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Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: The Cheat Sheet

Tom Westcott/IRIN

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:

Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector

By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.

While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.  

Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 linksOxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".

Iraq’s long road ahead

This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.

In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”

More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties. 

The new statistics underscore an alarming trend: more than one quarter of civilian casualties last year came in attacks that explicitly targeted civilians, mostly through suicide bombings and other forms of violence. There were almost 2,300 casualties from such attacks – a nine-year high. Many of these came on a single day, 31 May, when a truck bomb exploded near the German embassy in the heart of Kabul. 

The new figures also show the growing impact of the group known as Islamic State Khorasan Province – an offshoot of the so-called Islamic State group. Its recent emergence has added a new layer of violence to Afghanistan’s conflict. In 2015, the UN attributed 82 casualties to the group; two years later, it accounted for almost 10 percent of casualties nationwide, the majority in suicide attacks. Anti-government groups including the Taliban were responsible for two thirds of all casualties last year, the UN says. According to data from the US military, the use of airstrikes is soaring. More than 631 civilians were killed or injured in aerial attacks in Afghanistan in 2017 – a year in which the US Air Force recorded a six-year high for airstrikes. Compare airstrike data with the UN’s casualty figures:

Afghanistan’s pattern of violence has continued into 2018. January saw a string of high-profile attacks on civilians, including the 24 January assault on the Jalalabad office of the NGO Save the Children, and a massive Taliban-claimed blast that killed more than 100 people in Kabul.

Read IRIN’s recent reporting on how the growing insecurity has pushed aid groups to make tough decisions: Afghan attacks force aid rethink, leave local NGOs more exposed

Africa’s week of high political drama

It began with the resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma: suspenseful, but hardly surprising following the election of reformist Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader. But real reform, beyond just getting the ANC elected in 2019, will be a harder road. South Africa is saddled with multiple crises of poverty, inequality, and corruption, topped off by factionalism within the ANC. Zuma’s misgovernance was a symptom of “much deeper problems inherent to contemporary capitalist development and the contradictions of state-building in the Global South” – which might make no sense, until you read the analysis by Alex Beresford.

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, it was sadder news: the death of opposition stalwart Morgan Tsvangirai. A man of immense personal courage, he has left the political stage at a critical time. The opposition is divided, the government militarised, and elections are due later this year, for the first time without the name of Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper. The tragedy is that Mugabe has nevertheless succeeded in outliving Tsvangirai, his main rival.

And then there was the surprise resignation of Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn. He said he was stepping down to end more than two years of unrest over demands for reform. A state of emergency has not quelled the protest, and the release of political prisoners only triggered more demonstrations this week calling for the freeing of all detainees. Who replaces Hailemariam is now the crucial decision for the ruling EPRDF. It has the opportunity to choose a leader from the majority Oromo region, where the reform protests began in 2015. But there is also the fear of a potential backlash from the Tigrayan political and military class. Although they are ethnically in the minority, they have pulled the strings in Ethiopia since 1991. Real victory for reformers or simply an expedient adjustment? On that may hang the future of the EPRDF itself. Whatever the answer, uncertain times lie ahead for Ethiopia. Just as this was published, the state broadcaster announced a state of emergency following fresh anti-government protests.

Did you miss it?

Urban displacement in the 21st Century

The increasingly long-term nature of displacement means camp settings aren’t a sustainable option, but we have only limited insights about the impact of displacement on urban systems. This new thematic series by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre seeks to fill the gap. The first report is on Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri, swollen by people fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency. Employment is clearly a key need. But the report also finds that despite the challenges, there are actions the government, UN agencies, and NGOs can take to help IDPs re-establish their lives and livelihoods. They include: coordinating programming across sectors to facilitate integration into the local economy; expanding access to financing to enable the purchase of agricultural inputs; and promoting women’s livelihoods by helping female agricultural labourers receive fair and equitable pay for their work.

For more, read IRIN’s in-depth series on urban reform.

(TOP PHOTO: Hundreds of homes in Mosul's Old City have been reduced to rubble. CREDIT: Tom Westcott/IRIN)


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