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Hospital refuge, urban crisis, and laser detection: The Cheat Sheet

A burned village Burnt-out houses in the town of Batangafo. Helena Cardellach/MSF
On Wednesday, 31 October 2018, violent clashes in Batangafo, in the northern Central African Republic, led to 10,000 people fleeing to seek shelter in an MSF-supported hospital. Violence also affected Bambari, in the centre of the country.

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

A 'horror scene' in CAR

More than 5,000 civilians are seeking refuge in a hospital in Batangafo in northern Central African Republic after clashes displaced some 25,000 people from their homes. "It was like a horror scene. We saw hundreds of households in flames,” says the MSF field coordinator in the town, Helena Cardellach. "Batangafo is a ghost town. In the morning when there is a lull, people come out of their refuge in the hospital to try to live their lives, and then they go back to the hospital at night." Many lost everything in the fires that ravaged their homes while others are hiding in the bush with little access to food or water. Meanwhile, across CAR, nearly 643,000 people remain internally displaced, while another 575,000 live as refugees in neighbouring countries. For more on the situation in the country, read our three-part special report on peacekeeping, aid access, and sexual abuse.

Reanimating the peace process in Yemen

After 10 days of fierce clashes around Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, the Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in the area has reportedly ordered a pause in the offensive. While this move appears to be a reaction to growing international pressure ahead of possible UN-led peace talks, there is no official ceasefire, and some skirmishes continue. The uptick in airstrikes, shelling, and gunfire made it difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance in some parts of the city, and the UN counts 34 civilian deaths in the first week of November – although the real number is likely to be higher. There are other signs Yemen’s long-stalled peace process may be about to get an injection of energy, including an announcement from the UK’s foreign office that the coalition would allow the evacuation of some injured Houthi fighters by plane. We’ll have more for you soon on the negotiations to end Yemen’s long war.

African cities on the front line of climate change

Will urban centres be the future sites of global conflict and humanitarian crisis? In a world of rising temperatures, growing populations, and dwindling natural resources, cities – especially those in Africa – face huge threats over the next 30 years. According to the 2018 Climate Vulnerability Index, 84 of the world's 100 fastest-growing cities are at "extreme risk" from the effects of climate change, and 79 of these are in Africa. Verisk Maplecroft, the risk consultancy group responsible for the study, warns that the poorest will pay the highest price, saying: “The highest risk cities already lack adequate healthcare services and disaster mitigation systems.” Among major potential threats: disease outbreaks; an increase in crime and civil unrest; drought; crop failure; and instability leading to cross-border and rural migration. The list of highest risk cities includes dozens of the continent’s capitals and commercial hubs, among them Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lagos in Nigeria, and Luanda in Angola. For more, read our in-depth series last year on the challenge of urbanisation in Africa.

Polio progress stalls

Global progress on stopping polio transmission has “stalled and may well have reversed”. In a report this month, the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative blamed insecurity in polio hotspots for the rise in the number of wild poliovirus cases detected this year – 25 as of October – more than in all of 2017. “Access limitations due to insecurity continue to represent the biggest threat to polio eradication,” the board said in its report, citing a year-on-year doubling of cases in Afghanistan, and a black hole of information in areas of Nigeria controlled by Boko Haram. Insecurity is not the only factor: In Afghanistan, large numbers of children miss repeated rounds of polio vaccination due to misinformation and outright refusal by sceptical parents (we took a firsthand look at some of the problems earlier this year). Recent research published by UNICEF delves into this issue, asking, “Why do some Afghan parents say ‘no’ to polio drops?”

US votes against new deal for refugees

Two years of international negotiations have drawn up a new package of support for 25 million refugees, and the countries hosting them. The global compact for refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency, aims for a "stronger, fairer response to global refugee movements”, to help refugees become self-reliant, and to ease pressure on hosting countries. The agreement is due to be adopted by the UN General Assembly after passing committee stage this week. The United States was the only vote against the refugee compact taken on 13 November, and had pulled out of a sister compact on migration last year. A US representative told a UN committee the text is "inconsistent with United States immigration policy". Three other countries abstained on the non-binding agreement: Eritrea, Liberia, and Libya.

In case you missed it:

AFGHANISTAN: Escalating clashes this month between the Taliban and pro-government forces have displaced thousands and left districts in Uruzgan and Ghazni provinces in a state of “siege” with no access to healthcare, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination arm. The UN says the violence, which has engulfed previously peaceful areas, reflects “increasing inter-communal tensions”.

ERITREA: International sanctions imposed against Eritrea nearly a decade ago were lifted by the UN Security Council this week, months after the country signed an historic peace agreement with Ethiopia in July. After two decades of tensions, Addis Ababa and Asmara are working towards peace, also reopening their border in September. While communities in both countries welcomed the move, our report from the border this week reveals how the diplomatic thaw has also led to a new surge of Eritrean refugees into heavily burdened Ethiopia.

LIBYA: Italy hosted a two-day summit on Libya this week, but a chance for the country’s competing leaders to discuss key economic, security, and political issues was overshadowed by one general’s late arrival and a Turkish walk-out. The UN got no binding agreement to its timetable for elections, but its envoy for Libya nonetheless said the conference was a “first step in the right direction”.

MYANMAR: Authorities in Myanmar say they have detained more than 100 Rohingya found on board a boat near the commercial capital of Yangon on Friday. Bangladesh authorities earlier intercepted a boat carrying 33 Rohingya, raising fears of a repeat of 2015’s regional boat crisis, which saw thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants stranded when traffickers abandoned their human cargo on the open waters.

PALESTINE: An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire appears to be holding in Gaza after a major flare-up in violence at the start of this week prompted by a Sunday night botched Israeli raid in the Palestinian enclave. For now, Israeli airstrikes have stopped, as have mortar and rockets from Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

Weekend read

Rakhine peace efforts, amid concerns over forced returns

Plans to begin returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on Thursday were met with protests in Bangladesh’s refugee camps. Authorities said they were ready to begin repatriations but couldn’t find any Rohingya refugees willing to go. The situation remains volatile: rights groups say Bangladesh authorities have been pressuring hundreds of refugees to return, while aid workers in the camps told IRIN some Rohingya had gone into hiding. The UN and others say it’s not yet safe for Rohingya to return to their former homes in Myanmar’s impoverished Rakhine State. Rohingya there face enforced segregation, heavy restrictions, and animosity from the ethnic Rakhine community. But not everyone in Rakhine shuns the Rohingya. For our weekend read, reporter Verena Hölzl profiles the Rakhine peacebuilders working to bridge the deep rifts. They’re often forced to work in the shadows, facing threats from sceptical hardliners and increasing government restrictions. Read more on the uphill battle to forge peace in Rakhine.

And finally…

A fair trade trade fair?

Tents, Land Cruisers, and *checks notes* a sarin gas detector were among the goods on view in a cavernous exhibition hall on the outskirts of Brussels this week. Nearly 200 exhibitors set up stands at AidEx, whose organisers claim it's the largest trade show for the international development community. Although there are billions of dollars in supply contracts every year, ranging from food to blankets, it's a tricky market to sell to, several vendors told IRIN. Dealing with the purchasing bureaucracies of the big aid agencies "drives me insane", one said. Another stallholder thought the sector was "clubby" and hard to break into. A third bemoaned a gaggle of buyers who "all want to run their own race". Malmo University academic Tobias Denskus, attending the event as part of his research into communications in the development sector, said he was struck by how the "outdoorsy" and "yurts and glamping" markets overlap with the relief sector. IRIN too found plenty of "dual-use" suppliers – water purification systems, survival equipment, life jackets – who said they often have more lucrative outdoor and military customers but keep plugging away at the nonprofit sector anyway. Swedish firm Serstech was showing a battery-operated laser device that can detect and identify illegal drugs, commercial pharmaceuticals, and toxins in a matter of seconds. CEO Stefan Sandor said he had talked with health organisations about detecting poisons in floodwaters, or air pollution. He said the device was already in use to verify usage of chemical weapons in Syria. See this Twitter thread from IRIN’s Ben Parker for more products at the show.


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