Top Picks: Religion, racism, and missing fish

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.

Five to read:

Afghanistan’s ‘theorist in chief’

Is Ashraf Ghani the right man at the wrong time? In this profile of Afghanistan’s president, The New Yorker’s George Packer unpacks the complex personality of a man attempting to pull his country back from the brink of disaster. Undoubtedly brilliant, apparently incorruptible, highly educated, and with a wealth of practical experience, Ghani seems like just the person to ensure his failing state does not become a failed state. But Ghani is also known to be a thorny character – reviled by some – who does not readily engage in the social niceties that are so important in Afghan politics. And he may have taken office too late to achieve his goals. Ghani’s earnest attempts at reform could be stymied by the corruption and factionalism that took root under his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. (For the inside story on Karzai, check out Elizabeth Rubin’s 2009 profile in the New York Times Magazine) As Packer points out: “Ghani is the kind of reformer that the American government desperately needed as a partner during the erratic later years of Karzai’s rule.”

West Africa’s missing fish

Global overfishing has reached catastrophic levels, and West Africa is at the centre of the crisis. Current rates of extraction are driving several species towards extinction while jeopardising the livelihoods of local fishing communities across Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Mauritania, according to this new report by ODI.

It identifies two particular problems: the use of ‘reefers’ – large-scale commercial vessels receiving and freezing fish at sea – which makes it hard to tell which fish are caught legally; and the use of large refrigerated containers for export, which are subject to less stringent reporting requirements. Drawing on a unique satellite tracking database, the report provides evidence of practices that undermine multilateral governance rules aimed at curtailing Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, as opposed to promoting sustainable practices.

ODI says greater investment in regional patrols to detect and deter illegal fishing would allow West African governments to follow up suspicious activity. It calls on governments to follow the lead of Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire and ban transhipment in their waters. It also recommends that ships caught engaging in IUU fishing “should be blacklisted and prohibited from entering waters in the region”.

American Red Cross and the racist poster

The American Red Cross, under fire for waste and incompetence from Haiti to Sandy, and reporting a $159 million deficit, could hardly have picked a worse time for a new self-inflicted SNAFU. 

In a new swimming pool safety poster, almost all the naughty children are non-white. The "racist" poster has been withdrawn and the organisation apologised. 

A poster circulated online that critics say showed children of colour misbehaving while white children followed the rules

While that was bad enough, they face another challenge: a crowd of citizen journalists collaborating to perform the role of a watch dog on the organisation. 

ProPublica and National Public Radio are actively recruiting contributors to add to their series of critical investigations and revelations, which have bruised the organisation already, contributing to a drop in donations. Prospective contributors are now invited to join a collective which will keep an eye on the American Red Cross' operations across its 250 US branches. The signup sheet gives handy tips on Freedom of Information requests, who to interview and what to watch out for. 

It's not just a watch dog, it's a pack of watch dogs. Other aid agency bosses might be wondering if the idea will spread.

Migration via social media

By now it’s been well-documented that smartphones are perhaps the most vital object that migrants and refugees carry with them on their journeys to Europe. They’re used to share information on routes, border closures and reliable smugglers, to stay connected to family and friends, and even to call for help when migrants’ boats become stranded in the Mediterranean. This new paper by the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat – “Getting to Europe the ‘WhatsApp’ Way” – looks at how information technologies and social media are used not only by migrants themselves, but also by smugglers advertising their services, humanitarian organisations offering safety information, and destination countries trying to discourage migration. It looks at the ways in which social media has been used by migrants to reduce their dependence on smugglers and make their journeys safer, but also at how smugglers have used it to make false promises, and the potential for governments to use information technologies to increase surveillance and stem migration flows.

Religion and violence

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for this week’s attack in Istanbul, fingers have been pointed at the so-called Islamic State. We hardly needed another horrific example that religion can inspire violence, but this exhaustive research by the Pew Research Center is useful as we continue to grapple with the whys and wherefores. It finds a global rise in religion-related terrorist activity in 2014, the most recent year data is available. It went up in all regions except for sub-Saharan Africa, a reminder that religion is used as a justification for violence against people across the world, although the Middle East and North Africa still has the highest share. But there's some good news here, too: despite public discourse that is often hateful towards all sorts of faiths, the study also found a modest decline in countries with high government restrictions on religion or social hostility involving it. Something to hold on to at least.

One from IRIN:

The failure in Fallujah

The fact that a humanitarian crisis was brewing in Fallujah was no secret to anyone with much interest in Iraq. So why was the response when it happened so slow and inadequate? This question is of even more importance because government forces are making their way towards Mosul, a city with 10 times the number of civilians inside. The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, assures IRIN Middle East editor Annie Slemrod that lack of funds is the chief culprit. But when we dug a little deeper we unearthed a host of other reasons too. “The entire humanitarian community has failed Iraq – from donors, to governments, to the implementing agencies on the ground,” said Karl Schembri, spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council. Anbar Province, where Fallujah is located, is a particularly hazardous part of the country, but, given the needs, why were only seven aid agencies working there when almost 50 are deployed on the ground in areas further north? And why wasn’t the response scaled up more quickly? Okay, access, red tape, and security concerns are part of it, but other failings are completely inexcusable. Why, up until the end of last week, had only 1,533 tents been delivered to between 60,000 and 80,000 desperate people sweltering in 45 C plus heat when an imminent crisis had been forecast for weeks? Let’s hope lessons have been learnt.

Coming up:

Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation

6-8 July in Bonn, Germany

For the seventh year, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is bringing together experts and practitioners from around the world to discuss urban resilience and climate change adaptation. In addition to a busy three-day programme focused on everything from finance to measuring and monitoring progress, there are also side-events and networking forums to help build partnerships and exchange ideas.

For more information or to register, click here:

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