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Aid overhaul call, Haiti protests, and the queen’s colonial legacy: 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

‘Tinkering at the edges’ of a system in crisis

Emergency needs and costs have mushroomed, and long-promised reforms are coming too slowly to a humanitarian sector that’s struggling to keep pace. This is one of the conclusions of the sprawling State of the Humanitarian System report – the latest to measure progress and setbacks across the global emergency aid sector. It’s an often-sobering read, fleshing out broader trends with hard figures and interviews with aid workers, analysts, and people who use aid. Aid reaches less than half the people who need it, as access grows more complex. Only a minority of recipients say aid meets their needs – and this proportion is falling. As crises grow entrenched, more people are becoming dependent on aid. “In the face of escalating conflicts and the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change, crisis is becoming the norm,” said the report’s authors, the UK-based research and learning network, ALNAP.  This underscores the need for significant changes to how international humanitarian aid is funded, planned, and delivered, several humanitarian networks said in a statement responding to the report: “The system needs transformation, not tinkering at the edges.”

Violent protests embroil Haiti as gang violence, hunger worsen

Violent protests erupted across Haiti this week, with demonstrators demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and denouncing the rampant gang violence that has seen humanitarian needs spiral higher in the Caribbean country. In the past week alone, more than 50 people have been killed in the seaside shantytown of Cité Soleil. Protesters say Henry has failed to tackle the gang violence or move the country out of its economic crisis and lingering political limbo. Some waved Russian flags, apparently to protest what they say is continued US support for Henry, who has yet to reach an agreement with a coalition of civil society groups who want an interim government before holding elections. Inflation, meanwhile, is at more than 30 percent, with the Haitian gourde rapidly deteriorating in value against the US dollar – all at a time when food and fuel prices continue to rise. Roughly a third of Haiti’s GDP comes from dwindling remittances, meaning that Haitians have even less purchasing power amid surging prices, and as UN agencies warn of increasing hunger across the country. 

A stranded boat, and more abuses, in the Mediterranean

For around 10 days, a fishing boat carrying dozens of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants that departed from crisis-struck Lebanon foundered at sea near Malta while EU countries failed to initiate a rescue. Sixty-one people on board were finally rescued by a merchant ship on 7 September and brought to the Greek island of Crete, but not before three children reportedly died. A fourth child died after the rescue. The boat was carrying Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians who were attempting to reach Italy. Lebanon has not been a typical departure point for maritime journeys toward Europe in recent years, but attempts to leave the country by sea have increased as the country struggles to cope with overlapping economic and political crises. Meanwhile, abuses against asylum seekers and migrants in Libya – a more typical departure point for maritime journeys – were on full display this week: A video of a 15-year-old Sudanese kidnapping victim being threatened with a rifle by a militiaman demanding money highlighted the dire situation in the country for people escaping wars, persecution, and poverty.

Some respite for Zimbabwean migrants

South Africa has granted a reprieve to 180,000 Zimbabweans threatened with deportation, extending by six months a special permit that allows them to legally live and work in the country. The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), which sidesteps otherwise strict immigration restrictions, was due to end in December. The extension is recognition that few people have applied for (or are likely to be granted) long-term visas. ZEP was introduced in 2009 to try and regularise the flow of people – both documented and undocumented – fleeing Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, and who are now deeply embedded in South Africa. A furious xenophobia movement is challenging the government’s decision, demanding deportation. Zimbabweans would return to a country where a maths teacher – if they can get a job – earns less than a farm worker in South Africa. But that’s just part of it. “Extreme poverty” affects at least half the population; food inflation is the second highest in the world; a recent measles epidemic has killed nearly 700; while the government is busy cracking down on a re-energised opposition ahead of elections in 2023 – all ingredients that sustain a steady migration to South Africa.

Life expectancy, from Switzerland to South Sudan

Since the start of the pandemic, nine out of 10 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index have regressed when it comes to life expectancy, education, and economic prosperity, according to a new report. Factors include increased mortality due to COVID-19, political polarisation, and anxiety over everything from the war in Ukraine to rising fuel prices and economic uncertainty. Out of 191 ranked countries, Switzerland sat at the top of the index this year with a life expectancy of 84 years, an average of 16.5 years spent in education, and median salary of $66,000. Norway, Iceland, Hong Kong, and Australia filled the top five, though Australia’s ranking was partially due to its low coronavirus deaths (some 14,300) attributed to its extreme border controls and travel restrictions. At the bottom was South Sudan, where life expectancy is 55, people spend just 5.5 years in school on average and earn $768 a year. Other countries with similar scores to South Sudan were Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, and Burundi. One surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) laggard was the United States, where life expectancy at birth dropped by more than two years since 2019 (it now stands at 77). That slide was even worse for Indigenous people, who saw their life expectancy shortened by four years since 2020. Deaths due to COVID-19 (nearly half a million) played a major role in the US slide. 

Back to school… for some

It’s back to school time in some parts of the world, but not for many children in marginalised or conflict-affected areas. June estimates indicate that 222 million school-aged children and adolescents are in need of educational support globally – with 78.2 million of them out of school entirely. Conflict, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters, and the compounding effect of COVID-19 are fuelling these numbers. Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global fund for assisting young people in emergencies and protracted crises, has reached close to seven million children and adolescents – almost half of them girls – since 2017. But there’s still a long way to go. While 2021 saw a record-high $645 million in education appeal funding – the overall funding gap spiked from 60 percent in 2020 to 77 percent in 2021. So, while many learners enter the classroom again this month, an estimated 24 million children who dropped out during the pandemic may never return, according to the UN. For more on COVID-19’s heavy hit on education, read our news feature from earlier this year.

Plus, a Somalia famine explainer from Africa Editor Obi Anyadike

Look out for the full version on 11 September.

In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: Hazaras, along with other minorities, have become the primary target of so-called Islamic State attacks, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The group found that at least 700 people have been killed or injured in at least 13 attacks for which IS has taken responsibility. It called on the Taliban government to take urgent action to protect religious minorities and provide care for victims.

BURUNDI: President Évariste Ndayishimiye has replaced his prime minister after warning of a coup plot – a sign of continued instability in the country, which is still recovering from a wave of political unrest in 2015. Ndayishimiye took power in June 2020 following the sudden death of Pierre Nkurunziza. The new ruler has introduced some reforms and restored diplomatic ties, yet rights groups have accused his government of abuses against political opponents.

CHAD: Almost 450,000 Chadians have been affected by the heaviest seasonal rainfall in 30 years. Despite the number of people in need, “assistance such as shelter, food, and non-food items for those most affected remains hampered by inadequate funding”, according to the UN’s news centre.

CHINA: At least 86 people were killed when a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan’s Luding county. Under China’s strict zero-COVID policy, rescuers are required to test negative, and civilian rescuers are banned. In the provincial capital of Chengdu, about 125 miles from the epicentre, residents under strict lockdown fought with security guards after being prevented from leaving their shaking buildings.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE: The Israeli Army said its investigation into the May killing of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh had concluded there was a “high probability” one of its soldiers had shot her by mistake. It said no criminal charges would be pressed. Abu Akleh’s family said Israel “refused to take responsibility for murdering Shireen”, and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem condemned the conclusion as a “whitewash”.

LEBANON: Lebanon is reportedly seeking to appoint a second judge to head the investigation into the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast, angering the families of victims who say it is an effort to prevent justice. Current judge Tarek Bitar's probe has been stalled since last year, as politicians Bitar sought to question have brought various lawsuits against him and his efforts.

MALARIA: Trials in West Africa of a new malaria vaccine show it gives up to 80 percent protection for two years. The Oxford University team that developed the vaccine is working with the world's biggest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute in India, to produce 100 million low-cost doses next year if the jab wins World Health Organization approval.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Election-related violence that ran from May to August and left 30 dead has resulted in some 15,000 people being displaced, the UN’s migration agency, IOM, reported this week. Hundreds of thousands more people have been impacted by the clashes, which broke out sporadically over election issues and ethnic tensions.

SYRIA: The US military said US-backed Kurdish fighters have arrested hundreds of suspected IS members in a weeks-long operation in northeast Syria’s al-Hol camp, which also reportedly led to the release of several women captives. The camp is home to some 56,000 people, including both supporters and victims of the extremist group.

US-MEXICO: At least nine people died and dozens of others had to be rescued while attempting to cross the Rio Grande river that forms part of the US-Mexico border on 2 September. Following a shift in migration routes, deaths in the river have become more commonplace, with one first responder in the US state of Texas estimating that at least 30 bodies have been pulled from the Rio Grande each month since March.

Weekend read

Pakistan floods pose urgent questions over preparedness and climate reparations 

Since June, record monsoon rains have battered Pakistan, leaving a third of the country under water and killing almost 1,400 people. While the historic floods – which have also hit parts of Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh – demonstrate the impact of global warming on vulnerable nations, they also point to inadequate disaster preparation. Journalist Zuha Siddiqui spoke with experts who argued that poor planning worsened the impact of the floods, as well as with flood victims who told her they’d begged government officials for years to flood-proof their communities – with scant results. Bearing more responsibility than most are the governments of the world’s wealthiest nations, whose inability to rein in their carbon dioxide emissions has contributed to catastrophic climate change. Pakistan and other frontline nations have been pushing rich countries to provide “loss and damage” financing – reparations, essentially, to cover the cost of these extreme weather events. The issue is likely to loom large over the UN’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November. As he began a trip to Pakistan to visit affected areas on 9 September, UN chief António Guterres called for “massive support from the international community”.

And finally…

What the queen leaves behind

Queen Elizabeth II is dead, but her steadfast reign – and colonial legacy – will long be remembered. Elizabeth, who died on 8 September aged 96 at her Scottish estate of Balmoral, wasn’t only the United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch. She also presided over more than 50 countries in the British Commonwealth. She became queen in 1952 at the age of 25 on a trip to Kenya, which was a British colony until 1963. Elizabeth had barely held the throne a year before Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising – a rebellion triggered largely over land loss due to white settler expansion. Britain was accused of war crimes for its brutal response – between 11,000 and 90,000 people were executed or tortured, and as many as 160,000 were detained in concentration camps. Domestically, Elizabeth presided over turbulent times during the ensuing seven decades, notably having to weather a string of scandals involving her own family, including that of Prince Charles – now King Charles III – and the late Princess Diana. While many at home saw her as a unifying and benign force, her reign was persistently dogged by questions over the monarchy’s continued relevance, and – given the racism and atrocities committed under colonialist rule – its troubling past. Her death is likely to encourage republican movements around the Commonwealth. Several Caribbean countries have taken steps in recent years to remove her as head of state and/or from their currency. Some, like Barbados, have also called for reparations over the slave trade. “We don’t need kings and queens anymore,” one man told Reuters.

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