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Aid emojis, El Nino warnings, and an Afghan summit: The Cheat Sheet

Shareef Sarhan/UN Photo
Palestinians search through the rubble of their destroyed homes hit by Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip.

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

On our radar

Just-in-time funding for Palestinian refugees

The UN's relief agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, has plugged a major hole in this year's finances left by the cancellation of an expected $300 million from the United States. Speaking to the agency's Advisory Commission this week, UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl said the income shortfall now stands at $21 million, after donors contributed $425 million since January. A wide range of donors increased their contributions to make up the difference. Krähenbühl said Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait had provided $50 million each. The agency has made cost savings of $197 million from 2015-17, he added, and will in future benefit from an Islamic waqf fund (a form of endowment) and a World Bank trust fund.

Taking stock in Afghanistan

There are plenty of humanitarian issues in Afghanistan: soaring civilian casualties and mass displacement caused by conflict; drought-parched land; the yearly return of hundreds of thousands of refugees and undocumented migrants pushed out of neighbouring countries. These and other critical topics will be on the table as Afghanistan’s leaders meet with international donors, senior aid officials, civil society groups, and humanitarian and development experts at a UN-hosted conference in Geneva on 27 and 28 November. Organisers say it’s a “crucial moment” for both the government itself and the international community. The government will be looking to bolster international support; donors will be measuring progress on some of the billions in funding promised to the country. Presidential elections are scheduled for April, but the country is mired in an increasingly complex war and progress on possible peace talks with the Taliban has been elusive.

Preparing for El Niño

The Food and Agriculture Organization is urging early action to prepare for the impacts of a possible El Niño event in the coming months. Global El Niño weather phenomena, which are linked to a cycle of warming ocean temperatures in the Pacific, sharpen the risk of extreme weather in volatile ways: heavy rains and flooding in some areas; severe drought in others. Countries already dealing with humanitarian crises could be among those most at risk. An FAO bulletin released this week cites nations from Venezuela and Colombia, to DRC and Malawi, to the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu as being at risk of rainfall shortages. In turn, countries like Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan, and Afghanistan could see excess rains. Parts of Kiribati in the Pacific could see both wet and dry conditions. The FAO says it’s important that policymakers and planners realise that El Niño’s impacts “can be mitigated before they generate large-scale food security emergencies”.  The risks can be steep: the last severe El Niño in 2015 and 2016 triggered appeals for international humanitarian aid in 23 countries, totalling more than $5 billion, the FAO notes.

Climate vulnerable but fighting back

The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu intends to challenge the big polluters it holds responsible for costly climate-linked destruction on its soil. Vanuatu’s foreign affairs minister, Ralph Regenvanu, said the country will explore taking legal action against the fossil fuel industry – as well as governments that profit from it – as part of a movement to “shift the costs of climate protection” back onto those most responsible for climate change. Regenvanu made his comments on Thursday at a virtual climate summit staged by the Climate Vulnerable Forum – a group of nearly 50 developing countries pushing for the world to take stronger action on climate change. The CVF summit is intended to galvanise international efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius ahead of this year’s iteration of the annual UN climate conference, COP24, slated for December in Poland. But smaller countries – which are some of the most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts but often have the least to do with its causes – are also growing increasingly frustrated about global commitments to address monetary damages caused by climate-linked disasters. Regenvanu said Vanuatu lost nearly two thirds of its GDP from a single tropical storm – Cyclone Pam in 2015. “The climate loss and damages ravaging Vanuatu will not go unchallenged,” Regenvanu said.

As part of the summit, IRIN director Heba Aly also moderated a panel examining climate change’s disproportionate impacts on women – and how women are also taking the lead in addressing it. Read more of IRIN’s reporting on the humanitarian impacts of climate change.

In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: Attacks on religious targets continue to claim lives. An explosion killed at least 26 people attending Friday prayers at a mosque in eastern Afghanistan on 23 November, while a 20 November suicide blast at a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul killed at least 50 and injured dozens more.

AFGHANISTAN: Drought is adding to the continuing humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan, but it's also bad for the opium business. According to figures released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime this week, the estimated land area used for opium cultivation this year has fallen by one fifth since 2017’s record high – partly due to severe drought impacts in western Afghanistan.

MALARIA: No significant progress was made to reduce global malaria cases between 2015 and 2017, according to a new report by the World Health Organization, which said that the pace of fighting the disease has stalled. An estimated 219 million malaria cases were reported in 2017, and the disease still kills more than 435,000 people annually, mainly in Africa. Meanwhile, in a separate effort to try and reduce transmission, thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes are set to be released in a village in Burkina Faso as part of a project aimed at wiping out the malaria-carrying insects. Not everyone is convinced.

YEMEN: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week pledged a combined $500 million to relief efforts in Yemen. The new funding comes as diplomatic pressure increased on them and other warring parties in Yemen to pause fighting and start peace talks. Humanitarian needs are vast, although experts are still considering whether to classify any part of Yemen as a famine. Earlier this year, the two Gulf donors had already put $1 billion towards UN-led relief plans, in addition, they say, to propping up the currency and weak government with billions more.

One to listen to

‘Number One Ladies’ Landmine Agency’

At the northwestern corner of the African continent lies one of the world’s least reported but longest-running conflicts – Western Sahara. At the heart of it are the region’s Sahrawi people. In this BBC radio documentary, we get a peek into the lives of a unique band of frontline workers: the self-appointed ‘Number One Ladies’ Landmine Agency’, a collective of local women working to clear unexploded bombs along the world’s longest (2,700-kilometre) minefield. Operating in temperatures exceeding 42 degrees Celsius, and at least four hours away from the nearest hospital, they risk their lives and limbs ridding the so-called “Liberated Territories” of some of the seven million mines left over from the unresolved conflict between Morocco and a Sahrawi liberation movement called the Polisario Front. While the group of mostly young women are committed to their part in making their home region safer, they also forge ahead socially – challenging cultural and religious stereotypes, and pushing boundaries to rewrite the role of women in their traditional community. But the team also faces significant challenges: living in Africa’s last-remaining colony as refugees; working in a physically and politically hostile environment; and knowing that an accident is only a footstep away.

Our weekend read

A humanitarian crisis denied

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world and yet, despite suffering no conflict, its people have been fleeing on a scale and at a rate comparable in recent memory only to Syrians at the height of the civil war and the Rohingya from Myanmar.

Millions have escaped the economic meltdown since 2015 and started afresh in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. But what of the many millions more who remain in Venezuela? Regular IRIN contributor Susan Schulman spent weeks covering 1,400 kilometres from Carupano in the east to Tucuco in the far west to seek answers. Take time this weekend to read the latest instalment of her ongoing multimedia series. The government of President Nicolás Maduro insists there is no humanitarian crisis, but find out the hungry reality of the "Maduro diet", how ordinary people have taken to hijacking lorries for food and stashing their supplies in graves to survive.

And finally…

Emergency emojis

Notorious for its acronyms, jargon, and lengthy documents, some would argue the international aid sector needs all the help it can get in non-verbal communication. Flood, fire, volcano, earthquake: some disaster events are easy enough to condense down to a monochrome icon. In 2012, graphic designers at the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, released into the public domain about 500 graphical icons that can be used in emergency-related reports, maps, and infographics. They include, for example, a wilted plant to symbolise drought, and a fax machine. Other concepts in the humanitarian world are not the easiest to communicate in a tiny black-and-white visual. How would you draw "harassment", "submersible pump", or "rural exodus"? In a new release, OCHA has updated some of the icons (even tweaking the trusty old fax machine) and added new ones. Some are depressing signs of the times: "roadblock", "burned house", and "sexual violence". Other novelties show changes in the humanitarian work environment: "cash transfer" , "reconstruction",  and "cell-tower". You can pick up the icons hosted at the Noun Project here. We can only salute the graphic designer who was given the task of making "gap analysis", "humanitarian programme cycle", and "multi-cluster-multi-sector" into universally-understandable symbols.

(TOP PHOTO: Palestinians search through the rubble of their destroyed homes hit by Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. CREDIT: Shareef Sarhan/UN Photo)


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