Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Coughing up the cash
One patient in a camp in Iraq was feared to have Covid-19, but tested negative. That was a false alarm, but the international humanitarian community is still waiting for the inevitable: an outbreak in an a) densely-populated place b) among vulnerable people c) with limited means to respond. A review out from World Health Organisation this week says Central African Republic is particularly at risk, while Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Ukraine were among countries of greatest concern where the virus has already arrived, but the situation is changing fast. The capacity to test, isolate, and treat patients in emergency settings is not a wholly new challenge, according to the WHO's emergencies director: there’s some benefit, Dr. Mike Ryan told us, from having had more practice than wealthy countries with other diseases. Nevertheless, someone is going to have to cough up a lot of money to prevent the worst – the WHO's initial estimate of $675 million up to end-April is already dating fast. Our initial survey suggests that economic stimulus, not international aid grants, is inhaling resources. The WHO was launching a global fundraising campaign on Friday. Don’t miss our Ryan interview, in full here.
Syria’s 10th year
Syria crossed yet another grim milestone this week, as the war that has made nearly 5.6 million people refugees and forced even more to flee for their lives inside the country entered its tenth year. March 2011 protests against President Bashar al-Assad were met with violent resistance, kicking off a conflict that has left more than 11 million Syrians – 4.7 million of them children – in need of aid that has often proved difficult to deliver. That includes many of the nearly one million newly displaced people in the northwest, where a fragile Russia-Turkey brokered ceasefire appears to be holding for now. But the details of how the truce will work are still not clear, and even it keeps temporary peace in and around Idlib province, Syria’s long war, which has killed hundreds of thousands and decimated a country, is still not over.
Intrigue in the new Sudan
A failed bomb attack on Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s motorcade on 9 March has turned into a bit of a whodunnit. Much clearer is the outpouring of support the attack generated for Hamdok, the former UN economist who is leading the country’s transitional government. It may serve as a reminder to donor nations “to support the civilian government while it still can”, noted one analyst. Sudan’s needs are mighty. The economy is shrinking, inflation is surging, and millions require aid. With the government broke, there is a heated debate, sharpened by fuel shortages, over whether now is the time to liberalise the economy – despite the risks of instability. Until the United States removes Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, international lenders cannot help. The guessing game over who was behind the attack underlines Hamdok’s political fragility. The worst-case scenario could be if the finger of blame points to elements within the military, who are supposed to be part of the coalition government. But radical Islamists also bear grudges against the new administration, as do members of former president Omar al-Bashir’s dissolved ruling party, furious he may stand trial at the International Criminal Court.
Rocky recovery in Mozambique
It was one of southern Africa’s worst ever weather-related disasters – and one year on aid groups say people are still struggling to rebuild their lives. In a new report timed for Saturday’s anniversary of Cyclone Idai – which left millions in need of help in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe – Oxfam said 100,000 people remain in makeshift shelters; some roads, water supplies, and schools are still in tatters; and nearly 10 million people are “in desperate need of food”. Drought conditions in the region have impacted people’s ability to recover – as have yet more torrential rains and flash floods. A move to resettle people from flood-prone areas in Mozambique has meanwhile left tens of thousands of people languishing in ill-suited sites that lack basic humanitarian necessities and offer few employment opportunities. And with temperatures rising in southern Africa at around twice the global rate, another big disaster is just around the corner, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. For more on post-cyclone reconstruction and resettlement, read our series of reports from the ground.
When the government of Burkina Faso passed a new law in January aimed at recruiting local volunteers to combat jihadists, many worried it would lead to even more abuses against civilians. The killing on Sunday of at least 43 people by an alleged group of vigilantes suggests those fears were not misplaced. According to media reports, the attackers belonged to the Koglweogo – a mostly ethnic Mossi militia who are primarily known for fighting crime but have been increasingly sucked into conflict with jihadists. Not for the first time the group is accused of attacking civilians from the country’s cattle-herding Fulani community, who are stigmatised for allegedly collaborating with militants. While the Koglweogo’s existence predates the new law, it is feared that volunteers may behave in a similar manner, further exacerbating ethnic tensions in a country where nearly 800,000 people have now fled their homes. Recruitment is just beginning, but Human Rights Watch West Africa researcher Corrine Dukfa said on Twitter that the organisation is already investigating six incidents involving volunteers allegedly executing over 120 people. More trouble ahead.
In case you missed it
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Militia violence in northern CAR left at least 13 people dead, UN officials said Thursday, describing the latest in a string of clashes undermining a peace deal signed last year. Rival factions of the FPRC – one of the country’s largest rebel groups – split in 2019 and have been attacking each other ever since.
THE PHILIPPINES: While the world rushes to contain the coronavirus, the Philippines is dealing with three additional disease outbreaks – measles, dengue, and polio – that have sickened thousands in 2020. The UN says there were more than 1,700 measles cases and 12 deaths by mid-February, while dengue infected nearly 30,000 people and killed 85. The country has also seen 16 polio cases since an outbreak began last year.
US/MEXICO: Some 60,000 asylum seekers sent back by the United States to Mexico until their claims can be heard in US courts face a longer wait in Mexican limbo after the US Supreme Court issued an order on Wednesday that allowed a controversial US anti-immigration policy to stand. For more on how US and Mexican migration policies are affecting asylum seekers from Central America, read our recent briefing.
VIETNAM: A late rainy season and historic low levels on the Mekong River are fuelling a prolonged drought in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, saltwater intrusion – often worse during times of low river flows – has seeped up to 85 kilometres inland, damaging thousands of hectares of crops. Three provinces have declared a state of emergency and 82,000 homes are hit by water shortages, which could lead to disease risks and longer-term food insecurity. The coronavirus is also reducing trade in the region, making it even harder to adapt, the UN says.
YEMEN: Oxfam warned this week that Yemen’s ongoing cholera epidemic could spiral once again as the rainy season approaches in April. People in the country’s north are at heightened risk because of shortages of clean water. The UN says aid agencies are “doubling efforts to prevent further spread of the disease despite persistent challenges”.
For many refugees or people under persecution, access to the world via the internet or a phone line is one of the only things that connects them to their past life. For some, it could be the difference between life and death, and is a comparable necessity to that of food, water or shelter. Flow of information through telecommunications helps people stay in touch with their loved ones, send remittances, exchange vital information, and communicate needs to aid workers or NGOs. When news broke in September about internet shutdowns in Bangladesh, the country’s telecom regulatory authority cited that the move was intended to curb security concerns. Our weekend read, from Verena Hölzl, shows that the impacts of the ban on the Rohingya refugee population have been devastating. In the words of Mohammed Eleyas, a Rohingya civil society leader that Hölzl interviewed, “We are living like in a zoo. Everyone can come take information and pictures and do their work. Only we can’t.”
Worrisome debt horizons in Africa
Africa’s decade-long improvement in livelihoods between 2005 to 2015 has stalled. Afrobarometer has found people’s perception of “lived poverty” began to rise once again in 2016 to 2018, according to a survey run in 34 countries. The measure is based on the frequency with which people said they went without a basket of basic necessities (food, clean water, healthcare, heating fuel, and cash income). Worse still, the slowdown in China’s growth is having a knock-on effect on commodity-dependent countries. China’s trade with Africa grew by just two percent in 2019, compared with 20 percent the previous year. China’s scaling back on investments in Africa’s infrastructure – a key driver of growth – has added yet more pain. And now, buckle up, coronavirus is hitting health systems, trade, and tourism at a time when Africa has already accumulated record levels of debt.