Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Muted international response on Sudan
Controversy trails a belated US diplomatic push to steer Sudan away from deeper crisis, even as fresh evidence emerges of war crimes in Darfur. On Wednesday, the Trump administration finally named Donald Booth, an Africa veteran, as its special envoy to Sudan, two months after Omar al-Bashir was driven from power. Booth joined Tibor Nagy, the assistant US secretary of state for Africa, in meeting the main opposition coalition and Sudan’s acting deputy foreign minister, Ilham Ibrahim. But the White House hasn’t publicly commented since the junta-aligned Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were accused of killing more than 100 protesters in a brutal crackdown on 3 June. Steven Koutsis, head of the US mission in Khartoum, has reportedly expressed sympathy for the Transitional Military Council and suggested the US align itself with Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the junta. He has also faced criticism for dining with Mohamed “Hemetti” Daglo, the commander of the RSF and a former Janjaweed warlord accused of genocide. While China and Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning the junta’s violence, and Egypt and the UAE remain key supporters, it has been left to the African Union (unusual, we know) to show some backbone, suspending Sudan’s membership. Meanwhile, Amnesty International unveiled new satellite imagery showing that former Janjaweed continue to commit war crimes and other serious human rights violations in Darfur.
Warnings of record food crisis in South Sudan
A record number of people will face acute food shortages in South Sudan as the lean season is exacerbated by delayed rainfall and ongoing political instability, according to a new report by the government and three UN agencies. A projected 61 percent of the population, or 6.96 million South Sudanese, face food crisis, food emergency, or food catastrophe by the end of July – a double whammy on top of the rainy season’s usual increase in malarial and waterborne illnesses. The WFP has prepositioned 173,000 metric tons of food in anticipation, almost a third more than this time last year. One note of optimism from the notoriously difficult operating terrain: an app being trialled in the capital, Juba, this week should streamline and prevent duplication of resources when monitoring children in emergencies. By allowing child protection officers to update and monitor a centralised database in real time, it saves frontline workers from literally knocking on doors or walking vast distances as they seek to reunite vulnerable children separated from their families.
Mental illness and conflict
More than one in five people living in war zones suffers from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to a report by the World Health Organisation published in the UK medical journal The Lancet. The figures are substantially higher than in the general population, where these conditions affect an estimated one in 14 people. The findings suggest that previous studies underestimated the burden of mental health conditions in conflict zones. The results, drawing on data from 39 countries, add impetus to calls for more investment in mental health services for people coping with conflict and its aftermath. Look out for our ongoing coverage on the issue, including a story next week that explores the impact of trauma on those displaced by conflict in Somalia.
Lingering storms leave lasting damage
Hurricanes in the North Atlantic are moving slower and lasting longer, intensifying rainfall and flooding, according to new research from NASA scientists, who note that floods from vast amounts of rainfall are among hurricanes’ deadliest hazards. Researchers say the slower storms could be caused by weakening winds – one projected effect of climate change – though they add there’s not yet a clear explanation. Last year, separate research from one of the authors found a similar slowdown across the globe: storms have been moving 10 percent slower over the last 70 years. The unprecedented rainfall that struck during 2017’s sluggish Hurricane Harvey is one prominent example.
Lebanese officials are once again ramping up the pressure on Syrian refugees in the country, this time forcing some 5,000 families in the eastern municipality of Arsal to take down any “semi-permanent structures” in their makeshift shelters – like breezeblock walls – or risk demolition. While the government says this is just an enforcement of building codes, activists say it’s a way to make the more than one million refugees in the country feel unwelcome, and encourage them to return to Syria. In another Lebanese town, between 400 and 600 Syrian refugees packed up their tents and headed elsewhere last weekend after a fire broke out in their settlement, followed by a brawl with firefighters over their alleged late arrival, the arrests of Syrians, and an imposition of a curfew on the refugees. If you’ve read our latest longread from the northern Lebanon town of Jabal Beddawi (and you really should), you know that even in places where locals and refugees mostly get along, the thought of return, voluntary or otherwise, never really goes away.
In case you missed it
BOSNIA/CROATIA: Aid groups are calling for more assistance in cities on Bosnia’s northwestern border with Croatia, where thousands of migrants and asylum seekers seeking to enter the EU are being met by pushbacks and metal fences. This year has already seen more than 9,000 new arrivals in Bosnia – mostly from Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Syria.
DENGUE: Climate change could rapidly expand the reach of mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, which kills 10,000 people each year, according to a study published in the journal Nature Microbiology this week. The biggest change in dengue risk could come in southern Africa and in the Sahel – a region poorly equipped to detect and control outbreaks, the researchers say.
EBOLA: Some 27 people may have come into contact with a boy who died of Ebola in Uganda. Most will be vaccinated and restricted to their homes. Authorities, meanwhile, are searching for three others who fled a hospital isolation unit. The outbreak, previously confined to the Democratic Republic of Congo, has claimed 1,411 lives so far.
INDIA: Authorities in India say the start of the monsoon season may be delayed, meaning no respite from intense heatwaves that have killed 36 people since May. Average yearly temperatures have been rising in India (and across the globe). In 2015, more than 2,000 people died in heatwaves in India.
LIBYA/YEMEN: In the past two weeks, tens of thousands of people in Yemen and southwestern Libya have been hit by flash floods, forcing many to flee their homes and raising concerns that the combination of stagnant water, displacement, and poor sanitation could cause or exacerbate disease outbreaks.
As noted above, the news from Sudan is not promising, on many fronts. One part of the country that fails to get much attention is Blue Nile state, one of the so-called ‘Two Areas’ – along with South Kordofan – that largely fought alongside the separatist rebels but remained part of Sudan after South Sudan gained independence in 2011. A promised “popular consultation” on the remote southeastern state’s future status has never materialised. Tens of thousands of civilians have languished there for years, cut off from aid, and knowing little but sporadic war and endemic want. Sam Mednick reports this week from the ground on what the upheaval in Khartoum means for this marginalised community. As one local aid coordinator says of their calls for outside assistance: “We send many messages. Just help! We’re asking for help.”
Sanctions and the Four Seasons Damascus
The United States this week accused a Syrian businessman, Samer Foz, of profiting from the war and dispossession of refugees. The US Treasury Department added him, his relatives, and businesses to a worldwide list of more than 7,000 sanctioned entities. Foz, the US argues, is an oligarch who is "building luxury developments on land stolen” from refugees. The US move follows measures applied by the EU in January. Foz's investments include the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, used by UN agencies for offices and accommodation on security grounds. The UN reports spending at least $25 million at the Four Seasons over the last four years, but is not legally bound by US sanctions. Awkward, not least because the United States is a big donor to the UN agencies. Such measures, however, are not always as “smart” as their backers like to argue, as Aron Lund explored recently for TNH. US sanctions on Iran, for example, led to a cooking gas shortage in Syria.
(TOP PHOTO: Worshippers leave a mosque where a top opposition leader attended Friday prayers in Omdurman on 14 June 2019.)