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Sudan aid neutrality, El Niño, and a deadly Syria strike: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

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Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

Aid neutrality under threat in Sudan

Two investigations have been published that highlight threats to aid impartiality in Sudan. In one, a group of reporters allege that a handful of embassies, humanitarian, and development NGOs have been using a security company owned by the brother of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as ‘Hemedti’, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the paramilitary group battling the Sudanese army. Most organisations said they weren’t aware that the company had ties to the RSF, though some were. The RSF and the army have both entrenched themselves in Sudan’s economy, running hundreds of companies that aid agencies have a tough time navigating. In the second investigation, the New York Times reports that the United Arab Emirates is supplying weapons to the RSF via a hospital in Chad. The UAE claims it set up the clinic, which is next to an airfield, to treat Darfuri refugees. Aid groups said supporting armed actors under the guise of a humanitarian mission jeopardises the legitimacy of all relief agencies and endangers genuine humanitarian workers. 

A deadly drone attack amid uptick in Syria strikes

The past few days have seen a major escalation of violence across northern Syria, putting civilians in the line of fire once again. On 5 October, drones bombed a graduation ceremony at a Syrian government military college in Homs, killing at least 80 people (some figures are higher, at more than 100). There was no claim of responsibility for the attack. Government forces reportedly began shelling villages in rebel-held northwest Syria soon after the bombing, although there had been an uptick in these attacks even before the incident in Homs. On the same day, Turkish airstrikes in Kurdish-run northeast Syria killed at least 11 people, the latest in a series of retaliations after the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) said it was behind a recent suicide bombing in Ankara. A statement from a group of NGOs working in the region says the strikes have caused major damage to “critical civilian infrastructure”, left many people without water, and warned that “any increase in hostilities will negatively impact the delivery of humanitarian aid in northeast Syria”. 

As peacekeepers depart, Mali’s junta battles northern rebels

Mali’s army is advancing in a large column towards the strongholds of a coalition of predominantly Tuareg armed groups in the country’s north, signalling an intensification of the conflict that erupted in August. Fighting has been reported close to the town of Anefis, which is around 110 kilometres from Kidal, the main base of the rebels. The former separatist groups signed a peace agreement with Malian authorities in 2015, but relations soured under the current junta-led government, which views armed group control over northern territory as undermining state sovereignty. Tensions escalated after the junta demanded the withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping mission and its forces started taking over blue helmet bases in northern areas that the armed groups (which don’t represent all Tuareg communities) say are under their control. The military convoy is now reportedly seeking to take over former peacekeeper camps in Kidal, Aguelhok, and Tessalit, risking further conflict. Check out our briefing on the situation for more.

Lessons not learned, 10 years after the 3 October Lampedusa shipwreck

Ten years ago, on 3 October 2013, a deadly shipwreck off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa claimed the lives of 368 people – mostly Eritrean refugees – and put the issue of migration-related deaths in the Mediterranean on the global radar. Following the shipwreck, the testimony of survivors and images of hundreds of coffins lined up in a hangar on Lampedusa provoked an outpouring of sympathy from European leaders and calls for action to end the deaths. Yet since then, more than 28,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe, including more than 2,500 already this year. The EU and its member states have progressively turned their backs on rescuing asylum seeker lives at sea, pushing people back from their borders with impunity, and criminalising the rescue and aid efforts of volunteers and NGOs. Just this week, EU countries agreed to a new approach on managing sudden increases in the number of asylum seekers and migrants reaching the bloc that human rights groups say allows for a “second-rate” asylum process and increased detention at EU borders. 

Is the Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh final? 

Out of a population of around 120,000, as few as 50 to 1,000 ethnic Armenians may remain in Nagorno-Karabakh, a visiting UN mission was told this week. More than 100,000 Armenians have fled to Armenia after Azerbaijani forces seized control of the contested territory following a rapid military offensive on 19 September. Armenian authorities and NGOs are scrambling to provide for the needs of the displaced, many of whom have no relatives in Armenia and nowhere to go. Despite being inside the borders of Azerbaijan, Armenians had controlled the enclave and ran it as an unrecognised but de facto independent republic since 1991. Azerbaijan’s government has released a plan for the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population, promising to respect their rights, culture, and freedom of religion. But after three decades of conflict, there isn’t much trust or appetite to return among those who have fled. “There is this feeling that this time the relocation is permanent,” Shoushan Keshishian, the CEO of Hub Artsakh, an NGO that had been based in Nagorno-Karabakh, told The New Humanitarian contributor Astrig Agopian. Read Agopian’s full report for us from Armenia’s capital Yerevan and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border here.

El Niño’s food fallout

El Niño will drive food aid needs even higher in the coming months, a new analysis warns. The prediction comes as food aid agencies are already making rations cuts amid a budget squeeze. In July, meteorologists declared the onset of El Niño, a periodic climate phenomenon that usually brings drought to large stretches of the globe and wetter weather elsewhere. The analysis by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network says that humanitarians must prepare for “high food assistance needs”. Another climate phenomenon, the Indian Ocean Dipole, could amplify El Niño’s effects – and yes, there’s also the climate crisis. This September was the hottest ever recorded. “The temperature anomalies are enormous – far bigger than anything we have ever seen in the past,” Petteri Taalas, head of the UN’s meteorological agency, the WMO, said in a press release. What are humanitarians to do with such daunting news? Anticipate and prepare. ACAPS, the Geneva-based analysis outfit, says Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mozambique, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, and Sudan may be the countries at the highest risk.

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In case you missed it

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege has announced his candidacy for presidential elections due to be held in December. Mukwege is a gynaecologist renowned for helping survivors of sexual violence in DRC.

ECUADOR: A quietly made deal will allow US troops to operate in Ecuador and off the country’s coast to fight drug cartels, according to The Washington Examiner. Ecuador is desperate to quell an unprecedented wave of violence, which has included the assassination of a presidential candidate. For more, read our story about how drug cartels and gangs are increasingly controlling the country.

ETHIOPIA: The mandate of UN investigators documenting atrocities committed during the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the formerly ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front is set to expire on 13 October. Despite a ceasefire signed in November 2022, the investigators warned in a report released on 3 October that they were “gravely concerned” about the potential for future atrocities.

HAITI: A year after the de facto government asked for help to combat the gangs, the UN Security Council approved the deployment of a Kenya-led multinational force. The mission will initially last one year, and a dozen countries are expected to be involved. The intervention has raised some fears that it could do more harm than good. Read our analysis and Q&A to understand why.

INDIA: Flash floods have killed at least 14 people – with more than 100 others still missing – in Northeastern India. Authorities in the state of Sikkim say that heavy rainfall caused a glacial lake to burst on Wednesday, leading to the flash floods. Experts say rising global temperatures, including the record heat in India recently, are leading to more glacial melting

MALARIA: A new malaria vaccine aimed at children is set to be distributed in 18 countries. Developed by the University of Oxford, the vaccine is only the second of its kind. Although it won’t fully protect those who get it, its development is being hailed as a breakthrough. The Serum Institute in India has agreed to make 100 million doses, with production set to double the following year, and the price will be lower than the existing vaccine.

MEXICO: Mexico is on alert due to an outbreak of dengue fever. Since the beginning of the year, more than 23,200 cases were registered, compared to 5,600 over the same period last year. Dengue is spreading to new areas globally due to the warming climate and increased movements of people. For more, read our report from Peru.

PAKISTAN: The caretaker government of Pakistan has announced that it plans to expel more than one million “illegal” immigrants from the country in November. Islamabad insists the order will apply to all undocumented immigrants, but rights groups and Afghanistan’s Taliban government see it as a direct threat to 1.7 million Afghans currently in the country without documentation. 

PEACEBUILDING: Donor money available for peacebuilding efforts and conflict prevention in fragile areas is at a 15-year low, according to new numbers from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The decline in funding comes as needs for peacebuilding efforts are growing, the OECD report said. 

UKRAINE: At least 51 people have been killed in a Russian missile strike that slammed into a cafe and grocery store in the northeastern village of Hroza in the Kharki region of Ukraine. The civilian death toll is one of the highest in a single strike in the now 19-month war. Around 330 people were living in Hroza, which is close to the current front line. 

UNITED STATES: The administration of US President Joe Biden has waved more than 20 laws – including environmental protections – to build more sections of wall along the US-Mexico border amid record high numbers of asylum seekers and migrants crossing the frontier. When Biden took office in 2021, he pledged, “no more American taxpayer dollars [would] be diverted to construct a border wall”. The US also announced it will resume deportation flights to Venezuela.

Weekend read

Q&A: Tracking down Libya’s post-flood missing

The days and weeks following Libya’s catastrophic flooding were chaotic and confusing, with communication often impossible and the severity of the disaster unclear. As we have reported, many Libyans stepped up anyway, defying political divisions to help in whatever way they could. Some helped in the search for survivors, others sent aid. Nour Moman, a data specialist who volunteered during Libya’s 2011 war to help document people who could not be found in the fighting, immediately set up a website called “Mafqood” (Missing) where people can report the details of their missing loved ones. As she explains in this conversation with The New Humanitarian, so many people tried to submit information about their friends and family that the first version of the site crashed in just a few hours. But she persisted, and the site has become a repository for information about some of the thousands of people who – nearly a month after the floods hit – still haven’t been located, including people she knows personally. Read this for her thoughts on the challenges of data collection, the mental toll of her work, and the importance of documentation in a crisis.

And finally…

Why is the Russian flag popping up in West Africa? 

Move over, Che Guevara, there’s a new resistance symbol in town. The Russian flag has been popping up in a handful of African countries where Russia has made inroads following recent coups, including Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The flag has been used in protests, and it can be seen stuck to car dashboards and draped across statues in town squares. No one is quite sure where the flags are coming from, but there is some evidence of Russian-financed campaigns to distribute them. “The Russian flag has become a symbol of resistance in West Africa, affiliated with anti-West and anti-French attitudes,” Kyle Walter, the head of research at the technology company, Logically, told The New York Times. His company has been tracking the increase of pro-Russia paraphernalia and propaganda in Niger since a coup over the summer. Along with the flags, Russian weapons and mercenaries have been increasingly creeping into West and Central Africa. The Kremlin may be late to the party, however. China and Türkiye have invested heavily in much of the continent for years, while Western powers still contribute significant sums of humanitarian and development aid.

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