Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Australian asylum policies under fire
Kicked off the Pacific nation of Nauru, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) this week called for the “immediate evacuation” of all asylum seekers and refugees on the island and an end to Australia’s detention policies for asylum seekers arriving by boat. MSF say the mental health situation on Nauru is “beyond desperate” for an estimated 900 asylum seekers or refugees, including 115 children. Staff psychiatrists forced to leave the island this week described suicide attempts, self-harm, and cases of children who were so traumatised that they were “unable to eat, drink, or even walk to the toilet”. They warned that MSF’s withdrawal from Nauru “will claim lives”. Nauru’s government told MSF that its services were not needed, according to the aid group. Nauru’s government frequently disputes the portrayal of conditions for refugees on the island, calling them “outrageous false allegations by advocates”. Under Australia’s controversial offshore detention policies, asylum seekers arriving by boat were sent to Nauru and Manus Island on Papua New Guinea and barred from ever resettling in Australia even if their refugee claims were verified. Following a March visit to Nauru, the UN refugee agency’s director for Asia and the Pacific said refugees were living under “desperate conditions” and called the policies that keep them there “an abomination”.
Child hunger: a tale of inequality
Angola, Rwanda, and Ethiopia have made the most progress in reducing hunger since 2000, according to a new report. Figuring out which countries have gotten worse is harder, as seven candidates (including Syria, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan) don't offer reliable data. An annual survey tracking child malnutrition and mortality, the Global Hunger Index, produced by NGOs Concern and Welt Hunger Hilfe, this week reported some “promising” progress in reducing malnutrition since 2000. What it also shows is that child malnutrition can tell a striking story about inequality: in the most extreme example, stunting rates veer between 10 percent in prosperous areas of southern Nigeria to over 50 percent in parts of the north.
Preparing for tsunamis in the Caribbean
Tsunami preparedness and early warning is an urgent topic these days after Indonesia’s 28 September disaster. Across the world, scientists are studying the possible impacts if a significant tsunami were to strike the Caribbean. Writing for Eos, an earth sciences news site published by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say the “enclosed nature” of the Caribbean basin could see tsunami waves reach populated coastlines in a matter of minutes. There have been 100 tsunamis in the region over the past 500 years. The research is aimed at helping emergency planning to lower tsunami risk in the region.
Ebola makes a comeback
Six new cases of Ebola were confirmed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week, as the country’s health ministry, the Red Cross and health NGOs continue to tackle the second major outbreak of the disease this year. To date, 200 cases have been reported, of which 165 have been confirmed by laboratory tests, and 90 people have died, according to the DRC ministry of health on 11 October. MSF emergency coordinator Laurence Sailly said the situation remains worrying: "There are confirmed patients in big cities like Beni and Butembo, but also in places far away from the epicentre, close to the Ugandan border. That makes it difficult to contain the epidemic.” Last month the World Health Organisation cautioned that the risk of Ebola spreading nationally and regionally was "very high", adding that it was important for neighbouring provinces and countries to enhance their surveillance and preparedness activities.
One to listen to
Our audio offering this week is from the BBC’s “Seriously…” podcast, and it intersperses reporting from the US border fence with a discussion of art inspired by the journeys migrants make, or attempt to make, into the country. Here’s a sample: an installation of bricks, each one made with sand from the location where a migrant’s body was found in or around Tucson, Arizona; a virtual reality film by an Oscar-winning director that takes viewers through capture and detention in the desert; and photographs of items (rosaries, family photos, even combs) confiscated and thrown away by authorities, taken by an artist who worked as a janitor at a US Customs and Border Patrol station. It’s worth a listen just to hear how the ring of a pipe on one spot on the border fence has become part of a moving composition.
In case you missed it
Angola: Tens of thousands of refugees and migrant workers living in Angola were reportedly forced to return to the DRC this week, after the Angolan government issued a notice urging all foreigners without documentation or temporary residence permits to vacate the country. After the outbreak of violence in the DRC’s Kasai region last March, 1.4 million people were displaced while an estimated over 35,000 refugees fled into Angola’s Lunda Norte Province. Since being forcibly returned, reports say that some people are now sleeping out in the open or in churches. Kasai remains volatile, and clashes between militias and government forces regularly occur.
Cameroon: Last Sunday, Cameroonians voted against the backdrop of conflict and instability in the northwest and southwest Anglophone regions. With at least 246,000 people internally displaced, voter turnout was stifled in parts of the country. Election results are expected to be announced on 22 October, with President Paul Biya predicted to enter his seventh consecutive term despite a vocal opposition, including candidate Maurice Kamto who, a day after the election, claimed victory – a claim the government called “irresponsible, illegal”.
Indonesia: With news headlines from Indonesia dominated by the Sulawesi earthquakes and tsunami, it’s easy to forget that the government is still dealing with a separate humanitarian response on the island of Lombok, which was hit by an earthquake in August. Data released this month shows there are still 432,000 people displaced. The IOM, the UN’s migration agency, says some people are choosing to live in tents outside their homes.
Pakistan will allow registered Afghan refugees to stay legally in the country until 30 June 2019, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. It’s a relatively lengthy reprieve for some 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The government this year imposed multiple short-term deadlines for refugees to leave, extending them by mere months at time.
Syria: A Turkey-Russia negotiated truce is set to come into force in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on 15 October, and this week one group of Turkey-backed rebels withdrew their heavy weaponry from what is intended to become a demilitarised zone. But it’s still not clear if a key group of jihadist fighters intends to cooperate or if calm will hold for 2.5 million civilians in the area. Catch up on the deal here and the rebels on the ground here.
United States: Nikki Haley’s resignation announcement on Tuesday as US ambassador to the UN has brought attention to the legacy she’ll leave after nearly two years in the role. In humanitarian terms, it has been one of loss. Haley withdrew US funding from various UN projects — most controversially the UNRWA for Palestinians — and threatened to cut peacekeeping budgets and suspend aid to nearly 40 nations that voted against US interests. She also pulled the US out of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Global Compact on Migration, echoing Donald Trump’s distaste for multilateralism.
The weekend read
This week, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of the devastating impact of a rapidly warming planet, saying the consequences of not halting the rise in global temperatures will rapidly change the way people live, with sea levels rising, coral reefs declining, and livestock and crops dying out. For the Fulani herders of West Africa’s Sahel region, the news is confirmation of what they already live through every day: drought, floods, and land degradation that increasingly threatens their way of life. Over the past six months, IRIN contributor Lucinda Rouse intermittently followed life in the herding communities of the drought-stricken Sahel region. For a timely weekend read, take a look at her first instalment in a three-part series on those herders and their families, exploring how they are coping with the impact of the worst “lean season” in years. Six million people in the Sahel faced severe food shortages between January and August this year, and the worst may be yet to come; 2.5 million livestock herders and crop growers now risk losing their incomes.
Humanitarians and climate change
In a week when the IPCC report spurred headlines that trumpeted dire warnings on the impacts of two degrees of global warming, diplomats, humanitarian policymakers, and some of the scientists behind the report came together in Geneva to take a different approach: how must aid workers and crisis responders act differently to anticipate and better address the humanitarian implications of climate change? Humanitarian response has long addressed climate crises, “we just don’t frame it as such”, Caroline Kende-Robb, secretary-general of CARE International, told the group gathered at the Palais des Nations for the “Climate Science and Humanitarian Dialogue” on Friday. IRIN’s own reporting regularly chronicles the human effects of climate change, including displacement, lost livelihoods, and malnutrition from drought, famine, and flooding. So what’s the key to humanitarian action now? Data is one. Forecast-based financing can spur early action, several speakers noted during a morning panel moderated by IRIN director Heba Aly. (For more on forecast-based financing, see our analysis on the initiative announced last month by the World Bank to address famine.) Documenting the current impacts of climate change is important, too, panelists noted, as a way to anticipate need. “The most vulnerable places have the weakest science,” Myles Allen, who contributed to the report, noted. He urged that humanitarians report on what they are seeing now and tell the stories of people whose lives are already changed by a warming world.
As Marshall Islands citizen and poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner wrote in “2 Degrees”,
all the way out here
This Thursday was International Day of the Girl, so we’re taking this opportunity (with the help of CARE and our back catalogue of coverage) to remind Cheat Sheet readers that while fleeing home is hard for everyone, displaced and refugee girls face extra challenges. Child marriage rates shoot up in hard economic times; girls often bear the brunt of gender-based violence; and the UN says girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to be out of school during conflict. But the theme of this year’s Day of the Girl is all about persistence, so watch this for some serious strength from Millie Wonder and her students in Kenya.
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.
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