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Indonesia quake responders, Mali aid group suspensions, and refugee swimmers on Netflix: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

The next phase for Indonesia’s earthquake response

Volunteers and local groups are on the front lines of emergency rescue and response as communities dig out from the 5.6-magnitude earthquake that struck Indonesia’s Cianjur Regency, southeast of the capital, Jakarta, on 21 November. The death toll from the quake had climbed to 310 by 25 November, with at least 24 people still missing. Several international NGOs have announced plans to respond, often through locally registered versions of themselves. Direct Relief is channelling some funding to the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center, the response arm of one of Indonesia’s biggest faith-based and civil society groups. In the coming days, the focus will be on preventing the disease outbreaks and health threats that frequently follow disasters and displacement. Indonesia is intensely exposed to disaster threats, and the climate crisis can supercharge flood and storm risks. Researchers say the Cianjur earthquake was destructive because it was shallow – underscoring the need to improve building practices to prepare for the next threat.

M23 rebels shake off calls to disarm in DR Congo

A summit of African leaders in Angola has resulted in calls for the immediate withdrawal of the M23 armed group from occupied areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda, which is accused by UN experts and the US government of backing the Congolese rebels, was among those to call for a ceasefire. However, an M23 spokesperson said the group wasn’t part of the talks, and fighting was ongoing as of 25 November. The previously dormant militia has made further gains in recent weeks and there are fears it may try to seize Goma – the largest town in eastern DRC. Around 280,000 people have been displaced in recent months, and aid groups are struggling to mount a response. Participants of the Angola summit said a new East African force in DRC will intervene if the M23 refuses to pull back from its current positions. But that military force is not yet fully deployed and many Congolese are sceptical it can improve the situation. Read our story for more.

Aid groups suffer blowback from France-Mali row

Mali’s ruling junta has suspended the activities of NGOs funded by France as a row between the two countries rumbles on. The decision comes after Paris froze development aid to Bamako earlier this month, citing the country’s use of the mercenary Wagner Group. NGOs in Mali wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron denouncing his government’s decision and have argued that aid should not fall victim to a diplomatic feud. Sahel watchers, meanwhile, said Mali’s reaction represents a “consolidation” of recent anti-NGO policies. Controls on NGOs are reportedly tightening, and several have been accused on social media of aiding “terrorists”. The clampdown comes as the humanitarian crisis deepens, especially in northeastern Mali, where an offensive by a franchise of the so-called Islamic State has displaced thousands in recent months. Around 7.5 million Malians require humanitarian assistance this year, which is more than a third of the population.

MSF flags ‘catastrophic’ situation in Somalia

Rains due in Somalia from October to December have so far been poor and the country could be facing another season of drought – the fifth in a row – that will trigger yet more hunger-related deaths. Médecins Sans Frontières described the situation as “catastrophic”, with streams of people – their crops lost and livestock dead – arriving daily in the south-central city of Baidoa looking for help from over-stretched aid agencies. A combination of drought, conflict, and donor fatigue has already pushed 250,000 people into “famine-like” conditions. The World Food Programme said it needs $416 million over the next six months to prevent full-on famine. Across the Horn of Africa –  facing the same La Niña-triggered climate disaster – 22 million people are going hungry. Should this season’s rains fail as forecasted, the region-wide crisis is set to deepen in 2023.

Is Türkiye about to invade northeast Syria?

Turkish airstrikes in northeastern Syria between 20 and 24 November killed at least 11 civilians, including one journalist and 14 militia members, according to data compiled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed militia alliance dominated by the People's Protection Units, or YPG. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Türkiye has launched three large-scale invasions into northeastern Syria to weaken the YPG, which Türkiye claims are an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a separatist group it considers to be a terrorist organisation. A few days before the latest strikes, Türkiye blamed “PKK/YPG” for a bombing in Istanbul that killed six people and injured 81. On 23 November, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that the Turkish armed forces “will come down hard on the terrorists from land at the most convenient time for us”. But Türkiye, which already controls a large swathe of Syrian border territory, may not have the Kremlin’s blessing to launch a fresh incursion.

How Colombian and Venezuelan talks overlap

When former guerrilla Gustavo Petro was sworn in as Colombian president in August, it was on the back of a pledge to bring “total peace” to the country. Six years after a historic peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), his government has begun meeting in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, with the ELN, or National Liberation Army, the largest remaining rebel group. While little has been made public, the mood music around the talks – which had been on hiatus since the ELN bombed a police academy in Bogotá in 2019 – has been positive. Much has been made of the potential for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to play a spoiler role in the talks, especially as the ELN is increasingly active in Venezuela. But it’s hard to read what Maduro is thinking right now: He has enjoyed some success in clawing back international recognition and getting crippling economic sanctions lifted. Corruption, authoritarianism, and his country’s humanitarian crisis – which has seen seven million people (almost a quarter of the population) leave since 2015 – relegated him to pariah status. But Petro has played a key role in helping Maduro back into the international fold: After agreeing to reopen their shared border in September, the pair restored diplomatic relations and met in Caracas in early November, before their bonhomie was on full display at the recent COP27 climate talks in Egypt. Maduro’s government is expected to resume its own talks on 26 November in Mexico City with a coalition of Venezuelan opposition parties. For more, read our analysis.

In case you missed it

FEMICIDE: More than half of the 81,000 women and girls who were murdered last year around the world were killed by their husband, partner, or other relative, but the actual numbers are thought to be even higher, according to new UN figures on femicide. Asia had the highest number of femicides last year, but the research showed that women and girls in Africa are at the greatest risk of being killed by family members.

HAITIAN CHILD DEPORTATIONS: The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has deported at least 1,800 unaccompanied Haitian children this year, according to UNICEF. Dominican authorities deny the claim, but UNICEF said it and partner organisations have received Haitian children at various border points. The stepped-up deportations and other migration measures come as Haiti battles spiralling gang violence and a growing cholera outbreak. UNICEF says 40% of cholera victims have been children. 

IRAN RIGHTS: The UN Human Rights Council has ordered a fact-finding mission to probe potential human rights abuses in Iran following a government crackdown on women-led protests that has claimed more than 300 lives, including 40 children, since mid-September, according to OHCHR figures.

LEBANON FOOD AID: The World Food Programme (WFP) has allocated $5.4 billion in food aid to Lebanon over three years. Lebanon, which has been trapped in a financial crisis since 2019, is also home to around 2 million Syrian refugees. Daily costs are rising in the country, and over the past three years, the currency has lost 90% of its value. Aid organisations, meanwhile, worry that calls for help (phone and internet costs have also risen) are not being made. 

MALI: Germany has announced plans to withdraw troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali by 2024. The UK and Côte d'Ivoire have already communicated similar exit plans. Mali’s ruling junta has isolated itself from international partners, which are increasingly winding down from different military missions.

MEASLES: A record 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021, according to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and US health authorities, as protection from the preventable disease continues to backslide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

TAX REFORM: The UN has approved a new resolution that will kickstart intergovernmental talks on democratising global tax rules – a move resisted by wealthy nations. The resolution was pushed by African nations looking to reform currently opaque tax systems that protect offshore havens, shield illicit financial flows, and advantage multinational corporations.

UKRAINE POWER: The “vast majority” of Ukraine’s population are without electricity after Russian missiles temporarily shut down all of the country’s nuclear power plants and most of its thermal and hydroelectric plants on 24 November. The strikes also killed 11 people, including a teenage girl. Kyiv’s mayor said 60% of the capital’s 3 million residents were without power in below-freezing temperatures. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said power, heat, water, and the internet are being gradually restored.

WHO SHAKE-UP: Half of the WHO’s 16-member senior leadership team will leave by the end of the month, Health Policy Watch reported. It’s one of Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s largest leadership shuffles since helming the health agency in 2017.

Weekend read

The limits of loss and damage: A cautionary tale from Pakistan

As what was agreed at the COP27 climate summit continues to be unpicked (by The New Humanitarian and others), millions of Pakistanis are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of unprecedented floods, including a burgeoning health crisis. When the disaster struck her home province of Sindh, Beirut-based lawyer Menaal Munshey rushed home to help, setting up a medical camp with some friends. She was shocked by the extent of governance failures – from issues around gender, education, and marginalisation, to the clueless way aid was being delivered. For Munshey, the important gains at COP over a loss and damage fund risk being overshadowed by the fact that the governments that could receive this extra money often shirk their responsibility to vulnerable citizens. The response in Sindh, she writes in this no-holes-barred opinion, should be “a wake-up call to the state to address structural and systemic problems”.

And finally…

The inspiring refugee survival story behind a Netflix drama

Netflix has just released The Swimmers, a new drama based on the amazing story of Yusra Mardini and her sister, Sarah, as they undertook a dangerous journey from war-torn Syria to Germany in August 2015. When the motor of their small boat from Turkey to Greece broke down in the Aegean Sea, Yusra, Sarah, and two of the other 18 people on board swam the vessel to safety on the Greek island of Lesvos. In August 2019, The New Humanitarian’s migration editor Eric Reidy met Sarah Mardini after she returned to Lesvos to volunteer helping other refugees, by which time Yusra had competed as a swimmer in the 2016 Olympic Games. A few weeks after returning to Lesvos, Sarah’s work would land her in prison as part of a broader trend of European governments using anti-smuggling laws to de-legitimise humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants. After you watch The Swimmers (or before), find out more by reading Eric’s feature profiling Sarah and exploring Europe’s hardening line on migration.

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