Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Ebola’s not over
It seemed as if things were getting better in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak. Just a handful of cases had been reported in recent weeks and responders were formulating new plans for eradicating the virus altogether. But a week of protests, militia attacks, and the death of four Ebola health workers on Thursday have been a stark reminder that the 15-month epidemic is far from over. Speaking to reporters, Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s emergencies chief, said the organisation was “heartbroken” after simultaneous attacks on two health centres in Ituri and North Kivu provinces left a vaccinator and two drivers dead. Relief efforts had already been suspended this week amid attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist rebel group formed in 1995 in opposition to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The attacks have left more than 100 dead this month and triggered protests by locals who say UN peacekeepers and government forces stationed in the region are failing to protect them. Read our latest on the protests and insecurity, and delve into our latest investigation, which explores how mixed messages on sexual transmission and breastfeeding may be helping Ebola spread.
Zimbabwe’s ‘man-made starvation’
Zimbabwe is on the brink of “man-made starvation”, Hilal Elver, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said at the end of a visit to the country this week. "More than 60 percent of the population of a country once seen as the breadbasket of Africa is now considered food insecure, with most households unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs due to hyperinflation,” she added. Almost eight million Zimbabweans – more than half the overall population – are short of food, and that figure could rise to well over nine million by early next year, aid workers in the capital, Harare, told TNH. It is a crisis brought on by drought, but deepened by economic disaster – both a rural and urban crisis. Month-on-month inflation hit 40 percent in October, formal sector jobs are almost non-existent, the health service is near collapse with doctors having been on strike for months, cholera is feared as the water supply fails, child stunting and malnutrition rates are rising, and school feeding programmes have been suspended leading to an increase in dropout rates. Women, as ever, are bearing the brunt of this emergency, with “early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation on the rise throughout Zimbabwe”, Elver said. Look out for an upcoming series of reports by TNH on this deepening humanitarian disaster.
Global negotiators prepare for climate summit
Environmental alarm bells are ringing, questions abound over the political will to meet even the most modest targets amid dire warnings of humanitarian impacts: time, then, for another year’s climate change summit. Global leaders and negotiators descend on Madrid next week for the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP. It comes as new studies show greenhouse gas levels have reached record highs, and global temperature rise is on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – far off the 1.5-degree target. The aid sector and vulnerable countries in particular will be watching the frequently thorny “loss and damage” discussions for signs of progress on addressing financing for climate-linked disasters.
Climate change is increasingly on the humanitarian radar and it’s also an ongoing part of our crisis reporting. That’s why we’re happy to hear that TNH contributor AZM Anas has won the top prize in the climate change category for the UN Correspondents Association’s annual journalism awards. In one of his three winning stories, Anas examined the links between climate change and rapid urban migration in one corner of his native Bangladesh. He also explored why landslides are becoming deadlier in a former conflict zone, and put a spotlight on Bangladesh’s vanishing river lands. The UNCA prize will be awarded on 6 December. Read the three winning entries here.
Flickers of Yemen progress
Oman-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels began to bear fruit this week, as the Saudi-led coalition announced on Tuesday that it was releasing 200 Houthi prisoners and would allow civilians to fly out of Sana’a airport for medical treatment after three years of closure to non-UN and humanitarian flights. Aid groups cautiously welcomed the news, although some pointed out the importance of allowing commercial flights too, and it’s not yet clear who will be eligible for transport out of the country. It’s also worth noting that the indirect negotiations do not include the Yemeni government, and while the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had repatriated 128 Yemeni detainees from Saudi Arabia, last December’s long-stalled Stockholm agreement was supposed to include a prisoner exchange of thousands of people. The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the Security Council last week that there had been a major drop in airstrikes in some parts of the country. But the violence is not over: just a few days before Griffiths spoke, 10 civilians were reportedly killed by shelling in a north Yemen market.
Lots of talk but little funding on GBV
Despite commitments to end gender-based violence, the safety of women and girls is not being put first in humanitarian operations, according to a new report from the International Rescue Committee. In 2013, a global initiative of governments, donors, international organisations and non-governmental organisations led a “Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies.” But nearly seven years since the initiative, “those working on the front line of GBV prevention and response continue to face an uphill battle with donors to match their rhetoric with funding,” according to the IRC report. Of the $41.5 billion spent on humanitarian responses between 2016 and 2018, just $51.7 million – less than 0.2 percent – was spent on GBV prevention for women and girls. What’s needed, according to the IRC, is more funding, more visibility for women and girls in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, more women involved in humanitarian operations, and better accountability.
Another Rajapaksa era begins in Sri Lanka
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been in office for less than two weeks, but already there are signs of a predicted crackdown on critics of the new Sri Lankan leader. Police investigators and journalists who have probed Rajapaksa and his family are coming under scrutiny. In one case, a Sri Lankan employee at the Swiss embassy was reportedly detained and threatened over asylum cases. In 2009, when Sri Lanka’s military crushed the rebel Tamil Tigers in a violent end to a 26-year civil war, Rajapaksa was defence secretary, and his brother, Mahinda, was president. The last decade has seen little movement on post-war reconciliation between the country’s largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the mostly Hindu Tamils. And new cracks are emerging, with anti-Muslim attacks frequently going unpunished. Even before this month’s elections, political uncertainty appeared to be driving a subtle change among asylum seekers: a growing number of Sri Lankans asking for protection in France or its overseas territories are minority Muslims and Christians, fleeing violence blamed on Buddhist extremists.
In case you missed it
IRAN: As Iran slowly comes back online following days of internet blackout imposed during mass protests, a clearer picture of a violent crackdown is emerging. Amnesty says security forces killed at least 143 people and warns the death toll could be “significantly higher”.
IRAQ: Security forces reportedly killed at least 46 protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah overnight Wednesday and Thursday. The death toll has now surpassed 400 in two months of anti-government protests, during which security forces have opened fire and reportedly aimed teargas canisters at the demonstrators.
KENYA: Landslides in northwestern Kenya left at least 60 people dead this week after unusually heavy rains tore down bridges and cut off villages in the region. Heavy rainfall and flooding has affected several other East African countries including Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia, where some 370,000 people have been made homeless.
MALI: 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in Mali on Monday – sparking a debate about the country’s policy in the Sahel, where militant groups are rapidly expanding their footprint. France has 4,500 soldiers deployed across five Sahelian countries, but insecurity is spreading and anger against the former colonial power mounting.
SAMOA: A measles outbreak has killed 42 people as of 29 November, and the number of suspected cases now tops 3,100. There has been a global resurgence in measles this year, and the vaccine-preventable disease is now reaching Pacific Island nations like Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga. Samoan health authorities blame vaccine refusals for its outbreak.
Buoyed by high oil prices and an influx of Cuban professionalism, the Venezuelan healthcare system was, as recently as 2010, the envy of the region. Under Hugo Chávez, life expectancy rose by more than two years, and infant mortality was almost halved. What now? Data is in short supply. The last time the government published official statistics, in 2016, it reported a 65 percent increase in maternal mortality and a 30 percent increase in infant mortality. President Nicolás Maduro promptly sacked his health minister for revealing the truth. Little surprise then that pregnant Venezuelans travel to Colombia to give birth. But our weekend read exposes the scale – thousands every month – and reveals the enormous pressure it is putting on strained hospitals in Colombia. With contraceptives in short supply and teen pregnancies, in particular, on the rise, it’s a pressure that’s only likely to build.
The price of life
In contrast to consumerist Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday (this year on 3 December) is an international campaign to promote volunteering and charity. But individual donors can pick from thousands of charities and picking one can be hard. A new non-profit says it can help: Impact Matters scores US-based non-profits using its own methodology and offers like-for-like calculations of how far a dollar will go. This takes the utilitarian altruism viewpoint to a new level. For example, one "five-star" charity will "save the life of a child" in Togo for $1,800, but to do the same with another NGO in Nepal would cost $5,900. Impact Matters allows NGOs to review its findings, which are based on reviews of documents and filings, before publication. NGOs can also commission a more in-depth "impact audit" from Impact Matters, a service from which it earned 16 percent of its income in 2018.