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Somalia cholera, Libyan oil, and digital aid dollars: The Cheat Sheet

Omar Havana
A young boy crosses a square where all the houses collapsed or were destroyed by the earthquake that hit the country on his way to his school in Bhaktapur, Nepal on July 20, 2015.

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors flags up what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of some of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

Sound the alarm

Once Vibrio cholerae reaches the small intestine, it can kill its host within hours. Death is usually caused by severe dehydration – those infected can produce between 10 and 20 litres of watery diarrhoea every day – and by electrolyte imbalance. As one of the worst droughts in living memory takes hold in Somalia – giving rise to fears of another famine – the number of cholera cases is rising sharply. According to Save the Children, fewer than 200 cases were reported in the first week of November. Just in the second week of February, there were 1,400, bringing the total to more than 8,400, with 200 deaths. On 8 March alone, 400 new cases were reported. The disease is especially dangerous for children weakened by hunger, and this year in Somalia around one million children are predicted to become malnourished. Cholera generally enters the body via contaminated food or water, so the longer the drought continues, the more people will have no choice but to drink unsafe water. Cholera can be effectively treated with oral rehydration salts if caught quickly, but one of the key concerns in Somalia right now is that the epidemic is spreading to areas too dangerous for aid workers to travel to.

Who wants some oil?

If you’ve lost track of what’s happening in Libya, we don’t blame you. Multiple groups claim authority; it remains a near hellhole for migrants who are prostituted, beaten, held for ransom, or washed up on the coast; and now fighting over oil ports has escalated to the point that it risks descending into all-out civil war. Who controls the oil, Libya’s main source of revenue, will end up mattering deeply to civilians living in a country so poor and dangerous that most aid agencies barely touch down to offer help. It’s developing rather quickly on the ground, with terminals changing hands, and we can’t pretend to know what’s next – although you can bet there will be plenty of wrangling as foreign powers line up behind their chosen side (Russia certainly has one) and the UN calls for stability. We can, however, promise a thorough explainer next week that’ll give you a better handle on the situation in a country too important, and with too many suffering civilians, to be forgotten.

What peace deal?

Hand back that Nobel Peace Prize, President Santos! Humanitarian groups are sounding the alarm that far from entering a new post-conflict era in the wake of a peace deal between the government and the FARC rebels, Colombia is experiencing an escalation in violence and displacement. At least 23 community leaders and activists have been killed since the peace agreement was signed three months ago. The UN refugee agency estimates that 3,549 people have also been displaced in the Pacific Coast region, where other armed groups are moving into areas vacated by FARC guerrillas. “The peace agreement will not be enough to bring the violence in Colombia to an end," commented the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Colombia yesterday. The vacuum left by the FARC in many areas is being filled by dissident factions that refused to demobilise as well as by another leftist rebel group, the ELN. Real peace in Colombia still seems a long way off as turf wars over the profitable cocaine industry and illegal mining continue unabated.

The verdict

Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey migration deal. A key aspect of that agreement was the “rapid return” of all irregular migrants who crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands. This did not exclude Syrian refugees, who could be returned on the spurious basis that Turkey is a safe third country. In practice, Greek appeal committees have repeatedly ruled that Turkey is not in fact a safe third country and, to date, not a single Syrian refugee has been returned. Under pressure from the EU, the Greek government replaced the original appeal bodies with a new “independent” committee. This panel found that Turkey was in fact safe for the return of two Syrian refugees whose initial asylum applications had been deemed inadmissible. Their case went to Greece’s highest court today on the basis that the inadmissibility finding was unconstitutional. The outcome could have far-reaching consequences for other refugees trapped on the Greek islands facing the possibility of deportation to Turkey. A verdict will be issued on Friday, 17 March.

Earthquakes and endurance

Omar Havana, a photojournalist and sometime contributor to IRIN, was in Kathmandu on 25 April, 2015 when a massive earthquake struck. He spent the next 10 days sleeping on the streets, amongst the rubble and ruin of collapsed buildings. In the first few weeks after the quake, Nepal was all over the news: Havana’s photos were featured worldwide. It didn’t take long for international interest to wane and move on to the next crisis. Nepalis were soon largely forgotten by the world, but they were only beginning to rebuild their lives – a painfully slow process that continues to this day. It was this story Havana decided to tell, through photos: the longer-term response of the Nepalis themselves and, in particular, their incredible endurance in the face of, often, great personal tragedy. Havana has collected these images in a book that he will be launching in Kathmandu on 16 March, followed by events in New York and Bangkok in April.

Digital aid dollars

Debate around cash-based aid is swirling in humanitarian circles. Now, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has weighed in. This new report outlines four ways in which digital payments can more effectively support humanitarian response: a standardised approach to data collection; agreeing on regulations before a crisis happens; rethinking donor reporting; and greater experimentation to figure out which types of situations are most suitable. 

But new approaches to aid that challenge the status quo are always highly contested. For instance, we reported last month on a new aid project in Lebanon that has ruffled plenty of feathers. The EU has also been rolling out a big cash-aid programme for Syrian refugees in Turkey. We’ll keep you up to speed on major developments. Why? Because we can’t let the Daily Mail have all the fun (If you missed it before, check out our myth-busting piece on cash-transfers). Later this month, humanitarian and tech leaders will meet at Google headquarters in California to expand the discussion on how technology can make humanitarian efforts more efficient and effective. Make sure to follow our own Heba Aly, who’ll be in attendance 21-22 March.

Did you miss it?

Nuba 360

Immerse yourself on the front line of a forgotten conflict in Sudan in this first-ever 360 film documenting the immense hardships faced by the people of the Nuba Mountains.

We’ve covered the people of the Nuba Mountains before, but never like this. Thanks to TFMDigital and their local partners, we can bring you the first-ever 360 film from the front line of the neglected six-year conflict in South Kordofan Province, where civilians are forced to hide out in caves to shelter from death from the sky, in the form of Sudanese government-ordered bombing sorties. This immersive experience transports you to a conflict zone that would be impossible to access otherwise. Take in the heat, hunger and harshness of this oppressive environment and empathise with a population that feels constantly under siege in a war without end. Scripted directly from interviews with Nuba civilians, the narration is performed by Sudanese and South Sudanese actors, while the footage itself is real, haunting and evocative. Not to be missed.

(TOP PHOTO: A young boy crosses a square where all the houses collapsed or were destroyed by the earthquake that hit the country on his way to his school in Bhaktapur, Nepal on July 20, 2015. CREDIT: Omar Havana)


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