(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

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  • Afghans battle with flood aftermath

    Besieged by months of drought and long-term conflict, rural communities in large swathes of Afghanistan are facing yet another emergency: widespread flooding that will leave some rebuilding their lives for years.


    Sudden heavy rainfall this month triggered flash floods that swept away thousands of homes and killed dozens in nine Afghan provinces.


    More than 112,000 people are affected, with numbers rising as humanitarian assessments trickle in from insecure areas, according to tallies by UN agencies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.


    Afghanistan is seeing unusually heavy rainfall due to the El Niño weather phenomenon declared in February, which can bring extreme weather across the globe. Forecasts predict there could be warmer temperatures and 40 to 50 percent more rain than usual into May, according to the Red Cross. Months of severe drought also make it harder for soil to absorb excess water, raising the risk of sudden floods.


    In hard-hit Nawa-i-Barakzai district in the southern province of Helmand, communities were still waiting for help – and fearing a fresh onslaught of rain – amid destroyed mud homes and dead livestock.



    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Ali Mohammed searches for the remains of his animals, which were crushed when his stable’s roof collapsed during heavy rains this month. Many residents in the area lost everything during the floods.


    In one flattened village, Ali Mohammed, 42, stood on his collapsed roof, the smell of rotting flesh seeping through the mud that used to form the walls of his house.


    “It’s my sheep,” he said, pointing to a crack that exposed parts of the dead animals, killed in the floods.


    The rains started at night. Mohammed said he and his neighbours rushed to wake their families as the waters from a nearby river rapidly rose and heavy downpours started to tear apart rooftops.


    They scrambled to higher ground. But when the waters receded hours later the entire village had been washed away – along with a lifetime of hard work and savings.


    The rains came and went quickly, but the aftermath is likely to last years for farmers like Mohammed. He said his personal losses, including dozens of sheep and his entire food supply, totalled a steep 900,000 Afghani, or $12,000. His wife packed a few remaining belongings and took the family’s children to the relative safety of the provincial capital, Lashkargah.


    “We didn’t think it could be this bad,” he said.


    A man walks among destroyed homes
    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Locals say the floods affected some 3,000 families in Nawa-i-Barakzai district, and many of the worst-hit farming families had little to begin with.

    Afghanistan’s neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, have also been hit by floods. In Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, which shares a border with Helmand, aid agencies are warning of disease outbreaks due to damaged health clinics, low vaccination rates, and health conditions already worsened by drought.


    Here in Helmand, traditionally a Taliban heartland, the latest disaster is exacerbated by widespread poverty and active conflict. Government-controlled Nawa-i-Barakzai borders one of the war’s front lines, and the district has seen a rise in clashes and killings in recent weeks.



    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    A boy watches his family’s remaining sheep after most were killed in the flood. Blue tarps offer temporary shelter to the family.

    The district governor, Ayub Omar Omari, believes the floods are evidence of a changing climate.


    “We’ve had a bad drought, followed by the worst floods I’ve seen here in decades,” he said. “People’s entire livelihoods have been swept away.”


    Few structures are left standing in areas far from the bigger markets and paved roads, where fragile mud homes are prevalent. Most families have fled, finding refuge with relatives in nearby towns. Those who stayed behind continue to sort through debris, hoping to recover what remains of their belongings.


    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Haji Badar sorts through what’s left of his home and belongings. He estimates his total losses, including 13 sheep, to be the equivalent of about $4,000 – a substantial sum in rural Afghanistan.


    “It’s not safe for my family to stay outside, but we have little option,” said Haji Badar, 75. He stood surrounded by his daughters on a muddy plateau – his house has literally melted away.


    “We’re hoping for help, but none has come yet,” he said, two weeks after the initial rains.


    The sky is blue for now, but Badar fears what will come: “Our wettest season has just started.”

    (TOP PHOTO: A boy sits on his bed in Nawa-i-Barakzai district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Heavy rains and floods destroyed his home, forcing his entire family to sleep outside. CREDIT: Stefanie Glinski/IRIN)


    “People’s entire livelihoods have been swept away”
    Afghans battle with flood aftermath
  • Mozambique storm; North Korea aid; and conflict spikes in South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    UN warns of ‘worst humanitarian catastrophe’ in Syria


    The UN said it had received $6.97 billion in pledges at a Brussels donor conference for Syria this week, shy of the $8.8 billion it had asked for to aid Syrian refugees as well as those still in the country in 2019. While participants emphasised the need for a political solution to Syria’s war, now entering its ninth year, the uptick in violence in rebel-held northwestern Idlib province is a stark reminder that it is far from over. Conflict monitor Action on Armed Violence said Russian airstrikes in Idlib city killed 10 civilians and injured 45 on Wednesday; Russia said it was targeting weapons owned by the al-Qaeda linked group Tahrir al-Sham. A Russia-Turkey deal has so far been holding off a full-scale government offensive on the territory. UN relief chief Mark Lowcock warned the audience in Brussels that such an offensive would “create the worst humanitarian catastrophe the world has seen in the 21st century”.


    Storms, floods, and a cyclone batter southeast Africa


    Half a million people in Mozambique's fourth largest city of Beira were plunged into darkness when tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall late on Thursday night, knocking down trees and power lines and destroying homes. This follows a week of heavy rains and flooding across southeast Africa that has already killed at least 126 people in Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa. More than a million people have been affected in all. In Mozambique, the floods have already destroyed more than 5,700 homes, while in neighbouring Malawi, over 230,000 people are left without shelter. Both countries are prone to extreme weather events. In Mozambique, floods in 2000 claimed at least 800 lives and another 100 in 2015. In Malawi, the 2015 floods left at least 100 people dead and more than 300,000 others displaced.


    North Korea sanctions disrupt aid programmes


    Broad economic sanctions against North Korea are disrupting humanitarian work and having a detrimental impact on ordinary citizens, a UN rights watchdog says. In a report to the Human Rights Council this week, the special rapporteur for rights in North Korea, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said aid programming continues to see significant delays due to UN and government-imposed sanctions. Banks, suppliers, and transport companies are afraid of running afoul of sanctions, leading to humanitarian supply chains breaking down. The US government has also imposed travel restrictions on its citizens and blocked the delivery of essential supplies like hospital equipment, he said. The UN this month called for $120 million in aid funding. But last year’s appeal was only one-quarter funded, and humanitarian aid only reached one third of the people targeted.


    Uptick of violence threatens Yemen peace bid


    The UN-brokered ceasefire deal for Yemen’s northern port city of Hodeidah suffered yet another blow this week, with a group of NGOs warning that there had been a “major outbreak of violence” in the city in the last few days. As we (and plenty of others) have pointed out, the Hodeidah agreement was meant to lead to further peace talks for the whole of Yemen. Don’t hold your breath. Just to the north of Hodeidah, in Hajjah province, recent airstrikes and renewed fighting have killed and injured civilians. UNICEF reported that more than 37,000 people were forced to flee their homes inside Hajjah in March alone, and humanitarians are having trouble accessing those who need help. As Nigel Tricks, East Africa and Yemen regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, put it in a Wednesday statement: “Whilst the eyes of the world are on Hodeidah, airstrikes and shells continue to rain down on civilians in other parts of Yemen, killing with impunity.”


    A backtrack from the UN’s refugee agency


    UNHCR has reversed a decision that could have seen tens of thousands of ethnic Chin refugees from Myanmar stripped of refugee status. Last year, the UN agency controversially began a review process to determine whether the refugees, originally from Chin State and other parts of western Myanmar, still required international protection. But UNHCR said this week that a “worsening security situation” in parts of Chin State “has affirmed that Chin refugees may still have ongoing international protection needs”. The agency also announced that it would stop its protection re-evaluation process for Chin refugees. In recent months, renewed clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine militia, have displaced thousands in Rakhine and southern Chin states, including more than 3,200 in Rakhine this month. But even before the latest violence, refugee rights groups say reviewing refugee protections for ethnic Chin was clearly premature. The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network says there are more than 33,000 Chin refugees living in Malaysia and India.

    In case you missed it:


    The Democratic Republic of Congo: Cases of deadly pneumonic plague have emerged along Uganda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organisation said, including in the Congolese province of Ituri, where health teams are struggling to tackle an ongoing Ebola outbreak.


    Rwanda-Uganda: Tension is rising between East African neighbours. Uganda denies it harasses Rwandan citizens and backs rebels. It says Rwanda is blocking trade. Rwanda’s president says it will never be "brought to its knees". His Ugandan counterpart said a “troublemaker” (unnamed) “cannot survive”. Regional mediation efforts have begun.


    Sudan: Diseases including measles, dysentery, and pneumonia are spreading rapidly in Darfur's Jebel Marra area, according to a rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW), that controls much of the territory. It called for outside assistance, saying dozens of people had already died from a shortage of medicines and medical staff.


    Venezuela: Week-long power outages crippled water supplies and cut off telephone and internet services to millions of Venezuelans already struggling with shortages of food and medicines. Amid reports of chaos and looting in the second city of Maracaibo, President Nicolás Maduro blamed “sabotage” and “American imperialism”. Others pointed to a bush fire and crumbling infrastructure.


    Yemen: The US Senate voted for a second time on Wednesday to end US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s war. The resolution is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, but President Donald Trump has vowed to veto should it reach his desk.


    Weekend read


    In South Sudan, a ‘war on civilians’ despite six months of supposed peace


    On 15 December, South Sudan marked five years of war – almost 400,000 people dead, millions displaced, but also signs a peace deal was taking hold, with more people returning home to rebuild shattered lives. Sceptics, embittered by too many false dawns, advised against hoping too hard. It seems they were right. Not only, according to our weekend read, has fighting resumed, but it resumed some time ago – locals in the troubled Yei region even accuse the government of covering up violence to keep up the pretence of control. Tens of thousands of people have been newly displaced, Sam Mednick reports, many of them inaccessible to aid groups. Without new ideas and renewed international engagement, more violence and displacement appear inevitable, according to the International Crisis Group. First test ahead: the formation of a unity government in May.


    And finally…


    ‘Toothless’ UN migration document becomes far-right rallying cry


    Propaganda scrawled by a gunman involved in killing at least 49 people in New Zealand today referred to the Global Compact for Migration. A non-binding international agreement that one expert called “toothless” has become a rallying cry for the far-right and white supremacists worldwide. The three-year UN negotiation process aimed to agree “safe and orderly” migration after arrivals to Europe increased in 2015. It also hoped to stem xenophobia in wealthy countries and reassure developing nations that the walls were not going up entirely. But nationalist politicians pulled out of the process, led by President Trump, claiming the document would pave the way to more immigration. The compact sparked fierce political debate in New Zealand, even though it commits no member state to do anything. One analyst told IRIN it “doesn’t actually do much”. Well, you’d be forgiven for asking now whether it does, but in all the wrong ways.

    (TOP PHOTO: Families have taken shelter in a new makeshift camp north of Idlib, fleeing violence in southern rural Idlib. CREDIT: Aaref Watad/UNICEF)


    Mozambique storm; North Korea aid; and conflict spikes in South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
  • Local NGO risks, White Saviours, and the Sahel’s million new displaced: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    Sahel violence displaces another million people

    Rising conflict and insecurity are accelerating forced displacement across the Sahel, and a new upsurge of violence along the Mali-Niger border has left 10,000 people in "appalling conditions" in improvised camps in Niger's Tillabéri region. The UN says IDP numbers in Mali have tripled to around 120,000. The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, has allocated $4 million to assist 70,000 people who have fled their homes in just two months in Burkina Faso. Around 4.2 million people – a million more than a year ago – are currently displaced across the Sahel due to a combination of armed attacks by extremist militants, retaliation by regional militaries, and inter-communal violence.

    All NGOs are not equal, especially when it comes to risk

    When it comes to safety, security, and risk, power differences between local and international NGOs can lead to “perverse incentives”, according to the summary of a new report. Local NGOs often do the last mile of humanitarian work, especially in insecure situations. They are funded by much bigger INGOs that act as donors. But while INGOs have sophisticated risk management (10 cooperated with this study by US-based NGO alliance InterAction), their downstream “partners” are not treated the same. The physical safety of local NGO staff, for example, gets much less attention than compliance with financial and counter-terrorism regulations. The report spells it out: INGOs “put a far greater emphasis on the risks of their local partners as opposed to the risks to them.” The study includes case studies from Nigeria and South Sudan, as well as recommendations based on examples of improved practice found during the research.

    First drought, now floods

    Flash floods and landslides have killed more than 70 people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, with numbers expected to rise as on-the-ground assessments trickle in. Parts of Afghanistan are particularly hard hit, with nine provinces reporting displacement or damage to homes and agriculture. Some 21,000 people need aid in the southern province of Kandahar alone, according to the UN. Aid groups worry the situation could worsen with continued rain and snowfall expected. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran have been grappling with severe drought over the last several months, and heavy rainfall can increase the threat of floods on degraded land. An El Niño weather pattern could also bring more rainfall, combining with the drought impacts to make floods “more ruinous” this year, according to the UN. Which makes this a good time to read more on the complications of responding to emergencies in conflict-hit Afghanistan.

    Algeria rising

    Mass protests triggered by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for re-election in April were not quelled by the announcement that he “would not be a candidate” in future elections (after next month’s, that is). Bouteflika has been in power since 1999, was paralysed by a stroke in 2013, and does not speak in public. Demonstrators are speaking out about corruption, poverty, and poor social services – all issues causing young Algerians to attempt the journey to Europe, according to Omar Belchouchet, editor of an independent Algerian newspaper. “They are fed up with this authoritarian regime which is stifling people, which is pushing its own citizens to die in the Mediterranean,” he said. According to the UN, 7,300 Algerians arrived on Europe’s shores in 2018, up from 5,900 in 2017.

    An international treaty to protect women?

    Today is International Women’s Day, with events taking place across the globe. But this week also saw the launch of the campaign for an Every Woman Treaty, which would seek to limit violence against women the same way existing international agreements limit landmines and smoking. It’s a bold step, but systemic gender inequalities mean it’s more than just direct violence – like rape as a weapon of war – that the humanitarian sector needs to worry about. Women are disproportionately affected, whether they’re subsistence farmers most acutely feeling the effects of climate change, people displaced during conflict, or those abused by the very aid workers who are supposed to be helping them in times of crisis. Although women are also often on the front lines of disasters, leading the response in their communities, they still face barriers to inclusion. Explore our recent reporting to learn more about some of the key humanitarian issues facing women and girls today.

    A guide to ‘White Saviour’ media debates

    British TV audiences have a week’s blizzard of jokey fundraising to come, as Comic Relief gears up for a “Red Nose Nose Day” telethon. Almost as predictable as the line-up of UK comedians is controversy about its video packages from projects abroad. The use of famous Britons to frame field-based segments is accused of being sentimental, simplistic, and disrespectful. This year, early critics included online activists No White Saviours and British member of parliament David Lammy. Comic Relief responded by saying that “people working with or supported by Comic Relief projects tell their own stories in their own words.” The accusations and counter-arguments have a familiar feel: last year, Comic Relief’s segment with musician Ed Sheeran came under fire. Thinking you’d like someone to explain the cycle of critique and outrage from all sides? Take a look at  this blog, from communication academic Tobias Denskus of Malmö University: “White saviour communication rituals in 10 easy steps.”

    In case you missed it

    Central African Republic: Four of the 14 rebel groups that signed a peace deal with the government have reportedly withdrawn in protest of a newly formed government, which they believe is not representative. The fragile agreement was forged after negotiations in the Sudanese capital last month. For an inside look at efforts to keep the peace in CAR, check out our three-part special report.


    Iraq: Rather than considering children affiliated with so-called Islamic State as victims in need of rehabilitation, authorities in Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government have charged hundreds of young people with terrorism offenses because of affiliation with the group, according to Human Rights Watch. In a report released on Thursday, it said confessions are often obtained through torture.


    North Korea: The UN this week called for $120 million in funding for North Korea, warning of potential food shortages and the unintended impacts of sanctions blocking humanitarian aid. Nearly 11 million people in the country are considered undernourished – the root of health problems for many North Koreans. New reports suggest North Korea’s sanctions-hit economy has been imploding, with huge declines in exports in 2018.

    Syria: The UN says that as of 3 March, 90 people had died either en route or shortly after arrival to al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, two thirds of them children under five. The camp’s population has swollen to more than 62,000 – 90 percent of them women and children – as thousands of people flee the last IS territory in the country. More than 5,200 new arrivals were reported by the UN between Tuesday and Thursday.

    US-Mexico: US officials say February was the busiest month for apprehensions at its southern border with Mexico in more than a decade – more than 76,100 people in total. The vast majority were families and unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The rise is unusual, but still well below the highs of the 1990s and 2000s when as many as 1.6 million people were apprehended annually.


    Weekend read


    How dire climate change warnings are becoming a reality in Bangladesh


    The extent to which specific extreme weather events – and related humanitarian disasters – can be attributed to climate change can be a contentious subject and remains a matter of some debate. But try telling that to rice farmers in Bangladesh’s northeast. They have been left bewildered by a succession of warmer winters, drier summers, and more erratic rains. Our weekend read offers a real-time glimpse of how dire climate displacement warnings can become a reality: village by depleted village; family by displaced family. Scientists in December published research that showed that human-induced climate change “doubled the likelihood of extreme pre-monsoon rainfall” in Bangladesh during March and April 2017. Farmers like Shites Das in the northeastern village of Daiyya are in no doubt. "We have no fertility of land like in the past,” Das says. “This has happened because of climate change.”

    And finally


    Somali Night Fever


    Check out this film for a different take on Somali refugees and for a rare glimpse into a Mogadishu of the 1970s and 1980s, when trendy nightclubs were graced by “musicians rocking afros and bell-bottom trousers”. When civil war erupted in Somalia in the 1990s, it separated friends and families, and destroyed a once cosmopolitan way of life. As people fled, they took their culture and music with them. As Somalia changed, so the sounds of funk, disco, soul, and reggae that once filled the airwaves also fell silent. Decades later, many Somalis still live in exile – some resettled in other countries, others in refugee camps. Meet Habib, now in Sweden, and Abdulkadir, living in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya: two former band mates and best friends. Separated by the war, they remain wonderfully united by their love of music, and by their memories of a bygone era.

    (TOP PHOTO: An informal refugee settlement of Garin-Wazam in Diffa region, Niger. CREDIT: Vincent Tremeau/UNICEF)


    Local NGO risks, White Saviours, and the Sahel’s million new displaced
  • How dire climate displacement warnings are becoming a reality in Bangladesh

    Two years have passed since extreme rains and flash floods inundated this fertile rice-growing region in northeastern Bangladesh, but farmer Shites Das still sees the lasting impact today: his neighbours are abandoning their homes and fields.


    In March 2017, torrential rains burst river banks, washed away roads, and damaged 220,000 hectares of precious rice crops – weeks before the yearly monsoon rains typically set in. It was the start of the worst flooding to hit the country in years. Rice imports skyrocketed to cover a national shortfall, more than 80,000 homes were destroyed across Bangladesh, and in tiny Daiyya village, many families were left without food or crops to sell through the year.


    “In my 32 years, I’ve never seen such hunger,” Das said.


    Families here say such extremes have become increasingly common: warmer winters, drier summers, and more erratic rains that leave farmers guessing.


    "We have no fertility of land like in the past,” Das said. “This has happened because of climate change.”


    Shafiqul Alam/IRIN
    Shites Das, a farmer in Daiyya village in northeast Bangladesh, says many of his neighbours have left their farms, unable to make ends meet.

    Climate scientists typically speak in general terms when explaining the links between climate change and extreme weather – global temperature rise makes volatile weather more likely and more severe.


    However, there’s a growing body of research zeroing in on climate change as the likely culprit for specific disasters that spark humanitarian emergencies – including the flash floods that submerged Daiyya village.


    In December, climate scientists published new research that for the first time examined the link between climate change and Bangladesh’s pre-monsoon rains. University of Oxford researchers analysed data showing that six-day rainfall totals over March and April 2017 exceeded flood thresholds by more than a third. Using historical data and model simulations, the researchers concluded that human-induced climate change “doubled the likelihood of extreme pre-monsoon rainfall” during that time frame.


    This “extreme event attribution” research was one of 17 similar papers published by the American Meteorological Society last year. Other studies found the marks of climate change in disasters from floods in Peru to heatwaves in Europe and China.


    In Bangladesh, one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, it’s further evidence of what many here already know: weather extremes are having life-altering impacts.


    World Bank research predicts climate change could force tens of millions of people to migrate within their own countries by 2050, including some 13 million in densely populated Bangladesh alone.


    Shafiqul Alam/IRIN
    Villagers walk along the banks of the Surma River in northeastern Bangladesh.

    The depleted villages of Bangladesh’s northeast offer a real-time glimpse of how dire climate displacement warnings are becoming a reality: village by village; family by family.


    Facing year-on-year crop loss and unpredictable weather, households here have been moving to the cities in droves – giving up on the rice farming that has sustained them for generations. Das estimates nearly one third of his village has left for good.

    Households here have been moving to the cities in droves – giving up on the rice farming that has sustained them for generations.

    “Those who left our village in 2017 have not come back,” he said. “People got scared.”


    The next lost crop


    Bangladesh’s northeast is a land of stark contrast, where water is plentiful during the monsoon season, and drought-like weather prevails in the dry season.


    It’s dotted with haors – seasonal wetlands where boro, a type of paddy rice, is harvested as the monsoon season begins, typically in April and May. The region is one of the country’s rice bowls, contributing more than 16 percent of boro rice production each year.


    But it’s also one of Bangladesh’s poorest areas; the UN says more than a quarter of its 2.5 million population live in poverty. People mainly scratch out a living through fishing and duck farming, and by cultivating boro rice, which is only harvested once a year.


    Villages here were unprepared for 2017’s sudden floods.

    Das said he watched as farmer after farmer lost their entire crop. His own crop was wiped out; he survived in part by selling his valuable cattle at half the market price, he said.


    Others weren’t as lucky. In nearby Vatidhar village, 60-year-old Anu Begum said she relied on humanitarian food aid to survive.


    “We managed a meal, skipped another,” she said. “It was year-round suffering.”


    Humanitarian group BRAC, which started life in this district, stepped in with more than $2 million in food and cash aid that kept some families going for a year after the floods. But it covered only a fraction of the needs, said Parul Akter, who coordinates the NGO’s programmes in the area.


    “Our support was a drop in the ocean,” she said. “Every household suffered.”


    People in Vatidhar estimate that half of the village’s roughly 700 people have migrated to the cities since the floods.


    While there are no official statistics tracking the area’s migration after the floods, Akter said one third of BRAC’s 18,000 microfinance borrowers from one sub-district alone deserted their villages to find jobs in the eastern city of Sylhet, the southern port of Chittagong, or the capital, Dhaka.


    “People are worried about the next crop loss,” said Ali Hossain, a former local government representative in the area. “Even big farmers having up to 60 acres of land have quit farming.”


    The steady drain of farmers from one of Bangladesh’s main rice-producing regions could also have wider implications for food security. In 2017, rice imports soared to more than three million tonnes from less than 100,000 tonnes the year before – in large part due to shortfalls caused by the floods. At the same time, domestic rice prices climbed 30 percent – beyond the reach of the most vulnerable.


    Anwar Faruque, a former secretary in Bangladesh’s agriculture ministry who now consults for international development organisations, said a loss of haor rice crops could spark a food “crisis” for the entire country. This could lead to even more substantial imports and hiked prices.


    "The ultra-poor will be affected,” he said.


    A sign of things to come


    The northeast’s village-level population shifts were set in motion by a disaster, which in turn was likely triggered by climate change.


    Shafiqul Alam/IRIN
    Emdadul Huq, 75, farms rice in a wetlands area in northeastern Bangladesh. He says winters have grown warmer and rains more intense.

    The 2017 floods are the "early beginning of the trend” reflected across the country, said Atiq Rahman, a climate scientist who co-authored a chapter on vulnerabilities in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the UN body that assesses climate science.


    And estimates suggest 300,000 to 400,000 new migrants each year head to cities in Bangladesh, driven by a complex mix of economic and environmental pressures.


    Experts warn that Bangladesh must boost preparations to help citizens adapt to climate change and better manage migration: development projects that help rural families weather the storms and offer a reason to stay home, for example.


    Shafiqul Alam/IRIN
    Children gather near a rice field. The seasonal wetlands, known as haors, are submerged for much of the year. Rice is harvested once a year as the monsoon season begins.

    “If your homestead is high, if you’ve adequate food, you can minimise your losses,” said Rahman, who believes that current government efforts are inadequate.


    AKM Nuruzzaman, a village official, said that internal migration is a necessity for many rural families in Bangladesh. Even when the monsoon rains come as scheduled and harvests are bountiful, there are no major industries and few job opportunities when it’s not farming season in his sub-district, he said.


    Many households rely on a migrating family member to send money back to the village. Others need more help to diversify their crops and income, he said.




    Some efforts are already underway.


    The country has ploughed more than $400 million into its Climate Change Trust, a state-funded body that finances adaptation and mitigation projects by government agencies. Roughly 80 percent of these funds have gone toward helping Bangladeshis adapt, said Mokhlesar Rahman Sarker, the fund’s deputy head.

    However, none of these adaptation projects cover the northeast haor region – in part because there has been little research about climate change’s impacts here, said AKM Mamunur Rashid, a climate change specialist with the UN Development Programme.


    Shafiqul Alam/IRIN
    A submersible road connects a village to a local market. The roads, built to withstand monsoon floods, are one way local governments are trying to adapt to a changing climate.

    But regular government departments are building projects such as submersible roads, which are designed to withstand floods, connecting villages to local markets even during the monsoon season.


    Other aid projects are helping local families adapt: a district-wide UN-funded programme has built protective walls to fortify villages against floods, and BRAC has introduced new varieties of rice that can be grown and harvested faster.


    But these efforts will come too late for those who have already left.


    A few months after the 2017 floods ravaged her family’s rice crop, Niyoti Rani Das, 51, took her two children and left Daiyya village for a city near Dhaka.


    Her eldest daughter abandoned her studies to help support the family. Together, they earn about $160 each month working in the booming but perilous textiles industry. Half the salary is eaten up by rent, and the family can’t afford school fees for the youngest, a 12-year-old boy.


    Das and her children live in a slum by a railway line and scramble to make ends meet. But she won’t return to her village: she has a sliver of land, but no rice to grow, she said.



    After the floods, a real-time glimpse of migration as rice-farming villages empty
    How dire climate displacement warnings are becoming a reality in Bangladesh
  • Rival Venezuela pop concerts, the “triple nexus”, arming US aid officials: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    Civilians may still be trapped in last Islamic State pocket in Syria

    A reported 2,000 people were evacuated from so-called Islamic State’s last pocket of territory in eastern Syria this week, but the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said there may still be civilians remaining in the village of Baghouz. Once screened for membership in the extremist group, many leaving the territory are taken to al-Hol camp. The UN says 61 young children have died since December on the way there or soon after arrival. The World Health Organisation’s head in Syria told IRIN recently that the security checks were delaying urgent healthcare and that local authorities had denied a request to set up a medical waystation. The SDF denied the charges, but since then UN agencies say they have set up just such a transit site “to address the high number of child deaths”. Some people who had fled Baghouz told Human Rights Watch of hunger and being trapped under heavy shelling, air strikes, and IS threats.


    “One after the other”: Tropical storms swarm the Pacific

    The cyclone season has put parts of the southwestern Pacific on high alert. Cyclone Oma threatened the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu for five days, sending over 1,000 to evacuation centres. The storm later brushed New Caledonia’s coast and was due to push towards Australia. Earlier this month, the cyclone warning system in Tonga sent out repeated alerts as four separate “extreme tropical weather systems” threatened the country. Tonga escaped severe damage, but the country’s head meteorologist said facing so many in quick succession was exceptional. Storms in the Pacific islands needn’t cause headline-grabbing death tolls to leave a lasting impact; officials in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were expecting food shortages after Oma wiped out some smallholdings. Vast distances make repairs and recovery difficult. For more on preparing for Pacific disaster, see our recent story on women fighting for a seat at the table: Fiji’s storm-watchers.


    South Sudan rights violations may amount to war crimes

    Despite the signing of last year's peace agreement in South Sudan, ongoing violations including rape and sexual violence "may amount to international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity," according to a new UN report. Investigators with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan noted a "confirmed pattern" in the way combatants attacked and destroyed villages, plundered homes, and took women as sexual slaves. Sexual violence has worsened markedly since the commission's last update in December 2017; those targeted included children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Many sides of the conflict, including the army, national security forces, and rebel groups, were blamed for the violence, while the commission also investigated sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. South Sudan remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises: 4.5 million people are displaced, seven million are in need of aid, and nearly 60 percent of the population will face severe food insecurity this year.

    Joining up billions in development, humanitarian, and peace spending

    The “triple nexus” may sound like an ice skating move, but it’s the new orthodoxy in aid. A “recommendation” was adopted today by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD says its donor states command over $74 billion of international funding in “fragile” situations. The new Development Assistance Committee policy says long-term development, peacemaking, and emergency relief should have complementary goals and together could “avoid the occurrence of humanitarian needs”. One aid agency nexus-watcher told IRIN that after much discussion in the aid community it was a relief to see clear definitions and terminology emerge. A source familiar with the discussions said “more must be done to prevent crises and deal with structural issues and root causes, rather than leaving the humanitarian system to pick up the pieces”. The text refers six times to continued respect for humanitarian principles: critics question how humanitarian neutrality and independence sit with politically-flavoured development and peace efforts.

    In case you missed it

    Burkina Faso: More than 100,000 people have been displaced by instability and fighting in the West African country, according to the UN. Tens of thousands have fled this year, as rising militancy and attacks by armed groups affect the North, Sahel, and Eastern regions.


    Madagascar: More than 900 people have died since a measles epidemic began in the huge island nation in September, the WHO said. Over 68,000 cases have been documented; those most at risk are infants from nine to 11 months old.


    Myanmar: Restrictions on humanitarian access in Rakhine State are affecting some 95,000 people due to ongoing clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgent group, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordination arm. More than 5,500 people have been displaced since December.


    Refugee resettlement 2018: UNHCR says 55,692 refugees were permanently resettled in 2018. The UN refugee agency says that’s only about five percent of those they think were eligible. Despite deep cuts in its quota, the US took in more than any other nation. IRIN explored the numbers here.


    Yemen: UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on 19 February that the two main sides in Yemen’s war had agreed to withdraw from a small port and oil facility near the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, in a first step towards implementing a much-discussed ceasefire deal for the city.



    Weekend read

    Opinion: Why the Venezuelan opposition’s high-stakes aid gamble must pay off

    As we write this, Venezuela is top of many media headlines as a quarter of a million people are estimated to be assembling on the border, in Colombia. The presidents of Colombia and Chile are expected – and maybe even Richard Branson. He is backing the concert they’re all there to see, Venezuela Aid Live. The event’s sponsors say it will raise $100 million to help the millions of Venezuelans living with shortages of, well, nearly everything. Branson even suggests that the performance could help persuade Venezuela’s military to defy orders and open the border – sealed tight by President Nicolás Maduro – to aid shipments; shipments that opposition leader Juan Guaidó is inviting. Meanwhile, on the Venezuelan side of the border, Maduro is hosting his own benefit concerts on Friday and Saturday. What’s a humanitarian to make of all this? Analyst and columnist Francisco Toro offers a reality check in his essay on what he calls the “increasingly blatant politicisation of aid”. $100 million for food and medicine, for instance, “is completely out of proportion” with the scale of need in Venezuela. And if you’re concerned about the politicisation of aid, you might like to check out this from The Guardian, on the politicisation of, um, bread.

    And finally

    US-armed donor proposal stirs alarm

    A new type of US government aid official could be embedded with US intelligence or military forces in insecure hotspots to work on certain tactical projects. They would be “super enablers”, according to a proposal developed by consultants hired by USAID. The proposed two-person Rapid Expeditionary Development (RED) teams would be physically fit, armed, and able to deploy where USAID can’t send civilians. The proposals met with some support in the US military and intelligence communities, and mixed views from within USAID, the 75-page report said. The concept, first reported by Devex, has been met with dismay by some in the humanitarian Twittersphere, earning reactions such as “wannabe SEALS” and “incredibly unwise”. Also, it’s been met with a humanitarian principles meme (a Ranger tab is a badge indicating completion of a very tough two-month US Army training course):

    (TOP PHOTO: Some of those fleeing besieged IS territory in Syria. CREDIT: Constantin Gouvy/IRIN)


    Rival Venezuela pop concerts, the “triple nexus”, arming US aid officials
  • As Afghanistan’s capital grows, its residents scramble for clean water

    Twice a week, Farid Rahimi gets up at dawn, wraps a blanket around his shoulders to keep warm, gathers his empty jerrycans, and waits beside the tap outside his house in a hillside neighbourhood above Kabul.


    At 7am sharp, water bursts from the pipes, filling Rahimi’s tank and buckets. He labours away, saving every drop until – just an hour later – the last drop falls.


    “We can’t afford to miss it,” said the 35-year-old. “It’s barely enough.“


    Afghanistan’s capital is running dry – its groundwater levels depleted by an expanding population and the long-term impacts of climate change. But its teeming informal settlements continue to grow as decades-long conflict and – more recently – drought drive people like Rahimi into the cities, straining already scarce water supplies.


    With large numbers migrating to Kabul, the city’s resources are overstretched and aid agencies and the government are facing a new problem: how to adjust to a shifting population still dependent on some form of humanitarian assistance.


    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Farid Rahimi prepares to fill jerrycans with water. His family has access to clean drinking water twice a week for only an hour. Rahimi fills up every available bucket and jerrycan to make sure the water lasts through the rest of the week.

    Rahimi came to Kabul nine years ago to find safety and better job opportunities, but he says it hasn’t been easy. He now shares his house with 12 family members and each month he pays a steep 1,500 Afghani, or $20, for water from a private company.


    “Last year we shut down our well,” Rahimi said. “There wasn’t any water left. A few years ago, the situation was a lot better.”


    On the move


    The UN says more than half a million people in Afghanistan were forced to leave their homes in 2018 due to conflict and drought. An even greater number of Afghans, more than 800,000, returned from Pakistan and Iran during the same year. About seven percent of Kabul’s population are either displaced by war or returnees who previously fled the country, according to estimates from the UN’s migration agency, IOM.

    The majority migrate toward cities, which are now home to one third of Afghanistan’s population of 36 million. According to UN Habitat, 80 percent of urban areas in Kabul are informal settlements.


    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Kabul’s outskirts are home to informal settlements where the majority of residents are people displaced from the countryside by fighting and drought. While some families arrived in recent months, others have lived in these settlements for years.

    In Rahimi’s case this means that a muddy, unpaved road winds its way through his neighbourhood and up an overpopulated hill, where simple mud or concrete houses have been built on “grab land”, claimed by those who arrived in Kabul over the past decade without initially registering or even purchasing the property. Electricity is available sporadically, while health facilities and schools are either absent or far away. A private company is in the process of installing water pipes throughout the neighbourhood, but most public services are yet to be provided by the government.

    Read more: As conflict spreads, chronic displacement becomes a powderkeg in Afghanistan

    But when people from rural areas leave their homes for the cities, they may also leave behind the humanitarian aid they had previously relied on.


    Pir Mohammed arrived in Kabul five months ago, escaping violence and bombings in his native Helmand province, a Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan.


    The 35-year-old had hoped the move would make his life safer and easier. But the family lives in a tent in the middle of Afghanistan’s bitter winter; his cousin has pneumonia.


    “It’s just so cold. In Helmand, we received some assistance. Here, we were told the government would help us, but nothing has happened so far,” Mohammed said, while digging a trench outside his shelter to prevent water from leaking into the tent.


    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    Pir Mohammed shovels dirt in front of his cousin's tent. His family arrived in Kabul five months ago, fleeing fighting and air strikes in Helmand province. He says it’s safer in Kabul, but he can’t access the humanitarian aid he relied on back home.

    Much of the snow falling onto the family’s home is melted and used as drinking water. The current winter has been harsh, with temperatures dropping well below zero most nights.


    Rethinking aid


    Alison Parker, UNICEF’s communications chief, said the urban shift means aid groups must also rethink how to help people who may still need assistance in the cities.


    “Rurally, it’s easier because you engage with communities at the local level. In Kabul, we need to engage with the government and other actors,” Parker said. “It needs a shift in thought and more players need to be on board.”


    Yet city planning and humanitarian work often do not go hand in hand, says the city’s deputy mayor, Shoaib Rahim. “Humanitarian services are meeting immediate needs, but urban planning is for the long term,” he said.


    While aid agencies do provide some services in urban areas, especially in places where newly displaced people have settled, both private companies and the government take up large – yet still insufficient – chunks of the work.


    “Aid professionals often distinguish between humanitarian work and development, but they are intertwined,” said Oxfam Afghanistan country director Ruby Ajanee.


    The majority of former refugees and asylum seekers returning from abroad, for example, settle in urban areas, where they may need both short-term aid and and more long-lasting help.


    “While their immediate needs for food and shelter are addressed by humanitarian agencies, the long-term development needs of reintegration are addressed by the development agencies, with often a disconnect from the humanitarian agencies,” Ajanee said. “These two sectors have to work together seamlessly where humanitarian effort is linked with development work.”


    Rainfall patterns


    Comparatively, urban residents are still better off than their rural counterparts. The proportion of people with access to basic water is 63 percent countrywide – 89 percent for the urban population and 53 percent for rural households, according to UNICEF. But migration patterns and a changing climate point to long-term strains on water supplies.



    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    A man draws water from a public pump in Kabul. Many households lack access to water in their homes, and groundwater levels have been depleted in recent years.

    Afghanistan is one of the world’s top eight countries affected by climate change-induced water shortages, says Paulos Workneh, who heads the water, sanitation and hygiene programme for UNICEF in Afghanistan. As groundwater deteriorates, city dwellers are robbed of their main source of clean water.


    “Most of Kabul’s water was accessed through wells, but the situation is now under stress,” Workneh said. “Surface water is polluted by industrial waste, pit latrines and chemicals leaping into the rivers. With rainfall patterns decreasing, sources don’t fill up as quickly anymore.”


    While Kabul is starting to tackle the issue of informally built properties – including the registration of many houses initially constructed without permission – one fact remains: the capital grew too quickly.


    “The city had 4.6 million people in 2002 and, by 2012, the numbers went up to 7.1 million,” said Koussay Boulaich of UN Habitat, which is offering technical support to a government project responding to the city’s urbanisation trend.


    By 2050, one in two Afghans will live in cities, Boulaich said. A similar shift will be needed among the many humanitarian and development groups now concentrating their work in Afghanistan’s rural areas.


    “Imagine how important the correlation between urbanisation and development is,” Boulaich said. “In some areas, humanitarian and development work merge, supporting the government in providing long-term sustainable solutions, and urbanisation has to be one of these areas.”


    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    A private company has started drilling and construction for new water pipes in this Kabul neighbourhood. Informally built homes line the hillsides in the background.

    Reverse city planning


    One of the government’s programmes for urban development, including water, is its “City for All” scheme, which aims to turn the country’s urban migration into economic growth, increase living standards, and even contribute to peace. As part of the plan, informal areas in Kabul are now being registered, roads are being built, and water systems are being set up slowly, with technical help from international agencies.


    Mohammed Atik, 60, lives in a Kabul neighbourhood currently undergoing development.

    “The government has built the pipes in our area. There are none in my house yet, but I do see progress,” he said.


    For now, however, his household well has dried up. He gets water for his family only by filling up buckets at a neighbour’s house, and he’s worried what will happen if this supply also evaporates.


    “I just hope we don't run further out of water,” Atik said. “We’re already using a lot less than a few years ago.”


    In Rahimi’s hillside neighbourhood, the government has promised to pave the road in the coming months, while mainly private companies supply the available water.


    Merza Mohammed, a 42-year-old employee with Absharan Tagyet, the company laying pipes down Rahimi’s street, said the new infrastructure will serve roughly 1,300 households – though at a price more expensive than the city government’s standard rates.


    “We’re a local business supplying areas that the government has not yet reached,” he said.


    A few years ago, water was more widely available throughout the city. But prices have more than doubled, he said.


    “Today, we’re scrambling. Water is becoming a pricey commodity in Afghanistan.”

    (TOP PHOTO: Winter has been harsh in Kabul, with temperatures dropping well below zero degrees Celsius most nights. CREDIT: Stefanie Glinski/IRIN)


    “Here, we were told the government would help us, but nothing has happened so far”
    As Afghanistan’s capital grows, its residents scramble for clean water
  • Madagascar measles, Venezuela aid, and a dodgy data deal: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    MSF rejects claims it didn’t follow plans to avoid Yemen bombing

    An investigation into the bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières cholera treatment centre in Yemen in June 2018 has “dismayed” the NGO. A panel appointed by the Saudi Arabia-led alliance found that the new and still-empty building had been bombed by the coalition in “an unintended error”. The investigators, however, disputed details of how the location’s coordinates were supplied to Riyadh and whether there were markings on the roof of the building identifying it as a humanitarian site. At a Riyadh press conference in mid-January, the official spokesman for the investigators said the coalition was acting on intelligence the building was used for arms and ammunition storage. MSF said the findings were “unacceptable and contradictory”, noting that under international law, “It is the sole responsibility of armed parties to the conflict to proactively take all necessary measures to ensure that protected facilities are not attacked.” For more on notifications and coordinates, read our IRIN explainer on “deconfliction”.

    Measles kills more than 300 in Madagascar

    Madagascar is suffering its worst measles outbreak in decades. More than 50,000 people have been infected and at least 300 killed, most of them children, according to health officials. Cases have been reported in all major towns and cities, as well as in rural areas. Supported by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, the government has initiated fresh vaccination campaigns. Deaths from measles are avoidable if such campaigns are thorough enough. The virus gained ground in Madagascar as immunisation rates fell below 50 percent (from the recommended 90 percent), mostly due to access difficulties. This IRIN story from the archives is evidence that this is not a new problem: health experts were expressing concerns about falling rates (then from 81 percent to 64 percent) as far back as 2011. Although worst hit, Madagascar is not alone in having to tackle the virus. Measles has also struck parts of the United States and Europe, where cases tripled last year. Health authorities in the Philippines are also urging immunisations following an outbreak in Manila and nearby regions that has left 1,500 people infected and caused at least 25 deaths.

    Atrocities feared amid rising militancy in Burkina Faso

    Attacks and counter-attacks between militants and security forces in Burkina Faso are taking a heavy toll on civilians. This week, jihadists attacked the northern village of Kain near the Malian border, killing 14 people. Security forces retaliated, launching ground and air assaults that left 146 militants dead. Soon after, another attack in Oursi in the Sahel Region left 21 militants and five gendarmes dead. Human Rights Watch has called out atrocities on both sides, saying the army "executed" some suspected militants in front of their own families. The UN says persistent armed attacks and violence displaced 36,000 people in January alone, as insecurity risks impeded access to aid. For three years, Burkina Faso has been battling an escalating wave of attacks, while regional Sahel neighbours Mali and Niger face similar threats. Rising militancy across Africa is a trend we’re  watching in 2019.

    Aid stuck on Venezuela border

    As a former Venezuelan diplomat now working with the opposition as a go-between with international aid groups in Geneva told IRIN  this week, the current situation is “something that doesn’t make any sense”. The Venezuelan people are desperately short of food and medicine, some three to four million people have fled the country since 2015, and their president, Nicolás Maduro, is refusing to allow humanitarian aid in. That’s not to say the offers of assistance, from the United States in particular, might not be something of a Trojan Horse. Maduro says, “no one will enter, not one invading soldier”, and the United States has a chequered past of military intervention and regime change in Latin America. For now, the aid arriving in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta is going nowhere. Maduro’s forces have blocked the bridge into Venezuela and seem to have no intention of allowing it in. Opposition leader and self-declared president-in-waiting Juan Guaidó has suggested stockpiling it in three locations at the border in the hope this will change. More from on this unfolding story next week.

    Mixed picture in South Sudan as refugees return

    Political violence has “dropped dramatically" since the signing of September's peace deal, David Shearer, the UN envoy in South Sudan, said in the same week that nine people were killed in clashes between rebel factions in the Western Equatoria region. More than 20,000 South Sudanese refugees have so far voluntarily returned from neighbouring Uganda, according to Joel Boutroue, the UN refugee agency's representative in Uganda. However, in December, UNHCR said that despite reduced violence in some areas, South Sudan was not yet "conducive” for the safe return of refugees. Although Shearer praised some of the "positive" developments in recent months, including rebel leader Riek Machar's plan to return to Juba in May, he also flagged concerns about ongoing conflict and a loss of momentum in the peace process, with recent meetings reportedly lacking substance or real outcomes.

    One to listen to:

    In this week’s story on Yemen’s shaky ceasefire deal, we mentioned that Yemeni rights watchdog Mwatana for Human Rights had documented 624 civilian cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture in 2018. Here’s your chance to find out more about where that number came from: Radya al-Mutawakel, the organisation’s co-founder, is interviewed at length on the latest episode of the International Rescue Committee’s podcast, “Displaced”. She talks about the challenges of independently verifying information on human rights violations in the midst of a divisive war, including airstrikes, torture, disappearances, and detention, and explains why she thinks it is important to build what she calls a “human rights memory” in Yemen. Al-Mutawakel and Mwatana’s latest challenge? Figuring out how to document starvation as a  violation, as the link between victim and perpetrator is not always clear cut.

    In case you missed it

    Ethiopia: In 2009, Ethiopia banned local NGOs from raising more than 10 percent of income from abroad. The provision in the law governing civil society was criticised as a means to stifle dissent. Local media report that new rules lifting the limit have passed the Ethiopian parliament this week, part of wide-ranging reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.


    Syria: A joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy arrived on Thursday at Rukban, an informal camp located in a no man’s land near the Syria-Jordan border. The last delivery of aid to more than 40,000 people sheltering in the area known as “the berm” was in November.


    Tonga: Authorities in the Pacific Island nation are warning of gale-force winds, floods, and damaging waves as a tropical depression brushes past the country over the weekend. Last year, Cyclone Gita landed a direct hit on parts of Tonga, including its main island, Tongatapu.


    Yemen: This week’s Amman talks on a Yemen prisoner swap have not yet resulted in agreement on the lists of names to be exchanged, but a UN spokesman said separate talks on a UN boat had yielded a “preliminary compromise” on withdrawing forces from Hodeidah. For background, read this.


    Weekend read

    New UN deal with data mining firm Palantir raises protection concerns

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll be aware of our weekend read: CIA-funded data-mining company Palantir signs a $45 million five-year deal to help the UN’s World Food Programme pool its data and find cost-saving efficiencies. To say data privacy and protection activists are unamused is an understatement: this is a company that provided software to US customs officials to help them deport migrants. “The recipients of WFP aid are already in extremely vulnerable situations; they should not be put at additional risk of harm or exploitation,” Privacy International told IRIN’s Ben Parker. But WFP insists there will be no “data-sharing”, and hit back with a statement outlining its thinking and the safeguards it feels are in place. This wasn’t enough, however, to assuage critics, who penned an open letter to WFP urging them to reconsider the agreement and be more transparent. As Centre for Innovation protection experts suggest here, this isn’t a new conundrum, and the Palantir furore might jolt the humanitarian sector into some belated engagement on data privacy and protection concerns.


    And finally...

    Hot in here

    The last four years have been the four warmest years on record, according to separate analyses released this week by organisations including NASA and the WMO, the UN’s meteorological agency. Analysts say it’s a “clear sign” of long-term climate change, along with “extreme and high-impact weather” that affected millions. The WMO says the average global temperature in 2018 was 1.0° Celsius above pre-industrial levels – climate scientists say temperature rise must be limited to less than 2.0° to stave off the worst impacts.


    Madagascar measles, Venezuela aid, and a dodgy data deal
  • In rural Pakistan, ‘worst drought in years’ drives displacement and hunger

    Water shortages and crop failure caused by record-low rainfalls in Pakistan are forcing some farming families to abandon their land, fleeing what officials say is the worst drought to hit the country in years, while others are selling their last breeding animals or seed stocks to survive.


    Authorities and aid groups say conditions are deteriorating in large swathes of Sindh to the south and Balochistan to the west, where both provincial governments have declared emergencies. Disaster management officials say at least 2.8 million people are affected in the two provinces’ worst-hit districts.


    Pakistan’s Red Crescent Society says the drought in Sindh and Balochistan is “rapidly developing into one of the worst disasters in Pakistan”. Health officials fear rising food insecurity and malnutrition, while authorities say more needs to be done to help families cope at home.


    But some are already leaving. In late January Sunita Meghwar boarded a truck along with 55 other people – the entire population of her tiny village near Mithi, the capital of drought-hit Tharparkar district in southern Sindh.


    Meghwar said she decided to leave when her village’s wells dried up.


    Saleem Shaikh/IRIN
    Sunita Meghwar left her village in drought-hit Tharparkar district. She and her neighbours are heading 200 kilometres away to look for work.

    “We have no option other than migrating,” she said, as she stopped for water at a public tap en route to the city of Hyderabad, some 200 kilometres away from her village.


    Parts of Pakistan have seen frequent dry spells for years, particularly Tharparkar district, where malnutrition and disease – exacerbated by frequent drought – reportedly kill hundreds of children each year, prompting calls for an inquiry into government actions in the district.


    But Meghwar said this past year has been the harshest and most prolonged in memory, with almost no rain.


    ”There seems to be no end,” she said, adding: “How can we live in such harsh conditions with no water, food, and farm-related jobs?”


    Selling stock, seeds to survive


    In a January assessment of Sindh’s eight worst-hit districts, roughly five percent of households surveyed said a family member had migrated in the last six months due to the drought. The study – by UN agencies, NGOs, and the provincial government – found food insecurity in 71 percent of households polled, and nearly one third reported severe levels of food insecurity.


    In order to cope many farming households said they were resorting to “extreme irreversible strategies meant only for emergencies”, including selling off land, seed stocks, and their last female animal. The study recommended a “rapid and comprehensive” humanitarian response, as well as deeper long-term investments to improve water and agriculture infrastructure, and access to basic healthcare.

    Preliminary results from a separate national nutrition survey, conducted last year, also found emergency levels of malnutrition in all eight districts. In Tharparkar, the survey found 22 percent of children under five to be moderately or severely malnourished; rates of “global acute malnutrition” higher than 10 percent generally indicate a “serious” emergency.


    Dr. Nushin Hamid, the country’s parliamentary secretary for nutrition, said the drought has threatened the income of farming families, which can lead to malnutrition as food supplies run low. “There are tens of thousands of poor communities across the country that lack financial resources to protect their families from the growing risk of malnourishment, diseases, and possible deaths,” he told IRIN.


    ‘Forced to migrate’


    The drought is also reaching other parts of the country that usually see more rainfall or benefit from better irrigation.


    Allahrakhi Bibi, a farm labourer from northern Sindh’s Qambar Shahdadkot district, left her home in September and migrated to Larkana, a bustling town near the Indus River, which flows through the length of Pakistan.


    She said her family relies on their only valuable possessions – four camels – to plough a plot of land for a local landlord. But, after repeated crop failures over the last two years, they had to leave.


    “We felt forced to migrate with 36 other farming families when we saw our fields getting parched,” she said.


    Bibi now tries to make ends meet by selling camel milk in Larkana, but it hasn’t been enough for her family of five.


    A woman with two camels in town pours camel milk for a man on a motorcycle.
    Saleem Shaikh/IRIN
    Allahrakhi Bibi sells camel milk in the city of Larkana in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Her family left their home in a drought-hit district after successive crop failures made it impossible to eke out a living.

    Omar Mahmood Hayat, who chairs Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, said farmers in the worst-hit districts are abandoning their homes to migrate to urban areas. He said authorities were focusing efforts on these rural farming communities, distributing free grain, water, and medicine to help them adapt.


    Future risks


    While authorities and aid groups respond to the current drought, climatologists say Pakistan can expect drought conditions to become more frequent and more intense in the coming years.


    “Droughts in Pakistan were [a] very rare phenomenon and would occur once in a decade or so,” said Muhammad Riaz, a climatologist and director-general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department. But now, he said, even well-irrigated areas and other parts of Pakistan that normally see steady rains during monsoon seasons are grappling with drought conditions.


    Climate change projections suggest temperatures will rise and make the seasonal monsoon rains increasingly unpredictable, raising the threat of humanitarian impacts from extreme weather.


    “Spiking temperatures due to global warming in the coming years would further deepen drought severity and frequency in most parts of the country,” said Kamal Ahmed, a climate scientist at Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences in Balochistan.


    For now, aid groups say there are urgent needs across the spectrum: emergency food, medical assistance, clean water, and help to support recovery for stricken agriculture and livestock. The government has asked agencies like the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation to help boost nutrition programmes, a WFP spokeswoman said.

    (TOP PHOTO: A man leads his herd from drought-hit Tharparkar district in southern Pakistan in search of an irrigated area elsewhere in the province. CREDIT: Saleem Shaikh/IRIN)


    In rural Pakistan, ‘worst drought in years’ drives displacement and hunger
  • From El Nino to earthquakes: A leading disaster watcher scans the horizon for 2019

    The number of earthquakes, floods, typhoons and other ‘natural disasters’ was well below the 21st-century average last year, even though 10,000 people were killed and 60 million affected. But things may well change for the worse in 2019, warns Debarati Guha-Sapir of the University of Louvain.

    Guha-Sapir and her colleagues at the Centre for the Epidemiology of Disasters, or CRED, are disaster watchers, based at the Belgian University of Louvain.

    Using a database of 18,000 disaster events that goes back to 1900, they compile an annual review in conjunction with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. The study, focused on a wide range of natural hazards, is used by governments and UN agencies as they track losses and damage and plan disaster mitigation and adaptation in the face of climate change.

    Among the unusual events Guha-Sapir noted in a recent presentation of 281 climate and geophysical events in 2018 were wildfires in Greece that killed 126 people – the worst seen in Europe since 1900. US wildfires were also exceptional: causing over $16 billion in damages and killing 88 people. Half of 2018’s disaster-related deaths were in Indonesia, however, mainly due to earthquakes.

    Guha-Sapir took some time out during a visit to Geneva to discuss why it’s still tricky to calculate death tolls, whether storms are becoming more intense, and her predictions for 2019.

    IRIN: When we write about disasters it’s very tempting to say they're increasing, the impact is worse, and to say that climate change is the cause. How many of those three things are true?

    Debarati Guha-Sapir: Are natural disasters increasing? They probably are, but not all. So what does that mean? I don't want to complicate the story but… from what we see, some of the meteorological events, such as storms or typhoons, those kinds of events are probably on the increase... that I think is really due to climate change, it's a direct impact on the storms. Those are on the increase.

    Phenomena such as drought? These are very difficult phenomena because it's very hard to define when a drought begins and when a drought ends. But droughts have also been increasing, but not necessarily entirely driven by climate change. I think a lot of the droughts are closely associated with land use patterns, land use regulations, deforestation, some of those more proximate causes.

    Earthquakes or geophysical events – volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, dry landslides – we don't see any evidence that they are actually increasing. It's very hard to make a call on that because those are phenomena you have to see over hundreds of years… But I will make a small parenthesis on that. They may not be on the increase, but what is happening is that there is an increase in the density of population in areas that are highly seismic.

    For earthquakes, I don't think the number of events is increasing, but there is more population living on seismic areas. But for storms and meteorological events, and droughts, those are increasing, yes.

    IRIN: Are they more intense?

    Guha-Sapir: You have two characteristics that can change at the same time, and which can determine what the human impact is going to be. One is that the event is more severe, as you say: it's just a monster event and you know it will kill a lot of people and damage a lot of infrastructure, or it's not as severe but it goes through a highly-populated area.

    Now, if you ask me which of the two it is, I would rather not stick my neck out on that… I would argue that if there is any change in these phenomena, it may not be quite as much in the severity of the event, but more in the population in the areas which they pass.

    IRIN: You say there is insufficient data to measure the impact on human beings. Why is that? Given technological advances, surely we could be a lot further on than just counting bodies in morgues?

    Guha-Sapir: I don’t know. I think the technology today would allow us to be able to get a much finer and a much more accurate picture on the impact. So you have this new technology and innovative technology which are moving along like a juggernaut… those [sources] are very appetising, but we do not have the means yet to be able… to see whether we're getting the same information but from 15 different sources, and we are adding them all up. So I think there is a gap in not the reporting of data, but in being able to process it in a way that we get accurate results.

    As far as the deaths are concerned, that is more structural. That is because [with] many of the disasters today, especially the climate-related disasters, it's very hard to pinpoint a particular death, to the phenomenon… If you go into a district where there has been floods and you say how many people have died, it can vary enormously, because how do you decide which death is actually associated?

    We have to improve methodology of determining which are the deaths that are really associated to the disaster.

    Secondly, the other part of your question is why don't we do better with all this new technology? I would hope that we will do better, we need better ways of determining accuracy of this mad big data thing to be able to get reliable results

    IRIN: What are your top three predictions for 2019?

    Guha-Sapir: This is a risky affair.

    First of all, we think that 2019 is likely to see more El Niño activity than we have in 2017 and 2018.

    That will mean more meteorological activity on the South American coasts and maybe even other parts of the world, including southeast Asia and East Asia.

    Second, we think droughts are going to have... a very big impact on food security.

    This is [a] very important aspect: it's not a very spectacular aspect because [with] a little bit of hunger nobody really cares… they only care when people are actually dropping dead … So we think food security and droughts are going to be a very big issue, and in some parts like in East Africa and southern Africa it may just develop into famine-like conditions.

    Thirdly, we've had quite a long period of seismic and geophysical [and] volcanic activity, small activities, building up. So the likelihood that there is a major earthquake or a volcanic eruption is not highly unlikely.

    (This interview was edited for length and clarity)

    (TOP PHOTO: Standing in a drying dam after an El Niño enduced drought in Zimbabwe. CREDIT: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/UNICEF)

    From El Niño to earthquakes: A leading disaster watcher scans the horizon for 2019
  • Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2019

    These 10 crises and trends will help shape our coverage in 2019. Here’s why they have our attention and should demand yours.


    Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2019
    1. Climate displacement: Tomorrow’s emergencies today

    From rising sea levels to withering drought and unpredictable weather: projections for what the world can expect if climate change remains unchecked are grave.

    Yet extreme weather is already uprooting populations around the globe, and the aid sector and governments are struggling to cope. Vulnerable communities have long known what the aid sector is just beginning to articulate: climate change is a humanitarian issue, and its fingerprints are already evident in today’s most pressing emergencies.


    Why we’re watching: 

    Severe drought in 2018 affected hundreds of thousands of people, from Central Asia to Central America, from the Sahel to North Korea. In Afghanistan, drought displaced nearly as many people as conflict in 2018, and the worst impacts may be yet to come. In Somalia, food shortages from drought and floods combined with conflict to force people from their homes. In low-lying Pacific nations, governments are reluctantly making worst-case contingency plans to permanently move entire communities – a handful of managed relocations are already quietly underway. World Bank research predicts climate change could force 143 million people by 2050 to migrate within their own countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.


    This year could offer an early climate test for the aid sector. The UN’s meteorological agency says there is a 75-80 percent chance of a weak El Niño event developing by February, which could combine with long-term climate change to destabilise already volatile rainfall and temperature patterns around the world. It’s a threat multiplier that could sharpen food insecurity and exacerbate existing emergencies.


    Keep in mind:

    Recently, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated drought-linked displacement for the first time in four countries, tallying 1.3 million people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Somalia. These numbers, researchers said, “suggest that the true scale of displacement far exceeds available estimates”. Attributing climate change to specific disasters is an emerging science, though, and definitively linking climate change to specific displacement is even more difficult. Uncertainties in estimating displacement are a “major blind spot” for the aid sector: without knowing how many people could lose their homes and livelihoods, planning humanitarian responses and enacting responsive policies becomes more problematic.

    2. Syria: It’s not over ‘til it’s over


    A win by President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly seen as a fait accompli, but with large parts of the country still controlled by rebels and others seemingly up for grabs, the fighting isn’t finished, nor are attempts to influence the aid effort.


    Why we’re watching:

    Nearly eight years since the uprising against al-Assad began, his government appears to be closing in on victory, both on the battlefield and in the political arena: rebel pockets in the capital Damascus have been defeated, and the Arab League is reportedly looking to readmit Syria to its ranks, after expelling it for violent repression of demonstrators in 2011. But the war is not over yet: there are still an estimated three million people in the rebel-held northwest around Idlib province, which is only quiet due to a Turkey-Russia deal. The US announcement that it will pull its troops out of Syria at some point could mean a bloody power struggle in the northeast, where Turkey, Kurdish fighters, government forces, and the remnants of so-called Islamic State all have an interest. As donors, al-Assad, and outside powers all look to get a foothold in Syria’s future, the mix of potential chaos and pockets of calm – including areas run by groups designated as terrorists by Western countries – will make it even harder to deliver neutral aid, based on need alone, to all Syrians. That aid includes emergency needs like food, shelter, and healthcare, as well as the increasingly controversial issue of reconstruction during wartime. If you think aid has already been manipulated in Syria, there’s plenty more of that to come.


    Keep in mind:

    The UN no longer considers any part of Syria besieged, but 45,000 people are trapped in a no man’s land between Syrian government front lines and the border with Jordan. With aid deliveries few and far between, this makeshift camp is a reminder of ongoing blockages in the aid effort.

    3. Outsourcing risk: Local responders shoulder the danger


    In insecure areas with limited access, many international aid organisations subcontract donor-funded programmes to local groups – “remote management” in industry jargon. But aid analysts say this increasingly widespread strategy carries ethical and moral quandaries.


    Why we’re watching:

    From Afghanistan and Syria to the Central African Republic and South Sudan, violence is pushing international aid groups to rethink their operations in conflict areas, as once-accepted norms of providing humanitarian access safely to aid workers are repeatedly flouted.


    Faced with threats to humanitarian staff and shrinking access, international aid groups are relying more and more on local responders, but those responders don’t always have the resources to stay safe. In 2017, nearly half of the 300 aid workers killed, kidnapped, or wounded on the job worked for local non-governmental organisations – a sharp rise reflecting “near-universal reliance” on local staff in the riskiest areas, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.


    Despite taking on more of the risk, local groups say they don’t always have the means to stay safe. Strapped for cash and commonly unable to access direct donor funding, local NGOs frequently have no alternative but to accept short-term sub-grants. Funding and project plans often trickle down without the support to strengthen security and manage the risks. The trend stretches beyond conflict zones: the wider humanitarian sector has promised to “localise” aid – empowering local communities, NGOs, and authorities to lead their own responses – but local organisations say they’re often treated as sub-contractors rather than equal partners.


    Is there a solution? Local aid organisations are pushing for direct, longer-term funding and a greater share of the resources that could help their staff manage the risks. But promised reforms have been slow across the aid sector, let alone in conflict zones.


    Keep in mind:

    There’s a common assumption that local staff and organisations face fewer risks in insecure areas, precisely because they are local. But local aid workers have always carried the greatest burden in violent humanitarian emergencies: roughly nine of every 10 aid workers attacked are local staff.

    4. Ethiopia: Gambling on reforms


    Loosening a political straitjacket on 105 million people and weakening central control at the same time: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s moves could be the biggest relaxation of state control – and the least predictable humanitarian planning scenario – since the death of Ethiopia’s Emperor Menelik in 1913. In a country whose poorest have little room for error, his experiment is a high-stakes gamble that could backfire and cause less welcome upheavals.


    Why we’re watching:

    For many years, Abiy, who took office in April 2018, was an officer in the vast national intelligence apparatus. Since taking power, he has moved boldly to rein in that same security establishment, end a cold war with Eritrea, and even install a former political prisoner (jailed by his own party in 2005) to run the country’s elections. The developments are breathtaking – but a little scary. Inter-communal tensions have been flaring in Ethiopia since 2017: violent clashes over land and resources left 1.4 million displaced in 2018 alone. In addition, about four million are on welfare schemes every year, and some eight million more have needed help with basic food in the last two years thanks to poor weather. Ethiopia relies on rain-fed agriculture and is precariously low on foreign exchange. Regions (and sub-regions) are demanding more autonomy, the ruling political coalition is under strain, and a military old guard feels cornered.


    Keep in mind:

    Ethiopia hosts more than 900,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. It has a military presence in Somalia, including part of a flagging African Union force fighting al-Shabab extremists. It is also the top contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping.

    5. Returning refugees: The meaning of ‘voluntary’

    Pressure is building on millions of vulnerable people to return to dangerous homelands, with 2019 shaping up as a pivotal year for the world’s four largest refugee crises. Between them, Syrians, Afghans, South Sudanese, and Myanmar’s Rohingya account for well over half the world’s refugees, not to mention an almost equal number of internally displaced people.




    Refugees IDPs Hosts

    Click on each to view


    Why we’re watching:

    Aid agencies and analysts say it’s not peace and readiness driving returns, but political considerations and poor conditions in host countries. And returns are often voluntary in name only. Refugees can have their right to stay revoked or be offered incentives to return, but in many cases they feel compelled to head back to danger for family reunification or because they have little prospect of integration (access to housing, schools, work, and healthcare) elsewhere.


    The UN refugee agency is forecasting 250,000 Syrians to return to their country in 2019. But not all of Syria’s 5.6 million refugees or 6.2 million IDPs want to go back. For those who do return, obstacles can include a lack of documentation confirming identity and property ownership, few or no basic services, and the risk of unexploded ordnance – not to mention forced conscription and the ongoing war.


    In South Sudan, where a fragile peace deal is encouraging returns, returnees also face extreme food insecurity and few functioning markets in one of the world’s most underdeveloped economies. A recent report highlighted a dearth of planning “to ensure a continuation of protection and life-saving aid services in potential areas of returns”.


    Afghans fleeing war are now finding it harder to find refuge abroad, and hundreds of thousands of refugees in Pakistan and Iran face increasing pressure to return to a country still mired in conflict, with safe land and job opportunities in short supply. Neighbouring countries are also reportedly preparing for a fresh refugee influx linked to US withdrawal plans.


    Meanwhile, Rohingya in Bangladesh remain in a stateless limbo, having been denied citizenship in their home country of Myanmar. Attempts to kickstart repatriations floundered in 2018. But Bangladesh says the nearly one million Rohingya refugees on its soil must one day return home, and no one really knows what 2019 will bring.


    Keep in mind:

    The UN abides by the legal principle of non-refoulement and has criteria for refugee returns: they mustn’t be rushed or premature and they must be voluntary and sustainable. We’ll be watching to see if this holds true over the next 12 months.

    6. Infectious diseases: Healthcare as a casualty of crisis


    Countries experiencing humanitarian crises are seeing the re-emergence of previously forgotten diseases; for example, diphtheria, which took a toll on Yemenis, Venezuelans, and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in 2018. And political and structural challenges in some of the world’s least developed countries are fostering rich environments for many other diseases to thrive: cholera, Ebola, malaria, measles, MERS, yellow fever, and Zika.


    Why we’re watching:

    Despite significant medical advances and modern organisational procedures that can help tackle outbreaks almost as soon as they occur, epidemics and infectious diseases are still among the most common killers in many countries caught up in conflicts or natural disasters. In places like South Sudan, with weak healthcare systems weakened further by war, resources are unavailable to deal with even treatable diseases like malaria. As a result, thousands of lives are unnecessarily lost. In countries gripped by protracted conflict, like the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, years of fighting have decimated health facilities. The presence of armed groups often thwarts attempts to reach patients, preventing measles or yellow fever vaccination campaigns for instance and, in 2018, enabling Ebola to spread in eastern Congo. In countries in all-out war, like Syria and Yemen, bombs and attacks have left hospitals in ruins, while the destruction of water and sanitation infrastructure has made it easy for diseases like cholera to spread.


    Keep in mind:

    While outbreaks of disease are a medical concern, it is the larger structural and political issues that allow them to thrive and recur. The combination of weak systems, flaws in prevention efforts, ineffective response capabilities, and ongoing conflict is making healthcare a casualty of crisis and a huge concern for humanitarian workers going into 2019.

    7. South Sudan and Congo: Politics versus peace


    2019 is a political year of promise for the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan: the reason we’ve grouped them together. While the world watches to see if the DRC can achieve a first peaceful transfer of democratic power and if a fledgling peace deal in South Sudan will hold, how both situations develop also carries major implications for millions of people in need of assistance.

    Why we’re watching:

    South Sudan and the DRC are two of the world's largest humanitarian crises, displacing almost 10 million people between them. The roots of conflict and the historical backdrop in each country are very different, but civilians in both are desperately hoping that political change in 2019 will yield more peaceful conditions on the ground.

    In Congo, long-delayed elections to replace President Joseph Kabila – in power since 2001 – finally took place on 30 December. The polls, although relatively peaceful, were marred by reports of widespread irregularities, including broken voting machines and missing voter rolls. Other areas (largely opposition strongholds) were excluded from the vote entirely, the government citing instability and Ebola as reasons for the decision. This sparked violent street protests, as opposition figures alleged the move was a ploy by Kabila to manipulate the polls and ensure his party retains power (more than one million registered voters were excluded). If elections aren’t viewed as free and fair, tensions could escalate – as they have in the past – moving political violence to the top of Congo's extensive list of challenges. The country is in the midst of its worst Ebola outbreak; armed attacks continue in the central and eastern regions, including Ebola-affected North Kivu and Ituri; and intercommunal conflict, displacement, and severe food insecurity have left almost 13 million people in need of assistance.

    In South Sudan, where half a decade of war has devastated the country, yet another peace agreement was signed between the warring parties in September. While some see signs of hope that this new truce will hold, ushering in the return of refugees and the rebuilding of the country, many analysts fear more of the same, as the new accord is not that different from the one drafted in 2015 that fell apart soon after being signed. Although violence has reduced in some parts of the country, armed groups are still active; IDPs are not yet rushing home as security and basic social services are lacking; and many remain suspicious of the motivations of the politicians whose in-fighting triggered the crisis.

    Keep in mind:

    The extent of displacement and food insecurity in South Sudan and the large number of conflicts in Congo amount to a scale of humanitarian crisis only matched by Syria and Yemen. It will take more than ballot sheets and paper pacts to turn lives around, although it’s a start. And Ebola could become an even bigger problem, especially if it spreads from Congo to South Sudan.

    8. Anti-terror compliance: When aid falls foul of the law


    It’s getting harder to stay on the right side of counter-terrorism legislation, NGOs say. That means more vulnerable people could be left without the aid they and their families depend on. And the penalties for the wrong type of engagement with sanctioned groups can be very costly, as the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid found.


    Why we’re watching:

    The scope of counter-terrorism legislation has not widened dramatically – although the UK may add new legal provisions – but the machinery of enforcement has matured. Risk is thus being pushed down to implementing agencies, observers say. Donors’ compliance demands are getting heavier, and that’s making it harder to help people who, whatever their views, just happen to live where sanctioned groups are in control – from Somalia to Palestine to Syria. Whatever the regulations, NGOs still need to move funds and engage in dialogue with whichever authority holds sway. NGO advocates say they can’t possibly check every aid recipient’s family for members who are militants, but they fear that’s where things are heading. Investigators attached to USAID told IRIN they don’t pursue petty cases but have a duty to stop large-scale criminal fraud in taxpayer-funded aid programmes. But even minor infractions – like who attends a training session or public event – can put an aid agency on the wrong side of sweeping counter-terrorism laws. Working in Gaza, for example, is a US legal minefield, as the de facto authority that runs hospitals and schools, Hamas, is a designated terrorist group.


    Keep in mind:

    Several US investigations are expected to become public in 2019, which may impact more NGOs. Some aid agencies may shut up shop in the most difficult areas. Donors may choose to transfer more funding through large UN agencies or international banks to avoid the enforcement headaches of dealing with smaller NGOs with less legal clout. Getting help to Palestinians and parts of Syria will be particularly difficult.

    9. Militancy in Africa: Weak governments struggle, civilians suffer

    Violent jihadism continues to gain ground in Africa, representing a serious trial for weak and neglectful governments, and driving up humanitarian needs for civilians.

    In Nigeria, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (a Boko Haram splinter group) is now the deadliest IS franchise – seizing towns and racking up more killings in November than IS-linked groups in Syria and Iraq. Security has also worsened due to Islamist attacks in several other countries in recent months, noticeably in Mali and Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, governments from North Africa to South Africa appear unprepared for the potential security impact of the return of citizens who fought with IS in Syria and Iraq.


    Why we’re watching:

    Extremist groups operate in Egypt and Libya, and across a belt of Sahelian countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. In Somalia they control a large swathe of territory, threatening other countries in East Africa, while a new militant group has emerged in the southern African nation of Mozambique. Somalia and Mali have been the hubs of longstanding jihadist insurgencies, which have also lent support to like-minded groups in neighbouring countries, such as Burkina Faso. In the Sahel, violent events linked to militant Islamist groups tripled in 2018. All this prevents governments from delivering public goods and services to affected regions, robbing them of an effective riposte to the ideological challenge posed by the militants, who portray their rebellions in terms of justice and righteousness.


    Keep in mind:

    African armies have proven unprepared to deal with these guerrilla forces. Governments continue to reach for military solutions, backed by their Western partners. At the same time, an over-militarised response risks fuelling support for the extremist cause as a consequence of human rights abuses committed by the security forces and measures that restrict people’s livelihoods.

    10. Yemen: Risk of fragmenting conflict

    Yemen’s main warring parties are finally talking, and even shaking hands. But even if the 45- month war ends – and that’s a big if – the country could easily slide into a series of local conflicts, bringing little respite for the 24 million civilians the UN says need some sort of aid, be it food, clean water, or shelter.


    Why we’re watching:

    The sheer scale of Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe is staggering: the figure for those in need (above) represents 80 percent of the country’s population, and 2018 also saw economic collapse, a renewed cholera outbreak, and a further slide towards famine. The conflict sometimes seems intractable, and so it was to the surprise of many observers that UN-led talks on Yemen bore some fruit at the end of the year, when two delegations in Stockholm agreed to a ceasefire in the key port city of Hodeidah, among other measures. But Yemen’s conflict has more than two sides; it’s really a fractured web of alliances at local, national, and international levels so complicated that few people really understand it, and the main negotiating parties don’t always control the troops fighting on the ground. As 2019 starts, a UN observer mission is in Hodeidah and more talks are scheduled. But if those with a place at the negotiating table do agree to end the larger war without addressing local grievances, there’s a real risk that a series of smaller conflicts will leave civilians in the line of fire and prevent them from getting the help they desperately need.


    Keep in mind:

    The UN is appealing for $4 billion to help 15 million Yemenis in 2019 – that’s the most it has ever requested for one country. The needs are huge, and even though the world is finally paying some attention to Yemen, the violence, hunger, and death may not end even if the war does.

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