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Four famines, four towns, and 40 dead police officers: The cheat sheet

Tens of thousands of Syrians are already living in camps for the displaced in northern Syria near the border with Turkey which they have been barred from crossing (Andrew McConnell/UNHCR)

Every week, IRIN looks ahead at what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

A deal for Syria’s four towns?

Madaya, Zabadani, Fua, Kefraya: You’ve heard these names before. They’re Syria’s so-called “four towns”: the first two besieged by pro-Assad forces, the second pair by rebels. They’ve long been trapped in a cruel game where aid is only allowed to one side if it gets to the other at exactly the same time. This week came a reported deal, orchestrated by Qatar and Iran, to finally evacuate the towns’ residents. But it’s not all a victory for humanity here – many see these evacuations as little more than forced displacement – and, as our own contributor Aron Lund pointed out, if anti-Assad civilians or fighters are sent to Idlib, then they’re headed straight into the line of fire. And anyway, the ink is far from dry on this one. Evacuations are supposed to begin 4 April, but official Syrian media hasn’t confirmed it and some opposition forces have come out against. A ceasefire is also supposed to come with the package (don’t hold your breath) and later stages could involve a prisoner exchange. Keep an eye on this one: With various foreign powers and fighting groups involved, and the fate of civilians in the balance, nothing is certain.

Alarm over Congo’s Kasai

Just as the UN Security Council votes to trim the world’s most costly peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO – deployed in Congo since 1999 – alarm is mounting about growing insecurity in the country’s South Central Kasai region. The recent murder of two UN researchers and the decapitation of 40 police officers have leaders clamouring for a resolution to violence that has been simmering since the middle of 2016. “The search for peace must be everyone’s business because our lives depend on it,” the speaker of the region’s parliament said this week, noting hikes in food prices and the closure of schools and medical centres due to the unrest.

With some 200,000 people displaced by the violence, the Famine Early Warning System Network warned that the resurgence of violence since August between government forces and a militia called Kamwena Nsapu will disrupt farming activities, leading to below average harvests and poor availability of food in the area. On Friday, there were reports that the militia had taken control of the Kasai town of Luebo, attacking symbols of central state, setting fire to public buildings, and releasing prisoners. Congo’s Catholic bishops and the papal nuncio condemned the “horrendous” violence in Kasai, noting that civilians had been killed in house-to-house searches by security forces as well as during summary punishments meted out by the militia, and that young people, including children, were being recruited.

Where is Venezuela going now?

Venezuela lurched one step closer to a dictatorship under the rule of socialist President Nicolas Maduro this week when the country’s pro-government supreme court assumed control over the opposition-led National Assembly, indefinitely usurping its legislative powers. Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, the regional bloc, called the move “a self-inflicted coup” by Maduro’s government. Others, including the US State Department, described it as another serious blow to democracy in Venezuela, where scores of political prisoners have been detained without trial in recent months and local elections have been postponed. The supreme court justified its take-over by ruling that lawmakers were “in a situation of contempt”. While Maduro tightens his grip on power, Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis deepens. Runaway inflation and acute shortages of food and medicine have contributed to spiralling rates of crime and a growing exodus of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries. It’s getting harder to report from inside Venezuela, but the need is ever-greater.

Working together to prevent crises

Are China and the United States cooperating or competing in Africa? A bit of both, according to the United States Institute of Peace, which hosts this upcoming discussion in Washington DC. USIP notes that Chinese, US, and African governments have worked together on issues like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and peace negotiations in South Sudan, but competition between Beijing and Washington for influence in Africa has limited their cooperation. The four ambassadors featured at the event will discuss their experiences working together in Africa and give suggestions for how to do it better. The event will focus on crises that all parties have an interest in mitigating: piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, violent extremism, and the humanitarian crises now unfolding in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin.

Did you miss it?

A deeply worrying stat

Amidst a growing Russia-gate scandal in Washington, the enormous reality of Brexit, and the same old conflicts and disasters in the Middle East and Africa, you could be forgiven for missing this important little nugget today from the Global Report on Food Crises 2017: 108 million people were food insecure in 2016, compared to 80 million the previous year. That’s a 35 percent leap in one year, and with four countries now on the brink of famine, the number is only likely to grow. We did our best this week to bring attention to the four predominant crises in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, but this report highlights how they represent only the tip of the iceberg confronting a humanitarian system that is somewhere been stretched and failing. “The dramatic increase [in food insecurity] reflects the trouble people have in producing and accessing food due to conflict, record-high food prices in local markets and extreme weather conditions such as drought and erratic rainfall caused by El Niño,” the European Commission said in announcing the report. It also noted that civil conflict is the driving factor in nine out of 10 of the worst humanitarian crises, which brings us neatly to our next topic… 

New UN chief faces uphill battle on conflict prevention

Conflict prevention sounds great but what does it actually mean in practice and who is willing to pay for it? Those are the two fundamental questions underpinning this probing analysis by IRIN’s Kristy Siegfried. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made it clear what the endgame is but not how he intends to get there, especially given the strong headwinds of funding shortages, a retreating US administration, and an uncertain Europe. “So far, the former Portuguese prime minister has been heavy on rhetoric but light on detail,” notes Siegfried. An internal review of the UN’s entire peace and security architecture is due to report back in June, at which point Guterres is expected to announce a number of changes, including the possible merger of the departments of political affairs and peacekeeping. That’s all very well, but, as the final quote in the piece suggests, it really boils down to money – and at the moment early conflict prevention is a poor cousin of emergency aid.

(TOP PHOTO: Nuzha, 39, pictured with her one and a half year old son, Mustafa, in the Pioneer Camp for internally displaced persons in Tartous, Syria. CREDIT: Andrew McConnell/UNHCR)


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