IRIN’s specialist editors have scanned the humanitarian horizon to keep you up to speed with this forward-looking weekly news digest:
The Congolese opposition is adamant – no more talking: President Joseph Kabila must go by the end of the year, when the extension of his mandate brokered by the Catholic Church expires. But, asks the Congo Research Group, does the opposition really have the leverage? At the UN meeting this week on Congo’s delayed elections, “the sentiment expressed by African delegates was almost unanimous: Kabila has engaged in good-faith efforts to negotiate with the opposition, the electoral process should be given time.” There was no talk, even by Western donors, of Kabila stepping down at the end of 2017. According to CRG, donors think that sooner or later Kabila will be forced to hold elections, as was supposed to have happened at the end of his second term in December 2016. What the donors want to avoid is for Kabila to change the constitution and run for a third term, or rig the ballot. Those are big asks: in the meantime, Kabila appears to have the upper hand. Look out for IRIN’s upcoming report on the unfolding political crisis.
Hawija is, in many ways, a forgotten siege. The city has been under control of so-called Islamic State since 2014, and while it was once thought to be ahead of Mosul in the queue for liberation, as IRIN pointed out back in July, the operation was complicated by competing but allied anti-IS forces laying siege to the city. It’s never garnered the headlines of a Mosul, even though 100,000 people are believed to have fled the city, but now Hawija will have its turn. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Thursday that an assault had begun, while the UN warned of an estimated 85,000 people still in Hawija and nearby east Shirqat – Save the Children pointed out this may include as many as 35,000 children. It is likely to be some time before Iraqi and coalition forces get to the city itself and we understand the fate of its civilians, which will be further complicated by Monday’s planned independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Oil-rich Kirkuk is one of the disputed territories claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government. What does that really mean when a vote plus guns and political and battlefield rivalries are in the mix? We're about to find out.
Back-to-back Cat-5 hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed the Caribbean, testing disaster management systems and human resilience to the limit. IRIN is covering the impact and response and, with a longer perspective, the context. Aboard the first fixed-wing aid flight into Dominica, today we bring you scenes of stunned survivors, aerial footage from overflights, and detailed reportage from the capital city relief operations centre. The prime minister said the country has to come back "from zero". Will the country be swamped by the wrong kind of "aid"? Will donors and the UN get behind a regionally-led response? Will the rest of the world pay attention? Can innovations and solutions such as disaster insurance offer any hope? From the deserted backyards of Barbuda to the operations centre in Roseau, Dominica's capital, we will continue coverage of operations as they unfold. Let us know what you think at hello[email protected]. Check our Facebook and Twitter feeds for additional photos and video clips.
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Lessons learnt? Not in Afghanistan
Ill-prepared, understaffed, and poorly organised: A new report by the US government watchdog on reconstruction in Afghanistan offers a sobering summary of efforts to rebuild and train Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces. The “lessons learned” report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which reports to Congress on how US reconstruction funds have been spent, details how the US failed to recognise Afghanistan’s complexities – including decades of of war, corruption, and poverty – while embarking on the ambitious task of training security forces. This was driven in part by politically motivated timelines rather than a realistic understanding of Afghan readiness, the SIGAR report said. Security assistance in Afghanistan has been poorly organised and understaffed: The US aimed to train Afghan police, for example, yet it lacked the staff to do this in “high-threat environments”, instead enlisting army aviators, infantry officers, and civilian contractors for this vital role. SIGAR interviewed one US officer who prepared to teach by watching TV shows like Cops and NCIS. Rebuilding the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces was an essential part of the US and NATO allies’ strategy. But civilian casualties in Afghanistan continue to climb, while the government has control, or even influence, in less than 60 percent of the country’s districts. After 16 years and more than $70 billion in US funding, Afghan security forces fall far short of their most crucial goal: securing their nation. SIGAR’s conclusions add to questions about US President Donald Trump’s vague Afghanistan strategy, which he said signalled an end to “nation-building”. For now, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, is warning of “a more volatile landscape” in the coming months, driven in part by recent moves to add thousands more US troops to the Afghanistan mission, and parliamentary elections scheduled for 7 July 2018.
You can’t live by bread alone
Displaced people of course need food and shelter to survive, but there’s also a spiritual dimension that’s rarely discussed. That’s what makes Elizabeth Storer’s article, part of an LSE series on the Politics of Return, so fascinating. It delves into the South Sudanese refugee community that has settled in Arua, in Uganda’s northwest. For many, religion provides both an explanation for their plight – notions of sin and punishment – as well as solace and agency. At the practical level, churches offer “the only semblance of institutional, psycho-social support”. For many, they are an “important unifying backbone”, where culture can be expressed rather than hidden, as well as lending “guidance on the challenges faced in exile”. Spirituality provides a much-needed frame of reference. Understanding that evil forces are governing the actions of those committing violence “seems to explain the unexplainable”. And, through prayer, “such forces can be reversed by ordinary people”, distant from the conflict. Above all, it delivers hope: that the route home lies in atonement for venality and corruption, and personal redress for sins.
Q. What do a former UN secretary-general, a reformed neo-Nazi, and a police general from Colombia have in common? A. The #GVAPeaceTalks. Last night in Geneva, an international audience including leading decision-makers and dignitaries gathered to share ideas and hear inspiring messages about peacebuilding and driving solutions to global problems. The simple but important message from IRIN Director Heba Aly, one of the keynote speakers: In a polarised world, objective and independent journalism has a vital role in creating empathy and understanding to prevent division and conflict.
— Heba Aly (@HebaJournalist) September 21, 2017
Global People’s Summit
Imagine an international community actively engaged in inspiring entrepreneurship, supporting innovation, creating partnerships, transferring knowledge, and philanthropic giving around the world, and all that during the UN General Assembly. IRIN hopes to help transform this ambition into reality by participating in the first virtual-only Global People’s Summit. In partnership with the UN, it will explore social innovation, disruptive technology, film and media, and the power of mobilising networks to address some of the most challenging issues of our time. If you’re reading this on 22 September, you still have a chance to participate from your own office or home. Tune in to watch IRIN Director Heba Aly explain the role media bias plays in shaping what we care about and hear how to communicate complex issues in more powerful and engaging ways.