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:
One disturbing aspect of this poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation is the massive scale of the crises mentioned. That they remain so under-covered by the mainstream media, frankly, beggars belief. However, it will come as no surprise to regular IRIN readers that the Democratic Republic of Congo came out top when representatives of 20 leading aid organisations were surveyed. At the very start of 2017, we flagged the potential for the situation to deteriorate as President Joseph Kabila clung to power and we’ve been reporting since on the major developments from the ground, not only in Kasai, which is beginning to get some belated attention, but also of the emerging dangers in North and South Kivu. With more than four million displaced and a similar number facing critical levels of hunger, the pressure on the underfunded and overstretched response going into 2018 is immense. But other places are rightly highlighted too. Oxfam points out that many people don’t even know that Central African Republic exists, let alone that about a quarter of the population has been displaced by violence that has spread rapidly this year, especially in eastern parts of the country. While Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen all received deserved mentions, some aid organisations took a different tack, flagging the neglect of hunger, famine, and the use of food as a “weapon of war”. Keep your eyes peeled around New Year for IRIN’s own listicle on humanitarian disasters to look out for in 2018 and for our in-depth package on the food crises gripping the globe.
The deadly price of power in Congo
Staying with Congo, it’s army, known as the FARDC, has a long history of committing human rights abuses. In 2008, Human Rights Watch documented testimony of the killing, raping, and looting of civilians by government soldiers as they battled rebels in North Kivu province, which lies in the east of the country. Earlier this week, IRIN published a harrowing report of similar, systematic atrocities in the same province, as related by dozens of civilians there. The rebels the army is fighting in North Kivu may have changed, but it seems the soldiers’ crimes remain the same. So it comes as little surprise to hear that government forces are responsible for many of the abuses against civilians committed in Kasai, another area of Congo on which IRIN has reported on in depth. More than 3,000 people have been killed over the past year in Kasai, where the FARDC is fighting the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency. The backdrop to the violence is Kabila’s refusal to leave office or hold elections even though his final constitutional mandate expired last year. Testimony from Kasai refugees now living in Angola has been collated in a report this week by the global human rights movement FIDH. The extent to which these abuses are evidently planned and organised points to a “deliberate strategy of terror and destruction, which led to crimes against humanity,” it says. And FIDH made no bones about the motive for such violence, describing it as “part of a recurring scheme of Joseph Kabila’s regime to mobilise tension and violence in order to retain power through chaos and diversion.”
The surge of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has brought with it another influx: international aid workers. The major NGOs and UN agencies have also flooded in to tackle one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises. But where does this leave local NGOs? More than a year after the aid sector made ambitious pledges to shift to an aid model led by local organisations, reforms have largely stalled. Local NGOs and civil society groups have become increasingly frustrated with the status quo, where there’s a striking power imbalance between locals and the international agencies that swoop in when disasters hit. A new report from the Humanitarian Advisory Group looks at how this dynamic has played out during the Rohingya refugee crisis – a rare appraisal of “localisation” in practice during an unfolding emergency. The findings describe some familiar patterns: only four percent of funding has gone to local NGOs, for example, while international aid workers continue to dominate key decision-making roles. In the middle of a crisis, there’s a sense of frustration among local organisations that feel sidelined by the international surge. It’s an important dynamic in the aid sector: with nearly one million Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh, the crisis is likely to persist, but international attention – and funding – may not. When international aid groups pack up and leave, will local organisations be starting from scratch? Download the report here.
There appears little hope that Burundi’s political antagonists will bury the hatchet any time soon. The government may insist there’s no crisis, but reports of disappearances and extra-judicial killings continue to emerge well over two years after major unrest broke out. That was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to seek a third term in office, something the opposition deemed unconstitutional. Since then, there have been widespread atrocities, a failed coup, and an exodus of nearly half a million Burundi citizens. Earlier this month, the latest in a long series of peace talks ended with no hint of a breakthrough and each side rejecting the legitimacy of the other. Hardly surprising as much of the exiled opposition, and a coalition of civil society groups, boycotted the meeting, which was mediated by the East African Community. According to Carine N. Kaneza of the Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security in Burundi, one reason the talks failed was that the mediation team “appeared to be at pains not to offend the Burundi government by inviting components that it objects to”. Opposition figures, whom the government has repeatedly labelled as “coup plotters”, and even sought to have arrested, were only permitted to take part in their individual capacities rather than as representatives of parties. It was perceptions that political power was being concentrated in too few hands that pushed Burundi towards civil war in 1993. That conflict dragged on until 2015 and killed an estimated 300,000 people. While the risk of another major conflict may be small, the democratic gains made since the end of the last one are being undermined, as is the credibility of the current meditation team. “By treating a problem with deep roots related to politics, history and injustice as if it were one with much more shallow grievances, the mediators are jeopardising the long-term peace and security of Burundi and East Africa,” warns Kaneza.
Did you miss it?
The extent of needs due to the civil war in Syria is spelt out in the UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview 2018, which says more than a third of funds requested next year for crises around the world are required for aid inside the country and to help the 5.4 million registered Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries ($7.7 billion in total). But so little is heard these days of the war itself, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was practically over – just a few little pockets but nothing much to see. Try telling that to the people of the Eastern Ghouta. Their reality is brought home in this searing analysis by regular IRIN contributor Aron Lund. Almost 400,000 people are besieged by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and struggling through the winter with harsh restrictions on the entry of food, medicine, and aid. A loaf of bread that sells for 63 Syrian pounds a few kilometres away in central Damascus sells for 20-30 times that in the insurgent-controlled enclave. In the Cheat Sheet’s first item on the most neglected crises of 2017, we mentioned the use of food as a “weapon of war”. To understand what this can mean in practice, read Lund’s report.
(TOP PHOTO: Peacekeepers conducting foot patrolling and monitoring in Congo. CREDIT: Force/MONUSCO)