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Syrian aid duel, dengue emergency, and UN sex abuse in Haiti: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

A boy stands in line as people receive aid in the border town of Tal Abyad, Syria 19 October 2019. Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
A boy stands in line as people receive aid in the border town of Tel Abyad, Syria 19 October 2019.

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

On our radar

Aid to Syrians hostage to diplomatic stalemate

Negotiations over renewal of the Security Council resolution that lets the UN bring aid across Syria’s borders without the permission of President Bashar al-Assad have reached stalemate. In a bitter diplomatic showdown, Russia and China voted on Friday against one version of the resolution, while the other three permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, France, and the UK) and other members voted against Russia’s rival text. Last-minute attempts to find a compromise between the two duelling drafts failed. While UN agencies do not actually bring the majority of assistance into the rebel-held northwest or the Kurdish northeast – that’s done by NGOs – aid officials say renewal of Resolution 2165 is critical for the operation as a whole. Richard Gowan, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said on Twitter: “this is still another nail in the coffin of UNSC diplomacy over Syria”. Further negotiations could yet lead to another vote before a 10 January deadline. It can all be more than a bit confusing, so we suggest you check out Aron Lund’s latest TNH piece from this week for a clear explanation of who wants what, where, and why.

Dengue reaches new heights

Dengue, the mosquito-borne disease usually found in the tropics, has spread to mountainous Afghanistan, sparking emergency meetings and a health response planned for early 2020. The cases, tested between 1 October and 4 December, are the first time health authorities have found autochthonous – or homegrown – dengue. It’s a significant worry in aid-dependent Afghanistan, which already struggles with poor healthcare and frequent emergencies caused by conflict, displacement, and disasters. It’s also another sign of dengue’s dramatic global expansion. Scientists say this is likely fuelled in part by climate change, which makes it easier for the dengue-carrying mosquito to spread. The World Health Organisation says only nine countries saw severe dengue epidemics before the 1970s; there are now an estimated 390 million infections every year. This year, dengue cases in the Americas reached an historic high. As Afghanistan’s emerging problem shows, dengue is also reaching higher elevations once thought to be too cold for disease-carrying mosquitoes to thrive – including the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

‘They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you’

Allegations that members of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, sexually exploited and abused women and girls on a large scale have been known about for more than a decade. But new research examines the experiences of women and girls raising the children they fathered. Of more than 2,500 accounts of interactions between MINUSTAH and local women – not prompted to be about sexual abuse – collected between June and August 2017, 265 were either about or mentioned such children, referred to in Haitian Kreyol as “pitit MINUSTAH”. Some stories alluded to rape or sexual violence, but most were about transactional sex and poor women left to raise children alone with no help. One simply said: “They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you.” Recommendations from the study, published this week in The Conversation, include calling on the UN to end its practice of repatriating alleged perpetrators, so they might face justice and victims could receive financial support. For more, read our recent reporting on similar impunity for alleged sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Central African Republic.

Sudan’s revolution celebrated – but it’s not yet over 

The anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled former president Omar al-Bashir was marked by peaceful street demonstrations on Thursday. Soldiers, however, sealed off roads leading to the military’s headquarters that had been the site of a months-long sit-in by pro-democracy demonstrators. Al-Bashir was overthrown in April, and a power-sharing civilian-military transitional authority was sworn in on August. On Saturday, al-Bashir was sentenced to two years for corruption and is awaiting the verdict in another case in which he is accused of ordering the killing of demonstrators. It’s unclear whether he will ever be transferred to the International Criminal Court, where he is wanted for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok is under pressure to maintain his reform agenda and end decades of impunity over rights violations. Last month, he lifted the “public order laws”, which governed the presence of women in public spaces. A ceasefire deal in war-affected Blue Nile and South Kordofan states was cemented on Tuesday with an agreement with the rebel SPLM-N led by Malik Agar to allow in humanitarian aid – ending the blockade imposed by al-Bashir. Read TNH’s Sudan coverage here.

A first forum for refugees

As many as 3,000 participants gathered for the inaugural Global Refugee Forum this week to breathe life into the Global Compact on Refugees – an international agreement negotiated a year ago. Observers welcomed the fact that refugees and smaller NGOs shared the limelight with governments and bigwigs. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says it recorded some 770 pledges – ranging from jobs to citizenship. But the financial commitments remained relatively modest, while the prospect of pushbacks hung in the air, especially of Syrians from Turkey. So, did the forum pass three tests set by former UNHCR policy chief Jeff Crisp? You be the judge: our roundup is here, and we will follow the pledges into 2020 – including promises to green the refugee aid enterprise.

In case you missed it

CAMEROON: Lawmakers have passed a devolution bill for the two crisis-hit anglophone regions – a move rejected by separatist rebels. If the Senate approves the special status for the western areas, they will be allowed to develop their own education and justice policies – well short of rebel demands for independence from the majority French-speaking country.

LIBYA: As TNH reported earlier this month, UNHCR is encouraging more than 1,000 migrants to leave an overcrowded transit centre in the capital, Tripoli, saying it has no control over the building and cannot properly help people inside. The plan does not appear to be working. UNHCR posted an update on its Facebook page saying only about 150 people had left, and that various UN agencies had visited the centre to assess what those remaining inside need.

PHILIPPINES: Some 124,000 people need aid and at least 33,000 are displaced after a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck Mindanao in the southern Philippines this week, according to the UN. It’s at least the fourth strong quake to hit Mindanao since October, and each successive tremor is exacerbating humanitarian needs.

SOMALIA: The worst desert locust outbreak in over 25 years has descended on Somalia – and is likely to spread. An estimated 70,000 hectares of land have been infested by hoppers and breeding adults. “The situation is far worse than anticipated,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said.

YEMEN: A year after the signing of a ceasefire deal around Yemen’s strategic port city of Hodeidah, representatives from the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels met on a ship off the country’s Red Sea coast Thursday to discuss the details of a long planned redeployment, and there is also reportedly a new agreement (details are sketchy) on humanitarian corridors that would allow aid to flow through the city. 

Weekend read

Cash ban stokes worry among Rohingya volunteers

What if your only source of income – however meagre – was suddenly banned? That’s the question reporter Kaamil Ahmed found some Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh facing, as aid groups grapple with how to respond to a government order ending cash-aid programmes. Refugees are not legally permitted to work, but they can be compensated for volunteer work. They may help aid organisations with infrastructure projects, serving as day labourers to build roads, for instance. Or they assist with community and relief programmes, such as the World Food Programme project Mohammed worked on, distributing ration tokens, before he was dismissed. He had used his earnings, about $3.50 a day, to supplement his family’s food rations. The ban is intended to guard against refugees using the cash to “buy fake documents and passports”, a government official told TNH, as well as to encourage the hiring of Bangladeshis for paying roles. Aid officials stress that negotiations to maintain cash programmes are ongoing. But many Rohingya say the ban is the latest in a line of tightening restrictions, after authorities blocked mobile internet and increased security in late August. As Mohammed put it: “It seems like they're trying to put pressure on us to go back to Myanmar.

For an inside look at what it’s like to report on the situation for Rohingya inside and outside Myanmar, check out our recent Reporter’s View video with Verena Hölzl.

And finally...

Digital conflict prevention

“Weaponised” information on social media can spark real-world conflict offline, fuel hate, threaten relief work, and foster hate and extremism. Dealing with the digital drivers of conflict has to be a new priority for aid agencies and will require new techniques, skills, and alliances, according to a new report by US-based NGO Mercy Corps. Roles relevant for the humanitarian sector could including monitoring hate speech online, encouraging responsible data policies, injecting moderate content into contested issues, and countering false or provocative propaganda. 

Holiday schedule

As year-end holidays approach, you may be taking a break. Cheat Sheet is, but it will return with all the latest on Friday 10 January, 2020.


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