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TNH@25: Our – and your – favourite stories of all time

For our 25th anniversary, we dug through our archive for the 25 stories that have resonated the most.

As we mark 25 years of reporting from the heart of crises, we’ve hand-picked some of our favourite stories from the archives.

In no particular order, here are stories published by The New Humanitarian and our previous incarnation, IRIN News, that resonated with our editors or you, our readers – sometimes both. They have also chronicled the evolution of humanitarianism over the last quarter century, informing our look back on the sector as part of our new series, Rethinking Humanitarianism. We tried to choose only 25 stories, but in the end we cheated a little.

Welcome to the TNH Time Machine

Hover over the circle for a glimpse of our favourite stories from the past 25 years. Click on the image to find out more about the story behind it or scroll below for the full list of our top 25 (or so) pieces.

Welcome to the TNH Time Machine

Welcome to our time machine. Tap and hold the circle for a glimpse of our favourite stories from the past 25 years. Release your finger from the image to find out more about the story behind it or scroll below for the full list of our top 25 (or so) pieces.


1. How a tech NGO got sucked into a COVID-19 conspiracy theory (2020)

Published just this year, this story quickly became our most popular of all time, attracting more than 350,000 readers. It highlights the wild allegations, fear mongering, and suspicions about both billionaires and the World Health Organization that spread in the wake of a global pandemic – from a false claim that Bill Gates had a secret plan to insert microchips into patients to a non-profit lobby group that became an unlikely focus for a convergence of conspiracies. The piece showed how misinformation could undermine international efforts to contain the virus – and triggered some lively hate mail too!


2. The Road to Redemption: The unmaking of Boko Haram (2015)

In this long-form narrative piece, Africa Editor Obi Anyadike takes us inside efforts to de-radicalise members of what at the time was rated the world’s deadliest militant group. One of the first journalists to be granted access to Boko Haram prisoners, Anyadike unpacks the goals and motivations of the group and builds on our years of reporting (stretching back to 2009 and 2011) to track how a local religious sect developed into one of the world’s most protracted insurgencies. His work offers clues to tackling violence in the Sahel – which continues spreading today (see our in-depth series The Sahel in flames) – and was referenced by The New York Times and shared by Longform, among others.


3. An Iraqi woman's impossible choice: ‘I had to forget my honour to save my husband’s life’ (2007)

This horrific account, dating back to some of the worst days of war in Iraq, reveals the gruesomeness of the sectarian violence that ravaged the country from 2006-2009. The first person testimony details a mother’s impossible choice: submit to rape by militants or see her husband killed. The Arabic version of the story travelled widely, becoming our third most-read story of all time.


4. Mapping attacks against humanitarians: Aid under fire (2015)

We teamed up with the research outfit Humanitarian Outcomes to map attacks against aid workers globally. In 2000, 41 serious attacks on aid workers were recorded. By 2014, that number had risen to 190. In those 15 years, more than 3,000 workers were killed, injured, or kidnapped. This data visualisation tells the story of each of those attacks. It went on to prompt a petition signed by more than 1,400 aid workers urging the UN secretary-general to prioritise aid worker security.


5. The fight against AIDS: Heroes of HIV (2009)

This short documentary series earned IRIN an honourable mention at the 14th annual Webby awards, hailed as the “internet’s highest honour” by The New York Times. From the Nepali woman rescuing girls from the sex trade to the South African Catholic bishop promoting condoms, the videos profile exceptional people involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. IRIN’s PlusNews website published dedicated news about HIV/AIDS until 2011. For more of its offerings, take a look at this award-winning 2007 piece on a medical trial gone wrong in the search for products to prevent the disease.


6. A Yemeni’s final testimony: When the war hits home (2015)

This intimate account of the war in Yemen was one of the last articles contributor Almigdad Mojalli wrote before he was killed outside the capital city of Sana’a in January 2016. He had considered fleeing Yemen several times since the beginning of the war in early 2015, but decided to stay and document his country’s downward spiral and its impact on civilians. In this piece, he details his attempts to protect his family from the war and the day that several of his family members were hit in an apparent airstrike. Less than one year later, he died the same way.


7. The conflict in DRC (1996 onwards)

Our early coverage of instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire, is special to us for a couple of reasons. This 1996 briefing on the unrest in South Kivu province, one of our earliest pieces of original content, was the first comprehensive analysis on the conflict, which would challenge the stability of the country for years to come. And this 1999 coverage of clashes between pastoralists and agriculturalists in eastern Ituri province sparked an early example of user-generated content: exclusive amateur video from a missionary group showed children with deep machete wounds as well as mass graves and burning villages, drawing much-needed attention to the crisis. Over the years, our coverage of Congo has won awards, prompted mainstream media coverage, sparked a lobbying campaign at the UK Parliament, and contributed to a potential investigation into war crimes.


8. The impacts of climate change: The Gathering Storm (2008)

This series of short films shows the effects – even back then in 2008 – of a warming Earth. It tells the stories of a village chief in Lesotho who is mourning poor harvests due to declining rainfall and of Senegalese who fear their homes will be swept away by rising seas. Such was reader interest in the subject that this short news story about the 12 countries at highest risk of drought, flooding, storms, rising sea levels, and agricultural uncertainty still remains one of our most-read pieces.


9. Iraq’s displacement story: Searching for Othman (2016)

On a reporting trip years ago, Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod met a young boy at a camp in Iraq’s western desert, his body and face covered in scars. It was a few months after his home near the city of Fallujah was hit during fighting, killing his mother, brother, and cousin. Two years later, without knowing his name or much else about him, she returned to Iraq to find one boy in a country of 37 million people. Her longread about that search, and what happened to the boy called Othman, tells the story of what displacement, return, and war really mean for Iraqis who have been through so many years of conflict. And it inspired our readers to donate towards his medical costs.


10. Should child soldiers be prosecuted for their crimes? (2011)

The question has no clear answer under international law. Some experts argue that children cannot be held criminally responsible for acts they committed when they were not yet mature, and after experiencing intimidation or indoctrination. Others say failure to prosecute child soldiers would incentivise commanders to continue recruiting them. The debate has stood the test of time: This analysis exploring arguments on both sides continues to be among our most-read pieces, year after year.


11. Love in the field: Fifty Shades of Aid (2012)

Given the subject matter, our stories can often be heavy reading. But there are exceptions. Our piece exploring the challenges of dating among aid workers was a hit. Years later, its title became the name of a Facebook support group for aid workers – 24,000 people strong. For more racy content, check out this 2011 story about HIV/AIDS, which led with: “Vaginal sex, thigh sex, even armpit sex – people have sex in lots of ways…” And for a look at the benefits of horny expatriate aid workers, check out this 2015 piece on the rise in use of the Grindr dating app in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.


12. When aid policy and dark humour collide: Triple Nexus memes (2020)

Sticking with the lighter side of humanitarianism, our curation of memes circling the internet about the so-called nexus between humanitarian aid, development, and peacebuilding provoked a lot of reader reaction (for a more serious examination of this key – if controversial – policy priority, see our series on the topic).


13. Forgotten Conflicts (2015 onwards)

Our Forgotten Conflicts series gathered reporting from the heart of several hidden insurgencies and collated the world’s conflicts onto a single map, which attracted the attention of National Geographic, Wired magazine, and the UK’s Daily Mail. Among our favourite entries in the series are this award-winning, interactive multimedia feature from Sudan’s Blue Nile State – described as “visually stunning” and “extraordinarily timely” – and this moving audio slideshow from a town destroyed by the civil war in South Sudan. We were the first news organisation to embed with Cameroon’s anglophone secessionists (footage from the trip was provided to TV5 and the BBC); took an inside look at the struggling peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic; and uncovered details of a hidden war in Congo-Brazzaville thanks to satellite imagery – which Congolese lawyers say they plan to use as evidence in a genocide case to be filed at the International Criminal Court.

Read more → 25 Crises that Shaped History


14. Sexual abuse in aid: Oxfam’s #MeToo moment (2018)

In this investigation, we revealed that the man at the heart of a sexual exploitation scandal at aid agency Oxfam in Haiti was dismissed for similar misconduct by another British NGO seven years earlier. We also revealed that the Swedish government was made aware of his track record even before he got to Haiti, but that it funded programmes he was running (at the time in Chad) anyway. Following our story, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency suspended its humanitarian support for Oxfam until it could investigate the charity's systems and procedures (it has since resumed). The story made headlines around the world and sparked a conversation within the aid sector about how NGOs can better share information to prevent sexual predators from being re-hired while re-organising to prevent abuse.


15. The urbanised poor: Slum Survivors (2007)

Worldwide, more than one billion people live in slums – often the poorest of the poor, denied government services and the most vulnerable to natural disasters. This documentary tells the story of people who refused to be defined by their environment in one of Africa’s largest slums, Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. The film inspired British celebrities to spend three nights in the slum, living in tiny shacks with local residents, working menial jobs, and sharing their stories as part of a fundraiser for Comic Relief UK, which aired on the BBC as “Famous, Rich and in the Slums”. In the same vein, this short feature on Africa’s biggest metropolis, Lagos, “the mega-city of slums”, remains among our top 10 most-read stories, nearly 15 years on.


16. The COVID-19 pandemic (2020)

Our coronavirus coverage contributed to a near tripling of our audience after the pandemic struck. This story on the Tanzanian government allegedly covering up the true extent of the virus in the country resonated most strongly, including with the Tanzanian opposition. Our COVID-19 coverage generated particular interest from readers on the African continent, with stories about Nigerian doctors going on strike, which African countries might be most vulnerable to the virus, and ways COVID-19 is changing South Africa among our most read. Freshly published but already drawing attention is this intimate diary of a Yemeni doctor trying to care for his community as people fall down “like dominoes”. You also flocked to our real-time map (no longer updated) of where the virus is spreading.


17. We are not the world: Inside the ‘perfect storm’ of famine (2017)

This special package on “The Four Famines” of 2017 explored the dangerous mix of conflict, weak governance, poor infrastructure, and failing markets at the heart of one of the world’s largest food crises. It followed this briefing on drought in Africa, among our most-read pieces, summing up El Niño’s impact on east and southern Africa: consecutive seasons of drought that scorched harvests, ruined livelihoods, increased the malnutrition rates of rural children, and drove up food prices. They are among several stories we published on the topic that year – from Kenya to Ethiopia – as drought ravaged many parts of Africa. The stories were reminiscent of our earlier reporting in 2011, during the driest period in the Horn of Africa in 60 years, when famine killed more than 250,000 people in Somalia. It’s a narrative that seems to keep repeating itself.


18. A solution to hunger: The birthplace of a nutrition revolution (2007)

This article traces the origins of ready-to-eat therapeutic nutritional food – a breakthrough in treating starving and malnourished children – to a blender and a jar of Nutella in Malawi. Three years after our article was published, French pediatric nutritionist André Briend became a humanitarian celebrity of sorts, featured in a New York Times article, “The Peanut Solution”, as the creator of the nutritional supplement Plumpy'Nut and credited with significantly improving survival rates of dangerously hungry children.


19. Myanmar says Rohingya rape and abuse allegations ‘made-up’, despite mounting evidence (2016)

Our coverage of the Rohingya people has set the agenda since we began flagging systematic discrimination against the ethnic and religious minority in Myanmar as far back as 2008. It’s hard to pick just one story over the years, but this award-winning recounting of a brutal 2016 attack on a Rohingya village, including testimony from a woman allegedly raped by seven soldiers – a claim dismissed as “made-up” by a government official we interviewed – foreshadowed what would follow months later in the mass exodus that shocked the world. You also read with interest our feature on uncounted male rape survivors; these timelapse GIFs made from satellite images; this first-person account of why the Rohingya risk their lives at sea; and these portraits of Rohingya entrepreneurs. This reportage on how the Rohingya have been systematically stripped of citizenship, belonging, and their very identity gets to the heart of the crisis. Our coverage informed a call for the UN Human Rights Council to launch an inquiry into abuses against the Rohingya, prompted new areas of focus in humanitarian responses, and inspired donations from readers.


20. Early migration to Europe: By boat to Lampedusa and a new life (2011)

Stories of asylum seekers and migrants getting on rickety boats have become commonplace since Syrian refugees began fleeing to Europe at scale in 2015. But this early example of the trend was received with interest by our audience, and our 2012 in-depth package of migration stories, Crossing into the unknown, continued to forecast migration to Europe early on. Other favourites on the topic of refugees and migrants include TNH Director Heba Aly’s 2013 account of her overnight stay at Jordan’s largest refugee camp; Africa Editor Obi Anyadike’s hike up Mount Selouane in 2015 as part of this feature on Morocco’s forgotten frontline of the migrant crisis; and this award-winning raw, atmospheric film on the reality for unaccompanied minors on the border between Hungary and Serbia.


21. Impunity for peacekeeper abuse: ‘Why I resigned from the UN’ (2016)

When we broke the news that senior human rights official Anders Kompass was resigning from the UN over a peacekeeper sexual abuse scandal in Central African Republic, the story reverberated around the world. In one of our most-read stories of all time, the Swedish diplomat – who, when he reported the abuse, was condemned for his “misconduct”, suspended from his job, and marched out of his office – opened up about the “lack of accountability entrenched in the United Nations”. In our follow-up on-the-ground reporting with the survivors of the abuse, we found stark gaps in victim support and justice, and a TNH investigation revealed a series of blunders in the UN’s own internal investigation of the scandal.


22. A 10-year-old’s forced marriage: ‘I’d rather die than go back to him’ (2011)

Readers were moved by the story of Sally al-Sabahi, a Yemeni girl who was forcibly married at the age of 10 to an elderly man in exchange for a $1,000 dowry. After being drugged and beaten by her husband, Sally escaped. But without the money to pay back the dowry, she couldn’t divorce him. Our article prompted offers of financial help from readers as far as California, allowing Sally to pay back the dowry and get her divorce. Covering violence against women has always been an important part of our work, from this moving audio slideshow, Still Standing, following the journey of one Kenyan rape survivor in her quest for justice, to the award-winning film Our Bodies; Their Battleground, one of IRIN’s first feature-length documentaries, about sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. Our collection of stories about female genital mutilation remains one of our most-visted pages. This profile of Milly Wonder, a Kenyan self-defence trainer for girls, is one of our favourite short videos ever, and is bound to brighten up your day.


23. Islamic Law and the Rules of War (2014)

With many of today’s conflicts taking place in Muslim-majority countries or involving Muslim combatants, aid agencies are – arguably more than ever before – working in areas governed by Islamic norms. This four-part series, nominated for an AidEx Journalism Award, explores in depth the intersection between Islamic law, jihadism, and humanitarian norms.


24. Ten crises to watch (2018 onwards)

Our annual listing is always popular with readers and helps shape the agenda for the year ahead. It began in 2018 with a spotlight on secessionists in Cameroon and sub-Saharan migrants in Libya. Our 2019 look-ahead focused on climate displacement and infectious diseases. This year’s list highlights why increased militancy in the Sahel and macro-economic turbulence are drivers of humanitarian need.


25. A bit different? Beer, spy planes, and YouTube

We couldn’t resist revisiting this 2012 story tracking efforts to fight Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony with “beer, spy planes, and YouTube”. And for more that is a little offbeat, check out this news report detailing the sordid kidnapping of Chadian orphans by French aid workers in 2007; and the story of Order #81707503 tracking a single delivery of cooking oil from a decision at a US Agency for International Development office to the hands of a displaced woman in Chad. We’ve looked at language too, from this 2008 guide to HIV/AIDS slang (getting a “red card” means your life is over) to this 2018 introduction to disaster aid acronyms, from GDACS to MIRA.

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