Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
UN pleads for urgent, sustained Gaza aid access
During a visit to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on 20 October, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for trucks carrying humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza urgently. According to the UN, around 200 trucks were waiting on the Egyptian side of the border. Some are expected to start moving “in the next day or so”, according to UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths. On 18 October, US President Joe Biden announced he had brokered a deal with Israel to allow 20 aid trucks into Gaza through Rafah – the only border crossing not controlled by Israel. The World Health Organization called it a “drop in the ocean of need right now”. In his speech, Guterres called for “as many [trucks] as necessary” to be allowed to enter Gaza on a daily basis. The UN estimates that around one million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in two weeks of intense Israeli bombardment and siege of the Gaza Strip since 7 October, when gunmen from Hamas – the political and militant group that governs the enclave – launched a deadly incursion into Israel. More than 4,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed and over 13,000 injured, Gaza residents are struggling to find clean water to drink, food supplies are dwindling, and the healthcare system is reportedly on the brink of collapse.
Six months in, Sudan war has displaced nearly 6 million
Amid everything happening in Gaza and Israel, it may have flown under your radar, but this week marks six months of conflict between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. There have been 9,000 documented fatalities (analysts suspect the real number could be far higher), and nearly six million people have been uprooted in what is now the largest internal displacement crisis in the world. RSF forces control the bulk of downtown Khartoum, the besieged capital, and its fighters have led an ethnic cleansing campaign in parts of the western Darfur region. Relief agencies have been hamstrung since the start, with both conflict parties seeking to control the distribution of aid. Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the few organisations active in Khartoum, suspended operations this week because military authorities aren’t allowing it to bring in surgical supplies. Decentralised mutual aid networks remain the main humanitarian responders in Khartoum and other towns, but they have received little support from international donors. Listen to our podcast for more on that, and trawl through our wider Sudan coverage for more on the conflict.
Green shoots for Venezuelans
After years of economic collapse and humanitarian crisis that have seen more than 7.7 million Venezuelans – one in four – leave the country, some flickers of hope at last. President Nicolás Maduro's government and the opposition signed a deal on 17 October paving the way for elections to take place next year – the first that might be recognised by both sides since before the death of president Hugo Chávez more than a decade ago. The agreement prompted the United States to ease Venezuela’s oil sanctions, which should take some economic pressure off a country where 19 million people (out of a population of 28.7 million) now have humanitarian needs, according to the UN. While only 30.8% of Venezuela’s UN humanitarian response plan for 2023 has been funded so far, we reported exclusively this week that Guterres, the UN chief, has given the green light for a massive new UN-administered aid fund. The fund – which Maduro’s government and the opposition had agreed to in principle last November – will allow Venezuelan assets frozen by sanctions overseas to be released to finance programmes in health, education, food security, and electricity. About $600 million is expected to be progressively unfrozen, which could go a long way to helping to tackle chronic food shortages and rebuild the shattered healthcare system.
Climate fund snagged by US call to house it in World Bank
Securing a global agreement to create a loss and damage fund to help countries pay for environmental disasters was the standout achievement of the COP27 climate conference in Egypt. But in the 11 months since then, talks between governments to design the fund have been sluggish, with numerous big differences emerging between negotiators. And now the latest round of negotiations has been disrupted by a fight over a US proposal to house the fund in the World Bank – which the G77 and China say is unacceptable. The bloc’s chair, Pedro L. Pedroso Cuesta of Cuba, told journalists the World Bank can’t host the fund in a way that addresses "the needs of developing countries”. He expressed concerns over the accessibility of the Bank’s money, but experts say worries also stem from the fact that the institution is also likely to give Global North countries more control over the fund. Ideally, the G77 and China would like the loss and damage fund to be an entirely new body, said Cuesta, declining to say whether the World Bank issue was a negotiatory red line.
Sankara street, but where’s the matching legacy?
Thirty-six years ago this week, Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, was assassinated in a coup. Some feel his legacy is being carried forward by the head of the country’s current junta, Ibrahim Traoré. Like Sankara, Traoré seized power in his early 30s and has espoused strong anti-imperialist views. He has cut ties with former colonial ruler France, snubbed offers of Western military aid, and nominated a Sankara supporter as prime minister. At a commemoration this week in Ouagadougou, authorities announced that the capital city’s Boulevard Charles De Gaulle will be renamed Boulevard Thomas Sankara. Still, detractors argue that Traoré lacks a social project comparable to Sankara, who challenged global capitalism and built schools and health centres. Critics say Traoré mobilises anti-imperialism to legitimise his rule, which is threatened by disgruntled soldiers and jihadist insurgents. The army captain, in power since late last year, has pursued an all-out military strategy against jihadists, spurning the dialogue options pursued by his predecessors. Insecurity has worsened under his watch and his troops have been accused of brutal attacks against civilians.
China, Russia lead Global South celebrations of Belt and Road
Russian President Vladimir Putin was China’s guest of honour at an international forum commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), starting in Beijing on 18 October. Under President Xi Jinping, China has invested an estimated trillion dollars into the BRI, an infrastructure and foreign policy programme that nearly 150 countries have signed on to. Unlike previous statements from Russia and China, the two leaders made no mention of Western hegemony or the pursuit of a multipolar global order. However, Xi denounced “unilateral sanctions, economic coercion and decoupling, and supply chain disruption” – an apparent reference to China’s rivalry with the United States – adding that the BRI offers “cooperation and win-win outcomes”, as opposed to “ideological confrontation, geopolitical rivalry, and bloc politics”. Putin made no mention of the war in Ukraine in his speech, but told a press conference the growing number of conflicts around the world “strengthen Russian-Chinese cooperation”. Leaders of more than 130 countries attended the forum, mostly from the Global South, accentuating a drift from the Western sphere of influence – even more marked as it came against the backdrop of the United States, the EU, and Britain backing Israel’s war against Hamas.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: Afghan-French journalist Mortaza Behboudi has been released from prison after 284 days in detention. A Kabul court cleared Behboudi of all charges, which included espionage, "illegal support for foreigners", aiding the crossing of borders into another country, defamation, and inciting hatred against the Islamic Emirate. Behboudi is expected to return to France in the coming days.
BANGLADESH: At least 1,169 people have died from dengue fever this year in Bangladesh’s worst-ever outbreak. By 16 October, almost 240,000 people had been infected, according to health officials. Rising global temperatures due to climate change are seen as one likely cause. For more on that, read our story.
DR CONGO: Eight UN peacekeepers from South Africa have been detained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after allegations of sexual exploitation. The UN mission, known as MONUSCO, also said it had suspended a number of its peacekeepers. The government has asked the UN mission, which was initially established during a civil war that lasted from 1998-2003, to leave by the end of next year.
ECUADOR: Ecuadorians have chosen Daniel Noboa – a 35-year old businessman whose family is one of the wealthiest in the country – as their next president, after a campaign marked by assassinations and rampant gang violence. For more, read here.
EU PUSHBACKS: A new report by a network of civil society groups called Protecting Rights at Borders (PRAB) documented more than 9,500 pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants at Europe’s borders between May and August this year. Pushbacks have become increasingly commonplace at the EU’s external borders, and PRAB said the incidents it documented are likely only a fraction of those that have taken place.
GUATEMALA: Guatemala has been on a national strike for more than two weeks, with Indigenous-led protests calling for the resignation of government officials accused of interfering with the election as president of anti-corruption campaigner Bernardo Arévalo. One protester has been killed and four injured by an unidentified armed group.
HAITI: Gang violence is taking a heavy toll on children. Armed men attacked an orphanage, where several children died earlier this month after gangs prevented them from getting medical care. In another episode, dozens of children were trapped for three days in their school because of gang fighting in downtown Port-au-Prince.
INDIA: The five judges of India’s Supreme Court have struck down petitions to legalise same-sex marriage, while agreeing to set up a panel to explore expanding rights for same-sex couples. Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud emphasised that the government should ensure that the “queer community is not discriminated against because of their gender identity or sexual orientation”.
MIGRATION IN THE AMERICAS: Mexico will host a regional summit on migration issues and their root causes on 22 October with leaders from Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and Honduras – major origin countries for migrants apprehended at the US border. For more on the gang violence contributing to recent trends, check out our Gangs out of control series.
MOROCCO: The efforts of local volunteers and international organisations to bring food aid to remote areas of Morocco have staved off a broader crisis for survivors of an earthquake last month that killed around 3,000 people and left thousands more homeless. But longer-term challenges persist, from rebuilding homes and addressing trauma to recurring drought that created food scarcity even before the earthquake.
The deadly explosion at Gaza City’s al-Ahli hospital on 17 October has sparked an intense narrative battle over who is to blame. Officials in Gaza say the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike, while Israeli officials say it was the result of an errant missile fired by the armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad – which denies the charge. Israel has a well-documented history of deflecting blame, but right now there’s no conclusive evidence to say either way. The difficulty of establishing a burden of proof when it comes to violations of international humanitarian law courses through our weekend read: a Q&A between TNH Special Coverage Editor Eric Reidy and Marco Sassòli, a leading expert. In it, Sassòli unpicks possible, probable, and definite breaches of international humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas. Yes, Hamas breached it by killing civilians and taking civilians hostage in its murderous 7 October attack. But yes, Israel has long breached it too, through the building of settlements and whenever its actions kill Palestinian civilians indiscriminately – even if that is not always easy to prove. “Unfortunately,” Sassòli notes, “states did not accept a transparency obligation.”
Australians reject bid to give Indigenous groups more of a political voice
An Australian referendum referred to as the “Voice” was meant to give Indigenous Australians more of a say in policymaking, but 60% of voters overwhelmingly rejected it. Had it succeeded, the vote would have paved the way for an Indigenous advisory group to be consulted over issues that impact Aboriginal communities, but specifics on how and when the group would have been consulted or how much power it would have were vague – part of the reason the vote may have failed. But some questioned whether the vote reflected lingering racism and discrimination against Indigenous Australians. “Has Australasia lurched right on race?” an Economist headline quipped, noting that New Zealand’s newly elected conservative prime minister has also vowed to scrap policies giving Maoris more of a say in politics. Australians – in particular, young Australians – have been trying to come to grips with the country’s dark past concerning Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, who make up roughly 3.8% of the population. Although the government has made some strides to improve living conditions for Indigenous peoples, rates of suicides and incarceration are on the rise. Life expectancy is also roughly eight years less for Indigenous Australians, leading many to suggest they should have more of a say over policies that cover housing, health, and education.