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Satellites and slavery, useless ceasefires and emotional apps: The Cheat Sheet


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:

Papua New Guinea earthquake: the risks to women

The damage caused by a powerful earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea in late February could take “months and years” to fix, according to the country’s prime minister. But advocates also warn of the effects the disaster could have on women. The country has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world, and natural disasters can amplify problems women already face. Aid groups reported an increase in domestic violence and sexual assault, for example, during a drought in 2015 and 2016. After sudden disasters like earthquakes, women face greater risks. For instance, emergency shelters often aren’t built with women in mind, said Priyanka Bhalla, an advisor on gender-based violence with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “There are no separate spaces for men and women, there are no safe spaces, there are no separate toilets, the toilets don’t have any lights,” Bhalla told IRIN. Two weeks after the earthquake, officials in Papua New Guinea are still tallying the damage, with rescue teams struggling to reach remote highland villages cut off by landslides. Authorities reported at least 100 fatalities caused by the earthquake or its powerful aftershocks.

Spotting ‘slavery’ from space

Can you track rights abuses from space? Researchers at the University of Nottingham have been using satellite imagery to trace the proliferation of brick kilns — which labour and rights groups say are a widespread source of abuse and exploitation — over a swathe of South Asia. In findings released this month, the researchers estimated that more than 55,000 brick kilns exist over a vast “brick belt” spanning parts of Pakistan, Nepal and northern India. The figure is “the first rigorous estimate” of brick kilns in the area, researchers say, and a key step to providing missing data that can be used to confront labour abuse. They add that their work is  another example of how remote sensing can be used in the humanitarian sector, calling the technology “ripe for exploration”. Rights groups say debt bondage and child labour are rampant in South Asia’s brick kilns, which make heavy use of migrant workers. A September report from Anti-Slavery International claimed India’s brick-making industry was rife with “endemic levels of debt-bondage and the worst forms of child labour”, particularly among migrant workers.

Trapped in Eastern Ghouta

Humanitarian corridors – safe zones that are meant to allow aid in or people out of a dangerous situation – are nothing new, neither in Syria’s seven years of violence nor in war at large. We’ve seen them go horribly wrong in Srebrenica, and they failed to do much in east Aleppo. But here we are again, in Eastern Ghouta, with Russia claiming it has set up passages that allow civilians to leave the battered enclave and assistance to enter it during a  five-hour window each day. The plan was immediately knocked as a “joke” by the US. Russia has said opposition groups are shelling the corridors, and the International Crisis Group points out that the routes may even serve as cover for further military escalation. What’s clear is that the fighting continues, civilians are not getting out, and very little aid has made it in. Does anyone even remember that Security Council-ordered ceasefire?

Augmenting Sympathy

Aid agencies worry that public sympathy is in short supply. As public fatigue with long and apparently intractable wars mounts and news coverage drops away, popular pressure for action and donations tends to dry up. So aid organizations are coming up with new ways to cut through the ennui. Critics say some are cheesy and awkward, at worst exploitative: gamification of actual warfare, its victims and humanitarianism? Up for debate. And what do actual victims think?  But we digress. One of the newest entrants in the quest to stir public interest in humanitarian issues is from The International Committee of the Red Cross, whose iPhone app that presents a child’s experience of war as a 3D “augmented reality” experience. Analyst Michael Neuman, of the MSF-affiliated think tank CRASH, in a series of tweets greeted news of the app in January with a jaded eye: “Many (at least, I do) will just see it as 1/ a mere distraction, 2/ a new source of profit (Davos, c’mon on), and raise 3/ ethical questions.” Ethical quandaries aside, does the new app “Enter The Room”, pack the “devastating” emotional punch ICRC claims?

In case you missed it

Conflicts seem to be mushrooming in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The latest region to flare up is Ituri, in the northeast. The New York Times has published compelling evidence of burned villages visible from satellite imagery. On the ground, refugees have poured eastwards into Uganda, and have grim tales to tell. The causes of the violence are not widely agreed by analysts. The region was last wracked by violence between the Hema and Lendu communities in 2002. This week IRIN reporter Samuel Okiror met some of the Congolese who have fled Ituri by boat, and we published their accounts.


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