Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Afghan forces kill NGO health workers, rights group says
Afghan special forces “executed” four civilians, including at least two NGO workers, in a nighttime raid on a health clinic in Wardak Province on 8 July, Human Rights Watch says. The NGO that runs the clinic, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, called it a “shocking violation against international humanitarian law”. The NGO’s director said security forces killed one person accompanying a patient before shooting three others, including two SCA employees. SCA said the clinic is funded by the Afghan government. Humanitarian groups frequently work in both government-controlled areas as well as insurgent territory, and local health workers say they face threats from both sides, especially in contested zones. The UN says 77 aid workers have been killed, injured, or abducted this year in Afghanistan – already eclipsing last year’s total of 76. Pro-government and international military forces have killed more civilians than the Taliban and other insurgents combined in 2019, according to the UN.
The economics of terrorism in the lake Chad basin
The Boko Haram splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), is helping fishing communities in the Lake Chad region circumvent a trading ban imposed by the Nigerian military, and in doing so is cementing its influence in the area. The military’s ban is a heavy-handed attempt to deny ISWAP profits from the multi-million dollar dried fish business. But the impact has been to impoverish the local community, stoking resentment against the government – especially as elements within the Nigerian military are alleged to be engaged in the trade themselves. The Institute for Security Studies notes that ISWAP has secured alternative routes through Cameroon and back into Nigeria to avoid the embargo – “endearing itself to the locals and boosting its revenues.” Look out for our upcoming report on ISWAP and the proto-state it is building in the Lake Chad basin.
West Africa’s crisis of inequality
Inequality in West Africa is “at crisis levels” says Oxfam. A clear majority of the region’s citizens are denied “the most essential elements of a dignified life” – access to quality education, healthcare and decent work. Inequality is exacerbated by government underfunding of social services and the agricultural sector while at the same time under-taxing corporations and the wealthy, and failing to clamp down on tax evasion, tax avoidance and corruption – with illicit financial flows from Africa to the West alone worth more than $50 billion. The best performing countries on Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index are Cape Verde and Mauritania, with Sierra Leone and Nigeria at the bottom. Nigeria is home to the continent’s richest men but globally has the highest number of people living in poverty.
Bombed detention centre is evacuated
More details have emerged about the 3 July airstrike on a migrant detention centre in the Libyan capital that killed more than 50 people, including six children. A New York Times investigation, which includes harrowing security footage from inside the Tripoli building, shows that Tajoura, which housed more than 600 migrants and refugees, was less than 90 metres from a militia weapons depot. The air raid first hit the weapons cache, leading some people to flee the centre (despite reported shooting by guards). Eleven minutes later, Tajoura itself was hit. Not everyone was immediately evacuated from the centre and Tajoura was only finally closed on 10 July, the UN said. Survivors who are not in hospital have been moved to another facility, which it called “badly overcrowded”.
Citizen data shapes landslide predictions
Researchers with NASA, the US space agency, are relying on citizen scientists to learn more about a decidedly terrestrial problem: global landslide risk. Over the last year, citizen scientists supplied information on 162 previously-undetected landslides in 37 countries. NASA says the collaboration, detailed this month in the journal PLOS ONE, will “immensely improve” its global landslide prediction model. Most of NASA’s landslide info comes from English-language news reports, which tend to focus on headline-grabbing disasters while other landslides go unrecorded. Why does it matter? This model currently helps scientists anticipate rain-triggered landslide threats around the world every 30 minutes. Landslides kill thousands of people each year, and the majority happen in Asia during monsoon seasons. In Bangladesh, where the monsoon began in June, the Rohingya refugee camps are on high alert (thousands have already been displaced), as are the nearby hill tract districts, where once-rare landslide casualties are becoming increasingly common.
In case you missed it
SUDAN: Sudan’s ruling military council says it foiled an attempted coup on Thursday night. The announcement came as the military and pro-democracy movement were working on a power-sharing deal. Meanwhile, the lifting of an internet ban has allowed the circulation of cellphone clips from the military’s bloody crackdown on civilian activists on 3 June. The BBC has pieced together some of the disturbing footage.
KASHMIR: India and Pakistan have done little to curb rights abuses in disputed Kashmir, the UN’s human rights office warned in a report this week. Local rights groups in Indian-administered Kashmir say civilian deaths are at a 10-year high, and this year threatens to surpass the last.
YEMEN PULLOUT: The United Arab Emirates, which along with Saudi Arabia leads a coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, is withdrawing most of its troops from the country. The UAE led an advance towards the port city of Hodeidah before a ceasefire agreement last December, but has already pulled most of its soldiers and weapons from the strategic area.
CHEMICAL WEAPONS: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has reportedly established a new team to investigate and assign responsibility for nine alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. In late 2017, Russia vetoed a resolution to continue the work of a joint UN-OPCW body that had the job of determining who had been using the banned agents.
HEALTHCARE UNDER ATTACK: Two hospitals, a healthcare centre, and an ambulance facility in northwestern Syria were hit by airstrikes or shelling on Wednesday, according to medical aid groups that work in the area. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) said six civilians who lived near the ambulance facility in Jisr al-Shughour were killed. Five staffers were injured.
SEXUAL ABUSE: Peter Dalglish, 62, a former aid worker, was sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing two boys aged 11 and 14 in Nepal. The Canadian co-founded the NGO Street Kids International. He had also worked for UN Habitat in Afghanistan, and for the UN in Liberia. His lawyer is reported as saying Dalglish is protesting his innocence and the prosecution case was flawed.
MALWARE: A UK charity was hit by a ransomware attack in one of the first public cases of its kind to affect a nonprofit. First aid group St John's Ambulance announced that it resolved the issue quickly without payment or loss of data. Ransomware is a virus that locks up a system until an anonymous payment is made (usually in bitcoin) and is a growing cyber security threat.
Nine thousand Venezuelans arrived in Peru on a single day in June, just before Lima’s new immigration rules came into force. Until 15 June, Venezuelans fleeing economic collapse and authoritarian government at home could live and work freely in Peru, with temporary residence permits that were renewable annually. But that laissez-faire policy has come to an end. Now Peru (which has a backlog of 240,000 asylum applications) insists on would-be arrivals applying for a “humanitarian visa”. But that requires a valid passport and evidence of a clean criminal record – both of which can be expensive and difficult for Venezuelans to secure. Analysts say the measure will drive migrants into the informal employment sector, increasing the risk of worker exploitation.
Indonesia’s disaster spokesman dies
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who helped his country weather a year of calamity as spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, died this week from lung cancer. He was 49. Sutopo was frequently in the news last year through a string of disasters, including earthquakes that hit the island of Lombok, volcano threats in Bali and Sumatra, and the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Central Sulawesi in September, killing more than 4,000 people. In one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, Sutopo became a popular public figure who used social media to shoot down internet hoaxes, spread disaster awareness tips, and even critique his own country’s preparedness systems. His popular Twitter missives, occasionally written from a hospital bed, also poked fun at his own predicament. “Life isn’t determined by how long we live,” he told the Guardian last year, “but how useful we are to other people.”
(TOP PHOTO: Displaced people and locals in Lake Chad area prepare to go fishing.)
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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