Top Picks: Asylum flaws, agri-food, and arsenic in the water

A girl drinks directly from a public tap in Nawalparasi installed
last year, promising arsenic-free water to users; education for proper use and maintenance of arsenic mitigation technologies remains a challenge for government and stakeholders
A girl drinks directly from a public tap in Nawalparasi district, Nepal (Jan 2012) (Marcus Benigno/IRIN)

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.

Four to read:

There’s something in the water

Much of Bangladesh’s water supply is contaminated by arsenic. The chemical is colourless, odourless, and tasteless, and it can cause seizures, comas, cancers and cardiovascular collapse. Each year, about 43,000 people die from arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh, according to this report by Human Rights Watch. Predictably, most victims are poor. Arsenic does not discriminate between those it affects – but politicians do. Researchers found that “politicians undermine the allocation of new government water points by diverting these life-saving public goods to their political supporters and allies”. In other cases, the government “inexplicably” expends resources in areas where water contamination is relatively low, while neglecting areas where measures to mitigate arsenic contamination are most needed.

Israel's broken silence

It’s never been easy for Israelis to oppose their country’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but as David Shulman points out in this excellent article for the New York Review of Books, it’s also never been more difficult or dangerous. Right-wing organisations and parts of the government are doing their level best to force groups like Breaking the Silence – former Israeli soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories and tell about what they did and saw there – back into silence. It’s not working, but the arrests of activists – including Nasser Hawaja, who IRIN spoke to last year from his village of Susya, and two Israelis who work closely with Nawaja and other Palestinians in the south Hebron Hills, is instructive. They were left without a lawyer for two weeks, after a media sting that turned out to be much ado about nothing. Shulman not only lays out the landscape of death threats, intimidation, and government efforts to quiet dissent, but he also includes a useful reading list on the occupation and activism. As Israel ramps up demolitions of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, keep in mind those Palestinians and Israelis who take real risks to tell the rest of us what's happening.

Inside Greece’s closed migrant detention centres

Since the European Union’s agreement with Turkey on migration took effect on 20 March, all new arrivals to the Greek islands have been held in closed detention centres where journalists have had no access. But this week, researchers from Amnesty International were admitted to the centres on Lesvos and Chios, where around 4,200 people are being held – a figure that is increasing daily as new arrivals continue to outnumber returns to Turkey. In this summary of their findings, the researchers report that many vulnerable people, including young children, pregnant women and people with disabilities are among those detained. The people they interviewed complained about the poor quality of food, lack of blankets and poor access to medical care. Perhaps most worrying is Amnesty’s observation about an asylum application process that is “not yet up and running, due to a lack of resources and clear guidelines”. Only one percent of 833 asylum applications filed on Chios had so far been processed, by just one asylum service official (only one application had been successful). Amnesty is calling for further returns to Turkey to be halted until “serious flaws” on the Greek side of the EU-Turkey deal are resolved.

Getting research into hunger right – is it our last shot?

Transformational changes need to be made in agriculture fast to counteract the impact of climate change. To beat the heat, some countries require this transformation to take place as soon as 2025, says Frank Rijsberman of the CGIAR Consortium, a global agriculture research partnership. Given that it typically takes up to 20 years for research to move from discovery into a product, and from a product to broad-scale adoption in the field - we essentially have just one more research cycle to get it right.

In this blog, among other calls, Rijsberman says we urgently “need to rev up the innovation engine” to help with adaptation and ensure that “agri-food systems provide jobs and healthy diets for the next generation”.

Two to watch:

Mr Plan Plan and the Ebola crisis

Hassan Arouni of BBC Media Action talks about the power of radio drama in Sierra Leone to combat Ebola. The outbreak in West Africa has challenged some of the most intimate traditions around sickness and death – especially the highly dangerous practice of the washing of the corpse. At one stage the disease seemed almost unavoidable. The central idea of the dramas is: if Ebola strikes, do you have a plan? Good to be reminded that old media like radio still has impact.

Involving local NGOs in humanitarian coordination

There is a growing recognition that the one-size-fits-all approach to humanitarian response – which often excludes or duplicates the role of national actors – is inappropriate and often damaging. “More needs to be done to understand how national actors can effectively take part in humanitarian coordination,” says ALNAP. This webinar explores how that can be achieved.

One from IRIN:

Three deaths in Fallujah

Don’t read this harrowing reportage unless you want to be upset or feel the need to. What is happening inside Fallujah right now doesn’t bear thinking about. A young mother drowns herself and her two children because she feels there is no way out and she can’t feed them. Others are starving, relying on food only fit for animals. The Sunni-dominated Iraqi city, once a bastion of al-Qaeda support, is now in the hands of the so-called Islamic State group but encircled by Shiite militias loyal to the Shiite-led Iraqi government. An IRIN contact inside the city exposes the horror of life within, while an IRIN reporter outside investigates why supplies aren’t getting in. Is this collective punishment? we ask.

Coming up:

Aid Transparency Index - Wednesday, 13 April

Center for Global Development, Washington DC

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next month, transparency and accountability in the aid sector come into sharper focus. This event provides a timely reminder of which major donor organisations have lived up to pledges to open up their books and show how aid is being spent and delivered. The deadline was December 2015, so the Center for Global Development and Publish What You Fund will name and shame the culprits in the 2016 Aid Transparency Index.

The keynote address comes from UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who recently announced her candidature to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN chief. Her remarks will be followed by a short presentation on the index results and then a panel discussion with leading aid experts.

Click here to register for the livestream, if you can’t attend the Washington DC event in person. #Index2016

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