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Rafah’s civilians, Mozambique’s storms, and finding joy in Malawi: The Cheat Sheet

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

Graphic of a television that reads 'breaking news'. Louise O'Brien/TNH

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

On our radar

Few details on Israeli plan for Rafah civilians as invasion looms 

As Israel presses toward an invasion of the southern city of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are trying to find shelter, the Israeli military says it plans to direct a “significant” number of them toward zones in the centre of Gaza. Referring to the areas as “humanitarian islands,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, did not provide details on how or when civilians would be moved when he made the 13 March announcement. Any Israeli invasion of Rafah could trigger an even larger humanitarian catastrophe in the densely crowded area, aid groups have warned for weeks. Rafah is Gaza’s main entry point for aid for its 2.3 million people, most of whom have been displaced by the Israeli bombardment and fighting that has killed some 31,341 Palestinians and wounded 73,134 in the past six months, according to health officials in Gaza. Aid groups say an invasion will complicate efforts to deliver humanitarian supplies, as people continue to suffer from disease and face starvation. Every person in Gaza has been at crisis-level hunger levels for months, according to the Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC). Children are dying from starvation, with the UN pointing to at least 20 such deaths earlier this month. Others have died from severe malnutrition, dehydration, and related diseases, and there are critical shortages of drinking water. Health officials in Gaza said 29 people were killed on 14 March in two separate Israeli attacks at aid distribution points – reports that Israel denied. Hamas, meanwhile, has offered a ceasefire proposal that includes releasing some Israeli hostages in exchange for more than 700 Palestinian prisoners – a proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said was based on "unrealistic demands''.

Haitians pay heavy price as country inches toward interim government and elections

Haitian civilians are again paying a heavy price as the country’s political crisis spins forward. The World Food Programme (WFP) said on 12 March that 1.4 million of Haiti’s 11.6 million people are on the brink of starvation, largely because armed gangs have put a chokehold on transport routes and aid distribution. Displacement linked to the gang violence has pushed more than 362,000 from their homes, while some 15,000 were displaced again just this month by continued gang battles. Hospitals and many clinics have closed out of fear that their staff will be attacked or kidnapped, and medical supplies are sparse. Sudden spikes in fuel and food prices have also strained day-to-day survival. Gangs have threatened more mayhem if Prime Minister Ariel Henry returns from Puerto Rico, where he has been stranded. He pledged to resign on 12 March, but the road to new elections is pocked with hurdles. Haitian political parties and coalitions have partly agreed who would sit on a transitional presidential council. The council would choose an interim prime minister, a council of ministers, and plan for general elections, which haven’t been held in nearly a decade. But there have been heated disputes amongst the political parties and coalitions that put the council names forward, suggesting delays. Kenya, meanwhile, says it won’t deploy a Kenya-led armed force to tackle the gang problem and restore stability until a presidential council is in place.

Crisis-level food shortages mar holy month for some Muslims

As Ramadan begins, the charity Islamic Relief says that 600 million people in Muslim-majority countries will face food shortages during the Muslim holy month, with at least 200 million facing severe hunger or undernutrition. In Afghanistan, 7.8 million children were likely to experience extreme food insecurity before the month of fasting even began. In Sudan, 17.7 million people, nearly half the population, are living with crisis levels of food insecurity after almost a year of war. In Palestine, Israel’s blockades and continued attacks have made Gaza the world’s worst hunger crisis. With a quarter of the population now facing “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity, the territory is now officially on the verge of famine.

No truce in Sudan as warnings grow on hunger and child deaths

Calls last week for a Ramadan ceasefire in Sudan have fallen on deaf ears, as the Sudanese army scores more battlefield victories and humanitarian groups continue to warn of alarming levels of hunger. The UN Security Council, which has been criticised for paying scant attention to the war, passed a resolution on 8 March calling for an immediate truce, but the army said it would not respect the resolution without concessions from the rival Rapid Support Forces. The military has been on the backfoot throughout the 11-month conflict, but achieved one of its biggest victories this week as it took control over a state television and radio complex in Omdurman – which adjoins the capital city, Khartoum – and vowed to track down RSF fighters across the country. The chest thumping comes as Save the Children warns that nearly 230,000 children and new mothers will likely die from hunger in the coming months without urgent action.

Aid gap for besieged Burkina Faso civilians

Up to 2.2 million people live in towns blockaded by jihadist groups in Burkina Faso, and around a quarter of them receive no assistance from international aid groups, according to research from a forum of humanitarian organisations working in the country. Of 40 besieged locations, 11 received no international aid last year and nine received support from only a single organisation. Aid groups cited a lack of funding, the limited capacity of a humanitarian air bridge – the main way of delivering relief to blockaded areas – and risks to staff as the main reasons for the assistance gaps. For more on the impact of the blockades, check out our recently published opinion piece from a Burkinabé community leader who escaped a besieged town last year. And to understand how communities cope with sieges and a lack of international support, read this feature we published on mutual aid and urban gardening initiatives.

A fierce — and familiar — storm in Mozambique

A year after Cyclone Freddy - one of the fiercest storms on record - killed over 1,400 people and displaced more than half a million others in Southern Africa, another tropical storm has killed four people and left hundreds of thousands in Mozambique in urgent need of assistance. Scientists say global warming has increased the intensity of rainfall during cyclones, while rising sea levels have increased the impact of coastal flooding, and spurred more storms, each compounding the effects of the last. Tropical Storm Filipo caused massive destruction to properties and infrastructure with a direct hit on the southern town of Inhassoro, in the same province where Freddy first made landfall on the African mainland last year, before looping back and coming ashore further north. Destroyed crops have pushed some survivors to eat wild roots. Mozambique is considered to be among Africa’s most vulnerable nations to climate change, even though it contributes relatively few pollutants. But there have also been some notable initiatives to help the country adapt to the impacts of climate change. Read our article to find out more.

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In case you missed it

INDIA: Rules announced this week to grant citizenship to refugees from nearby countries exclude Muslims, and detractors say the new law is another effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party to further isolate the country’s 200 million Muslims.

LEBANON/ISRAEL: A UN investigation has reportedly found that an Israeli tank killed Lebanese journalist Issam Abdallah last October by firing two 120mm rounds at a group of “clearly identifiable journalists,” in violation of international law. The probe, by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said it had not recorded any exchanges of fire in the 40 minutes prior to Abdallah’s killing.

LIBYA: Three political leaders said this week that they have agreed on the “necessity” of a unified government, and will form a committee to "look into controversial points". The last planned elections were delayed because of disagreements on who should be eligible to run for president.

MEDITERRANEAN: Sixty migrants died and 25 survivors were rescued by the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking, in a joint operation with the Italian coastguard. The deaths come on the heels of a recent UN announcement that 2023 was the deadliest for migrants making the Mediterranean crossing.

NIGERIA: Kidnappers have demanded a ransom of 1bn naira (approximately $600,000) for the release of over 280 students and teachers abducted on 7 March by bandits from two schools in Kaduna. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu vowed that "not a dime" would be paid out. Nigeria outlawed ransom payments in 2022.

NIGERIA: Aid to address catastrophic levels of malnutrition and recurrent outbreaks of preventable diseases in northwestern Nigeria is lagging, Médecins Sans Frontières warned, noting that the northwest region is left out of the country’s humanitarian response planning.

PANDEMICS: Negotiations for the pandemic treaty - a multilateral bid to help the world better blunt the escalation of disease outbreaks - have entered a new stage with a new draft agreement. Governments must agree on a text by May, but talks have been riven by gaps between global north and south countries.

RUSSIA: Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons but has no need to do so in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with a state news agency on Wednesday, days before an upcoming presidential election in which he appears likely to secure a fifth term.

SOMALIA: The militant group al-Shabab attacked a hotel in Mogadishu on 14 March that is frequented by government officials, and reportedly seized major towns in the centre of the country this week. The Somali military has been on the offensive against the group since last year.

SYRIA: Swiss federal prosecutors said that they plan to try Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity related to his time as a military commander four decades ago. Al-Assad can be tried in Switzerland because of the legal principle of “universal jurisdiction.”

SYRIA: The latest report from a UN-backed commission on Syria says that around 28,800 children are being held in northeast Syria camps, where living conditions are “appalling, with insufficient food, drinking water, hygiene products and medical services.” The al-Hol and Roj camps are also notorious for violence, both from people loyal to the so-called Islamic State and camp guards.

Weekend read

Israeli forces accused of abusing medical staff after Gaza hospital raid

‘We were beaten, cursed, humiliated, and left out in the cold for long hours as they interrogated us.’

The second largest hospital in the Gaza Strip is now completely non-operational, with a skeleton staff under an ongoing siege.

And finally…

The festival about much more than just music

Need something to brighten your weekend? Try this video from Malawi's Tumaini Festival. The refugee-led event takes place in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, attracting festival-goers from both inside and outside the camp.

Now in its 10th year, Tumaini – which means ‘hope’ in Swahili – drew 50,000 people in 2023, with over 115 performers from all over Africa. It is the refugee camp’s largest source of commercial income. Trésor Nzengu Mpauni, the festival’s founder, lived in the camp after leaving Democratic Republic of Congo. He says the festival “comes to bring joy and to relieve the stress and just help people see life in a more positive and lighter way.” 

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