Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.
On our radar:
Maybe these migrants need Le Spider-Man
In the past week or so, Mamoudou Gassama has scaled four storeys to save a child dangling from a Paris balcony, met with French President Emmanuel Macron, been promised citizenship tout de suite, and joined the French fire brigade. There’s no questioning the extraordinary heroism of the 22-year-old Malian, dubbed “Le Spider-Man”. But there is room for debate about the French government’s treatment of migrants who are not superheroes. France’s parliament is debating a bill that would speed up the deportation of migrants and failed asylum seekers, and on Wednesday police cleared out a makeshift camp in northeast Paris where 1,600 people had been living in squalid conditions. Perhaps a superhero will come to their rescue.
Libya: 4 leaders, one peace plan?
Like so many migrants headed for the Mediterranean and Europe, Mamoudou Gassama is reported to have passed through Libya on his journey to France. It’s a hellish journey, in part because there is no single government and plenty of space for people traffickers to do as they please. This week, four competing Libyan leaders met in Paris to sign a “roadmap to peace”, which is different from the UN’s peace plan (Crisis Group has a helpful briefing for the understandably bewildered). Nothing was actually signed, but elections were set for 10 December. It’s not clear yet how all this will really play out, and the bevy of press releases surrounding the meeting are likely cold comfort for 125,000 residents of Derna, in eastern Libya, who are low on food, water, and medicine as fighting intensifies around them. Look out for our Libyan coverage as part of a deep dive into the effects of EU and African migration policies.
Nigeria’s lesser-known threat
If you think the biggest threat to civilian lives in Nigeria is posed by Boko Haram, think again. The extremist group was responsible for 78 civilian deaths between January and April of this year, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, or ACLED. Over the same period, Fulani militias killed 217 people. One of the largest ethnic groups in the Sahel region, numbering 20 to 30 million, the Fulani are semi-nomadic cattle herders who travel long distances in search of pasture. In Nigeria, drought over recent years has seen them move from their traditional areas of concentration, in the north, to central regions where they have come into conflict with farming communities. President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani and in failing health, has been “slow to respond” to what Africa Confidential describes as just “one element of a wider problem of rampant criminality [that is] either ignored or encouraged by local politicians.” Citing this report, analyst Simon Allison of the Institute for Security Studies cautions: “To lay all the blame on ethnic Fulani militias is to miss the point.” The issue is set to dominate public discourse ahead of next year’s elections. We’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, you can get up to speed with former IRIN Africa Editor Obi Anyadike's deep dive from the region last year: The deadly conflict tearing Nigeria apart (and it's not Boko Haram).
Neglected: Afghans returning from Iran
Aid groups and the Afghan government are fretting over Pakistan’s threats to kick out some 2.5 million refugees and undocumented Afghans. We recently reported from the Spin Boldak border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where many returnees are entering the country only to find that their homes are behind active front lines and unreachable. Not a lot has been said about many more Afghans who are streaming in from Afghanistan’s neighbour to the west: Iran. Under the radar, 300,000 Afghans have returned home from Iran this year (aid groups estimate total returnees from Pakistan this year at around 15,000). Why so many from Iran? A faltering economy is one problem – Iran’s currency has plummeted by 30 percent over the last year. Aid agencies say returnees from Iran include many vulnerable people: unaccompanied children, single women, and those suddenly deported by Iranian authorities. Yet few humanitarian groups are working at the border crossing in Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province through which most returnees from Iran pass. While aid agencies offer food, medical help, and transportation to the majority of people driven out of Pakistan, barely five percent of returnees from Iran get any assistance at all.
To improve the aid sector, think like Starbucks
May 2018 marked two years since the UN held its first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, meant to re-shape the way aid is delivered to millions of people around the world. Now that the dust has settled, and despite many pledges and high-level agreements, the international humanitarian response system is not radically different than it was before this three-year, multi-million-dollar process. Partly as a reaction to that lack of substantial progress, in 2017 the Overseas Development Institute convened a group of humanitarian aid workers, researchers, independent observers, and others generally described as “rebels and misfits” – including IRIN’s director – to try some outside the box thinking. Applying the same, human-centered methodology Starbucks uses to improve its customer experience, the group’s members spent six months employing “design thinking” to re-imagine a humanitarian system that works better for its end users. They came up with – and in some cases prototyped – ideas as far-reaching as abolishing UN agency mandates and as simple as creating community-led response funds (read the full re-cap of the process and its outcomes here). Intrigued? A podcast series puts those ideas up against some scrutiny, and researcher Christina Bennett’s commentary for IRIN offers a practical three-step reform guide.
Meet another cheat sheet – on Pacific food security
Naturally, we can appreciate a handy cheat sheet here on the Cheat Sheet, so here’s one on food security in the perennially under-covered Pacific region. The “regional food security atlas”, produced by the Pacific Community and the World Food Programme, offers a swift overview on food challenges across a vast and diverse region hit by frequent natural disasters. Rapid urbanisation, a changing climate, and unpredictable disasters pose problems for food security across the Pacific Islands. In the last year alone, Pacific countries were hit by tropical cyclones, drought, and severe flooding – multiple times in some cases. In Papua New Guinea’s highlands region, there are worries over long-term food security after a February earthquake wiped out the home gardens that many relied on to feed their families. Aid groups estimate that more than 150,000 people will continue to need food assistance.
Our weekend read:
Much of the media attention on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has focused on the vaccination campaign. This is not wrong. Not only could the first major deployment of this experimental vaccine prove a major life-saver right now in Congo and help prevent a major epidemic in the wider region, but it could also hold the key to preventing and containing Ebola outbreaks in the future. But as the World Health Organisation’s head of emergency response, Peter Salama, admitted: it only takes one infected person to travel down the Congo River to Kinshasa to greatly increase the catastrophic potential of this current crisis. So take a bit of time this weekend to read about what IRIN journalist Issa Sikiti da Silva found when he visited the port city of Mbandaka (where three people have died from the virus). He found confusion and no small amount of anger over monitoring – or lack of it – at embarkation points along the river. What people can’t understand is: if the risks are the same, why is the airport screened but not the busy river traffic? The answer probably lies in the impossibility of screening hundreds, if not thousands, of small embarkation points that dot the length of the Congo. The strategy to contain this outbreak appears to be based on tracing people who have come into contact with confirmed Ebola cases and vaccinating all those who’ve been near infected parties, not on monitoring the river for infected passengers who might have escaped the net. We sure hope it works.
TripAdvisor for donors?
Which donors and donor countries are the best to work with? A new survey ranks the helpfulness and influence of donors, according to their clients – the developing country officials who have to deal with them. The Geneva-based vaccine provider, GAVI, heads the list of the most helpful, followed by the International Monetary Fund, UNICEF, and the World Bank. In terms of influence, the IMF comes top, while China and India show the fastest rise since 2014, according to the study from the College of William & Mary, a US university. Education is the most important sector for progress, according to the poll, which canvassed opinion among 3,468 developing country officials and local development workers. Given a chance to rank 16 sustainable development goals, schooling came out top in most regions, while climate change and preserving the oceans tended to come last. It's an unusual take on the development marketplace – a sort of TripAdvisor for donor countries.
Read the full report: “Listening to Leaders” from the AidData group.
We uncovered the sex abuse scandal that rocked the WHO, but there’s more to do
We just covered a report that says the World Health Organization failed to prevent and tackle widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola response in Congo.
Our investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation triggered this probe, demonstrating the impact our journalism can have.
But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking.
We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.
The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this.