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IRIN's Top Picks: Landmines, mental health and making do in Lebanon

A farmer on the slopes of Mt Kenya, in the district of Embu, prepares her maize plot for planting

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, 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

Landmines: two steps forward…

Landmine use had been dropping steadily over the last decade, and so had casualty numbers. Until 2014, that is. The annual Landmine Monitor report, published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, shows the first rise in nine years in casualty figures worldwide, alongside an increase in landmine use by non-state actors. In a “disturbing step backwards”, 10 countries recorded anti-personnel or victim-activated IED (improvised explosive device) use by rebel groups including, for the first time, Yemen and Ukraine. The casualty spike – up 11 percent to 3,678 from 3,308 in 2013 – was mostly driven by a sharp increase in victim-activated IEDs in Afghanistan. And it’s certainly not all bad news. The long-term trend remains downward, and anti-landmine treaties seem to be working: the use of landmines by governments remains low, with confirmed new use in 2014-15 restricted to Myanmar, North Korea and Syria – none of them signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty. 

Yemen: the forgotten conflict

While the eyes of global political leaders remain firmly trained on the patch of land currently occupied by self-styled Islamic State, the news from another part of the region grows increasingly bleak. The latest Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen from OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination arm, finds that 82 percent of the population – more than 21 million people – are in need of assistance ranging from food and clean water to basic healthcare. Some 32,000 casualties have been recorded since March, and OHCHR, the UN human rights monitor, reports an average of 43 violations every day. Internal displacement figures are now at 2.3 million. And, as these needs increase, basic services are collapsing. The Yemen appeal, meanwhile, remains just 49 percent funded. 

Lessons from Ebola

Last week, Sierra Leoneans danced with joy as the country was declared Ebola-free after nearly two years of devastation. But this week, two months after neighbouring Liberia’s own similar celebrations, a teenager there died of the virus, underlining that the outbreak in West Africa is still not over. This makes the recommendations of a panel convened by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine even more timely: reform the World Health Organization so it can cope with pandemics; invest in core capacity to handle outbreaks at the national level, especially in poorer countries; and invest in the necessary research and development – including vaccines. The report, which highlighted the problem affected countries had in detecting and reporting cases as well as the WHO’s failure to sound the alarm early enough, concluded that the poor international response caused “needless suffering and death.”

Making victims better participants in justice

When the now much-criticised International Criminal Court was founded, part of what was supposed to make it different was the way it involved victims. Instead of treating them as mere trial witnesses, they were to have a say in multiple aspects of court process, including decisions to open investigations and admit cases. They would also have their own special bit of the court – the Victims Participation and Reparations Section – through which to engage. Nearly 15 years on, a study of more than 600 of the thousands of “victim participants” by the Human Rights Center at the Berkeley School of Law in California has found that this lofty idea hasn’t quite worked out as planned. Incorporating the views of multiple victims has proved unworkable, and both defence and prosecution teams have questioned whether their involvement has actually made it harder to have a fair hearing. Most victims want convictions and reparations and are disappointed with any other outcome, despite having insufficient knowledge of the court process to participate meaningfully. Some also fear their participation will not go unnoticed at home and they will face reprisals. Berkeley’s recommendations? Invest in support to victim participants. Manage their expectations better. Speed up trials.

The mental health of aid workers

Anyone wondering if Steve Dennis, the aid worker who won his case for damages against the Norwegian Refugee Council this week, was an isolated case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the industry could do worse than take a look at the results of a Guardian survey published this week, which found that 79 percent of respondents had experienced mental health issues. The survey was self-selecting and hardly representative – 75 percent of respondents were women and most were international NGO staff – but the figures are nonetheless striking: fully 93 percent felt their struggles were directly related to their work. And contributors also spoke widely of a “culture of secrecy” within the industry. Respondents said they were reluctant to speak out for fear of their careers being damaged, or that they would be considered a “bad” humanitarian. The focus, says The Guardian, is particularly on the aftercare and support provided for those working in what is unquestionably an inherently risky profession – a point reinforced by the Dennis case, in which the court heard evidence that mismanagement of incidents by aid agencies can increase the impact on those concerned.

Coming up:

United Nations conference on climate change

It’s all about Paris next week, but this time in a good way. The 21st Conference of the Parties (governments taking action on climate change) kicks off in the City of Light with the hope being that 12 days later the world will have agreed a new international climate change treaty, specifically around carbon emissions. No fewer than 147 heads of state will attend, joining more than 40,000 others, ranging from bright-eyed volunteers to the UK’s Prince Charles. Unusually – and controversially for France, where demonstrations are a national pastime – the authorities have banned marches and demonstrations in the wake of the recent bombings, so expect tightened security and more behind-closed-doors events than usual.

See IRIN’s take on what’s at stake: COP21: A turning point?

One to listen to:

From Syria to Yorkshire

We have heard and read much over the last few months about the struggle of refugees, especially those from Syria, to reach Europe. But we hear less about what happens when they arrive. This week, the BBC went to Bradford in the north of England to meet those settling into their new homes, and find out how the struggle doesn’t just end with a successful asylum claim. Among them is Nadia, for whom a new shopping centre in Bradford brings back painful memories of the mall her property company built in Damascus; and Aham, who fled Syria two years ago and works in a falafel shop as the first step to funding his dream of a medical degree. All are grateful for their new chance and for all the support, but they miss their homes horribly and are struggling to adapt. It’s a poignant portrait of a group of people trying to fit in with new lives they didn’t want or choose. 

One from IRIN:

How Syrians get by in Lebanon

A common over-simplification in the current debate around refugees is that once Syrians make it to Lebanon their struggles are behind them: they are safe in a stable country. But as IRIN discovered this week, the reality for the vast majority is that life is still far from easy. Everything is stretched: World Food Programme rations have been cut and cut again, and 90 percent of Syrians are in debt as they struggle to make ends meet. IRIN spoke to six families about how they get by. From making a stew last for days to eating wild plants and running up debts at the pharmacist for everyday medication, their stories sketch the daily humiliations and stresses of life on the margins. 


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