The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

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Libya’s uncertain elections, the ‘forgotten crisis’ effect, and an away win for Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

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

(Louise O'Brien/TNH)

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

On our radar

Polls loom in Libya

Libya is supposed to hold presidential elections on 24 December, a key milestone in a long UN-led process intended to unify the country. However, it’s not clear if the polls will take place at all. With days to go, nearly three million people were registered to vote but there was still no final list of candidates. Among those who have thrown their hat in the ring are Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed during the revolution that overthrew his father 10 years ago), Khalifa Haftar (commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, which in 2019 and 2020 led an assault on the capital, Tripoli), and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the country’s current interim prime minister. All three have faced challenges to their right to run, and Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over whether the elections can be free and fair. While international leaders continue to push for a vote next week, there are real fears – especially following clashes this week in the south – that the polls, or the results, could lead the country back into exactly the kind of widespread violence it is still trying to recover from

Concern grows over renewed Darfur violence

While all eyes have been on Khartoum since the military coup in October triggered street protests and international criticism, in Sudan’s far-off western Darfur region, a new wave of attacks has left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced. According to Human Rights Watch, Arab militias attacked a displaced persons camp in West Darfur’s Kreinik area earlier this month, while the UN said fighting in November in Jebel Moon left at least 50 dead. It is hard to determine exactly what caused the recent fighting, but an eightfold increase in displacement in the region this year compared to 2020 points to a major crisis. When The New Humanitarian visited Darfur earlier this year, we found a new peace deal stirring tension, and Sudan’s broader transition stoking unease among communities. We also documented the failure of local security forces to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur. You can find the full series here.

How does the news affect which crises get aid?

Are you an aid agency wanting to apply pressure on a country to fund a specific emergency? If so, focus on publicity-seeking ministers at larger donors, and target national television, newspapers, and radio. This is a key takeaway from an illuminating new study by a research team from three UK universities. Generating intense, sudden-onset coverage – natural disasters carry a premium – via national news outlets can sway relatively large, additional emergency aid allocations, according to 30 interviews the team conducted with senior civil servants at 16 of the world’s largest humanitarian donors. However, news was found to play far less of a role when it comes to influencing countries’ main annual aid allocations, with one interviewee describing media attention and public interest in those as “virtually nil”. Here, the researchers came across what they termed a “forgotten crisis” effect: bureaucrats preferring to allocate to crises they felt were underserved by the media. The extent to which this could be skewing funding to some crises more than others – especially if several of the main donors follow a similar logic – appears worthy of further exploration, as does the evidence on which they are basing that decision-making. In their conclusion, the researchers suggest donors should consider more support for flexible emergency funds like CERF, as well as developing more transparent, evidence-based methodologies for their allocations. Sounds sensible.

A shameful year for migrant deaths

More than 4,470 deaths have been recorded on migration routes around the world this year – *exceeding the number for all of 2020. The number is likely to increase through the end of the year and ultimately could be much higher as more data is reported after the year ends. Around 2,720 of the deaths have been recorded on migration routes to Europe – including 1,315 in the central Mediterranean and 937 on the route from West Africa to the Canary Islands. At least 650 people have also died attempting to cross the US-Mexico border – where US policies push people into dangerous terrain to try to deter crossings – with, again, more deaths expected to be reported after the year ends. Deaths throughout Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas have increased as well. Overall, data collection on migration deaths remains spotty, so the true toll is likely much higher than what has been recorded. IOM said that mass migration tragedies have become normalised, and states are not living up to their commitments to save lives and reduce the risks people face while migrating. 

UN urges Colombia police reform

The UN’s human rights office says a “profound change” is needed in how Colombia’s police forces, run by the defence ministry, handle protests after it concluded that law enforcement agents were responsible for at least 28 deaths during anti-government demonstrations earlier this year. A 15 December report by the UN body’s Colombia representative said the response to the widespread protests, which began in April, involved “unnecessary or disproportionate force”. Aside from murder, police forces were accused of arbitrary detentions and sexual violence against civilians. The unrest began in reaction to a tax reform bill – that was later ditched – but was fuelled by anger over broader economic and social inequalities. Amnesty International recently reported that the number of eye injuries (more than 100) sustained by protesters was an “indication of intentionality” by the police force.

Afghanistan’s humanitarians in the diaspora

Afghan diaspora groups acted quickly to raise funds and provide direct aid as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August, but upstart organisations need help managing money and building their networks. This is according to a review of diaspora efforts in the weeks since the Taliban surge. The report – produced by DEMAC, a programme focused on promoting diaspora aid – found that many Afghan diaspora groups spotted the warning signs of the Taliban advance weeks before the August takeover (when many big aid groups were caught by surprise). Diaspora groups pivoted to help the newly displaced and “seemed to be prepared for the inevitability of the Taliban taking over”, the report states. The role of diaspora groups is often overlooked (or ignored), but proponents say they already play an important role in humanitarian response – and should be harnessed even further given that aid needs are soaring. The price tag for UN-backed appeals in 2022 is a record-breaking $41 billion.

In case you missed it

BANGLADESH: Rights groups Fortify Rights has produced a Rohingya-language audio translation of a controversial agreement that paves the way for UN-backed aid services at the Bhasan Char island camp. Rights groups call Bhasan Char an island prison and say the agreement – signed by Bangladesh’s government and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR – doesn’t ensure freedom of movement. The agreement was signed in October but not publicly released.

DENMARK: In a landmark impeachment trial, Denmark's former immigration minister Inger Støjberg has been sentenced to 60 days in jail for a policy that forcibly separated young couples at the border in 2016. It was the first impeachment trial in Denmark in 26 years, and the controversial policy was only one of several Støjberg oversaw during her time in office, from 2015 to 2019. In recent years, Denmark has taken one of the hardest lines in the EU on asylum and migration

ETHIOPIA: Security forces from the neighbouring region of Amhara have conducted a new wave of mass detentions, killings, and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in western Tigray, according to a report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The disputed area has seen some of the worst atrocities committed during the more than year-long conflict.

EU: The EU has slapped sanctions on the Russian mercenary firm Wagner for committing “serious human rights abuses”, including torture and extrajudicial executions. The Russian foreign ministry described the move as “Western hysteria”. The Wagner group, believed to have close links to the Kremlin, has been active in Mozambique, Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.

HAITI: The death toll from a fuel tanker explosion in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien on 14 December rose to 75, according to local reports. The disaster, which saw residents rush to the scene of a road accident to collect some of the petrol before the tanker exploded, comes amid widespread fuel shortages, worsened by gang blockades. Meanwhile, the remaining 12 US and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in mid-October by a gang known as 400 Mawozo have been released. Two had been released in November, and three more earlier this month.

IRAQ: One in two families the Norwegian Refugee Council surveyed in drought-affected parts of Iraq say they need food aid, and one in five say they don’t have enough to feed their entire families. Low rainfalls and high temperatures over the past two years have led to devastatingly low harvests and mass deaths of livestock. 

MALI: West African leaders have demanded that military-ruled Mali hold elections in February or risk further sanctions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions last month after Mali said it could not meet the February deadline. ECOWAS suspended Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021.

MYANMAR: The military is “strangling” food and medical supply lines, and targeting local aid workers, Amnesty International warned in a new report, as the humanitarian fallout from Myanmar’s February coup continues. The UN says nearly 300,000 people have been displaced since the coup. Aid access is severely limited, and the number of operational aid programmes has also seen a “significant reduction”, according to new tallies.

NIGERIA: Donated COVID-19 vaccines with a short shelf life will no longer be accepted after Nigerian health authorities found one million doses that had expired. Some vaccines are shipped with just a few weeks remaining before they become unusable, a health official said. It’s a problem that has also been encountered by several other African countries, some of which have had to destroy consignments.

THE PHILIPPINES: Relief operations are underway after Typhoon Rai, also known as Odette, tore across the Philippines, making first landfall in the province of Surigao del Norte on 16 December before cutting a path across the archipelago nation. Damage and casualty reports were slowed by cut communications lines. Early reports suggest widespread damage on Siargao Island, where the storm struck first, while the governor of Cebu declared a state of calamity.

SYRIA: Médecins Sans Frontières says 11 children under the age of 14, including some as young as two, were among the 15 people it treated after an airstrike hit rebel-held Idlib in northwest Syria. While the Syrian government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire in March 2020, intermittent and deadly violence continues. 

Weekend read

‘Telling our own stories’: Rohingya lives, through a camera lens

Nearly one million Rohingya still live in crowded refugee camps in southern Bangladesh after escaping oppression in Myanmar. Media reports provide sporadic – mostly negative – news from the settlements. But what are the perspectives of the Rohingya themselves? In our weekend read, hear from the Rohingya photographers who have taken on the task of documenting life in the camps. Using smartphones and social media, some, like Yassin Abdumonab, have chronicled the challenges, including devastating floods and landslides that displaced thousands of Rohingya earlier this year. Others, such as Dil Kayas, have sought to record Rohingya culture and identity through their work, educating the outside world on the daily life of the refugees. Using photography, and their storytelling, the refugees have succeeded in reasserting the identity and voice of an exiled people. As Abdumonab states, “I think it’s good that now Rohingya are telling our own stories. If there is no one else, we have to tell the stories, because if we don’t, then these people will be forgotten.” 

And finally…

Football win unites Yemenis in celebration

In a rare bit of good news from Yemen, the country’s under 15-boys football (that’s soccer for the Americans, Canadians, Australians, and others out there) team beat Saudi Arabia, in Saudi Arabia, to win the West Asia junior football championship on 13 December. While it is not the World Cup, Yemenis across the country certainly celebrated the 4-3 victory on penalties like it was. For one of the first times in nearly seven years of war, people in the north and south, supporters of Houthi rebels and the internationally recognised government they are fighting, in places like Sana’a, Aden, and Taiz, all united in celebration. They poured through the streets, waving Yemeni flags, shooting fireworks and sometimes live fire into the air; together – at least for the night – in what really looked like unabashed pride and joy in a country that has been deeply divided by a long brutal war.

(*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the number of migrant deaths in 2021 was the highest on record since IOM started keeping track in 2014. This story was updated on 27 December.)

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