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Gaza convoy massacre, Sudan aid challenges, and Shell’s oil legacy: 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 

Gaza toll passes 30,000 as 100 killed in aid convoy massacre

The death toll from nearly five months of war in Gaza has now reached more than 30,000 as over 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured while attempting to get food aid from a convoy of trucks in Gaza City early on 29 February, according to health authorities in the enclave. Witnesses told Al Jazeera that Israeli forces opened fire on crowds attempting to get assistance. The Israeli military acknowledged that its forces opened fire near the distribution but said the majority of deaths and injuries were caused by a stampede and people being run over by the aid trucks. This is not the first time Israeli forces have allegedly opened fire on people waiting for aid in northern Gaza. The convoy was a rare instance of humanitarian assistance reaching the north. The UN is warning of an impending famine, and six infants have reportedly died of dehydration and malnutrition. In addition to barriers getting aid into Gaza and to distributing it inside the enclave, Israel has reportedly stopped issuing visas to international staff of humanitarian organisations working in the occupied Palestinian territories, further hampering aid efforts. Meanwhile, Israel has recently escalated its airstrikes in Lebanon. Aimed at the Lebanese political and militant group Hezbollah, they have displaced tens of thousands of people, many for a second time. Read this report for more: Displacement and upheaval in southern Lebanon as Israel intensifies airstrikes.

Aid challenges multiply in Sudan

Humanitarian groups have faced constant bureaucratic and access impediments during Sudan’s conflict, and the situation appears to be worsening even as millions are on the brink of famine. Military authorities recently banned aid groups from running cross-border operations from Chad into the western Darfur region, which is mostly controlled by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. The RSF has been receiving military supplies from the United Arab Emirates via Chad, yet the decision puts millions of Darfuris at risk. Meanwhile, Houthi attacks on Red Sea vessels in support of Palestinians are disrupting aid shipments to Port Sudan, an eastern city that has become Sudan’s primary humanitarian hub. The International Rescue Committee said this week that shipments that took one to two weeks to arrive are now taking months to reach them. Aid distributions, including those run by local volunteer groups – the backbone of relief efforts across the country – have also been disrupted by an RSF-imposed communication blackout.

Poll announcement sparks political violence in Chad

Violence erupted in Chad this week shortly after the country’s election agency confirmed dates for a May-June presidential poll supposed to restore democracy after three years of junta rule. The government blamed an attack on the national security agency on the PSF opposition party, though the political group denied the charge. PSF leader Yaya Dillo – a vocal critic of ruler Mahamat Déby – was then killed alongside dozens of the others at a shootout with security forces at his party’s headquarters. Déby seized power in 2021 after his father, Idriss Déby, was killed while commanding troops combating a rebel offensive. The younger Déby’s regime has received support from former colonial power France, and he has consolidated power by co-opting armed groups and dissidents. Still, Déby’s rule has faced resistance from opposition movements and regime tensions have grown as his government has allowed Chadian territory to be used as an arms supply corridor for the Rapid Support Forces in neighbouring Sudan.

Likely next UK aid minister sets out her stall

The “overarching goal” of the UK’s opposition Labour Party – on course to win a general election later this year and end 14 years of Conservative (Tory) Party rule – is to “create a world free from poverty on a liveable planet”, according to Shadow International Development Secretary Lisa Nandy. The woman expected to take charge of UK aid policy and £8.3 billion aid budget told an audience at the ODI think tank in London that Labour had five aid policy priorities, including a “respect-based approach”. “I have been critical of NGOs who perpetuate outdated stereotypes, portraying people in the Global South as victims. In 2024, it is not just unhelpful but morally wrong to portray people in that way,” said Nandy. Her to-do list also included taking a more “strategic approach to aid” (probably working in fewer countries), improving the status of international development within UK policymaking, empowering women and girls, and not cutting the budget haphazardly. The last entry was a thinly veiled attack on the Tories, condemned internationally for cutting the legally enshrined aid budget target of 0.7% of gross national income, causing havoc to programmes. So, will Nandy reinstate the 0.7% target? Not so far. She simply echoed the Tories’ line, saying Labour would return it when “circumstances allow”.

Elections and failed deterrence: A global migration round-up

Amid a flurry of migration-related news this week, US President Joe Biden is reportedly considering taking executive action to block people who cross the border irregularly from claiming asylum. The end of 2023 saw a record number of attempted crossings at the US southern border, and migration is a hot topic during a US presidential election year. It’s also an election year in the EU, where migration is a similarly hot button issue and over 1.1 million people submitted asylum claims in 2023 – the highest number since 2016. A connecting line between the US and the EU is that harsh policies aimed at deterring migration don’t appear to be working, even as they come with high humanitarian and human rights costs. The same goes for the UK, where people continue to cross the English Channel in small boats despite the UK government introducing a slew of hardline policies – including jailing hundreds of asylum seekers for entering the country irregularly. Both the US and the EU are increasingly leaning on third countries to stop asylum seekers and migrants before they reach their borders. The Darién Gap – a dangerous and key part of the migration route from South America to the US – saw a record number of crossings last year. That paused temporarily this week after Colombia arrested several boat captains moving people through the Darién. 

Nigerians lose patience with Tinubu’s economic reforms 

As the country grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades, protesters have marched through Nigeria’s main cities demanding relief from crushing living costs. Since Bola Tinubu removed subsidies on fuel in June last year – shortly after becoming president – prices of food, transport, medicine, and other commodities have soared. Spurred on by ongoing conflict in food-producing regions and a steep fall in the naira against the dollar, inflation is currently running at around 30%. In the north, where poverty is deepest, people are eating the poor-grade rice that millers normally throw away or sell as animal feed. In Lagos, the commercial capital, people were trampled to death this week trying to get hold of bags of heavily discounted rice. Tinubu has – optimistically – called for patience to allow his economic reforms to work. The government has approved direct cash transfers for three months to 12 million vulnerable people to try and cushion some of the hardships. 

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In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: The UN Security Council held a closed-door session to discuss the appointment of a special representative to engage with the Taliban in the hope of improving the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country. 

ARGENTINA: Austerity measures introduced by President Javier Milei have sparked mass protests across the country as hunger grows among the poorest. The demonstrations erupted after Milei cut funds for community kitchens that serve about 10 million people. For more on hunger in Argentina, read our recent analysis.

BURKINA FASO: Dozens of people were shot dead at a mosque in the country’s east on 25 February, the same day a Catholic church was attacked. The gunmen, believed to be jihadist insurgents, surrounded the mosque in the town of Natiaboani during morning prayers. At least 15 people were also killed in the church attack during Sunday mass in the village of Essakane in northern Burkina Faso.

DISINFORMATION: Meta says it’s activating a team to fight disinformation and AI risks ahead of European Parliament elections in June. Half the world’s population is heading to the polls this year. The Facebook and Instagram owner insists the company is being proactive, but critics say tech platforms have much work to do – and a long history of harm.

GHANA-LGBTQI+: Ghana’s parliament has passed a bill that criminalises people identifying as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transsexual, or queer. It also allows for jail sentences to be handed down to those organising gay advocacy groups. If signed into law by President Nana Akufo-Addo, it would be amongst the harshest anti-gay laws on the continent. Amnesty International says 31 African countries criminalise consensual same-sex activity. Uganda recently adopted an anti-gay law that allows for the death penalty.

GUATEMALA: Multiple forest fires have consumed 1,900 hectares of land across Guatemala, according to emergency response agency CONRED. Guatemala is not used to such blazes, but the dry season, exacerbated by El Niño, has deeply affected the region’s weather. To learn more, check out our Snapshots series on how the climate crisis is affecting Central America.

HAITI: Acting prime minister Ariel Henry has agreed to hold elections in Haiti by mid-2025, according to a leaders’ statement at the end of a regional CARICOM summit in Guyana. Henry has faced growing protests and calls for his resignation amid rampant gang violence. On 29 February, as he was travelling to Kenya to push forward plans for a UN-authorised security assistance mission to rein in the gangs, violence broke out in several neighbourhoods of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and at the international airport, which had to cancel flights.

ICC/UGANDA: Nearly 50,000 victims of Dominic Ongwen, a former commander in Uganda’s Lord's Resistance Army rebel group, have been awarded a record $56 million by the International Criminal Court following his 2021 conviction on 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The money will come from voluntary contributions to the Trust Fund for Victims as Ongwen, who is serving his 25-year sentence in Norway, has no resources to pay. 

LOSS AND DAMAGE: The members of the board for the climate loss and damage fund have finally been confirmed, several weeks behind schedule. Many served as negotiators for the fraught talks that led to agreement at COP28. The board will have to resolve many thorny issues ahead, notably how it intends to disburse money to countries affected by climate disasters.

PERU: The government declared a health emergency in 20 regions as cases of dengue fever keep rising due to El Niño-related high temperatures and heavy rainfalls. In the past two months, the vector-borne virus has already killed 32 people – more than in all of 2023. For more on how climate change is fuelling dengue outbreaks, read here.

RUSSIA/SOUTH KOREA: South Korea has seen a five-fold increase in the number of Russians seeking asylum in the country. Seoul has reported that 5,750 Russian nationals sought asylum in 2023, a major uptick from last year’s total of 1,038. According to reports, most of the Russians cited “political opinions” as the reasoning for their asylum requests.

SYRIA: One man has reportedly died after being shot by security forces in the southern Syrian province of al-Sweida, making him the first person to be killed since protests broke out in the region last August. The demonstrations, previously rare in government-controlled areas, have taken on poor economic conditions, the end of government fuel subsidies, and the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

WEST AFRICA: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has lifted sanctions on military-led Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Niger. The financial measures had not led – as intended – to faster democratic transitions programmes. Instead, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger announced their withdrawal from ECOWAS, and the formation of a new security-driven confederation.

Weekend read 

GiveDirectly cash aid fraud led to broken families and mounting debts in DR Congo

‘They are only calling on us to be patient. But a whole year of patience? It’s too much, we have fallen into despair.’

Victims of a $1.2 million fraud scheme feel let down by the long wait for promised assistance and the lack of compensation.

And finally…

Shell's ‘pollution legacy’ in the Niger Delta

Clean up before you get out – that's the message from the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) after its report on Shell’s withdrawal from the Niger Delta accused the energy giant of failing to take responsibility for its toxic legacy of pollution. SOMO says oil companies have a duty to decommission safely in order to protect local communities. British firm Shell is to sell off its Nigerian oil interests, having earned billions of dollars from oil extraction over nearly a century in the region. But it’s being accused of evading responsibility to set aside funding for decommissioning – a legal requirement in Nigeria. SOMO says a lack of transparency means that no confirmation of such a fund has been established. The Niger Delta is considered one of the most oil-polluted places on Earth. Countless spillages over several decades have decimated the ecosystem, and once-prosperous farming and fishing communities have paid a heavy price. The loss of traditional livelihoods has forced many young people into illicit industries, such as kidnapping and oil theft. 

For more on the report and what this could mean for multinationals trying to evade responsibility for environmental damage, we spoke to Audrey Gaughran, executive director at SOMO:

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