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Guterres, Damascus water, and a boy named Toussaint: IRIN Top Picks

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets his successor, António Guterres at the UN General Assembly (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

Every week, IRIN's team of editors curates a selection of humanitarian reports and opinion you may have missed, from in-depth analyses and features to academic studies and podcasts:

New chief, perennial problems

This week, António Guterres began a five-year term as the new UN secretary-general. This timely profile by Angelique Chrisafis and Julian Borger for The Guardian digs up interesting tidbits about his former life as a socialist MP and then prime minister of Portugal. While highlighting the consensus-building skills that have made him so successful in international affairs, it also evaluates his more mixed tenure as UN high commissioner for refugees. Chrisafis and Borger conclude, much as IRIN did following Guterres’ nomination in October, that he is “perhaps better qualified than any of his nine predecessors for the world’s most demanding job”. But that job will almost undoubtedly become even more demanding in 2017, with the usual logjams to be expected at the Security Council and crises mushrooming from South Sudan to Syria. And Donald Trump’s recent Twitter pronouncements suggest he might seek to make changes to the US relationship with the world body. Guterres reportedly had a positive phone conversation with the president-elect this week, but managing that all-important relationship and securing the support of the incoming US administration could be the first major test of his diplomatic mettle.

Damascus water wars

Our collective attention span is short, and while almost all of those evacuated from east Aleppo still need help (and some are even returning to a desolated city), the talk is now all about the water in Damascus and a place called Wadi Barada. The UN has said that 5.5 million people in or around Damascus have had their water supply cut or reduced because (not their words) something is afoot at the source. The question is what or who – the government alleges the water was poisoned, or the infrastructure was demolished, by the rebels, but there are conflicting reports that President Bashar al-Assad was really behind it. It’s clear that water is a contested resource here, and rebels have cut off water as a last-ditch option to stop regime offensives before. We turn to Bellingcat and their open source expertise for answers. The rebels had even been preparing to cut off the water but in the end they did not, according to Bellingcat’s findings. The Wadi Barada spring’s infrastructure was most likely damaged due to bombing by al-Assad’s regime, Bellingcat concludes. There’s now fierce fighting in the area (yes, that truce was shortlived) and, once again, the fate of local civilians hangs in the balance.

I Was in the Motorcade That Struck and Killed 6-Year-Old Toussaint Birwe

“We didn’t slow down when we approached the village of Mokong, where more people lined the road to watch. And suddenly, in the corner of my eye, I saw a small body, two cars ahead, flip into the air before disappearing out of sight. As my vehicle roared past, I saw the boy on the ground, his head bashed in. Nearby, a man, looking horrified, was running toward the boy, both of his hands on his head.”

Read this powerful account by Helene Cooper, The NYT's Pentagon correspondent. She was in US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s convoy when it killed a boy in northern Cameroon – and didn’t stop.

How peaceful is the world?

Tough question, right? Well, as luck would have it, the Institute for Economics and Peace has produced this handy “Global Peace Index”. Analysts used 23 indicators “that gauge the absence of violence or the fear of violence” to assess the state of 162 countries in 2015. Indicators include measuring the levels of safety, militarisation, and international and domestic conflicts. Overall, the index found that the world is less peaceful than it was in 2008, but the divide between more and less peaceful countries is getting starker. In Europe, the world’s most peaceful region, countries have reached record levels of peace. In other regions, notably North Africa and the Middle East, “the intensity of internal armed conflict has increased dramatically”. The institute has also released indices for the state of peace in Mexico, Britain, and the United States, as well as one on global terrorism. To be sure, this is far from an exact science, but the institute has presented the research well and even included some nifty interactive maps.

One from IRIN:

Inside Venezuela’s hidden healthcare crisis

Writing in the Washington Post this week, Venezuelan journalist, political scientist, and blogger Francisco Toro describes the situation in his homeland as “a catastrophe of Dickensian proportions”. He’s not wrong. The oil-rich nation is burning through its international reserves with alarming speed to pay off its spiralling debt, while inflation is skyrocketing and ordinary people are reduced to hustling out an existence if they can, or crossing illegally into neighbouring countries if they cannot. The shortage of dollars and rapidly rising prices make it difficult to bring in even essential medical supplies. The government of President Nicolás Maduro – inheritor of the socialist “Bolivarian Revolution” of his predecessor (the late Hugo Chávez) and its calamitous economic consequences – appears to be in denial, refusing outside assistance and doing its best to keep a lid on the extent of a humanitarian crisis that is now painfully self-evident. This emotional and hard-hitting IRIN film documents the medical crisis the country now faces through the eyes of two brave doctors. In the midst of a crippling healthcare crisis, they struggle to make diagnoses, let alone provide treatment, and lack the tools to deal with a resurgence of previously eradicated diseases such as malaria and diphtheria, as well as rising maternal and infant mortality rates. This rarest of glimpses inside Venezuela’s dysfunctional hospitals was only possible because videographer Kamilia Lahrichi, her fixer, and the two doctors themselves were willing to risk a great deal to make sure the truth got out. Important, courageous journalism. Watch it.

Coming up:

Being a man

Starts Tuesday 17th January – online

What does is it mean to be a man? What is the potential value of working with men towards gender equality? What are the most effective strategies that we can use to mobilise together? What do gender-equitable masculinities look like? This free e-learning course from Gender Hub is focused in Nigeria but applies to men everywhere. It aims to support policymakers, practitioners, and activists who are committed to achieving a just society for all. See here for more.


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