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Anarchy in Haiti, abductions in Nigeria, and Ramadan ceasefire hopes: 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

What does Haiti's future hold? 

No one knows who is in charge in Haiti any more. Returning from Kenya, where he was trying to shore up a security assistance mission, acting prime minister Ariel Henry diverted his plane to Puerto Rico on 5 March after being turned away by the Dominican Republic, with which Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. In his absence, the gangs that have tightened their grip on the capital, Port-au-Prince, since the July 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moïse have been on the rampage, freeing thousands of inmates from penitentiaries, launching an assault on the international airport, sacking and burning police stations, and forcing the closure of the main port. Gang leader Jimmy Chérizier called on Henry to resign or face a civil war, while the regional CARICOM body and the United States, a key ally, urged him to speed up a transition. But to whom? A ‘Council of Ministers’, all that’s left of a government that has largely ceased to function, issued a nameless 7 March decree extending the state of emergency in and around the capital until 3 April. A night-time curfew was also extended until 11 March. But given the lawlessness, the effect of the decree may be limited. Humanitarian needs, meanwhile, are soaring, with at least 15,000 newly displaced, according to the UN. Haiti's main hospital and several health centres were forced to close because staff couldn’t reach them safely and medical supplies are lacking. According to UNICEF, two in every three Haitian children need emergency assistance, and families can't access help without risking the crossfire. The fate of the UN-approved Multinational Security Support mission (MSS), which the US was planning to bankroll, also appears in doubt. For more, read our roundup.

Aid efforts intensify as Gaza ceasefire hopes dim

Israel’s bombardment and siege of the Gaza Strip has entered a sixth month, and the casualty count is inexorably rising. As of 8 March, it stood at 30,878 dead and 72,402 wounded – more than 70% of them women and children, according to health officials in the enclave. Hopes of securing a 40-day ceasefire in time for Ramadan, which begins 11-12 March, faded when Hamas negotiators left Cairo on 7 March empty-handed. Israel refused to send a delegation to the Qatar/Egypt-brokered negotiations until Hamas produced a list of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza. But given the situation on the ground, Hamas says this is impossible without a ceasefire. Humanitarian efforts are intensifying, with airdrops, and with US President Joe Biden announcing a plan to build a temporary port to bring in supplies by sea. But aid officials say an immediate and permanent ceasefire is the only thing likely to prevent widespread famine, and more children from starving to death. Meantime, reports suggested the Biden administration has delivered more than 100 military sales to Israel since October, while the Israeli government has advanced plans for thousands of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank. Even before any ceasefire comes, relief officials are looking at what next, with the future of Gaza’s main aid provider, UNRWA, hanging in the balance. For more on that, read our latest Gaza aid in-depth: Why Israel wants to end UNRWA and what its closure would mean.

Hundreds killed in Burkina Faso attacks

A regional prosecutor in Burkina Faso has said that at least 170 people – men, women, and children – were killed last week in northern Yatenga province. It remains unclear if the perpetrators were jihadist fighters or state security forces – which regularly kill civilians during counter-insurgency operations – though the massacre underlines the deteriorating security situation. On the day of the attack – 25 February – a mosque was also stormed in the east of the country, leaving dozens dead, and a church was raided in the north. This week, another attack was reported in eastern Komondjari province, close to the border with Niger. Survivors said villagers were punished by the army for not wanting to join a volunteer militia force set up to enable civilians to support the military. Burkina Faso has faced jihadist attacks since 2015, but fatalities and humanitarian needs have hit record highs under the current junta, which seized power in late 2022. The junta has declared a “total war” against the insurgents, and has made close alliances with the military governments in neighbouring Mali and Niger. A new joint anti-jihadist force involving all three countries is now reportedly being built. See our recent briefing for more background context, and check out this op-ed from a Burkinabé community leader in one of the country’s most conflict-affected areas.

Guterres pushes for Ramadan ceasefire in Sudan

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has appealed for the Sudanese army and rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces to accept a Ramadan ceasefire as the conflict reaches what he called “colossal proportions”. The UN Security Council, which has been criticised for paying scant attention to the war, is negotiating a British-drafted resolution that calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The discussions come as the World Food Programme has warned that the war risks triggering the world’s largest hunger crisis, having already created the world’s largest displacement crisis. Half of Sudan's population – around 25 million people – need relief, yet those with the highest level of need are mostly inaccessible to aid agencies. Local mutual aid groups are trying to fill the void, yet their operations have been disrupted by an RSF-imposed communication blackout. See our latest report from the capital, Khartoum, for more on that.

500 taken in mass Nigeria abductions

In two separate incidents of mass abductions, around 500 people – including a large number of school children -- have been seized by jihadist fighters in northern Nigeria. Over 300 people, mainly women and children, were abducted in northeastern Borno State on 29 February as they collected firewood beyond the “safety trenches” of their displaced persons camp at Ngala. State governor Babagana Zulum said the thousands of households in the camp receive only “minimal food assistance”, and firewood sales are one of the few ways they can feed themselves. He suggested some of the abducted women may have voluntarily joined Boko Haram in the hope of a better life. In north-central Kaduna, gunmen believed to be linked to the jihadist group Ansaru, stormed two schools on 7 March and seized more than 200 students. One pupil was killed. Kidnapping for ransom – and to make a political point – has become a routine occurrence in northern Nigeria.

It’s International Women’s Day. Cause for celebration or concern?

International Women’s Day has become a sobering reminder that women’s freedoms are under attack, and that conflicts – from Haiti to Sudan – are unravelling decades of progress. Women also continue to bear outsized burdens in humanitarian crises. For example, the number of women and girls living in conflict-affected areas has doubled since 2017 to 614 million. Climate change is also set to leave 236 million more women and girls hungry by 2030 – twice as many as men. And if those numbers weren’t enough to spark concern, daily headlines offer grim reminders that sexual violence against women has climbed to worrying levels. There have been waves of femicides in Kenya and an unprecedented number of rapes in Haiti linked to gang violence. And while abortion rights have been bolstered in much of the world, 21 US states now ban or restrict the procedure. It’s not all bad news though. Some progress has been made in reducing child marriages and female genital mutilation, and women are making inroads when it comes to securing political positions. For more female-focused stories, have a look at our regular SheSaid Series. And for a particularly timely take, watch our latest Gaza Snapshots video from Gaza-based journalist Maha Hussaini:

Migration deaths continue to soar

Last year, at least 8,500 people died on land and sea migration routes around the world, making it the deadliest year since the UN’s migration agency, IOM, began keeping track in 2014. This is widely considered an undercount, with many deaths going unrecorded or unconfirmed. The Mediterranean Sea remained the deadliest migration route in the world, with over 3,120 recorded fatalities, bringing the total since 2014 to over 29,000. So far, deaths along migration routes have continued apace this year as well. Just in the past 10 days: at least one person drowned after a group jumped overboard from a migrant boat as the EU-supported Libyan coast guard fired shots into the water to stop an NGO vessel from performing a rescue; a seven-year-old girl died in in the English Channel when the boat she was in capsized trying to reach the UK; 24 bodies were recovered off the coast of Senegal after a shipwreck involving a boat carrying hundreds of people en route to the Spanish Canary Islands; and four more bodies were found aboard a boat that reached the Canary Islands from the West African coast. For more, listen to our recent What’s Unsaid podcast: 2024, another deadly migrant year.

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In case you missed it

ARGENTINA DENGUE: The health ministry has reported an alarming rise in dengue fever infections: 74,555 cases so far this year – 2,153% more than in the same period in 2023 – and the outbreak has already killed 47 people. Climate change has been fuelling dengue outbreaks across Latin America, including in Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru. For more, read our report here.

BRITAIN/GERMANY/UKRAINE: British forces are “on the ground” helping Ukrainian forces fire long-range missiles at targets behind Russian lines, according to a recording of a conversation involving the head of the German Air Force, which was leaked to Russian state media. German officers were also recorded discussing the possibility of using German-made missiles to destroy a “bridge in the east”, despite German Chancellor Olaf Scholz opposing the use of such missiles in Ukraine. Germany has confirmed the recording as authentic.

BRITAIN/SYRIA: Five British Special Air Service (SAS) troops are being investigated for possible war crimes in relation to the alleged murder of a jihadist in Syria in 2022. UK special forces have been deployed in Syria for years in operations against the so-called Islamic State.

DARIÉN GAP: Panamanian authorities ordered Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to halt its operations in the Darién Gap, arguing that it doesn’t have a valid “collaboration agreement” with the health ministry. MSF, which provides critical medical attention to migrants and has denounced the sharp rise of sexual violence on the jungle route, said it had been unsuccessfully trying to renew the agreement since last October. For more on the rapid growth in humanitarian needs on the route, check out our recent visual explainer.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: The M23 rebel group has seized the town of Nyanzale, in the country’s east, in an attack that killed at least 15 people and displaced thousands. The violence in embattled North Kivu province has worsened as M23 increases its pressure on the main city of Goma.

INDIA: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made his first official visit to the state of Kashmir since his government stripped it of special autonomous status and divided it into two parts in 2019. Security had to be ramped up ahead of Modi’s arrival, with thousands of police and paramilitary forces stationed throughout Srinagar. There were also reports of detentions.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE: A UN report released on 4 March found “clear and convincing information” that rape and sexual violence took place during Hamas’ 7 October attacks into Israel but said the extent of the violence “may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known”. The issue has become highly contentious, with critics arguing that Israel has used mass rape allegations to justify its military campaign in Gaza.

MEXICO: A government initiative to protect journalists needs a “major overhaul”, according to a joint review by Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Their two-year investigation revealed “an alarming picture of a deeply flawed institution”. Mexico is the most dangerous country for the press in the western hemisphere.

MOZAMBIQUE: Nearly 100,000 people have escaped attacks by jihadist insurgents in Cabo Delgado between December and March – the largest displacement in 18 months, according to Save the Children. Mozambique’s military said last year that more than 90% of the northern province had been secured, yet recent violence indicates the conflict is far from over.

UKRAINE: Women-led groups responding to the conflict in Ukraine are burnt out and underfunded, warns a report by feminist organisation Voice. Some 58% of women’s organisations surveyed in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, and Romania said a lack of funding was their biggest threat. “Our biggest concern is that by the end of 2024, there will be no Ukrainian-led organisations providing gender-based violence services in Ukraine,” one respondent said.

UNITED STATES: Local humanitarians are working to assist families in the US state of Texas after wildfires, including the largest in its history, burnt through nearly 1.3 million acres in the northern panhandle region, killing at least two people and forcing thousands from their homes.

VENEZUELA: Venezuela announced it will hold presidential elections on 28 July. President Nicolás Maduro had committed to free and fair elections, signing an agreement in Barbados with the opposition last October that paved the way for an easing of US sanctions. But he has since barred his main rival, María Corina Machado, from participating.

YEMEN: Three sailors were killed this week by a Houthi missile strike on a cargo ship off Yemen’s coast, the first deaths since the Yemeni rebel group began attacking ships in the Red Sea in what they call a gesture of solidarity with Gaza. Several communications cables under the sea were also cut, impacting data flow between Europe and Asia. Although some have blamed the Houthis, they deny responsibility and the cause remains unclear.

Weekend read

‘Horrific’ civilian toll as Ethiopia turns to combat drones to quell local insurgencies

‘The place was littered with body parts of dead people, intact dead bodies, and survivors with missing limbs who were moaning in pain.’

Indiscriminate drone strikes have hit non-military targets and killed hundreds of civilians – but there is little chance of any accountability.

And finally…

British media’s ‘biased’ coverage of Israel and Gaza 

When media bosses were invited to the UK parliament for the release of a new report on biased Gaza coverage, there was no mad rush to be on the panel. Despite invites reaching nearly every print, online, and broadcast outfit in the UK, only representatives from the BBC, Sky, and Al Jazeera English showed up to face the heat of the findings by the Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM). Also in attendance were politicians, journalists, and Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab representatives. The in-depth analysis looked at the first month’s coverage (7 October–7 November 2023). It asked whether the media had fulfilled its role to, “robustly report the news, validate facts and hold those with power to account”. A few takeaways from the 140-page critique: Only 24% of news mentioning Israel, Gaza, or Hamas, mentioned the word(s) Palestine/Palestinian. It also found that more TV broadcast channels promoted “Israel's right to defend itself” than the rights of Palestinians by a ratio of 5 to 1. On the issue of emotive language (which led to a tense debate on the panel), the report found that Israelis were 11 times more likely to be referred to as victims of attacks than Palestinians. Over 70% of the terms “atrocities”, “slaughter”, and “massacre” were used when referring to the attacks on Israel. Language about the deaths of Palestinians were found to be often qualified with terms such as “what they say is a massacre”. Some of the top-brass present admitted the crisis has been difficult to cover, and that mistakes had been made.

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