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Vanuatu storms, Dalit voices, and an arts rebirth in Mogadishu: 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

Baby steps on loss and damage

The big news out of last November’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt was a fledgling agreement to create a “loss and damage” fund to help the countries facing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Parties agreed to come to the next COP – 30 November to 12 December in Dubai – with a plan for how the fund will work. So far, its coffers are empty and details are thin. But on 6 March in Dhaka, two environmental groups launched an initiative – the Alliance for Locally Led Approaches for Transformative Action on Loss and Damage (ALL ACT on LnD) – to help drive the conversation forward, with the backing of The Alliance of Small Island States. Twin Category 4 cyclones that hit Vanuatu earlier this month offer a stark reminder of why these states are such outspoken advocates for climate justice. The storms received little media attention, yet more than 80% of the population was impacted, and recovery estimates sit near $50 million. While negotiators are soon to begin discussing the modalities of how loss and damage funding might work in the future, it’s cold comfort for those already suffering the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis today.

 

Police, women in the crosshairs of Haiti’s spiralling violence

Haiti has been gripped by a new spike of gang violence, which has hit policemen, women, and girls particularly hard. In recent days, at least 60 people – including a police officer and his daughter – have been killed and 50 others kidnapped. According to a new UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, the risk of further instability is growing as armed groups traffic increasingly sophisticated high-calibre firearms and ammunition into the country. Haiti’s “porous border”, and the fact that its underfinanced national police is overwhelmed, are also contributing to the problem, according to UNODC. At an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing this week on gender-based violence, a lawyer working in the Grand´Anse department gave his account of the scale of the problem: In his region alone, 149 women were raped in 2022 (89% of them minors between the ages of 3 and 17). A representative of Haiti´s Ministry of Justice and Public Security told the commission that the authorities provided health services to nearly 11,700 victims of rape between 2020 and 2022, but local NGOs disputed there had been any such government assistance. In another worrying sign of the escalation of violence, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) temporarily closed its hospital in the Port-au-Prince shantytown of Cité Soleil this week, saying it could no longer protect patients or staff. For more on a possible path forward, read our Q&A with Haitian democracy activist Monique Clesca.

 

Breaking the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty 

As world leaders gathered in Doha this week to discuss how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, experts warned of “a tidal wave” of hunger and poverty due to spiralling debt levels in low- and middle-income countries. The highest global public debt in almost 60 years is threatening countries’ ability to feed their populations, said the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) in a new report. Unsustainable and inequitable food systems are partly responsible, it said, detailing how they force poorer nations to rely on food imports, allowing power to consolidate among a handful of corporations and contributing to climate change – which in turn devastates harvests through droughts and floods. Among other things, the report called for debt relief, funds to build climate-resilient food systems, and reforming decision-making in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – accused of undermining the capacity of developing countries to meet their domestic food needs. For more, check out our Emerging hunger hotspots series. 

 

Dalit news outlet in India gains momentum, giving ‘voice to the voiceless’

Meena Kotwal had a vision: to lead a news outlet that focused on India’s Dalit and other marginalised groups. Since then, the audience of The Mooknayak has grown to nearly 50,000 visitors a month. Its 11-member staff and operations are funded by reader donations and grants. The outlet’s name, which is the same as a biweekly newspaper founded more than a century ago, means “the leader of the voiceless”. Already, the publication is having an impact. Before, discrimination against the country’s nearly 300 million Dalits – 20% of India’s population – went largely unaddressed in a hierarchical caste system whereby 100 million Dalits still live in poverty, according to UN data. “That’s the impact of giving voice to the voiceless,” Kotwal has said. Although the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has drawn a larger share of the Dalit vote, Kotwal and other Dalits have challenged the longstanding Hindu social order that has relegated Dalits to society's lowest rungs. Kotwal recently interviewed Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker and member of the Gandhi political dynasty who is challenging Modi in next year’s election, and who has spoken out in support for Dalit rights.

 

What does inter-communal violence really mean?

Read a report about violence in South Sudan or clashes in Nigeria, and you’re likely to come across the phrase “inter-communal violence”. It's a catch-all term usually deployed to describe incidents of local or subnational conflict. But how useful is it? Not very, according to the author of a newly published academic paper. The author, Daniel Christopher Watson, traces the origins of the term to the writings of British imperialists in India. He then argues that so-called communal conflicts frequently involve political, military, and rebel elites, and that the groups involved are connected to wider political, social, and economic structures. One example put forward is the case of South Sudan’s northern Warrap state. While aid groups have blamed violence there on communal cattle raiding, Watson argues that it has characteristics of an elite proxy war. For more on that, check out our recent report from Warrap, and our analysis on the broader nature of violence in South Sudan.

 

Upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian unrest, as judicial reform protests simmer

Hamas has claimed responsibility for a 9 March attack in Tel Aviv that injured three people – an incident that came at the end of a day of mass demonstrations against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ultra-right government to overhaul Israel’s legal system – plans critics say pave the way for authoritarianism. A group of elite Israeli fighter pilots said they would not show up to training in a show of protest against the reforms (although they later decided to attend), and other key reservists have said they will refuse to perform some duties. Earlier in the day, the Israeli military killed three fighters from the Islamic Jihad group in a raid in the occupied West Bank. Such raids are increasingly deadly and near-daily; earlier in the week, the army killed six Palestinians in Jenin. Among the dead was said to be a man who killed two Israeli brothers late last month as they were driving through the West Bank town of Huwara. After those killings, Israeli settlers rampaged through Huwara, setting houses and cars on fire. The flashpoint border with Gaza has remained relatively calm throughout this escalation in violence, although it’s not clear how long that will last. Around two million people live in the occupied territory and, as Maha Hussaini explains in this new video, many have still not managed to rebuild since the last war.

 

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In case you missed it

BANGLADESH: A massive fire broke out in Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on 5 March, destroying 2,000 homes and displacing some 12,000 people. More than 635,000 Rohingya refugees live in the tightly packed Kutupalong-Balukhali camps, which have seen at least three massive fires in two years, due in part to overcrowding and inadequate planning.

 

BRITAIN: A proposed law aimed at stopping asylum seekers and migrants from reaching the UK by crossing the English Channel is drawing sharp rebuke from the UN’s refugee agency, opposition politicians, rights groups, and even the EU. Introduced on 7 March, the law would mandate the deportation of asylum seekers who reach the UK irregularly, ban them from returning to the country, and prohibit them from applying for UK citizenship. It follows several years of increasingly hardline policies from the right-wing Conservative government. 

 

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Fighting between the M23 armed group and the Congolese army continues despite a regional ceasefire deal. More than 600,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, which began in late 2021. Several other regional peace initiatives have failed to break the impasse, while the arrival of an East African military force has changed little on the ground.

 

GEORGIA: Georgia’s ruling party withdrew a bill on 9 March that would have required media outlets and NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if more than 20% of their funding comes from abroad. Thousands of protesters had taken to the streets to oppose the bill, and EU officials condemned it as incompatible with EU values. Many critics compared the bill to a similar 2012 Russian law. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who opposed the bill but ultimately could not have blocked it, congratulated the protesters on their “first victory”.

 

INDONESIA: More than 30 people were killed by landslides on 6 March on Indonesia’s Serasan island and another 22 remain missing. Torrential rains lashed the remote island, hampering rescue efforts, while treatment for the severely injured has required a 300-kilometre sea journey to a Borneo hospital. 

 

MALNUTRITION: Since 2020, the number of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from acute malnutrition has jumped by 25% across 12 countries in Africa and Asia, partly because of the Russia-Ukraine war and drought, according to UNICEF. More than 1 billion adolescent girls and women in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen are also suffering from undernutrition.

 

MOZAMBIQUE-CYCLONE: Cyclone Freddy is due to hit Mozambique again this weekend – the second time in a month. The cyclone, which has already battered Madagascar twice, is set to become the longest-lasting storm on record. It kills each time it makes landfall, and has displaced thousands. Freddy has been spinning over the Indian Ocean for more than 30 days.

 

MYANMAR: The Myanmar military tortured and killed at least 17 civilians in Sagaing Region earlier this month, after beheading and dismembering five resistance fighters. A UN rights office report issued on 3 March found that some 80% of townships across Myanmar had experienced armed clashes since the February 2021 coup, with nearly 3,000 people killed by security forces and almost 40,000 homes destroyed. 

 

SYRIA: The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have announced the start of a cholera vaccination campaign in rebel-held northwest Syria. An 8 March statement said 1.7 million doses of the vaccine would be distributed in areas “most severely impacted by the earthquake and at highest risk of cholera”.

 

UKRAINE: Early in the morning of 9 March, Russia unleashed one of the largest bombardments of Ukraine in weeks, targeting energy infrastructure and striking residential buildings across the country. Forty percent of people in the capital Kyiv were without heating following the attack, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was forced to rely on back-up diesel generators, prompting a warning from the UN. For more, read our latest reporting on the dire humanitarian situation facing Ukrainians one year after Russia launched its invasion. 

 

Weekend read

 

EXCLUSIVE: WHO sex abuse victims say help is too little too late

In September 2021, a year after The New Humanitarian broke one of the largest known UN sex abuse scandals, WHO promised far-reaching reforms and assistance to more than 100 victims. But how meaningful are those measures if senior WHO managers are allowed back to work after allegedly failing to report sexual misconduct, and if the assistance is too little for victims to rebuild their lives? The New Humanitarian published two more investigations this week, featuring nearly two dozen victims talking about how their lives have changed (or not) since the scandal, which occurred during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some reported receiving $250 payments, toiletry bundles, three-hour training courses, and counselling. Others said they hadn’t received anything. Several said they were struggling to raise children born out of the abuse. The reporting also turned up 34 new allegations. Last week, WHO announced a new policy aimed at addressing “gaps, loopholes, and lack of clarity” in its procedures for preventing and responding to sexual abuse and exploitation. Its senior managers were apparently allowed back to work thanks to such a loophole. By contrast, WHO just fired Takeshi Kasai, its top official in the Western Pacific, after dozens of staff members accused him of racist, abusive, and unethical behaviour. As Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics, told The Associated Press: “What we need now is consistency in how WHO applies the rules on abuse.”

 

And finally…

Mogadishu’s renaissance

A new 10-part drama series begins broadcasting this month on Somali TV – the first show shot in Mogadishu since the start of civil war in 1999. “Arday” chronicles the lives of high school students, and represents part of a wider rebirth of the city’s arts scene – in defiance of conservative clerics, and more violent criticism by the jihadist group al-Shabab. Written and directed by filmmaker Ahmed Farah, each episode revolves around problems confronting Somali youths: gangs, drugs, and bombs, but also family tensions and relationships. Among the cast is a youthful Cabdalla “Rasaas” Mohamed, Mogadishu’s leading rapper. Despite the disapproval of many older Somalis, rap is a hugely popular genre that young people have turned to to tell their truth. Yet Mogadishu’s expanding cultural renaissance has also seen a revival of the old, as people rediscover the classic vintage ballads of times gone by. This reconnection with the past will probably exclude the afros, bell-bottoms, and uncovered hair of women on the iconic album covers. Yet the songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s offer a poignant reminder of pre-war Somalia and a nightclub-heavy “swinging Mogadishu”.

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