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Ukraine’s widening toll, calling out the IMF, and a CAR no-show: 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

Israel-Gaza déjà vu

Israel hit Gaza with two rounds of airstrikes this week, following rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave that is home to more than two million people. That’s likely the heaviest exchange of fire across the border since the last war in Gaza one year ago, which lasted 11 devastating days. It’s a holy time for Muslims, Jews, and Christians, but calls for calm so far do not appear to have cooled things down. Now, with fresh violence in Jerusalem, there’s growing concern that the region is headed down a familiar path. In the last few weeks, 14 Israelis have been killed, most recently in a shooting at a Tel Aviv bar. Israeli army raids on the West Bank have killed at least 23 Palestinians by one tally, and this week a group of ultra-nationalist Jewish Israelis, including a member of parliament, attempted to march through the city’s Muslim Quarter mid-week, in a move seen by many as a deliberate provocation during Ramadan. Palestinian protesters inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, which Jews call the Temple Mount, say the Israeli police have used excessive force against them; the police say “rioters” are inciting violence. 

The tolls of two months of war on Ukraine, and beyond

This week, Russia launched a new phase in its offensive in Ukraine focusing on the country’s east. Meanwhile, the full humanitarian impact of the invasion, which began at the end of February, is still coming into view. Since Russia withdrew from areas around Kyiv early this month, investigators have found the bodies of more than 900 civilians in formerly occupied villages and towns, most of whom were shot. More than 12 million people – including many elderly and people with disabilities – have fled their homes: Over seven million are internally displaced and more than five million have sought refuge in other countries, the vast majority in the EU. The war has crippled Ukraine’s infrastructure, disrupted education, and the economy is set to shrink by an estimated 45 percent this year. Ripple effects are being felt across the globe: Rising wheat prices are exacerbating food insecurity in regions such as the Middle East and Horn of Africa, and aid donors’ focus on Ukraine is likely coming at the expense of responses to other crises around the world.

Battling debt and double-standards 

Oxfam has decried what it describes as the IMF’s “double-standard” in urging rich countries to boost spending to spur economic recovery, while demanding belt-tightening from poorer nations struggling with the impact of COVID-19. The humanitarian organisation says 13 of the IMF’s 15 new loan programmes to the Global South require austerity measures – spending cuts or taxes on food and fuel. In the case of a $2.3 billion loan to Kenya, where three million people face drought-induced hunger, conditions include a three-year public sector pay freeze and increased taxes on cooking gas. The IMF’s approach is a reversal of its earlier position, when it provided billions in emergency loans, with few strings attached, to help countries weather the pandemic. Developing nations are calling for the spending taps to be reopened to help cope with the continued impact of COVID-19, surging food and fuel prices, and now the fallout of the war in Ukraine. Debt is an additional worry. About 60 percent of low-income countries – including Zambia, Ethiopia, and Tunisia – are in debt distress and looking for an IMF and World Bank bailout.

War crimes trial delayed – again – in Central African Republic

A court created some seven years ago to prosecute international crimes in Central African Republic was due to start its first trial this week. But a no-show by defence lawyers means victims’ associations and others pushing for justice will have to wait a little bit longer. The Bangui-based Special Criminal Court (SCC) is a hybrid tribunal composed of national and international staff tasked with prosecuting genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It took time to become operational because of recruitment challenges, insecurity, and limited resources. Arrest warrants have also not been executed, and the government has released high-profile suspects without SCC authorisation, undermining the court’s independence. Its inaugural trial – set to resume on 25 April – concerns three members of the 3R rebel group accused of involvement in a 2019 massacre. Rebel groups are active across CAR, which has one of the highest per capita humanitarian caseloads in the world.

Sri Lanka’s economic turmoil

Sri Lanka is asking aid agencies, donors, and lenders alike to help stem the fallout of an economic meltdown that has fuelled heated protests against – and pushback from – the Rajapaksa government. The security response turned violent on 19 April when police officers fired on protesters in a town in central Sri Lanka, killing one. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has allocated roughly $720,000 in emergency funds to help the Sri Lankan Red Cross. Australia has set aside the equivalent of about $1.8 million for two UN agencies to shore up “immediate needs” in food security. Sri Lanka’s government has also asked Australia for lines of credit to buy “essential commodities and fuel”, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said. Sri Lanka has reportedly asked other aid agencies for medical aid. These are modest measures compared to the scale of Sri Lanka’s economic turmoil, which is driven by a range of factors including the debt-laden government’s fiscal mismanagement, analysts say. Inflation is spiralling, sending ripples through the economy. Food and fuel prices have soared, power cuts are widespread, harvests are expected to shrink, and farmers are reportedly selling off livestock to cope. With foreign currency reserves depleted, even the health ministry can’t afford to buy essential medicine and equipment. Sri Lanka is now asking the International Monetary Fund for emergency funding. China, a major creditor frequently accused of locking Sri Lanka in an infrastructure-heavy “debt trap”, is promising “continued assistance” in the form of food and rice. Sri Lanka has survived disasters and decades-long conflict without seeing this level of economic upheaval, an International Crisis Group analysis noted, warning that “the possibility that the crisis spirals into a humanitarian emergency looms.”

In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: At least 30 people were killed and dozens more injured in attacks this week. Bomb blasts at a Kabul school on 19 April and a 21 April explosion at a Shia mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif, a northern city, appeared to target the minority Hazara community. Members of so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the mosque attack. Other 21 April explosions were also reported in Kabul, northern Kunduz, and eastern Nangarhar.

ETHIOPIA: The main hospital in the northern Tigray region has been forced to send patients home after running out of food last week. Among those who left were babies with meningitis and a boy with HIV, according to nurses who spoke to Reuters. Just 71 aid trucks have reached Tigray since the government declared a unilateral truce on 25 March. The UN says 100 trucks are needed every day amid famine-like conditions. See our latest on the conflict and blockade for more.

LEBANON: A new report from UNICEF says that the economic collapse has seriously impacted the quality of healthcare, as doctors leave the country, drug shortages become the norm, and many people can’t afford to visit a clinic or hospital. According to the UN agency, routine childhood vaccinations have dropped by 31 percent, despite regular outbreaks of measles and mumps.

MALAYSIA: Malaysian rights groups are calling for the release of detained refugees and asylum seekers, after six Rohingya were reportedly struck by vehicles and killed when hundreds fled a detention centre on 20 April. “There is no discernible reason as to why so many of them were cramped into a makeshift depot in the first place,” Lawyers for Liberty stated. Malaysia has long been a destination for Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar, but the government has cracked down on asylum seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

YEMEN: Yemen’s internationally recognised government has sworn in a new presidential council, led by Rashad al-Alimi, according to state media. Al-Alimi is an advisor to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who announced earlier this month that he was stepping down in the wake of a two-month ceasefire, a move some have seen as an attempt to unite anti-Houthi forces with the aim of ending the seven-year war. 

Weekend read

Ethiopia launches a national dialogue, but divisions run deep

After 18-months of civil war, Ethiopia is launching a public dialogue aimed at forging a new national consensus. It’s supposed to be broad-based and fully-inclusive, but has struggled at the first hurdle. Omitted so far are the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Army – both locked in a gruelling conflict with the federal government. Their exclusion points to the depth of division the dialogue is supposed to bridge, reports Addis Ababa-based journalist, Fred Harter. Opposition groups argue the ruling party is approaching the dialogue as the arbiter of the process, rather than as an equal stakeholder. They worry over the independence of the newly-formed commission that will guide the dialogue, and they question whether, in the final analysis, the government is truly committed. One red flag is that the war in Tigray is not over, and a de facto aid blockade has not been lifted, despite the desperate needs of almost six million trapped people.

And finally…

Breaking Mexico’s silence on femicide

Every day, an estimated 10 women and girls are killed in Mexico. The murders are often linked to organised criminal violence, and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Now, an emerging cohort of female filmmakers in Mexico is using cinema to push back against the silence and impunity surrounding femicide and violence against women. “There are many girls in Mexico who grow up having to hide their femininity to avoid being attacked or assaulted… I thought it was an interesting and very urgent subject to tackle,” Tatiana Huezo, one of the directors, told the Guardian. Femicide linked to gang violence is also on the rise in Colombia, and violence against women and girls has long been a factor driving migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador toward the United States. The dangers women and girls face while migrating are also exacerbated by US immigration policies that force people to take long, irregular routes to try to claim asylum and often leave them stranded in parts of northern Mexico where they are easy prey for cartels. 

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