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IRIN’s Top Picks: Gates Foundation, Afghanistan and the Holocaust

Aminullah and his children harvest carrots in Saracha village, outside of Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan. Saracha is part of a pilot project by UNHCR to invest development aid in areas of high returns of refugees previously living in Pakistan, as a way of
Harvesting carrots in Saracha village, outside of Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan(Feb 2012) (Heba Aly/IRIN)

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share some of their top picks of recent must-read research, interviews, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Five to read:

Human Rights Watch World Report 2015

Newly-launched this week, this annual review is essential reading for anyone with an interest in human rights, conflict and global affairs. The country chapters provide detailed updates and useful background on parts of the world that barely get any media coverage. Expect deep coverage of Syria, Iraq, Boko Haram and the Central African Republic, as well as the CIA’s use of torture against terror suspects.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2015 

In a blog for the Holocaust Educational Trust to mark this month’s Holocaust Memorial Day, journalist Hugo Rifkind presents a compelling argument for why we must never forget what happened at Nazi death camps. Remembering, he says, is “not an act of honour for those who died, or an act of defiance against those who killed them… Rather, it is like the coin carried by an alcoholic, to remind him not to drink. To remember is to remain aware that we, as humans, balance on the very lip of the unspeakable; always far closer to toppling than we might wish to admit. All of us, everywhere, all the time.”

The Gates Annual Letter – 2015 

Bill and Melinda Gates use their annual letter this year to make what they call a “big bet”: that the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than they have at any other time in history. This, say the Gateses, is due to improved nutrition, education, health services and access to technology and economic opportunities. Given the plethora of crises now enveloping the world, is it overly-optimistic to believe that within 15 years Africa will be able to feed itself? Or that diseases like Guinea worm and polio will have been eradicated? Or is this positive, can-do approach what we need to get things done and make changes?

Humanitarian Needs Assessment – The Good Enough Guide

Developed by the Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB) and the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), the Good Enough Guide is a hands-on field tool for humanitarian staff designing and implementing needs assessments in emergencies. Put together with input from 150 individuals and organisations over the course of more than two years, the guide – deliberately written in plain English, not humanitarian jargon - aims to be an indispensable resource for aid workers. Its authors say it will be especially useful when new or local staff and partners are brought into organisations during sudden onset emergencies.

Afghans live in peril among unexploded NATO bombs that litter countryside 

Much has been written about what the exit of coalition troops will mean politically for Afghanistan going forward, but this piece from The Guardian charts a more lethal legacy: leftover unexploded bombs and shells. According to the article, since 2001, the coalition has dropped about 20,000 tonnes of ammunition over Afghanistan, around 10 percent of which did not detonate. UN statistics point to daily deaths or injuries, with many of the victims being children.  Demining teams have been operating in Afghanistan for decades. Tragically, it seems they may be kept busy for several years to come.

One to watch:

Attacks on Humanitarians are Attacks on Humanity  

One of the highlights of the most recent TEDx Place des Nations, Vincent Cochetel, director of the Bureau for Europe at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), explores why humanitarians continue to work despite the growing dangers and threats to their lives. In this moving talk, he vividly recounts his own experiences of spending 317 days in captivity after being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998. 

In case you missed it:

Rusty Radiator Awards 2014 

Angelina Jolie’s latest visit to Iraq led many to wonder, yet again, whether celebrities are effective at raising awareness of aid agencies’ work. Also, is it helpful or necessary or even honest to populate their appeals with emaciated folk and so many flies? The Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund (SAIH) - behind the spoof "Africa for Norway" appeal - is on a mission to challenge stereotyping in charity appeals. Its Rusty Radiator Awards – announced in December - highlight 2014’s highs and lows. A must-watch for NGO communications and marketing departments.

Coming up:

Adapting Incident Command Systems to Humanitarian Response 

Thursday 12 February – online – time tbc

Join Alexandra Levaditis, director of capacity building and organisational development at World Vision, Jimmy Nadapdap, from the global rapid response team at World Vision, and Sean Healy, humanitarian affairs adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières for a webinar exploring opportunities for aid workers to apply civil defence Incident Command Systems (ICS) in humanitarian response. Organised by the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP). A recording will be available after the event for those unable to join us live.

From IRIN:

Much aid, little long-term impact in DRC

Over the last 20 years, aid agencies have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but have little to show for it terms of impact or stability. This article explores the growing calls for a re-think on how aid is delivered to protracted conflict zones.


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