Syrian militias, Gazan pipes, and reforming humanitarianism: IRIN Top Picks

Every week, IRIN's team of editors curates a selection of humanitarian reports and opinion you may have missed, from in-depth analyses and features to academic studies and podcasts:

Making humanitarianism fit for purpose

Late last year, in a piece published by IRIN, Antonio Donini, an analyst with the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, wrote that multilateralism was in crisis and that humanitarianism had reached “its historical limits”. If his words struck a chord with many of our readers at the time, they feel particularly portentous in a week in which President Donald Trump fired off executive orders that rolled back gains in women’s reproductive health, refugee resettlement, and environmental protections at the stroke of a pen. More executive orders are reported to be in the pipeline that could see the US drastically cutting its contributions to the UN and withdrawing from certain multilateral treaties. Whether or not the humanitarian sector is ready to make long-debated changes, change is certainly coming. How will it adapt and what can humanitarians start doing to prepare for what lies ahead? These are some of the questions that Donini and his colleagues at the Feinstein International Center, as well as contributors from King’s College London and the Overseas Development Institute, have tried to answer in their “Planning from the Future” report. This 73-page monster explores the reasons why fundamental reforms of the sector are urgently needed and how they might be addressed by a more responsive, protective, and accountable humanitarian sector in the future.

Who’s responsible for Gaza’s infrastructure crisis?

It’s not just about settlements or an Israeli embassy in Jerusalem. For the past few weeks, Palestinians in Gaza have been taking to the streets to protest a more practical matter: worsening power cuts. Frustration has been aimed at Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel, but whose fault is it that some Gazans make do with only three or four hours of electricity a day? This report from NGO Gisha, which advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement, looks closely at who’s to blame for Gaza’s poor infrastructure in three sectors: electricity, water, and communications. It’s no simple matter as Palestinian parties and companies do play a role, but here’s a spoiler alert: past bombings plus Israeli restrictions on equipment for maintaining infrastructure are a major part of the picture. And it’s hard to get funding for water projects – say, fixing a sewage system that regularly overflows, or building a desalination plant for non-potable water – when there’s not enough electricity to run them. Questions of infrastructure rarely make the headlines, but they seriously hamper the lives of two million Gazans each and every day. 

A simple solution for protecting people from climate change

As the effects of climate change become more pronounced over the next few decades, (surprise!) it will be the “ultra-poor” who suffer most. So how can governments protect their most vulnerable citizens? This evaluation by the World Food Programme of a project carried out in Bangladesh between 2011 and 2015 provides one answer: give them cash.

Ok, it’s not just about money. The package included community infrastructure work, classes on disaster preparedness, and business development training, along with cash grants. The evaluation found: “People are less likely to sell assets, go into debt or resort to skipping meals when their lives are disrupted by the effects of climate change, if they have received a simple package of training and cash grants.” It’s an obvious point, but an important one, especially in Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world. Such programmes may help mitigate the looming threat climate change poses to the country, a threat could lead to 20 million people being displaced by 2050, as we recently reported.

Hungry for a list

The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index Africa (HANCI-Africa) ranks 45 African governments on their political commitment to tackling hunger and under-nutrition. The idea is to enable civil society to put pressure on governments and international policymakers to do better; to encourage governments to evaluate their own efforts; and to prioritise appropriate action.

So who’s rubbish? There are probably no surprises in the bottom six: Chad, Guinea, Angola, Comoros, Guinea‑Bissau, and, in last place, Sudan. The stars are: South Africa, Malawi, Madagascar… What? Madagascar? Yes, despite repeated droughts and chronic food insecurity in the south, the index says the Madagascan government has a range of proactive nutrition policies in place. This is something that wealthier countries, Nigeria for example, in 37th place, would do well to emulate.

One from IRIN:

Should a Syrian militia be delivering international aid?

There appears to be some genuine outrage at the use by World Vision of a Syrian militia to help deliver international aid. But there also appears to be some hypocrisy too. Do the 70,000 stranded would-be refugees who’ve amassed in a lawless no man’s land of desert between southern Syrian and northern Jordan really care? The hypocrisy stems from allegations that a UN contractor is using the same militia for its security and that the Jordanian military is said to exert a strong influence over the choice of UN contractors more generally. As regular IRIN contributor Sara Elizabeth Williams points out in this exclusive investigative report: “All those trying to help the stranded Syrians are treading a fine line on the humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence.” Over several months of reporting, Williams spoke to World Vision, UN agencies, the militia leader, other aid agencies, aid workers, as well as local activists. They all had strong views on how things should be done. But perhaps the most telling voice is that of Asmaa, a mother of four who expresses what’s important for her: “I feel more confidence and safety when we see the Jordanian berm, because it’s organised and has guards. There are people there who stay up at night to protect it, and protect the people in it.”

Coming up:

Beyond ‘crisis’? The state of immigration and asylum law and policy in the EU

10 February, Brussels

The Odysseus Academic Network’s annual conference will bring together legal experts in immigration and asylum law and asylum policy from across Europe to take stock of developments in 2016 and cast a look into 2017. The event will have three different streams – cooperation between member states, protection, and management of migration flows.

Participating is free, but online registration is required.

More details are available here.

(TOP PHOTO: 20-month-old Ummi Mustafa and her mother. Ummi is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and she received screening and treatment through Action Against Hunger's mobile health clinic in a camp for displaced people near Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, August 25, 2016. CREDIT: Guy Calaf/Action Against Hunger USA)

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