Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:
Attack app in the Democratic Republic of Congo
This item was supposed to focus on Human Rights Watch and the New York University-based Congo Research Group launching a new Kivu Security Tracker to plot the trouble wreaked by non-state actors and the Congolese armed forces. But as we went to press, news broke that an armed group in North Kivu on Thursday committed one of the deadliest attacks ever on UN peacekeepers – killing at least 14 and wounding more than 50 others – a grim way to underline that there is so much violence in eastern Congo that you now need an app to keep up. According to the tracker, there are more than 120 armed groups operating in the region. From June to November this year, at least 526 civilians were killed and 1,087 abducted or kidnapped for ransom. There were also at least 11 incidents of mass rape. And these are just the documented incidents. One consequence of the violence is mass displacement. About a million new people were made homeless in the first half of this year, on top of 922,000 in 2016. The Norwegian Refugee Council has described it as a “mega crisis”. The World Food Programme is stretched to the limit with cash running out to support those in need. “We’re letting down those who need us most,” said Claude Jibidar, WFP’s country head. “Without immediate donor support, many – particularly women and children – will die.” Cumulatively, an estimated 3.2 million people are desperately short of food. In addition to an imminent story on the latest attack in North Kivu, which also killed five Congolese soldiers and dozens of Islamist rebel fighters, look out for IRIN’s upcoming investigative report on the army’s brutal campaign of rape in South Kivu.
Battle-weary aid workers and policy wonks alike admit to wiping back the tears watching a recent Batman-themed promo video from War Child Holland. The short film won top place in a search for this year's most effective – and ethical – aid agency adverts. Other videos made for the UK's fundraising coalition Disasters Emergency Committee and telethon charity Comic Relief however got slammed: an ad about Yemen was "devoid of dignity" and an excursion by Ed Sheeran indulged in "poverty tourism". The agencies criticised said they may review their production values. The Rusty Radiator awards, run from Norway, spun out from a 2012 viral satirical video about the "white saviour complex" in aid. Humanitarian analyst Ben Ramalingam, in a heartfelt personal blog, said the video had triggered memories of his own wartime childhood in Sri Lanka, and that it – rare among NGO ads – highlighted "shared common humanity" rather than "short-term charity'.
New health fears in teeming Rohingya camps
Diphtheria is “rapidly spreading” in Bangladesh’s densely packed Rohingya refugee camps, the World Health Organization is warning. Health workers have diagnosed at least 110 suspected cases – and six deaths – attributed to diphtheria, an infection that can block a person’s airways and lead to paralysis or death. The WHO says 1,000 doses of a lifesaving antitoxin are on their way, while health officials are also planning a vaccination campaign. However, they warn that these initial cases could be “the tip of the iceberg” and that even a small disease outbreak could devastate the camps, which are now teeming with more than 646,000 new refugees from Myanmar since late August. In the giant makeshift camp hastily pieced together as the influx began, the majority of refugees have less than 15 square metres of space per person – far below the aid sector’s minimum guidelines. Read IRIN’s earlier reporting on the wider health fears for the giant camp.
Africa’s worsening displacement crisis
It’s one thing to draw up a landmark, continent-wide commitment to help millions of people affected by conflict and natural disasters. It’s quite another to fully live up to it. The African Union made history in 2009 with the Kampala Convention, the world’s first regional, legally binding text relating to internal displacement (until then, international instruments about protecting people forced to flee their homes applied only to refugees – those who had crossed national borders). Fast forward to today. “Africa’s displacement crisis is getting worse,” according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre, which has just issued a major report about the continent. In the first six months of this year, some 2.7 million people in Africa were newly displaced – that’s the equivalent of 15,000 people every day. More than 1.7 million of these were displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Across the continent, conflict and violence triggered 75 percent of those displacements. At the end of 2016, 12.6 million Africans were “living in displacement”, according to the report. “Behind the numbers are millions of girls, boys, women and men, many of whom have lost their homes, livelihoods and communities, and face years if not decades of upheaval.” If there is to be any chance of bringing these numbers down, African states need to take “urgent action” in implementing the convention so as to make good on the political will they demonstrated in 2009. This requires more than the sticking plaster of a humanitarian response. As IDMC urged, it’s time to stop ignoring the “complex underlying drivers and long-term [development] implications” of displacement.
Revelations about the dangers of the world’s first dengue vaccine continue to cause ripples in the Philippines. French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi announced that its vaccine, Dengvaxia, could actually increase the severity of a dengue infection for people who have never been exposed to the virus. The admission has sent shockwaves through the Philippines, where the vaccine has already been given to at least 700,000 children in the last year. A spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte announced an investigation into the controversy, calling it a “shameless public health scam”. However, questions about the vaccine’s problems are not new. Multiple researchers had previously raised concerns about Dengvaxia’s risks. A dengue vaccine has long been seen as a game-changer for fighting the mosquito-borne illness, which infects more than 50 million people each year, according to the WHO. For now, the WHO recommends that Dengvaxia is only given to people who have already been infected with dengue. The vaccine had already been approved for use in countries including the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico.
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Tough times mean… cluster bombs
Cluster bombs are back in the US military’s arsenal (although they never really went away). Early this month, the Department of Defense determined that the munitions, which, once detonated, release a bunch of smaller explosives, “remain a vital military capability in the tougher warfighting environment ahead of us,” according to a Pentagon spokesperson. While the US has not signed an international treaty that bans the use, transfer, and stockpile of cluster bombs, it had planned to end the use and export of the sort of cluster munitions that fail to detonate at a rate of one percent or less by 2019. Unexploded munitions can go off long after a conflict ends, and unless cleared and destroyed they remain deadly to civilians. Groups like Human Rights Watch and the Cluster Munition Coalition have condemned the move, with the former calling it “a gigantic step backward for efforts to protect civilians from the unacceptable harm caused by these weapons”. For a look at the rules on indiscriminate weapons – forbidden in international law – check out our still-useful guide to illegal weapons and who is still using them.
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