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Afghanistan’s bloody peace talks, Dorian’s damage, and Bangladesh’s push to silence Rohingya phones: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

Wakil Kohsar/AFP
Smoke rises from the site of an attack after a massive explosion the night before near the Green Village in Kabul on 3 September 2019.

On our radar

Double vision in Afghanistan: Peace or ‘total civil war’

US and Taliban negotiators say they’re on the verge of a peace deal, but civilian casualties continue to soar in Afghanistan. On Thursday, a Taliban-claimed car bomb killed at least 10 people in Kabul, days after a separate attack killed 30 and wounded dozens more. That came shortly after Taliban strikes on the northern cities of Kunduz and Pul-e-Khumri – and before a raid by Afghan intelligence forces killed four civilians, provoking a public outcry. So where does this leave the peace deal? The top US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said the agreement calls for the withdrawal of 5,400 soldiers in the coming months. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani – thus far sidelined from direct negotiations – has been less than enthusiastic after a bloody week, calling peace with the Taliban “meaningless”. He’s not the only one with doubts: this week, nine former US ambassadors warned that Afghanistan risks plunging into “total civil war” if troop pull-outs are rushed.

Hurricane Dorian leaves Bahamas with $7 billion in damages

A full picture is starting to emerge of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. At least 30 people died in the powerful storm, and thousands are still missing. Nearly half or more of the homes on Abaco and Grand Bahamas are thought to be destroyed or severely damaged. The islands were the hardest hit on the archipelago with an estimated $7 billion of damage. Relief efforts are finally ramping up, meanwhile, after rescue crews and supply routes were blocked by severe damage to the main airport. The UN estimates that some 76,000 people are in immediate need of food, water and shelter. Some islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic are still recovering from the 2017 hurricane season, one of the deadliest and most costly on record. Dorian, which has made landfall on the coast of North Carolina, is expected to crawl up the eastern US coast in the coming days.

Attacks in South Africa spark anger among pop stars, football teams, diplomats

Ten people have died following a new wave of attacks targeting African immigrants living in South Africa this week. Rioters in and around Johannesburg torched buildings and looted shops thought to be owned by foreign nationals, though police minister Bheki Cele blamed "criminality rather than xenophobia” for the unrest. The violence has raised diplomatic tensions with Nigeria, which recalled its high commissioner to South Africa and withdrew from a World Economic Forum summit being held in Cape Town. Pop stars announced plans to boycott the country, while Madagascar joined Zambia in cancelling upcoming football matches. Attacks against foreigners aren’t new in South Africa: similar violence in 2008 left 62 dead and forced tens of thousands of foreigners into shelters around the country. Immigrants are often accused of taking jobs and homes from South Africans, though there is little evidence to support this claim. Read our piece from 2015 on the misconceptions fuelling the violence.

Rohingya refugees face communications blackout

Bangladesh has threatened to cut mobile phone access for Rohingya refugees within days, potentially severing a vital line of communication in and out of the crowded camps. Police officials said the move is responding to a spate of crime in the city-sized settlements. But the announcement came days after large crowds turned up to protests marking two years since the violent Myanmar military ouster of more than 700,000 Rohingya – and after thousands of refugees refused Bangladesh’s latest attempt to send them home. If the ban is enforced, Bangladesh will join a growing list of countries employing internet or phone shutdowns. Indonesia recently cut internet services to stem pro-independence protests in Papua and West Papua provinces; India has blocked internet and phone services in Kashmir; and Myanmar ordered an internet blackout – since partially lifted – in several Rakhine State townships in June. Watchdog group Access Now says there were 196 internet shutdowns in 2018 – and the numbers are rising each year. How do Rohingya use their phones? Meet a few entrepreneurial refugees eking out a living in Bangladesh’s camps.

Yemen re-cap: civilians are suffering

This was a week of reports and bombings in Yemen that demonstrated what loyal readers of Cheat Sheet already know: The war in Yemen has been going on for nearly four-and-a-half years, civilians are suffering, and no one has been held to account. On Sunday, a Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led coalition airstrike on a Houthi rebel-run detention centre in the country’s southwest killed more than 100 people; as of Tuesday, 93 bodies had been recovered but more are believed to be trapped under the rubble. On Monday, the open-source investigative website Bellingcat released an in-depth look at 20 coalition bombings on markets, prisons, weddings, and funerals, finding that attacks on civilians are continuing with impunity. And on Wednesday, the UN’s Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen put out its latest report, detailing “a host of possible war crimes” committed by pretty much every group fighting in the war, including, but most definitely not limited to, the denial of humanitarian aid.

In case you missed it

BURUNDI: Serious human rights violations are taking place in Burundi ahead of next year's presidential elections, according to a report published this week by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. Security forces and members of the government’s youth wing are creating “a climate of fear” among opponents of the ruling party, the report stated.

DRC: Violence against women and girls in the Ebola outbreak zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo has spiked, according to the UN’s Population Fund. In the first half of the year, some 17,000 women and girls received support for gender-based violence in Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu provinces. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by Ebola and ongoing conflict. More than half of the some 2,052 deaths in the latest Ebola outbreak have also been women and girls.

LIBYA: Five months of fighting in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli has now left 100 civilians dead, 300 injured, and forced 120,000 to flee their homes, the UN’s envoy to Libya told the Security Council on Wednesday. More than 100 people have also been killed in ongoing fighting in the southern town of Murzuq.

MOZAMBIQUE: Pope Francis arrived in Mozambique this week, a month after the signing of a landmark peace deal between the country’s ruling Frelimo party and rebel-turned-opposition movement, Renamo. Upcoming elections and splits in the opposition are set to test the fragile agreement.

VENEZUELA: President Nicolás Maduro ordered his armed forces to be on alert for a potential attack by Colombia and announced border military exercises. Colombia called the exercises a threat to regional stability. For a unique glimpse inside the political and economic crisis unfolding in Venezuela, from where more than four million people have fled (the most to Colombia), read this Reporter’s Diary by Magnus Boding Hansen.

Weekend read

Male rape survivors go uncounted in Rohingya camps

Sexual and gender-based violence has become a hot topic in humanitarian circles, but is enough attention being paid to male survivors? This is the underlying question in our weekend read, as journalist Verena Hölzl reports from the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. “There’s a striking division between aid workers and the refugees,” says Sarah Chynoweth, a researcher who has studied male survivors of sexual violence in emergencies around the world, including the Rohingya camps. “Many aid workers say we haven’t heard about it, but the refugees are well aware of it.”

And finally...

Robert Mugabe: Freedom fighter to political pariah

From freedom fighter to political pariah, Robert Mugabe died on Friday at the age of 95 after leading Zimbabwe to independence and remaining the country’s only leader for 37 years until he was ousted from power in a 2017 coup. President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the death of the country’s “founding father,” while the Mail & Guardian called Mugabe’s life a “tragedy in three acts.” For the first decade after independence in 1980, Zimbabwe contributed 5 percent of Africa’s maize production. Its economy also grew at 4.3 percent a year, and public spending on education and health led to increased school enrollment and longer life expectancies. By 2004, after a series of land reform programmes and an economic slow-down, the World Food Programme was feeding some 4.4 million people. Today, a third of Zimbabwe’s rural residents struggle to meet basic food needs, and international aid groups continue to fill gaps amid soaring inflation.

(TOP PHOTO: Smoke rises from the site of an attack in Kabul this week.)


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