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Gaza aid ‘illusion’, Ukraine two-year, and who are the Houthis hurting? The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

‘The humanitarian response in Gaza today is… a convenient illusion’

This was the message delivered by the head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Christopher Lockyear, to the UN Security Council on 22 February. The “illusion” of a humanitarian response “perpetuates a narrative that this war is being waged in line with international laws”, he said. Meanwhile, the already low volume of aid being delivered to Gaza has collapsed in recent weeks, despite Israel having been ordered by the International Court of Justice to enable the provision of humanitarian assistance. The World Food Programme announced that it had suspended aid deliveries to northern Gaza – where the humanitarian suffering is most extreme – because of the dissolution of public order and the absence of a functioning deconfliction system. A new report estimates that, even in the best-case scenario of an immediate permanent ceasefire, there will be more than 6,500 excess deaths in Gaza over the next six months due to the catastrophic food, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare situation in the enclave. If the status quo continues, the projections rise to between 58,200 and more than 74,000 deaths. Reports are beginning to emerge of children dying of hunger. For more, read this opinion from UK MP Sarah Champion, who just returned from a visit to Egypt’s border with Gaza: The unprecedented human suffering and devastation in Gaza must end.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters a third year

The ongoing war in Ukraine is continuing to drive humanitarian needs two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country on 24 February 2022. According to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, about 40% of Ukraine’s population – some 14.6 million people – will need humanitarian assistance this year. Since Russia’s initial attempt to take the capital, Kyiv, during the early days of the war failed, the conflict has largely settled into an uncertain and deadly stalemate along entrenched front lines in southern and eastern Ukraine, where needs are the highest. Around 3.7 million people are internally displaced, and around 6.5 million Ukrainian refugees have sought shelter in European countries and elsewhere in the world. More than 10,500 civilians are known to have been killed in the war, and Russian bombardment of cities and towns throughout the country is still a common occurrence. The UN has also recorded 1,500 verified attacks on healthcare facilities during the war. For a first-person view, read: A Ukraine Diary: Reflecting on two years of war

Army gains in Sudan’s Omdurman

For the first time since the start of war in April, Sudan’s armed forces have made gains in Omdurman, the country’s second city. Army units linked up with the engineering corps, besieged in the south of the city by rival Rapid Support Forces. But the military advance doesn’t bring the country’s humanitarian disaster any closer to a resolution. Aid workers have been warning for months that parts of Sudan are on the verge of famine due to the strangulation of humanitarian access and underfunding of relief operations. “Less than five percent of Sudanese can afford a square meal a day”, and close to five million people are “on the precipice of catastrophe", according to the World Food Programme. An internet and communications blackout – which has disrupted digital cash transfers – has also deepened the crisis. Crucially, it has forced the closure of some Emergency Response Rooms, the neighbourhood mutual aid groups on which many Sudanese rely.

What’s on deck at the Human Rights Council

A new Human Rights Council session begins 26 February in Geneva, with confrontation over Israel’s destruction of Gaza likely to take centre stage. The UN’s human rights chief, Volker Türk, and the special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanese, are scheduled to table reports on Palestine. “The blockade and siege imposed on Gaza amount to collective punishment and may also amount to the use of starvation as a method of war,” Türk writes in his report, which warns of the growing risk of atrocity crimes and calls for accountability “on all sides”. On the sidelines, the Israeli mission is organising an event to highlight the 134 people still held hostage by Hamas since the 7 October attacks on Israel. A polarised world underscores the need for “preventative diplomacy”, Moroccan ambassador Omar Zniber, the current president of the council, told Geneva Solutions on the eve of the session. Of course, Zniber’s December election was polarising as well.

ECOWAS meets without Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger

West Africa's main economic and political bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is holding a summit this weekend at a testing time for the alliance. In January, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – three Sahalien states taken over by juntas – announced they would be leaving the bloc, having formed their own union called the Alliance of Sahel States. The juntas are angry at the economic sanctions ECOWAS has imposed on them, especially given the bloc’s soft stance towards civilian leaders who bend rules (see the current case of President Macky Sall in Senegal) to extend their stays in power. One of the founders of ECOWAS (which the juntas also view as in thrall to France) has called for it to lift sanctions on Niger, and reports suggest concessions may be offered. ECOWAS was created in 1975 and has established freedom of movement and goods across the region. Those rights may now be under threat for the exiting Sahelian states, which are all dealing with destabilising insurgencies.

The Red Sea standoff’s food spillover

Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they’re targeting international shipping to support Palestinians. A cargo vessel struck by Houthi missiles on 18 February played a part in an aborted UN-backed plan to relieve pressure on global food supplies – and may have delivered to Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen last year. The ship Rubymar made four shipments under the Black Sea grain deal, delivering some 120,000 tonnes of wheat and corn to Egypt and Türkiye, according to UN stats. Separately, the vessel also reportedly arrived in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah last year, ship tracking websites show. The US and allies have hit Houthi targets in Yemen in retaliation for the shipping strikes, stretching regional tensions even further. It’s now using the damage on ships said to be carrying humanitarian-related cargo as public leverage. Another ship, the Sea Champion, was carrying “corn and other food supplies” when it was “attacked” on 19 February, according to the US State Department. The standoff is pushing ships to avoid the Suez Canal. Together with disruptions in the Black Sea and the Panama Canal – caused by the war in Ukraine and drought, respectively – it’s driving up shipping costs and may affect food prices as well, the UN’s trade and development arm, UNCTAD, warns.

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In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN/BRITAIN: UK special forces have vetoed hundreds of asylum applications made by their former Afghan colleagues who are now hunted by the Taliban, according to Lighthouse Reports. The revelation comes amid a public enquiry into alleged war crimes by UK special forces soldiers – which some Afghans denied relocation say they witnessed.

CLIMATE (IN)ACTION: Delays to the launch of the climate loss and damage fund have been criticised by Amnesty International, which said the failure “threatens the rights of people most affected by the increasing weather extremes”. The fund gained official approval at COP28 last year after extensive negotiations. 

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Rwanda is facing increased diplomatic pressure to halt its support to the M23 armed group, which has renewed its offensive and made gains in recent weeks. The United States and France both criticised Rwanda, calling on the country to remove its soldiers from Congolese soil. Kigali denies supporting the group.

DIEGO GARCIA: The UN’s refugee agency has called for the urgent relocation of 61 Sri Lankan asylum seekers stranded on the remote, British-held island of Diego Garcia for more than two years. A UNHCR report said the group, which The New Humanitarian has run a series of exclusive articles on, has been subjected to abuse and arbitrary detention by the UK.

EDUCATION IN AFRICA: At least 411 violent attacks against teachers and learning facilities were reported across Africa in 2023, representing a 20% increase. According to the Save the Children analysis, Nigeria and Sudan were the worst-affected countries, with attacks including drone strikes on schools and killings of teachers. There were also reports of bodies being dumped at schools and of airstrikes on schools sheltering displaced families.

HAITI: Once again, the United States pushed for the deployment of a UN-authorised international security force to help rein in gang violence in Haiti. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $200 million to support the police mission, and thanked Kenya's government for saying it would lead it (despite a Kenyan court ruling that might have blocked it). Canada also pledged nearly $60 million for the force. 

ITALY/ALBANIA: The Albanian parliament has agreed to accept asylum seekers and migrants arriving from Italy – a move that was criticised by some rights groups. As many as 36,000 people could be sent to processing centres in Albania each year. Such arrangements have been sought by the UK, which signed a similar agreement with Rwanda. So far, the Supreme Court has blocked the British plans. 

LEBANON: A major escalation on the Israel-Lebanon border has seen a regular exchange of fire, including Israeli airstrikes inside southern Lebanon and one that Israel said targeted a Hezbollah weapons depot. According to a Reuters tally, more than 170 Hezbollah fighters and nearly three dozen civilians have been killed in the Israeli attacks.

MOZAMBIQUE: Attacks this month by jihadist insurgents in northern Cabo Delgado province have displaced 13,000 people, according to the UN’s migration agency, IOM. Mozambique’s military said last year that more than 90% of Cabo Delgado had been secured from the insurgents, yet violence this year indicates the conflict is far from over.

PAKISTAN: The PMLN and the PPP, which have led the country for decades, with strong ties to the all-powerful military, have agreed to form a coalition government more than two weeks after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by former prime minister Imran Khan secured a surprise election win. Under the agreement, Shehbaz Sharif of the PMLN will be prime minister and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari will be president. The agreement shuts out Khan’s party even though it secured the most votes in the 8 February polls, which Khan was barred from as he remains in prison on corruption charges that his supporters say are politically motivated.

YEMEN: New statistics show that Yemen continues to report cases of polio in children. The World Health Organization says one in four Yemeni children have not received all of the recommended vaccines, and 17% are “zero-dose”, meaning they have not had a single dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine.

Weekend read

How do you escape the war? Three young men’s stories from Sagaing, Myanmar

‘It is Myanmar, so nowhere is safe.’

Torched-out ambulances, raided hospitals, and murdered workers: Myanmar's health system is one of the many casualties of the military coup.

And finally…

War fiction meets war reality in Ukrainian TV show

Described as a 'Tribute to Ordinary People', a Ukrainian wartime on-the-road TV drama is to be aired across Europe this week. 'In Her Car' may be a fictional series, but it was filmed almost entirely in Ukraine – a complex decision both logistically and morally, the creators have said. Speaking to the Guardian, producer Asia Bataieva of Starlight Media said: “We had to ask ourselves: is this feasible; is it morally OK to shoot under the conditions of war?" The plot focuses on a psychologist who drives people to safety from the conflict in her blue Škoda. Writer Eugen Tunik called the work “a tribute to ordinary people and how they cope with the reality of war”. Seven European countries, including Germany, France, and Sweden are to air the series to mark the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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