Afghan mosque attacks, missing weapons, and medical aid in Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

(Sylvain Liechti/UN Photo)

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:


Yemen aid goes undelivered


Since we reported on the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s closure of all routes into Yemen this week, more aid agencies have come out to condemn the move and warn of the potentially catastrophic consequences: The World Health Organization says it has already been prevented from delivering 250 tonnes of medical supplies by sea, adding that if the fighting continues and ports remain shut, there won’t be enough trauma supplies for doctors to operate and save lives. UNICEF pointed out that 400,000 children in Yemen are already at risk of death from severe acute malnutrition and that the shuttering could add tens of thousands to that number. IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod was on a reporting mission in Yemen when a Houthi rocket was intercepted near the Saudi capital of Riyadh, precipitating these closures as a response. So keep an eye on IRIN for updates on the blockade and for a series of new reports on the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, one set to get even worse.


Mosques in the crosshairs in Afghanistan


Civilian casualties caused by attacks on religious figures and places of worship in Afghanistan have skyrocketed over the last two years, part of what the UN mission there is calling a “disturbing” trend. Since 1 January 2016, the UN has documented 51 attacks targeting places of worship and religious leaders, leading to 850 casualties, including 273 deaths. This is roughly double the number of civilian casualties recorded through such attacks over the previous seven years combined. The attacks include strikes on mosques and shrines, such as a 20 October assault on the women’s section of a Shia mosque in Kabul that killed 57 and injured another 55 people. A group aligned with so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility. Increasing attacks on religious targets is an alarming new aspect of the deepening insecurity in Afghanistan, which has seen the under-manned Afghan armed forces struggle for control with a resurgent Taliban and other anti-government groups. Prior to 2016, the UN says it “rarely” recorded deliberate attacks on minority Shia Muslims – the target of most of the recent violence. For more, take a look at IRIN’s recent reporting on the difficulties faced by moderate imams in Afghanistan, where preaching peace can get you killed.


When weapons go AWOL


Question: How much military hardware – vehicles, small arms, light weapons and ammunition – is lost overall by the UN and other military peace missions around the world? Answer: We don’t really know because of inadequate monitoring, but a lot. Many missions aren’t even properly quantifying the materiel deployed or that recovered during their operations, according to the alarming findings of a 75-page report issued this week by the respected Small Arms Survey, a think tank based in Geneva. “The loss of arms and ammunition in peace operations is a global and pervasive problem, affecting missions across geographical regions, functioning in different threat environments, and involving many troop- and police-contributing countries,” the report said. It found that losses occurred in at least 20 missions run by the UN, other organisations, and coalitions of states. Items that have gone missing include: assault rifles, pistols, armoured vehicles, heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, heavy mortars, and recoilless guns. They have gone missing during patrols, movements of goods, and from sites such as depots and bases. Incidents include “the wholesale looting of weapons and ammunition from arsenals.” The report concludes that better access to the “policies, procedures, and guidelines of both UN and non-UN peace operations would improve understanding of existing control measures and the gaps in these controls.”


Did you miss it?


Eritrean migration motivation


This new report funded by the Dutch government calls for an alternative approach to “migration management”. It argues for a focus on the political context in which migration takes place, rather than the criminality it attracts. Its findings show that most Eritreans who migrate have a clear knowledge that they are taking a huge risk. They cross borders irregularly because other choices are seen as equally bad, or potentially worse. Legal routes are so limited for people in their situation that they can’t rely on them as viable solutions. Eritreans who have made it to first countries of asylum try to move on because of encampment policies that leave millions living for years in limbo with no prospect of any real solution. The report sees migration as a logical response to a deep-seated governance crisis in the region. Rather than the EU-led Khartoum Process of migration management, the report calls for a rights-based approach “that focuses on both adequate human rights protection in individual countries, and the protection of the rights of refugees and migrants across the region.”




Back to the future on humanitarian reform


A new one for the acronym list, the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues, is holding a one-day conference on 14 November to look at the past and future of humanitarian action. The initiative is a 30th birthday homage to the work of a group of eminent experts commissioned by the UN to look into "a new international humanitarian order" in the 1980s. Its various reports cover some familiar ground to the present-day humanitarian: man-made famine, disregard of international humanitarian law, migration policy, and "local capacity-building". Plus ça change. Some of the original commission's lineup will be speaking at the event, and many of today's heavy-hitters appear in the programme as well. The event is hosted at London's Chatham House in association with the Overseas Development Institute. A livestream will be available. 


Development trade fair in Brussels


Probably the biggest event of its kind, the conference and trade exhibition AidEx takes place in Brussels 15-16 November. This year's theme is effectiveness, and, as usual, an eclectic collection of aid and development types will mingle with suppliers and donors. For more details, check the programme or the list of over 160 stands and exhibitors offering anything from blankets to bullet-proofing. IRIN's Senior Editor Ben Parker will be there and looks forward to meeting up with readers and partners among the expected 2,000 attendees. Ping him on Twitter or email

(TOP PHOTO: A UN armoured personnel carrier on patrol.)


Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policy-makers and humanitarians, provide accountability and transparency over those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all. 

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian


Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.