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NGO closure in Nigeria, climate action at the UN, and a $500m cheque for Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

A soldier stands next to a truck to prevent workers from accessing the offices of the Mercy Corps humanitarian group in Maiduguri, in the northeast of the country, on 25 September 2019. (Audu Marte/AFP)

Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

Nigeria’s war on NGOs

The Nigerian military this month closed regional offices of two humanitarian agencies in the northeast – Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps – accusing AAH of supplying Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) with “food and drugs”. Mercy Corps said it hadn’t been given any explanation. Both agencies stressed their humanitarian credentials. A week after the closure, AAH announced that a kidnapped staff member – one of six health workers and drivers abducted by ISWAP in July – had been killed by the jihadists, underlining the danger of the agency’s work. The Nigerian military’s sharpened focus on NGOs comes against a backdrop of serious battlefield reversals. It has now adopted a “super camp” strategy in which the army has largely withdrawn from the countryside to concentrate its forces in a small number of key towns. That has denied aid agencies access to the civilian population left behind. Rather than head to the bases to seek the army’s protection and humanitarian help, civilians in the countryside have preferred to stay put. See our overview of the conflict here

Climate action plea eclipses all else at UNGA

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s challenge to world leaders dominated discussions at the UN General Assembly in New York this week, even if many environmentalists saw the UN Climate Action Summit as a disappointment, with commitments far out of step with what’s required to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Other headlines included a US government decision to sharply reduce the number of refugees it will resettle in 2020, and a pledging conference hosted by Saudi Arabia for Rohingya refugees that garnered promises of USD $250 million in funding. In keeping with similar efforts in the humanitarian sphere, the US government tried to remove reference to “sexual and reproductive health” from a new declaration on Universal Health Coverage that was unanimously adopted by member states. In other meetings scattered around the city, representatives of humanitarian groups tried to convince private companies to invest in clean energy in refugee camps, pushed for greater access to sexual and reproductive health services post-disaster, and highlighted the plight of people displaced within their own countries. Look out on Monday for TNH’s roundup of key reports and initiatives from UNGA week.

Busy week, but little progress for Yemen

Yemen was high on the humanitarian agenda at the UNGA. Saudi Arabia delivered on $500 million of a long-awaited pledge to the aid response. UN relief chief Mark Lowcock said a scale-up in food aid was “key in averting… widespread famine” and found some cause for optimism despite more than four and a half years of war. In Yemen itself, however, it was a deadly week. At least 22 civilians, several of them children, were killed in two air raids by the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition. Last week, Houthi rebels offered to halt all attacks on the kingdom as part of a peace initiative – a proposal met warily by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who said: “We judge other parties by their deeds, actions, and not by their words, so we will see [whether] they actually do this or not.”

A war of words and a new Ebola vaccine in Congo

In a week of spats over the management of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak, medical aid group MSF accused the World Health Organisation of rationing vaccines and “hampering” access to them, while the WHO publicly rebuked Tanzania for withholding information on suspected Ebola cases in Dar es Salaam, a major regional trade hub. In an effort to contain the virus – which has now claimed over 2,100 lives and infected more than 3,100 people, health authorities in Congo also announced plans this week to introduce a second experimental Ebola vaccine, manufactured by the American pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. The idea had previously been opposed by Congo’s former health minister, Olly Ilunga, who believed a second drug with a different vaccination schedule could create confusion in communities distrustful of the response.  

How to include more local women

What’s preventing more local women from taking part in humanitarian responses, and how can the global system break down these roadblocks? A new report from gender equality advocates Women Deliver suggests a path forward. The humanitarian sector has promised to “localise” aid by shifting more money and power to local responders. But in practice this often sees funding directed to more established male-led organisations – leaving local women and women-led groups sidelined. The Women Deliver report, released on Friday, 27 September, argues for building a localisation agenda that deliberately ensures women have the power and resources to participate. Among the recommendations for donors, the UN, and international NGOs: actually consult women’s groups; make the often-labyrinthine coordination systems easier for smaller groups to participate; and commit to quotas on funding women’s groups in general and on supporting overhead, salary, and training in individual grants. Why are local women often overlooked? Check out our Q&A exploring how donors and NGOs contribute to the problem. Then read about a group of women making a difference despite the barriers: Fiji’s frontline disaster responders.

In case you missed it….

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: A nine-day vaccination campaign has begun to contain an outbreak of measles that has cost over 3,500 lives this year – more than the Ebola epidemic ravaging the eastern provinces. Some 800,000 children will be targeted in 24 health zones across the county, the WHO said.

HAITI: The opposition called for a general strike and demonstrations on Friday to shut down the capital, Port-au-Prince. A corruption scandal, economic paralysis, and chronic fuel shortages have triggered waves of street protests in recent weeks. Schools and shops have been forced to close, with some hospitals barely functioning and other basic services for the highly food insecure population hampered.

INDONESIA: At least 32 people died after violent protests re-ignited in Papua province this week. Since August, accusations of racism against indigenous Papuans have sparked waves of protests in a region where Indonesia heavily restricts media and humanitarian access.

LIBYA/RWANDA: A group of refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Rwanda on Thursday after they were evacuated from Libya, the first of 500 people who will be taken to the east African country. A Rwandan official said “refugees who will wish to stay in the country permanently will be given asylum”, but the deal crafted with the UN and the African Union does not include any guarantees about refugee status or permanent residence.

OXFAM: The US government wants the $160 million lawsuit against the NGO dismissed. The case alleged Oxfam supported terrorism in its work in Gaza. The Charity and Security Network, a nonprofit that monitors counter-terrorism legislation, said the case “attempts to stretch the law beyond the limits of how it is currently applied”. 

Weekend read

Searching for the nexus: The view from the ground

Regular TNH contributor Louise Redvers has taken a deep dive into the so-called triple nexus. So, is this approach to delivering aid just trendy jargon, or could it really join up humanitarian aid, development, and peacebuilding programmes to the benefit of millions? That depends where you’re sitting. After months of interviews, Redvers finds that what has become received wisdom at boardroom level is still a head-scratcher for those in the field trying to make the strategy work. Critics fear success might be a self-fulfilling prophecy with mistakes brushed under the carpet, while supporters believe there is too much systemic resistance to overdue change. The good news: this piece is just a taster. Future articles will explore related topics: how funding is changing; the growing role of the World Bank; and where peacebuilding fits into the aid equation.

And finally…

The chosen ones

International child sponsorship has its fair share of controversy, but for Christian NGO World Vision it’s a core to fundraising, with some 600,000 US-based individuals paying $39 monthly contributions. Its website invites prospective donors to select a child from a gallery of biographical sketches and photos (you can even filter by birthday). “This one-to-one connection is a powerful way to share God’s love,” the site says. Last week, the NGO turned the tables: in a video for a new approach, Kenyan children pick their sponsors from rows of portraits, while Chicago church-goers are moved to tears after being sent the news that they have been “chosen”.

(TOP PHOTO: Soldiers prevent aid workers from accessing Mercy Corps' offices in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, on 25 September 2019.)


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