Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Myanmar’s worsening conflict overshadows ASEAN summit
As leaders gather in the Cambodia capital, Phnom Penh, for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, the worsening humanitarian situation in Myanmar is atop the agenda. The regional bloc has struggled to put forth a comprehensive response to the 2021 military coup and subsequent violence that has made it the worst global conflict after Ukraine. As they began 11-13 November meetings, ASEAN leaders signalled a stronger response to the junta, “warning” it must make progress on peace or risk being barred. But a leaked document obtained by Fortify Rights suggested the bloc was likely to continue allowing some junta participation in its meetings – a policy of appeasement widely decried by rights groups. More than 1 million people have been displaced, and tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed by military violence. In Bangladesh, where more than a million Rohingya live having fled the junta’s atrocities, refugees are desperate for an end to the conflict that would permit them to return home. More than five years after escaping Myanmar, refugees face a rapidly worsening situation in the camps. Read our full report for more.
Contradictory claims over Tigray aid
Ethiopia’s national security advisor said “aid is flowing” into Tigray a week after the government signed a ceasefire with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). But a TPLF spokesperson denied the claim and aid agencies say they are still on standby. The federal government committed to expediting the delivery of humanitarian assistance and restoring essential services as part of the ceasefire deal, which has kindled hopes of an end to a war believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The government security advisor, Redwan Hussein, said on 11 November that 70% of Tigray is now under federal control, and that food and medicine was being sent into the northern region. But aid agencies, including the World Health Organization, said millions facing famine conditions are yet to be reached, and there have also been reports of fighting in parts of Tigray occupied by Eritrean forces (key spoilers in the ceasefire deal). For more on the agreement and the tricky implementation that lies ahead, check out our explainer.
Why humanitarians are joining calls for debt relief
The COP27 spotlight has been zeroed in on the thorny issue of loss and damage funding. But there’s a parallel push at the climate summit to reform a global financial system that traps vulnerable countries in a cycle of debt. Debt relief and an overhaul of how global lending works have been top-of-mind issues in Sharm el-Sheikh, alongside more traditional COP fare like climate finance, emissions reductions, and wrangling over carbon markets. Aid groups, as well, are increasingly linking debt to the crises they respond to. The UN’s relief chief used a high-level meeting not to ask for cash for a stretched system, but to push G20 countries to restructure debt and reallocate billions in inaccessible reserves. That loss and damage financing – the cost of climate destruction when all else has failed – is being seriously discussed at COP27 is significant. So are the modest but symbolic cash pledges from countries like New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Scotland. But while representatives of the world’s biggest economy, the United States, offered only vague statements on loss and damage, they have joined calls to reform multilateral banks. The $100 billion already promised (but not delivered) yearly to vulnerable nations is “a pittance compared to what we need to be doing”, US climate envoy John Kerry said at a COP27 side-event. “Here’s an idea: We absolutely need to have multilateral development bank reform.” Whose idea was it? Read more on Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s Bridgetown Agenda here.
Helping Africa’s transition
Staying with the money issues at the heart of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheik, French and German development banks agreed this week to provide €600 million in concessional financing to support South Africa’s transition from coal. It’s the first funding secured for the initial $8.5 billion stage of a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) announced at COP26 a year ago. South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, is coal-dependent, but it wants to boost renewables to 90% of its energy mix under the JETP. However, much of that $98 billion bill will be financed by loans rather than the grants the government prefers. Gas has been touted as key to Africa’s transition to clean energy and economic development. Some Western governments (while publicly talking net zero) back Africa’s “dash for gas” to secure supplies. Green campaigners argue that building the infrastructure to lock in African production represents a long-term commitment to fossil fuels. Tanzania has staked out an alternative position, presenting an $18 billion plan to develop renewables in southern Africa. “You want us to transition? This is the opportunity,” said energy minister January Makamba.
Civilians killed in airstrike in Syria’s Idlib
At least nine civilians were reportedly killed in the shelling of makeshift camps outside northwest Syria’s rebel held city of Idlib on 6 November. That death count comes from the Syria Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets, who said in a statement that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian allies had “committed a massacre” and used cluster bombs on the camps. Russia’s state-owned media service TASS said Syrian forces had hit the facilities of a terrorist group in Idlib, in response to a drone attack. The UN Human Rights Office, which verified the killing of at least seven civilians, including four children, in the incident, said the “upsurge in fighting and the return to violence are cause for alarm”. Rising violence is hardly the only concern in Syria at the moment: A fast-moving cholera epidemic is continuing to spread as the case count and death toll rises, and UNICEF reports that 1 out of 4 suspected cases are children under the age of 5.
Europe’s squabbles over Mediterranean migrant boats
After a weeks-long standoff, Italy’s new far-right government allowed around 800 people rescued in the central Mediterranean by three NGO boats to disembark in Italian ports. A fourth NGO ship carrying around 230 people that had been denied permission to disembark in Italy docked in a French port, touching off a row between the two countries and prompting France to withdraw from a voluntary EU asylum seekers relocation mechanism. There is an international legal obligation to rescue people in distress at sea, and coastal states are supposed to take responsibility for rescues in their search and rescue regions. But EU states have sought to avoid this responsibility in recent years. Around 87,000 people have crossed the central Mediterranean to Italy this year compared to around 55,000 over the same period last year. Much of the conversation around migration in the Mediterranean, however, focuses on its political implications in Europe rather than the factors pushing people to undertake dangerous journeys and the abuses asylum seekers and migrants face in places like Libya.
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In case you missed it
ESCALATING CONFLICT IN EASTERN CONGO: Fighters jets bombed M23 positions this week while thousands of youth reportedly signed up for military training as the government escalates its campaign against the rebel group, which neighbouring Rwanda is accused of backing. Fighting over the past month has displaced a further 90,000 people. See our recent dispatch for more.
GERMANY’S BOTCHED AFGHAN INITIATIVE: A programme that provides a pathway for 1,000 at-risk Afghans to enter Germany per month is being overwhelmed by tens of thousands of emails and calls. The initiative – intended for media workers, human rights activists, and other people facing threats from the Taliban – has been criticised for being poorly organised since its launch last month. There has also been a surge in online scams targeting Afghans trying to leave the country, as we recently reported.
HAITI MIGRANTS: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has called on the Dominican Republic to stop rising deportations of Haitians fleeing rampant gang violence. Nearly 44,000 migrants were deported between July and October, and most were Haitians. The United States, meanwhile, is considering expanding its capacity at Guantanamo Bay. The US base, which is also home to the prison camp, has long had a holding camp for migrants.
MALAWI CHOLERA: The country has received 2.9 million doses of the oral cholera vaccine as it combats its largest epidemic of the bacterial disease in the past ten years. The outbreak has spread to 27 of 29 districts in the country and has killed over 200 people.
RUSSIAN PULLBACK: The Russian military announced it is withdrawing from Kherson, a strategically important city in southern Ukraine and the only provincial capital taken following Russia’s February invasion. The withdrawal is another major Russian setback. Around 40,000 civilians have been killed and around 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured since February, a top US general estimated this week.
SOMALIA’S DEEPENING CRISIS: Fleeing drought and conflict, more than 55,000 Somalis have arrived in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp in the past two months. Without a significant scale up of aid to Somalia, the numbers in need in Dadaab could reach 120,000 by early 2023, according to the International Rescue Committee.
SRI LANKA HUNGER: Nearly $70 million is needed to feed the 3.4 million people going hungry in Sri Lanka, the UN said this week. Worsening food insecurity has doubled the number of people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance. The country has been struggling for months amid an economic crisis that has sent the price of food and medicine skyrocketing. Read our full analysis to find out more.
TUVALU DROUGHT: Tuvalu has declared a state of emergency as it contends with an extended drought – a sign of the overlapping climate threats low-lying Pacific nations face. Tuvalu is also seeing community transmission of COVID-19 for the first time. At COP27, the country became the second to call for a treaty limiting fossil fuel use.
UGANDA EBOLA: Schools will close two weeks before the scheduled end of term this month as Ebola infections among pupils rose to 23 cases with eight deaths. Since the outbreak began in September, 136 confirmed cases and 54 deaths were recorded by 9 November nationally. Some health experts fear the actual tally could be higher still.
YEMEN AID WORKERS: A report from OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, says there was a “significant increase” in incidents “impacting the safety and security of aid workers” in Yemen in the third quarter of 2022, compared to the previous quarter. These include violence, restrictions on movement, interference with work.
Venezuela holds the key as Petro looks to kickstart his Colombia peace plan
Regular readers of The New Humanitarian will be aware of the scale of humanitarian needs facing Venezuelans. In July, we reported from inside the country on how the COVID fallout was leaving children dying of malnutrition and the poor scavenging for food. But we also reported on how xenophobic post-pandemic barriers in South America were driving more migrants and asylum seekers onto dangerous routes northward through the Darién Gap in a bid to reach the United States. For most, those journeys start by crossing treacherous Venezuela-Colombia border areas where criminal gangs vie for control of lucrative smuggling routes. But might that be about to change? Newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro is set to launch peace talks with the main guerrilla group operating in the region, the National Liberation Army, or ELN. There’s only one problem: Its operations have become heavily intertwined with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. And guess what? His government is down to moderate those talks. What could possibly go wrong? Read this analysis from Joshua Collins and Daniela Díaz for more on how this might all play out.
UN accused of leading Roma poison victims on ‘wild goose chase’
The UN has long been criticised for failing to pay damages after some 10,000 Haitians were killed in a cholera outbreak linked to UN peacekeepers in 2010. A new report says the world body has also avoided paying compensation to hundreds of Roma who suffered lead poisoning at a displacement camp in Kosovo – that’s despite a recommendation from its own human rights panel. After the war in 1999, some 8,000 Roma were forced to abandon their homes in northern Kosovo when their neighbourhood was attacked and destroyed. The UN, while serving as the de facto government in Kosovo, housed some 600 Roma in camps. But these camps, which remained for more than a decade, were located near toxic slag heaps containing lead. Some residents died, and others have been left with long-lasting health problems, according to the report by the Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Opre Roma Kosovo, a Roma community organisation. The report accuses the UN of sending victims on “a wild goose chase” with its various internal accountability mechanisms, and “creating the illusion of a judicial process” when no redress has been offered for more than a decade.