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Rafah fuel cuts, floods, and a humanitarian AI checkup: The Cheat Sheet

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

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Rafah border closure cuts off aid, as civilians flee Israeli bombardment

As Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip enters its eighth month, tens of thousands of people are fleeing Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, following Israeli evacuation orders, a partial ground invasion, and intensified bombardment. On 6 May, Hamas announced it had agreed to a ceasefire proposal, but Israel rejected the terms of the deal. Hopes of a ceasefire are fading. Instead, Israel launched a ground offensive in eastern Rafah and stepped up airstrikes across the southern region. The Israeli military seized control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – a key gateway for humanitarian assistance entering the Gaza Strip and the only limited exit available to Palestinians in the enclave. No humanitarian supplies or fuel have entered Gaza through Rafah since Israel took control of the border post on 7 May. Sam Rose from the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, told The New Humanitarian that, without fuel supplies delivered from Egypt through Rafah, the already severely hobbled response in Gaza would grind to a halt in a matter of days. The impact will be more suffering and increased food insecurity for a population on the verge of famine, according to Rose. Israel said the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza – also located in Rafah – had reopened after being closed for several days. But aid officials say no supplies have come in. Meanwhile, conditions are grim in the only places available to people fleeing the Israeli military escalation in Rafah, which is the only city in Gaza that has not been nearly entirely destroyed by Israeli bombardment. For more, watch our latest video snapshot from Gaza: Rafah’s exodus.

Blasts strike displacement camp amid M23 conflict

A vigil was held for victims of bomb blasts that struck displacement camps on the outskirts of Goma, the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than a dozen civilians were killed on 3 May when shells crashed into camps sheltering people displaced by the Rwanda-backed M23 insurgency. The US blamed the Rwandan army and the M23 for the attacks, though Kigali called the accusation “ridiculous”. “War has taken everything from me,” Alimeti Kigiho, who lost his wife and two children in the strikes, told the Associated Press while attending the vigil. Roughly 1.5 million people are currently displaced by the conflict, which has escalated in recent months as the M23 takes over an unprecedented amount of territory. Goma has received some 700,000 displaced people but is suffering under an M23-imposed blockade. For more, see our recent reporting from Goma and its displacement camps.

Fresh famine warnings for Sudan

The risk of famine in Sudan warrants “great alarm”, according to a report from the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network. The report said levels of hunger could breach famine thresholds, if the warring parties further escalate the conflict or increase their isolation of populations from food assistance and cross-border trade. Millions of people are already experiencing severe hunger, according to the report, and there is a rising level of acute malnutrition and hunger-related mortality among displaced communities. Sudan’s war began in April 2023 and pits the Sudanese army against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Humanitarian aid is being consistently looted and blocked by the belligerents and food is so short in some areas that people have been consuming soil and tree leaves.

Are floods the new normal in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Floods and storms are causing severe damage across Latin America and the Caribbean. Since the beginning of May alone, floods have been registered in Brazil, Haiti, and Uruguay. In Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil, floods have killed more than 100 people and displaced 164,000, but the toll could rise as more rain is expected. In Haiti, parts of which are already battered by gang violence and hunger, heavy rainfall killed at least 17 people and flooded more than 4,000 homes. Uruguay is also experiencing heavy rains that have put the country in a state of alert. Overflowing rivers flooded five of the country's 19 departments, forcing rural schools to close in some areas and displacing more than 700 people. In Bolivia, 73 municipalities have declared a state of disaster due to the fallout from heavy rain, according to the UN-coordinated humanitarian country team. The impacts of climate change and the El Niño weather phenomenon combined to force the region’s warmest year on record in 2023, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization.

70% of Yemen’s humanitarian response needs are unfunded

International aid donors gathered in Brussels on 7 May failed to commit enough money to address Yemen’s humanitarian needs, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned. An estimated $2.7 billion is needed to support millions of Yemenis experiencing severe hunger, disease, and conflict, but the donor states only committed $735 million – less than 30% of what is needed. NRC decried the “almost complete absence of support from the richest states”, saying it stands in contrast to the resources those states are funnelling to fuel conflict in the region. Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration is asking for more funding to assist the 300,000 migrants, mainly from Somalia and Ethiopia, who were trapped in Yemen on their way to Saudi Arabia. Houthi authorities, who control many of Yemen’s population centres, have pledged to continue attacking cargo ships off its coast as long as Israel continues its assault on Gaza. The shipping company Maersk has warned its customers of rising costs and delays due to an expanded “risk zone” for Houthi attacks. 

How polio vaccine policy endangered thousands of children

Leadership failures at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) are among the factors blamed for a tenfold spike in a strain of the poliovirus that has paralysed more than 3,300 children. Science magazine reported the “unusually blunt” findings of a draft GPEI investigation into the “unqualified failure” of dropping the component for the type 2 virus – one of three polio strains – from oral vaccines given to children. The 2016 “switch” was supposed to help end the type 2 virus, which was circulating mainly as a vaccine-derived version of the strain. But the vaccine-derived type 2 strain continued to spread, particularly in African countries, as children vaccinated without protection against type 2 were left more vulnerable. The GPEI responded too slowly and at an insufficient scale to the outbreaks, according to Science’s write-up of the draft report. There was an “inability or unwillingness of programme leadership to recognise the seriousness of the evolving problem and take corrective action,” the report’s authors wrote.

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In case you missed it 

CHAD: President Mahamat Idriss Déby has won a presidential election in Chad, according to the country’s election body, but the main opposition candidate has also declared himself the winner. Déby seized power in 2021 after his father was killed while commanding troops combating a rebel offensive.

HAITI: Preparations for the deployment of Kenyan forces to Haiti are underway, with the arrival of the first contingent set to happen by the end of May, the Miami Herald reported, citing a US government official. US military planes have started flying in contractors and supplies to build a base for the multinational security support (MSS) force. While several governments have said they will contribute to the MSS, the mission still lacks funding. For more on the situation in Haiti, read our coverage here.

INDIA: A heat wave that has punished India is set to end, according to the country’s meteorological department. The hot conditions, reaching up to 45 C, exceeded the country’s previous heat records set last year. El Niño-linked extreme heat is still gripping much of Asia.

KENYA FLOODS: Floods and landslides have impacted 1.5 million people across East Africa including a million in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, and 471,000 in the eastern DRC provinces of South Kivu and Tanganyika. In Kenya, which has seen more than 250 deaths and dozens of cholera cases, schools are set to reopen after authorities determined the worst was over

LIBERIA: President Joseph Boakai has signed an executive order establishing a war crimes court, more than 20 years after the end of two civil wars that killed 250,000 people. Lawmakers – including some who are expected to face prosecution under the new court – voted for its introduction last month.

NIGERIA: At least 25 people were killed by gunmen in raids on four villages in northwest Nigeria, a region struggling with mass kidnappings and looting by criminal gangs. The attacks in Katsina State were reportedly in reprisal for military assaults on bandit hideouts. Most of the dead were village self-defence militia.

SOUTH SUDAN: The government has revoked new taxes and fees imposed on aid agencies, which triggered a three-month suspension of expensive UN food airdrops. The charges had added an extra $339,000 a month to the overall cost of providing food aid. The pause in airdrops affected 60,000 people living in inaccessible areas.

SUDAN: The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias conducted a widespread ethnic cleansing campaign against Masalit and other non-Arab civilians in parts of West Darfur state in 2023, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report calls for governments and international institutions to investigate whether the evidence shows that RSF leadership intended to commit genocide.

TUNISIA: In a raid on 3 May, authorities dismantled a tent encampment set up by refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants outside the office of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Tunisia’s capital. Activist groups say some people cleared from the encampment were bused to a remote border region with Algeria and left in the desert without food or water. Tunisian authorities also arrested a prominent anti-racism activist, accusing her of money-laundering for activities related to supporting asylum seekers and migrants. Ignoring human rights concerns, the EU signed a controversial deal with Tunisia last year aimed at curbing migration.

VENEZUELA: A recent poll shows that the opposition´s main candidate, Edmundo González Urrutia, has a 40-point lead over president Nicolás Maduro ahead of elections scheduled for July. Roughly 62% of those surveyed said they preferred González, versus 20% for Maduro. For more on the government's growing repression, read this report.

Weekend read

Aid agencies struggle to adapt to Ecuador’s new (violent) normal

‘We have had to start using operational tools employed in much more volatile contexts, such as Syria or Lebanon.’ 

Not long ago a quiet backwater compared to many of its neighbours, Ecuador is now wrestling with a complex humanitarian crisis.

And finally…

A temperature check for humanitarian AI

Humanitarians are charging headfirst into the promise of artificial intelligence, but are they any better prepared for the risks after months of hype over generative AI? A new Humanitarian Practice Network paper takes a temperature check on the sector’s AI fever following the ChatGPT-fuelled boom. Aid groups are exploring AI across a range of uses: enhancing satellite mapping, early warning, damage and needs assessments. There’s an army of chatbots on the assembly line, and a deluge of flood prediction tools. There are bigger gambles: Some are exploring aid delivery in Gaza, facial recognition for children, family tracing, and displacement predictions, the paper notes. All come with risks and ethical questions: Will humanitarians include people who use aid at the start? Will they partner with Global South firms developing AI, or deepen the status quo? Can people who use aid even consent to having their data used to train today’s AI experiments? The answers to many of these questions are still unclear, says author Sarah W. Spencer. Instead, more humanitarians are racing to adopt AI, afraid of being left behind. “The single-minded pursuit of AI use cases seems to be displacing vital debates and decisions related to AI ethics, governance, safety, accountability, and humanitarian principles,” she writes.

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