Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
War in Europe
After months of military build-up and faltering diplomacy, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began early on 24 February with missile barrages and troops crossing into the country from the north, east, and south, followed the next day by armoured vehicles entering a northern district of the capital, Kyiv. Hundreds of casualties were reported, including dozens of Ukrainian civilians in Russian airstrikes. Despite weeks of increasingly dire warnings from Western leaders, the invasion was met with a mix of shock and disbelief by many. The UN has warned that the humanitarian consequences will be devastating. People in cities across the country took shelter in basements and subway stations, and thousands of Ukrainians have sought refuge in neighbouring Central European countries. Many more are fleeing towards Ukraine’s western border with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, which are all NATO and EU member states. The EU has pledged to admit refugees from Ukraine, despite implementing border policies in recent years to keep out refugees and asylum seekers from other parts of the world. Ukraine’s population is around 44 million, and the US has warned that up to five million people could become refugees because of the war. The UN allocated $20 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help Ukrainian civilians, while the World Health Organization released $3.5 million for urgent medical supplies.
The fallout on global wheat supplies
The knock-on effect of the war in the Ukraine has been a jump in the global price of wheat – up to its highest level since 2008. Russia and Ukraine account for a third of the world’s wheat supply, but Ukraine’s most productive regions lie in the path of the conflict. Global grain prices are already at a 10-year high (see our 10 humanitarian crises and trends to watch). If Ukrainian wheat is taken off the market, or ports are badly damaged, then prices could possibly double. That would especially hurt countries in the Middle East and North Africa – but also as far afield as Bangladesh and Nigeria – who are major importers of Russian and Ukrainian wheat (see this handy guide). The real test for global food supply will be the next wheat harvest in four months’ time. If Western sanctions target Russian food production – or Moscow angrily responds to pressure by squeezing wheat supplies – then shortages would really bite. Price stability may depend on what China decides to do, analysts say. If it buys up Russia’s wheat, that would free up supplies in other markets that China had relied on, which could take the heat out of global prices.
Short-term aid plugs a hole, but Afghanistan’s problems build
Emergency aid budgets are paying salaries or injecting cash support for public sector workers in Afghanistan – another sign of how short-term aid is papering over long-term problems in the aftermath of the Taliban’s resurgence. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it’s paying the salaries of 10,000 health workers to stave off systemic collapse, while UNICEF said 194,000 public school teachers have received $100 a month this year. After the Taliban seized power last August, wary donor governments froze most development funding (and billions in Afghanistan’s foreign reserves), sending the aid-dependent economy spiralling. Humanitarian groups say they need record amounts this year to prevent a catastrophe, but they also point out that emergency aid is a stopgap and not a panacea, as our recent story details. The indicators get worse by the week. Two thirds of the population have adopted “crisis-coping strategies” like eating less or borrowing food (compared to 11 percent before August), and homes headed by women appear to be struggling the most, a recent World Food Programme survey found: “With each passing month, new waves of people are turning to drastic measures to feed their families.”
A missing central banker in Lebanon
In the latest development related to Lebanon’s ongoing financial meltdown, documents have emerged showing that commissions charged by the central bank to local banks for purchasing government securities went to a company owned by the brother of long-time central banker Riad Salameh. This week, Salameh, who is being investigated for embezzlement and money laundering by European countries, as well as by the Lebanese authorities, failed to show up in court for questioning: Security officers couldn’t find him at either of his homes or at the office of the central bank, which, after three decades, he remains the head of. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme tweeted that food prices in Lebanon have increased by 1,000 percent (presumably since the currency began to fall in late 2019), while victims of the August 2020 Beirut port explosion are now hoping for an international investigation into the blast, as a local probe has been obstructed at almost every turn.
The role of women in Cameroon’s conflict
The conflict in Cameroon’s anglophone regions doesn’t get many headlines, but the violence there has been unrelenting. Clashes between separatists and security forces have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, the majority of them women and children. A new International Crisis Group report explores the impact the war – now in its fifth year – has had on women. Whether displaced or struggling to earn a living to support families, women are forced to navigate a “harsh landscape of hostility and widespread sexual violence” – including rape, torture, and execution – it says. But they’re not just victims. Many women are also involved in the separatist revolt, either in active combat or as part of the militias’ support structure. “Indeed, women’s roles in the insurgency, both as participants and as a social base, help explain its tenacity,” the report notes. And women are also active as peacemakers, leveraging their community connections, trying to find a way out of the violence that has upended so many lives. (See our coverage on both the violence and stalled peace initiatives.)
Need to learn about the nexus? Now you can…
The “triple nexus” – aligning the work of humanitarian aid, development projects, and peacebuilding to better address the root causes of crisis – has featured as a hot topic in aid policy circles for years. The concept makes sense in theory, but bringing these historically siloed sectors together hasn’t been as easy. The three sides don’t always understand each other: They often operate on different timeframes with vastly different approaches, and rely on different sources of donor funding. But a new Nexus Academy, launched this week, designed and delivered by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the UN, and others, sets out to change that. Its six-week course offers enhanced learning and knowledge exchange. “We need to learn more about each other if we are to work together,” Christophe Tocco, international development manager at USAID, noted at the launch event.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: Eight polio workers, including four women, were killed in separate attacks in northern Afghanistan, the UN said on 24 February. It’s unclear who was behind the killings. Polio vaccination campaigns in Kunduz and Takhar provinces are now suspended, only days after starting. The first nationwide, house-to-house vaccination campaign in three years began, with Taliban backing, in November.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: A wall is being built along the Dominican Republic’s 392-kilometre border with Haiti to stop irregular migration and the smuggling of drugs, arms, and other goods. In spite of Haiti’s deteriorating economic, security, and political situation, spikes in deportations were reported from its only land neighbour in late 2021, including of elderly people and pregnant women.
HAITI: Paul Farmer, an American doctor who dedicated his life to providing healthcare to the world’s most vulnerable, died in his sleep this week at the age of 62. Farmer, who famously said, “Haiti made me”, co-founded Partners in Health, an initiative that began in Haiti to provide healthcare to the poor, and later expanded to Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Farmer was instrumental in getting HIV treatments to patients. He also worked tirelessly to deliver healthcare to rural areas of Haiti and beyond.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE: An Israeli court has postponed the planned eviction of a Palestinian family from Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Tensions have been ramping up again in the flashpoint neighbourhood, where planned expulsions were a major factor in the outbreak of war last May in Gaza.
MEXICO: Protests against the slow processing of new arrivals from Guatemala turned violent in Tapachula in southern Mexico on 22 February, days after several migrants sewed their mouths shut to plead for passage to the US border. The border town is home to Latin America’s largest migrant detention centre. Police reportedly clashed with mostly Haitian and African migrants, many of whom have been waiting for months to leave.
MYANMAR: Russia, China, and Serbia are among states that have supplied weapons to Myanmar’s junta since the February 2021 coup, the UN’s watchdog for Myanmar said in a new report. Rights monitors say the military has massacred civilians in its crackdowns on widespread anti-coup movements. More than 800,000 people are displaced in Myanmar, including at least 450,000 since the coup.
THE PHILIPPINES: At least 6,600 people were displaced by military operations against the New People’s Army in northern Mindanao in mid-February, according to the UN’s humanitarian aid arm, OCHA. An estimated 43,000 people have died in the decades-long conflict involving the NPA, the military, and paramilitary groups.
SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia said 16 people were injured on 21 February during the interception and destruction of a Houthi drone at an airport in the south of the country. The last few months have seen an increase in drone attacks by the rebels on both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which led an anti-Houthi coalition fighting in Yemen. There has also been a significant rise in bombing, shelling, and ground fighting inside the country.
TURKEY: Turkey’s interior ministry announced a plan to limit the number of foreigners – including refugees – allowed to reside in certain areas of the country. Sixteen provinces have been closed to new outside residents, and neighbourhoods where the foreign population makes up more than 25 percent of residents will see some foreigners relocated to other areas. Anti-refugee sentiment and violence has been growing in Turkey, which hosts the largest refugee population in the world.
Will climate change lead to mass displacement? Yes, but it won’t look like the narrative of international, South-to-North migration that you might be used to hearing. By 2050, it is predicted that as many as 1.2 billion people will be displaced by climate change, but current climate-driven migration is predominantly domestic, from rural to urban, not international. It is also difficult to pinpoint when migration is caused by solely environmental factors and not by a complex combination of social, economic, and political conditions. In our weekend read, Migration Editor-at-large Eric Reidy explains why the conversation needs to change: why a common conception of international climate migration is not only wrong but driven by xenophobic bias. High-income countries that are most responsible for climate pollution have so far failed to deliver the funding promised to the Global South to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, only increasing global climate inequities.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will also release a report on 28 February that will include its strongest warnings on climate impacts yet.
Another win for reproductive rights activists in Latin America
Colombia has decriminalised abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy – a huge win for reproductive rights activists in a country where only 10 percent of some 400,000 abortions are carried out legally each year. Of that number, more than 26,000 abortions in 2020 were considered unsafe. In Colombia, abortion was only allowed if there was a health risk to the woman, life-threatening foetal complications, or in cases of rape and incest. The South American country follows Argentina and Mexico in loosening restrictions on abortion – all while some US states are making it even harder to end pregnancies safely. According to the World Health Organization, nearly half of all abortions are unsafe. Abortion is still prohibited in some two dozen countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Senegal, Nicaragua, El Savador, and Honduras. In several others, it is only allowed to save the life of the mother.