Top Picks: Earthquakes, toys, and the deadliest route

Welcome to IRIN's weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Four to read:

How to stop natural events becoming humanitarian disasters

Last week’s earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar provided a reminder of the crucial role that logistics and infrastructure play in determining whether a natural event turns into a disaster. The World Risk Report 2016, compiled by Alliance Development Works (an alliance of German development and relief agencies) and the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), is a timely dive into the topic. Its World Risk Index ranks every country based on exposure to natural hazards, susceptibility, coping capacities, and adaptive capacities. The usual suspects finish in expected places but the data uncovers some interesting nuances too. Many of the countries least able to cope are not the most exposed, and vice versa. The report isn’t just about rankings. With handy graphics, powerful images, and compelling case studies, it's essential reading for professionals at every stage of the disaster continuum. Asked for three key takeaways, external expert Martina Comes highlights better coordination, handling the data revolution and the implications of new technologies, and managing the tricky divide between localisation and centralisation.

Norway faces up to a harsh reality in Afghanistan

The international community’s mission in Afghanistan has brought decidedly mixed results. A decade and a half after the Taliban regime was driven from power, a brutal insurgency still rages, the economy is in a shambles, corruption is endemic, and most Afghans still live in poverty, many desperately so. Those realities are tough to face, especially considering the billions of dollars in aid money that’s been pumped into the country (an estimated $113 billion by the US alone), and many nations that have been deeply involved in reconstruction efforts have shied away. Not Norway. The Norwegian government commissioned an independent evaluation of its role in Afghanistan – the first country to do so – and the report is refreshingly candid, according to this analysis by the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Norway had three goals in Afghanistan: to prove its mettle as a US and NATO ally, to prevent Afghanistan from being a centre for international terrorism, and to help build a viable state. The evaluation finds that Norway achieved the first goal. The other two? Not so much.

Yemen’s war documented

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he’s got a plan to restart the peace talks that have so far failed to end the war in Yemen and prevent the death of nearly 3,800 civilians. The same day, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called for an international and independent body to carry out investigations into allegations of breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in the country. While that seems unlikely to materalise, the report from his office lays out – in clinical but fairly detailed language – allegations of violations between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016. The report is long, but here’s the short of it: OHCHR has documented substantial violations by both the Saudi Arabian-led coalition and its allies, as well as their Houthi rivals. Documented attacks on civilians and residential areas, hits on two weddings, allegations of cluster bomb use, attacks on medical facilities – it’s all here. For Yemen’s civilians, the peace Kerry says he’s seeking can’t come soon enough.

The deadliest route

Until quite recently, no international agency tracked how many migrants died or went missing during journeys that often involve crossing deserts and oceans and relying on smugglers. Thanks to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, which launched in 2013, we now have a better idea of how many migrants die before they reach their destination. A report released by IOM this week, covering the first six months of 2016, shows a 28 percent increase in migrant deaths compared to the same period in 2015. Although part of the reason for the increase is probably better reporting, increasingly dangerous smuggling strategies in the Central Mediterranean are also to blame. A staggering one in 29 migrants died attempting the Central Mediterranean crossing between North Africa and Italy in the first six months of 2016. By comparison, the much shorter Eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece claimed the lives of one in 410 who attempted it.

One to listen to:

The toy smuggler of Aleppo

A turning point in Europe’s so-called migration crisis came early last September after an image of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who had drowned in the Mediterranean, went viral. Almost a year on, another image, this time of an injured child, half his face bloodied, the other half caked in dust, grabbed headlines around the world. The boy was five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, who had been injured in a military strike on a rebel-held neighbourhood of Aleppo. His brother, wounded in the same airstrike, died in hospital of his injuries. This BBC World Service podcast draws attention to Daqneesh but gives it some positive spin, interviewing someone doing simple but amazing things for the children of Aleppo. Prompted by his three-year-old daughter, Finnish-Syrian aid worker Rami Adham had some additions to his food and medical supplies when he first crossed into Syria: 25 teddy bears and 36 Barbie dolls. The reception was overwhelming so he has now delivered thousands of dolls, teddies, and puppets to the children of Syria. It’s a bitter-sweet listen as Adham describes the pain and the joy in trying to divert young minds away from the conflict, but it's also nice to know someone is trying.

One from IRIN:

The way home: Rebuilding peace in Central African Republic

Fighting in Central African Republic in 2013 tore communities apart, and churches and mosques became boltholes for people fleeing the indiscriminate killings, rapes, and looting. Now, tentatively, the brave or the desperate, are beginning to return to their homes to try to rebuild their lives. This IRIN special report comes from Katerina Vittozzi, a freelance journalist and 2016 fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Africa Great Lakes Reporting Initiative. The testimony of those affected by the crisis and Vittozzi’s video vignettes transport you to a country very much still on edge, where many communities still live in fear of militia rule. The tragedy of CAR’s fragile recovery over the last three years is just how much remains to be done and how little the world seems to care.

Coming up:

Migration in focus: Adding African voices

30 August, 10:30 – 13:00 in Pretoria, South Africa

Much of the public debate about migration to Europe has focused on European perceptions of the “crisis”. This seminar aims to explore migration policy from an African point of view, based on the latest evidence about migratory routes, what’s driving migration from Africa and smugglers’ practices. Speakers include Bram Frouws from the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat and Peter Tinti from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.

The event will take place at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, but you can catch the live webstream and more details about the seminar here.

(TOP PHOTO: Children sleep and play in the Fatima churh compound, where civilians have taken refuge from the conflict in Central African Republic. Katerina Vittozzi/IRIN)

ks-jf-as/ag