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Afghanistan’s female NGO workers, coping with climate shocks, and Tigray’s death toll: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

Louise O'Brien/TNH

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

On our radar

INGOs restart health efforts as some Afghan women aid workers return 

At least three international NGOs have resumed some services in Afghanistan after suspending operations following the Taliban’s 24 December announcement barring Afghan women from working for NGOs. This week, Save the Children, CARE International, and the International Rescue Committee announced that they would restart some health-related efforts after assurances from the ministry of public health that Afghan women would be able to safely return to their aid jobs. Sources within the aid groups told The New Humanitarian that the resumption applies to only a small number of projects and stressed that negotiations with the Taliban's Islamic Emirate government will continue until all female Afghan workers can return to local and international NGOs. With women barred from working in the field and in administrative roles, aside from health-related activities, NGOs have warned that it will be nearly impossible to properly reach half the nation's population. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, the highest ranking woman in the UN, led a delegation to Afghanistan this week to press the government to restore women and girls’ access to education and work.

How South Sudan’s pastoralists are adapting to climate shocks

Extreme climate conditions have prompted talk that pastoralism is no longer a viable livelihood in dryland areas. But a new report focusing on South Sudan argues that herders are experts at dealing with different kinds of climate hazards. Consecutive years of mass flooding, protracted conflict, and militarised cattle raiding have taken their toll on South Sudan’s livestock keepers, leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of cattle. Yet while some households are considering leaving pastoralism, others still see it as a long-term livelihood. Pastoralists have been able to adopt a whole range of short-term strategies to address recent shocks, often shifting their activities to include other forms of work. To help them adjust to future challenges, the report recommends equipping them with better information. It also suggests that any efforts to support pastoralists recognise that herders have varied goals for the future, including the desire to diversify their work rather than leave their livelihoods entirely.

One of the deadliest recent wars: Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict

The two-year war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region killed around 600,000 people, according to the African Union’s peace mediator for the conflict, Olusegun Obasanjo. He told the Financial Times that the peace deal signed in November between the federal government and Tigrayan authorities stopped roughly 1,000 deaths per day. It has been hard to get accurate casualty figures because Addis Ababa tightly controls access to Tigray for journalists and investigators. But there is consensus among observers that the under-reported war ranks among the world’s deadliest in recent years. Last month, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said almost 800,000 had been killed. And researchers from Belgium’s Ghent University have estimated up to 600,000 civilians died from atrocities and food and medicine shortages caused by a government blockade. Though the peace deal has shown recent signs of progress, sticking points (including the presence of Eritrean troops) abound, and other conflicts in the country are flaring, most notably in the Oromia region.

Positive(ish) steps in Greek aid worker and migration cases

Four years and four months after Sarah Mardini – whose story inspired the Netflix film ‘The Swimmers’ – was arrested in Greece, a Greek court has effectively thrown out a case against her and 23 other aid workers. But the defendants are not yet out of the woods. The charges against them stemmed from their efforts to rescue asylum seekers and migrants in the Aegean Sea. Human rights groups have described the accusations as “baseless” and “farcical” and called for the charges to be dropped. The judge, however, rejected the charges on procedural grounds due to mistakes made by the prosecution, and Mardini and the others are still the subject of a more serious criminal investigation. Meanwhile, a Somali man has been released from prison after initially being issued a 142-year sentence for steering a dinghy in a deadly 2021 crossing attempt from Turkey to Greece. A Greek appeals court commuted his sentence to eight years and ordered him released on good behaviour. The man’s lawyer, advocacy groups, and EU parliamentarians had argued he had been wrongly convicted. For more, read our investigation: How European courts are wrongfully prosecuting asylum seekers as smugglers.

Do carbon credits really help stem global warming? Maybe not

More than 90% of rainforest offset credits do not help reduce climate warming, according to a joint investigation by the Guardian, Die Zeit, and SourceMaterial. Journalists and researchers focused on Verra, a major player in the $2 billion offset market, which allows organisations to counteract their own emissions by buying credits. The credits, in turn, are used to support projects that are supposed to prevent additional emissions elsewhere. Around 40% of the Verra-approved credits are said to prevent deforestation. But a 2022 University of Cambridge study found that Verra overestimated the threat of deforestation by an average of 400% in its approved projects, according to the Guardian, Die Zeit, and SourceMaterial investigation, meaning carbon credits bought by companies such as Disney, Shell, Gucci, and Salesforce likely did little to prevent emissions. Verra has disputed the investigation’s findings and challenged the methodology used to evaluate the deforestation projects. Calculating carbon footprints has been a hot topic in the humanitarian sector. In a 2021 investigation, The New Humanitarian found that the UN, which calls itself carbon neutral largely because of offset programmes, measures a fraction of its actual emissions, compared to some NGOs that measure both direct and indirect emissions.    

Nigeria’s elections face a bumpy road

Elections in Nigeria tend to be violent, but this campaign season has been especially bad. In the past year, there’ve been 164 attacks on party officials and government election offices with 70 deaths, according to the conflict tracker ACLED. And there’s still a month to go before polls actually open in this presidential and federal parliament vote. Banditry in the northwest, a jihadist insurgency in the northeast, and secessionism in the southeast are among the more combustible ingredients. The scale of the insecurity has led the election authority, INEC, to seriously mull a postponement. The surge in gun and arson attacks on INEC offices in particular has been unparalleled. Can there really be a free and fair ballot in areas controlled by gunmen out to derail the process or influence the vote? This week INEC announced the elections would go ahead as planned. But it’s possible turnout will be even lower than 2019’s dismal 35% figure. Given the complicated maths constitutionally required for victory, that might prevent INEC from declaring a winner.

A resource for preventing suicides in crises

Humanitarian emergencies are traumatic. While there’s more focus on mental health support in aid responses these days, suicide prevention often remains in the shadows. Newly released guidelines on “addressing suicide in humanitarian settings” are aimed at helping aid responders better prepare. Created by a mental health working group under the aid coordination body, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the guidance includes notes on communicating about suicide, examples from the ground, and a reminder that staff and volunteers also need support.

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In case you missed it

BURKINA FASO: Jihadist militants kidnapped around 50 women who were gathering food last week near the northern town of Arbinda. A kidnapping on this scale has not previously been documented in Burkina Faso’s conflict, which has displaced almost two million people.

CHINA-COVID: The government has announced a month-long push during the Lunar New Year celebrations to censor what it deems “online rumours” related to COVID-19. Since China opened up after one of the world’s most severe lockdowns, reports on social media have fed into predictions of a large COVID death toll and strained healthcare services. For more, read this first person account from Shanghai-based writer Qin Chen.

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Civil society groups protested this week against an East African Community force that has promised to “enforce peace” in eastern parts of DRC. Demonstrators said the newly deployed military mission has not been effective against the resurgent M23 rebel group. For more Congolese perspectives on the regional force, see our recent analysis.

IRAN: Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, detained in Iran since February 2022, has ”suffered ill-treatment” and requires critical medical attention, UN rights experts are warning. Dozens of civil society and aid groups are calling on EU leaders to step up efforts to free Vandecasteele, who has been sentenced to 40 years in prison on charges of espionage. The UN rights experts say Iran has arrested dozens of foreign and dual nationals in what they call “the institutionalised practice of hostage-taking”.

LEBANON: Around 200 Syrian refugees who were rescued off the coast of Lebanon after their boat capsized on 31 December have reportedly been deported to Syria, a move condemned by Amnesty International. Two people drowned when the boat – apparently headed for Europe – began to sink; the others were rescued. 

MALAWI: Schools reopened in two of the largest cities this week following the easing of a cholera outbreak that claimed more than 750 lives. Schools had been closed for a further two weeks after the Christmas holiday to try and contain the outbreak that began in March last year.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Azerbaijanis who say they are protesting illegal mining have blocked a main road leading to the breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh. That has hindered shipments of humanitarian goods to 100,000 ethnic Armenians in a region with reported food shortages. In 2020, Russia sent peacekeepers and brokered a deal to end fighting that killed some 7,000 people since 2017, but tensions have been rising since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

PERU: At least 50 people have been killed – 49 of them civilians – in demonstrations that have engulfed Peru since lawmakers removed former president Pedro Castillo from office in December. Demonstrations have been concentrated in rural and Indigenous areas where the leftist Castillo has strong support. Peru’s top prosecutor is investigating current president Dina Boluarte and members of her cabinet for genocide; protesters were found shot in the chest, back, and head after skirmishes with security forces. 

ROHINGYA: Some 3,500 Rohingya left Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat last year, and at least 348 died. This represents a fivefold increase in recorded boat journeys compared to 2021 and signals the increasing desperation of the ethnic minority group living under Myanmar’s brutal military junta and in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

SMALL ISLAND STATES: The World Health Organisation has launched a new data portal to bring attention to and monitor non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Small Island Developing States – which have some of the highest levels of obesity, NCDs, and mental health issues in the world.

UKRAINE: At least 45 people were killed when a Russian missile struck a residential building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro on 14 January. The strike was one of the deadliest for civilians since Russia’s invasion began last February. A spokesperson for the UN secretary-general condemned the attack saying it was “another example of a suspected violation of the laws of war”. 

Weekend read

How to end hunger: A famine expert’s plan

If you know anyone who has $20 billion to spare, then Nicholas Haan has an idea for how to spend it. Haan, a famine analyst and self-described “agitator”, has had a front row seat to how humanitarian policy deals with extreme hunger. As a young aid worker in Somalia in the 1990s, he saw misery as an estimated 220,000 died. In 2004, he helped create the system used to measure severe food insecurity, which includes strict criteria to define what “famine” actually means. Today, Somalia is again on the brink of famine, and Haan – older, wiser, and clearly frustrated – says the aid sector must change how it responds. “We’re doing the same thing over and over again,” he tells The New Humanitarian in this wide-ranging interview. His elevator pitch for ending famine is meant to provoke and challenge: Haan has some choice words about response appeals, “building back better”, and aid orthodoxy. He also delves into his complicated relationship with the F-word, and how his own experiences with hunger have shaped his outlook.

And finally…

We need to talk about Muhoozi

What do you do when your child won’t stay off social media? Parents can try hiding the phone or cutting off their data allowance. Yoweri and Janet Museveni chose instead to sack their son as army commander. Did the Ugandan president and first lady’s tactic work? No. This week, their erratic 48-year-old progeny, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was back tweeting: “[Uganda People’s Defence Force] is still ‘My’ Army. Afande Mzee [Dad], I want my army back!!” The tweet that got Muhoozi metaphorically sent to his room was a boast in October that he could capture a peaceful Nairobi in two weeks. His father had to apologise to nonplussed Kenyans. There’s a long-held assumption that Muhoozi, dubbed a “baby despot”, is being groomed to replace Museveni, 78. He has built a fawning social media following that refers to him as “Generational Supreme Leader”. In trying to stake out a quasi-independent political position, he has condemned his father’s NRM party as a "reactionary organisation". Right now, the senior Museveni seems certain to be standing again in 2026. But Muhoozi may be the “wild card” for a family looking to preserve its almost four decades of political power.

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