Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:
A tale of two choleras
As if their plight was not desperate enough, the more than 507,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh in the past six weeks are now facing disease – measles, diphtheria, dysentery and cholera – thanks to serious concerns about the sanitation in sites where they are sheltering (see our report from Cox’s Bazaar this week for the gritty details). In one way (and only one, really), the refugees may be in luck: the World Health Organisation plus other agencies – together calling themselves the Global Task Force on Cholera Control – have just rolled out what they call an “ambitious strategy to reduce deaths from cholera by 90 percent” by 2030. The plan to reduce the estimated 95,000 deaths from cholera each year includes the deployment of vaccines, and 900,000 doses are on their way to Bangladesh to prevent a major outbreak among the Rohingya. But what about Yemen, where the International Committee of the Red Cross fears suspected cholera cases could hit one million by the year-end? A vaccine was on its way back in June, then it wasn’t. The key word to watch here is “suspected” in the cholera numbers – data collection is not easy in Yemen, but it matters for how an outbreak is handled. Check back with IRIN in the coming days for an update on response plans for Yemen: a country in dire need.
Moving beyond crisis in Cameroon
As the so-called “anglophone crisis” in Cameroon continues to escalate, Washington has weighed in with criticism and the UN’s human rights wing today called for political dialogue. On Wednesday, a US State Department spokesman said the Cameroon government’s “use of force to restrict free expression and peaceful assembly, and violence by protestors, are unacceptable.” According to Amnesty International, at least 17 people in English-speaking regions of the northwest and southwest of the country were shot dead and 50 wounded last weekend when they gathered to mark a symbolic declaration of independence. For years, Cameroon’s English speakers, who make up one in five of the country’s inhabitants, have complained of discrimination and marginalisation. These grievances recently hardened from calls for a return to federalism to demands for a fully independent state. Anglophone activists have used improvised bombs and arson attacks and kept many schools closed for more than a year. The African Union today issued its first statement on the crisis since January, saying it was “deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation” and calling on all parties “to exercise restraint" in their pronouncements and to refrain from further acts of violence. The UN and the African Union could perhaps have applied more pressure sooner, but the real responsibility for calming things down lies with the government in Yaoundé. A first step, according to the International Crisis Group’s Richard Moncrieff, would be to acknowledge anglophones’ deep-seated grievances. Next, decentralisation measures outlined in a 1996 constitution – such as the election of regional presidents and councils – should be dusted off and put into practice. This would benefit the whole country, said Moncrieff, generating “a reinvigorated sense of national purpose and cohesiveness, and less risk of renewed violence in anglophone areas.”
In volcano response, Vanuatu keeps it local
Authorities in Vanuatu have evacuated the entire population of Ambae Island after alert levels for the simmering Monaro volcano reached the country’s second-highest stage in late September, putting some 11,600 Ambae residents in danger. A convoy of privately owned boats, commercial vessels, and small planes have shuttled residents to the safety of neighbouring islands. International aid groups have had limited involvement in the Vanuatu response; the government has invited only three UN agencies, as well as the Red Cross, to participate – leaving the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, on the sidelines. Aid officials told IRIN this is due in part to the aftermath of 2015’s devastating Cyclone Pam, where humanitarian groups flooded the country and were seen to have taken over response efforts. Ownership of emergency response is a contentious issue throughout the disaster-prone Pacific Islands, where small, cash-strapped governments are keen to accept international funding but mindful of maintaining control. In the Pacific, this has been central to debates over locally driven aid – one of the key outcomes of last year’s World Humanitarian Summit. For now, Vanuatu’s geo-hazards department has downgraded the Monaro volcano’s alert level, saying that continuing volcanic eruption appears to have stabilised. But Monaro is just one of six active volcanoes in Vanuatu. A volcano on Ambrym, 100 kilometres to Ambae’s south, remains in a volatile state.
Suffering in peace
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf steps down next week as Liberian president. How will history judge her? She came to power in 2005, just after the end of a civil war that killed more than 250,000 people and displaced another million. But the Harvard-educated technocrat has been more popular abroad than at home. The accusations are that she has been far too lenient when it comes to corruption, and far too slow to rebuild the economy and create jobs. She has used her international connections to bring in investment, but the needs are immense. “We are suffering in peace,” was the verdict of one man quoted by the FT.
There’s also the charge she has not done enough to advance the cause of women: There is only one female candidate out of a field of 20 in Tuesday’s election. Old ghosts may still be haunting the ballot. Former warlord and president Charles Taylor is trying to influence the poll from his prison cell in the UK. And in an unlikely alliance, third-time presidential candidate George Weah has chosen Taylor's ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, as his deputy.
Did you miss it?
We won’t say, “we told you so”, but we did warn in our New Year listicle of humanitarian crises that President Joseph Kabila’s intention to cling to power would become a 2017 powder keg. In this excellent investigation, regular IRIN contributor Philip Kleinfeld unearths disturbing facts that paint a deeply worrying picture. Kabila appears to have the election commission in his pocket. It’s therefore no surprise to learn of irregularities in voter registration, and delay upon delay in dealing with the numerous logistical and bureaucratic hurdles ahead. This can’t go on for ever: The opposition is becoming increasingly uncompromising; unrest is spiking in several different regions; the economy is disintegrating; and army wages are starting to go unpaid. The logical conclusion is a popular uprising, but this risks sending Congo spiralling back towards the maelstrom of the 1990s and early 2000s when millions died from civil war and disease. The onus is on Kabila, after 16 years at the helm, to expedite free and fair elections and ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Don’t hold your breath.