Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Tigray food aid suspended
The World Food Programme has suspended aid deliveries “until further notice” to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region following the discovery of the large-scale theft of relief food and its sale on local markets. USAID has also paused its funding of food assistance over the same issue. The concern over missing food – enough to feed 100,000 people – has centred on a warehouse in the Tigray city of Sheraro. Tigray’s new regional interim president, Getachew Reda, said he had discussed the “growing challenge” of aid diversion with WFP last month. According to USAID, “parties on both sides” of the two-year civil war have colluded to steal food through a “criminal network” established in the wake of last November’s ceasefire. The agency said both the federal government and Tigray’s interim administration have agreed to identify and hold accountable those responsible. Tigray is still facing “severe” food insecurity, despite improved humanitarian access.
As Title 42 ends, US sends troops to the Mexican border
President Joe Biden is temporarily deploying 1,500 soldiers to the US-Mexico border as the number of people crossing rises ahead of the end of a pandemic-era asylum restriction known as Title 42 on 11 May. The soldiers will perform administrative tasks, but critics say the move sends the message that migration is a threat. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants currently stranded in dire living conditions in northern Mexican border cities by US policies are growing increasingly desperate and frustrated. More than 15,000 people – mostly from Venezuela – crossed the border in the vicinity of Brownsville late last month, overwhelming shelter capacity. And in El Paso, Texas, nearly 2,000 people who recently crossed the border are sleeping on sidewalks in the city centre. The Biden administration has introduced a number of policies aimed at extending asylum restrictions at the border and curbing migration. It reached a deal with Mexico on 2 May that, for the first time, will allow the US to deport non-Mexicans who enter the country irregularly back across the border. For more on the situation at the border, read: A major US asylum restriction is ending. So why is the humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico getting worse?
Searching for cohesion: The UN response to Taliban bans on women
Incoherent, fractured, non-unified – that’s how a scathing letter penned by UN staff in Afghanistan describes their agencies’ response to the Taliban’s ban on Afghan women working for the global body. “The United Nations is sending the message to all its staff that female staff do not matter,” warns the letter (read our reporting on it here). At issue is how some aid groups are working with mostly men-only teams, seemingly flouting instructions for all Afghan staff to stay home during an “operational review period” set to expire 5 May. They don’t appear to be any more unified as this period comes to an end: Sources familiar with discussions say UN agencies continue to disagree – some pushing to (officially) fully resume operations, guarantees for female staff unclear. This mirrors the wider UN response to the Taliban’s growing crackdowns on women. Ahead of meetings of government envoys in Doha, the UN had to backtrack from disparate comments made by senior officials – one musing about leaving Afghanistan, another seemingly floating the idea of political recognition for the Taliban. UN Secretary-General António Guterres emerged from the Doha talks with a more cohesive message – a measure of progress, analysts noted, given that envoys from the United States, Russia, and China were in the room. What’s clear is all the turmoil – the Taliban’s rights violations against women, and the uneven responses to them – is hurting aid responses and donor appetites. As of 5 May, only 7.1% of the massive response plan for Afghanistan had been funded – one of the lowest totals for any of this year’s UN-backed appeals.
For more from Afghanistan, contributor Ali Latifi explains the context around the Doha talks:
Iran welcomes al-Assad back in from the cold
In the first official visit of an Iranian head of state to Syria since the Syrian civil war erupted in March 2011, Ebrahim Raisi met his presidential counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus on 3 May, reportedly congratulating him on his victory. Tehran and Damascus have long been allies, but the visit bears extra significance as some states in the region seek to normalise ties with al-Assad and his government. Talk of victory, however, shouldn’t disguise the fact that Syria’s war is not over. Al-Assad may have retaken most of the country, but various rebel and Kurdish groups still control much of northern Syria, while civilians are still being killed in shelling and other violence. Even before earthquakes decimated large parts of southern Türkiye and northern Syria three months ago, lingering conflict and a devastating economic crisis were driving rising hunger: Humanitarian needs were already at a record high. But amid other global crises – from Sudan to Ukraine – the UN-coordinated appeal for Syria in 2023 is only 8% funded. And food prices are still rising, making it even harder for aid groups to meet the growing and urgent needs of millions of people. For some related news, read our story on the trauma needs facing aid workers trying to help earthquake survivors.
Hunger rises, and its causes grow more complex
As noted above, war often drives hunger. So do weather extremes, worsened by climate change, that leave entire regions parched or inundated. But in a rising number of countries, economic shocks are the main cause of extreme food insecurity, according to a new report on global food crises released by a network of UN and government agencies. Some 258 million people face crisis levels of hunger in 58 countries, the report found, and economic shocks were the main cause in about half. The drivers of hunger are intertwined – the ripples from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are part of these shocks, after all. But it’s another sign of how macro-economic turbulence mixes in with conventional causes to make the aid response to today’s crises even more complex. What can those who try to help do to adjust? The report suggests some familiar solutions: better anticipation, prevention, social safety nets. But for the aid sector, shifting to early action is very much a work in progress.
What do Malians really think?
Mali’s military junta gets a pretty bad rap from international media and foreign governments. But the latest polling from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank, shows the Malian public is on a different page: 82% of Malians believe the general situation has improved over the past 12 months (even as security analysis states the opposite); and 91% have confidence in the junta’s Russian allies. The survey has some limitations, and communities on the sharp end of jihadist attacks and state neglect have certainly offered different perspectives in interviews with our reporters in recent months. Yet the polling adds to the findings of previous research that underscores just how at odds a lot of external opinion is with what Malians actually think. Understanding local support for the junta requires engaging with the failings of Mali’s previous (Western) partners and the unpopular leaders they backed, analysts argue. It also requires taking Sahelian views seriously, rather than framing them as the product of Russian disinformation.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Local reporters face not only the violence of the jihadist group al-Shabab, but also the intolerance of the authorities. To mark World Press Freedom Day, leading Somali journalist Abdalle Ahmed Mumin talks about his recent jailing, and the “judicial harassment” he has suffered for defending media rights. Look out soon for Mumin’s first person account for The New Humanitarian, unpacking the links between press freedom and Somalia’s humanitarian crisis.
In case you missed it
COVID-19: The World Health Organization declared an end to its highest alert level for COVID-19, known as a “public health emergency of international concern”, meaning governments must shift from treating COVID-19 as an emergency to managing it as an infectious disease. However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it remains a threat: “This virus is here to stay. It is still killing, and it’s still changing.”
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: The resignation of its commander dealt another blow to a regional military intervention in eastern Congo. General Jeff Nyagah, a Kenyan, said he felt his security was under threat, and that the mission of the East African force was being frustrated. For more, read The New Humanitarian’s reporting on the mission’s local unpopularity.
HAITI: Vigilante killings are on the rise in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has been gripped by unprecedented levels of gang violence. Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for the deployment of an international force to help quell the violence and respond to growing humanitarian needs, saying the country is “dangling over an abyss”.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE: The death of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan in an Israeli jail on 2 May after an 87-day hunger strike sparked a night of rocket fire from militant groups in Gaza towards Israel, and Israeli airstrikes on the besieged Palestinian enclave. A ceasefire was announced early the following morning.
MEDITERRANEAN MIGRATION: More than 200 dead bodies from migration shipwrecks have washed ashore in Tunisia in the past two weeks, overwhelming morgues and hospitals. More than 24,000 asylum seekers and migrants have departed from the North African country en route to Europe so far this year. Many are sub-Saharan Africans escaping rising xenophobia in Tunisia, which is struggling with economic and political crises.
PAKISTAN: Soaring food prices in Pakistan have pushed inflation to 36.4%, the highest rate in nearly six decades and the fastest rate in Asia. While the country has faced a “major” food crisis since 2017, record inflation amid an economic crisis has pushed millions more into near-famine levels of hunger with deadly results.
RUSSIA/UKRAINE: On 3 May, Russia released video footage allegedly showing two drones being shot down over the Kremlin, accusing Ukraine of sending them in an attempt to assassinate president Vladimir Putin in his official residence in Moscow. A Kremlin spokesperson later claimed the United States was behind the attack. The incident is raising tensions in Russia’s more than year-long war ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.
RWANDA: Flooding and landslides have killed at least 130 people in Rwanda after heavy rains on 2 May pounded northern and western provinces. Much of the flooding occurred at night, when people were sleeping, which contributed to the high death toll, with many people buried under their collapsed homes.
YEMEN: Heavy rainfall caused flooding and dam collapses, killing four people in the province of al-Mahwit, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warning of more bad weather on the way. Displaced people who were hit by floods in the central province of Yemen last August are now some of the hungriest in the country.
There are no firm figures for how many people are currently leaving Sudan, but the UN expects close to a million will flee the fighting to neighbouring states. That kind of displacement requires a coordinated and humane response, but the obstacles facing civilians on the move who spoke to reporters for our weekend read suggests the outlook is bleak. Egypt is demanding visas from Sudanese men of a certain age, and taking days to process people; Darfuris crossing into Chad are sleeping out in the open; and South Sudanese returnees are stuck in an ill-equipped border town with little aid. Countries further afield, like the UK, have also made it clear that Sudanese refugees will not be welcome. The harsh treatment stands in sharp contrast to the solidarity Sudanese have shown to each other, opening up their homes to displaced people, and coordinating evacuations and emergency relief. Still, millions remain trapped by fighting in Khartoum and beyond as ceasefire pledges prove empty. For more on conditions in the capital, read these two personal accounts, and to better understand Sudanese perspectives on the conflict, make time for these interviews with new arrivals in Egypt.
Amnesty slammed for using AI imagery
Amnesty International has removed images – depicting police brutality in Colombia – from social media following criticism over the fact that they were generated by artificial intelligence (AI). The rights group was using the images to promote its reports on abuses against protesters during Colombia’s 2021 national strike, in which security forces killed at least 38 civilians and gang-raped women. Critics pointed out that the AI-generated images contained inaccuracies that detract from Amnesty’s credibility, but one protester who lost an eye during the protests said it made sense to avoid using real photos that could reveal protesters’ identities to the authorities.