Every week, IRIN’s team of editors takes a look at what lies ahead on the humanitarian agenda and curates a selection of some of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:
What’s coming up?
The borders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad meet at Lake Chad. The region is now one of the most critical humanitarian hotspots in the world, with a food security ranking teetering on the edge of full-blown famine in some areas. The UN says it can help about eight million of those in need if it is sufficiently funded.
Attacks by the extremist Boko Haram and counter-insurgency operations against them have uprooted millions and disrupted social services, trade, and agriculture.
Strained relations between Nigerian authorities and the international aid community have also played a part, while formidable logistics and security challenges hamper operations in neighbouring countries.
With South Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria all clamouring for media clicks and donor dollars, the "Lake Chad Basin" humanitarian situation has to fight for attention even while its capacity to respond faces setbacks. Last night, fresh attacks and clashes were reported in Maiduguri, the forward base for a still-fragile humanitarian operation in northeastern Nigeria.
A conference in Norway on 24 February aims to stimulate donor contributions and diplomatic attention. Thematic sessions will be held on food, protection, access, and education. The one-day event co-hosted by Nigeria, Norway, and the UN, will include ministers from the affected nations and the most important donor countries, leaders of relevant regional organisations, development finance institutions, and UN bodies. And the pledgers better pledge: the UN-led response plans are costed at $1.5 billion.
The Irish NGO GOAL, reeling from a corruption scandal, has started merger talks with Oxfam Ireland, the two agencies announced. Regular IRIN readers will need no reminding of GOAL's problems. A procurement fraud in Turkey lifted the lid on a shocking web of conflicts of interest that has taken the scalp of the CEO and the COO already, and triggered an investigation by the US government that is still ongoing. GOAL's donors got spooked and its income has collapsed.
The latest news confirms that the chances of GOAL surviving in its current form are receding by the day. Is it game over for GOAL?
One round of Syria peace talks is delayed but under way in the capital of Kazakhstan this week and yet another is due to start the following week in Geneva. The Russia- and Turkey-brokered Astana talks began a day late thanks to disagreements over the agenda, and the UN-sponsored negotiations are on shaky ground too: A key Syrian opposition body has said it wants to talk transition with Damascus, which for its part has no interest in engineering President Bashar al-Assad’s exit from power. Nobody knows exactly who will show up in Geneva, or when, or if they’ll actually do much talking at all. But it’s probably safe to bet that Syria’s long-winded UN rep Bashar al-Jaafari will make an appearance, and that there will be further splits among the opposition delegation, which has presented itself as unified. If all this sounds like déjà vu all over again, you’ve clearly been paying attention for the past six years. With talk now of Pentagon plans for US troops on the ground, tune in next week for our update from Aron Lund on the post-Astana pre-Geneva lay of the land, and what it means for the future of Syria.
Conferences often mean strange bedfellows, and the Munich Security Conference that kicks off today is no exception. Participants include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US Vice-President Mike Pence and, um, Bono, obviously. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be in attendance too, as will NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. But the weirdest double act of the weekend should come on Sunday when the Israeli and Iranian defence ministers are expected to share the same stage. Considering recent geopolitical shakeups, the discussions seem particularly loaded this year. On the agenda: “The future of transatlantic relations and NATO after the election of Donald Trump, the state of EU cooperation in security and defense matters, the Ukraine crisis and relations with Russia, the war in Syria, and the security situation in the Asia-Pacific.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall in some of those backrooms…
The 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council will gather in Geneva on 27 February for a month of discussions. Council members will survey the state of human rights in countries around the world and the meeting will touch on hot ticket items including the effects of terrorism and the rights of migrants. Special rapporteurs will also present reports on the countries they’re assigned to. These will include Yanghee Lee, who has been outspoken in her criticism of Myanmar. Since Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi took power, the state of human rights in that country has actually slipped, according to many experts. Lee told IRIN exclusively this week that she will push for a commission of inquiry into abuses of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. Pressure is growing but whether any Council member intends to sponsor such a resolution in Geneva remains to be seen.
Did you miss it?
“A lot of distinctly unsavoury characters have made it into the upper echelons of Venezuelan politics over the past decade or so,” notes the consistently excellent Francisco Toro in this blog for the Washington Post. He then gives us the lowdown on the latest, Tareck El Aissami. Toro describes the newly appointed VP as “the likely successor to the hapless President Nicolás Maduro”, a deeply worrying thought as the US Treasury has just imposed sanctions on him and accused him of direct involvement in drug trafficking and laundering the proceeds through a string of offshore companies. Oil-rich Venezuela’s meltdown from regional powerhouse to economic basket case has been well documented, by this publication and many others. But the country’s political trajectory demands as much scrutiny as the humanitarian fallout. Toro suggests El Aissami’s meteoric rise to within a heartbeat of the presidency was timed to coincide with distracting events in Washington and shouldn’t fly under the radar any longer. “Endowed with smarts, political chops and social-media savvy that Maduro could only dream of, El Aissami is every democrat’s worst nightmare: the guy who could stabilise authoritarianism for the long run,” Toro warns.
We mentioned this last week, but it’s still not getting enough attention. The looming famine in the Horn of Africa was entirely predictable – there hasn’t been enough rain in several years – but we’ve still failed to get ahead of it. In Somalia, nearly 260,000 people died as a result of the last major drought in 2010-2012, and experts are now warning of a full-blown famine in June. So what needs to be done? In this informative commentary piece for Al Jazeera, leading food security researcher Esther Ngumbi points out the short-term solutions: food aid, nutrient supplements, cash to buy what food there is. But she also stresses that the conditions that lead to famine in the Horn are regular events so it’s beyond time to invest in longer-term strategies: planting crops that can do with less water, crop diversification, investing in community water resources. Some governments are already on it, but officials, NGOs, and local groups need to better coordinate their efforts to build sustained resilience to these sorts of disasters. With 12 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya already in need of food assistance, this problem isn’t going away. This short BBC video provides a glimpse into the desperate situation already in Somalia. The animal carcasses in the video make for an uncomfortable prophecy.
(TOP PHOTO: People waiting at a food distribution site on Lake Chad. CREDIT: Ashley Hamer/IRIN)