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Debt and the grain deal, Kenya’s neglected drought, and a slavery reparations push: 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 

The link between debt, the grain deal, and crisis response

It’s not often that the heads of UN agencies weigh in on a G20 finance ministers’ summit. But that’s what happens when a debt crisis threatens countries mired in humanitarian emergencies – and when the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal risks further destabilising food prices. Group of 20 finance ministers failed to reach a consensus on debt restructuring during 17-18 July meetings in India. The head of the UN’s development programme, UNDP, called it a “grave concern”. The World Health Organization’s chief warned that debt is locking low-income countries “in a cycle of poverty”. A recent UN analysis found many low-income countries spend more on interest payments than they do on social support and healthcare. Russia’s pullout out of the deal guaranteeing safe passage for grain shipments across the Black Sea could also add to debt burdens if food import costs – already at an all-time high – soar. The agreement was credited with easing the pressure on global food stocks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And it has allowed the World Food Programme to transport 725,000 tonnes of wheat used in responses from Afghanistan to Yemen.

 

Major emitters talk climate solutions as extreme heat soars

Searing heat in large parts of the northern hemisphere is affecting much more than tourists’ travel plans. The World Meteorological Organization says the extreme weather “is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy, and water supplies”, while underscoring the need for heatwave early warning systems. Temperatures have reached potentially record heights in parts of the southern US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa. Climate change and the climate phenomenon known as El Niño are the main drivers of the prolonged heat waves, which can be life-threatening, especially for unhoused people, the elderly, babies, or those living in buildings that are not built to provide protection from high temperatures. In Texas, at least nine prison inmates have reportedly died from heart attacks during the heatwave, and wildfires have been raging in parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Greece. In China, where one township in Xinjiang region recorded a new high of 52.2 degrees Celsius, three days of talks between Beijing and the US – the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters – ended without signs of a breakthrough on battling the climate crisis. 

 

Two emergencies in Kenya; two different responses

An aid worker once asked: “Starve the city people and they riot; starve the rural people and they die… [W]hich would you choose?” The answer has been evident in the response to events in Kenya, which has witnessed mostly urban protests over rising food prices. The demonstrations – and the brutal response from the state, which has killed at least 30 people since March, according to Amnesty International – have caused much angst both within the country and among Western envoys. However, this is in sharp contrast to the response to the drought emergency unfolding in much of the arid and semi-arid rural north of the country. The UN says 5.4 million people need urgent food aid following five consecutive seasons of drought. Despite this, the issue is not a staple of local politics, and only a quarter of the $450-million appeal to fund the country’s drought response plan has been raised.

 

‘Shameful’ assault draws condemnation, but unrest continues in northeast India

Breaking more than two months of silence, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed ongoing unrest in the northeastern state of Manipur after video appearing to show the sexual abuse of two women spread on social media. In a 20 July statement, Modi condemned the alleged assault as “shameful”. The video reportedly showed two women being paraded naked on the streets. The rebuke, made during a visit to parliament, marks the first time Modi has publicly addressed the unrest and violence in Manipur, which has led to the deaths of at least 125 people and displaced more than 50,000 since May. The unrest was sparked by a Supreme Court ruling that would extend economic benefits and quotas in government jobs and education meant for the tribal Kuki people, who are mostly Christian, to the mostly Hindu Meitei, who form the dominant ethnic community in Manipur.

 

EU and Tunisia ink migration deal as abuses against asylum seekers and migrants continue

The EU will send more than 100 million euros to Tunisia to try to curb migration across the Mediterranean under a new “strategic partnership” agreement signed on 16 July. Conditions for Black African asylum seekers and migrants have deteriorated significantly in the North African country following a February speech by President Kaïs Saïed, which was widely condemned as racist, sparked months of violence and discrimination – as well as an increase in people departing from Tunisia for Europe. The violence reached a peak in early July in the coastal city of Sfax when groups of residents attacked Black Africans, and security forces expelled hundreds to Tunisia’s desert borders with Libya and Algeria. The situation did not deter the EU from signing an agreement that will help Tunisia strengthen its border controls. The agreement – worth around 1 billion euros overall – also aims to provide support to Tunisia’s staggering economy. Rights groups said it makes the EU complicit in abuses against asylum seekers and migrants. Read our recent op-ed: The EU is actually fuelling migration from Tunisia, not stopping it

 

New violence in northwest Cameroon as peace efforts stall

Ten civilians were killed by gunmen in one of Cameroon’s two restive anglophone regions, where armed groups have been demanding independence from the majority French-speaking country. Separatists denied responsibility for the 16 July attack in the city of Bamenda, though a witness said the assailants accused people of failing to support the rebel cause. Over 6,000 people have been killed and 700,000 displaced since the conflict began in 2017 following a government crackdown on anglophone protests. Earlier this month, Amnesty International published a report detailing killings, rapes, and torture by defence and security forces, armed separatists, and local militias. The report described separatists strengthening their arsenal of weapons, and said military forces have ramped up their presence in anglophone regions. Meanwhile, peace efforts including a recent Canadian-led initiative have stalled as a lucrative war economy reduces the incentive to find a negotiated settlement. 

 

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In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: The Islamic Emirate government in Afghanistan has announced that women will not be able to take part in this year’s university entrance exams, Tolo News reported. The prohibition comes months after the Taliban-run government announced that women would no longer be allowed to attend university

 

AI: Humanitarian and peacekeeping operations are the targets of cyberattacks enabled by artificial intelligence technology, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned during the Security Council’s first debate on AI. Guterres is calling for countries to regulate AI, and for global talks to develop norms around the military use of AI.

 

COLOMBIA: Landslides caused by heavy rainfall killed 20 people, including five minors, and left six more missing in the rural municipality of Quetame, southeast of Bogotá. Bad weather is complicating the search for survivors, and the National Federation of Merchants reported that the regional economy is losing $12.5 million a day due to road closures.

 

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: The murder of opposition politician Chérubin Okende has heightened tensions ahead of national elections scheduled for December. Okende was the spokesperson for the party of opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, who has criticised the election preparation process. Katumbi called Okende’s killing a “political assassination”. 

 

GUATEMALA: A progressive candidate running on an anti-corruption campaign, Bernardo Arévalo, made it to the second round of Guatemala’s presidential elections only to see his political party nearly suspended, sparking July street protests over the country’s deteriorating state of democracy and growing corruption. Guatemala’s highest court has since repealed the request for the party’s suspension, made by the government’s Public Ministry. The prosecutor behind the accusations that led to the party’s near-suspension was Rafael Curruchiche, who faces US sanctions for allegedly disrupting corruption cases against government officials.

 

FOOD CUTS: At least 100,000 fewer people will receive food aid in Haiti after the World Food Programme slashed aid, citing funding shortfalls. It’s the latest cut to emergency food assistance around the globe. The agency will also reduce cash assistance to 119,000 Syrians in Jordanian camps. Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh have gone through multiple rounds of food ration cuts.

 

IRAQ: Iraq’s parliament has reintroduced draft laws that rights groups say would “severely curtail the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” This comes during a crackdown on social media, which has seen several people sentenced to prison for posts seen as “indecent” or “immoral”.

 

THE PHILIPPINES: The International Criminal Court has told the Philippine government that it can no longer appeal an investigation into former President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which reportedly led to the deaths of at least 6,000 people. In a 18 July decision, appeals court judges rejected a bid to block an ICC investigation, which had been suspended since November 2021 after the government pledged to launch its own probe. A renewed ICC investigation could probe murders and other crimes that took place between 2011 and 2019 linked to Duterte’s drug war, which often included extrajudicial killings of accused offenders in the country’s poorest areas. 

 

SYRIA: The controversy over UN cross-border aid from Türkiye to northwest Syria continues. After the Security Council failed to renew a resolution that lets the UN deliver aid through one border crossing without the permission of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Damascus said it would allow aid in, with conditions. The UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, reportedly considers these conditions unacceptable. The UN General Assembly discussed the topic this week, and aid groups are still quietly figuring out what to do next. 

 

UNITED KINGDOM: A controversial migration bill was voted into law on 17 July, giving the UK home secretary the power to detain and remove anyone entering the country without authorisation. UNHCR released a strongly worded statement saying the bill “eliminates access to asylum for anyone who arrives ‘irregularly’ in the UK”. Meanwhile, a floating barge that will be used to detain up to 500 asylum seekers also arrived in the UK.

 

Weekend read

How to fix Haiti’s ‘house on fire’

International support for better policing, more government accountability, and a crackdown on weapons being smuggled to gangs from the United States and other countries: Those are some of the steps that can be taken right now to start fixing Haiti’s spiralling humanitarian crisis, according to the UN’s expert on human rights in Haiti, William O’Neill. Gangs have taken increasing control of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, since the killing of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, leading to widespread kidnappings, rapes, gender-based violence, and killings. National institutions have stopped functioning, many schools, police stations, courts, and health centres have closed, and violence is hindering humanitarian aid efforts. But, in his conversation with The New Humanitarian, O’Neill explains why he believes the situation in the country is not yet “hopeless”.

 

And finally…

Caribbean bloc may turn to the UN’s top court for slavery reparations push

Europe’s history in the trans-Atlantic trade of enslaved people is now on the political agenda. A bloc of Caribbean and Latin American countries may turn to the UN’s top court to speed up discussions on a missing link: reparative justice. Slavery was “abhorrent”, “organised”, and caused “untold suffering”, government leaders said as part of a negotiated text that concluded a summit between heads of state from the 32-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union. Missing from the 41-paragraph declaration was a commitment to reparations. CELAC may turn to the International Court of Justice, normally used to settle disputes between nations, to seek a legal opinion on the issue, said Ralph Gonsalves, who heads CELAC and is the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. An ICJ “advisory opinion” would not be legally binding, but it could add pressure on European countries in future discussions. It’s a lever other nations are testing out: Vanuatu led a successful push to bring climate change before the ICJ.

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