Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Dancing to a new tune on Sudan aid
A video clip of a dancing World Food Programme boss David Beasley caused a stir this week, but it was all to do with where he was cutting a rug – the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, previously off limits to UN agencies. The region, along with Blue Nile and the Jebel Marra area of Darfur, has officially been cut off from aid for years, as punishment by Khartoum for a long-running rebellion. But, with a ceasefire holding and Khartoum and rebel groups beginning talks to reach a political settlement, Beasley flew in for a knees-up with rebel leader Abdel Aziz al-Hilu. The 110-minute visit had the endorsement of the key military men on Khartoum’s ruling Sovereign Council, generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, affirming the new government’s open-door approach to aid agencies working in the conflict areas. “I think it’s hugely significant,” Paula Emerson, the head of the UN’s emergency aid coordinating body, OCHA, in Sudan, told The New Humanitarian. “It shows the times, they are a-changin’.” Look out for TNH’s upcoming briefing on aid access.
Russia’s Africa charm offensive
Attack helicopters, rocket launchers, and kalashnikovs were all on the table as Russia wooed dozens of African leaders at a summit this week in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Part of a push to revive Moscow’s influence in the region – which waned after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Putin said he would seek to double trade across the continent over the next five years. The Kremlin has been showing particular interest in war-torn Central African Republic, sending military equipment and instructors to train the country’s beleaguered armed forces and sponsoring everything from radio stations to beauty pageants. A former Russian spy is now serving as CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s personal security advisor. Some worry the power shift could embolden African leaders with patchy human rights records. Earlier this year, Russia’s then-ambassador to Guinea came out in support of President Alpha Condé, whose attempts to defy the constitution and run for a third term have triggered protests and crackdowns. The Kremlin also threw its support behind former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, while a BBC investigation last year found that Russian operatives had interfered in last year’s presidential elections in Madagascar. Russian weapons sales to African countries doubled from 2012 to 2017, exceeding both China and the United States.
Uganda aid funding surge didn’t reach everyone
Humanitarian funding to Uganda more than doubled in 2016 and 2017 as hundreds of thousands of refugees, many from South Sudan, surged into the country. But the share of funding for local responders actually fell despite the aid injection – and despite sector-wide promises to shift power and money closer to the ground. A new report from Oxfam and research organisation Development Initiatives takes a snapshot of funding flows to locals in Uganda. Those tracking the aid sector’s localisation promises will know this story well: locals unseen on the sidelines, short-term funding filtered through big international NGOs, onerous donor requirements. So what’s the way forward? Separate research released this week by a consortium of NGOs including Christian Aid tries to nudge the ball forward. The Pathways to Localisation paper outlines steps to improve on partnerships and help build up local organisations. Local humanitarians might get a sense of déjà vu here, however. Recommendations to credit local partners for the work they do, or to make direct funding more accessible, aren’t exactly new – in some cases they’re the very promises the aid sector committed to long ago.
Challenges multiply for Ethiopia PM
Sixteen people were killed this week in Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian cities in clashes between the police and supporters of Oromo nationalist and media mogul Jawar Mohammed. The trouble began on Tuesday night when Mohammed claimed the police tried to dismiss the security detail at his house. Youths rushed to his home, and demonstrations then broke out condemning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Mohammed had helped organise the protests that bought Abiy to power last year. Both men are ethnic Oromo – the largest ethnic group – and the demonstrations suggest Abiy may be losing part of his powerbase. Mohammed, previously in exile in the United States, has hinted he may run in next year’s elections. It is a contest that is looking increasingly fraught, as Ethiopia’s long-suppressed ethnic tensions resurface as a result of Abiy’s political reforms. See our briefing on the challenges Abiy faces, and look out for our upcoming story on community reconciliation efforts in Gedeo-Guji.
Women’s wellbeing around the world
This week, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS) and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) released the Women, Peace, and Security Index for 2019. At the top of the 167 countries measured: Norway, Switzerland, and Finland. At the bottom: Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. Not everything in the findings, however, was that predictable. For instance, while Botswana ranked far higher than Somalia overall, more women said they felt safe walking at night in Somalia. While wealthier countries tended to outrank their poorer counterparts, oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait proved to be exceptions. And, while the authors hope the index will provide countries with an incentive to improve, there are still data gaps. Data for indicators like murder was still too inconsistent, researcher said, and the privatisation of conflict is also making it harder to track gendered violence.
In case you missed it
BAHAMAS: The UN is urging the Bahamas to stop deporting undocumented Haitians after Hurricane Dorian pummelled the archipelago in early September. Haitian communities on Abaco and Grand Bahama were hardest hit. Since then, more than 100 Haitians have been deported after Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that illegal migrants could leave voluntarily or be forced to leave. Under international law, undocumented migrants have the right to due process, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
BURUNDI: Burundian security forces said they killed 14 gunmen after foiling an attack from rebels who had crossed from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. The attempted attack was claimed by RED-Taraba, one of several Burundian rebel groups with bases in Congo, and comes as the country prepares for upcoming presidential elections next year.
LIBYA: Amnesty International says it had found evidence of potential war crimes by both sides in the ongoing battle for the Libyan capital of Tripoli, which has killed or wounded more than 100 civilians and displaced 100,000 since fighting broke out in April. UNICEF reports that seven children were killed in the last two weeks alone.
NIGERIA: Médecins Sans Frontières warns that a nutritional crisis is looming in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Zamfara as a result of violence and banditry that has caused tens of thousands to flee their villages. MSF said it was treating 7,445 children for malnutrition in the town of Anka – indicative of the situation in the rest of Zamfara. More than 40,000 people have also crossed the border into Niger as a result of the unrest, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. See our earlier report on the crisis.
SYRIA: Amnesty International said on Friday that Turkey has likely forcibly deported hundreds of people to Syria in the past few months. The Turkish government says refugees who return do so voluntarily, but in a new report the watchdog group says refugees reported being threatened or beaten into signing documents stating they wanted to go back to Syria. It documented 20 cases of people sent across the border in handcuffs.
Philip Kleinfeld first reported for TNH on the violence spreading like wildfire through Burkina Faso in April. New displacement this year was then in the tens of thousands, but UN officials were warning that as many as 380,000 people could be displaced by the year-end. They were lowballing. That figure is now nearly 500,000, with 267,000 people displaced since July alone. As a new school term begins, Kleinfeld turned his attention this week to the oversized impact the violence is having on education. With thousands of schools closed and hundreds of thousands of children missing classes, one teacher warns that “the whole country’s development” is at risk. Burkina Faso’s descent from a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa to a hotbed of militancy failed for a long while to receive the attention it deserved. It is now one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian emergencies.
Planet crisis over? Let’s wait for the fact-checkers
The UN has a proposal to pause climate change for a bargain price, according to a Bloomberg article that did the rounds this week. Replanting 900 million hectares of natural habitats would apparently do it, and only cost $300 billion. The price tag – leaving aside the practical and political challenges – seems very doable. The article pointed out that the cost was the same as global military spending every 60 days. Others said it was less than the combined net worth of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett. Bloomberg was reporting on research from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The specific claim about the potential gains appeared to originate from a single UN official, Costa Rican René Castro Salazar of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Problem solved, right? Well, maybe not. The UN's premier top climate science analysis group, the IPCC, believes it will cost over $100 trillion: an average of $3.5 trillion a year, from 2016 to 2050, to change energy systems to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.