Which humanitarian topics are on IRIN’s radar and should be on yours? Check out our curation of upcoming events, topical reports, opinion, and quality journalism:
The “depressing equilibrium” of aid worker attacks
We mark World Humanitarian Day (#NotATarget) with a selection of articles about the risks aid workers face, and share some highlights from publications and data released to for the day – click here for more. Statistics on aid worker safety show a stable but depressing equilibrium: 288 aid workers were victims of incidents tracked by the Aid Worker Security Database in 2016, just one more than the year before. There has been one telling change however: most aid worker fatalities in 2016 were caused by states, not rebels or other armed groups (mainly due to airstrikes and killings by the state in South Sudan). The annual report from the database's keeper, Humanitarian Outcomes, covers more than just the numbers (a book from the MSF think-tank CRASH last year warned against a purely quantitative approach). It looks, for example, at the motivations and attitudes towards aid groups of the Taliban and al-Shabab. The fraught relationship between aid agencies and armed groups is explored: "We also want resources and they are among the few available resources," says an al-Shabab interviewee. As well as looking at violent incidents, Insecurity Insight, a Geneva-based NGO, monitors legal and administrative curbs on development, human rights, and humanitarian work. It has published a list of 77 restriction-related events in 2016, available as a download on the Humanitarian Data Exchange site.
At some stage, an ever-frailer President Robert Mugabe, 93, is going to die. That’s not a wish, just a pretty certain prediction. What happens next is setting nerves jangling. Mugabe is not universally loved, but he commands respect. The fear is that with his passing, not only will the edifice of the ruling party come crashing down, but the country may burn as well. That’s because he’s lining up his wife, Grace, to succeed him. She commands neither love nor respect. Her behaviour in South Africa at the weekend, where she allegedly assaulted a young woman, is seen as personifying her character. Standing in the way of Grace is Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a feared former spy chief. But his influence is on the wane. He was taken ill and rushed to South Africa last week, in what was reported to have been a poisoning attempt. Despite Grace enlisting the support of former defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, the army is badly split. The senior generals fear for their jobs. And that is the direction from where the real trouble is likely to spring from. In the meantime, ordinary Zimbabweans are voting with their feet. According to a new Afrobarometer survey, almost half of the population has considered emigrating. Look out for an upcoming IRIN report on the succession issue.
Shame falls both ways in Yemen
The UN’s annual “list of shame” of governments and armed groups that commit grave violations against children in armed conflicts is back, and Saudi Arabia is once again in the spotlight. A leaked draft of the report says the Saudi-led coalition is on the hook for an “unacceptably high” 51 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, plus three quarters of attacks on schools and hospitals. Saudi Arabia was removed from the 2016 list days after it was published, after the kingdom reportedly threatened to withdraw financial support from the UN and its aid agencies. It remains to be seen if the Saudis will make it to this year’s final draft – it is subject to approval by UN Secretary-General Antiono Gutteres – but it’s worth nothing that Houthi rebels and affiliated forces are also named as responsible for a third of child casualties verified by the UN in the country. And just this week, Houthi-Saleh forces detained activist and political commentator Hisham al-Omeisy in Sana’a as part of an ongoing crackdown on critics. According to Amnesty International, he’s being held incommunicado in an undisclosed location, yet another reminder of the variety of dangers Yemeni civilians face in this war.
Where next in the fight against hunger?
The usual laws of supply and demand don’t seem to apply to food assistance. Current global needs are staggering: 108 million people around the world face “severe food insecurity”. In plain English that means their access to the type and quantity of food to live a decent life is critically curtailed and unpredictable. The situation for 20 million people in just four countries – Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria – is nothing short of catastrophic: many of them face starvation. Sustainable Development Goal 2 – ending hunger and achieving food security, has rarely seemed so out of reach, and will remain so as long as major armed conflicts persist (despite four of every 10 humanitarian dollars spent going towards food assistance). Today’s response to hunger has evolved far beyond what used to be called “food aid” – handouts in hunger spots – to encompass cash transfers, technical assistance, and structural measures to tackle the medium- and long-term causes of hunger. This doesn’t mean distributions of actual food have declined; on the contrary, they more than doubled from $2.2 million to $5.3 million between 2009 and 2015 (although their share of total food assistance shrunk from 54 to 40 percent over the same period, while cash transfers shot up from one percent of total spending to 20 percent). Next month, the Overseas Development Institute will hold an event to take stock of the many innovations in this sector to assess what works best and how to improve the increasingly complex food assistance system. You can attend in person in London or watch a live stream.
The litany of abuse that Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya have endured for decades shows no sign of letting up. In fact, news over the past week indicates that the Muslim minority may begin to come under even more pressure from a few different sides. The UN’s human rights envoy to Myanmar sounded the alarm over reports that the government sent a battalion to Rakhine State, which is home to almost all the Rohingya who haven’t yet fled Myanmar, as well as a Rohingya insurgency group. More than 75,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh when Myanmar mounted counterinsurgency operations beginning last October. There is convincing evidence that soldiers committed atrocities against civilians – although the government won’t let UN investigators into the area, and its own commission recently found that (surprise, surprise), the allegations were false. If Rohingya civilians are once again targeted by Myanmar’s military, they may find it harder to get over the border: Bangladesh has reportedly stepped up patrols. And now India is threatening to deport 40,000 Rohingya. Despite all this bad news, a high level official from the National League for Democracy – the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi that holds a majority in parliament – has reassured the world that “there is no religious persecution, and freedom of religion prevails in Myanmar”. Ok then.
Did you miss it?
By now you should definitely be following @aronlund on Twitter (and, of course, subscribing to IRIN) so you don’t miss any of his regular in-depth analyses on the political, military, and humanitarian situation in Syria. Lund’s latest instalment focuses on northwestern Syria, where the victory last month of Tahrir al-Sham over its main rival, the Turkish-backed Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, has major implications for international aid delivery. One major problem is that Tahrir is widely designated as a terrorist entity and therefore aid groups have to abide by sanctions rules. Another roadblock is Turkey, which is now limiting supplies across the border. And what should donors do? They don’t want to be seen as propping up a jihadi emirate. But if bypassing Tahrir isn’t possible, what other options do they have? Fascinating, essential reading.