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Rohingya death count, war games, and a non-coup in Zimbabwe: 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:

Plus ça change in Zimbabwe

It all started with tanks; except the military vehicles globally reported on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday evening weren’t tanks at all, but infantry fighting vehicles. Anyway, things like tanks on the streets, the president under house arrest, a man in uniform on state TV insisting it’s all a temporary measure, everything will return to normal shortly. Has to be a coup, right? Not so fast. It’s increasingly apparent that Zimbabwe’s army has no intention of effecting fundamental political changes. It may have determined it’s time for President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1980, to leave office, but they haven’t actually yet deposed him, and still refer to him as the head of state. And, as this article published by African Arguments postulates, what’s really been happening in recent days is a “realignment” and an “internal settling of scores” within the long-ruling ZANU-PF party. “This is no revolution giving the power to the people. The army has done its duty in giving power back to the party,” it concludes. For more on life after Mugabe, read our recent analysis (Not that we’re claiming we saw this coming).

Libya’s descent

Libya is hell for migrants, with rape, extortion, and imprisonment rife. Utter chaos has allowed smugglers – allied with some of the country’s militias and competing political forces – to run rampant. Two months ago, the UN launched an action plan to get an “inclusive political process” going again and establish some sense of stability. But Ghassan Salamé, the UN’s special representative in Libya, hinted in a Thursday briefing to the Security Council that it would be a complicated and long road ahead: “Elections should not take place until we are certain that they will not add a third Parliament or fourth government.” It’s in part thanks to political instability that Libya’s economy is in a bad way. Despite a small rebound in oil outputs, inflation is rising and the country is unable to fund much in the way of food imports or defend its foreign reserves. On the ground – with many going unpaid and food prices rising steadily – some Libyans are getting desperate. Reuters reports that in Tripoli, people are selling foreign currency and jewelry to pay for medical care. Whose fault is the economic collapse? According to Libya’s Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir earlier this week: “everyone”.

Tracking deaths in Bangladesh’s swelling Rohingya camps

Health authorities in Bangladesh are investigating a measles outbreak in the crowded Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, to where more than 620,000 refugees have fled since late August. In that time, there have been at least 611 cases. Aid groups have warned that disease outbreaks are likely in the makeshift camps, where authorities have struggled to keep pace with the swelling refugee numbers and even basic water and sanitation systems are severely inadequate. Ongoing tests of drinking water sources in the camps, for example, found 83 percent tested positive for faecal contamination. It’s forced health authorities and aid groups to keep a close eye for early signs of problems. Health providers have set up an early warning reporting system in Cox’s Bazar, tracking everything from severe diarrhoea and respiratory infections to a recent, worrying uptick in cases of “unexplained fever” – there were more than 49,000 reported cases as of mid-November. This surveillance system is also a thorough, if dispassionate, record of what’s killing people in the camps, which now have the population, but none of the infrastructure, of a bustling city. Until 12 November, the system recorded 199 deaths since the most recent influx began. For more, read some of IRIN’s recent reporting looking at the monumental task of setting up a health system from scratch, and the very real problem of severe malnourishment among new refugees – particularly children.

In Rakhine, official restrictions loosen as informal pressures tighten

While health workers struggle with the influx in Bangladesh, humanitarian groups continue to face obstacles delivering aid back in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the UN and international NGOs have also become the target of simmering anti-Rohingya sentiment. After being barred from operations in much of the state for three months, the World Food Programme delivered food aid to 119,000 people in October. But restrictions on NGO staff are still a problem; as of this week, more than 150 national staff employed by aid organisations were blocked from working in camps or villages in central Rakhine, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA. While the aid restrictions stem from official refusal of work permissions or travel authorisations, the tensions also see more informal constraints levied on Muslim people remaining in central Rakhine State – away from the northern Rakhine border areas that were the flashpoint of this year’s refugee crisis. In townships like Minbya, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw, ethnic Rakhine community leaders continue to pressure people not to do business with Muslim communities, according to OCHA. This means that people in Muslim communities have had difficulty even working, buying or selling food in local markets, or accessing public services. For insight into how aid groups have become tangled in Rakhine’s religious and ethnic tensions, read IRIN’s recent analysis: While the international community mulls action, deep-rooted Buddhist distrust of aid groups grows in Rakhine State. It’s a crucial but thorny issue for the UN and aid groups who plan to continue operating in Rakhine; read more about the behind-the-scenes debate on this here.


Coming up soon, World Toilet Day (on Sunday) is a time to celebrate the benefits of a good lav, and salute the return of the unforgettable #FecalSludge hashtag on Twitter. But doing your business is serious business (see Bangladesh camps above). Diarrhoea from dirty water is still a major killer of children. More than 800 million people don't have a toilet to use and defecate in the open. Among the puns, promos, and campaign materials bubbling up for the bug day, this video from the International Rescue Committee really caught our eye.

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Peeking through the cracks into Yemen’s war

IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod recently gained rare access inside Yemen. Her reporter’s diary is a raw, personal account on a conflict and a humanitiarian crisis that can never get enough attention. It is also a must-read. Good thing there’s more to come.

War games

On a single day in June 1859 some 40,000 Italian soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle of Solferino. Visiting Swiss businessman Henry Dunant was so appalled by the suffering of the injured that he dedicated himself to persuading the world to inject rules into the treatment of wounded combatants and medical personnel during armed conflicts. Five years later, 16 countries adopted the first Geneva Convention, a pillar of what is now known as International Humanitarian Law. In its key role as the guarantor and chief advocate of the Conventions (there are now four), the organisation Dunant went on to found, the International Committee of the Red Cross, has now launched an online quiz, “Don’t Be Numb”, which offers virtual medals to those who know that targeting civilians, medical staff and facilities, or religious shrines, or torturing anyone, or looting cultural artifacts, violates the laws of war. It’s a message the ICRC’s Virtual Reality Unit (VRU) has also been gently persuading developers of violent computer games to integrate into their products. As Rolling Stone magazine recently reported, most companies ignored the ICRC’s overtures, which led to erroneous media claims that the Geneva-based organisation was calling for 600 million gamers to be prosecuted for alleged digital war crimes. But Dunant would, no doubt, be delighted to learn that his mores have been taken on board by Bohemia Interactive, the creator of the Arma series of games. Is this partnership, which has led Bohemia to donate some of its profits to the ICRC, a model for similar collaborations? “The door is open,” VRU head Christian Rouffaer told the magazine.

(TOP PHOTO: Rokima Begum, 35, tries to get her malnourished two-year-old son, Tarek Aziz, to eat a peanut-based supplement at an ACF feeding centre in Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. CREDIT: Tommy Trenchard/IRIN)


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