Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Twelve months of war in Ukraine
One year ago today – on 24 February – Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The war has had a “near universal” impact on Ukrainians, according to an International Rescue Committee (IRC) survey. Nearly 18 million people need humanitarian assistance out of a pre-war population of around 42 million, and tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have likely been killed – although reliable estimates are hard to come by. More than eight million Ukrainians have been recorded as refugees across Europe, and almost 5.5 million are internally displaced. Fifty-eight percent of people surveyed by IRC said they are grappling with psychological trauma, stress, and anxiety. The ripple effects of the war are also being felt in humanitarian crises around the world – from food supply chain disruptions and increased inflation to the diversion of attention and aid resources. While Ukraine has rightfully been a focal point, other crises – from drought and conflict in the Horn of Africa to Haiti’s spiralling collapse – are often overlooked. Meanwhile, the humanitarian response in Ukraine is being led by local organisations, according to Refugees International, but these groups have received less than 1% of direct funding tracked by the UN. For more, read: One year on, Ukraine exposes the limits of well-funded international aid
CAR operation claims growing civilian toll
The Central African Republic’s armed forces have been redeploying across the country over the past two years as Russian mercenaries help them beat back a rebel coalition. But the operation is taking a major toll on civilians, according to a new UN report. It states that the army and its allies were responsible for 58% of human rights violations committed in the country in the last quarter of 2022, accounting for 70% of total victims. Russian forces obstructed the UN’s peacekeeping mission, inflicted “inhuman” treatment on civilians, and even subjected state authorities to torture. Rebel groups were responsible for the rest of the violations, attacking army and custom posts, and imprisoning national soldiers. New rebellion fears are, meanwhile, spreading in CAR’s mineral-rich northeast, with fighters stating their intention to overthrow the government of Faustin-Archange Touadéra. He is trying to change CAR’s constitution and seek a third presidential term, instead of standing down when his second ends in 2025.
20 years on, Darfur conflict flies under the radar
This Sunday, 26 February, marks the twentieth anniversary of what some consider to be the start of the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. Rebels (mostly from non-Arab groups) took up arms against the government of former president Omar al-Bashir, who they accused of neglect. Al-Bashir responded by subcontracting counterinsurgency operations to a local Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which was later accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Though all-out war has long passed, our recent reporting from Darfur shows that militias remain active, millions are still displaced, and new conflicts are emerging. Much of the recent violence has been tied to Sudan’s broader political upheaval that has seen a civilian-military government (supposed to guide the country to elections) upended by a coup. Military and civilian leaders are now sketching a new power-sharing deal, but the negotiations are opposed by a revolutionary street movement that wants no role for the military in politics.
What’s coming up at the Human Rights Council
Rights abuses collide with humanitarian emergencies across the globe, and that’s reflected on a packed agenda as a new session of the Human Rights Council gets underway in Geneva on 27 February. Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Ethiopia, North Korea, Ukraine, Venezuela, South Sudan, and earthquake-hit Syria are among countries slotted into the schedule for examination. China – and the repression of its Uyghur population and other minorities – is not, but it’s certain to be raised: Groups including the World Uyghur Congress want to see an international investigative body created to examine abuses. The intersection between rights and the climate crisis will also be in the spotlight, nearly a year after the council mandated a new expert, known as a special rapporteur, focused on climate change: Other watchdogs are tabling reports on women’s rights and housing rights, respectively, amid more volatile and extreme disasters fuelled by climate change. The rights imbalances behind COVID-19 vaccine inequity will also be interrogated as part of a report from the UN’s human rights chief, Volker Türk, who was appointed in September.
Looking longer-term on earthquake response
Two weeks after catastrophic earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria – as the death toll climbed towards 50,000 – another set of smaller quakes struck the region, killing at least eight more people and terrifying many survivors all over again. With the broader search and rescue efforts ending, the focus shifts towards getting aid to the millions who have lost their homes, jobs, and loved ones in the middle of winter. There has been strong criticism of how long it took for aid to get into northern Syria, as well as some parts of Türkiye. So far, that conversation has centred on the emergency supplies people desperately need: shelter, blankets, food, heaters, and medicine. But there are overlooked protection and mental health needs too. For many people, including Syrians in the diaspora, the extreme distress of the quakes has come on top of years of war trauma. Even with adequate psychosocial support, the compounded impacts of such extreme shocks will be hard for many people across the region to overcome. The New Humanitarian will be running a weekly view from the ground from a photographer in northwest Syria to keep the spotlight on recovery efforts. Check out the first of our Syria snapshots series below:
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In case you missed it
BRAZIL: At least 54 people have been killed and dozens more are still missing after landslides and flooding in São Paulo state that displaced more than 1,700. In recent years, Brazil has seen an increase in deadly floods linked to climate change, while the government has come under fire for not doing enough to prepare and reduce risks.
BULGARIA: Eighteen Afghan asylum seekers were found dead in an abandoned truck near the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on 17 February in the deadliest incident of its kind to-date in the country. Border crossings from Türkiye to Bulgaria have increased in the past year, and human rights groups have accused Bulgarian authorities of carrying out abuses against asylum seekers and migrants – including beating, robbing, stripping, and using police dogs to attack people before pushing them back to Türkiye.
BURKINA FASO: France has ended its operations in Burkina Faso a month after the junta there terminated a military accord that allowed its former colonial power to fight jihadists. French forces remain in the Sahel, however, and its defence minister just visited Côte d'Ivoire pledging to boost military support as jihadist attacks hit coastal West African states.
DROUGHT: The Horn of Africa is on course for an unprecedented sixth consecutive below-average rainy season, an East African climate body said this week. A statement by meteorological and humanitarian agencies called for a “no regrets” response to deal with the emergency, which has left 22 million people acutely food insecure.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Eleven Palestinians, including militants and several civilians, were killed by the Israeli military in a raid on the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on 22 February that injured hundreds of others. On the following day, rocket fire was launched from Gaza towards Israel, and Israel later responded with airstrikes on the occupied Palestinian territory.
NICARAGUA: Daniel Ortega´s regime stripped 94 more members of the opposition of their citizenship, including prominent writers, journalists, and human rights defenders. It follows a similar move earlier this month regarding 222 political prisoners who were released and sent to the United States.
PANDEMIC TREATY: Negotiations on a legally binding global agreement to better prepare for and prevent the next pandemic – and avoid the “catastrophic” inequity of the COVID-19 response – are set to begin on 27 February. The World Health Organization’s early draft proposes that it be allocated 20% of global supplies of vaccines, tests, and other pandemic-related tools.
SOMALIA: More than 60,000 Somalis have fled to Ethiopia after an escalation in fighting in the northeastern town of Las Anod, where tension between local people and the governing Somaliland authorities has boiled over. At least 82 people have died in the violence, which has included the shelling of Las Anod. The refugees are settling in the drought-hit Somali region of Ethiopia.
UK/SYRIA: A British court upheld the stripping of Shamima Begum’s UK citizenship, despite suggestions she was groomed and smuggled as a teenager to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State. The Special Appeals Immigration Commission rejected her appeal to keep her British citizenship. She will not be allowed to return to the UK and will remain in a Syrian detention camp. Human Rights Watch called the ruling “a dark stain on the UK justice system”. Begum was born in Britain to Bangladeshi parents.
YEMEN: Hunger monitor FEWS NET predicts that planned new customs duties from Yemen’s Houthi rebels will contribute to a rise in prices in food and other essential goods, contributing to ongoing “food consumption gaps” for millions of households in the coming months. More than half of Yemen’s 33 million people are food insecure, including 3.5 million who the UN says are acutely malnourished.
Editor’s take | What’s at stake in Nigeria’s high-risk elections
‘This election, more than most, is about the soul of the country.’
Elections don’t come much bigger than Saturday’s presidential contest in Nigeria: two traditional candidates vying to lead Africa’s most populous country but up against a younger pretender who’s ahead in the opinion polls and carrying the hopes and frustrations of many in one of the world’s youngest electorates. Who better to walk you through it all than The New Humanitarian’s Africa Editor, Obi Anyadike. Not only does he have Nigerian heritage, but he has been covering the country for decades and recently returned from a months-long reporting trip to its humanitarian hotspots. His part-namesake Peter Obi is the man trying to spring a surprise, but seasoned analysts aren’t convinced he will have broad enough support to claim victory over political “kingmaker” Bola Tinubu or former vice president Atiku Abubakar. Whoever wins, Anyadike surmises, the presidential in-tray is overflowing with crises, from the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast to rampant banditry in the northwest.
Should an Indigenous man in Australia get early pension based on lower life expectancy?
A landmark legal battle is playing out in Australia, and it’s one with implications for countries wrestling with their colonial pasts. Dennis James Fisher, a 65-year-old Waka Waka man, is fighting to get his pension three years early. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Indigenous men are expected to live for three years less than non-Indigenous men. For more than 100 years, policies that were meant to strengthen colonial rule in Australia also contributed to a lowered life expectancy for Indigenous people, even though Australia has taken recent steps to address such disparities in access to healthcare. Indigenous Australians also retire with 27% less savings as they go into retirement. Lawyers have argued that life expectancy – regardless of how colonialism may have impacted that – has never been a criterion to assess whether someone is eligible for a pension or not. A decision is expected in the coming months.