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Gaza aid collapse, India heat deaths, and AI for Good? 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

Israel pushes into central Rafah as aid response grinds to a halt

An Israeli strike on a displacement camp on 26 May killed at least 45 people and injured hundreds of others, with many of the victims burned to death in tents. Despite international outcry over the strike, Israeli forces have pushed into the centre of Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip. Around one million people have already fled Israel’s ground invasion, which began on 6 May, according to the UN. Prior to the offensive, Rafah was hosting around 1.4 million Palestinians – around 1.1 million of them already forcibly displaced. It was also the base of operations and logistics hub for aid agencies. A letter signed by 19 aid groups on 28 May said Israel’s offensive has meant their ability to respond has “all but crumbled” and that they are now expecting to see “an acceleration in deaths from starvation, disease and denied medical assistance”. The already insufficient amount of aid being allowed to enter Gaza has collapsed, and the opening of new crossing points in the north of Gaza and the US’s floating pier are “cosmetic” changes creating “an illusion of improvement”, the letter said. The US pier, which cost around $320 million to construct, has broken apart due to strong winds and choppy seas after being plagued by logistical and security challenges during just over a week of operation. US President Joe Biden previously said Israeli troops entering “population centres” in Rafah was a red line and that he would withhold US weapons from Israel if it were crossed. That red line, however, has seemed to recede as Israeli forces have advanced, while a senior Israeli official said he expected Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to last through the end of the year. The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, ordered Israel to halt its assault on Rafah on 24 May – an order Israel has “flagrantly disregarded”, according to a group of UN experts, who called for the international community to impose sanctions on Israel and take other measures to force Israel to comply with international law. While international attention has been focused on Rafah, Israel has also stepped up its military activity throughout Gaza, and the hobbling of aid efforts is having an impact throughout the enclave. Reacting to the past week in Gaza, journalist and rights monitor Maha Hussaini spoke to The New Humanitarian in this audio report, as she continues to seek refuge in central Gaza:

Millions at risk of death in Sudan

A deeply alarming report by the Clingendael institute has concluded that 2.5 million Sudanese could die of hunger and related diseases by September, and that large-scale deaths have already begun. The calculation uses data on harvests, household stocks, wheat imports, and humanitarian aid, and is based on a scenario in which the hungriest people receive only small amounts of extra food. The report says the “exceptionally high” number is consistent with other severe famines, where population mortality was between 10-20% in affected areas. Sudan’s war began in April 2023 and pits the army against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Humanitarian aid has been blocked by the belligerents, and harvests and cereal imports have declined. Mutual aid groups have set up kitchens for the hungriest, but they are struggling with internet shutdowns, dwindling food in markets, and harassment by the warring parties. Despite the looming famine, peace talks have been rebuffed and conflict is escalating, most notably in besieged El Fasher, which we reported on this week.

Indian election marred by heatwave, cyclone disasters

As India heads into the final days of its eighteenth general election, the world’s largest democracy is beset by disasters affecting the ability of millions to cast their ballots. Dozens of heatwave deaths were reported in the eastern states of Bihar and Odisha on 30 May alone, while almost 60 people have died of heat-related causes in the last seven days in Rajasthan. The Washington Post reported that five of more than 100 patients admitted on 30 May to a hospital in Aurangabad, a city in Maharashtra state, were dead by the morning. Heat warnings remain in place for much of the northwest, including the capital, Delhi, where temperatures soared to a new record above 52ºC earlier this week (although this is being checked). India’s meteorological authority is warning that temperatures will remain extreme for much of June. Meanwhile, in West Bengal, near the border with Bangladesh, Cyclone Remal led to at least 10 deaths, with at least 3.75 million people affected by 110-kilometre winds and torrential rains across both countries. Nearly a million people had to be evacuated. None of this is likely to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from securing a third term that would equal the record of India’s first post-independence leader, Jawaharlal Nehru. For many, however, this is no cause to celebrate as they fear the dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric of Modi and his BJP party. For more on that, listen to our What’s Unsaid podcast episode: Does India know what’s ahead?

Sahel juntas backtrack on democratic transitions

The junta in Burkina Faso is extending its rule by five years, breaking a promise to hold elections in two months time. Led by army captain Ibrahim Traoré, the junta took power in a late 2022 coup and said last year that elections weren’t a priority when compared to the security situation, which has seen jihadist groups occupy and blockade large parts of the country. The junta in neighbouring Mali (which is also battling jihadist groups) has similarly failed to honour a timeline for a democratic transition, and looks set for several more years in power. Insecurity has worsened under both juntas, as have human rights abuses targeting civilians accused of collaborating with jihadists. Still, the regimes inherited a bad situation from civilian governments and their Western partners, and the current violence is in many ways a continuation of that. Both juntas also enjoy considerable local support despite the bad rap they get in the international media and from many foreign governments.

Haiti gangs profit from mission delay

The continually delayed deployment of a Kenya-led Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission has raised concerns over how prepared the UN-approved and US-bankrolled force will be to face the security crisis in Haiti. An analysis this week from Insight Crime suggested the gangs have been using the extra time to “fortify what could be a fierce response”. A first contingent of about 200 Kenyan police officers was expected to land in the capital, Port-au-Prince, around 23 May, but its arrival was postponed after an advance delegation from Kenya identified a shortage of equipment and infrastructure. In an interview with the BBC, Kenyan President William Ruto said the deployment of 2,500 officers, including 1,000 Kenyan policemen, will now start mid-June. But little is known on the rules of engagement and strategy being put in place to fight the gangs, who control most of the capital, even whether the force will directly engage with the armed groups alongside the Haitian National Police. In the meantime, the gangs have not let up, killing three missionaries – including an American couple – attacking more police stations, and trying to seize control of the Gressier commune. They have also posted direct threats to the MSS force and paraded their heavy weaponry on social media. Amid reports of a large inventory of Colombian weapons possibly being sold to Haitian gangs, some experts worry that the firepower of the gangs has been underestimated.

Is Syria becoming a forgotten crisis?

International donors pledged to give 7.5 billion euros ($8.1 billion) to support Syrians in the war-battered country and the wider region at this week’s eighth annual Brussels conference, but aid groups say it isn’t enough given just how high the needs are. The money doesn’t all go towards this year’s UN-coordinated emergency aid plans, which are woefully underfunded. So far, aid groups have received only 9.6% of the $4.07 billion they requested to help Syrians inside the country in 2024, and just 8.7% of their $4.86 billion ask for Syrian refugees and host communities. Thirteen years into Syria’s war, these sorts of conferences, along with political statements and promises of support, have become routinely disappointing. And while Syria fails to make regular headlines, the mass displacement, widespread poverty, and ongoing impact of last year’s earthquakes mean life in the country is anything but normal: The UN says more Syrians – 16.7 million, or around 3 in 4 people – need help now than at any point during the war.

In case you missed it

AFRICA: As much as $35 billion worth of gold is smuggled out of the continent annually, much of it to the United Arab Emirates, according to SwissAid. Dubai has accepted over $115 billion in illicit gold in the past decade, some of which has helped fund conflict networks. The bulk of the African bullion finds its way to Europe.

CLIMATE JUSTICE: “The world has failed and is failing to deliver climate justice and financial justice to the small island developing states (SIDS),” Selwin Hart, Barbados-born special UN adviser, told the fourth SIDS conference, which closed on 30 May. The event agreed a plan of action for the “critical” next decade, the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS), but new financial commitments from richer nations fell far short of what critics said is needed for states that are on the front line of the climate crisis but are among the least responsible for it.

DEATH PENALTY: Executions increased last year to the highest level since 2015, according to a report published on 29 May by Amnesty International. The more than 1,150 executions recorded in 2023 represented a 30% increase from 2022. The spike was driven mainly by Iran, which executed 576 people in 2022 and 853 in 2023, disproportionately affecting the country’s Baloch minority. Iran’s executions were exceeded only by China and followed by Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the United States.

DIEGO GARCIA: A UK judge will travel to the remote island of Diego Garcia in July to hold a trial for asylum seekers claiming to be unlawfully detained by British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) authorities. Almost 60 Sri Lankan asylum seekers live in tents in a fenced compound on the island – many have been for more than two years. The judge will visit the compound before holding a two-day hearing. An attempt by BIOT authorities to block the judge’s visit was overruled this month in the BIOT Court of Appeal.

FRANCE/SYRIA: A French court has sentenced three officials from Bashar al-Assad’s government to life in absentia for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conviction and sentencing of the high-ranking officials is largely symbolic: International arrest warrants have been in force since 2018 for the three men, whose crimes in this case surround the arrest, torture, and killing of a Franco-Syrian father and son, and France and Syria do not have an extradition treaty.

KENYA: Dozens of Kenyans have testified about alleged abuses at the hands of British soldiers stationed in the country as a parliamentary committee investigates long-standing allegations of criminal misconduct. The hearings were prompted by the case of Agnes Wanjiru: Investigators have named 14 UK soldiers as persons of interest in her 2012 murder.

LEBANON: Lebanon has reversed a decision to allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged war crimes committed in its territory. The country’s caretaker cabinet voted in April to authorise the ICC to investigate crimes committed since 7 October – a requirement since neither Israel nor Lebanon are members of the court.

PAKISTAN: Pakistan has reversed an order that required truckers to have valid visas and passports to cross the Durand Line, the disputed colonial-era border that separates Afghanistan from what is now Pakistan. As part of a one-year agreement, Afghan truckers will now be allowed to cross into Pakistan with a special entry permit. For more on the effects of the restrictions, read our recent story.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Prime Minister James Marape says landslides last week killed at least 2,000 people and impacted 70,000 in affected Enga province. The UN initially said there were upwards of 670 deaths, but the government insists more than three times that number died.

UNITED STATES: With irregular migration a top concern among voters heading into elections this fall, President Joe Biden is preparing to issue an executive order that would deny asylum seekers and migrants entry to the United States and suspend the processing of asylum requests when daily border crossings exceed a certain threshold. The number of people irregularly crossing the US-Mexico border has been declining for months, largely due to increased policing efforts in Mexico.

VENEZUELA: The National Electoral Council revoked its invitation to the EU to send observers to the 28 July presidential elections, citing what it called the “genocidal” sanctions imposed by Europeans on Venezuela. Observers from other regions are still welcome to oversee the electoral process. More and more Venezuelans are reportedly planning to leave if President Nicolás Maduro is re-elected.

Weekend read

The Arakan Army responds to Rohingya abuse accusations in Myanmar

‘We suggest observers give balanced attention and concentration to all the horrible civilian loss of lives and properties all across Myanmar including Arakan.’

In response to a story from The New Humanitarian citing testimony from several members of the Rohingya community in the coastal state of Rakhine, the leading armed opposition group dismisses claims it is abusing and targeting the predominantly Muslim minority. 

And finally…

‘I’m interacting with objects using my mind.’

You overhear some odd things at tech conferences (just ask this Guardian contributor), and the Geneva-hosted AI for Good summit, which was set to wrap up 31 May, is no different. The big media draw at this year’s conference was a showcase of “mind-controlled machines”. A press conference featured brain-controlled exoskeletons; a headset for people with visual impairments that shrinks the tech behind self-driving cars; a brain computer interface that plugs AI and augmented reality into a Daft Punkesque visor; and techpreneurs making perfectly routine declarations like: “We’re not reading people’s thoughts. We’re just creating an easy way for them to express themselves using biosignals.” The annual AI summit, staged by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union, has taken a more prominent stage as the AI frenzy builds. Presentations at this year’s conference combined rose-tinted positivity (“AI for peace”, or “Saving children with AI”) with a smattering of existentialism (“We can’t let AI accelerate environmental destruction”). So-called AI godfather Geoffrey Hinton capped the conference with a Friday afternoon keynote, though a closing performance by IITERNITI (billed as “the world’s first K-pop AI idol girl group”) threatened to upstage him. Still, sometimes future-forward ideas only move as fast as today’s tech allows. Some of the demonstrations were left waiting for patchy wifi to catch up at the summit’s Geneva venue.

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