Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Pledges for Horn of Africa drought ‘late’ and ‘insufficient’
The UN received pledges of $2.4 billion to help fund aid operations for some 32 million drought-affected people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia – well short of the $7 billion it had been seeking to avoid a “catastrophe”. A consortium of international aid groups expressed deep disappointment with the failure to fully fund “immediate and long-term needs” in a region that has faced five seasons of failed rains and earlier significant shortfalls in aid financing. Although famine was narrowly averted in Somalia last year, an estimated 43,000 people still died as a result of the drought, and five million people across the region were forced from their homes. Mercy Corps said in a statement it took the new pledges “with a grain of salt” as they were confirmations of existing financing commitments and remain “insufficient in light of the region's urgent and expanding needs”. The NGO consortium warned that if funds remain “unpredictable, insufficient, and come late each year”, the region will be trapped in a cycle of hunger and displacement.
Sudan’s broken ceasefires
It has been hard to keep up with all the ceasefire accords that Sudan’s warring generals have accepted and then quickly broken over the past month. The latest truce was supposed to take effect on 22 May, following talks in Saudi Arabia, but fighting has continued in Khartoum (albeit less intensely) and in the western Darfur region. More than 1.3 million people have now fled their homes, either to safer places in Sudan or across international borders. Hospitals have been bombed, markets have been burnt, and aid warehouses have been looted. The UN says it is trying to ramp up distributions of humanitarian relief but is being hindered by security issues and bureaucratic impediments. Aid supplies are reportedly stranded at the airports of neighbouring countries, while more than 100 trucks are backed up in the eastern city of Port Sudan, which has become the country’s new aid hub in lieu of besieged Khartoum.
Accountability for a Greek pushback caught on camera?
A video published by the New York Times showing Greek authorities forcibly removing a group of 12 asylum seekers from the island of Lesvos and abandoning them at sea has precipitated an outpouring of condemnation. The asylum seekers – including women and small children from Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia – were locked inside an unmarked van, placed on a speed boat, and transferred to a Greek Coast Guard ship before being left on a raft to drift. The Times later located the group in a migration detention centre on the Turkish coast. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson called the deportation – which violated Greek, EU, and international law – “absolutely unacceptable”; and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has ordered an investigation. However, journalists, human rights groups, and activists have been documenting deportations of this type from Greece since 2020. And Mitsotakis unapologetically touted his “tough but fair” migration policies as he campaigned for the country’s 21 May election. Human rights groups and others are understandably sceptical about whether a Greek probe into this and other pushbacks would be independent and effective. Despite being illegal – and widely documented – accountability for pushbacks has proven illusive.
Protesting for a better ‘peace’ in Tigray
The truce that brought Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict to an end last November may still be holding, but recent demonstrations in the northern region underscore just how hard life remains for the civilian population. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the two-year conflict, which pitted the Ethiopian government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The government imposed a punishing blockade during the war that included heavy restrictions on humanitarian aid. Though access has now improved for aid groups, demonstrators – who have taken to the streets of Tigray’s main towns – point out that vast numbers remain displaced, and that the outside military forces that supported Addis Ababa during the conflict remain in the region. Protesters are also calling for aid agencies to restart food distributions, which were suspended in Tigray last month following the discovery of widespread theft. Read our recent dispatch from Tigray for more on the region’s long road to recovery.
Changing the narrative around Latin America’s forcibly displaced
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean urgently need more support hosting forcibly displaced people, according to UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements, who was visiting Brazil and Panama. The region is home to around 20 million forcibly displaced people – roughly 20% of the global total – and surging gang violence is continuing to push hundreds of thousands from their homes. The majority remain in Caribbean and Latin American countries, but media coverage disproportionately fixates on those migrating toward the US-Mexico border. “This focus on northward movement neglects the experiences of people displaced within the region, ensuring we are overlooked,” Laura, a Colombian refugee living in Ecuador, wrote in a recent article for our Flipping the Narrative series. For more on how narratives about migration impact the resources available to support people seeking protection in Latin America, read Laura’s article here.
Power imbalances show up in aid worker abuse stats
A few letters and numbers keep popping up on the World Health Organization’s online dashboard tracking sexual misconduct investigations: P-5 and D-1. These are among the most senior job categories for international aid workers in the UN system, and they represent six of the 10 entries currently listed as perpetrators on the misconduct dashboard. In other words, the abuse cases the WHO is publicising largely involve very senior male staff, while female victims or survivors include interns, volunteers, and staff on lower grades. This power imbalance didn’t go unnoticed by the oversight committee that reviews WHO’s work in crises. “The [committee] is deeply concerned that the seniority of the perpetrators combined with a lack of swift disciplinary action is indicative of an ongoing culture of impunity,” the eight-person committee wrote in a wide-ranging report that went before the ongoing World Health Assembly – the WHO decision-making body that’s meeting in Geneva until 30 May.
In case you missed it
CHOLERA: Shortages of the vaccine used to treat cholera could last until the end of 2025, according to projections from Gavi, the global vaccine alliance. Climate change and conflict are among the factors that have driven a spike in outbreaks over the last two years, forcing doses to be rationed. Outbreaks of the preventable disease are also becoming deadlier.
COLOMBIA: President Gustavo Petro suspended his ceasefire with a dissident FARC rebel group after the killing of four Indigenous teenagers who had fled forced recruitment. On 24 May, the same group attacked a bus of police officers, leaving three people dead, one of them a civilian. The suspension represents only the latest setback to Petro’s “Total Peace” plan: In March, he ordered a return to military operations against the Clan del Golfo gang.
GLOBAL: A new coalition has been launched to boost access to life-saving medical oxygen in low- and middle-income countries. In addition to drastic healthcare inequalities – and vaccine hoarding by richer nations – the COVID-19 pandemic exposed chronic shortages of medical oxygen, which the Global Oxygen Alliance (GO2AL) now aims to remedy.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE: The last remaining members of the West Bank Palestinian community of Ein Samiya have left their homes, after being subjected to violence by Israeli settlers for years. Nearly 200 people had lived on the land near Ramallah, but a UN official said that settlement expansion and attacks, home demolitions, and the planned demolition of their school compelled them to evacuate.
LEBANON: The UN has announced that eligible Syrian refugees in Lebanon will soon be able to withdraw aid money in dollars, as well as local currency. Refugees have long said that receiving cash in the hyperinflated and fluctuating Lebanese lira makes it difficult to purchase their daily needs.
MENINGITIS: Successful trials in Africa of an effective and affordable vaccine have raised hopes for the elimination of a disease that kills 250,000 people a year. The NmCV-5 vaccine – developed by the Serum Institute of India, and the global health organisation Path – protects against Africa’s five main meningococcal strains.
RWANDAN GENOCIDE: Fulgence Kayishema, a former Rwandan police officer, has appeared in court in Cape Town, South Africa facing a raft of genocide charges linked to the massacre of 2,000 people sheltering in a church during the 1994 genocide in which up to one million people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered. After a manhunt lasting more than two decades, Kayishema, now 62-63, was picked up by police in nearby Paarl to answer a 2001 indictment from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
SLAVERY REPORT: An estimated 50 million people are living in modern slavery situations, according to the 2023 Global Slavery Index. Some 28 million people were estimated to be working in forced labour, and 22 million are living in a forced marriage – increases since the last report was written five years ago. North Korea, Eritrea, and Mauritania had the highest prevalence of modern slavery, according to the report.
SOMALIA: After four months of fighting for control of the northern Somali town of Las Anod between the Somaliland army and militias associated with the region’s Dhulbahante people, both sides are recruiting new fighters and doubling down on warlike rhetoric. To avoid the conflict spreading throughout the Sool region, the International Crisis Group has called for an immediate ceasefire and safe passage for humanitarian aid.
UKRAINE: Russia claims to have taken control of Bakhmut after months of gruelling fighting in the small but symbolically important Ukrainian city. Most of the fighting on the Russian side was carried out by the Wagner Group, a mercenary outfit with a global reputation for brutality and war crimes. The head of the Wagner group said more than 20,000 of his troops – which are now handing control over to the Russian military – died fighting in the city.
US ASYLUM: A programme launched to create a legal pathway for Cuban, Nicaraguan, Haitian, and Venezuelan asylum seekers to come to the United States is being overwhelmed by applications. Up to 30,000 people are able to enter through the programme each month, but more than 1.5 million applications have already been received – an average of 12,000 per day. The initiative is part of the Biden administration’s carrot and mostly stick approach to trying to curb migration at the US-Mexico border.
Tied for the strongest storm on record to form in the north Indian Ocean, Mocha tore through Myanmar’s western Rakhine state on 14-15 May, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. Getting accurate information about its impacts has been hard due to the lack of access during a civil war. Death tolls range from 152 to 463. Broader healthcare data from inside Myanmar is also sparse, as our weekend read underlines. What is clear is that the number of patients seeking treatment in neighbouring countries is on the rise. A doctor on the Thai border cautioned against blaming conflict entirely, but reports from multiple clinics suggest Myanmar’s battered healthcare system – repeatedly targeted by the military junta – is struggling to cope. Some patients are war-wounded, but most are suffering from ailments ranging from dengue and malaria to malnutrition and HIV – all thriving in makeshift jungle camps where there’s limited access to water and food.
Where is the humanitarian sector on AI?
The heads of some of the world’s most powerful governments are the latest to weigh in on artificial intelligence. In a joint communiqué issued at the end of May’s Group of Seven leaders’ summit, they promised to “advance discussions on inclusive artificial intelligence governance… to achieve our common vision and goal of trustworthy AI”. Others are wading into the water as well. Days earlier, the WHO called for “caution” in using AI in healthcare, warning that “rigorous oversight” was needed: “Precipitous adoption of untested systems could lead to errors by healthcare workers, cause harm to patients, erode trust in AI and thereby undermine (or delay) the potential long-term benefits and uses of such technologies.” Largely absent from the discussions so far: the humanitarian sector. AI’s humanitarian repercussions are a key concern for a handful of people who work in aid. But the big agencies and leaders that steer policy mostly haven’t dipped a toe in. With new AI tools rapidly emerging, and growing concern about how they’ll be used in crises, this may soon change.