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100 killed aid workers, two Sudans, and a turning point in Myanmar: The Cheat Sheet

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

Graphic of a television that reads 'breaking news'. Louise O'Brien/TNH

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

On our radar

Gaza deadliest-ever conflict for UN personnel 

More than 100 employees of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) have been killed in five weeks of Israeli bombardment and siege of the Gaza Strip. The war – which began after Hamas gunmen attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,400 people, the majority civilians, according to Israeli officials – has been the deadliest ever for UN personnel, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Palestinian health officials say the overall death toll in Gaza has now passed 11,000. Israel reportedly agreed on 9 November to begin implementing humanitarian pauses in its bombardment and ground invasion, a move that aid organisations and human rights groups say falls short of calls for a ceasefire (more on that below). Over 1.5 million people in Gaza have been displaced, out of around 2.3 million who live in the enclave, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA. On 9 November, more than 50,000 people fled northern Gaza, where Israel’s ground invasion has essentially cut the enclave in two. The limited amount of aid entering Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt is mostly being distributed to people staying in UNRWA-run shelters in the south. There are shortages of food and water throughout the Gaza Strip, but the situation is particularly dire in the north, where people are struggling to find enough food and water to survive, according to OCHA. UN experts have warned that time is running out to “prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

For more reporting from the ground in Gaza, check out our regular Snapshots series from Palestinian photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun, and this gnawing first person account from journalist and human rights activist Maha Hussaini.

What’s the problem with a humanitarian pause?

Israel has reportedly agreed to hours-long humanitarian pauses amid its bombardment of Gaza. The White House is portraying it as a success; many humanitarians wouldn’t agree. Terms like pauses, corridors, safe zones, and ceasefires have surged into mainstream discourse as Israel’s Gaza siege worsens, but they can mean very different things. Governments allied with Israel have called only for temporary pauses and corridors to allow aid in, and for people to leave (under the threat of airstrikes). A clearer “ceasefire” has become contentious – demanded by Palestinians, rejected by Israel, and missing from a 8 November statement by Group of Seven (G7) countries and the EU. The problem with anything less, many humanitarians say, is that pauses, corridors, and safe zones are often fragile and ignored, put civilians at greater risk through rumours and misinformation, and should be redundant under international humanitarian law: “The creation of safe zones cannot be used to label everything else a legitimate target,” Oxfam analysts wrote in a recent blog. Martin Griffiths, the UN’s relief chief, said the UN “cannot be part of a unilateral proposal to push hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians in Gaza into so-called safe zones”. Meanwhile, the aid response for the Palestinian territories will now cost $1.2 billion until the end of the year, the UN announced. For Gaza, much of it hinges on access, fuel, and fast funding – all in short supply at the moment.

Is Sudan about to split in two?

Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces is ousting the army from military bases across the western Darfur region, leading to fears the country will be split in a similar way to neighbouring Libya, which is ruled by rival governments. Even as the RSF has engaged in talks with the army in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, the group (which descends from Darfuri Arab Janjaweed militias) has launched attacks in the capitals of three of Darfur’s five states, leading to mass displacement and large civilian casualties. Last month, it took full control over Nyala and Zalingei (the capitals of South Darfur and Central Darfur), while last week it seized the main army base in West Darfur’s El Geneina. Over 1,000 people from the non-Arab Masalit group were reportedly killed by RSF and allied militia fighters during the West Darfur takeover, which may amount to the worst civilian atrocity since Sudan’s war erupted on 15 April. RSF leaders are now threatening to seize El Fasher in North Darfur, which has been a safe haven in recent months and has attracted hundreds of thousands of displaced people. For more, check out the latest below from our snapshots series, which features regular insights from Ahmed Gouja, a Darfuri journalist and human rights monitor.

Amnesty calls on Meta to set up fund for Tigrayans dehumanised on Facebook

Did Facebook’s engagement-hungry algorithms fan violence in Ethiopia’s war in Tigray? Amnesty International thinks so. In a new report, Amnesty accuses Meta, formerly Facebook, of allowing posts that dehumanised and discriminated against the Tigrayan community. Amnesty also says Facebook ignored warnings from advisers and civil society groups about the risks of unmoderated content. When the war began in 2020, Facebook was one of the most popular social media sites in Ethiopia. To compensate, Amnesty wants Meta to set up a restitution fund for victims. Amnesty is already part of a lawsuit in Kenya with at least two Ethiopians who are suing Meta over hate speech. One is the son of a university professor who says his father was killed weeks after Facebook posts that incited violence against him. It’s not the first time Amnesty has taken on the social media giant. It made similar allegations that Facebook’s systems provoked violence against Rohinghya in Myanmar. Similar questions are being asked of other social media sites since Israel’s assault on Gaza following the 7 October Hamas attacks. Some platforms are alleged to have been censoring pro-Palestinian voices. TikTok, meanwhile, has been accused of stoking anti-Israel sentiments amongst its users.

Myanmar junta fears turning point after rebel offensive

Myanmar’s ruling junta has suffered major setbacks in eastern Shan state, where insurgent groups have taken control of border crossings and overrun military outposts. As China borders Shan to the north, this could have an impact on trade: China is one of the only states to have good relations with the junta, which seized power in 2021, crushing peaceful protests and setting off a civil war that that has driven the numbers displaced nationwide to more than two million, including almost 50,000 since 26 October in Shan. The powerful insurgent groups in Shan state had largely stayed out of the fighting until now and analysts say their offensive could be a turning point against the junta’s increasingly stretched forces. “If the government does not effectively manage the incidents happening in the border region, the country will be split into various parts,” junta leader Myint Swe reportedly told a recent meeting of its security council.

Why politicians shouldn’t play weathermen

Three weeks ago, Kenya’s President William Ruto announced that the El Niño climate phenomenon, which has historically brought devastating flooding to the country, would not occur this year, contradicting weeks of warnings from meteorologists. Today, across the country, at least 15 people have died, over 50,000 more have been displaced, and 221 acres of agricultural farmland are under water as heavy rains associated with El Niño lash the region. The impact has been acutely felt in the northeast, where entire towns have been submerged. And it could be even worse in neighbouring Somalia, where nearly 1.2 million people have been affected, prompting the country to declare an emergency and the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, to release $25 million to help it prepare for worse to come. The World Meteorological Organization predicts that this El Niño will last until at least April 2024, and the Food and Agriculture Organization in Somalia is projecting a once-in-a-century magnitude flood event.

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In case you missed it

AUSTRALIA: In a landmark decision, the high court ruled that detaining asylum seekers and migrants indefinitely is unlawful. Close to 100 people who are being held indefinitely stand to be released. Australian governments have long used indefinite detention to try to deter asylum seekers and migrants from attempting to reach the country. 

BRAZIL: Police arrested two men with suspected links to the Lebanese political party and paramilitary group Hezbollah for allegedly planning “terrorist attacks” on Brazil’s Jewish community. Israel’s government stated that Mossad intelligence had collaborated with the operation. Although he didn’t deny the information, Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino published a cold rebuke on social media, saying Brazil rejects the use of its police investigations by any foreign authority for “propaganda or its political interests”.

CAMEROON: Separatist fighters killed 25 people, including five women and a child, after setting fire to several houses in Egbekaw village in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, according to local officials. Anglophone rebels have been fighting since 2017 to carve out an independent state in the majority French-speaking country.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Pregnant women are to be offered free healthcare in 13 out of 26 regions by the end of the year in a bid to cut the country’s high rates of maternal and neonatal deaths. Plans to extend the scheme across the entire country are tempered by concerns over the availability of sufficient trained staff and medical facilities.

ITALY: On 6 November, Italy and Albania announced an agreement that would see asylum seekers rescued at sea taken to Albania while their asylum claims are processed. It is unclear exactly how the agreement would work – and whether it is even legal. But experts say it follows a worrying trend of Britain and EU countries trying to outsource asylum processing to other countries. 

MALI: At least a dozen civilians have been killed in drone strikes carried out by the ruling junta around the northern town of Kidal. The town is a base for Tuareg rebels that are part of a coalition that has been fighting the Malian army since a peace agreement collapsed in August. Read our briefing for more.

NEPAL: At least 150 people have been killed by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in western Nepal centred around Karnali province. A further 170 people have been injured. The majority of the deaths were in Jarakot district, where 105 people were confirmed killed. The World Health Organization reports that since the initial 3 November quake, there have been at least 382 aftershocks, which are forcing people to spend nights outside as the temperatures drop.

NIGERIA: A worrying spike in diphtheria cases has been recorded across several states in northwest Nigeria. Latest figures show that at least 562 people have died from the bacterial infection since December 2022, the vast majority of them children under 14 years of age.

PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN: Amnesty International has called on Pakistan to stop “the continued detentions, deportations and widespread harassment of Afghan refugees”. More than 170,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan since mid-September, when the Pakistani government issued a 1 November deadline for all those without the right documentation to leave. The Taliban has set up transit centres near border crossing points, dispatched military vehicles to transport returnees, and set up mobile health centres for returnees, as concerns grow of a border refugee crisis.

SYRIA: US fighter jets struck a weapons depot in eastern Syria on 8 November. The Defense Department said the depot was used by Iran-affiliated militias and that the strikes were a response to a series of attacks by these groups against US bases in Iraq and Syria, which have injured 56 US personnel since 17 October. In one attack in Iraq on 26 October, a drone fitted with explosives failed to detonate, potentially averting an escalation involving the additional ships, jets, troops, and missile systems the US has moved to the Middle East during Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.

TUVALU/AUSTRALIA/CHINA: The Australian government has signed a landmark agreement with Tuvalu that will grant up to 280 residents of the low-lying Pacific island nation special residency visas each year to escape the effects of climate change. The accord, which lays the groundwork for Canberra to assist the nation in the event of natural disasters, security threats, and pandemics, will also make Australia Tuvalu’s “security partner” of choice, giving Canberra veto power over any potential overtures with China. 

Weekend read

‘History is made’, as terms agreed for loss and damage fund in time for COP28

A fragile agreement on a historic loss and damage fund to help out the countries most affected by the climate crisis is holding for now but, as our weekend read explains, lingering tensions could still see matters reopened at the upcoming COP28 summit, risking the entire deal. The United States and Saudi Arabia are seen as most likely to turn the fund into a bargaining chip again, which could cast a pall on the other tracks of the negotiations (climate mitigation and adaptation). Negotiators who worked to get the deal over the line mostly seem relieved it is done – although none got everything they wanted. The hope is that it will have become “baked in” by the time COP28 rolls around at the end of the month. But civil society campaigners, in particular, are still furious about the lack of financing commitments from high-income, heavy polluting countries, not to mention the fact that the World Bank is set to host the fund for the first four years.

And finally…

Record smog shrouds India’s big moment

New Delhi has taken the drastic step of limiting vehicle usage in the city after pollution rates hit record highs for three consecutive days. Smog in the Indian capital is so “severe”, with the air packed with toxic pollutants, that schools have had to close. As the Washington Post reported, seasonal fires, construction dust, and vehicle pollution have made it so bad that the haze in northern India can now be seen from space. The Indian and Chinese populations have the highest exposures to unsafe levels of air pollution (both at 99%), but it is an increasing problem globally, including in Europe. India’s desperately poor air quality comes at a particularly inopportune time as it seeks to boost its cultural and economic reach by hosting the Cricket World Cup. Afghanistan had been dominating the headlines at the tournament after pulling off surprise wins over reigning world champions England and rival neighbours Pakistan. It took a monumental effort from Australia’s Glenn Maxwell to prevent them from reaching the semi-finals and finally send them packing. Hosts and favourites India will be hoping the smog now goes too.

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