Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar:
Sulawesi waits for clean water and unwelcome rain
Aid is trickling into areas hit hard by the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia – far too slowly for many survivors, as we reported on the ground in Central Sulawesi this week. While Indonesian authorities and humanitarian groups are sorting through the logistics of bringing aid to a vast island with damaged infrastructure, new problems are on the horizon. The spread of disease and other health risks are a threat in any disaster, but there’s a shortage of clean water and sanitation facilities even in Palu, the provincial capital where most of the relief efforts have been concentrated so far. Most water supply infrastructure was damaged in the earthquakes. While the Red Cross is sending in drinking water by truck, Oxfam says it won’t be enough for the tens of thousands of people needing access to clean water every day. Save the Children calls clean water shortages a “recipe for disaster”. Indonesia’s government has requested limited amounts of aid from international donors and aid groups, and water purification kits are near the top of the list. But the logistics of even delivering aid supplies is daunting. Authorities are routing all international aid to Balikpapan, on neighbouring Kalimantan island, but Palu’s air and sea ports were damaged in the earthquakes. Conditions could soon get worse: meteorologists are predicting above-average rainfall for the next two weeks, which could trigger landslides in the very places aid responders are trying to reach.
There were 11 million new internal displacements due to conflict alone in 2017, far more than new refugees. There's an international treaty about refugees, but none for the much larger number of people who flee war or persecution but stay within their own country. Laws that cover their treatment are few and far between: only 12 countries have laws specific to internal displacement. The closest thing to international law for internally displaced people (IDPs) is the "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement". It's a body of "soft law", drawn up in 2008, that lays out rights and principles that states can use to guide their own actions and law-making. To mark the 20th anniversary, a special issue of Forced Migration magazine explores the fate of the internally displaced in several countries, including Ethiopia and Myanmar, and in fields such as data collection and legal protection.
Nobel moves sexual violence in war into the spotlight
No it wasn’t Donald Trump, and it wasn’t the North Korean or South Korean leader either. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. If you’ve never heard of Mukwege, here’s a no-holds-barred IRIN profile of the doctor’s work from 12 years ago, by which time he had already dedicated himself for six years to fistula repairs for women suffering an epidemic of rape and sexual mutilation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Murad came to prominence more recently, as the public face of Yazidi victims of so-called Islamic State. She was one of approximately 7,000 women abducted from Sinjar province in northern Iraq in 2014 and endured three months as a sex slave of IS militants. We featured the 25-year-old campaigner in this September 2016 story on human trafficking and sex slavery. In today’s announcement, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee chair, said both Mukwege and Murad had won the award for their "efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war". Look for a collection of IRIN’s work highlighting this issue next week.
At least 34 people died this week in the Mediterranean when the inflatable boat they were trying to take to Spain capsized off the Moroccan coast. The UN says there are believed to be 26 survivors, all from sub-Saharan Africa. Spain is an increasingly popular entry point to Europe: a total of 37,441 migrants and asylum seekers had arrived in the country this year by the end of September by sea, an increase of 201 percent from the same period last year (the number of deaths at sea has also doubled). Spain has sometimes allowed ships refused entry elsewhere to dock on its shores, but it’s not always a warm welcome for newcomers: migrants have clashed violently with police after storming the fence that separates Morocco from Spain at Cueta, and those who make it into Europe rarely have it easy. Stay tuned for our coverage of the crush at Europe’s only land border with Africa.
One to listen to:
Operation Fiction Writer
This week, we’re nominating an episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast for weekend listening. In only 35 minutes, you get a complicated story of asylum mills – law firms that for years helped some Chinese game the US asylum system by fabricating stories that fit the criteria of targeted persecution that the US looks for in asylum claims. One of the people who wrote those stories, and later helped the government bring the mills down as part of “Operation Fiction Writer” is Lawrence, himself an immigrant from China. These days, the government is reviewing the asylum status of 30,000 people, most of them family members of people who used these law firms and have been in the US for years. But Lawrence has refused to help in possible deportations – he says there’s a difference between what is legal and what is right – so he’s using a fake name, and is in hiding from the government. It’s a complex story with shades of grey. Make time to listen for yourself.
In case you missed it:
INDIA: This week the Indian government deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar, drawing criticism from rights groups who say the men have been put at “grave risk of oppression and abuse” in their home country, where a violent military purge last year uprooted more than 700,000 people. The UN says 200 other Rohingya are detained in India. There are fears that this week’s deportation is a sign authorities plan to act on year-old threats to expel the estimated 40,000 Rohingya living in India.
IRAQ: After months of political jockeying, Shia politician Adel Abdul Mahdi was named prime minister of Iraq this week and has 30 days to form a government. Among the challenges the compromise candidate will face are ongoing protests against unemployment and a lack of public services in the southern city of Basra, where tens of thousands of people have sought medical treatment thanks to contaminated water.
MOZAMBIQUE: The trial of more than 180 suspected militants began this week in northern Cabo Delgado province, where more than 50 people have been killed in attacks linked to a growing insurgency. The defendants – including Mozambicans, Tanzanians, Congolese, Somalis and Burundians – are accused of deadly gun, grenade and knife assaults. Locals and authorities call the assailants “al-Shabaab”, although the group has no known links to the Somali group of the same name. They are reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim-majority province. The trial is the first since the attacks began a year ago.
PAKISTAN: The government has ordered several international NGOs to leave the country. ActionAid, one of the affected organisations, called it a “worrying escalation of recent attacks on civil society”. Authorities in Pakistan have slapped increasing restrictions and registration requirements on international NGOs in recent years, accusing them of overstepping their humanitarian and development mandates.
SOUTH SUDAN: Based on recent findings, three UN agencies have warned that South Sudan’s “relentless conflict” has left more than six million people — almost 60 percent of the entire population — facing crisis levels of hunger, as people are forced to flee their homes and fields, and trade routes and markets are disrupted.
YEMEN: Cholera is making a comeback, with the World Health Organisation reporting a suspected 10,000 cases per week, double the previous rate. In Hodeidah province, where a battle for the key port rattles on, Save the Children said facilities it supports have seen a 170 percent increase in suspected cases since fighting escalated in June.
Our weekend read:
It’s presidential election weekend in Cameroon, but for the thousands now displaced from home as a result of the conflict in the anglophone regions, it’s a vote, but no real say. After the francophone government’s violent clampdown on English-speaking separatist activists last year, the humanitarian situation has only worsened. The UN estimates that 246,000 people in the country’s Southwest region are now internally displaced, while another 25,000 have fled across the border to Nigeria. While the government has promised a calm election process, and the country’s main election body urges IDPs to return to their homes to vote, the conflict is casting a long shadow over the polls. Earlier this year, we featured a special report from regular IRIN contributor Emmanuel Freudenthal who became the first journalist to embed with Cameroon’s separatist forces. For our weekend read this week, Arison Tamfu travelled into the forests of the Southwest region to meet displaced anglophones now living on the run, many of whom feel like strangers in their own country.
Germany's humanitarian spending has risen fast in recent years. The ecosystem of NGOs and aid agencies in Bonn and Berlin has grown to match. Now it has a new think tank, officially launched in July: The Centre for Humanitarian Action is housed at the Maecenata Foundation, and involves church groups Caritas Germany and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe as well as MSF Germany.
It was The New Humanitarian’s investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that uncovered sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led the World Health Organization to launch an independent review and reform its practices.
This demonstrates the important impact that 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.
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