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Inklings | Davos, ICRC’s next boss, Gaza aid diplomacy

Notes and musings on how aid works, from The New Humanitarian’s policy editors


Welcome to a new year of Inklings, where we explore all things aid and aid-adjacent unfolding in the wilds of Geneva, on the front lines of emergency response, or in the dark corners of online aid punditry.

It’s also available as an email newsletter. Subscribe here.

Today: Quiet leadership announcements, humanitarian diplomacy in Gaza, and what’s on the menu in Davos.

On the radar|

Davos: The World Economic Forum’s yearly meeting – better known by the name of the Swiss resort town that plays host – kicks off 15 January. AI, climate, conflict, the economy, and global fracture are top of mind. World leaders, CEOs, and Big Aid mingle. Unicorns are on the guestlist; mere normals settle for the livestream. Old stories of $43 hot dogs abound. There’s a single session (out of 200+) on tax reform.

  • Trust me: Davos 2024 has an ambitious theme: “rebuilding trust” (quotation marks and all). That’s also the theme (albeit with far more words) of the UN General Assembly’s current session, which began in September. The Israel-Hamas conflict re-erupted shortly after.
  • ICYMI: Listen to this Davos 2023 dispatch, in which my colleague, Heba Aly, casually name-drops Al Gore and John Kerry in the same breath.
  • ICYMI, too: Mistrust happens to be a key issue we explore in our 2024 analysis of what’s shaping aid policy. Trust in the international community and the multilateral system is crumbling, with big implications for the humanitarian sector.

ICRC: Organisations usually like to make a big show of bringing in a new leader – why not get a bit of press? Not so much for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The cash-strapped ICRC chose the Friday before Christmas to announce the appointment of its next director-general, Pierre Krähenbühl. The ICRC called Krähenbühl “a strategic and purpose-driven leader”. He also carries a bit of baggage.

  • The ripple: In 2019, Krähenbühl abruptly resigned as head of the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, when he was put on administrative leave following an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct and ethical breaches first reported by Al Jazeera. The internal UN report has never been publicly released. Krähenbühl has said the report cleared him of “98%” of the accusations, according to Swiss newspaper Le Temps, and that he was the victim of dirty politics. His critics, including the former head of UNRWA’s ethics office, say there’s “a substantial body of evidence”, and that UNRWA has always faced attacks from pro-Israeli groups and governments. That pressure continues with Krähenbühl’s appointment. The ICRC relies on its neutrality, but it says it’s frequently attacked in misinformation and disinformation campaigns from Ukraine to Gaza. Krähenbühl enjoys support in Switzerland among some humanitarians who see him steering the ICRC through a budget crisis and organisational reforms. But when his new appointment was announced, his UNRWA past once again became fodder for headlines and online chatter questioning aid neutrality in Gaza.

COP29: The president of the next COP climate summit will be the former head of Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company, continuing a rich new tradition of COPs being hosted by petrostates and chaired by fossil fuel executives. Mukhtar Babayev is Azerbaijan’s minister for ecology and natural resources and, according to Climate Home News reporter Joe Lo, apparently “a nice guy”.


JHCO: The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization was reportedly part of the first aid convoy to reach Gaza directly from Jordan since Israel’s siege began. Some 46 trucks of food aid entered Gaza on 20 December, the World Food Programme said. More on those so-called aid corridors below.

TFGBV: Technology-facilitated gender-based violence is a growing threat as more of our lives are lived online, and the same is true to women and girls in emergencies. The ICRC’s Humanitarian Law & Policy blog explores the issue here.

GFMD: The 14th edition of the Global Forum on Migration and Development runs from 23-25 January in Geneva. The forum is government-led but non-binding, which makes for a slightly more informal setting for policymakers to talk shop. Its proponents say work in previous forums helped pave the way for 2018’s global compact for migration. Read about the first edition of the GFMD here, courtesy of another abbreviation: TNH’s forebearer, IRIN.

End quote|

“Have the courage to withstand the tide.”

Sigrid Kaag, former deputy prime minister, The Netherlands

Here’s another shameless nod to our trends piece, which this year sets out some of the bigger-picture factors shaping aid policy. Among these: the rise of the political right.

Dutch diplomat and politician Sigrid Kaag spoke of Europe’s rightward lean in December, warning that climate finance could slip as aid-sceptical politicians take office or gain influence. She offered this advice: “Political will, a straight back, and have the courage to withstand the tide and sometimes organise in a different manner.” 

Kaag will need a bit of courage as well. On 8 January, she began her new appointment as the UN’s senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza. Part of her mandate includes setting up “a UN mechanism for accelerating the provision of humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza through states which are not party to the conflict”.

And yes, some are already choosing to shorten Kaag’s new job title: SHRC. Neither the abbreviation, nor the word “ceasefire”, were found on the UN Security Council resolution that created the position.

The Inklings newsletter: Have any tips, recommendations, or indecipherable acronyms to share? Get in touch: [email protected]

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