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Ethiopia starvation, Gaza aid blockages, and military rule in Myanmar: The Cheat Sheet

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

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Food aid snags as Ethiopian regions battle starvation

Nearly 400 people have died of starvation in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions in recent months, according to the national ombudsman. It’s a rare admission of hunger-related deaths by a federal body – the government normally dismisses famine warnings as “politicking”. Despite the lifting in November of a nationwide food aid freeze imposed by USAID and the World Food Programme over large-scale government-run food thefts, just 14% of 3.2 million people targeted for food relief in Tigray received rations last month. There have reportedly been technical problems over fitting GPS trackers to food trucks and putting QR codes on ration cards. A lack of money is also an issue: The UN called on donors last month to urgently ramp up funding to avoid a catastrophe in the coming few months in Tigray, Amhara, Afar, Oromia, and southern Ethiopia, where around 4 million people need immediate food aid.

Gaza’s ‘pressure cooker of despair’

An estimated 100,000 people are dead, injured, or missing and presumed dead in Gaza, according to the World Health Organization. As the Israeli ground offensive in the enclave pushes south, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to the western outskirts of the southern city of Khan Younis and further south to Rafah, which is now hosting over half of Gaza’s population. A spokesperson for the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, described Rafah as “a pressure cooker of despair” and said he feared what would happen next, amid warnings of famine and widespread disease outbreaks. Meanwhile, over 800 government officials from the US, UK, and Europe have signed a public letter criticising their countries’ support for Israel’s war, saying they may be contributing to war crimes and genocide. Israel and Hamas – the political and militant group that governs Gaza, whose 7 October attack into Israel sparked the current hostilities – are also reportedly inching closer to a deal for a ceasefire. But even with a sustained pause, aid organisations would struggle to address Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe, officials at seven UN agencies and NGOs told The New Humanitarian in this in-depth feature. For more on the human impact of Israel’s ongoing military campaign, here’s our latest dispatch from journalist Maha Hussaini: 

Gaza’s aid ‘redistribution’

How are people in Gaza getting help amid Israel’s bombardment and aid blockade? In large part, they’re helping themselves. Nearly half of Gazans who responded to a recent aid survey say their own family networks have provided the most help. Humanitarian workers were a distant second, according to the study by Ground Truth Solutions, which spoke with hundreds of Gazans in late December and early January. Some 89% of Gazans surveyed said they did not know how to access formal humanitarian aid. “Global media has focused largely on the amount of international aid getting into Gaza, but redistribution of existing community resources has been absolutely critical to people’s survival,” researchers said. This means sharing savings, a blanket or a roof, or a bit of bread and water. It’s a “redistribution” because very little of anything is getting in: In its 26 January decision, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to enable “urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance”. But many humanitarian donors have instead suspended funding to the biggest aid provider in Gaza – the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA – and many UN agencies and big international NGOs say they aren’t an adequate replacement.

African leaders take issue with Italian outreach

A one-day summit in Italy with African leaders aimed at cutting irregular migration to Europe in return for investment hit some embarrassing snags. The continent’s biggest hitters – Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa – were no-shows, while the premise of “cash for curbs” was questioned by Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission chair. He noted that the regional organisation had not been consulted on Rome’s much-touted “new partnership” with Africa, adding that it would take more than token aid to rebalance relations between Europe and the continent. Giorgia Meloni, Italy's far-right premier, is under political pressure to stem irregular migration. She plonked $6 billion on the summit table for development projects to keep young Africans at home – but none of that is new money. The initiative’s centrepiece is the “Mattei plan for Africa” (note for rather than with). Its investment priority is energy – to turn Italy into a hub for African natural gas supplies to Europe.

Haiti police mission hangs in the balance 

On 26 January, Kenya’s courts appeared to have put the brakes on a UN-mandated international police support mission to Haiti to help rein in rampant gang violence, with a judge ruling that such a deployment would be “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. Not so fast, according to Kenyan President William Ruto, who told Reuters the deployment could still come “as soon as next week”. Opposition remains strong in Kenya, where several lawyers warned of more legal obstacles ahead. But with Ruto, acting Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry, and US President Joe Biden all seemingly determined to see the mission go ahead, its eventual deployment still looks probable. Read our full article for more. The crisis in Haiti, meanwhile, shows no sign of abating. According to UNICEF, three million children across the country will need humanitarian aid this year due to escalating violence, malnutrition, and disease, with basic services on the verge of collapse. The recent repatriation from the United States of convicted drug trafficker, ex-senator, and coup-plotter Guy Philippe has thrown another uncertain element into the mix.

Myanmar enters fourth year of military rule

Communities across Myanmar observed a silent strike on 1 February to mark the third anniversary of the military coup that overthrew the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021. The Civil Disobedience Movement, a group of activists campaigning for an end to military rule, shared photos showing empty streets in several cities, along with the statement: “The peoples of Myanmar are faithful to the revolution. We have never given up.” Several foreign governments, including the United States, Britain, and Australia, marked the anniversary in a joint statement that denounced the ruling junta for carrying out violence against civilians, fuelling a “humanitarian crisis with 2.6 million people displaced from their homes, and more than 18 million people in need”. The United States and Australia also announced new sanctions on entities associated with the military. UN Secretary-General António Guterres released a statement on 31 January calling for a cessation of hostilities and a return to civilian rule. Across the country, armed resistance groups continue to hold territory wrested from military control, prompting growing calls among military loyalists for the resignation of army chief Min Aung Hlaing. The top general announced on the eve of the anniversary that a state of emergency in the country would be extended by six months, delaying promised elections.

Maduro hit with sanctions for violating Barbados agreement

President Nicolás Maduro has once again failed to keep his commitments to the Venezuelan people. On 26 January, the government-controlled Supreme Court ruled that María Corina Machado, who overwhelmingly won the opposition primaries, is ineligible to run in presidential elections supposed to be held this year. In return, the Biden administration has started reinstating the sanctions on the oil and gas sector it had lifted in support of the so-called Barbados agreement signed between the government and the opposition last October. The deal was meant to pave the way for free elections, and brought hopes it could alleviate the country´s humanitarian crisis. However, since the primaries, Maduro’s government has sought to bar Machado and other candidates from running, arrested members of the opposition, and set no date for the voting. The US State Department said Maduro´s actions were “inconsistent with the agreements signed in Barbados”. For more on the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and efforts to set up a trust fund to address it, read on here.

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In case you missed it

CHINA/AFGHANISTAN: China has officially accepted the credentials of the Taliban-appointed ambassador. On 30 January, President Xi Jinping acknowledged Mawlawi Asadullah Bilal Karimi as the official ambassador of Afghanistan. Last September, China became the first country to send a new ambassador to Taliban-run Kabul.

DIEGO GARCIA: A Sri Lankan asylum seeker – one of more than 60 held on a joint US-UK military base in the Indian Ocean – was rescued while attempting suicide on 30 January after UK authorities rejected his bid for international protection, according to a source on the island. Two other asylum seekers are staging a hunger strike in protest against the inadequate medical facilities.

ECUADOR: A gang-related wave of violence resulted in the deaths of 770 Ecuadorian children in 2023 – a 640% increase since 2019. Most were newborns and children aged up to four, and teenagers between 15 and 19. For more on the rise of violence in Ecuador, read here

IRAQ: A UN group of experts and Human Rights Watch have said that Iraq has resumed mass executions for the first time since late 2020. Thirteen men were reportedly executed at Nasiriyah prison in late December, and many more (numbers range from more than 150 to more than 250) are at “risk of imminent execution”.

PAKISTAN: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan was handed back-to-back jail sentences. On 30 January, the ex-cricket star was sentenced to 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets. The next day, Khan, who is already serving time, and his wife were sentenced to 14 years for unlawful sale of state gifts when he was prime minister from 2018 to 2022. He and his supporters argue that all the charges, which come a week before elections, are politically motivated.

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN: More than 50 people -- including women, children, and two UN peacekeepers -- were killed by armed men in Abyei, along South Sudan's border with Sudan. The raid, believed to have been related to a land dispute, was conducted by young men from South Sudan's neighbouring Warrap State, and included an attack on the UN base.

YEMEN: Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed to have hit a US merchant ship in the Red Sea on 1 February, in a new missile strike that has not yet been verified. The US and UK continue to hit Houthi targets inside Yemen, although their campaign has reportedly failed to slow the pace of the rebels’ attacks on shipping, which the Houthis say are intended to pressure Israel into a Gaza ceasefire.

Weekend read

In a neglected part of Afghanistan, foreign aid cuts lead to hard winter choices

‘Families are now forced to choose between eating their one meal during the day or at night.’ 

Remote, rural communities are particularly vulnerable as the international NGOs they once relied upon cut back their support

And finally…

Somali women launch ‘Question Time’

Bilan, Somalia’s trailblazing all-female media team, is about to launch the country’s first TV debate show to be hosted by a woman. Similar in format to the UK’s BBC Question Time, the new programme will have a panel that’s at least 50% women and plans to address some taboo subjects. Premiering on 8 March, coinciding with International Women’s Day, the show will tour venues around the country and invite audience members to take part in the discussions. Meanwhile, Bilan is also collaborating with The New Humanitarian on a series of upcoming stories on the impact of displacement on women – so look out for those as well.

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