Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
A ‘Band-Aid’ pause begins in Gaza
A long-awaited humanitarian “pause” began on 24 November in Gaza, but aid groups say a days-long break from the violence will do little to relieve a festering catastrophe caused by Israel’s bombardment. The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it was prepared to receive at least 150 trucks of aid each day (still well short of what was allowed in before 7 October). The pause may be a chance “to start repairing civilian infrastructure”, said UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini, and to reach Palestinians in forcibly emptied north Gaza. But people in Gaza face “the risk of starvation” and disease as food and health systems collapse, aid groups warn. Newborn babies are dying from preventable diseases, Oxfam said, warning that the end of the four-day pause will be a Band-Aid “ripped off a bleeding wound”. Palestinians and many (though not all) aid groups are calling for a full ceasefire. In a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, an Israeli military spokesperson said: “The war is not over”.
For more reporting from Gaza, see our regular Snapshots series from Palestinian photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun.
As aid groups tiptoe, tensions flare among their staff
Signed letters condemning aid leadership; petitions demanding that their agencies take a stand; heated internal meetings, town halls, and “listening sessions” – Israel’s siege of Gaza continues to drive tension and outrage among the staff at aid groups responding to the humanitarian fallout. World Food Programme chief Cindy McCain faces a backlash for attending a security forum that included an award presented to “the people of Israel” – while reportedly skipping a UN-wide moment of silence held to commemorate the more-than 100 aid workers killed by Israeli airstrikes. McCain’s attendance at the security forum, first reported by PassBlue, “could compromise WFP’s perceived neutrality by being seen as siding with one party to a conflict”, according to a letter, addressed to the WFP’s ethics office, that is circulating among agency staff. Another letter making the rounds calls for McCain’s resignation, Devex reported.
Separately, a staff petition sent to UNICEF boss Catherine Russell urges the agency to “condemn the collective punishment of Gazans and Palestinian people”. Elsewhere, a letter attributed to staff at dozens of international NGOs says their organisations are “crippled by fears of being accused of antisemitism”, and urges a stronger stand: “Our role cannot be strictly limited to providing aid, which will only, if even, help some to survive another day under siege”. For more on how aid agencies are grappling with what role they should play in Palestine, listen to our latest Rethinking Humanitarianism podcast episode.
Floods sweep across Somalia and the Horn of Africa
Flooding in Somalia has killed at least 96 people and forced nearly 800,000 from their homes. The El Niño-worsened disaster, described by the UN as a “once-in-a-century event”, is expected to last into December, affecting up to 1.6 million people. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been lost in a country yet to recover from five seasons of drought. As a result, 4.3 million people – a quarter of the population – will face “crisis-level hunger or worse” by the end of the year, according to the UN. The aid response is hamstrung by ongoing insurgency. Much of southern Somalia – the hardest-hit area – is controlled by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab, which has blocked humanitarian access. Across the Horn of Africa, flash flooding has also caused destruction. In Kenya, more than 60 people have been killed, with an estimated 136,000 displaced from their homes. In Ethiopia, 43 people have died, with more than 760,000 affected – particularly in the southern region.
Countries promise emissions cuts but greenlight fossil fuel: UN
As delegates pack their suitcases for COP28, climate predictions are more dire than ever: The world only has a 14% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C this century under the most optimistic scenarios, according to the UN Environment Programme. Its yearly Emissions Gap Report, published 20 November, brought depressingly familiar bad news – the agency even dubbed it “Broken Record – Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again)”. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is crucial because scientists believe it to be the threshold needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis; governments also unanimously agreed to work toward this target under 2015’s Paris Agreement. But 1.5°C is “already at the outer limits of possibility” according to UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen: “Governments can’t keep pledging to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement and then greenlighting huge fossil fuels projects,” Andersen said. “This is throwing the global energy transition, and humanity’s future, into question.”
New military force to target armed groups in DRC
A southern African military force will deploy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in “the days to come”, the Congolese government announced at a 17 November signing ceremony establishing the status of the force. The government wants the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc to combat and eradicate armed groups, most pressingly the Rwanda-backed M23, which has waged a two-year insurgency in eastern parts of the country. The SADC intervention is expected to replace an East African Community (EAC) force that deployed to DRC last year but has been asked by the government to leave. Kinshasa wanted the EAC to militarily engage the M23, but that proved tricky given that Rwanda is an EAC member state. The government and UN also co-signed an agreement on a plan and timeline for the accelerated withdrawal of a 14,000-strong peacekeeping mission. The UN force has been present in DRC for more than two decades, but has lost legitimacy as conflict has become entrenched.
Femicide is rising, even while homicide rates fall
Around 89,000 women and girls were reportedly murdered by their intimate partners or male relatives, according to recent data published to commemorate the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. Femicide, which refers to gender-related killings of women and girls, reached its highest level in two decades in 2022, warned the report, which was published by UN Women and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC. The surge comes at a time when global homicide rates are falling – suggesting that the issue could be due to inequality and harmful social norms among other factors, the agencies say. Women in all regions face femicide; the UN agencies are calling for governments to boost investments in inclusive institutions equipped to end impunity. Efforts to prevent violence are still poorly funded at national and global levels; only a fraction of 1% of global development aid went to GBV prevention, according to UN Women.
In case you missed it
AID WORKER KILLINGS: A World Health Organization staffer and two Médecins Sans Frontières doctors are among the latest aid workers killed by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. At least 108 UNRWA staff have also been killed since 7 October – the most aid worker deaths in conflict in the UN’s history.
CHAD: “Funding constraints” may force the WFP to stop assistance to over a million people in Chad, the agency said on 21 November in its latest warnings of cuts to food aid. An influx of refugees fleeing conflict in Sudan's Darfur region is straining WFP’s ability to respond to existing hunger in Chad. The agency said that without $185 million over the next six months, it may suspend aid to displaced people from Nigeria, Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Sudan.
COLOMBIA: Despite President Gustavo Petro’s efforts to implement his “Total Peace” plan negotiating with armed groups, violence keeps rising in Colombia. According to official data, kidnapping increased by 80% between January and October 2023, compared to the same period last year. The Norwegian Refugee Council also reported that 58,000 Colombians remain confined by non-state armed and criminal groups.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: A record-high rainfall triggered floods and landslides, killing at least 24 people, and displacing more than 13,200 people. Damage to bridges and roads left at least 45 communities isolated. Experts attribute the increase of floods to the El Niño phenomenon, which is expected to last until at least April 2024.
ETHIOPIA HUNGER: At least 50 people have died of drought-induced hunger in the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia, the BBC reported, citing local officials. At least 20 million people need food aid in Ethiopia, which is in its sixth failed rain season. Civil war and months-long food aid suspensions have worsened the situation. In mid-November, WFP and USAID announced that they would resume food distribution after corruption allegations had triggered aid suspensions. The WFP, however, said it will distribute food to only some of the population in need due to funding shortages.
ETHIOPIA PEACE: Peace talks between the government and the rebel Oromo Liberation Army have ended without an agreement. The negotiations, held in Tanzania, were the second attempt this year to strike a deal to end the long-running violence in Oromia, the country’s largest region.
PAKISTAN: Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore, is the latest city in South Asia to be shut down due to pollution. With more than 13 million residents, Lahore is home to more than a quarter of the 50 million people in the region who have had their lives interrupted due to unclean air. Schools and colleges were ordered closed until at least 25 November. The Disaster Management Authority called the smog a “calamity”.
PANAMA/US: In a bid to stop migrants from reaching US soil, the Biden administration plans to send officials to Panama to help authorities screen and deport US-bound migrants crossing the Darien Gap, CBS News reported. Nearly 500,000 people have gone through this treacherous pathway this year hoping to seek asylum in the US. An agreement still has to be reached with Panama.
SUDAN: More than five million children face “extreme deprivation of their rights and protection risks” due to conflict in the western Darfur region, according to UNICEF. Around 1.2 million children under five in Darfur suffer from acute malnutrition, with 218,000 “at high risk of death”.
TAX VOTE: Lower-income countries secured a major win on international tax negotiations after voting to move the discussions to the UN instead of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is dominated by rich economies. An African proposal for a UN “framework convention on international tax cooperation” was backed by 125 countries on 22 November and opposed by 48 mostly high-income countries.
This voting record on an Africa-sponsored resolution on international tax cooperation is the clearest Global North vs Global South vote I have seen in recent times pic.twitter.com/rfR86qIH9Y
— Martin Kimani (@AmbMKimani) November 22, 2023
ZIMBABWE: Roman Catholic bishops have condemned a resurgence in political violence – linked to planned by-elections in December – in which at least one activist has been tortured and killed. Widely seen as manipulated by the government, the new leadership of the main opposition party has recalled a number of its elected legislators and councillors, forcing the new vote.
The UK government launched its fifth aid policy in three years on 20 November, marking a major reset after a period of dysfunction in the foreign office. As our weekend read by aid policy reporter Will Worley explains, the White Paper – dubbed “International development in a contested world” – represents a new strategy in all but name. It reasserts ending extreme poverty as a core aim of UK international development policy, alongside tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. A departmental merger in 2020 closed the renowned Department for International Development (DFID) and kicked off a period of chaos for UK aid policy, greatly exacerbated by the cutting of the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income in 2021. Billions were wiped from aid programmes, with the impact still being felt today. The twin challenges caused the UK government’s once-strong international development reputation to tumble – something this new White Paper clearly seeks to remedy: Its preface contains three pages of upbeat testimonials from world leaders.
‘Winds of change’ for far-right populism, or a storm that will eventually pass?
Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam, anti-EU Party for Freedon (PVV) surprised pundits (and Wilders himself) by winning 37 seats in the Dutch elections. Although he isn’t likely to become prime minister any time soon, the win could bring chaos in forming a coalition government since some parties have refused to work with him. The win has also sparked fears that hard-right populism is gaining more traction across Europe. “The winds of change are here!”, said Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Victor Orbán, one of many populist leaders in Europe who congratulated Wilders. The far right has been gaining support across Europe already in Italy, Finland, Sweden, Austria and Greece. One reason for their rise, according to The Guardian, may be that parties are “diversifying their list of grievances”. Before, some parties had zeroed in on anti-Islam platforms or calls to leave the European Union. Now, they’ve added the cost of living crisis, amongst other issues, to their list. That strategy seems to have worked elsewhere. Argentine voters elected Javier Milei recently. The right-wing libertarian, whose wild hairstyle and Elvis-like sideburns could give Wilders’ blonde bouffant a run for his money, also vowed to tackle the country’s inflation and rising poverty.