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Gaza famine friction, Sudan ‘massacre’, and an Ethiopian ‘genocide’: 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.

On our radar

‘Normalised horror’: Deadly airstrike on Gaza school shelter

At least 33 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a crowded school being used to house forcibly displaced Palestinians in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on 6 June. Around 6,000 people were sheltering in the facility, run by UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees. The strike took place around 2am, and at least 12 of those killed were women and children, according to medical officials in Gaza. The Israeli military said the strike targeted Palestinian militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed faction, but has yet to provide conclusive evidence to back up the claim. Sam Rose, an UNRWA official, told the Guardian that attacks on facilities sheltering forcibly displaced people have become so commonplace that they no longer precipitate the same shock and outrage. “We have normalised horror,” he said. At least 180 UNRWA buildings have been hit during Israel’s eight-month military campaign in Gaza, killing more than 450 people. Israel has intensified its bombardment of central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people forcibly displaced by Israel’s ground invasion of Rafah have sought shelter. The already limited amount of aid entering Gaza has collapsed since the ground invasion of Rafah began on 6 May, worsening a food situation that was already dire due to months of near-total siege and Israel’s obstruction of humanitarian operations. The International Labour Organization, meanwhile, released new data on the economic impacts: Gaza’s unemployment rate has reached a staggering 79.1%, and GDP has contracted by 83.5%. For more on how bombardment of central Gaza is affecting people, watch our latest dispatch from journalist and rights monitor Maha Hussaini: 

The F-word

Two children – a seven-month-old and a 13-year-old – died of malnutrition recently in the south of Gaza. More than 3,000 others suffering acute malnutrition are at risk because Israel’s Rafah offensive is threatening to disrupt their treatment, according to UNICEF. Overall, at least 30 children have died of malnutrition in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. Experts, meanwhile, are still asking whether famine is taking place. The latest analysis offers an equivocal answer – and another window into the divisive world of declaring a famine. “Amid uncertainty, it is possible famine is ongoing in northern Gaza,” the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said in an analysis published on 4 June. The report suggests a divide between the FEWS NET analysts and members of the Famine Review Committee, the independent expert panel that makes the final call on whether the strict threshold of famine has been reached. FEWS NET had asked the committee to confirm a classification of “famine”. But the committee cited data “uncertainty” in part due to minimal humanitarian access: “The FRC is unable to make a determination as to whether or not famine thresholds have been passed,” the five committee members wrote. The FEWS NET analysts say data uncertainty is expected in any conflict: “It is possible, if not likely” that famine is ongoing, they wrote.

RSF accused of another atrocity in Sudan

The Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group has killed more than 100 people – many of them women and children – in the village of Wad al-Noura in central Sudan, according to a local resistance committee. Photos shared on social media showed dozens of bodies wrapped in shrouds and laid out for burial in the village, which is in Gezira state, south of Khartoum. The resistance committee said the Sudanese army “shamefully” failed to protect Wad al-Noura’s civilians, who may have been defending the village against the RSF. The paramilitary force advanced into Gezira – a critical breadbasket state – in December as part of an eastward offensive against the army, and has been accused of attacking scores of villages. The group has also carried out alleged ethnic cleansing and genocide crimes against Masalit civilians in Darfur, and is currently imposing a brutal siege on the Darfuri city of El Fasher.

Report indicates Ethiopian forces committed genocide in Tigray

There is “credible” evidence that Ethiopian forces committed genocide during the two-year war in northern Tigray, a new report has concluded. Ethiopia’s National Defence Force and its backers – the Eritrean Defence Forces, and the Amhara Special Forces – are accused of committing “at least four acts” constituting genocide against Tigrayans, including: killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about their destruction, and imposing measures intended to prevent childbirth. The report by the New Lines Institute, a US-based foreign policy think-tank, called for Ethiopia to be referred to the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice. Meanwhile, an evaluation of the aid response to the conflict – in which as many as 600,000 people may have died – labelled it a “system failure”. A member of the evaluation team was more forthright. In an opinion piece for The New Humanitarian, he called out the government’s obstruction of aid, the lack of unity among UN agencies, and urged UN reforms.​​

Africans feeling the pinch

Public concern in Africa over unemployment and the state of the economy has surged in recent years, according to the latest Afrobarometer survey. About two thirds of citizens polled in 39 countries assessed economic conditions as “fairly bad” or “very bad”, with more than half describing their personal living conditions as poor (exceptions were Seychelles and Cote d’Ivoire, where people were slightly more upbeat). Overall, 8 in 10 respondents said they or a family member had gone without a cash income at least once during the previous year, and virtually everyone panned their government’s inflation policies. Across Africa’s major economies, price increases have eaten into standards of living. In Nigeria, inflation is running at 34% -- a near-record rate – and it triggered a nationwide strike this week. In Kenya, people are protesting harsh new taxes, while in South Africa, the recent election setback suffered by the ruling ANC has much to do with its economic mismanagement.

Wanted: Non-Brit for world’s toughest job

The UN’s top humanitarian official is making no bones about the messy world of crises he’ll be leaving to his successor. In a grim speech reflecting on successive emergencies in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, Gaza, and Sudan, OCHA chief Martin Griffiths admitted he would move on at the end of this month “with a sense of work unfulfilled because the world is a worse place now than when I joined up in 2021”. But who will replace Griffiths, in a role held only by UK officials since 2007? International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell, rumoured to be a frontrunner, told The New Humanitarian: “I am not! I am standing for Parliament.” Tariq Ahmad, another Conservative foreign office minister, is also said to be in the running. With the Labour Party expected to soon enter power, another name doing the rounds is the head of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, a former Labour foreign secretary. As we flagged in this 2021 editorial, the appointment of yet another UK national is hugely problematic. Griffiths himself suggested as much in this 2022 interview. With only 17% of UN aid programmes around the globe currently funded, whoever it is will have their work cut out.

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In case you missed

CHILDREN: Up to 1.5 million children across Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia could be impacted by flooding and landslides by the end of the rainy season, according to analysis by Save the Children. Already, 600,000 have been exposed to death, displacement, hunger, disease, and, according to the UN, to separation from their families, with attendant risks of violence, including sexual violence.

CLIMATE ACTION: There’s an 80% chance one of the next five years will be 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels – up from a likelihood of near-zero a decade ago – according to a new report by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “the battle for 1.5°C will be won or lost in the 2020s, under the watch of leaders today”, adding that the next 18 months are “climate crunch time”.

DEBT: Public debt reached a record $97 trillion last year, a new analysis from the UN’s trade and development arm, UNCTAD, shows. At least 46 countries are paying more in interest than they spend on health services. Debt and an historically extractive financial system can make some countries more dependent on external aid.

GERMAN DEPORTATIONS: Germany says it intends to begin deporting Afghan and Syrian refugees accused of committing serious crimes. The statement by Chancellor Olaf Scholz comes in the wake of a knife attack officials said was perpetrated by an Afghan asylum seeker. A police officer and five others were wounded in the attack in the southwestern city of Mannheim.

GLOBAL CRISES: All but one of the 10 most neglected displacement crises in the world in 2023 were in Africa, the sole exception being Honduras, according to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo top the list, which ranks displacement crises according to the international political will to address them, humanitarian funding, and media attention. The report noted that neglect of long-running situations is becoming “the new normal”.

HAITI: After two months of closure due to gang violence, the international airport and the capital's main seaport have re-opened, allowing crucial aid supplies to enter the country. On the political front, UNICEF’s former regional director for Latin America and The Caribbean, Garry Conille, was sworn in as Haiti’s new prime minister.

IRAN/SYRIA/ISRAEL: Israeli airstrikes near the Syrian city of Aleppo killed Saeed Abiyar, a senior advisor to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on 3 June, according to Iranian and Syrian media reports. The reported killing comes two months after a bombing at the Iranian embassy complex in Damascus killed several officials and a top IGRC commander, in an attack also believed to have been carried out by Israel.

IRAQ: Three attacks in the past week on Baghdad branches of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), with Iraqi security forces injuring protesters with live fire and arresting 12 people on 3 June, appear to be part of a campaign against US interests in Iraq.

LEBANON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it has verified the Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus munitions in at least 17 municipalities across south Lebanon since October 2023. White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon, and while its status under international law is complicated, HRW says it has verified at least 5 uses of airburst white phosphorus in south Lebanon that would be considered indiscriminate in populated areas, and illegal under international humanitarian law.

NIGERIA: Médecins Sans Frontières says its inpatient facilities in northern Nigeria have recorded “an extraordinary increase” in admissions of severely malnourished children with life-threatening complications. “A dramatic increase at this time of year is horrifying,” the medical charity warned. “It is occurring before the usual peak in July, meaning there is likely more to come.”

US: An executive order issued by President Joe Biden on 4 July has effectively shut off the US-Mexico border to asylum seekers and migrants. The policy is reminiscent of harsh migration measures enacted by former president Donald Trump, Biden’s rival in November’s presidential elections. The UN’s migration and refugee agencies expressed concern about the new policy, which has also been denounced by human rights groups and will almost certainly face challenges in court.

VENEZUELA: A Rosa Luxemburg Foundation report shows there’s no connection between the arrival of Venezuelan migrants and the rise in crime rates in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, where another study shows 90% of people associate migration with violence.

Weekend read

Opinion | Why India’s Muslims face domestic colonialism in Modi’s third term

‘Modi has already shown what he and his BJP are capable of.’

India’s minorities live in fear of greater disenfranchisement and discrimination by Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party.

And finally…

What food aid cuts mean for Syrians

Funding shortfalls have been forcing the World Food Programme to cut food rations across the globe, and Syria – where the UN now says some 16.7 million people, the highest number at any point during the country’s long war – need some sort of aid, is no exception. In December, the UN agency announced it was soon ending its “general food assistance” programme in Syria, affecting some 3.2 million people. Syrian photojournalist Moawia Atrash visited camps for displaced people in rebel-northwest Syria and found that six months after the new cuts many people are no longer receiving the food baskets they had come to rely on. With no source of income in a part of the country that was already food insecure, people told him they are desperate, and even more worried about the future. Watch his video report below:

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