Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Gaza aid deliveries ‘nothing more than crumbs’
More than 7,300 people have been killed in three weeks of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, according to the Ministry of Health in the Palestinian enclave. But soon “many more will die from the consequences of siege”, Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), warned on 27 October. Following a deadly 7 October incursion into Israel by Hamas, the political and militant group that governs Gaza, Israel announced a full siege of the coastal enclave, cutting off water and electricity and preventing the entry of food, fuel, medical supplies, and other essential aid. A small amount of humanitarian relief has been allowed to enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the past week, but it is far from enough to meet the spiralling needs of around 2.3 million people living in Gaza – an estimated 1.4 million of whom have been displaced. As of 26 October, a total of 74 trucks carrying aid had been allowed to enter Gaza. Prior to 7 October, an average of 500 truckloads of aid entered Gaza every working day. Israel has not allowed fuel to be included in the limited number of recent aid shipments. As supplies run low, UNRWA and other UN agencies have had to drastically limit their fuel consumption. Medicines, water, and food are all reportedly running low. Calls by the UN, the EU, and others for increased aid access are growing. What has entered so far has been a “distraction”, Lazzarini said: “These few trucks are nothing more than crumbs that will not make a difference for 2 million people.”
US-Iran conflict escalates in Syria
US forces struck two Iran-backed militia facilities in eastern Syria on 26 October. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the “precision self-defence strikes” were a response to a series of attacks by Iranian-backed militia groups against US personnel in Iraq and Syria starting on 17 October. One civilian US contractor died from a “cardiac incident” during those attacks, which reportedly wounded dozens of US soldiers. Austin also said the US strikes were “separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas”. However, some analysts believe the attacks by Iran-backed groups on US bases in Iraq and Syria are an expression of solidarity with groups fighting Israel – Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The three groups met in Beirut on 25 October and said they were seeking “a real victory for the resistance in Gaza and Palestine”. Meanwhile, Syrian opposition officials have accused both Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using the cover of the Israel-Gaza war to step up strikes they say have killed at least 60 civilians in the rebel-held northwest this month.
Can Sudan talks make progress this time?
Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have resumed negotiations in Jeddah, four months after the US- and Saudi Arabia-mediated talks were suspended because truces were repeatedly violated. Saudi Arabia said the discussions will be based on previous agreements to facilitate humanitarian access and respect short-term ceasefires, though the conflict parties appear to have competing negotiating stances. The army said the talks don’t mean it will stop fighting, and the RSF – which controls most of the capital, Khartoum – has been battling on too. This week, it took full control over Nyala, the country’s second biggest city and the largest in the Darfur region. Its defeat of the army there follows months of grinding fighting that we chronicled through first person pieces, video reports, and accounts from Nyala residents who fled to neighbouring South Sudan. Other towns in Darfur continue to suffer conflict, as journalist Ahmed Gouja outlines below in the latest from our Snapshots series:
What’s ailing the aid sector: Money and safety
If a trade fair can be a temperature check for a cash-strapped sector, then the recently wrapped Aidex conference suggests humanitarians are running a fever. Peppered among trade booths hawking everything from dignity kits to bullet-proof vehicles, a few key issues were top of mind: How to cope with looming funding cuts? Where will new money come from, if not the usual government donors? And how can aid groups improve staff safety and well-being – not to mention begin to address the uncomfortable double standard in how local aid workers are supported? In one discussion on global hunger, the director of the World Food Programme’s Geneva office, Gian Carlo Cirri, articulated a common fear in a humanitarian sector that has received about a third of the money it asked for this year: “Where is the humanitarian system going? Well, it’s collapsing,” he said, citing growing funding gaps. Some are pushing for alternatives, exploring private sector and financial market tools such as impact bonds, for example. “We need to dream of what that new model needs to look like… and finance is going to be key,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB’s CEO.
More sanctions, more hunger as Niger junta digs in
Three months after overthrowing the country’s elected government, Niger’s ruling military junta is continuing to crack down on critical media and peaceful dissent. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement that dozens of officials from the ousted administration have been arrested, and called on the authorities to end arbitrary detentions. To try and force the regime to relinquish power, Niger’s neighbours have shut their borders and imposed stringent sanctions — including cutting off electricity supplies and blocking food exports. The EU is also preparing its own package of measures aimed at individuals involved in the 26 July coup. Meanwhile, Nigeriens are struggling with galloping inflation and shortages of staple items; aid operations have also been interrupted. Cut off from international loans and financial support, this year’s budget has been slashed by 40%. Yet despite the hardships, some reports suggest the junta is still able to surf a patriotic public wave. They have announced a three-year transition to civilian rule – far longer than regional leaders expected – but have provided no further details.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: Afghan education activist Matiullah Wesa has been freed from Taliban detention after 215 days. Wesa’s release was announced online by PenPath, the education for all organisation the 30-year-old started in 2009. His release comes a week after that of Afghan-French journalist Morteza Behboudi after 284 days in detention.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Renewed conflict between the M23 armed group and pro-government militias has displaced 200,000 people since the beginning of October, according to the UN. The fighting – which has reportedly reached 20 kilometres from Goma, the largest city in the east – comes as DR Congo heads into presidential elections in December.
HAITI/NICARAGUA: In the past few months, more than 260 charter planes believed to be carrying Haitian migrants trying to reach the United States have landed in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. Some critics accuse Daniel Ortega’s government of using irregular migration for profit, while others say it is a “weapon” to force the US into easing sanctions.
KENYA/HAITI: A high court has extended a temporary order blocking the deployment of hundreds of police officers to Haiti as part of a UN-approved multinational mission to tackle violent gangs. The court is now set to rule on the case on 9 November. Kenya’s parliament is yet to debate the planned US-backed intervention.
MALARIA: Good news alert. A malaria vaccine meant to protect children is already showing a 13% reduction in malaria-linked deaths. The pilot roll-out of RTS,S or the Mosquirix vaccine also showed a 22% reduction in severe malaria in children young enough to receive a three-shot series, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
MEXICO: Hurricane Otis tore through the Mexican resort city of Acapulco, killing 27 people and leaving four others missing. Packing sustained winds of up to 165 miles (270 kilometres) per hour, it made landfall as the most powerful Pacific storm on record, and is estimated to have done billions of dollars in damage.
OXFAM: Hundreds of staff at Oxfam GB have begun voting on whether to strike, citing “poverty pay” at the anti-poverty NGO. A staff-led survey found some workers at Oxfam’s retail shops relied on food banks or had been unable to pay rent. Unite, the British and Irish union, says it represents more than 400 Oxfam GB staff, which include UK-based aid workers and retail staff.
PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan’s caretaker government looks set to stick to its 1 November deadline for all “illegal people” to leave the country or face deportation – an ultimatum seen by activists as directly targeting the more than one million Afghans who lack documentation. Islamabad has warned that all undocumented individuals discovered after the deadline will be arrested and sent to deportation centres.
VENEZUELA: The opposition has overwhelmingly chosen María Corina Machado as its candidate in Venezuela’s first presidential primaries since 2012. But the attorney general has launched a criminal investigation against Machado, alleging electoral fraud, and it remains unclear if she will be allowed to run for office. On 17 October, President Nicolás Maduro signed an agreement with the opposition in Barbados to hold free and fair elections next year in exchange for an easing of US sanctions.
WAR CRIMES: German prosecutors say they have evidence that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine. And by using the principle of universal jurisdiction, the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ), is hoping to make a case for 16 survivors and their families who lost everything in a missile attack on a coastal resort near Odessa that killed 22 people.
For three decades, Azerbaijan and Armenia sporadically traded deadly fire over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed as a de facto state – the Republic of Artsakh – by ethnic Armenians. This all changed on 19 September when, after a 10-month siege, Azeri forces took complete control of the territory in a lightning military strike. In just two weeks, almost the entire population of 120,000 people fled to Armenia, creating a humanitarian crisis that made international headlines, until that is, it was overshadowed by events in Israel and Gaza. The lack of attention now is causing alarm among aid officials, who fear a lack of funding to meet the urgent needs of over 100,000 refugees, even as the region’s harsh winter sets in. Heating and housing are the most pressing concerns but, due to Armenia’s chronic housing crisis, represent a massive challenge for the government. But that’s not all. Those in the border region, as well as the refugees, are living in fear of a new escalation of the conflict. Read our weekend read to find out more.
Stick to the facts, if you can get them
These are busy days for fact checkers and open-source intelligence (OSINT) analysts. Since 7 October, both disinformation and misinformation about Israel, Hamas, and Gaza have been spreading virally on social media as algorithms monetise fake videos, fed by polarisation and righteous anger on all sides. Even some of the most important basic facts about the conflict have become a battleground in this propaganda war. Blame is traded over civilian atrocities, tolls are questioned, and context is forgotten, while the bigger picture of the horrific civilian casualties becomes increasingly obscured. Bearing witness to the conflict – and the crimes committed – carries extreme risks. Prior to publication, the hostilities had claimed the lives of at least 27 journalists – 22 Palestinians, 4 Israelis, and one Lebanese national – according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Others, like Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh, have lost many family members but feel it is still vital to report the unfolding events. As al-Dahdouh told state-run Turkish news agency Anadolu while mourning the killing of his wife, son, daughter, and grandson in an Israeli airstrike: “This will never silence our voices. Journalism is my noble mission." For more from the ground in Gaza, watch this Snapshot video from Palestinian photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun.