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COVID-19 in Yemen, pandemic aid costings, and military executions: The Cheat Sheet

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

People cover their faces as a health worker fumigates a residential area on the outskirts of Sana'a, Yemen, on 13 April 2020. (Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS)

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

On our radar

Coronavirus in a war zone

This week saw the announcement of what many had long worried and suspected: COVID-19 has reached north Yemen. The first case in the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sana’a was confirmed on Tuesday, and, with testing so far extremely limited, nobody really knows the full extent of the outbreak. While disease modelling is not an exact science, the predictions the World Health Organisation is working with show that even if sufficient mitigation measures are put in place – and that’s a big if – 42,000 Yemenis will die of the disease. Even as the virus takes hold, the fighting in Yemen is intensifying, and the WHO says defunding is forcing it to cut back on programming, including salary top-ups thousands of health workers relied on. For more on that move, for which the agency admits the “timing couldn’t be worse”, click here

Pick a number

It's going to cost a lot to cope with the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 in low-income countries. But how much? The UN's trade and development body said $2.5 trillion over two or three years would be about right: $1 trillion in new IMF funding, $1 trillion in debt cancellation, and $500 billion in immediate international aid. The OECD donor club calls for “unprecedented” resources for poorer countries. The UN's humanitarian arm says $90 billion is a reasonable ball-park figure for the highest priority issues. UN agencies, along with NGOs produced a new compendium this week of what the most important bits of that $90 billion – amounting to $6.7 billion – should go towards. Money received so far for that super-urgent category as of today? Just $0.8 billion. Meanwhile, local aid groups have got just 0.1 percent of it and Yemeni health workers are getting less international help than they did last year.

Lawless counter-extremism in the Sahel

Sahelian security forces are accused of committing a rising toll of extrajudicial killings in the war against jihadist groups – actions that risk fuelling future extremism. In Mali, soldiers allegedly conducted 101 executions, 32 forced disappearances, and 32 cases of torture in the first three months of the year, the UN mission in Mali reported. Nigerien forces in Mali, under the umbrella of the multinational G5, were responsible for 34 executions, the UN said. On home soil, the Nigerien military are also accused of killing 102 people and burying their bodies in mass graves in the northern Tillabéri region between 27 March and 2 April. In Burkina Faso, Human Rights Watch reported the alleged execution of 31 detainees by the security forces on 9 April in the northern town of Djibo. The men were apparently killed just hours after being arrested – unarmed – during a government counter-terrorism operation. The army was also accused of wounding 32 people in a raid on a camp for Malian refugees in Mentao on 2 May in a search for gunmen who had attacked soldiers on a nearby road. Look out for TNH’s upcoming report on the incident.

Local response in Indonesia challenges assumptions

What does a truly local humanitarian response look like? New research examining 2018’s earthquake and tsunami disaster in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi found a locally driven response marred by problems with access, speed, coordination, and resources – in other words, the same types of challenges every imperfect humanitarian response faces. The study, published by the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University and Save the Children Denmark, examined whether the Sulawesi response supported assumptions that have clouded the aid sector’s stalled “localisation” agenda for years: that locals lack skills or fail to prioritise humanitarian principles to the same degree as their international counterparts. After interviews with 50 people involved in the response – including local and international organisations and people who received aid – researchers said they found no systemic issues or violations to justify the assumptions. Instead, the study suggested, Sulawesi could be a “model” for what future local responses could look like – warts and all. In Indonesia, smaller local groups – and a brigade of highly organised volunteers – stepped to the forefront while international specialists were still en route, and the government enacted strict new limits for international responders. With the COVID-19 pandemic now keeping many aid workers grounded on home soil, local groups will increasingly be in the spotlight.

Ivory Coast election worries

Disputed elections in Ivory Coast in 2010 led to a brief civil war and the death of around 3,000 people. While few expect a repeat occurrence, rising tensions between the ruling party and the opposition ahead of presidential polls scheduled for October have set alarm bells ringing. On Tuesday, authorities said 14 soldiers and five civilians had been arrested for allegedly preparing a coup, while opposition leader Guillaume Soro was last week sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Another opposition figure, Jacques Mangoua, received five years in jail last year after weapons were found at his house. Opponents of President Alassane Ouattara say the arrests are part of a wider crackdown and authoritarian drift, while questions linger over the fairness of the electoral process. Supporters of Ouattara – a former IMF official who came to power in the wake of the 2010 crisis – say he has brought growth and stability to Ivory Coast. In March, the 78-year-old announced he would not be running for a controversial third term in office, drawing widespread praise. But further disputes seem likely in the coming months, and analysts of the country say violence can’t be ruled out.

In case you missed it

EAST AFRICA: Uganda is imposing strict coronavirus testing on truckers entering the landlocked country, causing long tailbacks at border crossings and raising regional tensions. A total of 37 truck drivers – only four of them Ugandan – have tested positive for COVID-19. Truckers are now banned from sleeping in hotels or homes and can only stop at “designated places”.

FLOODS: At least 65 people died this week in Rwanda after heavy rains triggered flooding and landslides in the mountainous northwest. Flash floods have taken a toll across East Africa after heavier-than-usual rains. In Somalia, at least 70,000 people have been made homeless and 16 killed. Thousands have also been displaced in Kenya, where flooding has affected 29 of 47 counties.

IRAQ: Iraq swore in a new prime minister on Thursday, after months of political deadlock and protests left the country without a government. Mustafa al-Khadhimi faces a host of challenges, including COVID-19, mass social unrest, and an upsurge in attacks on the country’s security forces by the so-called Islamic State.

LIBYA: With food prices up and lockdowns making it difficult to work, a new report by the UN’s migration agency says nearly three in four migrants they interviewed reported “inadequate food consumption” in the past seven days, with food insecurity rising to as high as 85 percent in some parts of the capital, Tripoli.

MYANMAR: Conflict in western Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states is disrupting supply routes and fuelling growing food shortages, the UN said this week. Trucks transporting emergency food supplies came under gunfire in Chin on 2 May. The World Food Programme says rice shortages have been reported in northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township and in Kutkai Township in northern Shan, while rice prices have also risen.

THE PHILIPPINES: Displacement is escalating in the troubled Mindanao region, despite coronavirus lockdowns. Aid groups say clan feuds have uprooted at least 26,000 people in recent weeks; more than 370,000 people are now displaced due to conflict or disasters. This includes some 127,000 people still displaced three years after the siege of Marawi, where clashes between insurgents and the Philippine army levelled parts of the city. 

Weekend read

Yes, COVID-19. But what about other infectious diseases?

COVID-19 has disrupted emergency response around the world, from migrant rescues at sea to aid workers in war zones. But what does it mean for long-running public health crises? The acute demands of the pandemic are pushing other infectious diseases to the wayside, leaving some to continue their spread unchecked. Since restrictions meant to slow coronavirus have been implemented, immunisation programmes for measles, a disease which has made a comeback in recent years in part due to anti-vaccination beliefs, are delayed in 24 countries. Hard-won success in eradicating polio risks being reversed. Tropical vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria are, meanwhile, spreading into more temperate zones due to climate change. Neglecting these challenges could have grave consequences. As World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently warned, without proper intervention, “these diseases will come roaring back”. 

And finally…

The coup (that wasn’t) in Venezuela

Before we start, this is not a Hollywood script. No, the Macuto Bay raid, a.k.a. Operation Gideon, actually happened. Leading a rag-tag army of a few dozen Venezuelans hastily trained in Colombia, ex-US special forces soldiers Luke Denman and Airan Berry came ashore north of Caracas on 3 May intending to seize the capital and the international airport, abduct Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and take down his regime. Small problem: Maduro knew most of it in advance and, since foiling the bid (killing at least six assailants in the process) has turned it into a major propaganda victory. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and US President Donald Trump have denied any involvement. However, both were reportedly implicated in confessions by the two now-detained US mercenaries, while Guaidó aides appear to have signed a preliminary contract obtained by The Washington Post. Questions abound. Was the US really involved? How did Maduro know so much in advance? Was Denman trying to signal something with his eyes during that weird state TV confession? What will now happen to the two Americans? Bellingcat has more on all the juicy details, in particular on Canadian-born Jordan Goudreau, the founder of Florida-based security firm Silvercorp USA who admits to masterminding (if that’s the correct term) the venture. Referring to plans in the Silvercorp contract to film Maduro’s abduction, Bellingcat tweeted: “(There might still be a documentary...It will probably lean Joe Exotic...).”

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