Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Funding for Yemen ‘a disappointment’
As it heads into an eighth year of war, Yemen is considered one of the world’s largest and most complex humanitarian crises: crippled basic services, a collapsed economy, an estimated 20.7 million people (more than two thirds of the population) in need – all amid escalating conflict involving numerous different actors. On 16 March, the UN appealed to donor states for $4.3 billion in aid for Yemen. Donors coughed up less than a third of that ask, with pledges – mainly from Western states – amounting to $1.3 billion. The United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia – top donors to Yemen in previous years – pledged nothing, while Kuwait pledged a surprisingly low $10 million. The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, called the result “a disappointment”. The outcome is in stark contrast to Ukraine’s pledging conference just two weeks prior, considered the “fastest and most generous” response ever to a flash appeal. As the world’s attention is fixated on Ukraine, aid insiders worry that it could draw resources away from other crises like Yemen. We’re busy crunching the data. Stay tuned.
‘Nowhere on Earth’
“There is nowhere on Earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat.” That is how the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described the current situation in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where rebels have been fighting the central government’s forces since November 2020. Speaking on 16 March, Tedros (himself a Tigrayan) said the situation was “catastrophic” and called on the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to end a blockade that has left some six million in Tigray bereft of health supplies and facing extreme food shortages. Tigrayans are suffering in other parts of Ethiopia too: Thousands detained in a state of emergency imposed in November remain behind bars, while a disturbing video emerged this week of a Tigrayan man being burnt to death by uniformed men in northwestern Ethiopia. The persecution is unlikely to end until the war does. But while fighting between Tigrayan forces and the government has abated in recent weeks, mediation efforts have unfortunately stalled.
Reports reveal scale of aid sector’s sexual abuse problems
An external investigation into allegations of nepotism, sexual misconduct, and bullying by Oxfam staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo was completed this week. Three staff were dismissed, while two others had allegations upheld but left Oxfam before the disciplinary process had concluded. The investigation began in November 2020 but the case came to light five months later when a 10-page complaint letter written by current and former Oxfam staff was shared with The New Humanitarian and The Times. Oxfam has borne the brunt of negative publicity about sexual abuse in the aid sector, but other relief groups and UN agencies are equally culpable. According to an annual UN report (released this week) detailing its efforts to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, 194 allegations were made against staff and affiliated personnel in 2021, while a further 251 were lodged against implementing partners. This is the highest number recorded since 2016.
A victory of sorts for Afghans in the US
President Joe Biden’s administration announced this week that it will make it easier for Afghans evacuated from Kabul to the United States following the Taliban’s return to power in August to legally remain in the country for an extended period of time. Around 76,000 Afghans who reached the US are facing a complicated legal road to gaining permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship. The evacuees are not technically refugees because they did not go through the US refugee resettlement process, which would have given them a firmer long-term legal status. Instead, they entered through a programme that did not put them on a path to permanent residency. Now, the Biden administration has granted the evacuees temporary protection status, which makes it easier for them to remain legally in the US. However, the move is also an acknowledgement that it will likely take years for the Afghans to gain permanent residency in the backlogged US immigration system. Overall, the process of supporting the evacuees has faced major hurdles.
Inauspicious start to Chad peace talks
Chad’s junta began delayed peace talks with rebel and opposition groups in Qatar this week. But things got off to a bad start when one of the main rebel outfits – the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) – walked out amid confusion over Doha’s role as a mediator. Chad was plunged into uncertainty last April when long-time ruler Idriss Déby was killed while commanding troops combating a FACT offensive. Power was then seized by Déby’s 38-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, who outlined an 18-month transition. The Doha talks are considered a precursor to a national dialogue that the younger Déby is organising before planned elections. But, especially in a country that has experienced decades of rebellion and state repression, things are unlikely to proceed smoothly. A case in point: Just last month a phone conversation surfaced in which the leader of a rebel group present in Doha discussed plans to oust Déby using the Kremlin-linked mercenary Wagner Group. Read our archive coverage for more context.
Where COVID-19 isn’t*
The world’s last COVID-free strongholds are dwindling. This month, Niue in the Pacific confirmed its first (and so far, only) COVID-19 case – a traveller who arrived on a flight from New Zealand. The Pacific has seen country after country – from Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to Tonga and Samoa – declare their first major outbreaks or cases in 2022 after staying largely virus-free through the pandemic. The global list of nations and territories untouched by the virus is now down to the single digits, according to stats submitted to the WHO. This mostly comprises remote island areas: Micronesia, Nauru, Pitcairn Islands, Tokelau, and Tuvalu in the Pacific; and Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. A big, bold asterix (*) should probably accompany the two other countries that say they have no cases despite evidence to the contrary: Turkmenistan and North Korea.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: A mid-March measles vaccination campaign targeted 1.2 million Afghan children, as a battered health system shoulders overlapping epidemics. Afghanistan’s measles surge pre-dates the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover, but the economic and public sector collapse that followed has worsened conditions. Hunger is soaring, and malnutrition makes measles more dangerous. Measles has killed at least 250 people in Afghanistan since January 2021, including 142 children this year, the WHO says.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: A militia leader accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity was taken into custody by the International Criminal Court on 14 March. Maxime Mokom, a former leader of the anti-Balaka armed group, is accused of involvement in the sectarian violence that engulfed the country between 2013 and 2014. Three other anti-Balaka leaders are either on or are awaiting trial at The Hague.
COVID-19: A study this week, sourcing data from around the globe, confirmed that not only have children worldwide been set back in learning over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the poorest were the worst hit. Higher dropout rates, which often led to an increased risk of teen pregnancies, are some of the effects highlighted in our recent report.
DENMARK: The Danish government is facing criticism for opening its arms to welcome Ukrainian refugees while simultaneously pursuing harsh policies towards refugees from other parts of the world. Last year, Denmark became the first European country to tell a large number of Syrian refugees to return to Syria, claiming parts of the country are safe. Now, the government is drafting legislation to suspend asylum rules for Ukrainians, making it easier for them to stay in the country, enter school, and find a job.
LIBYA: The UN’s political affairs chief warned of the risk of renewed conflict if Libya’s parallel governments can’t find a way through their political impasse to new elections. “We have observed increasingly threatening rhetoric, growing political tensions and divided loyalties among the armed groups in western Libya,” Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council.
MYANMAR: Torture, mass killings, airstrikes on civilian areas – Myanmar’s military may have committed fresh war crimes and crimes against humanity in its violent post-coup crackdowns, the UN’s rights chief warns in a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council on 21 March.
SENEGAL: An offensive has been launched against a faction of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance. The operation followed the earlier death of four soldiers and the capture of seven by the MFDC in fighting close to the southern border with The Gambia. A military statement said the offensive, in Africa’s longest-running conflict, aims to “destroy all armed gangs conducting criminal activities”.
SUDAN: Country-wide demonstrations took place on 15 March to protest the alleged gang-rape of a young woman by the security forces. The woman had been travelling in a public bus in Khartoum that was stopped and tear gassed by the police. Pro-democracy demonstrators, many of them young women, marched towards the presidential palace carrying signs reading, “They will not break you,” and “We will not be broken.”
SYRIA: As the Syrian war entered its 12th year this week, a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry warned of new levels of hardship in a conflict that is still far from over. For cautionary tales regarding events unfolding in Ukraine, check out this selection of stories on sieges, starvation as a weapon of war, humanitarian corridors, and tit-for-tat evacuations.
UNITED STATES: More than 100 Haitians fleeing the Caribbean island nation arrived by boat in southern Florida on 14 March. A week earlier, more than 350 Haitians made a similar crossing in one of the largest events of its kind in years. An increasing number of people are attempting to reach the US by sea, driven by economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, political instability, displacement caused by hurricanes, and hardline policies at the US southern border.
“Why are bombs falling on Ukraine more important than bombs falling on Syria?” This is one of the many questions Ibrahim – a Syrian refugee who crossed the Polish-Belarusian border in October – feels compelled to ask as millions of Ukrainians enter Poland just south of where he did, only to receive a much warmer reception. When he crossed, the Polish army beat and berated his fellow asylum seekers, who found themselves trapped between Belarus and Poland, neither country accepting them. Now, Ibrahim notices the same policemen giving soup and cookies to Ukrainians. He also notes how media organisations cover one group of people fleeing war differently from another. He watches as the Polish society that was so hostile to him greets Ukrainians with open arms. Writing from a refugee centre in Germany, Ibrahim can empathise with the suffering of Ukrainian refugees more than most, and he wants to help too, but the vastly different welcome they are getting is hard to miss and really hurts.
Designing better futures
The Pritzker Architecture Prize announced on 15 March that Diébédo Francis Kéré is the 51st Laureate of architecture’s highest honour. Kéré, born in Burkina Faso but now based in Germany, is the first African to win the prize. Known for designing schools, health facilities, professional housing, civic buildings, and public spaces, Kéré is celebrated not just as an architect, but also as an educator and social activist committed to serving local communities through his work. In 1998, he established the Kéré Foundation to give back to his home community of Gando in Burkina Faso. “He is equally architect and servant, improving upon the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a region of the world that is at times forgotten,” said Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize.