Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
One step forward, two steps back in Yemen?
This week Houthi rebels began withdrawing from Hodeidah and two other nearby ports in what was supposedly one of the most significant advances towards peace in more than four years of conflict. But this week renewed fighting also broke out in Hodeidah between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels. And this week several people were killed and dozens injured in the capital, Sana’a, as Saudi-led coalition warplanes bombed in apparent retaliation for Houthi drone strikes on a key oil pipeline. It’s no wonder the UN's special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, sounded far from triumphant in his briefing to the Security Council on Wednesday. “Yemen remains very much at the crossroads between war and peace,” he said, cautioning: “Progress can be made, progress can be threatened.” Whether this limited withdrawal in Hodeidah, and the Stockholm Agreement that preceded it, can unlock more significant moves towards peace remains very much an open question.
Nigeria failing in the challenge posed by Islamic State
The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram, is growing in power and influence, the International Crisis Group says in a new report. “By filling gaps in governance and service delivery, it has cultivated a level of support among local civilians that Boko Haram never enjoyed and has turned neglected communities in the area and islands in Lake Chad into a source of economic support.” It points out that Nigeria and its neighbours not only need to win militarily – which Nigeria is so far largely failing to do – but also politically. ISWAP digs wells, provides some basic healthcare, has a judicial system in place and a tax regime that’s generally accepted – creating an environment where people can do business “and compare its governance favourably to that of the Nigerian state.” We should also add a religious dimension of support from people committed to ISWAP’s ideological message. All in all, displacing ISWAP will not be easy.
When disasters and conflict collide
In March 2017, heavy rainfall caused rivers near the town of Mocoa in southern Colombia to burst their banks, unleashing a torrent of water and debris through the municipality and killing some 300 people. More than 80 percent of the victims were facing their second crisis: they had fled to Mocoa to seek shelter from armed groups but could only afford to build their homes in disaster-vulnerable areas. New research from UK-based think tank ODI examines the neglected crossroads of disasters and conflict. Researchers says donors, governments, and UN agencies have often resisted tackling disaster risk reduction in conflict zones, even if the majority of disaster-related deaths happen in fragile states. But there are ways forward: the research looks at how disaster risk reduction has evolved in conflict areas around the world, including in Afghanistan, Chad, and Colombia. The ongoing research is piling up here; or if you’d rather hear someone talk about it, check out the first in a related podcast series here.
Meanwhile, an annual UN gathering of the disaster risk reduction community wrapped up on Friday in Geneva. A Global UN Assessment, weighing in at 472 pages, warns: “we are fast approaching the point where we may not be able to mitigate or repair impacts from cascading and systemic risk in our global systems.”
Tensions and tempers flare in Sudan
Sudan’s opposition alliance has decried a three-day suspension of talks by the transitional ruling military council as “regrettable”. Although the generals and opposition had agreed a three-year transition to a civilian administration, the military on Thursday paused further talks on the details until a “suitable atmosphere” can be created, including the removal of roadblocks in Khartoum. Shots were fired on Wednesday as soldiers tried to clear barricades. Protesters said 14 people were wounded. The alliance described protesters as “increasingly angry as a result of the bloodshed and the souls that we lost”. There are also divisions within the alliance over whether to comply with the order to dismantle the barricades, one of the symbols of the protest. For a short and personal take on a Sudan in transition check out this essay in the New Yorker by freelance Sudanese journalist Isma’il Kushkush.
Healthcare in the firing line
Last year was one of the deadliest for healthcare workers: nearly 1,000 attacks in 23 countries, according to a report by the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition. The report comes as a deadly Ebola outbreak is spreading even faster in the Democratic Republic of Congo, partly because repeated attacks on treatment centres and healthcare workers have interrupted response operations. Other attacks have included hospitals and clinics in East Ghouta, Syria being hit by bombs or shells, and Boko Haram militants killing a doctor for UNICEF and two midwives at a displacement camp in Nigeria. The year before last, there were 701 incidents.
In case you missed it
MOZAMBIQUE: Facing losses of up to $773 million from just one of the two cyclones that struck this year, Mozambique is also one of seven low-income countries in "debt distress", according to the IMF. The exposure of corrupt borrowing by state-owned companies has worsened Mozambique's position. In a new report, British NGO Christian Aid says there is a "new global debt crisis", fuelled in part by a private sector boom in "irresponsible lending".
MYANMAR: The international community should cut off financial support to Myanmar’s military, a UN-appointed rights probe said this week following a mission to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. The investigators said Myanmar has done little to resolve its displacement crises, including the exodus of nearly one million Rohingya.
PAKISTAN: More than 190 people have died in floods and storms in Pakistan since the beginning of the year, according to the UN. Pakistan is facing disasters on two fronts: severe drought in the south and flooding in other areas.
VENEZUELA: Talks began on Friday in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to seek a mediated solution to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó confirmed sending a delegation but said it wouldn’t be holding face-to-face talks with representatives of President Nicolás Maduro.
“I have completely forgiven him (opposition leader Riek Machar) and all I ask from him is to become a peace partner, for he is no longer my opponent”: President Salva Kiir opening parliament on Tuesday. Fine, except the two men struck a deal back in September to usher in a power-sharing government on 12 May. Our weekend read lays out why that didn’t happen and looks at the chances of the deal sticking if Machar does return in November, as is now planned. Meanwhile, fighting is ongoing. Further evidence this week: hundreds of South Sudanese refugees arriving in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them widows and unaccompanied children. For more, check out our photo feature from Old Fangak, a town in the middle of a vast swamp that has grown tenfold as one of the final refuges from a five-and-a-half-year conflict that has claimed more than 400,000 lives.
A major conference on Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises will take place in Oslo, on 23-24 May. Hosted by Norway, together with the governments of Iraq, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, UN bodies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the event will also include 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege. It aims to make SGBV a political priority, as well as to generate new funding commitments for efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence.
(TOP PHOTO: Yemenis looking for survivors in damaged houses following reported Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on 16 May 2019.)