Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
UN warns of media attention deficit over Sudan catastrophe
Ten months into Sudan’s civil war, some 25 million people – half the population – need aid and protection. Nearly 18 million Sudanese are going hungry and eight million have been displaced. Launching a $4.1 billion combined UN humanitarian appeal, Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths noted that “Sudan has hugely lost media attention, and this has been very, very difficult.” He urged donors not to repeat last year, when only 40% of the response plan was funded. Conditions are catastrophic, especially in large swathes of Darfur and Kordofan states. In Zamzam camp, in North Darfur, Médecins Sans Frontières estimates one child is dying every two hours as a result of malnutrition. Insecurity and bureaucratic obstacles block the movement of aid workers and supplies countrywide. Griffiths paid tribute to the ad hoc networks of neighbourhood aid providers working in the vacuum. But donors allocated less than 5% of funding to local NGOs in 2023, and that only went to formal ones.
Netanyahu orders ‘evacuation’ of southern Gaza
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli military on 9 February to draw up plans for the “evacuation” of Palestinians from Rafah in southern Gaza as it prepares to launch a full-scale assault on the area. Where people would be evacuated to – and how – remains unclear. Over one million Palestinians forcibly displaced by Israel’s military campaign – now entering its fifth month – have been pushed into Rafah. Aid groups have warned that there is nowhere left for people to flee to. People in Rafah are already experiencing disease and starvation, and aid operations are struggling to meet even basic needs. A ground invasion would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. On 7 February, Netanyahu rejected a ceasefire proposal put forward by Hamas, the Palestinian political and militant group that governs Gaza. Resisting growing US pressure for a long-term pause in fighting, he vowed that Israel will continue the war until it achieves “absolute victory”. Many experts, however, believe the goal of completely destroying Hamas is unachievable, while others accuse Israel of waging a disproportionate response that could amount to ethnic cleansing or even genocide.
Iraq labels US-led military coalition ‘a factor for instability’
A US drone strike in Baghdad has killed the commander of a militia the Pentagon says is involved in attacks on American forces. The 7 February attack is the latest in a series of US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria following a late January drone strike that killed US troops on a military base in Jordan. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq – an umbrella group of Iran-linked militias – claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iran itself denied involvement. The Iraqi government has condemned the American strikes, which it says have killed some civilians, and on 8 February army spokesperson Yahya Rasool said it was pushing the country towards ending the US-led military coalition’s mission in the region. Rasool said the coalition, which has bases in Iraq to fight the so-called Islamic State, “has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict”.
150,000 displaced as violence escalates in eastern Congo
The M23 insurgency in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is intensifying once again. Some 150,000 people have been displaced over the past few days, adding to the 1.5 million already uprooted by the fighting, which began in late 2021. The latest clashes are taking place close to Goma, a city of 2 million people and a hub for humanitarian aid operations in the east. The M23 says it is not planning on seizing the city (as it last did in 2012), but its forces fired a rocket on 7 February that landed near a Goma university. Soldiers from a recently deployed Southern African Development Community (SADC) military intervention appear to have entered the battlefield on the side of the Congolese army, which is also supported by local militia. Regional mediation efforts have so far failed, though a protest by the Congolese national football team (targeting violence across eastern DRC) at the Africa Cup of Nations did make global headlines.
Landmark warming breach; deadly El Niño-linked fires scorch Chile
The 1.5C temperature threshold – to which the world has agreed to limit global warming – was breached for 12 consecutive months for the first time between February 2023 and January 2024, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European weather-watchers. 2023 was, again, the hottest year on record, but the highly symbolic temperature breach must be repeated for many years until the 1.5C limit is officially broken. The last year has seen dramatic weather events worsened by a ‘super’ El Niño event, recently declared among the strongest on record, with unusually high temperatures detected in the Pacific Ocean, influencing weather globally. One of the consequences has been less rain in South America, drying out the land which recently ignited into massive wildfires. Chile has been one of the worst-affected countries, where the blazes left over 130 people dead and hundreds missing. The UN has called for increased global investment in fire prevention. For more on El Niño and the Chile fires, watch the short video below featuring climate expert René Garreaud from the University of Chile in Santiago:
Rethink refugee responses for the long term: UNHCR assessment
UNHCR has a strong mandate and scales up quickly in emergencies, but it’s too often “stuck” in long-term crises without an exit plan, a new performance audit of the UN’s refugee agency says. The 9 February assessment comes from MOPAN, a country-funded network that evaluates multilateral organisations, including UN agencies. It suggests UNHCR needs a “rethinking” on responses with a long-term view: The agency “often ends up building parallel refugee response mechanisms and institutions” that may entrench their services and sideline governments. Other points from the assessment will sound familiar to many big aid groups struggling with tighter funding and spiralling crises. UNHCR’s share of restricted, earmarked funding is at an all-time high, making it harder to ensure money goes to where it’s most needed. It’s an “overly demanding” partner to smaller organisations: It passes little flexible funding to its partners, but makes them jump through “unnecessary” reporting hoops. And while UNHCR is most effective responding to conflict displacement, its work in climate and disaster-related emergencies “is more uneven” and “less timely”.
In case you missed it
BRAZIL: Authorities declared a health emergency in Rio de Janeiro as Brazil tries to contain an outbreak of dengue. More than 364,000 people have already been infected this year – four times more than in the same period last year. Researchers hope a single dose vaccine developed in São Paulo and nearly 80% effective in a major trial will be approved by 2025. On a visit to Brasília, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the outbreak had been fuelled by El Niño.
COLOMBIA: In a victory for President Gustavo Petro’s embattled “total peace” plan, the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group extended their ceasefire for another half year. They also agreed to create a fund to finance the process.
EL SALVADOR: After becoming one of the world’s most popular leaders due to a crackdown on gangs that restored security but left large questions over rights abuses, Nayib Bukele was re-elected president with 83% of votes cast. His party also won the majority of the legislative assembly’s seats, raising fears of an authoritarian shift.
HAITI: Violent protests to oust acting prime minister Ariel Henry rocked the Caribbean nation, paralysing entire cities. Looting, attacks on public institutions, and clashes left many wounded, while at least five members of a heavily armed brigade leading the insurrection were killed.
MONGOLIA: A phenomenon of summer drought followed by bitter winter conditions – known as a dzud – has affected almost 300,000 families, with many losing their livestock, and warnings of worse to come as temperatures hover at record lows and pastures remain impossible to graze.
MYANMAR: Airstrikes against two schools in southeastern Karenni state on 5 February killed four students, aged 12 to 14, and two teachers. More than 80% of the state’s population has been displaced by fighting between the military and local resistance groups, and an estimated 500 civilians have been killed by military shelling and airstrikes, according to the resistance-aligned Interim Executive Council. UNICEF condemned the school attacks as a “grave violation” of international humanitarian law.
PAKISTAN: Millions of Pakistanis headed to the polls on 8 February to elect a new civilian government, a day after 30 people were killed in IS-claimed attacks in Balochistan province. With former prime minister Imran Khan disqualified due to corruption convictions, the polls are once again a choice between the Sharifs and the Bhuttos. Both families have led the country multiple times in the past while also facing corruption charges of their own.
SENEGAL: The postponement of elections by President Macky Sall has led to a week of political turmoil. Civil society groups have called for mass mobilisation and a general strike, while the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has urged that the election timetable be respected.
THAILAND: Muslim separatists agreed in principle to an “improved” peace plan with Thailand’s government on 7 February. The agreement, facilitated by Malaysia, follows years of abortive talks. More than 7,000 people have been killed in intermittent fighting between Thai forces and separatists in the country’s three southernmost provinces, whose populations are overwhelmingly Malay Muslim.
YEMEN: Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they have carried out more attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, just days after the United States and Britain announced they had struck some 30 Houthi targets as part of their campaign to end the attacks on shipping.
Special coverage: One year after quakes killed 55,000 people in Türkiye and Syria
Quake survivors in northwest Syria feel abandoned amid aid cuts and glacial rebuild
‘Everything is gone.’
International donors stepped up to help in the aftermath of last year’s earthquakes. That is no longer the case.
A year after quake disaster, Syrians in Türkiye battle unemployment and exploitation
‘As long as the workers’ struggle does not turn into action and a public reaction, the brands don’t move a hair.’
Unemployment in the garment industry has soared from 10% to 40% for Syrian refugees, and those with jobs are working overtime for little pay.
Snapshots: One year on, Syrian photographers capture life after quakes
More than a year after the February 2023 earthquakes hit rebel-held northwest Syria hard, the lenses of these three photographers show that the disaster is very much still a part of daily life.
Abiy award offers critics food for thought
It was a bold move by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization to award Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed its prestigious Agricola Medal. After all, the government itself estimates 15.8 million people will go hungry this year, and there have already been starvation deaths in northern Tigray, with growing fears of wider famine. The FAO prize celebrates Abiy’s “contribution to rural and economic development”. But detractors point out that his government stands accused by USAID of involvement in industrial-scale food aid theft, and has dragged its feet over both an inquiry and the cleaning up of the heavily politicised beneficiary lists. Worse still, during the two-year war in Tigray, government forces destroyed agricultural infrastructure and blocked relief supplies – deliberately using food as a weapon. Ever-sensitive to criticism, government boosters are now describing calls for urgent action to prevent looming famine in drought-hit regions as “politicking”.