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Sudan’s year of war, non-foreign aid, and a broken Gaza pledge: The Cheat Sheet

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

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

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Marking a grim milestone in Sudan

Next week marks the grim anniversary of Sudan's civil war, with all signs suggesting the humanitarian emergency will worsen. What started as a dispute over plans to merge the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces into the army has turned into a nationwide conflict that is drawing in an ever-expanding number of militia and rebel groups. The conflict has produced the world’s largest displacement crisis, with nearly nine million people uprooted, including two million who have fled to neighbouring states. Sudan’s agricultural system is in tatters and famine is now looming, with many starvation deaths already reported. RSF atrocities in Darfur have triggered genocide warnings and the capital city, Khartoum, has been wrecked. The conflict parties have obstructed relief efforts, and humanitarian funding has been scant. Mutual aid groups have tried to fill the void, providing a rare bright spot amid the devastation, but they too are struggling. To mark the milestone, we’ll be wrapping up our year of coverage early next week, and we have lots planned for the months ahead too.

No signs of progress on Gaza aid

A week after Israel vowed to facilitate the delivery of more aid to the Gaza Strip, little has changed, according to humanitarian officials. The pledge followed significant international pressure after Israeli drone strikes killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen on 1 April. Israel said it has dramatically increased the number of aid trucks entering Gaza, but the UN says numbers have only ticked up slightly. Israel also initially promised to open the Erez border crossing in the north of Gaza – where starvation is most acute and where humanitarian officials believe famine is taking place. That plan, however, has been scrapped in favour of constructing a new border crossing in the north. The first aid trucks reportedly entered Gaza through that crossing on 12 April. Getting aid into Gaza, however, is only part of the problem. Israel is setting up a centre where humanitarian officials and military commanders can coordinate to ensure aid convoys are not targeted, but it’s unclear when that will be functional. In the meantime, aid officials have said it’s not just the absence of a deconfliction process but the expansive rules of engagement the Israeli military is operating under that have led to the killing of unprecedented numbers of aid workers – as well as over 34,000 Palestinians – in the past six months. Meanwhile, Israel is threatening to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza where over half the enclave’s population has now been forced into, and where the two main border crossings are located. Aid officials have repeatedly said a ceasefire is needed to begin to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. For more on how local aid groups are bracing for an invasion of Rafah, read our latest

‘Two years to save the world’

UN climate warnings reached a new level of desperation when Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell declared on 10 April that there were “two years to save the world”. Stiell’s call to action in a speech at the Chatham House think tank in London plugged some familiar needs: for a “quantum leap” in climate finance (still woefully short); for strong G20 leadership (the country grouping producing 80% of emissions); and for people power (no name check for Greta Thunberg). “For those who say that climate change is only one of many priorities, like ending poverty, ending hunger, ending pandemics, or improving education, I simply say this: None of these crucial tasks – indeed none of the Sustainable Development Goals – will be possible unless we get the climate crisis under control,” said Stiell. More disasters around the world should be hammering home the urgency of Stiell’s comments. March 2024 set a heat record for the tenth month in a row, a record 30,200 wildfires were recorded in Venezuela from January to March, and a bus carrying 51 people was washed off a major highway in Kenya, not to mention record floods in Russia and Kazakhstan or the deadly cyclone that hit Madagascar. Worse may yet be to come: UNICEF has warned that record heat forecast for the Asia-Pacific region will put the health of 243 million children at risk.

Afghans fear new wave of Pakistan expulsions

Pakistan has announced that it will resume a mass deportation of “all illegal foreigners” that has already led to the return of more than 500,000 Afghan nationals to the Taliban-controlled country. The second phase of Islamabad’s plan, which began late last year, is likely to launch after the Eid al-Fitr holiday in mid-April. Rights groups are particularly worried by reports that the coalition government in Islamabad is looking to start deporting even holders of the Afghan Citizen Card – a document that allows Afghans to legally live and travel in the country. By some estimates, this could leave up to 800,000 Afghan nationals at risk of deportation. The Taliban-led Islamic Emirate government in Kabul has denounced both phases of Islamabad’s expulsions, calling them “illegal and against the accepted norms of the world”. It’s not just Pakistan, though. Iran has reportedly deported more than 345,000 Afghan nationals in the period between September and December 2023. Among them are tens of thousands of children. Local authorities in the southwestern province of Nimroz, which borders both Iran and Pakistan, said that 20,000 children have been deported to Afghanistan by Tehran in the last year, including those whose parents remain in Iran.  For more, read our story: Pakistan threatens new wave of Afghan deportations.

More disaster deaths in 2023, but fewer impacted overall

Last year saw 8% more disasters than the annual average for the preceding two decades, with a third more people killed but only half as many impacted overall, according to report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. Nearly 90,000 people were killed in 399 disasters, compared to a mean of 64,000 and 369 respectively in the years between 2003 and 2022. The numbers of those impacted was down from 175 million to 93 million “mainly due to the relatively low number of new significant droughts”. The report – which tracks events that kill 10 or more, or that impact at least 100, or that result in the declaration of a state of emergency or in an appeal for international assistance – attributes the spike in deaths to February’s devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, though the authors caution that it does not include full data for the impact of heatwaves in Europe and droughts in Africa. Most disasters occurred in Asia and the Americas, and while Africa experienced as many as Europe, only one African country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is included in the top 10 impacted countries.

The foreign aid that never leaves home

For the second straight year, the world’s biggest donor governments spent more of their foreign aid on home soil than they gave to fund responses to the world’s most urgent emergencies. Official development assistance (ODA) reached $223.7 billion in 2023, according to preliminary statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. But there are plenty of caveats behind the yearly tally of aid reported by a donors’ club of wealthy governments. Governments continue the controversial practice of counting the money spent on helping refugees at home as foreign aid. This totalled some $29 billion last year – more than the $25 billion spent on humanitarian aid:

OECD analysts say in-country refugee costs (or, for that matter, the record aid given to Ukraine) isn’t eating into overall aid spending, but others aren’t so sure. The UK, for example, counted 28% of its aid budget towards asylum and refugee costs at home, according to a parliamentary aid watchdog, while making recent and long-term cuts to aid on the ground.

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In case you missed it

BRITAIN: The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office should be rebranded to show that Britain has moved on from its colonial past, according to one recommendation in a new report by senior former diplomats. The document, by Moazzam Malik and Tom Fletcher, also suggested that “fewer colonial era pictures on the [FCDO] walls – might help create a more open working culture and send a clear signal about Britain’s future?”

DJIBOUTI: At least 38 people died when a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Djibouti on 8 April. Djibouti is a major departure point for irregular migration between the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Almost 95,000 people took this often overlooked route last year. 

ECUADOR: Mexico requested the International Court of Justice expel Ecuador from the UN in response to the Ecuadorian police forcibly breaking into the Mexican embassy in Quito last week to arrest former vice president Jorge Glas. Several countries, including the United States, have since condemned the raid.

EU: An overhaul of the EU’s approach to migration and asylum policy that was first proposed in 2020 has finally passed a vote in the European parliament. The raft of new laws aims to speed up the asylum process, ease the deportation of rejected asylum seekers, and better distribute the responsibility for hosting people seeking protection among member states. Human rights groups say the new measures will increase suffering and human rights abuses at the EU’s external borders. 

HAITI: Members of the transitional presidential council finally agreed on a plan for a temporary government to be established and pave the way for elections, but outgoing authorities must still approve it. Meanwhile, the ongoing curfew was extended as gang violence still rages, and as the World Food Programme (WFP) warned it could run out of food stocks by the end of April. For more, read our Haiti coverage.

INDIA: Elon Musk has announced that he intends to visit Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. The Tesla founder did not provide a specific date for his visit, but it comes just after New Delhi announced import tax cuts on electric vehicles for any global carmaker willing to invest $500 million and begin local production within three years. Musk’s visit will fall within the window of India’s nationwide election, in which Modi is predicted to secure a rare third term. Though Modi continues to face accusations of stifling free speech and religious discrimination, particularly towards Muslims, he is hoping an investment from Musk will solidify his pro-business stance among voters.

LATIN AMERICA: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued an alert about an unprecedented surge of dengue cases across the region and called for collective action to fight it. In the first three months of this year, 3.5 million cases and more than 1,000 deaths were reported, compared to 4.5 million cases in all of 2023. Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina are the most-affected countries. 

MALI: The ruling junta has banned the activities of all political parties and associations with a “political character”. The decree comes after the country’s main political parties and civil society groups called late last month on the military to transition the country back to civilian rule. See last week’s Cheat Sheet for more context.

MYANMAR: An armed ethnic group claims to have taken control of a key town near the Thai border from the military junta that has been ruling the country since 2021. The Karen National Union, one of many groups fighting the junta, says it has taken Myawaddy, a key trading town near the border with Thailand. If verified, it will be another setback for the junta, which has already lost control of key territories near the borders with Bangladesh, China, and India, as well as parts of Rakhine state in the west. At least 200 junta soldiers are also reported to have fled the scene after the KNU made its reported advances.

UNITED STATES: A near-total abortion ban is now in effect in the state of Arizona. The state’s supreme court ruled on 9 April that an 1864 law can be enforced, allowing for the prosecution of doctors who perform abortions. The law makes no exceptions for cases of incest or rape. Since the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade case that had made abortion in the US legal, several states controlled by Republicans have moved to ban the medical procedure. 

Weekend Read

For Congolese displaced by the M23 war, host families offer a ‘heart of solidarity’

‘They are the first to save us while we wait for the humanitarians to arrive.’

Though motivated by solidarity, their ability to help is at breaking point.

And finally…

A genocide remembered

Rwanda has marked 30 years since the 1994 genocide that killed around 800,000 people in a span of just 100 days. The dead were overwhelmingly Tutsi, but also Hutus who protected them, or those mistaken for Tutsis. Death was not quick. Neighbourhood militias killed their victims with machetes and clubs. Three decades on, there have been remarkable examples of reconciliation. But Rwanda is also a tightly controlled and repressive place. Government apologists argue that multi-partyism can exacerbate ethnic divisions. Regionally, Rwanda has also left a profound mark. In 1996, the army crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo to end murderous raids by genocidaires sheltering in the refugee camps. But in the process, they slaughtered tens of thousands of people. The soldiers stayed, and were directly involved in two Congolese wars. Even today, Kigali continues to protect its political and economic interests in eastern Congo, by backing the well-armed M23 rebel group.

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