Every week, IRIN’s team of editors flags up what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:
As US President Donald Trump threatens to cut funding to UN peacekeeping, it’s time to explore some alternative models. For this Global Observatory report, Paul Williams looks at the ECOWAS experience in Gambia this year, in which West African leaders and the African Union sent in 7,000 troops, endorsed by the UN, to prevent an “unconstitutional change of government”. He concludes that the deployment “appears to be a successful case of coercion engineered through the coordinated activities of ECOWAS, the AU, and the UN Security Council”. There were a specific set of circumstances, but it was the logical result of two broader trends: “the African Union’s stance against unconstitutional changes of government and its willingness to authorise peace enforcement operations as part of its conflict management strategies.”
AU peace operations have historically been limited by a lack of money. But it now has a new funding model based on a 0.2% levy on imports by member states. It’s supposed to cover the costs of the organisation, and finance 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget. Can it work? The deadline for kick-off is this year. But the Institute for Security Studies points out that only five countries have started implementation. And weak revenue-generating mechanisms suggest many others will struggle. But if it does take off, ISS says it will “elevate the status of the AU” and go a long way to address concerns over its “capture” by international partners.
And then there’s the fascinating idea of local self-defence forces. The International Crisis Group last month looked at vigilante groups in the Lake Chad region, which have made military operations against Boko Haram “less blunt and more effective”, but have also committed abuses and become “involved in the war economy”. Meanwhile, Magnus Taylor tells a gripping tale of how the “Arrow Boys” stood up to Joseph Kony’s LRA in eastern Uganda in 2003.
Even as some look towards reconstruction in Syria, the fighting – and the sieges – are very much still on. This week, aid finally made it into the so-called “four towns” (Zabadani, Fua, Kefraya and Madaya) after months of negotiation. Access to these besieged towns is effectively a swap by warring parties, with the civilians a bargaining chip. The ICRC in Syria tweeted about the conditions inside with clear frustration: “four months without any aid: this cannot go on”. Next week, we’ll get a chance to read the latest UN secretary-general’s report on the humanitarian situation in Syria – it’s due 22 March. Those who bother to comb through these reports (the last one was 19 pages) can see where medical equipment has been removed from convoys, plus lists of where aid hasn’t gone, and sometimes where it has. It's not always thrilling reading, but this week marks six years since the first protests against Bashar al-Assad began, and this stuff matters.
The killing late on Thursday of at least 40 refugees in a helicopter attack off the coast of Yemen prompted widespread shock and condemnation. The dead included women and children and Somali refugees with documents issued by the UN’s refugee agency. One detail of the news coverage was somewhat perplexing: the boat that was targeted by an Apache gunship – a type of aircraft used by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels – was said to be heading to Sudan. While Yemen is a busy destination and departure point for migrants crossing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, most traffic heads to or departs from much closer locations in Djibouti or Somalia (specifically Somaliland and Puntland). Yet a soon-to-be-published report from the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat suggests that a growing number of Somalis are opting to travel via Yemen to Sudan, from where they seek passage to North Africa and Europe. The going rate, negotiated in the Puntland port of Bosaso, was said to be $1,000 a head.
Half a million people are on the brink of famine in South Sudan, and 100,000 people in two counties are already facing starvation. Despite the desperate needs, humanitarian organisations are under attack. Just this week, two aid workers were killed and three wounded when unidentified gunmen ambushed their convoy, which was returning from an area hit by a cholera outbreak. The civil war that broke out three years ago shows no signs of abating. The UN has warned of the risk of genocide and says the scale of sexual violence is “horrifying”. In the midst of this chaos lie serious questions about the culpability of aid agencies in prolonging the humanitarian crisis. If all of this has you throwing up your hands, join the discussion at London’s Frontline Club, where speakers will include a South Sudan political analyst, a former British ambassador to Sudan, and a journalist who has covered South Sudan for a decade.
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Step aside fake news, hello real news as President Trump puts some flesh on his “America First” doctrine by proposing swingeing cuts to US spending on international activities. This IRIN investigation by Head of Enterprise Projects Ben Parker delves deep into the so-called 150 budget line that governs US foreign spending and exposes which UN bodies are most at risk. If, as expected, the voluntary portion of UN spending is seen as easiest to trim, the World Food Programme and the refugee agency (UNHCR) look most vulnerable. With some 70 million people needing food aid this year and displacement in the region of 65 million, a humanitarian system at breaking point faces an ever-more-strained future. For more on the implications for the US State Department and USAID, check out this heated Center for Global Development podcast.
IRIN drew attention this week to the rampant violence now gripping the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and the oil wars playing out to an increasingly captive international audience out east. Taking a different tack, this new report by Mark Micallef for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, released today, examines smuggling trends in post-revolution Libya and finds that beatings, forced labour, kidnappings and arbitrary detentions of migrants have become the norm. According to Micallef, some local communities have accepted the illicit trade as “a necessary evil” in return for the perceived protection the militias provide from other armed groups. He suggests any intervention by the international community to disrupt the smugglers’ activities would need to find ways of isolating the industry from local communities or risk further destabilising the country. Policy makers in Europe, who have become fixated on how to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, would do well to read this detailed report and absorb some of its conclusions. Micallef warns that the Libyan coastguards the EU is intent on equipping and training often have strong links with the militias and armed groups behind the smuggling. Meanwhile, the detention centres where intercepted migrants are transferred to are “processing centres for ransom extraction and slavery”.