lucia Zefanya, who says she was trapped under a platform for two hours before she managed to wriggle free and signal for help.


    “I sometimes panicked, I cried. So I prayed, I sang songs,” the 15-year-old said.


    That was a week ago. The National Search and Rescue Agency believes that many more could still be buried.


    In Petobo, where the earthquake churned the ground into a wave of mud that sunk nearly an entire village, survivors are still looking for help.


    Edo, a 38-year-old father of three who uses one name, hasn’t been able to find his five-month pregnant wife and youngest child since their house was carried 50 metres away by the liquefied soil in Petobo. When he felt the earth shaking, he ran one direction and they ran the other.


    When asked who was helping him find his family, he said: “Just friends at the church; do you know who could help?”



    Toilets and tents: A week after Indonesia’s tsunami, survivors still need basic aid
  • WTF? A guide to disaster aid acronyms

    International disaster responders have a language all of their own. Things like this would make total sense: “UNDAC are on the ground, and linking with the HCT. Needs include CRI, AAP, WASH, and CMCoord, and pledges are updated in FTS. It can’t be long before an IA RTE and some kind of MIRA-style NA is underway, even while SAR should follow INSARAG guidelines – including K9s.”

    First published during the response to the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, this article was updated following the earthquake and tsunami affecting Central Sulawesi in Indonesia.


    The latest on the tsunami disaster in Indonesia


    Local and international aid responders are still facing challenges reaching remote areas hit by earthquakes and a tsunami that struck Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province on 28 September.


    As of 3 October, Indonesian authorities said there were more than 1,400 confirmed deaths. These numbers are expected to rise as search and rescue teams reach areas blocked off by landslides and debris. The government and aid groups say they still don’t know the full scale of the damage.


    Rescue teams have been hampered by a lack of heavy equipment, fuel, and electricity shortages. The main air and seaports in heavily damaged Palu, the provincial capital, are only partially functional, while blocked roads have slowed the arrival of relief supplies over land.


    The Indonesian government is leading the response but has said it will accept international aid on a case-by-case basis. A multitude of international aid agencies and donors have offered to help and some have started to arrive. Local NGOs, local authorities, the Red Cross, and volunteers from surrounding communities have shouldered the bulk of the response so far.


    Here’s your (TL;DR) guide to the serious, but clanking machinery of international relief acronymage:

    AAP: Accountability to Affected Populations – Accountability has been a buzzword in aid for years now, and gaining in prominence as an issue. The improvement of two-way communication between aid agencies and their clients – or “beneficiaries” – is now often wrapped up in AAP.  Related terms include CwC – Communicating with Communities – and CDAC – Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities.

    AHA: This regional coordination body is providing support to the Indonesian government and its handling of international offers of help. It's an acronym wrapped in another acronym (is there a word for that?):  the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance. Oh, it's also connected to the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM).

    BNPB: Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana – the national disaster management authority of Indonesia.

    CMCoord: Civil-Military Coordination. Aka CIMIC or CIVMIL. The often strained relationship between aid agencies and militaries has its own specialist roles and policies. (h/t Oliver Lacey-Hall)

    CRI: Core Relief Item – this is a new entry – it's a catch-all term for tarpaulins, buckets, cooking pots, and all manner of items distributed after a disaster. The term CRI looks set to take over from the awkward term, NFI (see below).

    FTS: The UN’s Financial Tracking Service. Updated in real time, it tracks pledges and actual contributions made towards humanitarian response around the world.

    GDACS: Global Disaster Alerting Coordination System – a web-based kitchen sink of semi-automated information tools, maps, and resources used by disaster responders. GDACS hosts the VSOSOCC (see below).


    HC: During an emergency or in a country prone to disasters, a Humanitarian Coordinator may be designated to coordinate both UN and non-UN international humanitarian action in liaison with government. In that case, the HC chairs an HCT (Humanitarian Country Team), comprising major international aid agencies as well as local aid groups and, most of the time, the host government. The HC is usually, but not always, the same person as the RC (UN Resident Coordinator). When the two hats are worn by one individual, as is the case now with Anita Nirody in Indonesia, he or she is known by the title RC/HC.


    IA RTE: Inter-Agency Real-Time Evaluation. Mandated by the IASC (see below), IA RTEs are commissioned reports in the first few weeks and months of a new emergency to give quick feedback on gaps, access constraints, potential threats, and quality of the humanitarian response.

    IASC: Inter-Agency Standing Committee. Grouping UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross, and other international organisations, the IASC is a forum for humanitarian responders to develop policies, agree on a clear division of responsibility for the various aspects of humanitarian assistance and identify gaps in response. Weaknesses in the humanitarian system exposed by disasters in Pakistan and Haiti led to a process of IASC reform, called the "Transformative Agenda" – TA. (Those who work on the TA are the STAIT – The Senior Transformative Agenda Implementation Team). Oh, wait, that’s now become the P2P – the Peer to Peer Support Team – thanks @ICVARefugee for that one.


    INSARAG: International Search and Rescue Advisory Group. Under a UN umbrella, this network of more than 80 countries and organisations establishes minimum standards for search and rescue and a methodology for international coordination in earthquake response.

    K9: Canine. Sniffer dogs used by USARs and ISARs.


    L3: Level 3 emergency. This is the IASC classification for the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. The classification should activate a faster mobilisation of human and financial resources, and is based on five criteria: scale, complexity, urgency, capacity, and reputational risk.

    MIRA: Multi-Cluster Initial Rapid Assessment. Developed by the IASC to identify strategic humanitarian priorities during the first weeks following an emergency, carried out by a team of emergency specialists from various sectors. MIRA is a flavour of NA – Needs Assessment.

    NFI: Non-food items. The category is a catch-all for non-medical supplies including mattresses, household items, hygiene kits, tents, buckets, tarpaulins and so on. Term heading out of fashion – see CRI above.

    OSOCC:  On-Site Operations Coordination Centre. Developed by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to assist countries in coordinating international search-and-rescue efforts following an earthquake. Its private online workspace is called the Virtual OSOCC (VOSOCC). On the ground it has one or more BOOs - Bases of Operation.

    RC/RC: Red Cross/Red Crescent – National societies of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement can choose to use a cross, crescent, or a “crystal” emblem. To acknowledge the multi-faith implications and not mix things up with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC, that’s another story), disaster texts will often use RC/RC to refer to all the national  movements’ members. 

    SASOP: Standard Operating Procedure for Regional Standby Arrangements and Coordination of Joint Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Operations – a term coined by ASEAN and a process that is now being used to filter offers of help.


    UNDAC: United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination. UNDAC teams are deploying to Indonesia to help the UN and government during the first phase of the response. UNDAC (its new handbook has just been published) also assists in the coordination of incoming international relief.


    USAR: Urban Search And Rescue. When search and rescue teams are deployed internationally, they may be called ISARs. They often are combined with FMTs – Foreign Medical Teams or EMTs – Emergency Medical Teams.


    WASH: WAter, Sanitation and Hygiene. All of which are often lacking in the aftermath of a disaster and can lead to the spread of disease.



    WTF? A guide to disaster aid acronyms
    Your guide to disaster alphabet soup: Updated October 2018
  • Indonesia tsunami: Aid briefing

    Local authorities and NGOs are leading the initial rescue and relief effort on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in the aftermath of earthquakes and a tsunami that have claimed hundreds of lives.


    The government has asked for limited international assistance as the full scale of the destruction and loss of life becomes apparent, with the toll feared to rise into the thousands as some of the worst-hit and hardest-to-access areas are reached.


    On Monday, Indonesia said it would authorise “selective acceptance” of international help, three days after a series of earthquakes and a tsunami struck parts of Central Sulawesi province, including the major population centres of Palu and Donggala.


    Immediate rescue efforts have been down to local authorities, the Red Cross, and NGOs with branches in Palu. But many of these organisations were themselves hit by the disaster. The Salvation Army says six of its members died, and its main hospital in Palu had to be evacuated. World Vision said many of the 38 staff of its local partner, Wahana Visi, are now camping outside the office in Palu as their homes have been damaged.



    AFP Don't use
    Jewel Samad/AFP
    A survivor walks past a damaged area in Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on 1 October 2018.


    Landslides, debris, and a shortage of fuel and electricity have hampered aid efforts as humanitarian groups struggle to reach the hardest-hit areas on a part of Sulawesi’s western coast, where thousands of people are feared to be still trapped or missing.


    Here’s what we know so far. (For updates on the aid effort, check back on the site and follow us on Twitter.)


    What happened


    A series of earthquakes struck Central Sulawesi’s Donggala Regency on 28 September. The strongest, a 7.4-magnitude quake, hit just after 6 pm local time. Indonesian authorities say a tsunami hit the mainland less then 15 minutes later, striking areas including Palu, the provincial capital, and Donggala, a coastal area to the northwest.


    As of 2 October Indonesian authorities had confirmed at least 1,234 deaths and 799 severe injuries*. However, these numbers are expected to rise steeply in the coming days as more information trickles out of hard-to-reach areas. Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla has warned that the toll could run into the thousands.


    Scale of the damage


    Damage has been severe in Palu and in Sigi, an area south of the city, where the Indonesian Red Cross estimates that more than 50 percent of the buildings have collapsed or are severely damaged.


    “We are afraid there are still a lot of people trapped under the building debris,” Aulia Arriani, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian Red Cross, told IRIN.

    Limited rescue efforts have only recently been able to access Donggala. Roads to the area northwest of Palu had been cut off by landslides. The official death toll on Monday included only 11 people from Donggala, where heavy damages are expected but communication has been limited.


    More than 61,800* people have been displaced, with assessments ongoing. One UN assessment estimated that more than 191,000 people are in “urgent need” of humanitarian assistance.


    Who is responding


    Authorities in Indonesia are in charge of rescue efforts. Multiple international aid groups say they’re ready to respond, in addition to local NGOs and aid workers that had mobilised after the earthquakes and tsunami struck.


    After an August earthquake in Lombok, an island east of Bali, the government “strongly” declined international aid and urged local NGOs not to invite international aid agencies. The government now says international assistance for Central Sulawesi will be considered on a case-by-case basis in line with needs on the ground.


    Indonesian organisations involved with Humanitarian Forum Indonesia, a consortium of local NGOs, have already sent staff and supplies to the area. Other aid groups preparing to respond include CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, Singapore-based Mercy Relief, Islamic Relief, and Save the Children. Télécoms Sans Frontières, which specialises in emergency telecommunications, said it was mobilising a team, while Mission Aviation Fellowship said it expected staff to arrive on Monday to help set up a satellite communication system.


    Local volunteers from surrounding areas have also organised relief and rescue efforts. Lian Gogali, a rights activist based in Poso, about 100 kilometres east of Palu, is among those who have organised an emergency response, gathering volunteers to deliver food, medicine, and fuel to the affected areas.


    “We are the ones who can supply direct food to Palu,” Gogali told IRIN.


    Search and rescue


    The Indonesian Red Cross says it is concentrating its efforts on search and rescue in Palu, Sigi, and – when access allows – Donggala.


    Arriani said unknown numbers are believed to be trapped under collapsed buildings, but rescue efforts have been hampered by a lack of heavy equipment like cranes, as well as fuel shortages and a lack of electricity.


    “During the night, we don’t have any lights because the electricity is still out,” she said. “And there is a lack of fuel because there’s no fuel in Palu.”


    Immediate needs


    Indonesian authorities say urgent needs include fuel, drinking water, tents and tarpaulin for emergency shelters, generators, baby food, body bags for the rising number of dead, and medicine, medical staff, and field hospitals.


    Indonesian members of ACT Alliance, a consortium of church-based groups, say there is an immediate shortage of tarpaulins, blankets, tents, food and health services for the growing number of displaced. They also say there is a pressing need to help vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, people with disabilities, and pregnant women as the local rainy season approaches.


    Difficult access


    Palu’s airport was damaged during the Friday earthquakes. It has since partly re-opened, but aid groups are mainly routing staff and cargo over land and sea – stretching the length of time it takes for relief supplies to reach Central Sulawesi.


    Save the Children said staff with its local partner, Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik, were travelling by boat from Makassar, a city nearly 500 kilometres away in South Sulawesi. Arriani said the Red Cross is transporting relief supplies by boat from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta – a roughly 1,800-kilometre journey via Makassar.


    Hampered aid efforts


    Blocked roads and fuel and electricity shortages continue to slow aid and rescue efforts.


    Aid groups were struggling to reach Palu and its surrounding areas with relief supplies. Indonesian staff from Catholic Relief Services and local groups including Caritas Makassar and the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center tried to reach the provincial capital Monday but were stuck well outside Palu earlier in the day.


    “Landslides have slowed road travel, fuel is scarce, the airport is damaged, and it takes time to coordinate large-scale transport by sea,” Fatwa Fadilla, the group’s programme manager for disaster risk reduction, told IRIN.


    Questions around early warning

    Tsunami experts say an advanced warning system could have prevented deaths. Indonesia had been testing a new early warning system but implementation had stalled, according to the Associated Press.



    But early warning is just one part of an effective alert system. Such systems must include a way to notify residents, clear evacuation routes, safe evacuation centres, and education efforts so that residents know what to do. The spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said no warning sirens sounded as the tsunami swept into the busy seafront in Palu. Limited early warning, planning, and knowledge of what to do contributed to the tsunami casualties, he said.


    Indonesia’s meteorological agency says it sounded a tsunami warning shortly after the largest earthquake struck at around 6 pm local time, predicting that waves of up to three metres (10 feet) could strike by 6:22 pm. Authorities say they’re still analysing the exact cause of the tsunami and when it hit. The agency says viral videos suggest the tsunami hit Palu between 6:10 pm and 6:13 pm. The agency said it ended its alert at 6:36 pm, because a tidal gauge near Mamuju – south of Palu – indicated the wave had already passed.


    But waves that hit Palu and surrounding areas appeared to be far higher than authorities predicted, with some reports they reached as high as five or six metres (18 feet). The AHA Centre, a regional disaster coordination body for Southeast Asian countries, said the shape of the shoreline leading into Palu city – a long, narrow inlet – may have amplified the height of the ensuing wave.


    News organisations, like aid workers, had to rely on limited sources and access, but online news tracker GDELT recorded 50,000 articles up to mid-Sunday.

    (* Figures updated 2 October)


    Indonesia tsunami: Aid briefing
  • Tripoli clashes, dying with dignity, and AI for good: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar:

    The (ending) age of Aquarius

    MSF’s Mediterranean rescue ship, Aquarius, has been at the centre of a series of diplomatic standoffs this summer as European governments refused to let it dock and disembark migrants and asylum seekers pulled from the waters off the coast of Libya. But its rescuing days could now be over after it had its flag revoked this week by Panama. The pressure appeared to come from Italy, whose populist government argues that such vessels only encourage migrants to attempt the dangerous crossing from North Africa, but which is also keen to stem arrivals after taking in more than 700,000 people since 2013. Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister, denied pressuring Panama (in a Tweet, he claimed he didn’t know the dialling code), but a statement from the Panama Maritime Authority suggested otherwise. “The main complaint comes from the Italian authorities,” it said. The boat, jointly operated with SOS Méditerranée, is the only NGO rescue boat still operating in the Mediterranean. Currently at sea carrying rescued migrants it faces “deflagging” when it next reaches port. Panama’s ship register says the Aquarius refuses to return people to their place of origin. But according to the UN, that would be against refugee law. Given worsening conditions in Libya, UNHCR has updated its legal position on bringing people back to Libya: it’s not “a place of safety for the purpose of disembarkation following rescue at sea.”

    Tripoli unravels

    Sticking with Libya; yet another ceasefire appears to be in place in the capital, Tripoli, where fighting between rival militias this week killed 117 people and injured 581. This round of violence erupted 20 days after a previous UN-brokered truce agreement came into force, so forgive us for fearing it might not last. The impact on civilians extends beyond deaths and injuries: 1,700 families fled their homes to stay with relatives or sheltered in schools in just a few days, and others were trapped and unable to escape the violence. With power and water temporarily cut, migrants and refugees in the city’s detention centres had reportedly resorted to drinking toilet water. Sceptics say the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which sits in Tripoli, has no real control over the city’s armed groups.

    A flood of AI announcements

    “AI for good” announcements came thick and fast last week: Microsoft committed $40 million over five years to an “AI for Humanitarian Action” project. Examples of applications include damage assessment, an educational chatbot, and medical research. Google announced an AI-powered flood warning system, now in pilot mode in Patna state, India. The tech giants joined Amazon in a major new effort to better predict and prevent famine. The World Bank-UN-Red Cross-Silicon Valley coalition has broad ambitions, and getting clearer signals from a wealth of data using AI is part of it. Gimmick or gamechanger? You’ll be hearing more from us on this Famine Action Mechanism, FAM. If you have views, please get in touch.

    Palliative care: a “moral necessity”

    Palliative care is focused on preventing and relieving suffering from life-limiting illnesses. But health advocates say it is frequently overlooked or ignored during humanitarian crises, when resources are stretched and large numbers of people are suddenly in need of basic aid like food and shelter. The World Health Organisation this month released its first guidelines on including palliative care in humanitarian responses. Integrating palliative care and pain relief into humanitarian response is a “medical and moral necessity”, according to the WHO. “The principles of humanitarianism and impartiality require that all patients receive care and should never be abandoned for any reason, even if they are dying,” the guidelines state. What might this actually look like on the ground, in the middle of an evolving emergency? Read our story about a local NGO bringing palliative care to the Rohingya refugee camps of southern Bangladesh.

    Some reprieve for Uighurs

    In a change of policy, Sweden will not deport Muslim minority Uighurs back to China. Germany announced the same in August. Sweden’s migration agency published a report describing repression in the largely Uighur Xinjiang region on 12 September. That followed a UN report alleging mass human rights abuse, including claims of a million Uighur people detained by the Chinese government, which it denies. Three quarters of about 5,500 Chinese asylum applications in Europe in 2017 were denied, according to EU statistics.

    One to watch:

    A masterclass in open source accountability

    Uniformed men in Cameroon executed two women and their two children, apparently accused of involvement with the extremist Boko Haram group. Somehow, a video of the crime surfaced online. This compelling Twitter thread from BBC explains the forensic research by a network of journalists and NGOs, [including Emmanuel Freudenthal]. Using only open source tools, satellite imagery and online research, the team found the place, time and likely names of the culprits, who now face prosecution. Cameroon’s government had initially denied involvement.

    One to look at:

    The 1883 eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatau volcano was one of the deadliest eruptions in modern history – and the volcano is rumbling again. There have been ongoing eruptions at Anak Krakatau since June. But the volcano has had sporadic activity for decades and local authorities say there’s currently no immediate danger. NASA has released images showing unobstructed views of the volcano spewing volcanic ash and steam.

    In case you missed it:


    DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: The response to Congo’s latest outbreak has been “severely limited by security and other constraints,” according to the WHO, which has warned of a looming “perfect storm”. Last weekend, 18 people died in an attack on the emerging Ebola hotspot city of Beni. The current outbreak has killed at least 100 people, and there are now about 10 new infections a week, as local resistance to vaccination persists. One case has been confirmed on Congo’s border with Uganda.


    GAZA: The World Bank is warning that the Gaza economy is in “free fall,” with foreign aid no longer enough to counteract the deterioration. A new report from the bank says every second person in the Palestinian territory lives beneath the poverty line, with unemployment at 53 percent, 70 percent for youth (15-24), and 78 percent for young women.


    INDONESIA: Houses have reportedly been swept away and families are missing after a tsunami sent two-metre high waves crashing into the city of Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi following a series of earthquakes, the strongest with a magnitude of 7.5.


    IRAQ: Protests over a lack of public services and jobs are still going strong in Iraq’s southern city of Basra, where the main water source is polluted and there is no effective water treatment system. A new desalination plant is being built but workers had to leave because of the demonstrations, and the shooting death this week of human rights activist Suad al-Ali is only likely to add fan the flames.


    JAPAN: Typhoon Trami is barrelling toward Japan – three weeks after Jebi, the strongest storm to hit the country in decades. Trami has slowed after clocking 260-kilometre per hour wind speeds earlier this week, but authorities in Japan are still warning the storm will be “very strong”. It’s expected to make landfall over the weekend.


    SOUTH SUDAN: Fatalities since civil war broke out in 2013 have long been guesstimated at a vague “tens of thousands”. This week a statistical analysis by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine concluded that the conflict had in fact led to almost 400,000 deaths, half of them directly due to violence. But South Sudan watchers, including IRIN contributor Jason Patinkin, were quick to add a few caveats.


    Our weekend read:

    Shutdowns, suspensions, and legal threats put relief in the world’s troublespots at risk

    Humanitarian responses in the most complex and hostile operating environments on the planet – think Somalia, Syria, Yemen – involve working with some fairly sketchy groups. Take Syria’s Idlib, for example. As much as 60 percent of the province is controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group Tahrir al-Sham. Inevitably, especially when working through a chain of local sub-contractors, some aid is going to go astray, or bribes will have to be paid and checkpoints bunged. But how much diversion is too much when civilian lives are at stake? This question is central to our weekend read, which reviews worries in the aid sector about an increasingly tought US stance on counter-terror compliance. This analysis follows a string of reports from IRIN Senior Editor Ben Parker exclusively highlighting NGO project suspensions and closures in Syria, recent prosecutions in US courts, and new strings attached to USAID funding. Adding fuel to the fire, a new report this week by USAID’s inspector general sets the scene for a much harder line on UN funding, which is largely exempt from the most stringent oversight.

    And finally:

    A tweet vs. the French nation

    This week, a French court convicted a humanitarian worker of criminal defamation for a tweet. Yes, you read that right. Loan Torondel, who volunteered and then worked for two years with L’Auberge des Migrants, a group that assists migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, tweeted a picture of two police officers standing over a man who looks to be a migrant, sitting on his sleeping bag. The man protests that the policeman wants to confiscate his sleeping bag in the cold, and in the text of Torondel’s tweet he ironically has one officer reply: “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir.” The French nation bit refers to a comment President Emmanuel Macron made last year that was memed ad infinitum. For his own memeing Torondel (who is still on Twitter) received a suspended fine and was ordered to pay court costs. He is appealing, and rights defenders say his conviction sets a dangerous precedent and is a worrying escalation in harassment of aid workers by state officials.


    Tripoli clashes, dying with dignity, and AI for good
  • Rohingya returns, counting the dead, and a MeToo round-up: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar:


    The women of Syria’s war prisons

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


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


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


    In search of “tangible progress” in Myanmar


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


    The ripples of #MeToo


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


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

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

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

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

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


    The civilian cost of bombing Islamic State

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

    Counting the dead, correctly


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


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


    In case you missed it, 6 August-10 August

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

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

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

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



    Our weekend read:


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


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


    And finally:

    You can leave your hat on


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

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


    Rohingya returns, counting the dead, and a MeToo round-up
  • School for Syrians, France’s Indian Ocean border and British NGOs say sorry: The Cheat Sheet

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


    This just in


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


    Syria and Turkey


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


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


    America’s endless war


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

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


    Disaster insurance: dull but fast


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


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


    Sorry, say British NGOs


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


    Why are children dying from measles in Indonesia?


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


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


    In case you missed it


    The other European migration frontline

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

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