(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Top Picks: Gender, the little girl, and the business of aid

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Six to read:

A gendered perspective

In Iraq, 3.3 million people have been displaced since January 2014 alone. The majority are not in camps, but the more than 552,000 who are, face a particular set of problems. This report by the International Organisation for Migration makes clear that we shouldn’t be ignoring those related to gender. For women in camps or other collective shelters, it’s often seemingly simple things that prompt fear of assault and exposure. There aren’t locks on the doors, there’s not enough lighting at night, and co-ed latrines and showers are a real source of stress. Because it can be difficult for women to move about safely, they are sometimes forced to sell rations for help collecting water. Most IDPs have escaped terrifying situations, only to find that they don’t feel safe in their temporary shelters. While diving into the complexity of gender-based violence (men and boys suffer too), this report also offers some concrete solutions. We can do better.

The business of aid

How much is the aid sector worth each year? Between $70 and $100 billion apparently. That’s according to Nigel Peters of UK Trade and Investment’s Aid-Funded Business Service, who is quoted in this piece by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Authors Clair Provost and Matt Kennard delve into “the corporate takeover of aid”, which has happened over the past 15 years or so, explaining that large corporations are now “increasingly involved in the design and delivery of projects, and, again, in shaping policy and setting the agenda”.

The expanding corporate footprint can be seen in events like AidEx, where companies, donors and NGOs set up booths, network, and commercial products are on display. It can also be seen in the increasing number of partnerships between NGOs and corporations, which are often considered mutually beneficial: companies have the money to spend and the NGOs know where to spend it. But there is a paradox here, the author’s argue. The very corporations that are benefiting and reaping financial and public relations rewards from the aid business, may be simultaneously engaged in practices that undermine development and create a need for aid in the first place.

Kenya and the Dadaab refugee camp itch

The Somali Newsroom has something to say about Kenya’s announcement that it intends to close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps by November. Refugees “continue to be a scapegoat for Kenya’s security issues, despite the non-existence of successfully prosecuted terror cases involving refugees from Dadaab,” it reports.

It notes that although the numbers of refugees crossing into Kenya has been steadily falling, there is no way that a natural reduction will significantly reduce the refugee population for decades to come. The Kenyan government refuses to consider Tanzania’s approach of granting citizenship to its long-term Burundian refugees, so Kenya would have to physically close the camps to meet its deadline. That would not only be illegal, horrifying, and logistically next-to-impossible, but would also deprive the Garissa region of an estimated $14 million a year generated by Dadaab. Why not, the report suggests – and this seems a bit of wishful thinking - use the money closing the camps would cost to develop Somalia and attract people home?

Will China preserve its last wild river?

The Nu River flows unobstructed from the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau, southwards through China’s Yunnan Province. It forms part of the border between Thailand and Myanmar, where it is called the Salween, before emptying into the Andaman Sea. It is the last major river in China to be free of hydropower dams, and there are indications that it will remain so unencumbered, according to this National Geographic article. The Chinese government seems to be backing off plans to build a series of dams that would fill a massive gorge that has been compared to the Grand Canyon, and displace thousands of villagers. Instead, the government may create a national park and preserve the free-flowing river. For an indication of the consequences of dam building along the Nu’s sister river, called the Lancang in China and the Mekong among its southern neighbours, read IRIN’s story this week on the devastating drought in the Mekong River Basin.  

Africa hovering

Growth in Africa is slowing down. Between 2004 and 2011, sub-Saharan Africa experienced 6.2 percent growth. Since 2012, it’s slowed to 4.5 percent. So what happened to the Africa rising narrative? The key initial findings of a new study are that almost half of Africa’s output fluctuations since 1998 can be explained by a small set of external factors—namely, GDP growth in G-7 countries, GDP growth in China, oil and non-oil commodity prices, and borrowing costs for emerging economies in international capital markets.

According to this Brookings blog, “if external factors explain half of output fluctuations, then it is crucial to make sure we get ‘the other half’ of domestic factors right. Now that we are in a bust cycle, the political appetite for policy reforms should be higher. Now is the time for implementation.” Neat. But it doesn't tend to work like that.

Palantir redux

When IRIN wrote about Palantir Technologies and their dabbling in the humanitarian world, it was one of the shiniest of tech unicorns worth $20 billion. But what goes up sometimes comes down. It seems that the super-secretive CIA-linked firm is not as flush as it once was. Palantir has lost some of its top-tier clients and its staff are heading out the door. So what’s happened? If we told you, we’d have to kill you. Read the Buzzfeed article yourself.

One to listen to:

Goodbye El Niño, hello La Niña?

El Niño, the warming of the tropical Pacific, has caused havoc with global weather patterns and is thankfully coming to an end. But there is a chance that we won’t return to “neutral”, and instead swing too far in the opposite direction and find ourselves with what is known as a La Niña (the little girl) – the cooling of the seas. And that’s just as bad. According to this BBC Science in Action podcast, it will mean where we have seen drought over the last two years we are likely to have floods – and vice versa. So the forecast is for yet more wild weather, starting in the second half of 2016.

One from IRIN:

Sleaze in Syrian aid

In an IRIN exclusive (one of a few this past week or so, see here and here), we reported that corrupt sub-contracting and procurement fraud is undermining vital cross-border relief for desperate Syrians. IRIN Middle East editor Annie Slemrod and IRIN director Ben Parker, found that a graft probe by a US government watchdog into aid delivery across the Turkey-Syria border had uncovered far worse than feared. Several major agencies, including International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, and the Irish NGO GOAL, are implicated and have received at least partial funding suspensions.


USAID’s Office of Inspector General had uncovered an operation involving a network of commercial vendors, NGO employees and others who colluded “to engage in bid-rigging and multiple bribery and kickback schemes related to contracts to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria.”


Coming up:


DRC on the brink


Wednesday 18 May, 14:00 (GMT +2 hours), ISS Pretoria, South Africa (live webcast)


Six months before constitutionally-mandated presidential elections in the DRC, the government seems set on delaying this crucial poll. Political tensions are mounting as human rights activists, journalists and opposition politicians are being harassed and arrested. What can keep the DRC from going off the deep end?


Speaker: Stephanie Wolters, head of conflict prevention and risk analysis at ISS


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