This is a new edition 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.
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Today: “Bad donorship”, staff surveys on sexual misconduct, and charting Israel’s economic assault on Gaza.
On the radar|
Watching words on Gaza: There are a few names missing from a recent warning on Gaza aid cuts co-signed by some of Big Aid’s most prominent leaders. A 30 January statement by the principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the humanitarian system’s highest-level strategic body, urged donors to reconsider “catastrophic” funding cuts to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. The heads of most UN agencies signed on, but some big aid groups did not, including World Vision International. The IASC has issued three statements on Gaza, including the UNRWA funding warning, a ceasefire call, and a critique of so-called safe zones. World Vision CEO Andrew Morley has held off on backing any of the Gaza statements, but co-signed a January statement on the need for humanitarian aid in the Sahel.
- Pressure: World Vision faces pressure on a few fronts. In the US, the NGO’s work in Palestine has been under a political microscope for years. In 2022, an Israeli court sentenced Gaza operations manager Mohammad El Halabi to 12 years in prison after convicting him of diverting funds to Hamas. World Vision, at least one government investigation, and rights groups all say there’s no evidence El Halabi diverted funds or was linked to Hamas. In September, four UN rights experts called on Israeli authorities to overturn El Halabi’s conviction.
- What World Vision says: “Every NGO in the region is trying to find the right ways to support children and families in need and the polarised space available for speaking out in this complex situation,” World Vision spokesperson Mory Cunningham said in response to questions. “We wholeheartedly embrace any advocacy endeavours aimed at alleviating the undue burden placed on children amidst conflict.”
- Internal criticism: But World Vision’s reluctance to weigh in on today’s Gaza crisis hasn’t gone unnoticed. As in other aid organisations, staff have critiqued World Vision’s perceived silence and urged it to throw its weight behind calls for a ceasefire.
- Elsewhere: A few other big NGOs with rotating seats at the IASC table didn’t sign on to the 30 January statement but later tweeted support or co-signed a separate statement urging donors to restart funding. One NGO cited a tight deadline for signing on to the IASC statement.
UK aid survey on sexual misconduct: Some 23% of women and 6% of men working at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) reported experiencing sexual abuse, exploitation, or harrassment in the previous year, according to a 2023 staff survey. The detail is contained in a recently updated summary of the FCDO’s work on safeguarding in aid. “Sexual comments, jokes, and unwanted staring” by colleagues and work contacts were the most commonly reported experiences among the 3,400 staff who responded.
- What the FCDO says: In response to questions about the survey, an FCDO spokesperson said: “While below the UK average for workplace reporting, the levels are completely unacceptable. We take all allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment extremely seriously and have implemented stringent measures internally and externally to help safeguard our staff, contractors and aid recipients.”
El Niño: The UN’s famine prevention coordinator has a new role. Reena Ghelani was appointed as the climate crisis coordinator for the El Niño response. The El Niño phenomenon is driving up humanitarian needs across the globe, including in Chile, where wildfires have killed more than 130 people, with hundreds still missing.
IHLEG: Developing countries will need at least $2.4 trillion a year for climate finance, according to an Independent High-Level Expert Group on climate finance. It’s a calculation from 2022 that was recently resurfaced by Simon Stiell – head of the UN’s main body for responding to climate change, the UNFCCC secretariat – during a speech in COP29 host country Azerbaijan.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a chart must be good for a few as well. Newly released data from UNCTAD, the UN’s trade and development body, tracks the economic impacts of Israel’s destruction of Gaza. Here’s one stark detail: Nearly four out of five people in Gaza are now unemployed.
And even if Israel’s bombardment ended today, UNCTAD estimates it could take until the end of the century for Gaza’s economy to recover to 2022 levels – when it was already strangled by occupation and blockade.
“Why did the donors … withdraw funding on such flimsy unproven allegations before an investigation?”
That question comes from journalist Lindsey Hilsum at the UK’s Channel 4, which recently aired a report trying to examine the evidence behind Israeli claims that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks.
It’s part of growing scrutiny on the claims that have led to major donors suspending aid to UNRWA, the biggest aid provider in Gaza. PassBlue and France 24 also teamed up to examine what one former UN official called a “dodgy dossier” and “bad donorship”.
Even UNRWA – whose quick public announcement of the accusations triggered donor suspensions – hasn’t seen the evidence behind the allegations, agency head Philippe Lazzarini told the Financial Times.
A handful of donor countries say they’ll continue funding UNRWA. “This is exactly the wrong time to halt funding,” Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barthe Eide, wrote on Twitter and in an opinion piece in The New York Times.