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Israel-Iran strikes, Darfur atrocity warnings, and a costly El Niño: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

Israel strikes Iran’s Isfahan

Israel reportedly struck the central Iranian province of Isfahan on 19 April, in apparent retaliation for the hundreds of missiles and drones Iran fired at Israel nearly a week ago. Neither the target nor the extent of the attack on Isfahan – home to an airbase, a missile production site, and several nuclear facilities – is yet clear. Concerns over the escalation remain extremely high, as the military confrontation between the two countries – long fought mostly through proxies and allies – has become open and direct. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has confirmed that it is buying 40,000 tents ahead of a long-planned (and delayed) offensive in Rafah, southern Gaza. The tents would apparently house some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been forced to flee Israel’s bombs and ground fighting elsewhere in Gaza, which have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians. That number includes more than 10,000 women, according to a new UN report, which focuses on the gendered impacts of extremely limited access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. More than a million women in Gaza are dealing with “inhumane living conditions”, the report says. Overcrowded shelters mean women risk urinary tract infections and other diseases, and 690,000 women need menstrual products. Most don’t have them, and are forced to use whatever they can find, including rags and sponges. For more on what it’s like for the approximately 1.7 million Palestinians (the vast majority of the population of Gaza) who have been forcibly displaced by the war, watch this…

Pledging conferences for Sudan, Ethiopia fall well short

A pledging conference held in Paris for Sudan’s humanitarian response has fallen well short of the UN’s $4.1 billion appeal. Donor countries offered $2 billion in aid, but that’s only half of what’s needed once you factor in those who have escaped Sudan for neighbouring countries. Oxfam said donors demonstrated “a disregard” for Sudanese lives, while Médecins Sans Frontières called the pledge “gravely inadequate”. Volunteers from the local mutual aid groups battling a looming famine on the ground, meanwhile, said they weren’t invited to the talks, adding another layer of contention. Donors also fell short at a pledging conference to tackle the deepening hunger crisis in Ethiopia. The UN had sought $1 billion to cover needs for the next three months, but just over $600 million was raised at the Geneva conference.

Atrocity warnings in Darfuri holdout city of El Fasher 

Human rights groups are warning of a growing threat of atrocities in El Fasher, the only city in Sudan’s Darfur region that is not controlled by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. A truce between the RSF, the army, and a patchwork of rebel groups has held for several months in the city, which is in North Darfur state and home to two million people. Yet RSF forces – which evolved out of the Darfuri Arab Janjaweed militias – have been burning down the villages of non-Arab communities to the west of El Fasher, and there have been reports of shelling and civilian deaths inside the town. The renewed threat to El Fasher comes as the Canada-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights has published a legal inquiry into atrocities carried out by the RSF against the non-Arab Masalit group of West Darfur state. It concludes that the killings (which we’ve also covered in depth) constitute genocide.

Is Ukraine headed for defeat? 

A Russian missile strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv left 18 people dead and over 60 wounded on 17 April. Ukrainian officials said the bombardment – which took place during morning rush hour – highlighted the country’s urgent need for more air defence systems as the flow of Western military aid to Ukraine has slowed. After a months-long delay, a bill that would see $60 billion in support sent to Ukraine – as well as additional funding for Israel and US allies in the Pacific – is set to come to a vote in the US House of Representatives on 20 April. But all the while, the Russian military has been making gains in eastern Ukraine, and there’s an increasing sense that Ukrainian efforts are faltering as their stockpiles of Western-supplied weapons dwindle. Much may depend on the outcome of the US presidential election in November. The presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump has been hostile towards Ukraine, while Democratic incumbent Joe Biden has advocated for continued support. 

The global fallout of a powerful El Niño

One of the strongest El Niño events on record is driving climate disasters around the world. Southern Africa is struggling with a drought emergency that has triggered food shortages and appeals for international aid. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 130 people have died in El Niño-induced pre-monsoon rains that have swept away homes and turned roads into raging rivers. Parts of East Africa have also suffered heavy flooding, with tens of thousands displaced and authorities in Kenya and Tanzania urging people to move to higher ground. Meanwhile, countries in East Asia and the Pacific are sweltering under a life-threatening heat wave. Similar high temperatures in parts of Latin America have triggered power cuts and water rationing. This year’s El Niño appears to have ended faster than expected, but experts are now trying to figure out if a La Niña event will ensue, bringing the likelihood of more extreme storms and hurricanes.

World Bank/IMF urged to help vulnerable countries in debt

As the first major policy menagerie of the year, the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund set the tone for the international finance agenda. Climate finance, debt, and replenishment of the Bank’s IDA fund – which provides grants and loans to low-income countries – were all hot topics as financiers and policymakers gathered this week in Washington, DC. Climate adaptation finance is sorely needed to better prepare for environmental disasters, while having more financial muscle allows lower-income countries greater ability to respond to humanitarian emergencies without being so reliant on the aid system. However, the ONE campaign warned that money reaching lower-income countries has fallen to the lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2008. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva began a new term at the helm of the lender facing calls to make key changes: to fund pandemic preparedness, speed up debt restructuring agreements, and dish out more special drawing rights (SDRs) – a reserve asset that countries in need of foreign exchange have used to pay debts, expand their budgets, buy COVID vaccines, and support social security. Meanwhile, campaigners are calling for clarity from the Bank on hosting the new climate loss and damage fund. World Bank chief Ajay Banga took office in June 2023 presenting himself as a climate-friendly reformer. His big announcement at the meetings was a joint plan with the African Development Bank to provide electricity to 250 million people in the continent by 2030.

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In case you missed it

CYPRUS: President Nikos Christodoulides said the Mediterranean island nation will stop accepting asylum applications from Syrians. More than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers have arrived in Cyprus by boat this year, compared to just 78 in the first quarter of 2023. Many are Syrians departing from crisis-hit Lebanon, where long-simmering anti-refugee sentiment has bubbled over in recent months.

ETHIOPIA: The government has begun an operation to fly home an estimated 70,000 mostly undocumented migrants languishing in Saudi Arabia’s jails and detention centres. Twelve flights a week will operate over the next four months. The migrant route through Yemen is considered one of the most dangerous in the world, with Saudi security forces accused of executing Ethiopian migrants.

FRANCE/HAITI: A coalition of civil society groups has called on France to repay billions of dollars to Haiti as restitution for the reparations formerly enslaved Haitians were forced to pay to secure France’s recognition of Haiti’s independence between 1804 and 1947. The coalition, gathered this week in Geneva for a UN forum, said the funds should go towards public works in Haiti.

HAITI: A month after acting prime minister Ariel Henry resigned amid raging gang violence, Haiti has passed a decree officially appointing a presidential transitional council to prepare for the deployment of a foreign force to fight insecurity, choose a new interim president, and pave the way for elections by 2026. For more, read our analysis here.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Israeli settlers killed a Palestinian man in the occupied West Bank last weekend, as they rampaged through villages, setting homes and cars on fire after a 14-year-old settler went missing and was later found dead. Human Rights Watch says in a new report that the Israeli army either took part or failed to protect Palestinians from violent attacks by settlers since 7 October, some so extreme that they have forced entire communities to flee. 

LIBYA: The UN envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, has resigned after 18 months on the job, saying his attempts to unify the country’s rival political powers to hold elections and form a government have been met with “stubborn resistance, unreasonable expectations and indifference to the interests of the Libyan people”.

NIGERIA: Nigeria has become the first country to introduce the Men5CV vaccine, recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), to combat all five strains of meningitis – an infection that causes inflammation of the meninges, a membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis has long been a public health concern in Nigeria. Last year, at least 303 cases and 190 deaths were recorded across 30 states.

NIGERIA: Marking the tenth anniversary of the abduction of 276 Chibok school girls in northeastern Nigeria, President Bola Tinubu has declared the government will no longer make ransom payments to armed gangs behind an expanding countrywide kidnapping industry. In an opinion piece for Newsweek, Tinubu said the extortion rackets “must be squeezed out of existence”.

SYRIA: Thousands of people detained by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria face widespread human rights abuses, including torture and sexual exploitation, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Most of the 56,000 detainees are children and teens who were detained following the defeat of the so-called Islamic State in 2019. US personnel are involved in most aspects of the detention system, the report says.

VENEZUELA: The United States has reimposed the oil and gas sanctions it lifted last October, citing President Nicolás Maduro’s disregard of an earlier commitment to hold free and fair elections. Some fear it will do little to steer the regime away from its authoritarian path, while inflicting greater harm on Venezuelans facing an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Weekend read

Latin America makes it harder for Venezuelan refugees as xenophobia mounts

‘We are living in the middle of a society that discriminates on many levels.’

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela continues to drive many abroad, but host governments are increasingly turning their backs on them.

And finally…

What’s different about the latest UN cyber-attack?

The UN is a frequent and growing target for cyber-attacks. What’s unusual about one of the latest ones, which The New Humanitarian reported this week? People may be learning about the breach relatively quickly. A cyber-attack on a shared server used by the United Nations Development Programme exposed personal information belonging to past and current personnel, the agency said. UNDP said it learned of the attack on 27 March. “This was a data-extortion threat actor that identified themselves on the dark web,” a spokesperson said. In recent days, some current or former UNDP personnel have received messages warning that their “personal identifiable information" may have been exposed. In the past, UN agencies have kept data breaches under wraps – such as in 2019, when the UN did not disclose a major hacking attempt to the public or to affected staff. Agencies have even failed to disclose attacks to internal investigators, partly out of fear of losing funding, a 2021 investigation stated: “Honest acknowledgment of weaknesses has yet to become the norm as part of the organisational culture.” 

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