Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Gentle reminder: Sudan’s humanitarian needs
You may have heard that Sudan isn’t looking so stable at the moment. Protesters are still pushing back, now against continued military rule after long-time President Omar al-Bashir was ousted and arrested this week following months of protests that have killed more than 60 people. Sudan’s Defence Minister Awad Ibn Ouf announced Thursday that he will lead a transitional military council until possible elections within two years. Add an approaching rainy season, a sizeable refugee population, 5.76 million people who were projected to be “food insecure” in the first three months of this year, and two million who are internally displaced – most in Darfur – and one would be forgiven for wondering whether a perfect storm of humanitarian need is in the making. Oh, and there’s a measles vaccine effort under way, in the hopes of reaching 11 million children. Remember, too, that the protests began in December amid rising bread prices and shortages in fuel and currency. In short, humanitarian needs remain high across the country, with at least 5.5 million people in need of assistance, and it’s unclear how the political unrest will impact them. We’ll have more on all that early next week. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to note that Ibn Ouf was sanctioned by the United States in 2007 for his alleged role in atrocities in Darfur. And al-Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court and accused of genocide.
Mapping Africa for good – or ill?
Facebook has built a unique map of population density in parts of Africa by combining satellite imagery and census data. The company claims this can benefit economic development and humanitarian relief operations. One example: a Red Cross vaccination campaign in Malawi avoided deploying teams to unpopulated areas, confident that the Facebook map had captured even the remotest villages. The new map was built on 11.5 billion images. AI code was trained to determine whether a satellite image contains any kind of building. Then the total population of the district or region (from official census figures) was allocated according to the density of the buildings, at a 30m by 30m scale. The public dataset has already been downloaded over 400 times. As you’d expect with any Facebook news, the project has met with a mixed reaction: humanitarian data specialist Nathaniel Raymond, for instance, posted on Twitter that the project raised protection concerns and could fuel land speculation.
Yet again, less spending on aid
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which tracks giving by major donors, reports the second year in a row of lowered aid spending, estimating flows of $143.22 billion in 2018, down from a peak of $147.55 billion in 2016. OECD allows for some spending on receiving refugees to count towards the total for official development assistance (ODA) or aid funding. (That’s an anomaly we explored in 2017.) Using that rule, over 20 percent of Iceland and Italy’s self-reported “aid” was in fact spent at home last year. Humanitarian aid, a subset of the ODA from OECD members, fell eight percent to $15.3 billion. Only five countries, all in Europe, met the UN target for international aid giving last year. The target of 0.7 percent of gross national income to be given in ODA came in a roundabout way from a one percent goal proposed in 1958, according to a history note by the OECD.
A bad week for Libyan civilians
General Khalifa Haftar’s bid for the Libyan capital continued this week, as did the fallout for civilians: the UN says the fighting has forced more than 9,500 people to flee their homes and 3,250 people requested help getting to safer areas, but it was impossible to reach them. At least 56 people, including two doctors and an ambulance driver, have been killed. The UN also says 728 migrants and refugees in a detention centre near the violence were “provided the opportunity” to relocate but they declined. Some 1,300 migrants and refugees – some saying they had no food or water – were held in detention centres near the front lines as of early this week, although some evacuations have taken place. In the midst of this chaos, it’s no real surprise that the UN cancelled an upcoming conference on Libya’s (now bleaker-looking) future. We’ll have more for you next week on what’s what in Tripoli, but for now do check out this personal essay from Sirte-based Asel Alaghori, who notes that “the cheapest thing in Libya these days is a life.”
Which country is ‘most fragile’?
We’re glad you asked. The Fund for Peace released its 2019 Fragile States Index (FSI) this week, which holds the answer to that question – Yemen (no surprise) – and others that are, shall we say, a whole lot more nuanced. The New Humanitarian, in fact, partnered with the FSI to consider how state fragility can both cause and exacerbate humanitarian crises, as well as complicate aid response and stymie longer-term development agendas. As Fund for Peace Executive Director J.J. Messner says, “We’re not just looking at the negative but also at the positive as well, to be able to demonstrate where countries are getting better and how we can help them continue on a path of progress and prosperity.” More interesting than which country is most fragile, perhaps, is how countries have risen or fallen in the rankings over time. As is holding up the data to what life really looks like on the ground among a country’s most vulnerable people. And we can help with that: for a look behind the rankings, at the situation in the ‘most fragile’ or the 32nd-most-fragile state (that would be Venezuela), check out our Fragile 15.
In case you missed it:
Cyclone Idai: It may take as much as $773 million to rebuild after Cyclone Idai, according to the World Bank. The storm battered Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe last month, killing an estimated 1,000 people and damaging houses, crops, and an important trade corridor connecting the Mozambique port town of Beira with Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Honduras: A new caravan of hundreds of Honduran migrants, including families and young children, departed from San Pedro Sula on Wednesday for the US-Mexico border, where thousands remain stranded. US President Donald Trump has suspended aid payments to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala in his latest bid to curb the northward migration.
Iran: Severe floods have inundated all but three of Iran’s 31 provinces, killing at least 78 and forcing more than 300,000 people from their homes – including more than 100,000 people now in emergency shelters. Since mid-March, parts of Iran have seen unprecedented severe rainfall. Authorities are warning that water levels are reaching dangerous heights at the Karkheh dam in western Iran, threatening surrounding cities and villages.
Niger: The UN is warning about intensifying attacks in the Diffa region by the Nigeria-based extremist group Boko Haram; more than 18,000 people have been displaced. The uptick in violence in Niger’s southeast is occurring as its northern border regions become increasingly gripped by militancy and inter-communal conflict sweeping across the Sahel region, from Mali to Burkina Faso.
Yemen: A blast near two schools in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a killed at least 14 children and injured 16. UNICEF said most of the casualties were under the age of nine, and the death toll was expected to rise. The cause of the explosion is still unclear.
We encourage you this weekend to dig in to some food for thought on the lessons of Rwanda – perhaps a bit sobering, that’s true, but timely to note that it’s a quarter century since the genocide in Rwanda that killed nearly one million people. On offer are two pieces from a four-part series we’ll publish throughout the month. The first, Born into a legacy of genocide, looks at the continuing trauma for survivors as well as the new generation of Rwandans, many of whom were not even alive in 1994. "In the past, I used to feel angry with other children from the Hutu ethnic group because I saw them all as my enemies," says 20-year-old Aliane, who is Tutsi. "Yet I understand now that their parents are the ones who did wrong." The second piece, What humanitarians need to remember 25 years on, explores the mistakes made and the lessons policy makers can still learn today. And speaking of lessons, the events in Rwanda 25 years ago provoked the setting up of this news agency, in fact: first as IRIN, now as The New Humanitarian. The hope then, and now, was that journalism put at the service of the world’s most vulnerable people might help prevent or at least ease events that lead to humanitarian needs.
How do I look?
This fashion story comes to you from Paris, but neither from the runways (Fashion Week’s not until September) nor the haute couture houses. This New Yorker piece presents interviews and photographs of newly arrived migrants and refugees after they’ve had their pick of donated items at a reception centre on the outskirts of the fashion capital of the world. A black jumper to remember a difficult journey, a coat that makes one young man finally feel he’s “on equal footing”. The men featured show off some solid style, but really this piece is “a portrait of how refugees see themselves, and how they wish to be seen.”
(TOP PHOTO: Protestors in Sudan on 12 April 2019.)
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.
The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this.