Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Floods foster food fears in Iran
More than two million people in Iran are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance due to severe floods that have swept through most of the country’s 31 provinces since mid-March, aid groups say. The extensive flooding could weaken food security in Iran, which has already seen food prices skyrocket due to the re-imposition of US sanctions. At least 366,000 people are still displaced by the floods, which also killed 78 people, says OCHA, the UN’s aid coordination arm. The floods were triggered by unprecedented extreme rainfall – Golestan province in Iran’s north, for example, saw 70 percent of average annual rainfall in a single day, according to the Red Cross. Iran’s government says it’s beginning reconstruction in some areas, but aid groups say floods remain a threat, with more rain on the way. The UN’s food and agriculture organisation, the FAO, says the floods sparked $1.5 billion in losses to Iran’s agriculture sector and will likely disrupt the current harvest.
Yemen: About that peace effort...
While the sides in Yemen’s war carry on negotiating the terms of withdrawal from the port city of Hodeidah – a now more than four month process the UN envoy called “long and difficult” – conflict monitor ACLED said Friday that more than 10,000 people have been reported killed over the past five months. That brings their estimate of the death toll since January 2016 (nine months after the fighting started) for both civilians and combatants to more than 70,000. On Monday, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that cholera is resurgent in Yemen. Meanwhile, 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes in one part of Hajjah province in the last two weeks alone, and many people still can’t afford food, leaving millions of Yemenis hungry. The much-ballyhooed Stockholm peace talks that ended with the Hodeidah deal are, frankly, starting to feel like a distant memory.
When IPOs and NGOs mix
Charity workers are motivated by the desire to help others, not by money, right? Well, the millennial NGO charity:water is planning to pay bonuses, and it's got people talking. The scheme may be less experimental than the flurry of reaction suggested. According to The New York Times, the entrepreneurs behind at least five companies, including Uber and WeWork, have pledged one percent of their shares to the NGO charity:water once the companies go public. One fifth of the proceeds will be used for staff incentives. The rest will go to regular costs and overheads. The charity says it brought clean water to some 10 million people and raised $50 million in 2017. Its largest overseas spending is in Ethiopia. CEO Scott Harrison, whose pay is about $323,000, said he wants to attract "the best possible talent". Charity tax experts found some holes in the idea. Harrison clarified that the shares would simply be sold, avoiding regulatory complications.
Hungry and sick again in Ethiopia’s Gedeo
Speaking of Ethiopia, Médecins Sans Frontières is stepping up operations to tackle malnutrition rates above emergency levels for children under five in the southern Gedeo region. More than 200 children under five have been treated for severe acute malnutrition. Some 55 others have been treated for pneumonia, watery diarrhoea, and dehydration. Efforts in the coming days will be aimed at improving water and sanitation conditions in camps and settlements for internally displaced people. The move comes after MSF completed an emergency intervention in 2018, following ethnic violence that forced more than 1.4 million Ethiopians from their homes around the country in the first half of last year – the largest displacement anywhere in the world. By December, health indicators in Gedeo had improved, hospital admissions had decreased, and many people had returned to their homes. By the end of last month, however, the situation had deteriorated again. Teams are working with local health officials to target nutritional needs.
One to listen to
Prepared, but not for Idai: A local perspective from Mozambique
The mayor of coastal Beira in Mozambique thought his city was built to withstand storms and rising seas. But Cyclone Idai – the March storm that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe – showed how much work remains. The folks over at Goats and Soda, NPR’s global development blog, have a short interview with Daviz Simango, Beira’s mayor. He describes how his port city had prepared for flooding but not for high-speed winds that shredded through homes and infrastructure: “If there was no wind, maybe we could survive,” Simango said. A month after the storm, the mayor is thinking about what changes city officials will have to make: build homes that withstand both floods and wind; map vulnerable areas of the city; and make sure those areas aren’t developed. Listen to the interview here, and read our own recent reporting on local approaches in Malawi and Zimbabwe.
One to watch
Local aid on the front lines
The first in our new video series exploring frontline local aid is out now, with a new instalment each week into May. Here’s a peek:
In case you missed it:
Libya: As fighting in Libya’s capital continues, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, evacuated 163 refugees to Niger on a flight that landed early Friday. With more than 3,000 migrants and refugees trapped in detention centres near the violence, read Migration Policy Institute Europe’s Camille Le Coz on the (not great) options for getting people out of Libya at speed.
Occupied Palestinian Territories: A World Bank report released Wednesday says Israel’s application of the “dual use” system – restrictions on imports that could be used for both civilian and military purposes – is hampering growth in an already weak Palestinian economy.
Papua New Guinea: Some 15,000 people face food shortages on Goodenough Island, weeks after a March cyclone destroyed dozens of homes and food gardens, OCHA says. Meanwhile, heavy monsoon rains are causing damage on the mainland: a landslide reportedly killed eight in a highlands village, and across the border in Indonesia’s Papua Province, more than 9,600 people were displaced by flash floods that struck in mid-March.
Sudan: Calls are growing in Sudan for the military to hand over power. The military ousted president Omar al-Bashir last week after months of escalating street protests and promised elections within two years. Al-Bashir, meanwhile, has been moved to a high-security prison.
Syria: Two Syrians and a nurse from New Zealand with the International Committee of the Red Cross have been missing since 2013. ICRC broke years of silence this week and appealed for information. It said it didn’t have any information about the two Syrian staff but believes the nurse, Louisa Akavi, was still alive and being held by the so-called Islamic State group as recently as December 2018.
Venezuela: After months of denying a humanitarian crisis and refusing international aid, the government of President Nicolás Maduro allowed in on Tuesday 24 tonnes of medical supplies from the Red Cross. The agency hopes this will be the start of a mass relief campaign in the country, where malnutrition and disease have been spreading.
Our weekend read
Spreading extremist violence in Sahel creates crisis in Burkina Faso
While the world has been watching the “defeat” of IS extremists in Syria and Iraq, journalist Philip Kleinfeld has been covering the under-reported explosion of jihadist-related conflict across the Sahel region from Mali to Burkina Faso. Kleinfeld reported at the end of last year from Mali, where the uptick in fighting has just forced the prime minister and the entire government to resign. The conflict has spilled over into Niger, with inter-communal violence spiking fivefold this year, as we explored in this three-part special report. This week, we complete the picture with Kleinfeld’s latest reporting, from Burkina Faso, where 135,000 people have been displaced by the violence. Jihadists are creating and exploiting ethnic fractures, with attacks disproportionately hitting the Fulani community, a minority the government and self-defense militias accuse of sympathising with and supporting the extremists. Watch for more as we tie together our reporting from the three countries and highlight the enormous humanitarian needs emerging.
Notre-Dame and a dose of whataboutery?
Some $960 million had been found to rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris by Wednesday, which has sparked debates about inequality, philanthropy, and a huge dose of whataboutery. One commentator scorned the pledges of billionaires as a modern-day equivalent of buying indulgences (by which the medieval elite could expunge their sins with donations). A tax wheeze met with outrage: a pledge by tycoon François Pinault was followed by a proposal for 90 percent tax relief from his associate (the idea was later withdrawn). Writer and analyst of the super-rich Anand Giridharadas called the episode "gross", and an attempt to "privatise the credit for repairing" as well as to "socialise the cost of the repairs". Others lamented the relatively ignored destruction of historic sites in Syria, and the underfunding of relief and development programmes, for example in Mozambique.
(TOP PHOTO: Barricades are set up to contain water in a flooded street in Iran's southwestern city of Ahvaz. Authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents to evacuate immediately as floodwaters entered the city, the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province.)