Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
Controversy trails a belated US diplomatic push to steer Sudan away from deeper crisis, even as fresh evidence emerges of war crimes in Darfur. On Wednesday, the Trump administration finally named Donald Booth, an Africa veteran, as its special envoy to Sudan, two months after Omar al-Bashir was driven from power. Booth joined Tibor Nagy, the assistant US secretary of state for Africa, in meeting the main opposition coalition and Sudan’s acting deputy foreign minister, Ilham Ibrahim. But the White House hasn’t publicly commented since the junta-aligned Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were accused of killing more than 100 protesters in a brutal crackdown on 3 June. Steven Koutsis, head of the US mission in Khartoum, has reportedly expressed sympathy for the Transitional Military Council and suggested the US align itself with Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the junta. He has also faced criticism for dining with Mohamed “Hemetti” Daglo, the commander of the RSF and a former Janjaweed warlord accused of genocide. While China and Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning the junta’s violence, and Egypt and the UAE remain key supporters, it has been left to the African Union (unusual, we know) to show some backbone, suspending Sudan’s membership. Meanwhile, Amnesty International unveiled new satellite imagery showing that former Janjaweed continue to commit war crimes and other serious human rights violations in Darfur.
A record number of people will face acute food shortages in South Sudan as the lean season is exacerbated by delayed rainfall and ongoing political instability, according to a new report by the government and three UN agencies. A projected 61 percent of the population, or 6.96 million South Sudanese, face food crisis, food emergency, or food catastrophe by the end of July – a double whammy on top of the rainy season’s usual increase in malarial and waterborne illnesses. The WFP has prepositioned 173,000 metric tons of food in anticipation, almost a third more than this time last year. One note of optimism from the notoriously difficult operating terrain: an app being trialled in the capital, Juba, this week should streamline and prevent duplication of resources when monitoring children in emergencies. By allowing child protection officers to update and monitor a centralised database in real time, it saves frontline workers from literally knocking on doors or walking vast distances as they seek to reunite vulnerable children separated from their families.
More than one in five people living in war zones suffers from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to a report by the World Health Organisation published in the UK medical journal The Lancet. The figures are substantially higher than in the general population, where these conditions affect an estimated one in 14 people. The findings suggest that previous studies underestimated the burden of mental health conditions in conflict zones. The results, drawing on data from 39 countries, add impetus to calls for more investment in mental health services for people coping with conflict and its aftermath. Look out for our ongoing coverage on the issue, including a story next week that explores the impact of trauma on those displaced by conflict in Somalia.
Hurricanes in the North Atlantic are moving slower and lasting longer, intensifying rainfall and flooding, according to new research from NASA scientists, who note that floods from vast amounts of rainfall are among hurricanes’ deadliest hazards. Researchers say the slower storms could be caused by weakening winds – one projected effect of climate change – though they add there’s not yet a clear explanation. Last year, separate research from one of the authors found a similar slowdown across the globe: storms have been moving 10 percent slower over the last 70 years. The unprecedented rainfall that struck during 2017’s sluggish Hurricane Harvey is one prominent example.
Lebanese officials are once again ramping up the pressure on Syrian refugees in the country, this time forcing some 5,000 families in the eastern municipality of Arsal to take down any “semi-permanent structures” in their makeshift shelters – like breezeblock walls – or risk demolition. While the government says this is just an enforcement of building codes, activists say it’s a way to make the more than one million refugees in the country feel unwelcome, and encourage them to return to Syria. In another Lebanese town, between 400 and 600 Syrian refugees packed up their tents and headed elsewhere last weekend after a fire broke out in their settlement, followed by a brawl with firefighters over their alleged late arrival, the arrests of Syrians, and an imposition of a curfew on the refugees. If you’ve read our latest longread from the northern Lebanon town of Jabal Beddawi (and you really should), you know that even in places where locals and refugees mostly get along, the thought of return, voluntary or otherwise, never really goes away.
BOSNIA/CROATIA:Aid groups are calling for more assistance in cities on Bosnia’s northwestern border with Croatia, where thousands of migrants and asylum seekers seeking to enter the EU are being met by pushbacks and metal fences. This year has already seen more than 9,000 new arrivals in Bosnia – mostly from Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Syria.
DENGUE: Climate change could rapidly expand the reach of mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, which kills 10,000 people each year, according to a study published in the journal Nature Microbiology this week. The biggest change in dengue risk could come in southern Africa and in the Sahel – a region poorly equipped to detect and control outbreaks, the researchers say.
EBOLA: Some 27 people may have come into contact with a boy who died of Ebola in Uganda. Most will be vaccinated and restricted to their homes. Authorities, meanwhile, are searching for three others who fled a hospital isolation unit. The outbreak, previously confined to the Democratic Republic of Congo, has claimed 1,411 lives so far.
INDIA: Authorities in India say the start of the monsoon season may be delayed, meaning no respite from intense heatwaves that have killed 36 people since May. Average yearly temperatures have been rising in India (and across the globe). In 2015, more than 2,000 people died in heatwaves in India.
LIBYA/YEMEN: In the past two weeks, tens of thousands of people in Yemen and southwestern Libya have been hit by flash floods, forcing many to flee their homes and raising concerns that the combination of stagnant water, displacement, and poor sanitation could cause or exacerbate disease outbreaks.
As noted above, the news from Sudan is not promising, on many fronts. One part of the country that fails to get much attention is Blue Nile state, one of the so-called ‘Two Areas’ – along with South Kordofan – that largely fought alongside the separatist rebels but remained part of Sudan after South Sudan gained independence in 2011. A promised “popular consultation” on the remote southeastern state’s future status has never materialised. Tens of thousands of civilians have languished there for years, cut off from aid, and knowing little but sporadic war and endemic want. Sam Mednick reports this week from the ground on what the upheaval in Khartoum means for this marginalised community. As one local aid coordinator says of their calls for outside assistance: “We send many messages. Just help! We’re asking for help.”
The United States this week accused a Syrian businessman, Samer Foz, of profiting from the war and dispossession of refugees. The US Treasury Department added him, his relatives, and businesses to a worldwide list of more than 7,000 sanctioned entities. Foz, the US argues, is an oligarch who is "building luxury developments on land stolen” from refugees. The US move follows measures applied by the EU in January. Foz's investments include the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, used by UN agencies for offices and accommodation on security grounds. The UN reports spending at least $25 million at the Four Seasons over the last four years, but is not legally bound by US sanctions. Awkward, not least because the United States is a big donor to the UN agencies. Such measures, however, are not always as “smart” as their backers like to argue, as Aron Lund explored recently for TNH. US sanctions on Iran, for example, led to a cooking gas shortage in Syria.
(TOP PHOTO: Worshippers leave a mosque where a top opposition leader attended Friday prayers in Omdurman on 14 June 2019.)
Failed rains across eastern Africa, southern Africa, and the Horn of Africa are seeing another dire season for farmers, increasing food prices and driving up the aid needs of tens of millions of already vulnerable people across the three regions.
All told, more than 45 million people will struggle to find enough food across 14 countries in 2019, many feeling the compounded effects of years of drought.
It’s the second time in three years that an El Niño event has disrupted weather patterns. In 2017 – a year in which the UN labelled the crisis the worst in decades – some 38 million people were in need.
Drought again in 2018 was followed by significantly below-average rains at the beginning of this year – down by 50 percent in parts of southern Africa.
In the Horn and eastern Africa, delayed rains finally arrived in May, allowing some regrowth of pasture for grazing. But it has not been enough to offset the damage to people’s livelihoods and overall food security.
“We need to move to a system where we act much earlier on the warning signs of drought and hunger so that we can cut response times and costs, and reduce deaths and human suffering,” the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said in reference to the drought in the Horn.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has released $45 million to encourage major donors to do more to combat the effects of drought in parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
With an El Niño forecast more than six months ago, World Food Programme climatologist Jesse Mason argues there should have been time for governments and aid agencies to put in place risk-reduction measures: drought-resistant seeds, irrigation systems, and cash transfers to cushion the impact on farmers.
“We need to recognise the seasons are changing and we need to adapt.”
It can no longer be business as usual, Mason told The New Humanitarian. Southern and eastern Africa are on the front lines of climate change, and mitigation measures must now be much more data-driven, comprehensive, and innovative.
“We need to recognise the seasons are changing and we need to adapt,” said Mason, project manager at WFP’s forecast-based financing initiative. “The pieces need to come together, from the global forecasting to the way we interact with farmers on the ground based on that information.”
The following is a snapshot of needs across southern, eastern, and the Horn of Africa.
The term “food crisis” means households that are just about able to meet their basic food needs, but only by selling some essential assets like livestock. There may also be cases of malnutrition. A “food emergency” refers to very high levels of malnutrition and some deaths. All assets are liquidated, making recovery so much harder.
In need: 2.3 million
The government declared an emergency in the three southern provinces of Cunene, Huila, and Namibe in January. Angola has been pursuing a humanitarian self-reliance policy but the response has been inadequate and the situation is deteriorating.
In need: 8.3 million
The most vulnerable communities have suffered consecutive years of drought. This season’s Gu long rains (March to May) were poor or delayed. Although a late burst of rainfall has helped replenish pasture in the south and southeast, it came too late for some crop-producing areas and the food security situation is expected to deteriorate. Numbers in need are exacerbated by mass internal displacement as a result of inter-communal violence – affecting some 2.6 million. Concerns are also rising over potential food aid pipeline breaks that could interrupt life-saving operations. It’s $1.3 billion aid appeal is only 15 percent funded.
In need: 2.5 million
The long rains were similarly poor – less than half the expected amount fell by April. By July the number of severely food insecure is projected to more than double from the current 1.1 million to 2.5 million. Below-average terms of trade and reduced household incomes during the July to September dry season could push parts of eastern Kenya into crisis by August.
In need: 640,000
Four districts are at crisis or emergency levels – Mohale’s Hoek, Maseru, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek. A total of 640,000 people are projected to be food insecure over the next 12 months. Lesotho has a population of 2.2 million.
In need: 1.3 million
By March, 1.3 million people were severely food insecure. Although the vulnerable southern region received fair rainfall this season, the harvest is forecast to be well below average. The south is yet to recover from the effects of the 2015/16 El Niño and the 2017/18 drought, and the number of children who are acutely malnourished is expected to rise in 2019.
In need: 3.3 million
Some 2.8 million people are projected to be in crisis and 450,000 at emergency levels of food needs during the October to March lean season in the country’s southern and central districts.
In need: 1.85 million
More than 1.7 million people were identified as in crisis between September and December 2018 across 11 provinces. As a result of Cyclone Idai in March and Cyclone Kenneth in April, an estimated 1.85 million are now in need of aid.
In need: 550,000
At the beginning of May the government declared a drought-induced state of emergency – the third time in six years. All regions of the country are affected, with 24 percent of the 2.3 million population facing food shortfalls.
In need: 5.4 million
After two consecutive poor rainy seasons Somalia is facing yet another drought. The 2019 Gu rains (April to June) have failed, on top of a poor 2018 Deyr season (October to December), contributing to widespread crop failure and lower livestock productivity. Pastoral communities in the worst-affected areas – in the north and centre of the country – are facing acute food insecurity. Drought-related displacement is underway and malnutrition rates are rising. Food aid levels have “significantly declined” compared with last year. A $700 million drought response plan has been launched.
In need: 7.1 million
Conflict and drought has created a disastrous situation. Some 6.9 million people – close to 60 percent of the population – are currently facing severe food insecurity with an estimated 50,000 in “famine-like” conditions. In many areas, malnutrition levels remain critical, with some 860,000 children under the age of five estimated to be severely malnourished. Out of the overall 7.1 million people in need, only 5.7 million are targeted for aid. The aid appeal stands at $1.5 billion, but so far only $346 million has been received.
In need: 5.6 million
Around one million people are facing emergency conditions – concentrated in the states of Khartoum and South Darfur. The Darfur region accounts for 45 percent of all Sudanese in need (crisis and emergency levels). Sudan’s crisis is less weather-related and more a consequence of food price rises. Overall, prices of grains were at record or near-record levels in March despite an above-average 2018 harvest. The depreciation of the local currency, fuel shortages and input costs combined to push up the cost of living - one of the triggers for the protests that led to the toppling of former president Omar al-Bashir in April.
In need: Unknown
The arid Karamoja region – bordering Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia – has been hit by a second failed rainy season. Numbers in need are not yet known, but staple food prices are expected to remain high through to September, well above the five-year average.
In need: 1.3 million
Maize producing areas in the south experienced their worst drought since 1981. Maize production is estimated to have dropped to two million tonnes from approximately 2.4 million tonnes last season and exports have been banned – which will impact prices in the region. The projected number of households needing food aid from July to February 2020 is 220,000 – a 38 percent increase from last season.
In need: 5.3 million
Total cereal production this season was estimated at 852,000 tonnes, against a national requirement of 1.8 million tonnes for human consumption and 450,000 tonnes for livestock. Compared to the 2017/18 season, the provinces of Manicaland, Matabeleland South, and Matabeleland North all saw their maize production drop by more than 70 percent. Climate shocks have compounded severe economic difficulties. By September, most of the country is expected to be in “crisis”.
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On Friday, Abiy Ahmed began mediation talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, aimed at restarting negotiations between Sudan’s military rulers and the opposition. The urgent efforts of Ethiopia’s young reformist prime minister follow the worst violence since the ouster of former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir two months ago. At least 100 people were reported to have been killed on Monday when members of the Rapid Support Forces – linked to the notorious Janjaweed militia – attacked a Khartoum protest. The protestors want immediate civilian-led rule and for militias to hand over their weapons to the army. One man holding the keys to the negotiations is Mohamed Hamdan "Hemeti" Dagolo, an ex-Janjaweed commander and the No. 2 in the ruling military junta. Dagalo, a former al-Bashir ally whose forces are accused of war crimes in Darfur, has been the lead in recent negotiations with Western diplomats.
It has been two months since fighting began around Libya’s capital of Tripoli. The numbers speak for themselves: more than 90,000 people have fled their homes, 100,000 civilians are said to still be near conflict zones (41 have been reported killed, with another 116 injured since 4 April). On Monday, almost 100 people were brought out of Zintan, a Tripoli migrant detention centre where UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, described conditions as “dire.” That brings the number of migrants and refugees held in Tripoli down, but not necessarily in the country as a whole. That’s because people are still trying to escape Libya, only to end up right back where they started. UNHCR says it evacuated or resettled 1,000 people out of the country in all of 2019. Last month alone more than 1,200 people were taken to detention centres by the Libyan Coast Guard after they were rescued or intercepted at sea. Given the horrific conditions documented by aid agencies and here at TNH, these numbers are cause for concern.
A UN fund has released $45 million to combat the effects of drought in parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Announcing the decision, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said Somalia would get the bulk of the funds, $30 million, after forecasters predicted a failure of the April to June rainy season. Some 2.2 million Somalis are expected to face severe food problems by September. The new allocation is roughly 10 percent of the Central Emergency Response Fund's annual spending. The CERF is a pooled fund whose biggest donors last year were the UK, Germany, and Sweden. The Somalia NGO Consortium warned last month that the donor reaction to new projections on food security and nutrition had been sluggish, with director Nasra Ismail describing it as "very concerning" not to see "strong commitments". Keep an eye out next week for our Africa drought round-up, looking at southern Africa as well as the Horn.
Are there too many NGOs overlapping and competing with each other? The UK manager at Mercy Corps – one of the BINGOs (Big International NGOs) – thinks so. Simon O’Connell points out that there are 115 international NGOs working in South Sudan, most with separate arrangements for accommodation, transport, and security. Adding to that apparent duplication, coordination between so many players is itself an effort, argued O'Connell in a recent commentary. The recipients of aid, and the public who are asked to fill the collection tin, may find this all less than ideal. "There are too many organisations duplicating each other’s work and needlessly competing with each other," O’Connell wrote. To hear more about his proposals to merge NGOs together, tune in to a discussion hosted at the Overseas Development Institute this Tuesday, 11 June.
Until recently, there was no agreed ranking of the severity of humanitarian need – no fair way to know which place is worst off. To address the “apples and oranges” problem, humanitarian analysts have agreed on a pilot index that combines 31 variables across three "dimensions". The Global Crisis Severity Index combines indicators of impact, conditions of affected people, and complexity. That could make for some necessary comparisons: according to this system, Venezuela is more severe than Central African Republic. These measures are a key ingredient in a new service from humanitarian needs analysts ACAPS. Its latest offering adds measures of risk and humanitarian access to the cocktail as part of a new resource called CrisisInSight.
CAMEROON: Hundreds of opposition members are still being held in Cameroon after a government protest crackdown last week. More than 350 people were arrested, including hundreds from the main opposition party. Protests have been mounting against President Paul Biya and his government over the release of opposition leader Maurice Kamto.
COLOMBIA:One third of the 6,000 FARC fighters who handed in their weapons as part of a 2016 peace accord have taken up arms again and joined dozens of “dissident” groups operating in the coca-producing regions the FARC once controlled, Reuters reports, citing a confidential military intelligence report. For more, read our recent report on dissident groups in Tumaco.
INDIA: Drought in India’s western state of Maharashtra has sent vegetable prices soaring by 50 percent in the last week, according to local media. Farmers also reportedly sowed only one third of their recent crop, while late monsoon rains are raising fears for the upcoming harvest. Several Indian states are facing the worst drought in years, which is having a life-altering impact on land-dependent farmers.
MEXICO-US: Mexico agreed to deploy 6,000 National Guard personnel to its southern border with Guatemala to stem the flow of migrants as it seeks to ward off tariffs on Mexican goods threatened by US President Donald Trump.
SRI LANKA: A Catholic Pakistani family seeking asylum in Sri Lanka is facing imminent deportation. Amnesty International fears the situation is part of an anti-Muslim backlash that has also hit refugees and asylum seekers following April’s Easter Sunday attacks, which killed more than 250 people. This week, all nine Muslim members of parliament resigned, urging the government to protect civilians from hate crimes.
YEMEN:The Yemen Data Project said it recorded 149 civilian casualties from airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led coalition in May, including 41 deaths and 108 injuries – the highest figures since last October.
It’s not just in Lebanon that governments are increasingly putting pressure on Syrian refugees to return: it’s happening in Turkey, in Jordan, even in European countries. Journalist Laura Gottesdiener spent this Ramadan in one Lebanese neighbourhood where such pressures are beginning to be felt acutely, especially as the government has announced plans to demolish informal camps that house around 5,000 Syrian families elsewhere in the country. What she found will perhaps surprise many. Yes, there were problems – grumbles over government incompetence, corruption, international aid bureaucracy. But Jabel Beddawi, a community of Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians – almost all refugees from war – was thriving despite it all. In turbulent times, particularly for those living far from their homelands, Gottesdiener’s tale is one of hope: “At no other time of the year is the daily resistance – to hatred, austerity, and exile – more evident than over Ramadan: the Muslim holy month that ended this week and during which daily fasting transforms, each night at sunset, into collective feasts.” The illustrations themselves, from Mariam al Kotob, are a feast for the soul. Enjoy.
It’s a question close to our hearts here at TNH. A lot of what we cover falls into the neglected crisis category – whether that’s media neglect or actual neglect from governments or the aid community. Every year, the Norwegian Refugee Council publishes a list of the 10 most neglected displacement crises and this year its top three are Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. “Large-scale displacement and soaring humanitarian needs in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon have been met with deafening silence,” its report says. We wouldn’t quibble with any of the suggestions on this list, nor with the NRC’s depressing conclusion: “The level of media attention is not necessarily proportional to the size of the crisis. Even when the media does report on a conflict, the situation for civilians may be overshadowed by coverage of war strategies, political alliances and fighting between armed groups.” Click on the countries above for our latest reporting, or here for own list of 10 humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2019.
(TOP PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, left, meets with the chief of Sudan's ruling military council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum on 7 June 2019.)
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
A food security crisis is looming in Rakhine State, rights group Amnesty International warned in a report this week accusing Myanmar’s military of continuing war crimes in its latest crackdown. The UN says more than 30,000 people have been displaced this year in clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine rebel group, and humanitarian access has been severely restricted. Amnesty says authorities are also imposing arbitrary restrictions on transporting medical supplies and food between conflict areas. Farmers can’t reach their fields to plant rice for the upcoming harvest. “The ongoing conflict and instability is likely to have a significant impact on long-term food security in a region where a large percentage of the population are subsistence farmers,” Amnesty says. Ethnic Rakhine communities are bearing the brunt of this crackdown, but rights groups say the military tactics follow patterns of previous abuses, including the 2017 purge of more than 700,000 Rohingya, also from Rakhine State, into Bangladesh.
Speaking of war crimes, humanitarian operations in Syria put aid groups potentially on the wrong side of international law. When the International Committee of the Red Cross worked with "evacuations" from rebel pockets in Aleppo, were they part of a forced displacement of civilians (a war crime)? Associate law professor at Oxford University Miles Jackson tackles this in a draft paper on "the problem of the virtuous accomplice". He explores the legal implications with hypothetical examples. One is "a nurse who sterilises equipment to be used by a captor to amputate the arm of a prisoner as torture" – this he calls "mitigating complicity". A second example is helping a vulnerable population where the aid agency knows that parts of that aid will be siphoned off by war criminals: this is dubbed "general complicity". We leave it to the reader to absorb the subtleties that lead to Jackson’s kicker: in exceptional circumstances, "knowingly contributing to an international crime may be the right thing to do”.
The International Crisis Group notes that military operations aimed at defeating the Katiba Macina jihadist insurgency in central Mali have reached a stalemate, and some Malians are now calling for dialogue – something TNH reported back in 2017. But the obstacles are serious. “Katiba Macina’s demands seem to leave little space for accommodation; it has ties to al-Qaeda-linked militants; and the idea of dialogue generates resistance among many Malians and foreign powers.” Nonetheless, ICG points out, aid groups and religious scholars frequently engage the group to discuss local compromises, humanitarian access, and religious doctrine, so there is pragmatism among the militants. “Given the remote prospects for defeating the Katiba Macina militarily, the Malian authorities should empower religious leaders to explore initial talks with its leaders while seeking a wider dialogue among central Malians, including those sympathetic to the insurgency,” the group argues. For more on the eruption of jihadist violence in Mali and across the Sahel region, read our briefing and this collection of our recent reporting.
Multiple rounds of US-Taliban negotiations over Afghanistan have produced little so far, but raised plenty of questions. Would the Afghan government survive should US forces leave? Would women’s rights backslide under the Taliban? Will peace talks focused on military objectives compromise humanitarian access? New research adds more voices to the discussion. A study from the United States Institute of Peace think tank draws from dozens of interviews in Afghan areas controlled or influenced by the Taliban (an ever-rising proportion). Civilians, unsurprisingly, simply want an end to the violence. Taliban members reject any power-sharing deal with the current government. And women, including those related to Taliban members, “strongly objected” to restrictions on their lives, including access to schools and healthcare. Many spoke of the importance of addressing Afghanistan’s legacy of conflict. But reconciliation measures have rarely been mentioned so far in the debate.
Countries can no longer afford to wait before acting on climate forecasts. We knew six months ago this would be an El Niño year, and yet it was business as usual until crops started wilting in the fields in southern and eastern Africa. Millions of people are going to go hungry this year, when an early mitigation effort could have helped ease the hardship for many households and reduced the financial cost of the humanitarian response. So says World Food Programme climatologist Jesse Mason. His advice: governments must start communicating climate forecast information down to their farmers, and there must be appropriate action – from drought-resistant seeds to insurance and irrigation work. Aid agencies need to reprogramme cash-based transfers so they arrive before the disaster, providing farmers with a buffer, and donors need to be responsive to those needs. “Droughts are no longer in parts of a country, they are in parts of a continent,” and therefore the preparedness and response must be on a similar scale of planning and implementation, Mason said. Look out for more next week when we update TNH’s drought overview.
Eighty percent of local NGOs working on the Rohingya response in Bangladesh report having their staff poached by international agencies, according to a survey released by Cox’s Bazar-based NGO Coast. The research, which included interviews or surveys with staff of 61 local and international agencies, aims to show a snapshot of how the aid sector’s localisation reforms are unfolding during the Rohingya response, nearly two years after some 700,000 refugees were driven into Bangladesh. Local responders like Coast are pushing for changes, including holding coordination meetings in the national language, Bangla, rather than English. Using an appropriate language is a low-tech solution to the sector’s many problems, but there are also high-tech possibilities on the horizon. The Humanitarian Grand Challenge, funded by international donors, is looking for local innovations that can help as-yet-unreached people who need humanitarian aid in conflict areas. Applications for their latest round of funding are open now. Previously funded projects include portable energy systems, a cholera-detecting app, and an evaporative toilet.
DATA AND GENDER: The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) collects information on incidents of political violence. It's a unique resource for academics and journalists (see our map of rising violence in the Sahel, for example). Thanks to a new partnership, ACLED has produced an analysis of incidents in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East looking at gender differences for the first time. One finding: sexual violence accounts for 34 percent of attacks.
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:The epicentre of Congo’s Ebola outbreak is also being confronted by deadly epidemics of cholera and measles. A massive vaccination campaign is underway in the country, where more than 1,400 people have died from measles this year, and 240 from cholera.
IRAN: The country has confirmed its first case of the wild poliovirus in nearly 20 years, adding to concerns there is a “rising risk” of polio spreading across borders. The World Health Organisation says the sample, detected in sewage, is genetically linked to a sample found recently in Pakistan, which has seen a spike in polio cases this year.
US-MEXICO:US President Donald Trump threatened Mexico with trade tariffs that would rise "until the illegal immigration problem is remedied". Monthly numbers of migrants – most fleeing gang violence and drought in Central America – apprehended at the US-Mexico border have soared above 100,000 this year.
The name Ernest Halilov first crept onto our radar back in 2016 over alleged bid-rigging and kickback schemes involving aid for Syria. In September 2018 it emerged that the "Global Logistician" for Irish NGO GOAL had been banned from doing business with the US government for 10 years for trying to pocket a slice of Syrian aid budgets. The story now gets a little juicier. According to court documents unearthed by TNH Senior Editor Ben Parker, the Turkmen national was detained in Ukraine last year and faces extradition to the United States on a string of felony charges, including bribery and witness tampering. In one instance, he allegedly laid on an overnight shopping spree at the Hilton hotel in Mersin, Turkey, complete with 5-star hotel stay, $1,500 spending money, and Mercedes car service. The extradition request shows the lengths the US authorities are willing to go to crack down on aid fraud. After more than three years of investigations involving hundreds of millions of dollars of aid delivered to Syria through Turkey, the USAID probe is ongoing.
The possibilities of cyber warfare include the idea that hackers for nation states might be combatants and therefore legitimate targets under international humanitarian law. The ICRC has compiled a detailed and eye-opening report on how this type of conflict may evolve, what the risks are, what the law says, and how to mitigate the human cost. The report includes some remarkable anecdotes. For instance, cyber threats are not so new: in 2007, then-US vice-president Dick Cheney had an implanted defibrillator changed to stop the possibility of a hack – to his heart.
(TOP PHOTO: A child walks along a path in the Sin Tet Maw camp for internally displaced persons in Rakhine State, Myanmar, Wednesday 5 April 2017.)
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
More than 50 people were reportedly killed in an attack by militia on villages in the Central African Republic's volatile northwest, putting a peace deal signed by 14 armed groups in February in jeopardy. The group ‘Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation,’ or 3R, was blamed for the attack, and the government on Wednesday called on its leader, Sidiki Abass, to arrest and hand over those responsible to the authorities “in the next 72 hours or risk being held personally responsible”. The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, said it was engaging in local-level dialogue "to ease tensions and prevent a retaliatory response by anti-balaka", a mostly Christian grouping of militia. In March the government named Abass and two other militia leaders as special military advisers to the prime minister’s office. All three are seen as responsible for widespread atrocities in recent years, including possible crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch has called for their prosecution. See TNH’s CAR coverage for more.
Thousands of children born to so-called Islamic State militants are languishing in squalid camps or detention centres in what UNICEF says is a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Syria alone, there are an estimated 29,000 foreign children – 20,000 of them from Iraq, and the remainder from some 60 other countries. Another 1,000 are thought to be in Iraq. Citing security concerns, many countries have been reluctant to repatriate the children, or their mothers who married IS fighters. So far, fewer than 300 children have been returned to countries who sought UNICEF’s help. UNICEF is urging countries to provide the children with documents, support their safe return, help them reintegrate into society, and to apply juvenile justice and fair trial norms if they face criminal charges. The children should be treated as victims, not perpetrators, the UN agency says.
On a different but related subject, it emerged late on Wednesday, after a report by CBS News, that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador with a history of congenital heart defects died more than seven months ago after being taken into custody in Texas. She is the sixth child known to have died after being detained by US border authorities in the past eight months. More than 300,000 people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the US-Mexico border between January and April, with numbers rising every month. The US Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that around 6,000 asylum seekers had been returned to Mexico during that period, while others are reportedly being told they must wait in Mexico for longer than a year before their case will be considered. Read our report on the building humanitarian crisis across the border, as migrant numbers and needs in violence-prone Mexican border cities grow.
The folks at Oxfam’s From Poverty to Power blog have a tale of passport privilege that many Cheat Sheet readers may find all too familiar. Last month, only one out of 25 invited people turned up to a workshop held around the London School of Economics’ Africa Summit. The reason? They were Africans who had been denied UK visas. Health researcher Esther Yei-Mokuwa from Sierra Leone, who was able to attend because she also has a Dutch passport, notes that the African researchers planned to attend the summit and other events to help prepare for future pandemics, including Ebola. “We all need protection from infectious diseases – even Britain,” she writes. LSE student Elizabeth Storer points out what’s lost when African researchers face difficulties trying to share their work at international symposiums: “Conversations about development… lack important perspectives and insights; European scholars evade important critique from citizens of the countries they study.”
Kenya-Somalia relations are going through a rough patch. Mogadishu says a series of recent moves by Kenya – a stopover of direct flights to Nairobi for “security checks” in the border town of Wajir, the withdrawal of visa-free travel privileges for government officials, and a squeeze on money transfer Hawala operators – “contravene the neighbourly bond”. At root is a maritime wrangle that analyst Rashid Abdi says “has plunged ties to worst levels in decades”. In February, Nairobi accused Mogadishu of auctioning oil exploration rights in a disputed part of the Indian Ocean. Somalia says blocks in the zone under contention have not been included. There has also been longstanding friction over Kenya’s influence in the border state of Jubaland, where Kenyan troops are deployed as part of the AU’s AMISOM peace enforcement operation. Somalia wants them out, and Nairobi says Mogadishu is negotiating with regional powers to usurp its “interests”.
Fair to say it has been another worrying week for the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While a relative lull in attacks against healthcare workers and facilities – 132 have been reported since the outbreak was declared in August – allowed operations to resume, data collected showed no let-up the second-deadliest epidemic in history. There are now 1,877 known cases; 1,248 people have died. And the virus may have spread outside Congo, with Ugandan authorities testing blood samples from two people who died in the western part of the country near the Congolese border. The UN appointed an Ebola ‘czar’ this week, David Gressly, to tackle a minefield of security and political issues that have been hampering the response. For a comprehensive look at the risks of regional spread, read the latest Ebola coverage from TNH.
LIBYA:A top UN official warned the Security Council that Libya risked “civil war” and “permanent division” unless the fighting around the capital, Tripoli, stops. Weeks of clashes between the UN-backed Government of National Accord and forces loyal to rebel general Khalifa Haftar have left dozens of civilians dead and displaced some 75,000 people.
MOZAMBIQUE: An ex-Credit Suisse Group banker has become the first person to plead guilty in a $2 billion fraud and money-laundering scam tied to loans to Mozambique that were used to pay bribes and kickbacks. The deal, using an extortionate interest rate, severely damaged the Mozambican economy. See the TNH story.
SYRIA:An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib and northern Hama in the first few weeks of May by what many see as the beginning of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive. An assessment by the humanitarian research group REACH in the partly rebel-held provinces anticipates that figure will swell to 450,000 by the end of the month, with “long-term consequences for the region”.
VENEZUELA:The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the majority of the 3.7 million Venezuelans who have fled the country since 2015 require international humanitarian protection and must not be forcibly sent home due to “the threats to their lives, security or freedom”.
YEMEN: The World Food Programme threatened to suspend food aid in parts of the country held by Houthi rebels. It says food aid is being diverted and efforts to reach people in need are being repeatedly blocked by local officials. Nearly 12 million people, or about 40 percent of Yemen’s population, are at risk of starvation in what the UN has labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Three years ago this month the first agreements were announced in a carefully choreographed process that would lead to a landmark peace accord between the Colombian government and the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Praised around the world for making unpopular compromises to end the longest-running conflict in the western hemisphere, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October that year. In our weekend read, Mariana Palau takes you to troubled Tumaco, the FARC’s former cocaine-producing heartlands, and unearths a grim story of disappearances, violent clashes, and mass displacement. The FARC have gone in name only. Other illegal armed groups – the dissidents – have taken their place. Her reporting is a cautionary tale on the need to follow through after demobilisation with proper reintegration, including providing services and work opportunities. Check out this New York Times report for more on the broken promises on both sides.
Was that last cluster meeting a full-on manel? Just how diverse is the aid sector? Melbourne-based think tank Humanitarian Advisory Group is trying to find out. They’ve launched a survey soliciting perspectives on diversity and inclusion in humanitarian leadership positions. It’s part of continuing research aimed at examining what diverse leadership might actually mean: does it lead to better decisions and more inclusive and accountable aid responses? The starting point, researchers say, is figuring out where the aid sector stands today. You can take the survey here.
(TOP PHOTO: UN peacekeepers on patrol in the Central African Republic town of Bouar.)
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
This week Houthi rebels began withdrawing from Hodeidah and two other nearby ports in what was supposedly one of the most significant advances towards peace in more than four years of conflict. But this week renewed fighting also broke out in Hodeidah between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels. And this week several people were killed and dozens injured in the capital, Sana’a, as Saudi-led coalition warplanes bombed in apparent retaliation for Houthi drone strikes on a key oil pipeline. It’s no wonder the UN's special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, sounded far from triumphant in his briefing to the Security Council on Wednesday. “Yemen remains very much at the crossroads between war and peace,” he said, cautioning: “Progress can be made, progress can be threatened.” Whether this limited withdrawal in Hodeidah, and the Stockholm Agreement that preceded it, can unlock more significant moves towards peace remains very much an open question.
The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram, is growing in power and influence, the International Crisis Group says in a new report. “By filling gaps in governance and service delivery, it has cultivated a level of support among local civilians that Boko Haram never enjoyed and has turned neglected communities in the area and islands in Lake Chad into a source of economic support.” It points out that Nigeria and its neighbours not only need to win militarily – which Nigeria is so far largely failing to do – but also politically. ISWAP digs wells, provides some basic healthcare, has a judicial system in place and a tax regime that’s generally accepted – creating an environment where people can do business “and compare its governance favourably to that of the Nigerian state.” We should also add a religious dimension of support from people committed to ISWAP’s ideological message. All in all, displacing ISWAP will not be easy.
In March 2017, heavy rainfall caused rivers near the town of Mocoa in southern Colombia to burst their banks, unleashing a torrent of water and debris through the municipality and killing some 300 people. More than 80 percent of the victims were facing their second crisis: they had fled to Mocoa to seek shelter from armed groups but could only afford to build their homes in disaster-vulnerable areas. New research from UK-based think tank ODI examines the neglected crossroads of disasters and conflict. Researchers says donors, governments, and UN agencies have often resisted tackling disaster risk reduction in conflict zones, even if the majority of disaster-related deaths happen in fragile states. But there are ways forward: the research looks at how disaster risk reduction has evolved in conflict areas around the world, including in Afghanistan, Chad, and Colombia. The ongoing research is piling up here; or if you’d rather hear someone talk about it, check out the first in a related podcast series here.
Meanwhile, an annual UN gathering of the disaster risk reduction community wrapped up on Friday in Geneva. A Global UN Assessment, weighing in at 472 pages, warns: “we are fast approaching the point where we may not be able to mitigate or repair impacts from cascading and systemic risk in our global systems.”
Sudan’s opposition alliance has decried a three-day suspension of talks by the transitional ruling military council as “regrettable”. Although the generals and opposition had agreed a three-year transition to a civilian administration, the military on Thursday paused further talks on the details until a “suitable atmosphere” can be created, including the removal of roadblocks in Khartoum. Shots were fired on Wednesday as soldiers tried to clear barricades. Protesters said 14 people were wounded. The alliance described protesters as “increasingly angry as a result of the bloodshed and the souls that we lost”. There are also divisions within the alliance over whether to comply with the order to dismantle the barricades, one of the symbols of the protest. For a short and personal take on a Sudan in transition check out this essay in the New Yorker by freelance Sudanese journalist Isma’il Kushkush.
Last year was one of the deadliest for healthcare workers: nearly 1,000 attacks in 23 countries, according to a report by the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition. The report comes as a deadly Ebola outbreak is spreading even faster in the Democratic Republic of Congo, partly because repeated attacks on treatment centres and healthcare workers have interrupted response operations. Other attacks have included hospitals and clinics in East Ghouta, Syria being hit by bombs or shells, and Boko Haram militants killing a doctor for UNICEF and two midwives at a displacement camp in Nigeria. The year before last, there were 701 incidents.
MOZAMBIQUE:Facing losses of up to $773 million from just one of the two cyclones that struck this year, Mozambique is also one of seven low-income countries in "debt distress", according to the IMF. The exposure of corrupt borrowing by state-owned companies has worsened Mozambique's position. In a new report, British NGO Christian Aid says there is a "new global debt crisis", fuelled in part by a private sector boom in "irresponsible lending".
MYANMAR: The international community should cut off financial support to Myanmar’s military, a UN-appointed rights probe said this week following a mission to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. The investigators said Myanmar has done little to resolve its displacement crises, including the exodus of nearly one million Rohingya.
PAKISTAN: More than 190 people have died in floods and storms in Pakistan since the beginning of the year, according to the UN. Pakistan is facing disasters on two fronts: severe drought in the south and flooding in other areas.
VENEZUELA:Talks began on Friday in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to seek a mediated solution to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó confirmed sending a delegation but said it wouldn’t be holding face-to-face talks with representatives of President Nicolás Maduro.
“I have completely forgiven him (opposition leader Riek Machar) and all I ask from him is to become a peace partner, for he is no longer my opponent”: President Salva Kiir opening parliament on Tuesday. Fine, except the two men struck a deal back in September to usher in a power-sharing government on 12 May. Our weekend read lays out why that didn’t happen and looks at the chances of the deal sticking if Machar does return in November, as is now planned. Meanwhile, fighting is ongoing. Further evidence this week: hundreds of South Sudanese refugees arriving in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them widows and unaccompanied children. For more, check out our photo feature from Old Fangak, a town in the middle of a vast swamp that has grown tenfold as one of the final refuges from a five-and-a-half-year conflict that has claimed more than 400,000 lives.
A major conference on Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises will take place in Oslo, on 23-24 May. Hosted by Norway, together with the governments of Iraq, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, UN bodies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the event will also include 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege. It aims to make SGBV a political priority, as well as to generate new funding commitments for efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence.
(TOP PHOTO: Yemenis looking for survivors in damaged houses following reported Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on 16 May 2019.)
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
A social media campaign – “South Sudanese for Change” – is calling on young people to rise up and take to the streets of Juba on 16 May in emulation of events in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. The spark is the apparent murder of two kidnapped activists, Dong Samuel Luak, a human rights lawyer, and opposition politician Aggrey Izbon Idri. The planned showdown will challenge a government widely seen as brutal, corrupt, and incompetent, and that has failed to deliver peace. Spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth has taken it seriously enough to warn: “The government will deal with anybody who protests.” In truth, “South Sudanese for Change” appears to be a largely diaspora-driven movement. However fed up people may be with President Salva Kiir, taking to the highly militarised streets of Juba is not for the faint-hearted. The government is not known to have large stocks of teargas, but it does have a lot of bullets. Look out for our upcoming briefing on the stalled peace process.
Myanmar this week freed two Pulitzer-winning reporters after more than 500 days in jail, but other journalists still face charges for their reporting in troubled Rakhine State. The country’s powerful military is pursuing charges against editors at the Irrawaddy, Radio Free Asia, and Development Media Group, a Sittwe-based outlet that has been reporting on a military crackdown on the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine rebel group. “We remain terribly concerned about the state of media freedom and the democratic space in Myanmar,” two UN rights experts said. Last year The New Humanitarian interviewed DMG editor Aung Marm Oo, who spoke of the competing pressures he faces, especially when it comes to Rohingya issues. “Sometimes our life is more important than anything,” he told reporter Verena Hölzl, explaining why his newspaper wouldn’t use the term “Rohingya” to describe the minority group, which is denied citizenship in Myanmar.
An estimated 3,000 migrants – mostly from Ethiopia – are still being detained by Yemeni authorities in the southern provinces of Aden and Abyan. This is despite at least 14 deaths from treatable illnesses, a shooting that left a teenage boy paralysed, and reportedly “inhumane conditions”. Authorities allied with President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi began rounding up migrants around 21 April, holding them in sports stadiums and a military camp. Since then, the UN’s migration agency says some 1,400 people were released, but more have also been arrested and many of the detainees are now fasting during the day for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Despite Yemen’s four years of war, thousands of people – mostly from sub-Saharan Africa – have continued to cross from Djibouti and Somaliland to Yemen in the hope of making it to Saudi Arabia for work. It was always an arduous and risky trek. Now, even more so. Read more about the journey here.
The figures have become almost too easy to ignore, such is their scale: at least 28 million new internal displacements from conflict, violence, and disaster in 2018. Alarmingly, this is par for the course for a past decade that has seen an inexorable rise in the global stock of internally displaced people as conflicts become more protracted and climate shocks proliferate. It will be little surprise to regular Cheat Sheet readers to see Ethiopia top the chart (see below), but the annual report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre highlights another trend: urban IDPs. This, it warns, is driving "fast and unplanned urbanisation, further aggravating inequalities, and generating further risk of displacement and instability". The report urges far more investment at city level and to help national governments to deploy the technological tools needed to fill vast gaps in gathering and analysing data and formulating cohesive responses.
The number of people apprehended at the US-Mexico border topped 100,000 for the second straight month, US customs officials said this week. The more than 109,000 people taken into custody or ruled inadmissible in April is the highest monthly total since 2007. US President Donald Trump continues to push for a contentious border wall – a plan that could trigger unintended consequences for communities on both sides of the frontier. This week, the Texas Observer examines what a wall would mean on a stretch of the Rio Grande separating the Texan town of Roma from the Mexican municipality Miguel Alemán. There, US and Mexican officials had blocked previous plans for a border wall when engineering reports revealed a barrier could magnify flooding. A 2010 hurricane saw floodwaters surge more than four metres in one stretch. Current plans would see a border wall erected along some 100 kilometres of two adjoining counties – much of it cutting through the Rio Grande floodplain. Read (or listen to) the story here.
"Humanitarian actors are not deliberately overlooking the needs of people living with dementia, but they do need support to understand what those needs are." A new report says that with the use of suitable techniques, a range of "hidden disabilities" can be better recognised. There is a large deficit in humanitarian services tailored for people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, it finds. The report, "Forgotten in a Crisis", recounts an experiment in Syrian refugee family interviews in Lebanon where asking different questions revealed 28 percent of the cases had disabilities. But without using a specialised questionnaire devised by a statistical alliance, the Washington Group, only two percent were estimated to live with disabilities. The Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance, Alzheimer’s Disease International, and Alzheimer’s Pakistan published the 56-page study, which argues that "humanitarian actors are unaware of, and not looking for, this at-risk population". More than half of 50 million people living with dementia worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries.
AFGHANISTAN: Three employees of the NGO CARE were among five people killed in Wednesday’s Taliban-claimed attack on the Kabul offices of Counterpart International, an organisation that implements mainly USAID-funded development projects. “This attack reflects the increasing dangers of humanitarian work in conflict-affected countries,” CARE said in a statement.
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:Ebola response operations have been shut down repeatedly after attacks against treatment centres – violence that’s making the numbers of cases soar. An attack on Butembo on Wednesday ended with at least eight militiamen being killed and operations on hold again. More than 1,600 cases of Ebola have been reported, and more than 1,070 people have died from the disease. Some 30 percent of the cases involve children.
GAZA: A ceasefire in Gaza appears to be holding after last weekend’s violence killed a reported 25 Palestinians and four Israelis. While the terms of the truce have not been announced, reports suggest that Israel may have agreed to lift restrictions on the imports of some “dual-use” goods – items that could be used for both civilian and military purposes. Late last month, the World Bank said Israel’s application of the dual-use system is obstructing growth in the already ailing Palestinian economy.
SUDAN: The military is still in charge after the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir, and demonstrators are still on the streets in protest. The Inquiry podcast takes a look at what might happen next. It points out the military (including the various co-opted militia) is deeply fractured thanks to al-Bashir’s divide and rule tactics. The podcast suggests three scenarios: the protestors win and democracy is restored (unlikely as the military then lose economic power); the generals agree to consolidate around another autocratic ruler; or (the nightmare scenario) the military falls apart, with violent rivals backed by different Gulf and regional paymasters.
Clashes, airstrikes, shelling and, yes, more than 150,000 people forced to flee in one week alone, doubling the number of newly displaced in northwestern Syria since February to more than 300,000: if this is a truce, who needs war? Our weekend read offers our now-regular reminder: no, the war in Syria is not over. In fact, as Tom Rollins reports, there are warnings of a further escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas, potentially of a full-on offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his Russian allies to rid the territory of Islamist extremists and other rebel groups. A ground offensive now seems to have started. This eventuality, not to mention the humanitarian catastrophe predicted by aid agencies if it came to pass, was supposed to have been averted by last September’s deal between Russia and Turkey. This deal is now looking a lot more shaky. Eighty civilians were killed between 28 April and 6 May. More than a dozen medical facilities were hit by airstrikes over a similar period, at least two on a UN “no-strike” list. Some aid operations are being suspended. Worse is probably to come.
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meets next week in Geneva in a forum that will help measure governments’ progress on targets aimed at lowering disaster risk – think of it as the SDGs for DRR. In addition to testing how many acronyms we can jam into a sentence, The New Humanitarian will be hosting a sideline event along with the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding. We’ll be discussing local and indigenous approaches to humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction. We’ll share key takeaways from our ongoing coverage of locally led humanitarian action – from micro-NGOs in Venezuela to Rohingya activists in refugee camps in Bangladesh. We’ll also hear about new research on indigenous approaches to reducing disaster risk, as well as local organisations building resilience in their own communities. It happens on Monday 13 May at 18:30 local time. Tune in to the livestream (or register to attend if you’re in Geneva) here.
(TOP PHOTO: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a signing ceremony in Juba.)
Floodwaters from Cyclone Kenneth have receded, but damaged roads and bridges are keeping relief teams from reaching thousands still in need. To make matters worse, recent sporadic violence in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado has interrupted aid deliveries.
Suspected Islamist militants have launched repeated attacks in gas- and mineral-rich Cabo Delgado since 2017, killing more than 200 people, and displacing thousands.
Last week, four villages affected by the storm in the Cabo Delgado districts of Macomia and Meluco were attacked, and at least seven people were killed. The violence was reportedly linked to upcoming registration for the October elections, but it also impacted aid efforts.
Despite abundant natural resources, the area – home to much of Mozambique’s minority Muslim population – is poor, with high youth unemployment, and already faced significant humanitarian needs before the storm.
“Our key priority is to support people in need, and our operations will continue,” said Gerald Bourke, a spokesman for the World Food Programme, which delivered supplies to more than 10,000 people after one attack in Nacate, a village 15 kilometers from Macomia town. The UN aid agency is also investigating an attempted raid at a food warehouse, although the facility did not belong to WFP.
“I farm cassava and maize, but when I came back home, there was nothing left in the fields; it was all flooded by the water.”
Cyclone Kenneth made landfall on 26 April with winds of up to 140 miles (220 kilometres) per hour, killing more than 50 people in northern Mozambique and the Comoros Islands. It hit six weeks after Cyclone Idai came ashore further south in Mozambique, killing 1,000 people across the wider region, including hundreds in Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Since Kenneth, more than 3,500 people remain in shelters in Cabo Delgado and the neighbouring northern province of Nampula, with some 250,000 people affected and more than 45,000 houses destroyed or damaged. With aid access to many in the remote and conflict-prone area difficult, some have been left to fend for themselves.
“There was no one coming to help me and my family… so I had to do something,” said 30-year-old Sinani Shadique Siwale, whose home was turned to rubble in Macomia town, about 200 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Pemba. Siwale is now building a new mud house, but it may not withstand future storms.
Daw Mohamed, humanitarian director of CARE International, said the organisation planned to help at least 80,000 people over the next six months with tool kits and other equipment that could be used to build stronger structures.
“At the moment there are logistical challenges that have curtailed our efforts to reach the affected people,” Mohamed said. “Roads are impassable, and many bridges have been destroyed.”
For many families, hunger has been a constant worry. More than 55,000 hectares of food were affected just ahead of the April harvest, with crop losses leaving more than 370,000 people vulnerable.
Prone to droughts, the region has historically battled sporadic food shortages. Rapid deforestation has also made the country more vulnerable to flooding and climate change.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation is carrying out assessments in parts of Cabo Delgado where agriculture, as well as livestock and fisheries, suffered extensive damage in the two storms, according to Lisa Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman.
“I farm cassava and maize, but when I came back home, there was nothing left in the fields; it was all flooded by the water,” said Louisa Mafuca, 37, in Bangale 2 – a village near the Quirimbas National Park, which is known for its coastal forests, mangroves, and tortoises.
In other parts of Mozambique where the soil has dried, some rural farmers have returned.
“I don’t know if anything will grow right now as the soil still has a lot of water, but there is nothing else to do so I have to try.”
In Sofala province – the country’s breadbasket that was devastated by Cyclone Idai – more than 700,000 hectares of crops were destroyed before the harvest. Teresa Castigo, a mother of three, has tried to recoup her losses by replanting her maize crop in Batista-Mananga, some 150 kilometres northwest of the devastated port city of Beira. She hopes her family will have enough to survive until the next major planting season begins in October.
Luckily, small shoots of maize have started to burst through the soil.
“My husband is taking the last of our maize to the grinding mill, so I have to plant and see what happens,” she said. “Otherwise we will just wait and wait until we die of hunger.”
In a bid to keep her family’s hunger at bay, Sabina Joao Madibe – the wife of Siwale, who is rebuilding his house in Macomia – is considering going back to the fields to plant new crops. The family mainly eats beans gathered from the smaller garden in their yard, but Madibe is anxious to return to her larger fields.
“We can’t eat these beans all the time, (so) we have to do something to get food,” said the 28-year-old. “I don’t know if anything will grow right now as the soil still has a lot of water, but there is nothing else to do so I have to try.”
(*An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the attempted raid was at a WFP warehouse.)
(TOP PHOTO: The green shoots of maize in Teresa Castigo’s field give her hope, albeit an uncertain hope, that she might be able to grow something after Cyclone Idai destroyed her maize crop in Sofala province, central Mozambique.)
Facing the worst drought in decades, cattle farmers in India’s Maharashtra State are left with little choice but to flee their parched villages with their animals for an NGO-run displacement camp where livestock are fed and watered.
“Cattle camps”, such as the one photojournalist Maria de la Guardia visited in April, are a sign of the life-altering changes long-term drought is forcing onto rural families in India. Most of the farmers are grandparents whose adult children have abandoned farming, pursuing a living in the slums of Mumbai.
Some 4,000 farmers from 300 drought-hit villages in southern Maharashtra were gathered at the cattle camp where de la Guardia spent time. It is run by the Mann Deshi Foundation, a local organisation that helps rural women.
In recent years, hundreds of these cattle camps have opened on an emergency basis during times of drought.
But farmers here say this is the worst drought since 1972. And, with almost no rainfall in months, the Mann Deshi camp, by far the largest in the area, opened in January – its earliest start date ever.
As de la Guardia’s images show, families live in makeshift tents, working to preserve the last of their livestock and wondering if this is the end of the line for their livelihoods as farmers.
“This year there is no rain, not since last year,” says 63-year-old Nagardi, whose family has raised cattle for generations. “There are no fields for the cattle, no water even for us to drink.”
Drought has hit at least eight Indian states including Maharashtra, which declared a drought in two thirds of its districts in November. With traditional sources like wells, rivers, and even lakes running dry, authorities have deployed tankers to truck in water to dry communities.
“Our village now is just barren land and dust.”
Maharashtra is India’s wealthiest state, yet there is a deep economic disparity between its commercial centre, Mumbai, and its rural regions.
Groups that work with rural communities say the long-term consequences of drought include permanent migration from rural to urban areas, depletion of groundwater and deterioration of farmland, a decline in agricultural production and a surge in food and milk prices, and even higher rates of suicide as farmers struggle to repay mounting debt.
Some of these fears are echoed by farmers at the Mann Deshi cattle camp. The NGO says it costs $12,000 each day to operate the camp, but it doesn’t have enough funding to stay open until the start of the monsoon rains, which typically arrive in June or July.
Families here worry they’ll have to sell their cattle at a significant loss – and ultimately leave their empty villages for good to migrate in search of food, water, and jobs.
“Our village now is just barren land and dust,” says Tukram Khandar, a grandfather who brought his cattle to the camp.
Green netting sprawls across partially shaded cattle in the Mann Deshi camp, while smoke from outdoor cooking fires wafts over tents that often house multiple generations of families. More than 4,000 people and 10,000 head of livestock live in the camp.
The makeshift but organised nature of the settlement resembles a camp for internally displaced people. Water is trucked in and fodder is distributed for the animals. Each household receives a solar lamp, though families are responsible for their own food and shelter. Sanitation facilities and a veterinarian are also available. Each week, 15 to 20 people – along with 60 cows – show up asking for refuge, according to NGO officials.
Cows hold a special significance for many farmers here. Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism – the religion practised by most of the farmers – and they are also crucial to the families’ livelihoods.
“The cows are family members,” says Khandar, as his son and sister milk one of the family’s dairy cows.
“They feed our children as they grow. And without them, our source of income stops.”
His eyes fill with tears as he recalls a pregnant cow that died shortly after arriving at the camp in January, her stomach filled with dust: “I did not eat for more than four days.”
Farmers in the camp are surviving on an average of 10,000 rupees each month, or about $144, earned through the sale of cow’s milk. These earnings are just enough to meet their daily needs.
What were once pomegranate and custard apple patches are now barren fields on the outskirts of abandoned villages. Failed crops are compounding the drought’s impacts on cattle farmers, who struggle to provide for their families and their livestock. More than 70 percent of Maharashtra’s districts are facing water scarcity and crop failure and some 8.2 million farmers are affected, according to ECHO, the European Union’s aid coordination arm.
Maharashtra is the seventh-largest dairy producer in the country, but many of the state’s cattle farmers have taken a financial hit in recent years. In 2015, Maharashtra prohibited the slaughter of cows, bulls, and bullocks – disrupting the cattle trade. Now, the animals are worth a fraction of their former value.
Farmers who still own beef cattle speak in hushed tones about what they’ll do if the drought forces them to offload their livestock. Some say they may have no option but to sell to black market butchers – risking jail time and a fine.
A woman cooks the evening meal over an open flame outside her tent. Many families here forgo proper nutrition despite long days of physically intensive work in temperatures that soar past 40C. Instead of more nutritious food, diets largely consist of starch and carbohydrates.
Nagardi works among a sea of sugarcane to collect fodder for her cows. Most of the farmers have adult children who have moved to the slums of cities like Mumbai, fracturing families that have farmed for generations.
“This is the last generation of our family to be farmers,” Nagardi says. “We do not want our children to follow our same path and struggles.”
As day breaks, Nagardi’s neighbours begin to wake. The daily worries and fears across the community are the same: what happens if the camp closes before the rains set in?
In recent years, many families are increasingly travelling hundreds of kilometres to find temporary jobs in sugarcane factories or in construction. The prolonged drought is turning once-seasonal migration into a permanent reality.
Owning livestock keeps some families tethered to their unproductive land. But for those forced to sell everything, finding a new living in the slums of Mumbai is the likely end point.
For Nagardi, planning for the future is about survival. “I will go wherever there is water,” she says.
(TOP PHOTO: A woman in Mann Deshi cattle camp shields her face from winds that whip up pieces of sugarcane during a fodder distribution.)
As temperatures rise in parched northern Kenya, local aid worker Evans Onyiego is fighting to build peace among pastoralist communities jostling over dwindling resources.
Weeks of scant rainfall have put Samburu county on drought alert, along with at least 19 more of the country’s 47 counties. In the arid north, pasture and water sources are drying up, forcing semi-nomadic herders to travel greater distances in search of water – and driving up the risk of conflict.
“They’re competing for water. They’re competing for pasture,” says Onyiego, who heads Caritas Maralal, the Catholic church’s local social and humanitarian action arm in Samburu.
The New Humanitarian’s video series, “Faces on the front lines of local aid”, explores the work of local aid responders like Onyiego. The latest video, “The Peacebuilder”, looks at how Onyiego tries to build social cohesion among northern Kenya’s pastoralist communities in an age of climate change, which has made droughts more unpredictable and more intense.
“Local organisations are part of these communities. And whether there is a disaster or not, we still remain.”
Competition over resources has turned increasingly deadly in recent years, infused by the proliferation of automatic weapons.
“Conflicts are very tricky,” Onyiego says. “You need to be very sensitive and make sure whatever intervention you are bringing in is not worsening the situation.”
As drought impacts escalate this year, international aid groups are planning nutrition and cash aid programmes in Samburu county. Onyiego, who was born and raised here, says locals are best placed to navigate often-complicated local power structures and dynamics, though they’re frequently overlooked in the wider aid sector.
“The international organisations come in to respond to crises with a specific mandate,” he says. “If it is a disease outbreak, then they respond to that and they end there. They don’t do anything else. But the local organisations are part of these communities. And whether there is a disaster or not, we still remain.”
Onyiego’s day-to-day work focuses on giving competing communities opportunities to interact and form relationships. He encourages rival groups to meet and negotiate how to co-exist and share resources.
It’s a message shared by Jackson Odungo Kiok, a farmer and Samburu leader whose son was killed in a cattle raid. “I used to fight people,” he says. Today, he sits on a peace committee, working to reduce conflict with his former rivals.