Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Aid suspensions in Ethiopia and a pull out in Cameroon
The Norwegian Refugee Council and the Dutch section of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have had their operations suspended by the Ethiopian government, which accused the organisations of “disseminating misinformation” and failing to ensure proper work permits for foreign staff. The suspensions last three months, cover the entirety of Ethiopia, and follow a series of attacks from Addis Ababa accusing agencies of supporting rebels in the northern Tigray region. No evidence has been provided to support the claims. MSF also withdrew from Cameroon’s Northwest Region this week, eight months after authorities accused the medical charity of supporting separatist groups – a charge it denies – and suspended its operations. The pull out comes as the four-year secessionist conflict takes an increasingly complex and violent turn. Humanitarian needs are also rising in Tigray as rebels extend their operations into neighbouring regions and an aid blockade wears on. See our latest for more.
Unheard and ignored: Afghan women
Afghan women are often excluded from decision-making at home and ignored even during emergency responses, according to a new analysis from the aid group CARE. Women and girls “are not consulted, their needs are not prioritised, and they struggle to access what services are available to them,” stated the report, which was released this week and based on surveys in four provinces hit by severe drought. About 70 percent of women who responded to the survey said aid groups hadn’t consulted them about their needs. Meanwhile, a Human Rights Watch report takes the Afghan government to task for its record on accountability for violence against women – particularly through spotty enforcement of a law meant to curb domestic violence. These issues are all the more pressing as the Taliban makes rapid territorial gains after the withdrawal of international troops: “International donors need to strengthen their commitment to protect Afghan women caught between government inaction and expanding Taliban control,” warned Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch.
A year of looking for answers in Lebanon
Wednesday marked one year since a devastating explosion tore through Beirut’s port, and thousands of Lebanese took to the streets this week to commemorate the loss of more than 200 people, and to demand answers. The blast, which wounded thousands of people and destroyed entire neighbourhoods, was set off by hundreds of tonnes of poorly-stored ammonium nitrate. Watchdog groups and families of the victims say politicians are obstructing an investigation into the incident, which Human Rights Watch said this week “followed decades of government mismanagement and corruption” at the port. In a country where multiple political assassinations have never really been looked into, those pushing for accountability are likely facing an uphill battle, against the backdrop of a full-on economic meltdown. The latest challenge to those struggling to get by is the chaotic withdrawal of an informal subsidies programme that, at least for a while, had been keeping the lights on and medicine on the shelves. Read more here.
US stands firm on COVID expulsions
The Biden administration has indefinitely extended a controversial Trump-era public health order, known as Title 42, that allows people entering the US irregularly to be removed from the country without being able to claim asylum due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. More than 948,000 expulsions have been carried out under the order since it was issued in March last year, despite public health experts saying it doesn’t make sense as a pandemic precaution and human rights groups arguing it is illegal. The Biden administration has carved out exceptions to the policy for unaccompanied children and some families, and was planning to end it altogether. But a sharp uptick in the number of people crossing the US southern border irregularly in recent months, along with rising infection numbers driven by the Delta variant, led to those plans being shelved. Legal advocacy groups are now resuming challenges to the policy in court.
South Sudan: Arrests and disillusionment
Two prominent activists were arrested this week for calling for a peaceful uprising to end South Sudan’s “political bankruptcy”. They were part of a coalition of civil society groups that declared the country has “had enough” of a decade of failed leadership, marked by civil war and hunger. The coalition called for the resignation of both President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, arch-rivals now uneasy bedfellows in a unity government. Underlining the growing political instability, a power struggle has broken out within Machar’s armed SPLM-IO opposition party. Chief of Staff, General Simon Gatwech Dual, announced Machar’s ousting on 3 August, claiming he no longer represented the interests of the movement. Machar, a veteran warlord, said he wasn’t budging. A 2018 peace agreement, ending a five-year civil war that killed 400,000 people, is increasingly frayed. A new transitional parliament was finally sworn in this week, but there’s been little progress on a unified national army, and the disillusionment is deep. As insecurity worsens in the countryside, with aid workers ambushed and killed, UN peacekeepers have begun escorting humanitarian convoys.
A welcome amid warnings for Venezuela
On his first day as Peru’s foreign minister in the newly inaugurated government, Héctor Béjar met with Jorge Arreaza, his Venezuelan counterpart in President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Breaking with Peru’s leadership within the Lima Group of countries that recognise opposition leader Juan Guaidó as head of state, Béjar praised Venezuela’s social security system while saying he favoured a “democratic renewal” in the country. The shift comes as new Norway-led talks between Maduro’s government and the opposition are expected to resume in Mexico on 13 August after a two-year hiatus. In January, Guaidó lost his recognition by the EU as interim president. Meanwhile, the Organization of American States is warning that Venezuela’s ongoing economic, political, and social crises may drive the number of migrants from the country to 7 million by the turn of the year, surpassing Syria’s exodus.
In case you missed it
AFRICAN UNION/DENMARK: The African Union issued a statement forcefully condemning a recently passed Danish law that would allow asylum seekers to be relocated outside the European Union while their claims are processed. Politicians in several European countries – including the UK – have expressed interest in following suit. The African Union denounced efforts to externalise asylum processing as “xenophobic and completely unacceptable”, adding that developing countries already host the vast majority of refugees.
ASIA: Heavy rains continue to inundate parts of Asia with floods and landslides, including record downpours in southern China and conflict-hit parts of Myanmar. In Bangladesh’s fragile Rohingya camps, severe floods have displaced more than 21,000 people from tent homes. The rains have also flooded the homes of thousands in the surrounding communities.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: A UN report has detailed more than 500 incidents of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed in the Central African Republic over the past year. Almost half the abuses – which took place during contested presidential and legislative elections – are blamed on the country’s security forces and their allies, which include Russian military instructors and other private contractors. Read our latest for more.
CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN: Nearly 1,000 asylum seekers and migrants are known to have died this year attempting to cross the central Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Europe, already surpassing last year’s total of 983. Almost 20,000 have been intercepted by the European Union-supported Libyan Coast Guard and returned to detention centres, where they face a cycle of extortion, torture, trafficking, and abuse – including sexual assault and gender based-violence.
HAITI: The Caribbean country, which has seen recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, has received its first delivery of 500,000 vaccines. Haiti is one of the last countries in the Americas to start its vaccination campaign, which will initially target workers in clinics and hospitals. Earlier in the year it rejected a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines.
MEXICO: Facing record numbers of homicides and rising violence from illegal armed groups, Mexico is suing a dozen arms manufacturers in a US court for negligence in facilitating “trafficking of guns to drug cartels”. The government is seeking an estimated $10 billion, but a weapons industry group blames the authorities for the country’s crime and corruption.
MOZAMBIQUE: Former president Joaquim Chissano has called on the government to consider dialogue with the jihadist movement fighting in the northern Cabo Delgado region. He said there are “certain types of terrorism” that have ended through negotiations. The current president, Filipe Nyusi, has complained that the insurgents do not appear to have a leadership to talk to.
YEMEN: Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg will reportedly be named the UN’s next envoy to Yemen. If he is approved by the Security Council, Grundberg will succeed Martin Griffiths, who recently took over as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Near Turkey’s eastern border with Iran, 500 to 2,000 Afghans arrive each day. Among the recent arrivals was 16-year-old Omer, who tells journalist Liz Cookman in our weekend read about his 29-day trek: “Iranian border police took our things, even our clothes, and burned them in front of us. They beat us very hard and hurt our heads – if we had known they would beat us so hard, we would not have come.” After almost 20 years of military support, the US announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan in May. That news, along with the Taliban offensive that followed, is reportedly causing tens of thousands of people to leave every week. The number of Afghans entering Turkey – often via dangerous routes with smugglers – is still lower than that recorded during a previous uptick in arrivals, in 2018 and 2019, but numbers are expected to rise. Afghans find little succour in a country where a faltering economy is causing open hostility toward asylum seekers and that already hosts nearly four million refugees and asylum seekers, largely Syrians who escaped their country’s civil war. Pakistan – which with Iran already hosts close to 90 percent of the nearly 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees who left the country during four decades of conflict – has said it will not accept anymore. European countries are also renewing efforts to discourage the arrival of additional refugees. Many of the people Cookman spoke to were young men, like Omer, who struggled to see a future in Afghanistan amidst the intensifying conflict and potential return of Taliban rule. But there were also elderly people, people with medical conditions unable to get the care they needed at home, and families hoping to find better education opportunities for their children. Omer dreams of eventually moving to France and becoming a doctor: “I just want to go forward,” he told Cookman.
Counting the cost of global warming, one life at a time
How many lives will be lost to greenhouse gas emissions? A new paper published by American economist R. Daniel Bressler in the journal Nature Communications attempts to answer that question (attention, math and economics geeks). The paper challenges current economic models being used to predict the “social cost of carbon” – one of many debates that will be had at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). According to Bressler’s calculations, adding roughly a million metric tons of carbon dioxide (about a quarter of the output of a coal-fuelled power plant) to last year’s emissions levels for just a year would have caused 226 deaths around the world. Unsurprisingly, hot countries with smaller carbon footprints were most vulnerable, as they often bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Drawing on the work of William Nordhaus, who measured climate-related damage caused by carbon emissions, Bressler has also estimated excess deaths caused by rising temperatures and put a higher price tag on the social cost of carbon – from last year’s $37 a metric ton, according to the Nordhaus model to $258, a figure arrived at in part by including public health research into the modelling.