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Helping Haiti, Ebola in Kampala, and TikTok begging profits: 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

Haiti on the brink of a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

Cholera, child malnutrition, gang violence, fuel shortages, and hospitals with no electricity – Haiti’s humanitarian needs are expanding by the minute. The big question: Given grave concerns over past UN missions and previous efforts by the international community, what could or should outside help look like? After centuries of colonial manipulation, many Haitians have been demanding Haitian-led solutions to address the panoply of problems – including 4.7 million (almost one in two) Haitians at “crisis” levels of food insecurity. But the responses of the Haitian government, police, and aid organisations have been hobbled, as gangs block key transport routes, loot humanitarian supplies, and create a paralysing atmosphere of fear in the capital, Port-au-Prince. As the international community considers how to respond to requests for urgent assistance from Prime Minister Ariel Henry and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, US Coast Guard patrols are circling offshore, and the Dominican authorities have increased patrols at land borders – fearing a rush of Haitians to the exit. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering a resolution that may lead to sanctions against one of Haiti’s most powerful gang leaders, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, and the US has sent a team to the Caribbean nation on a fact-finding mission. None of which is likely to change the current trajectory of entrenched lawlessness and rising desperation. As the World Food Programme’s country director told reporters: “Haiti is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Ebola confirmed in Ugandan capital as outbreak spreads

Uganda’s Ebola outbreak continues to grow, with more than 70 confirmed and probable cases and an expected fatality rate of over 50%. One case was reported this week in Kampala, though President Yoweri Museveni said the individual was admitted from the outbreak epicentre of Mubende – in central Uganda – and that there has been no confirmed transmission in the capital. The outbreak is thought to have started in early September, and is being caused by the so-called Sudan strain of Ebola. There is no approved vaccine for this strain, though World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said clinical trials could commence in a few weeks. In the meantime, Museveni has called on Ugandans to avoid visiting traditional healers, and encouraged security services (who have done more harm than good in other countries’ outbreaks) to arrest patients and contact cases who refuse isolation. Concerned about regional spread, health officials from several African countries have also pledged to step up collaboration and establish an Ebola coordination taskforce (an idea that had already been in the works for a while). 

South Sudan floods: ‘You can’t expect assistance from anyone’

Extreme flooding has hit South Sudan for a fourth year in a row, affecting almost one million people, according to the UN. On a reporting trip earlier this month, The New Humanitarian visited flood-affected areas, finding villages submerged and farmland destroyed. Communities have well-worn ways to cope with crises, but back-to-back shocks are now eroding them. “Even [community members] who have resources, you find that they are also affected,” said Athiang Nuer from Palal village, in Warrap state. “You can’t expect assistance from anyone,” Nuer said. Seasonal flooding is normal in South Sudan, but the scale of the problem since 2019 has no recent precedent. As well as disrupting livelihoods, the climate change-linked disaster has driven rural-to-urban migration and pushed herders into southern agricultural communities, where conflicts are increasingly erupting. Humanitarian aid is scant, and low state capacity means there is “a lack of proper flood and water management”, said Nhial Tiitmamer, of the Sudd Institute, a Juba-based think tank. Stay tuned for more reporting from the trip in the coming weeks.

Biden offers small carrot, large stick to Venezuelans

President Joe Biden has announced a new policy for Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers – one designed to look tougher on stemming the rising migration flow across the southern US border ahead of the midterm elections, but also aimed at seeming more open to those seeking a lawful way to enter. A programme similar to one that offered safe haven to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees will allow direct flights from Venezuela for 24,000 migrants who arrange financial sponsors in the US, but those entering the US illegally from Mexico will now be subject to Title 42, a controversial pandemic-related Trump-era measure that will see them pushed back across the border (up until now Venezuelans had been exempt). Two graphically similar images provided a stark reminder this week of the reality for many Venezuelans, including at least 7.1 million who have already fled the country to escape their country’s years-long humanitarian crisis: A photo by Federico Rios in The New York Times presented the distress of the migrants crossing the dangerous Darién Gap, while Reuters’ Leonardo Fernández captured a pair of exhausted rescue workers in Las Tejerías, Venezuela after a mudslide that killed at least 43 people.

Heat waves and the humanitarian system

Extreme heat is fuelling new emergency needs, and the humanitarian system as it’s currently built isn’t equipped to handle the society-wide impacts, warns a new report. Released by the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination arm, OCHA, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the report flags an issue that has long been on the radar in the climate and risk reduction communities, but less so in the humanitarian realm: the direct impacts of heat waves. Often seen as silent killers, heat waves are behind some of the deadliest disasters on record, and they’re growing more frequent and severe as the climate crisis deepens. For humanitarian planners, there’s a need to re-examine and adapt responses as heat and humidity reach “previously unimaginable” levels. But it goes far beyond emergency aid. Traditional humanitarian financing, the report notes, is “neither appropriate nor sustainable as the primary means of supporting heatwave response”. The solutions will sound familiar: “massive” investments to adapt and prepare, new funding streams, locally driven responses, anticipatory action, closer connections across the aid world – all the buzzwords and reform pledges, in other words, that the humanitarian sector has struggled to enact for years. Where to begin? Policy editor-at-large Jessica Alexander has a modest proposal: Try starting small.

EU doubling down on asylum double standards

More than 1.1 million refugees and asylum seekers have entered Germany this year – outpacing the 890,000 that arrived during the Mediterranean migration crisis in 2015. Back then, the vast majority were Syrians. This year, around one million of those who have entered are Ukrainians, although Syrians, Afghans, and others continue to arrive. For Ukrainians, the EU Commission this week extended the Temporary Protection Directive – activated in March and allowing them to live, work, and access services in the EU. Some 4.2 million Ukrainians have registered under the directive, which is now valid until March 2024. Meanwhile, the EU is pursuing much less welcoming policies for asylum seekers and migrants from other parts of the world. Member states are urgently trying to curb an uptick in arrivals along the Western Balkans route. And, in the latest push to try to externalise asylum processing, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Malta plan on floating a proposal to have the EU border agency Frontex set up asylum processing centres in countries outside the EU. However, a recently leaked report from the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog paints a damning picture of the agency’s disregard for fundamental rights. For more, check out our explainer video.

In case you missed it

EARLY WARNING VACUUM: Only half the world’s countries have functioning disaster early warning systems, according to a UN report aimed at sounding the alarm ahead of November’s COP27 climate summit. The analysis suggests disaster mortality is worse in countries with limited warning systems.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE TENSIONS: Violence is intensifying between Israeli armed forces and Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, and last weekend was particularly deadly with at least 4 Palestinians killed in army raids. On 9 October, an Israeli soldier was shot and killed at a checkpoint in East Jerusalem. The UN says at least 100 Palestinians, including children, have been killed since the start of the year “amid a significant increase in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank,” and 16 Israelis have been killed. The Palestinian health ministry says the number of its citizens killed this year by Israeli forces is at least 160. The deaths of two more Palestinians during an Israeli raid on the city of Jenin were reported on 14 October.

LEBANON/SYRIA CHOLERA: Lebanon announced its first cholera death, in an outbreak that was detected earlier this month and likely spread across the border with Syria. Syria has seen more than 13,000 suspected cholera infections and 60 deaths since late August. 

MYANMAR CONFLICT INTENSIFIES: The Arakan Army seized a military junta outpost in Rakhine state, the second base captured by the ethnic armed group since fighting resumed in July. With fighting escalating in recent months, more than 17,400 civilians have been displaced, according to the UN. The junta, meanwhile, has imposed a blockade on aid and movement, imperilling civilians in six townships and leading to starvation, say Rohingya activists.

NIGERIA FLOODS: Some 500 people have been killed and more than 1.4 million displaced over the last few months as Nigeria battles its worst flooding in a decade. The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs said more than 45,000 houses have been “totally damaged” and tens of thousands of hectares of farmland submerged.

SRI LANKA NEEDS GROW: Though Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has faded from the headlines, it continues to batter the country’s poorest. A new IFRC needs assessment of 2,900 households found that 96 percent had been impacted by the crisis, with rising rates of hunger and worsening health. Earlier this month, the World Bank reported a doubling of the number of people experiencing poverty to a quarter of the population.  

SYRIA DETAINEE ALLOWED BACK TO THE UK: A British woman and her child have reportedly been repatriated from a Syrian detention camp, in a first since the end of fighting with the so-called Islamic State. The UK has so far refused to take back its nationals in camps like al-Hol, having removed their citizenship, arguing that they pose a security threat. A rights group said the woman brought back to the UK had been a victim of trafficking.

UKRAINE HIT BY RUSSIAN BOMBARDMENT: Russia unleashed the largest wave of airstrikes on Ukraine since the beginning of its war in February, targeting civilian infrastructure and population centres throughout the country. They came as retaliation for a blast on 8 October that damaged the bridge connecting the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula to Russia, and appear to be an attempt to reverse the course of Russia’s beleaguered war effort. Read our latest on the dire situation in areas liberated by an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive and humanitarian concerns stemming from increased Russian nuclear sabre rattling.

Weekend read

Scrambling for solutions as Peru’s hunger crisis grows

A new report by Action Against Hunger estimates the “hunger gap” to be 93% by establishing that, on average, only 7% of hunger needs were met in 2021 in 13 of the worst-affected countries. Donor funding, it says, follows media coverage more than needs, and 10% of the global population went hungry last year, the highest level in decades. With the fallout of the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine driving up prices, the situation has only deteriorated in 2022 – not only in famine-threatened settings such as the Horn of Africa, Yemen, and South Sudan, but also in many countries that aren’t normally on our radar. That’s why we’ve launched Emerging hunger hotspots – a new series of in-depth analyses that started in Sri Lanka but this week takes readers to Peru, where the number of soup kitchens has risen sixfold in two years. As Dan Collyns reports, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but also a variety of solutions, from changing diets to using seabird excrement as fertiliser. Look out for the third instalment, from Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat and host of next month’s COP27 climate negotiations.

And finally…

TikTok begging profits exposed

An investigation by the BBC found that hundreds of internally displaced people (IDPs) in camps in Syria are begging on the app, and that TikTok is keeping the vast majority of money donated. This is how it works: Middlemen in northwest Syria employed by agencies in China affiliated with TikTok buy cell phones and credit and bring them to Syrian families living in IDP camps. The families then spend hours live streaming and soliciting digital gifts from viewers around the world. The gifts cost money and can be cashed in by the users. However, an experiment run by the BBC found that TikTok may be keeping as much as 69 percent of the gifts’ value, and the middlemen take another cut, leaving just a fraction for the families. Conditions for IDPs in northwest Syria are dismal, and there are few opportunities to earn a living. Experts contacted by the BBC said the begging scheme was exploitative and broke the app’s code of conduct. For its part, TikTok said it would take action to end the problem, but the BBC said hundreds of families continue to go live every day. 

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