Top Picks: 2016 crisis watch, deadliest wars, rethinking Burundi

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates. 

Five to read:

Crises in 2016…

Mislaid your crystal ball? Not to worry, ACAPS, a Geneva-based organisation “dedicated to improving the assessment of humanitarian needs in complex emergencies and crises” has published its projections for trends and risks in 2016. The paper is the organisation’s first effort at consolidating three years of data to identify long-term trends in humanitarian needs and to plot likely scenarios. The 11 countries projected to have the highest humanitarian needs include, unsurprisingly, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Central African Republic. Much of the data will be familiar to those who follow ACAPS’ work closely, but some of the scenarios are intriguing. It sees Cameroon’s year depending mostly on the extent to which Boko Haram will be able to destabilise the country; foresees elections probably failing to bring stability to CAR; a high likelihood of drought and floods in Ethiopia (the latter in the South); inevitable continued deterioration in Yemen; and a particularly grim outlook for Syria, whether the government makes military gains, losses, or neither. On a more positive note, there is good chance of a peaceful transition of power in Myanmar.

War Report

There’s not much cheer to be found in the annual War Report either, published yesterday by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Some 171,400 people were killed or injured in conflict last year, fully twice as many as in 2013. Most of them were civilians. The deadliest conflict? Iraq (with 45,450 fatalities), closely followed by Syria (31,253) and Afghanistan (23,578). The Academy recorded 42 armed conflicts in 2014, 29 of them involving different countries. Many states have more than one internal conflict, including Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The analysis also reveals the increasing use of explosive weapons in highly-populated areas, such as Gaza and frontline towns in eastern Ukraine.

Transparency’s slow progress

Tucked away on the Devex website this week is a damning analysis of the at-best limited success of the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Launched four years ago amid much excitement, IATI was designed as a way for donors, NGOs, and private sector contractors to publish timely data about projects financed or implemented, with the aim of unpicking the complex aid process so as to generate smarter, better-targeted assistance. Four years on, however, IATI has admitted that it has had little to no practical impact on the lives of affected people. Those on the inside argue that it’s too soon to see real results, but Devex offers six ways IATI could up its game, including tracking impact rather than just cash flows, improving the quality of the data, and raising the profile of the project: even one of the authors of a recent UNDP study of IATI’s work had to admit he’d never heard of the project until he was hired to write the paper. 

Women on Syria’s frontline

Voices from anyone in Syria are rare these days, and those of women rarer still. But last week, on a rainy afternoon in New York, three women newly arrived from the frontline shared their remarkable stories with journalists. All three are featured in a new documentary, Syria’s Rebellious Women, currently too sensitive to show online as some of its subjects are still living and working in Syria. Two are paramedics, one an independent journalist. One spent a year in prison, and was urged by her parents to marry when she was released, to remove the stigma. Instead, she moved out. In a strange sense, they argue, some Syrian women have been liberated by the conflict: learning skills and taking roles that would have been off-limits before. “Syrian women used to be about getting married and having kids,” says 28-year-old Ahed, “but now they’re doing everything”. They feel the role of women in the revolution is insufficiently understood.  “Everything that the men did in the revolution, the women did as well,” says Zein, one of the paramedics. “We have a slogan that the revolution is female.”

Burundi through a different lens

Much of the recent commentary and diplomatic noise about Burundi has focused on the risk of the country sliding back into civil war and, less plausibly, into genocide. It generally focuses on events in the capital, Bujumbura, and on abuses committed there by official and unofficial security forces against opponents of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s successful bid to win a third term in office. Most of it has been written by foreigners. Roland Rugero, a Burundian blogger and journalist who has travelled outside the capital to take the temperature in rural areas, offers a more nuanced view. In this blog post he echoes the government’s contention that talk of conflict is overblown: “the peasantry has no desire for a new war.” (Some 300,000 lives were lost during the country’s 1993-2005 civil war, during which vast numbers of civilians took up arms within myriad rebel groups.) Rugero also rejects the received wisdom that Burundi’s antagonists consist neatly of supporters and opponents of the president. Rather, in the countryside, the conflict is seen as “an internal battle among the Abategetsi, or those who have power, all of whom are looking to claim for themselves their share of ‘something to eat’… [It is] a confrontation driven by the elites – those who know how to speak French and converse with the whites, who own cars and handle the large [denomination banknotes]. In short, it is a conflict about the interests of less than two percent of the Burundian population."

One to listen to:

A stitch in time

Meanwhile, in Paris, humanitarians have been plugging away at COP21, making the case for acting on the impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. Amid the rhetoric are some genuinely new ideas. This podcast features an interview with Maarten van Aalst, a disaster risk reduction expert in charge of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, discussing how forecast-based finance projects can increase community resilience by automatically releasing the money they need when a high level of disaster risk is predicted, without waiting for the extreme event to happen. “In too many cases we have scientific information that the risk is dramatically increased,” he says. “Typically we wait for the disaster and then respond; we help people when it is already too late.” Releasing funds earlier “triggers a pre-agreed set of actions that we know will reduce the impact.” The project has already started piloting in Uganda and Peru, both expected to be impacted badly by El Niño. 

One from IRIN:

Nigeria’s education crisis

The eyes of the world have been on Syria for the last few weeks, specifically on the patch of land currently occupied by the self-styed Islamic State. Thousands of miles away, however, an even worse terrorist group – responsible for more deaths than IS – continues to do profound damage to the social fabric of Nigeria. In this piece, IRIN looks at how the havoc wrought by Boko Haram – whose name means “Western education is forbidden” – is affecting Nigeria’s schools. While it’s the kidnappings and the bombings that grab the headlines, the education system in northeastern Nigeria is being slowly strangled. With some 600 teachers murdered, more than 1,000 schools forced to close and armed guards outside those that remain defiantly open, educators fear that the damage could set the school system back a generation. 

Coming up:


The two-week-long climate change marathon that is COP21 in Paris will finally come to an official close today – but if a deal isn’t struck, negotiations may go into overtime. Discussions have been running round the clock in an effort to agree a new global climate change agreement, with countries being given a strict two hours to look at each new draft text. Official diplomatic meetings have been supplemented with less formal ones known as indaba (Zulu for meeting). It remains to be seen whether giving meetings African names makes them any more likely to lead to outcomes, but some kind of answer will emerge in the next few days. IRIN’s coverage will continue.