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The UN’s (non-Ukraine) funding gap, Tigray 2.0, and the UK’s colonial debt: The Cheat

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

On our radar

Record humanitarian aid shortfall

The UN is facing its biggest ever funding gap for its humanitarian programmes, according to a recently published article from The New York Times. Refugees and internally displaced people in places like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan are bearing the brunt of the shortfall in the form of cuts to essential services, such as access to clean water, electricity, shelter, and education, the report said. There is, however, one exception: Relief efforts for Ukraine are relatively well-funded. Earlier this year, The New Humanitarian reported on concerns that the political interests of big donor states in the conflict would lead to resources being diverted from other crises. That scenario has, unfortunately, played out, as we reported in July, even as global inflation and drought have pushed needs ever-higher. If there’s one bittersweet lesson, “the war in Ukraine has illustrated, very starkly, how it is possible to rapidly and extensively mobilise support for refugees and respond to humanitarian needs – when political commitment is there,” Kathryn Mahoney, the global spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, told the Times. 

Tigray fighting ends five-month truce

We’ve been warning about the Tigray ceasefire breaking down in the past few Cheat Sheets. After fighting flared around the region’s southern border and an airstrike hit its capital, Mekelle, that now seems to have happened. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) claims the Ethiopian government has launched a full-scale offensive, while Addis Ababa says the rebellious party struck first. There have been other claims and counterclaims too: The government said it downed a plane carrying arms to Tigray from Sudan, while the TPLF said no plane entered the region; and the World Food Programme said Tigrayan forces stole its fuel tankers, while the TPLF took a different view. The March truce saw more aid get into Tigray (after a months-long blockade), yet millions remain on the brink of famine amid fuel shortages and the cutting of essential services. Back-channel meetings between the belligerents have taken place, but formal talks stalled amid disputes over preconditions and disagreements over who should mediate. There may still be time to prevent a return to full-scale civil war, but peace prospects now seem increasingly bleak.

The toll of six months of war in Ukraine

On 24 August, Ukrainians celebrated their 31st independence day from the Soviet Union. The date also marked six months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on 24 February. The swift Russian victory many predicted at the outset has not come to pass, and the war has now settled into a grinding conflict, mostly in the south and east of the country. Ukrainian resistance has exceeded expectations, but around 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory is occupied by Russia. And the war is taking a heavy toll: Ukraine’s economy is expected to shrink by as much as 45 percent this year – although growth could return in 2023. Out of a pre-war population of around 44 million, 6.7 million people are living as refugees in other European countries, a further 6.6 million people are internally displaced, a staggering 17.7 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country, tens of thousands of civilians have like been killed and wounded – far exceeding the official count – and there is no clear end in sight to the fighting.

Haitians protest gang violence, rising costs 

Thousands took to the streets in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince this week, protesting recent gang violence, rising costs of fuel and food, and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Gang violence, which has skyrocketed since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moïse, has paralysed the Caribbean nation and deepened its many humanitarian crises. In July, gang violence trapped residents in the seaside shantytown of Cité Soleil without access to food or water. The unrest has also triggered fuel shortages as many drivers are too scared to make deliveries, and fuel importers have struggled to get paid. Inflation has now reached 29 percent, with some goods quadrupling in price. The Caribbean nation has been in political limbo since Moïse’s death. Henry has refused calls to step down until elections are held, but observers say it’s too dangerous to hold elections given the level of violence. Opponents have called for an interim government. 

China, and the Africa ‘debt-trap myth’

China – long accused of debt-trap diplomacy – is to forgive 23 interest-free loans to 17 African countries and redirect $10 billion of its International Monetary Fund reserves to nations on the continent. Alongside the relief announced at a forum of Chinese and African diplomats on 18 August, Foreign Minister Wang Yi also pledged to increase imports from Africa, and to provide agricultural and manufacturing sector support, underlining China’s position as Africa’s largest development partner. Since 2000, Beijing has cancelled at least $3.4 billion in interest-free loans. But that’s only a fraction of Africa’s overall debt. The bulk of China’s recent lending has been concessional and commercial loans. Beijing baulks at cancelling these – but has offered rescheduling to some distressed countries. However, it is reportedly infuriated by the claim, typically from the United States, that it uses debt to manipulate. Not only is there no evidence of this, but African countries are also three times more indebted to Western firms than Chinese lenders. That said, with a slowing economy – and some lessons learnt from previously over-hasty lending – Chinese credit is unlikely to be as generous as before.

Five years on, a Rohingya exodus is a permanent-looking refugee crisis

25 August marked the five-year anniversary of the Rohingya crisis – the date hundreds of thousands began fleeing brutal military operations. Members of the oppressed, mostly Muslim minority have faced decades of sporadic attacks, and many lived in apartheid-like conditions under governments that did not view them as Myanmar citizens – leading to desperate, risky migration. But the attacks that began in August 2017, and the subsequent exodus, represented an escalation on an unprecedented scale. Myanmar’s military killed thousands of unarmed civilians, razed villages to the ground, and committed widespread sexual violence – among the atrocities that have been deemed evidence of war crimes and genocide. Today, nearly 1 million Rohingya live in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, home to the world’s largest refugee camp. What was intended as a temporary solution to a refugee crisis has become a permanent one as the already dim possibility of return became impossible following the February 2021 military coup. But the lack of progress on viable, long-term solutions has left the refugee community destitute and in limbo and many are frustrated at the lack of support from the Bangladesh government as well as aid agencies. 

In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: More than 180 people have been killed this month by flash floods, which have destroyed thousands of homes and damaged thousands of acres of land across northern and eastern Afghanistan. The extreme floods are just the latest natural disaster to hit Afghanistan, posing a challenge for the year-old Taliban government, which has called for more international aid. 

BRITAIN: A record 1,295 asylum seekers and migrants crossed the English Channel from France to the UK on 22 August. More than 22,000 people have made the crossing this year – almost double the number over the same period last year – despite the UK controversially overhauling its asylum system, attempting to deport some of those arriving to Rwanda, and floating other hardline policies to try to deter crossings. 

CHINA: China’s two-month heatwave has been deemed the most severe on record globally, with nearly a third of the nation’s weather stations recording their highest-ever temperatures. The heat and severe droughts have shrunk China’s rivers, impacting hydropower production and leading to blackouts, factory suspensions, and supply chain issues. 

COLOMBIA: Weeks after being sworn-in as Colombia’s first leftist president, Gustavo Petro said drug traffickers who agree to surrender to the government will not be extradited from the country. As the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, Colombia experienced record levels of violence in 2021 by armed groups, most of which are funded by narco-trafficking.

CUBA: A year after nationwide protests against food and medicine shortages were severely repressed by authorities, residents in the eastern town of Nuevitas took to the streets on 19 and 20 August. Fed up with extended blackouts and worsening economic conditions, protesters called for “freedom” and the resignation of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, before videos circulated of police beating children and arresting protesting parents.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: An Ebola vaccination campaign is underway in the eastern town of Beni after a new case of the haemorrhagic fever was detected. Analyses showed that the case – a 46-year-old woman who died on 15 August – was genetically linked to the country’s 2018-2020 outbreak, which cost more than 2,200 lives.

GREECE: In less than a month, Greece has stopped more than 25,000 people from irregularly crossing its borders, a government minister said. The claim adds to concerns about Greek authorities systematically pushing asylum seekers and migrants back to neighbouring Türkiye (despite pushbacks being illegal under international law), as well as over the way Türkiye instrumentalises migration in its political relationship with Greece and the EU.

NETHERLANDS: A three-month-old baby died in a Dutch reception asylum reception centre on 24 August, putting a spotlight on overcrowded, inadequate conditions and sparking an investigation. Before the death, the Dutch Refugee Council had sued the government over persistent shortcomings that have left hundreds of people to sleep outside in the summer heat. Conditions in the Netherlands – and other countries – have raised questions about the differing treatment of Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers in the EU. 

PAKISTAN: Pakistan is suffering from some of its heaviest rains on record, with more than 30 million people impacted in recent weeks. At least 900 people have been killed by flooding, and nearly 200,000 have been displaced by floods that have been ongoing since mid-June. 

PERU: Already the country with the highest COVID-19 death rate globally, Peru now has the worst food insecurity in South America, according to a UN report. Half of the population, 16.6 million people, struggle to access a healthy diet, while 6.8 million are severely food insecure. Poverty, which also rose during the pandemic, now affects one in four Peruvians.

SYRIA: The US military carried out two airstrikes in Syria against what it said were Iran-backed militias who have launched attacks against US personnel. One attack occurred 15 August though no US personnel were hurt. Three US service members were injured in the most recent attack. Some 900 US troops are based (without the permission of the Syrian government) in southern and eastern Syria as part of a US-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State group. Iran's foreign ministry said it had no links to the targets the US struck.

Weekend read

Why humanitarians should stop hiding behind impartiality

Guided by the principle of impartiality, humanitarian groups rely on needs assessments to determine which populations require their assistance. But these evaluations can end up doing more harm than good, South Sudan researchers Joshua Craze and Alicia Luedke argue in our weekend read. Armed with a bevy of case studies from the East African country, the authors show how decontextualised assessments lend themselves to political manipulation: Elites can instrumentalise aid by pushing populations into contested territories and then asking humanitarians to assist, or they can use relief to build up loyal constituencies. To rectify the problem, Craze and Luedke call for aid groups to consider their work within a border political context. They also propose that organisations move beyond the needs-based paradigm and instead address the longstanding inequalities and injustices that drive violence in places like South Sudan.

And finally…

£168 billion for Kenyan victims of UK colonial rule?

Kenyan victims of colonial rule have filed a case against the British government at the European Court of Human Rights. The victims – from the western Kericho region – were forcibly removed from their lands by colonialists. This made way for tea plantations, some of which remain occupied by UK-based multinationals. Evictions triggered major resistance and saw imperial forces carry out killings and beating. Survivors were forced into overcrowded “native reserves”, where many died from tsetse fly and mosquito-borne diseases. Victim representatives have requested an apology and redress from the British government, but received a cold shoulder in response. They believe the lack of engagement constitutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK is a signatory to. A lawyer representing the claimants said they are now seeking £168 billion in compensation.

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