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Deadly DRC protests, Ukraine grain, and Lebanon’s upended lives: 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

An ‘unspeakable’ act by UN peacekeepers

Protests against the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo have now left at least 36 people dead, including four blue helmets, according to the government. Demonstrators in several eastern cities have been demanding the departure of the mission – known as MONUSCO – which they say is failing to protect civilians. The latest incident, on 31 July, saw peacekeepers open fire on people at a border post, killing at least two. MONUSCO’s top official said the perpetrators had been arrested, and called the act “unspeakable and irresponsible”. Kinshasa said it is planning to re-evaluate the mission’s withdrawal plan, which envisages a 2024 departure date. The protests come amid a rebellion by the previously dormant M23 armed group (see our recent dispatches) that has killed civilians and captured chunks of the eastern province of North Kivu – just as it did 10 years ago. A UN expert report leaked this week cites “solid evidence” that Rwanda has provided weapons to the M23 and sent troops to fight alongside the rebels. Kigali called the report “unpublished and unvalidated”. 

Ukraine grain deal won’t ease global food crisis

The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain left the port of Odesa this week as part of a UN-brokered deal to get 20 million tons of blocked grain onto a hungry world market. But the underlying factors that have pushed up food prices pre-date Russia’s invasion and are unchanged – and prices could stay at record highs until 2024, according to the World Bank. One issue is the surging input costs farmers face as a result of still-climbing fuel and fertiliser prices. Volatile weather – and its impact on yields (the Asian rice harvest is the latest victim) – is another factor spelling the end of an era of cheap food that has especially benefited the Global North. On top of rising food costs, the world’s neediest nations are also seeing a fall in the value of their currencies against the dollar, in which imports are priced. Some countries are struggling with double-digit rates of inflation that deepen everyone’s poverty. At least 828 million people – one tenth of the world’s population – were undernourished last year. The Food and Agriculture Organization has proposed a new finance facility to shield the poorest countries from price rises, but it remains just a discussion document.

2 years after the blast: Beirut’s enduring trauma and fallout 

Thursday 4 August marked two years since the enormous 2020 explosion in Beirut’s port that claimed more than 200 lives and injured 6,500 others. The event, and its repercussions, continue to be felt by millions more. On Sunday, four days before the grim anniversary, parts of the grain silos that contained the 2,750 tonnes of abandoned ammonium nitrate that caused the blast collapsed, shrouding the capital in dust and re-awakening a nation’s trauma. Debt-ridden and politically dysfunctional, Lebanon was imploding economically even before the blast. Now, following COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Lebanese lira has lost nearly all its value, some 80 percent of the population has been driven into poverty, and prices of basic staples have soared. What was a middle-income country in 2019 is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster zone. For more on what it has been like to live through such a monumental upheaval, don’t miss our unique storytelling exclusive: WhatsApp, Lebanon?

Obstacles to Tigray peace talks

EU and US envoys visited Tigray this week to nudge forward peace talks between the regional ruling party – the Tigray People's Liberation Front – and the federal government. Both sides have agreed to participate in discussions, and Addis Ababa has set up a negotiation team. Yet there have been disagreements over the location for talks and who should mediate. The government wants the African Union to facilitate, but Tigrayan officials think the body is biased towards Addis Ababa and prefers the Kenyan government does the job. The feeling in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, is that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is deliberately dragging out the peace process while maintaining a communication blackout and restricting humanitarian deliveries into the region. The Tigray conflict began in November 2020, before spilling into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions (see our reporting). Tens of thousands of people have likely been killed. Though the government’s March unilateral truce is holding, there’s a risk of renewed fighting if talks don’t transpire. 

Monkeypox: Perhaps you’ve heard this one before…

Health justice advocates are stressing vaccine equity as the global monkeypox outbreak evolves. But the playbook is already following a familiar path: A handful of wealthy countries have dibs on the only vaccine. Countries like the United States and Canada are casting a wide net in their monkeypox vaccine strategies, Health Policy Watch reports. They’re carrying out pre-emptive campaigns on those most at risk, while uncertainty grows over how far limited supplies will reach across the rest of the world. Globally, there are about 16 million doses of the sole smallpox vaccine, MVA-BN, approved in the United States, the EU, and Canada for use against monkeypox (most are in bulk form, and will take months until they’re ready). But the US (which declared monkeypox a public health emergency) already has contracts to receive the overwhelming majority. Meanwhile, the vaccine’s Danish producer, Bavarian Nordic, says its main manufacturing plant is shut until late 2022 – meaning that outside of a few rich countries, most nations that see significant cases may not have the option of vaccinating high-risk groups for some time.

Refugee resettlement: Pledges kept and unkept

More than 100,000 Ukrainians have entered the United States in the past five months, meeting a goal set by President Joe Biden in March. They have primarily arrived on temporary visas, through a private sponsorship programme, and by being admitted at the US-Mexico border. The fulfilment of the pledge is being applauded by refugee advocates, but the US is also lagging far behind on its commitment to other refugees and asylum seekers. When it comes to Afghans who supported the 20-year US military effort, around 76,000 were evacuated to the United States during the chaotic withdrawal of international troops last August. But the process of bringing in nearly 80,000 others who were left behind has proceeded at a snail’s pace, and many who have applied to enter on humanitarian grounds have had their applications rejected. The Biden administration is also nowhere close to reaching its goal of resettling 125,000 people through the official refugee resettlement process this fiscal year. Through June, only around 15,000 people had been admitted, with the total expected to reach 25,000 by the end of the fiscal year in September.

In case you missed it

AL-ZAWAHRI KILLED: Ending a 21-year manhunt, a US missile strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan. The Egyptian physician took over the terror group’s leadership after US forces killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Bin Laden and al-Zawahri were considered two of the masterminds of the 11 September terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001. President Biden said the attack occurred on the weekend of 29 July inside the Afghan capital, Kabul. A UN report recently warned that al-Qaeda had found “increased freedom of action” in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power. 

ASEAN: Foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations rebuked Myanmar’s ruling military junta for executing four prominent opposition activists, but this week’s meetings of the ASEAN regional bloc in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, were overshadowed by tensions between China and the US following the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

CLIMATE: African countries are to push for a massive new investment in African fossil fuels at the UN’s climate conference in November, according to The Guardian. They are expected to argue that Africa should be allowed to benefit from its oil and gas reserves at a time of record prices, as rich countries have done in the past.

EU: NGOs carrying out search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean Sea scored a legal victory on 1 August when the EU’s top court ruled that authorities cannot impound ships for having too many people onboard due to rescuing people at sea. Since 2016, EU member states have initiated 60 administrative or criminal proceedings against search and rescue NGOs, with the most common issue being ships carrying more people on board than they were authorised to carry. 

GAZA/ISRAEL: Israeli airstrikes on 5 August left at least eight people dead, including a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group and a five-year-old girl. Tensions rose following the arrest of a senior PIJ leader in the West Bank, which prompted days of border closures between Israel and Gaza and reported PIJ threats.

IRAN: Iranian security forces fired live ammunition to quash peaceful May protests in a “torrent of violence” that must be investigated by the UN’s human rights body, Amnesty International said in a new report. For several years, Iran has seen rounds of protests sparked by a combination of food insecurity, climate disasters, and economic grievances that have worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic.

IRAQ: Iraq’s political stand-off worsened as populist Shia Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr urged supporters who had stormed the parliament to continue their sit-in until his demands for an early election are met. Ten months ago, al-Sadr’s block won the most seats in legislative elections, but political parties remain bitterly divided over the formation of a new government.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: At least 300 people have died in election-related violence since May in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, the UN reported, citing unofficial estimates. The situation has deteriorated to the point where disaster management authorities have asked for international help to deal with the humanitarian fallout. Roughly 550,000 people have “no or limited” health access because of the violence, the UN says.

SOMALIA: A former deputy leader of the jihadist group, al-Shabab, was controversially appointed to the cabinet this week. Mukhtar Robow, in detention until a day before being named minister for religious affairs, has been condemned as a “terrorist” by sections of Somalia’s lively social media. Others see the move as smart, undercutting al-Shabab’s ideological appeal.

YEMEN: Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels who control much of the country, including Sana’a, agreed to extend a fragile four-month truce by another two months, but stopped short of expanding the deal or extending it by six months. For more on how the ceasefire has been viewed around the country, watch our short film.

Weekend read

Is Poland’s smooth reception of Ukrainian refugees heading for trouble?

Poland has so far extended a generous welcome to some 1.5 to 2 million Ukrainians escaping Russia’s invasion – more than double any other EU country. The reception has caught the eye of many, including the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, who recently visited the country. “I am impressed by the Government of Poland for providing significant support to a huge number of refugees,” González Morales said. But Poland’s differing treatment of refugees and asylum seekers from other countries – including people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine – did not escape González Morales’ attention, who noted the double standard and called for an end to pushbacks at the Poland-Belarus border. The special rapporteur also said that the situation for Ukrainian refugees in Poland could soon become more difficult as winter approaches and volunteers who have been housing many Ukrainians grow exhausted. That’s just one of the impending challenges – alongside access to education, the possibility of anti-refugee sentiment, and more – that NGO workers and civil society activists told our Migration Editor-at-large Eric Reidy that they are worried about in this week’s Weekend Read. 

And finally…

Changing climate, changing lives…

Climate change is already affecting everyone everywhere. If in doubt, look at the number of excess deaths linked to the UK’s recent heatwave, or its ongoing dry spell that has shrivelled wetlands and primed ornithologists to watch for cannibalistic blackbirds, hungry enough to eat their young. That might sound scary, but those headlines are tame compared to what we have been seeing for years around the world. From famine in the Horn of Africa, to people in Vanuatu witnessing their homes and livelihoods disappearing, The New Humanitarian has consistently found that climate change disproportionately affects the world’s most vulnerable, and in some cases, like Haiti, colonialism has played an oversized part. Given the importance of this new reality and shared experience, we have launched a new series, Changing climate, changing lives, which explores how lives are changing because of a changing climate, and how people – as well as governments, scientists, and the aid sector – are trying to mitigate the effects. Stay tuned for frontline stories that give a birds-eye view of how extreme weather is impacting people’s lives, but also that offer ways of finding hope in changing times.

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