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Starvation in Sudan, protests in Kenya, and mixed signals on aid funding: 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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Why hasn’t a famine been declared in Sudan?

Some 755,000 people face starvation in Sudan and there is a risk of famine in 14 parts of the country, according to new data from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an expert group of UN agencies, aid groups, and governments that measures food crises. Nearly 26 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity, which is the worst level ever recorded by the IPC in Sudan. The fact that famine has not been declared by the IPC has been questioned by experts and analysts. Recent research by the Clingendael institute found that 2.5 million could die of hunger and related diseases by September; the US has said “every indication” suggests famine is underway; and famine expert Alex de Waal has said “there is no question” that hundreds of thousands are going to starve. The IPC’s Sudan chairwoman is a part of the army-dominated, UN-recognised government, whose policy of blocking aid into Rapid Support Forces-held areas is a key driver of the hunger crisis. Writing in Foreign Affairs, de Waal said the army “has a vested interest in avoiding a formal declaration of famine” because that would increase pressure on it to let aid flow.

 No let-up in Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe

The supposed drawing down of the most intense phase of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip is having virtually no impact on the staggering suffering caused by the nearly nine-month military campaign. On the contrary, the humanitarian catastrophe in the enclave is only intensifying, according to aid workers and experts. Israel has continued to bombard and raid areas throughout Gaza, causing casualties and forcing people to flee. The Palestinian death toll now stands at more than 37,700, according to health officials. Limited, daily pauses in fighting in the south, announced by Israel on 16 June, have not helped improve the flow of aid, according to UN officials. Lawlessness caused by nearly nine months of war has led to the looting of aid convoys, and UN warehouses have been hit by missiles at least twice recently. The untenable situation reportedly led the UN to issue Israel an ultimatum, saying it will suspend aid operations in Gaza unless Israel does more to protect humanitarian workers. There is also increasing concern about malnutrition and the spread of disease. A new report from a group of UN-backed experts showed that the hunger situation improved slightly in March and April due to an increase in the availability of aid in northern Gaza. But Israel’s ground offensive in Rafah, which began on 6 May, has seen the situation deteriorate once again. While the UN-backed experts stopped short of declaring a famine, for many in Gaza struggling daily to find the food to survive, the designation is meaningless. Even if Israel does scale back, experts warn that Gaza has been made virtually unlivable. For more, watch this latest dispatch from Gaza-based Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini:

Tax U-turn doesn’t end protests against Kenya’s Ruto

Young Kenyans took to the streets on 27 June to protest the killing of at least 20 people by police earlier in the week, and to demand the resignation of President William Ruto. Widespread demonstrations over a tax hiking finance bill culminated in protests on 25 June in the capital, Nairobi, met by police firing live rounds. Activists – labelled “criminals” by Ruto – were also abducted and “disappeared”. The finance bill aimed to raise $2.7 billion to tackle Kenya’s $80 billion debt – almost 70% of its GDP. The austerity plan, backed by the IMF and World Bank, was widely condemned by Kenyans. Rather than raising taxes, worsening a cost of living crisis, they argued the target should have been rampant corruption. In the aftermath of the 25 June unrest – with city hall and part of the parliament building still smouldering – Ruto dramatically withdrew his finance bill. But some “Gen Z” protesters are vowing yet more demonstrations until he quits. For more, check out The New Humanitarian’s coverage of the protests.

Trump v Biden: A humanitarian-lite debate

The aftermath of the 27 June presidential debate has been dominated by concerns over Joe Biden’s mental acuity and whether the 81-year-old should be running for a second term. But what did Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, have to say on foreign affairs and humanitarian issues? Referring to Ukraine, Trump claimed the casualty count – more than 30,000 civilians killed – is likely an understatement. Beyond that, he focused more on the societal ills facing the US itself, blaming his opponent for growing homelessness in states like California and New York. Trump’s constant references to the alleged dangers posed by undocumented immigrants echoed similarly xenophobic claims made by populist and far-right politicians from the EU to Türkiye, from the UK to Pakistan. When Gaza came up, both men continued to swear allegiance to Israel, with Biden placing the blame for the continuing Israeli onslaught squarely on Hamas. Neither mentioned the appalling plight of Palestinian civilians. Trump, who signed a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban in the final year of his presidency, referred to Afghanistan as an “embarrassment” and “a horror show”. Biden spoke briefly on Afghanistan, saying his administration managed to evacuate 100,000 people after the Taliban returned to power. Neither made any mention of the country’s enduring humanitarian crisis, nor of the tens of thousands of Afghans still awaiting resettlement.

What’s lost with MSF Access Campaign closure

Criticism is growing after Médecins Sans Frontières confirmed it would shutter MSF Access Campaign, an advocacy arm aimed at improving access to essential drugs, tests, and vaccines. Some 150 health organisations – based anywhere from Argentina to Zimbabwe – have signed a letter urging MSF leadership to reverse course. “The closing down of the Access Campaign will have an extremely negative effect on the very populations with whom MSF stands in solidarity – the millions saved yesterday could see their lives cut short if we are not able to secure access to tomorrow’s treatments,” states the letter, which was also signed by former MSF staff. In a statement, MSF said it’s replacing Access Campaign with a “new structure” that will be “closer to our medical humanitarian operations in order to better support the needs of communities we assist”. Critics, however, see it as a turn inward, away from advocacy: It’s “shying away from some of the underlying political issues that determine access”, Tido von Schoen-Angerer, a former Access Campaign executive director, told Health Policy Watch.

How to read the funding signals?

Faced with donor warnings of tight budgets, humanitarian planners tried a new tactic in 2024: restraint. They prioritised “prioritisation”, targeted fewer people, and vowed not to stray too far from core life-saving work. The result: The price tag for UN-backed humanitarian response plans this year is a haircut below the previous. But halfway through 2024, less than 20% of this year’s $48 billion ask has been funded. “The unavoidable reality is that nothing fully replaces the need for donors to step forward with outstanding funding,” Joyce Msuya, the UN’s deputy relief chief, said at the annual “humanitarian affairs segment” of the UN’s Economic and Social Council in New York. The UN’s humanitarian coordination arm, OCHA, has a mid-year run-down of the stats here. The message is clear – humanitarians say they need more money. Still, the mid-year update does note that the amount of funding received at the end of May was the fourth-highest recorded since 2015.

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In case you missed it

BANGLADESH: At least two million people – including 772,000 children at major risk of drowning, malnutrition, and illness – have been affected by ongoing flooding in northeastern Bangladesh. Farmland and residential homes remain submerged in Sylhet district, considered one of the nation’s main economic hubs.

HAITI: Hundreds of Kenyan police landed in Port-au-Prince to begin a long-delayed, UN-approved, US-bankrolled policing mission aimed at reining in gang violence and paving the way towards new elections by early 2026. For more on the concerns surrounding the controversial mission, read this in-depth briefing and this op-ed.

MALI: The International Criminal Court has convicted Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Timbuktu in 2012 and 2013. Hassan was part of Ansar Dine, which imposed a strict version of Islamic law after taking over the city. The ICC also this week unsealed an arrest warrant for Iyad Ag Ghaly, a leading figure in Sahelian jihadist politics. The warrant was issued in 2017 but not made public. 

MPOX: A highly infectious strain of the deadly mpox virus is spreading fast in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo along the border with Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. Unlike older strains, it is believed it can spread through close human contact, within households, and even in hospital environments, mutating quickly and making diagnosis harder. Between January and May, nearly 8,000 cases and 384 deaths were recorded. Almost two thirds of the deaths were children under 5.

MYANMAR: Médecins Sans Frontières is suspending operations at 14 mobile clinics in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State due to the “extreme escalation of conflict, indiscriminate violence, and severe restrictions on humanitarian access”. Fierce fighting between the military junta and the Arakan Army (AA) has led to displacement, looting, and reports of targeted attacks against the minority Muslim Rohingya population. In recent months, the AA, which is seeking self-determination for ethnic Arakanese (or Rakhine), has also been accused of targeting the Rohingya.

NIGER: Three days of national mourning have been declared after an attack in a jihadist stronghold in the western Tillabéri region caused the deaths of at least 20 soldiers and one civilian. The incident highlights the growing challenges facing the ruling junta, which came to power in July 2023, overthrowing the civilian government led by Mohamed Bazoum.

PAKISTAN: Hundreds of people died over the last week as temperatures soared towards 50 degrees Celsius in and around the Pakistani city of Karachi, with at least 1,500 patients reportedly admitted to hospitals for suspected heatstroke on one day alone.

RUSSIA/UKRAINE: The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on 24 June for Russia’s military chief Valery Gerasimov and former defence minister Sergei Shoigu. The two are accused of war crimes and inhumane acts for their roles in directing missile attacks against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, including power stations, in 2022 and 2023. The court previously issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March over his alleged involvement in the abduction of children from Ukraine. 

SYRIA/FRANCE: A Paris court ruled on 26 June to uphold an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged complicity in war crimes during the country’s civil war. French authorities issued the warrant last year, but it was challenged by prosecutors citing al-Assad’s immunity as a serving head of state. Lawyers representing the NGOs that brought the initial complaint against al-Assad celebrated the ruling as the first time the personal immunity of a head of state has been determined not to be absolute.

UNITED STATES: US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared gun violence a national health crisis, calling for tighter regulations on gun sales, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons for civilians. Nearly 50,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Weekend read

Hunger, healthcare, and schools: Reasons to leave Venezuela (along with a Maduro poll win)

‘We are facing the exhaustion of survival capabilities.’

Amid an unrelenting humanitarian crisis, how many people will ultimately vote with their feet and join the 7.7 million who have left the country?

And finally…

Assange walks free

Swimming in the ocean, sleeping in a real bed, and enjoying real food. That’s what’s on the agenda for Julian Assange following his release from jail this week, according to his wife. The controversial founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks struck a plea deal with the US, paving the way for him to walk free and return to his native Australia. He had spent five years in a high-security British prison following seven years of self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange launched WikiLeaks in 2006, and the platform rose to prominence for publishing leaked classified documents detailing the secrets, wrong-doings, and public deceptions of governments and corporations. A trove of around 90,000 documents related to the US war in Afghanistan released in 2010 painted a picture of a floundering US occupation. Another leak related to the US-led war in Iraq showed that civilian deaths were much higher than the US publicly admitted and that the US military was ignoring reports of torture, summary executions, and other war crimes. Assange soon found himself in legal trouble. While the US accused him of endangering lives and national security, many free speech advocates saw the pursuit of Assange as a threat to press freedom.

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