Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Israel’s Jenin raid sparks new escalation
Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza overnight on 26/27 January, following rocket attacks from inside the blockaded Palestinian enclave – an escalation that came hours after one of the deadliest raids in the occupied West Bank in years. Israeli troops killed nine people in the raid on Jenin. The dead included two civilians, according to Palestinian officials, and seven militants. Around 20 people were also injured in gun battles reported to last for four hours. The Israeli army has been conducting regular raids in the West Bank since last spring in response to a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Rights Watchdog Amnesty International has described the raids, many of which have been in Jenin, as “collective punishment”. Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in the city last May while covering one such raid. Israel has said there is a “high possibility” one of its soldiers killed her by accident; others – including her employer, Al Jazeera, argue that it was deliberate.
A deadly year for journalists
From Haiti to Mexico, a record number of journalists and media workers died last year. Nearly half of the 67 deaths – the highest number in five years and nearly 50% more than last year – occurred in Latin America, where covering corruption, gang violence, and environmental issues often comes at a heavy cost, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). At least 41 were killed in direct connection with their work, while the others are under investigation, the CPJ said. Mexico alone accounted for 13 of the deaths – the most ever recorded there in a single year, even though the country is nominally at “peace”. Seven journalists were killed in Haiti, where gang violence has paralysed the capital, Port-au-Prince, and where journalists are often targeted. Another 15 were killed covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, the journalists most at risk are freelancers, who often lack the same protections as staff journalists for news outlets.
Cameroon peace talk ping-pong
Cameroon has denied Canadian reports that talks are underway to end the country’s five-year anglophone conflict. But that’s not the whole to-and-fro. Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement on 20 January that Ottawa had “accepted the mandate” to facilitate a peace process between the government and its separatist opponents, beginning with “confidence-building measures”. Yaoundé shot back that nobody had been appointed to mediate. The Canadians parried that there had already been three meetings in Canada in which Cameroonian government representatives had participated. The splintered secessionist movement, fighting for the independence of the minority English-speaking regions, has kept shtum. Speculation as to why the Cameroonian government has chosen to publicly refute the talks centres on hardliners around ageing President Paul Biya and a looming succession battle. Canada’s diplomatic intervention has, however, been welcomed by the United States and Britain, as well as by religious leaders in Cameroon. "Peace processes are always messy and take time,” Joly said. For more, read our who’s who on the main players in the conflict.
Another French pullout in the Sahel
France has agreed to withdraw its troops from Burkina Faso over the next month, after the junta there terminated a military accord that allowed its former colonial power to fight jihadists. Relations between the countries have deteriorated since the junta came to power in September after toppling the previous military regime. In recent weeks, the French broadcaster RFI was suspended, the country’s ambassador was asked to leave, and anti-French protesters took to the streets. Analysts say the withdrawal is unlikely to have much impact on the already dire security situation, since France’s presence was limited to special forces and infrequent air strikes. French troops left neighbouring Mali last year following a similar though higher-profile diplomatic rupture. Mali’s populist junta is now partnered with the Russian Wagner Group, and there are rumours that Burkina Faso may follow suit. The mercenary group’s human rights record is grim, though it should be noted that France’s failed counter-terrorism campaign also significantly compounded the Sahel crisis.
What went wrong with the humanitarian vaccine ‘buffer’?
With little fanfare, 2022 brought an end to an ambitious but failed plan to supply COVID-19 vaccines to millions of people living amid emergencies. The so-called “humanitarian buffer”, part of the COVAX scheme, stopped accepting applications for vaccines on 31 December. It was designed as a last resort to get COVID-19 vaccines to people not covered by vaccination programmes – often communities in humanitarian crises. But the buffer was flooded with problems from the start – from insufficient stocks, to legal liability, to the politics behind distributing in areas beyond government control. “Five months of pain” is how one aid worker described a failed effort to order 160,000 doses for programmes in Syria. The buffer’s proponents envisioned supplying doses for some 100 million people living in humanitarian crises. In the end, it made good on two shipments totalling about 2.5 million doses: one for Afghan refugees in Iran, and another targeting refugees in Uganda. Do the buffer’s shortcomings offer lessons for future pandemics? According to one analysis, they underscore two things: how crucial it is to sort out liability issues in advance, and the need to prioritise humanitarian access from the start.
The rebellion rumbling on dangerously in eastern DR Congo
The M23 armed group has captured new territory in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, further undermining diplomatic efforts to end the rebellion. The group withdrew from some occupied areas last month following a ceasefire and the deployment of an East African regional force. But fighting continued elsewhere, and the rebels have now entered Masisi territory for the first time, severing an important road to Goma, the largest city in the east. The insurgency has heightened regional instability, with Rwanda accused of supporting the group as it did in the past. Tensions rose after Rwanda shot at a Congolese fighter jet on 24 January, claiming it had breached its airspace. Kinshasa denied the accusation and called the shooting “an act of war”. Such incidents have been heavily contested throughout the conflict, which has been marked by an information war. See our recent analysis piece for more.
Plus, don’t miss our special Davos podcast episode: Will the elite ever give up power?
Critics of events like the World Economic Forum say the eagerness of those who gather there – nominally to solve the world’s problems – lasts only as long as the solutions don't threaten their said wealth and power.
So how are movements to reshape global governance landing with those who represent the status quo? And can advocates and campaigners for change ever really sway the global elite? Host Heba Aly takes the pulse at Davos to find out.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: During a visit to Kabul, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said talks with Taliban officials had yielded a promise for new guidelines that would permit women to return to some humanitarian work. Last month, the government barred women from working with NGOs. Griffiths said the UN would continue operations in Afghanistan, but stressed that humanitarian response was being greatly curtailed by the ban. Over the past two weeks, at least 124 Afghans have died due to freezing temperatures, while 17 million people face acute hunger.
BRAZIL: Brazil’s government has declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami, an Indigenous group of roughly 30,000 people who have been plagued by rising death rates from curable diseases like malaria, flu, and diarrhoea. Under Jair Bolsonaro’s 2019-2022 presidency, gold miners flooded into Yanomami territory, bringing with them new diseases and creating new breeding grounds for mosquitoes through their mining operations. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s response includes food kits for the Yanomami and a new hospital.
BRITAIN: Dozens of asylum seeking children have reportedly been kidnapped by gangs from a hotel used as housing by the UK Home Office in Brighton. The Home Office was warned that children in the facility were at risk of being trafficked. The kidnappings are not an isolated incident: In total, more than 200 children have gone missing in the UK since July 2021.
CLIMATE LAW: Vanuatu’s climate diplomacy is unfolding online in real time. The team behind a campaign to bring climate change to the UN’s top court is posting negotiated revisions of its draft resolution on Twitter – complete with tracked changes. Vanuatu plans to finalise the resolution in February before tabling a vote at the UN General Assembly – a crucial step in its bid to get the International Court of Justice to weigh in on state responsibilities for climate change.
GUINEA WORM: Only 13 cases of Guinea worm were reported worldwide in 2022, pushing the disease closer to eradication. The provisional figure is the lowest annual caseload ever reported for the painful debilitating disease. It marks the success of a global effort that ultimately could make Guinea worm – like smallpox – extinct.
HAITI: Haitian police officers stormed Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s house, and the airport, as part of a protest over recent gang attacks. Henry was unharmed. Gangs have killed 14 police officers since the start of the year; seven during a 25 January shoot-out. The National Union of Haitian Police Officers says the government isn’t doing enough to halt the gang violence, which last year led to some 2,100 killings, more than 1,300 kidnappings, and dozens of rapes.
LEBANON: The Lebanese currency has hit a new low, as newly released figures show that around 2 million people in the country are facing food insecurity. That number is only expected to grow, with no sign of relief from Lebanon's ongoing economic collapse.
MYANMAR: A group of Myanmar nationals and Fortify Rights have filed a criminal complaint in Germany calling for prosecutors to investigate and charge members of Myanmar’s junta with atrocity crimes. It draws on “universal jurisdiction”, which allows German courts to pursue international justice even in cases that have no relation to the country. Since coming to power in a February 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military has been accused of committing genocide against the Rohingya, as well as a slew of war crimes against the broader population.
REFUGEES: Médecins Sans Frontières has warned of a spike in malnutrition in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, with 33% more patients – mainly children – being treated over the past year. MSF said a cholera outbreak in the camp complex, a severe drought in neighbouring Somalia, and inadequate donor funding were aggravating humanitarian needs.
UKRAINE: At least 11 people were killed in a new wave of Russian missile and drone strikes. The bombardment was viewed as retaliation for America, Germany, and other NATO members announcing they will supply Ukraine with battle tanks. Meanwhile, several top Ukrainian officials have resigned amid a corruption scandal. One was under investigation for the alleged embezzlement of $7 million meant for humanitarian aid and had been criticised for using an SUV donated for humanitarian missions for personal purposes.
UNITED STATES-MEXICO: The number of people irregularly crossing the US southern border has declined significantly since the Biden administration introduced new policies earlier this month. But large numbers of asylum seekers and migrants continue to arrive in Mexican border cities, increasing pressure on an already strained humanitarian support system. Human rights groups say the decrease in numbers crossing the border is the result of harsh policies that make it virtually impossible for Cubans, Guatemalans, Haitians, Hondurans, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Venezuelans to claim asylum.
WHO: The World Health Organization’s executive board meets in Geneva from 30 January, with an agenda that includes proposals on how to better prepare for and respond to health emergencies. A key issue that dovetails with several topics: surging outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases driven by under-immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO is calling for $2.54 billion in crisis response funding this year.
‘The Lebanese people are crying in the dark. No one is seeing them, no one is hearing them.’
Maternal mortality rates are soaring in Lebanon, which has been in a downward economic spiral since 2019. Poverty has increased, hospitals have been on the brink of closing due to fuel and electricity shortages, the price of transport has risen, and an estimated 40% of doctors have left the country – factors that have all made healthcare less accessible. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of women dying due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth has nearly tripled. That’s one of the reasons the Lebanese Order of Midwives is stepping up emergency care to women. Funded by UNICEF, the group hopes to hire some 300 midwives to go door to door, visiting women who may be in need. Diana Barakat is one of those midwives. “I can already see that the need is huge,” Barkat told The New Humanitarian. To read more about this and the other overlapping crises impacting Lebanon, have a look at The New Humanitarian’s award-winning coverage.
On power imbalances and trips to ‘the field’
We’re often prone to rethinking humanitarianism (just look at our name, after all). In a similar vein, Oxfam’s Duncan Green has a thoughtful reflection of how his views on “field trips” have evolved over the years. You know the scene: a well-intentioned staffer from HQ visits a country office, heading to “the field” to see a project in action and to meet community members – perhaps even chatting with farmers under the shade of a tree. Often overlooked: the hours of time and energy country-level staff spend organising the visit; the unanswered questions about what purpose it serves. One significant change, Green says, is that Oxfam bigwigs can no longer “just rock up” and demand a trip; rather, they must be invited. He also reflects on the power imbalances behind those shaded-tree conversations – and his assumption that he could overcome them to have an open and meaningful conversation. “I no longer believe that – the power imbalances are just too deeply rooted,” Green writes. “That search for authenticity now looks like a bit of a vanity project, to be honest.”