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Doubtful donors, Afghan balancing act and football felines: The Cheat Sheet

(Stephen Dupont/DFAT)

Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.


On our radar:


Donors, North Korea awaits

The few humanitarian groups working in North Korea had quietly hoped this year’s cautious detente with the US would see donors gradually loosen the purse strings after years of plummeting funding and sanctions. They’re still waiting. Donors have kicked in barely 10 percent of a $111-million UN-led appeal for 2018, which could, among other things, help the more than ten million people whom the World Food Programme estimate are undernourished. This week, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, toured aid programmes in North Korea to highlight “pervasive humanitarian challenges”. He emphasised that UN staff now have “improved” access to monitor aid delivery – one of many concerns that have deterred donors in the past. Regardless of this year’s humanitarian funding, in a newly released report, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts North Korea will need 652,000 more tonnes of cereals than it can grow – the deficit is more than double the previous year’s shortfall.


Help Afghans stay home

Aiding people affected by drought in Afghanistan is good. But making them leave their homes to get that aid isn’t so good — it could add to the country’s displacement crisis. That’s the warning from a group of major NGOs in the country, who say more must be done to reach drought-affected people where they live. The fear is that humanitarian assistance distributed near urban centres like western Afghanistan’s Herat City – where at least 2,000 drought-stricken families have already headed – could inadvertently encourage more people to head for already troubled urban areas. Instead, they argue, pair relief with longer-term assistance at home. “Emergency assistance to drought-induced IDPs should be a last resort,” the NGOs, which include Action Against Hunger, the Danish Refugee Council, and Oxfam, said in a statement. The Red Cross says 50,000 people could soon lose their crops and livestock and be on the move, while the UN predicts 1.4 million people from farming households could end up needing emergency aid. Yet reaching people at home isn’t always so easy, even without the drought. Many families seeking relief in Herat are from areas hit by conflict, including districts controlled or influenced by the Taliban. That means access is a constant issue for humanitarian groups; many have scaled back their presence in remote districts as insecurity climbs.


Bringing up baby, Trump style

Early this week, the New York Times reported that US officials (unsuccessfully) used some hardcore diplomatic pressure to undermine a World Health Assembly resolution in support of breastfeeding, going so far as to threaten punishing trade measures and the withdrawal of military aid from Ecuador, the country first set to introduce the measure. This might seem like much ado about nothing — as it must have to an anonymous Ecuadorian official who called breastfeeding “a small matter” — but the consensus among public health experts and the World Health Organization has long been that breast milk is the healthiest option for newborns. US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to call the story fake news, writing that the US “strongly supports breastfeeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula.” Formula manufacturers have used aggressive and sometimes illegal tactics to encourage the use of formula in poor countries, where it can sometimes be dangerous when combined with unsafe water – check out this February investigation from the Guardian and Save the Children for more.


We need to talk about the weather

As Afghanistan deals with drought, the World Meteorological Organization is noting “high-impact weather” around the globe: record rainfall, tropical storms, and soaring temperatures over the first two weeks of July. This week, Typhoon Maria slammed into eastern China, while record rainfall triggered deadly landslides that killed nearly 200 in Japan. There’s also a new “highest low” temperature, recorded in Oman: 42.6°C overnight, which the WMO says is likely the highest “low” temperature ever recorded. Algeria saw a record high on 5 July (51°C), there’s a drought in northern Europe, and extreme heat waves swept over parts of North America. All this comes after the European Union’s climate change service declared last month to be the second-warmest June on record. Today’s volatile weather may well be a sign of tomorrow’s new humanitarian challenges: There’s increasing recognition that climate change is a key driver of migration, and the World Bank warns that 140 million people could be on the move by 2050 as crop failure, water scarcity, and other “slow-onset” impacts set in.


The emerging field of attribution science continues to piece together the links between individual examples of extreme weather and climate change, but the WMO says it’s not possible to definitively say the events of the last few weeks were caused by a changing climate. Still, the UN agency notes, “they are compatible with the general long-term trend due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases”.


Your weekend read:


Destination Europe: Demoralised

We were afraid this would happen: our ongoing special migration series has been made even more timely by a spate of new deaths in Mediterranean crossings. As MSF reports, the last four weeks have seen more than 600 people drown in the Central Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe – that’s half the total deaths for 2018 in the past month alone. And people are beginning to cotton on to the fact that although the number of migrant and refugee arrivals into Europe has fallen dramatically year-on-year, the mortality rate of those attempting to cross is actually rising. As lives are lost, European politicians trade insults over “burden-sharing” and hit out at the supposed pull factor of NGO rescue ships. So what’s the EU’s solution? Why, to outsource and offshore asylum processing to countries around the Mediterranean, preferably North Africa. Isn’t there another way, you might wonder, as did the International Rescue Committee: check out their “Ten Point Action Plan” and report. For a different perspective on migration to the EU, hop across the Mediterranean with our weekend read, as Tom Westcott reports from Libya. From there, the view of EU immigration policy is not, as you might imagine, too pretty. Libya’s Coast Guard believes the drop in migrant departures isn’t due to EU policies but to local factors and will be short-lived. As a Libyan official says, a backlog of a million people are waiting on Libya’s coast, and they all want to come to Europe.

Ethiopia's peace dividend?


Last month, an old IRIN article popped up again in our top-ten most popular reads. It was about controversy about people being moved near to a village called Badme. Why? Ethiopia's reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has stunned observers at home and abroad with a whirlwind of changes on domestic dissent, economic policy, the country's formidable security apparatus, and international relations. One of his most dramatic moves has been to begin to normalise relations with Ethiopia's northern neighbour, Eritrea. The village of Badme, and the question of which country it belongs to, was the spark for tens of thousands of deaths in a 1998-2000 war between the two Horn of Africa nations over the disputed area. A peace settlement was never fully implemented: the subsequent standoff has shaped the region's politics for the nearly twenty years. Peace with Eritrea could address some of Ethiopia's long list of problems: not least that Ethiopia hosts 169,000 Eritrean refugees. But the country has a sputtering economy, has long-unresolved political tensions, and a new report from the International Organisation for Migration reports that 800,000 people are now displaced by various internal conflicts. Ethiopia's UN-coordinated humanitarian appeal of $1.62 billion is only 17 percent funded.

One to listen to:

Centuries of civilians and war

Craving some serious intellectual thought while you sip your summer beverage of choice? The BBC’s annual Reith Lectures always hit the spot. Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan recently recorded her latest entry to the series in Beirut, tracing the relationship between war and the civilian over centuries. It’s a full hour long, and we’re looking forward to diving in on a lazy summer afternoon.


A bit more red, white, and blue for UNHCR

Don’t offer the US a demur ‘thank you.’ The US government expects more credit for its funding to the UN Refugee Agency. UN-watchdog blog PassBlue reported that a May agreement between the US State Department and UNHCR includes more demanding conditions for “visibility” — donor thank yous on websites, publications, and supplies. By the end of the year, the deal says, 75 percent of UNHCR’s public information tools will “more clearly and prominently acknowledge US contributions”. By the end of 2019, the figure should be 100 percent. Other donors have similar demands, often intended to shore up domestic support for aid spending. But a recent paper from think-tank Center for Global Development argues that donor logos on aid projects can have “corrosive” effects, undermining the authority of local government. For more on the pros and cons of aid branding, take a look at this piece from National Public Radio.


And finally:

Croatia or France? The Cat Man of Aleppo can help

Mohammed Alla Aljaleel (aka The Cat Man of Aleppo) won the internet’s collective heart during the siege of then rebel-held east Aleppo, as he lovingly took care of strays and the cats of neighbours who had been forced to flee the city. The Cat Man has since been displaced himself, to Idlib (along with half a million people this year alone). He has restarted his sanctuary with the few felines he managed to rescue from Aleppo as well as new arrivals. Lately, his cats have been predicting the World Cup match results on a Twitter account, Syria’s Superfans, run by activist groups The Syria Campaign and Aleppo Media Center. The cats’ predictions are mixed on accuracy but score 100 percent for cuteness. Go ahead, take a look. There’s serious stuff, too — no one will know you came for the cats and the football.


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