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Libyan power play, weather worries, and unhealthy eaters: The Cheat Sheet

Migrants hold placards during United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (unseen) visit to Ain Zara detention centre for migrants in the Libyan capital Tripoli on 4 April 2019. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP)

Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

Meanwhile, in Libya ...

While North Africa watchers had their eyes on Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation after 20 years in power and weeks of mass protests against his government, a key figure vying for power in neighbouring Libya sent his troops towards the capital city of Tripoli, where the UN-backed government sits. The move this week by Khalifa Haftar, an army general who controls much of the country’s east, overshadowed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ visit to Tripoli to discuss the UN’s plan for a national conference this month on Libyan elections. A flurry of statements urged a de-escalation of tensions, and rival forces from the western city of Misrata said they were mobilising to defend the capital. All of which somewhat underscores a statement by the UN’s migration agency this week, warning that Libya “cannot be considered a safe port or haven for migrants.” Nonetheless, more than 16,000 people have been returned to the country’s shores since January 2018. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recently reported that migrants in Tripoli detention centres are subject to “inhumane and dangerous conditions.” Check out our Destination Europe series for more on what it’s like for the many migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers passing through Libya.

Escaping Boko Haram but not the rainy season

Violence continues in Nigeria’s Borno state, and needs of civilians affected by the conflict are expected to grow in the rainy season that starts in May, MSF warns. The NGO said an estimated 30,000 displaced people in Monguno, many of whom fled violence late last year, are in particular need of shelter and other basics. The Boko Haram splinter group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State has mounted a number of attacks recently and issued a video of executing five people. Boko Haram formed in 2002 in the northeastern city of Maiduguri and the conflict and counter-insurgency has evolved over years, as reporter Chika Oduah chronicled in a recent reporter's diary. Five years ago, the group kidnapped 276 female students in the town of Chibok. Many escaped or were returned, but more than 100 are still in captivity.

Welcome, Journal of Humanitarian Affairs!

The growing humanitarian sector faces “severe ethical and practical challenges”, which need critical reflection, say the founders of a new academic periodical. The Journal of Humanitarian Affairs aims to provide “serious and inter-disciplinary academic and practitioner exchanges on pressing issues of international interest.” The three-times-a-year publication is backed by the NGOs Save the Children and Médecins sans Frontières, with the UK’s University of Manchester. The inaugural issue went online this week, with the theme of “humanitarianism and the end of liberal order.” In an introduction, its editor, Juliano Fiori, wrote that in a changing world “humanitarian norms and practices are increasingly contested.” An opinion piece by Belgian academic Olivia Rutazibwa questions what there is to be sorry about in the end of the liberal order: “...decoloniality questions what we mourn. With humanitarianism itself being redefined, decolonial perspectives can contribute to an understanding of the relevance of the good intentions of humanitarians to the aspirations of their intended ‘beneficiaries’.”

New violence, old story for Afghan civilians

Clashes are escalating on multiple battlefronts in Afghanistan, even after two weeks of US-led peace talks with the insurgent Taliban last month. At least 30 soldiers and police officers were killed Thursday when Taliban fighters stormed a district in western Afghanistan’s Badghis Province, the New York Times reported. On the other side of the country in Kunar Province, meanwhile, the Taliban is on the receiving end of attacks from another group of militants – and civilians are caught in the middle, as usual. In late March, more than 21,000 people – including half the population of a single district, Chapadara – were displaced by ongoing clashes between the Taliban and fighters aligned with so-called Islamic State. Aid groups say they have no access to areas controlled by the IS-aligned fighters; the UN says public health and schooling is “limited or non-existent” in areas the militants have captured. Fighters linked to Islamic State have been behind a growing share of civilian conflict casualties in the east – often through suicide blasts in heavily populated areas.

Eat your greens

Unhealthy eaters, you’re not alone. Every region of the world is eating too much of the wrong things, and too little of the right ones, according to a new study published in The Lancet. Health researchers munched through data and published studies on 195 countries to calculate the connection between diet, illness, and premature death. They found that eight million people a year die early from three causes: too much sodium or too little whole grains and fruit. Among the world’s 20 most populous countries, Japan comes in on the top in healthy eating and Egypt at the bottom. In detailed breakdowns, the report offers country-specific insights, suggesting Bangladesh could use more fruit or that Mexico chugs too many sugary drinks. Poor diet leads to a range of illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. But chief amongst them is diet-related cardiovascular disease, which affects the regions of Oceania and Central Asia the most. Food for thought perhaps on World Health Day, this Sunday.

In case you missed it


Mozambique: Flood waters are receding after Cyclone Idai tore through parts of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe weeks ago, but not fast enough for farmers to plan for the harvest this month. Some two million people throughout the region are in need of humanitarian assistance, and Zimbabwe is facing critical grain shortages. Thousands are still missing, meanwhile, and more than 1,400 cases of cholera have been reported. Two people have died from the disease. A widespread vaccination campaign is underway in affected areas.


Myanmar: More than 95,000 people can’t access aid and basic services in Rakhine State because of excessive government humanitarian restrictions linked to ongoing clashes with the insurgent Arakan Army, a group of 16 NGOs warned this week. The aid groups said this “blanket security approach” was causing hardship even in areas not directly affected by the fighting.


Nepal: The strongest windstorm to strike Nepal in a half-century last week killed at least 27 people and triggered “severe destruction” affecting 12,000 people. The Red Cross says there’s an urgent need for food and shelter.


Syria: Heavy rainfall last weekend led to flooding and two reported deaths in northwest Syria’s displacement camps. A group of doctors in Syria said that more than 6,500 families, most of them in Idlib’s Atma camp, were impacted as tents and belongings were swept away.


Yemen: Médecins Sans Frontières said Thursday it is suspending new admissions to its hospital in Yemen’s southern city of Aden after a patient who was about to undergo surgery was kidnapped from the grounds and later killed. The group said the incident was the latest in a series of threats to hospital security and staff.


Weekend read

Western Sahara: “No one even knows if we’re there or not”

Abdullah Mohamed-Salem Tlaimidi is 22, and war is on his mind. It’s on the minds of other young Sahrawis who have spent their lives in refugee camps, too, as journalist Ruairi Casey found recently. Morocco annexed two-thirds of Western Sahara shortly after Spain retreated from its former colony in 1975, sparking a war with the Sahrawi Polisario Front that lasted until 1991 and displaced tens of thousands of indigenous Sahrawi to western Algeria’s Tindouf province. More than 170,000 now live in the camps, according to UNHCR estimates.


UN-convened informal talks on the Western Sahara late last month appear to have yielded little in bringing the decades-long conflict to a close – though UN Secretary-General António Guterres reportedly told the Security Council this week that “a solution to the conflict is possible.” Spend some time with our weekend read to understand why a lifetime of failed diplomacy has left Tlaimidi and others of his generation hopeless at what they say is a frozen peace process, a glaring lack of opportunity, and a world that seems to have forgotten they exist.

And finally

Hello, tech support? I’m from Syria, and ...

Ready for something a bit different than our usual fare? It’s the weekend, after all. We recommend the latest episode of Reply All, a podcast about the internet. Hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt occasionally open up the phone lines to listeners and attempt to solve their problems, big and small. This week, one of the callers is a young Syrian refugee living in Turkey, who is looking for some tech support as he applies to universities in Canada; the US travel ban has locked him out of options there despite his sky-high SAT scores. The conversation turns to his life in Turkey, what it’s like to be a nerdy refugee who relates to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and his family’s aborted attempt to get to Europe. The language and subject matter of the previous calls might not be safe for work, but on the whole the episode is sweet, quirky, a bit sad, and well worth a listen.

(TOP PHOTO: Migrants protested during a visit by UN officials to the Ain Zara detention centre in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, this week.)


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