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Gaza truce ends, COP28 opens, and Kissinger dies: The Cheat Sheet

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

Louise O'Brien/TNH

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

On our radar

Return of ‘hell on Earth’ as Israel resumes Gaza offensive

Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza resumed on 1 December when a seven-day pause expired at 7am local time, after international efforts to extend the truce failed. “Resuming the bombing means hell on Earth has returned for children and their families, with no end in sight,” Care International said in a press release. In the first hours, the Israeli military said it had hit over 200 targets across Gaza. Health officials in the enclave, governed by the Palestinian political and militant group Hamas, said at least 109 people had been killed in the strikes. The death toll in Gaza since 7 October – when Israel began its military campaign following Hamas’ deadly attack into Israel – has topped 15,000, including 6,150 children and 4,000 women, according to the Government Media Office in the enclave. The Israeli military also reportedly dropped leaflets urging people in parts of southern Gaza to leave their homes, raising fears it could soon expand its ground offensive into areas of the enclave where many of the around 1.8 million people (80% of the population) who have been displaced from their homes have taken shelter. During the pause, Hamas released 105 of the around 240 hostages it took during its attack, in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians – all of them women and children – from Israeli prisons. The pause allowed for a significant increase in the amount of humanitarian aid being delivered to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. This, however, remained “completely inadequate to meet the huge needs of more than two million people”, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Scale of Darfur atrocities becomes clearer

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) killed hundreds of people, possibly thousands, in Sudan’s western Darfur region in early November, according to Human Rights Watch. The killings mostly targeted Masalit civilians living in Ardamata, a suburb of El Geneina, which is the capital of West Darfur state. RSF forces had been battling the Sudanese army for control of a military base in Ardamata, and accused Masalit fighters of supporting the army. After the RSF seized the base – one of the largest in Darfur – they rampaged through residential areas and a displacement camp that were largely inhabited by Masalit. The RSF and allied militias shot at fleeing civilians, according to HRW, and killed people in their homes. The attack is the third mass atrocity perpetrated by the RSF against Masalit civilians since war broke out in Sudan in April. The violence led a UN special adviser to warn this month of a “grimly high” risk of genocide. For more context on the violence read our archival reporting from West Darfur.

History and division, as UN climate summit opens

After a troubled build-up dominated by deep divisions over phasing out fossil fuels and reported attempts to strike sideline oil deals, the COP28 climate summit kicked off in the UAE on 30 November with a historic moment: The official agreement – after a year of tense talks – to launch a loss and damage fund. Donors have so far pledged around $400 million for the fund, although the United States still appears reluctant to accept the new reality, pledging just $17.5 million. The scale of financing needs is far greater than what has been offered so far – lower-income countries say $100 billion a year is required – and campaigners will be watching closely to see how the institution develops. Meanwhile, outside the formal COP28 negotiations, the largest-ever humanitarian contingent at a UN climate summit is gearing up for Peace, Relief and Recovery day on 3 December. As The New Humanitarian exclusively reported, this event will see the launch of a major declaration designed to get more climate finance into fragile states. For humanitarians, COP28 comes at a pivotal time as the aid sector wrestles with how best to respond to climate change – with some even suggesting less could be more. For more on all things COP, read this curtain-raiser from policy reporter Will Worley, and look out for more TNH coverage as he’ll be chasing delegates around the Dubai conference centre all week.

Dozens killed in Djibo as Burkina Faso conflict worsens

Burkina Faso’s northern town of Djibo, which has been under a choking jihadist blockade for nearly two years, was attacked by a large number of insurgents this week, further proof of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, which we covered in this comprehensive briefing. Members of a local al-Qaeda affiliate killed at least 40 civilians and injured dozens more as they attacked a military base and civilian areas in the town. Djibo has a population of around 300,000 people, most of whom are internally displaced from other areas. It is not the only town under threat. Earlier in November, nearly 100 people, mostly children and the elderly, were killed by as yet unidentified assailants in the northern village of Zaongo, and in April military forces killed at least 156 civilians in Karma village. Conflict fatalities have soared since a junta seized power late last year from different military leaders and then announced a “total war” against jihadist groups. Over two million people have now been displaced, and 4.7 million require humanitarian assistance, an increase of more than 1 million compared to last year.

Aid slow to reach East Africa flood survivors

As the Horn of Africa continues to experience some of the worst climate-related flooding in the region’s history, efforts by governments and humanitarian agencies to provide help are being hampered by widespread damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure – cutting off many communities – as well as by a shortage of funds. In Somalia, where the death toll is over 100 and where 750,000 people have been forced from their homes, only about 40% of the estimated 2 million people affected have received assistance. Weeks into the crisis in neighbouring Kenya – where flooding has killed 120 people and displaced 90,000 households – food assistance had reached about 950,000 people, according to a 21 November update. Despite the Ethiopian government mobilising military helicopters and boats for rescue, only one in ten of the 1.5 million impacted by floods have received assistance in the country’s hard-hit Somali region, where humanitarian agencies were already grappling with a funding shortfall to respond to the lingering impact of years of drought.

Israel’s dodgy farm labourer deal with Malawi

As thousands of foreign farm labourers quit Israel in the wake of the 7 October attack by Hamas, Malawi is sending its job-hungry youth to replace them – part of a forex-earning scheme by a cash-strapped government. So far, more than 400 young people have left for Israel on chartered flights, and as many as 5,000 could go in the next few months. They will help plug the labour shortage on the valuable vegetable farms close to the Gaza border, long-dependent on Thai and Palestinian workers. Although the Malawi government insists its citizens will be safe, it has been slammed by opposition and rights groups for an allegedly opaque and “evil transaction”, tied to a $60 million Israeli aid package. The new recruits will earn $1,500 a month, but will receive only $500 in Israel. The remainder will be converted into local currency and banked on their behalf in newly opened accounts.

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In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN/BRITAIN: The Ministry of Defense of the UK has allocated some of its largely unused housing to accommodate 40 Afghan families evacuated by Britain after the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. In March, the British government announced that up to 9,000 Afghans would be evicted from the hotels they had been living in for more than a year.

AFRICA HEALTH: The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the African Union Commission, are developing a new financing mechanism to help countries prepare and respond to disease threats more rapidly – without relying on external partners. The new structure will be presented to the African Union summit in February for approval.

CLIMATE AND CHILD HUNGER: The number of children in a climate-induced food crisis more than doubled between 2021 and 2022, according to a new Save the Children analysis. The NGO estimated that 27 million children experienced crisis levels of hunger or worse in 2022 due to extreme weather events, compared to 11.4 million in 2021.

FINLAND/RUSSIA: In the past two weeks, Finland has closed all border crossings along its 1,340-kilometre frontier with Russia amid suspicions that Russia is directing asylum seekers and migrants toward the border in an effort reminiscent of a crisis that emerged along the Poland-Belarus border in 2021. In the past month, more than 900 people from Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen – among other countries – have crossed into Finland to claim asylum, a significant increase compared to usual numbers.

HAITI: A new UN report calls for the urgent deployment of an international force to help combat gang violence, noting that support is needed to strengthen the police, the judiciary, and the prison system in the Caribbean nation. It highlights the worrying spread of gang violence into the central district of Bas-Artibonite, north of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and says nearly 4,000 people have been killed by gangs countrywide this year.

MALARIA: The World Health Organization’s annual report on malaria flags a rise in cases in 2022 (up 16 million globally since 2019 to 249 million), pointing to disruptions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, including to vaccination programmes. Future progress will be hampered by resource constraints, growing insecticide resistance, and major emerging challenges caused by climate change, which gets a dedicated chapter in the report for the first time.

MYANMAR: The military junta is reportedly continuing to lose ground to armed groups in various parts of the country. In Rakhine State, at least 130,000 people have been displaced by the latest fighting, bringing the national total to more than two million. For more on calls for donor governments and international aid groups to give greater support to local groups on the front line of the humanitarian response effort, read this opinion piece.

NIGER: A controversial law aimed at curbing migration to Europe has been revoked by Niger’s ruling junta, which toppled the country’s democratically elected government in a July coup. Niger is an important transit country for asylum seekers and migrants from West Africa trying to reach Europe. Deposed president Mohammed Bazoum was the central figure behind the law’s implementation, which was adopted under pressure from the EU in 2015. For more context on the law and its impacts, read our 2018 report: Destination Europe: Frustration.

REFUGEE WIN: A former refugee is this year's winner of the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award. Abdullahi Mire, who grew up in Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab camp, was recognised for his initiative to collect and donate 100,000 books to encamped refugees in Kenya. 

SIERRA LEONE: Authorities have arrested 13 military officers following an attempted coup that resulted in the death of 20 people and the escape of nearly 2,000 inmates from a prison in the capital, Freetown.

Weekend read

After Mexico’s record storm, survivors say only tourist areas are getting the love

Hurricane Otis wasn’t the deadliest storm ever to hit Mexico, but it was the strongest, packing wind gusts of over 300 kilometres per hour. A month after it tore through the city of Acapulco, devastating the touristy coastal strip, a glaring response double standard has emerged. As Stephania Corpi Arnaud reports in our weekend read, survivors in many of Guerrero state’s more neglected inland communities were left wondering why they had to wait for six days without food, medical services, clean water, or electricity before the first government assistance arrived. And even when aid did reach them, it was often just a one-off food kit for a week. A health crisis is now emerging due to the lack of sanitation and clean-up, with stomach infections, diarrhoea, skin rashes, and respiratory diseases all being reported. Meanwhile, any reconstruction money appears to be being prioritised for the hotels, and for putting Acapulco back on the tourist map. 

And finally…

Kissinger: America’s ruthless anti-Soviet defender

Henry Kissinger, the former US national security adviser and secretary of state who critics hold responsible for the deaths of millions of people, died on 29 November at the age of 100. An adviser to every president from Nixon to Trump, Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for negotiating a ceasefire with North Vietnam, despite having been an advocate for policies that prolonged the war. The United States dropped nine billion pounds of munitions on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, contributing to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, whose genocidal policies killed two million people. A proponent of realpolitik, Kissinger’s much-vaunted diplomatic skill – often aimed at detente with the Soviet Union – took little heed of humanitarian concerns, for example, seeking to “be friends with” the Khmer Rouge to pit them against North Vietnam. In 2002, Kissinger avoided questioning by French and Spanish courts over his involvement in “Operation Condor”, a US-backed programme to install right-wing dictatorships across South America that ended up killing tens of thousands of people and leaving many times more imprisoned and tortured. In an effort to supplant Soviet influence in the Middle East, Kissinger thwarted Soviet efforts to mediate an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. This culminated in the 1973 invasion of Israel by Egypt and Syria – a conflict Kissinger again sought to prolong, orchestrating a “costly victory” for Israel that solidified its ongoing dependence on US support, with ripples still being felt to this day.

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