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UN Myanmar overhaul, Congo crisis economics, and a humanitarian handbook: The Cheat Sheet

(Ai Weiwei/YouTube)

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:


Congo – follow the money


The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s presidential poll won’t happen until mid-2019, the country’s electoral authority said this week. That’s well beyond the agreed end of year deadline for President Joseph Kabila to step down. What to do? There will be much international deliberation on that. But the Congo Research Group points out that what’s rarely discussed are the economic enablers that influence and shape the current crisis. Large multinational companies are implicated in questionable mining deals, which have included big contracts to members of Kabila’s family. Any substantial financial support to the government by the IMF and World Bank should be conditioned on far greater transparency, the CRG argues. That goes for the election as well. The enormous cost of the exercise – at between $800m and $1.8 billion it’s more than 20 percent of Congo’s annual budget – should give donors pause, the group notes. Not only does the process provide an opportunity for lucrative kickbacks, but also the potential skewing of the final result at this initial registration phase. We’ve been running early warning stories on this topic for a while but look out for our upcoming report on unrest in eastern Congo and an in-depth page dedicated to the crisis, complete with timeline.


What next for UN leadership in Myanmar?


The UN’s resident coordinator in Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien, will finish her assignment by the end of October, the UN announced this week amid a refugee crisis that has seen more than 536,000 Rohingya surge into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine State since 25 August. Lok-Dessallien’s time as the UN’s top official in Myanmar has been controversial, with accusations that she has overseen and contributed to a divided and dysfunctional mission. In July, IRIN reported on a growing schism in the UN system in Myanmar, with accusations that Lok-Dessallien had prioritised a development-focused agenda over one that stressed human rights first – particularly when it came to the Rohingya, who have long faced marginalisation and persecution. So who will replace Lok-Dessallien, and how will that person interact with a Myanmar government that has bristled against international condemnation over the Rohingya issue? The UN plans to convert the resident coordinator role into that of an assistant secretary-general, who would report directly to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. But Myanmar has previously objected to the plan, and Lok-Dessallien’s departure, announced earlier this year, was reportedly delayed because the UN and Myanmar could not agree on a replacement. The UN’s under-secretary-general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is scheduled to be in Myanmar until 17 October. Perhaps this visit will yield the answer about who will replace Lok-Dessallien.


Pacific leaders prepare for COP23


Senior ministers and climate change officials from across the Pacific Islands are meeting next week in Fiji – a last chance for Pacific nations to solidify their priorities ahead of key global climate talks in November. Pacific Island nations are among the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to the effects of climate change. With Fiji chairing November’s UN Climate Change Conference, or COP23, countries in the Pacific Islands  – including several that are facing debilitating drought or recovering from the impacts of tropical cyclones – are hoping to bring a sense of urgency to the yearly meetings. Pacific Island nations are expected to renew calls to push forward with implementing global commitments made under 2015’s Paris Agreement, while also calling for greater access to adaptation and mitigation funds promised as part of the accord. In particular, Pacific Island nations hope to increase financing for adaptation and mitigation beyond the $100 billion a year already pledged, while pushing leaders to focus on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, rather than the “well below 2 degrees Celsius” outlined in Paris.


Human flow


We haven’t yet seen this film by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei – it’s done the festival circuit but is now just about to land in cinemas – but we’re going to go ahead and recommend it to you anyway. It’s called Human Flow – an ambitious project shot over one year in 23 countries that’s a well-reviewed and, based on the trailer, often beautiful, look at the global refugee crisis. There is some criticism of this endeavour – does the approach Ai, himself the subject of plenty of documentaries, tip “too far toward aestheticising a dire situation?” Does it tackle the vastness of the crisis at the expense of personal connection? The artist himself says it’s about humans, both those suffering and the viewers. As he told Slate this week: “To live so comfortably while other people are in desperate situations, that surprised me. It’s not a refugee problem. It’s a human crisis, and it includes the people that can help but don’t help.”





Help improve humanitarian response


Talking of helping, 20 years ago a group of humanitarian NGOs and the International Red Cross Movements got together to concoct some detailed guidelines about how aid agencies should respond to humanitarian and conflict crises. The idea of what became known as the Sphere Project was to improve the quality of humanitarian response and the accountability of those who deliver it. The result was a Handbook of Minimum Standards covering four key areas of response in great detail: water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, shelter and non-food items, and health. The handbook offers guidance on things like how much water per day should be available to households (15 litres), and how to treat acute malnutrition. A second edition of the handbook, with revisions based on input from more than 1,200 people in 40 countries, is now nearing completion. Before it is published next year, the Sphere Project is soliciting feedback, to be supplied by 6 November. Please go ahead, by using this online form or this survey.


Did you miss it?


Drought in Turkana


People who raise livestock in Kenya’s arid Turkana County are used to the occasional drought. But whereas droughts used to occur every 10 years or so, making it relatively easy for pastoralists to recover and build up the size of their herds, they are now coming much more frequently, and are more severe and lasting longer, while rainy seasons are shorter and less predictable. As IRIN discovered on a recent reporting trip to Turkana, the current drought is the worst many herders can remember. Around half a million head of livestock are believed to have died, and food insecurity and malnutrition among humans have soared. As part of a package on the impact of climate change on food security in Turkana, yesterday we published this article, as well as a short film. Next week, we will add to the series with profiles of several Turkana pastoralists; an analysis of how recent oil installations hamper the ability of herders to move animals to the best pasture; and a piece on the impact of an invasive species of shrub whose drought-hardiness and sweet, tooth-rooting seeds are making life even harder for pastoralists (And in case you’re unfamiliar with that term, we’ll also publish a handy explainer).



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