Our top 10 most popular stories are those you clicked on most in 2018, but we also had our own favourites.

 

Over the past 12 months, IRIN reporters spanned out across the globe to examine under-reported crises, long-running conflicts, extremism, sudden disasters, slow-burning emergencies, and the humanitarian consequences of migration.

 

Here are some of the stories we wish more people had read, and why they’ll matter in 2019. If you haven’t read them yet, there’s still time.

 

Evidence unearthed

Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN

Congo-Brazzaville’s hidden war

 

Unlike better-known conflicts in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, unrest in Congo-Brazzaville after disputed elections in 2016 occurred with little international attention or outside scrutiny. At the end of 2017, Philip Kleinfeld gained rare access to the Pool region, where he documented the toll of two years of conflict. In the government’s crackdown on former militias, villages were bombed from the air while others were pillaged by ground troops. Entire areas were left empty and, despite huge suffering, the government refused to recognise the existence of the crisis for more than a year. Our two-part series took an exclusive look at the lives upended in this brutal hidden war. Satellite images obtained by Emmanuel Freudenthal months after Kleinfeld’s story was published in January 2018 allowed us to update it in June with more evidence of the scale of the government’s scorched-earth campaign.

Why it matters in 2019:

A year on, the ceasefire the government announced with rebels in Pool is still holding, while the political space has opened with the release of several political prisoners. The accord paves the way for tens of thousands of displaced civilians to return, but humanitarian needs remain high, especially as the region was largely sealed off from aid organisations at the height of the crisis. Activists remain concerned by the absence of justice, and fear the conflict will flare up again if its root causes are not addressed. The information gathered by Kleinfeld and Freudenthal is meanwhile being used by Congolese lawyers hoping to bring a case before the International Criminal Court.

 


 

Counter-terror compliance gets harder

USAID

Shutdowns, suspensions, and legal threats put relief at risk

 

Tougher donor restrictions on relief operations in areas controlled by extremist groups are “out of control”, impeding life-saving work, and could lead aid groups to pull out of the most challenging responses, senior humanitarian officials and rights experts warned. IRIN reporting revealed that aid to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in northwestern Syria had been quietly halted on counter-terrorism grounds. And, in a parallel development, a Norwegian NGO paid $2.05 million to settle a case brought by the US government regarding its relations with Iran and Palestinian group Hamas.

 

Why it matters in 2019:

Millions of vulnerable people in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere live under the sway of “terrorist” groups they don't necessarily support. How will they receive aid if humanitarian agencies can’t comply with new counter-terrorism regulation? New US court cases and USAID investigations appear likely in 2019.

 

 


 

Afghan drought solutions

Two men in Afghanistan in a farm field.
Stefanie Glinski/IRIN

Oasis amid the drought: Local water systems give Afghans a reason to stay home

 

Afghanistan is in the middle of a severe drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock, and in 2018 uprooted nearly as many people as conflict. We’ve tracked the issue early and often on our weekly Cheat Sheet, as well as in stories examining ongoing impacts such as displacement and child marriage. Conflict has made access difficult for humanitarian groups, and some NGOs fear concentrating aid in the comparatively accessible urban centres of western Afghanistan may be pulling people from their homes in search of help. Is there a better solution? In one parched district, reporter Stefanie Glinski examined how simple water systems are convincing hundreds of families to stay home, even though they have lost their livelihoods to the drought. Many people in need of help live in these remote districts, but not all aid groups are prepared to manage the risks of working there.

 

Why it matters in 2019:

Analysts are projecting that food security will worsen in the coming months, with more than 10 million Afghans in a “crisis” or “emergency” situation by February 2019. Yet humanitarian budgets are overstretched and conflict is worsening.

 

 


 

Iraq’s future

Annie Slemrod/IRIN

Searching for Othman

 

War. Displacement. Return. What do these words mean to the lives of people on the ground? Join Middle East editor Annie Slemrod in Iraq as she searches for one boy whose name she did not know in a country of 37 million people. She not only finds out his name, but that these words, so common in press releases and news articles, don’t even begin to express how the last few years and the fight against so-called Islamic State have changed the lives of many Iraqis – including one young boy whose life continues to be shaped by that struggle.

 

Why it matters in 2019:

Iraq is making a rebound of sorts: it has mostly defeated IS, and millions of displaced people have gone home. But nearly two million more have not. Some of the grievances that allowed IS to flourish have not been addressed, and large-scale protests over shortages of electricity, water, and jobs erupted in 2018 in parts of the country. Othman’s story highlights how hard it will be in 2019, and in the coming years, for many in the country to break a long cycle of violence and build any semblance of a future.

 

 


 

Migrant journeys

Migrant shelter in Sonoyta, Mexico.
Eric Reidy/IRIN

By sand or by sea

Are the journeys of Central Americans through Mexico to the US border really a world apart from those of sub-Saharan Africans through Niger and Libya to the Mediterranean Sea? No, journalist Eric Reidy, who has covered both over the past four years, suggests in this reporter’s notebook. He points to “the raw desperation and danger of the journey; the political backlash in Europe and the United States fuelling the rise of the far right; the attempts to stop people from crossing borders that have empowered criminals and increased suffering and abuse.” And, most glaring of all, the “basic inhumanity” of an official response based on prevention rather than legal alternatives. Some things about the two situations are starkly different, of course, so a clear ‘yes/no’ answer isn’t really possible. As he notes, 1.8 million people crossed the sea to Europe in the few years since 2014, compared to the reduction of the undocumented population in the United States over the past decade. And international aid workers have been omnipresent in the Mediterranean crisis but are conspicuous by their absence at the US-Mexico border.

 

Why it matters in 2019:

The trend for migration globally is upward, and the political mood in both Europe and the United States heading into the new year only appears to be hardening.

 

 


 

Hunger and healthcare

Susan Schulman/IRIN

Venezuela: A humanitarian crisis denied

By October the number of Venezuelans estimated to have fled their country since the economy began to implode in 2015 hit three million. Given the rate of departures, it won’t be long before that figure reaches four million. Much media attention in 2018 focused on the exodus, on desperate mothers and children fleeing to places like Colombia and Brazil. But what of the many more millions left behind? Susan Schulman spent two weeks in August and September travelling across the country. She found pervasive hunger, resurgent disease, and babies dying because of an absence of standard medicines – an acute humanitarian crisis denied by Venezuela’s own government.

 

Why it matters in 2019:

There are signs President Nicolás Maduro is beginning to accept the need for outside help, but next year is likely to see the situation deteriorate further. The International Monetary Fund has warned that inflation could reach 10 million percent, while the UN expects the exodus to swell to 5.3 million.

 

 


 

Sahel climate crisis

Lucinda Rouse/IRIN

How climate change is plunging Senegal’s herders into poverty

Climate change is about more than just data and science. It’s about the everyday changes that impact the lives of millions – especially those who are poor and vulnerable. In sub-Saharan Africa’s Sahel region, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, drought, floods, and land degradation are threatening the future of livestock herders and crop growers, some of whom have already lost half their income because of depleted harvests and severe food shortages this year. And if the current climatic patterns continue, as they likely will, it may get worse still. Reporter Lucinda Rouse followed life in the herding communities of the Sahel over a six-month period this year. In this series, she meets people barely getting by due to the climate crisis, delves into the political and economic factors making their lives more difficult, and learns about a green solution that local communities believe may help.

Why it matters in 2019:

In October, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that time was rapidly running out to reverse the devastating effects of climate change, and rising Islamist militancy now threatens to deepen the crisis for many in the Sahel region.

 

 


 

Peace in Myanmar

Verena Hölzl/IRIN

The uphill battle to forge peace in Myanmar's Rakhine State

Generations of Rohingya have been denied citizenship, segregated, and pushed from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Animosity towards the Rohingya runs deep, but there are also more nuanced views – even in deeply divided Rakhine. Reporter Verena Hölzl met with ethnic Rakhine activists trying to build peace in their troubled state. These local peacebuilders face government restrictions and threats from sceptical hardliners.

 

Why it matters in 2019:

There are no overnight solutions to a crisis that has simmered over decades of mistrust and marginalisation. But these local efforts may be a small yet important step to building trust among Myanmar’s ethnic communities: “People have to start to listen to each other,” said one Rakhine student, “or we will never have peace”.