Beyond Mosul, Rohingya refoulement, and the rush to local: IRIN’s Top Picks

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

Are we rushing towards localisation?

Syria’s “White Helmets” were roundly condemned this week for staging a rescue video as an elaborate “mannequin challenge” for social media. While not exactly “fake news”, it certainly gifted an unexpected propaganda victory to opponents Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. This weighty report from Médecins Sans Frontières takes a deep dive into an issue that groups like the White Helmets are central to: localisation. The report is particularly damning about the “political correctness with which a range of NGOs and others have promoted this agenda”. Noting the momentum localisation gained from “blanket endorsement” at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, specifically through the headline Grand Bargain funding commitment, report author Ed Schenkenberg points out a series of ethical and practical roadblocks. For inherent limitations, he cites the example of Syria, where the White Helmets and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent mainly work on opposite sides of the conflict and are perceived, at least, to have taken a side. The report mentions many other challenges too, from anti-terrorism laws to procurement scandals to inadequate local capacity. Can local groups scale up to save lives in the most pressing crises? Not according to MSF’s experiences in South Sudan, CAR, the Diffa region of Niger, or Yemen, it says. While accepting that localisation can help build national institutions and promote sustainable development, Schenkenberg says MSF’s “overriding priority” must remain the direct provision of humanitarian assistance to people in need. “Imposing this [localisation] agenda in an unnuanced way on emergency operations in fragile and conflict settings is likely to produce suboptimal results for the people in need of immediate relief,” his report concludes.

Tune in here on Tuesday, 29 November @1500 GMT for the livestream of the follow-up event

Syria’s food and agriculture crisis

While the almost daily bombing of Aleppo continues to dominate news about Syria, more than five years of conflict have taken their toll across the country. The economy has been decimated and food production hit a record low this year, according to this report released last week by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Food Programme. Although unfavourable weather has played a role, the war has made it increasingly difficult for farmers to access their fields, to get hold of inputs such as seeds and fertiliser or to bring their products to markets. Livestock production has also taken a hit, with Syria now having 40 percent fewer sheep and 60 percent less poultry than before the crisis. As more families abandon their farms, shrinking amounts of food are available to feed the rest of the population and more than seven million people are now classified as food insecure.

65 years of global military spending

Curious about which regions have spent the most on arms, and when purchases spiked and fell? Of course you are. Fortunately, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has now collated the data and produced some nifty charts. Trends around the world have been generally upward to 2015, but there are exceptions, like Central Europe, where military spending plunged in 1990 at the end of the Cold War. In Africa, spending has rapidly increased during the 2000s as “economies have improved, while increasing oil resources have frequently been squandered on high military spending”. There’s a similar trend in Asia, with spending driven by economic growth, as well as tensions between India and Pakistan, and North and South Korea. South America saw purchases plunge in 1992, which was almost entirely the result of Brazil cutting its military budget in half. Overall, the sheer amount of money spent on weapons is staggering, with North America (i.e. mostly the United States) leading the pack with a whopping $800 billion. There’s much more here, and SIPRI has made it easy to dig into the data by providing it free to download.

Bangladesh pushes Rohingya back into Myanmar

Ever since the 9 October attacks on border police posts, Myanmar’s military has been carrying out operations in Maungdaw, a township on the frontier with Bangladesh. Unlike most of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the majority population Maungdaw is ethnic Rohingya Muslim, with a minority of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. While the military says it’s hunting down members of an armed group that attacked the police posts, reports have emerged of killings, rapes and other abuses of Rohinyga civilians. The government denies the allegations, but it has refused to allow journalists, aid workers and human rights groups access to Maungdaw, making it hard to verify such reports. Amnesty International collected testimonies from Rohingya who made it across the border into Bangladesh – no small feat, as that country has strengthened its security presence along the border and has been pushing the refugees back. Amnesty says that policy amounts to refoulement: forcibly returning refugees to a country where they are at risk of human rights violations. The rights group reminds Bangladesh that refoulement is a violation of international law, and urges the country to accept Rohingya refugees and allow aid groups to help them.

One to watch:

“Anything that flies is an enemy”

Hats off to Al Jazeera journalist Hamza Mohamed (@Hamza_Africa). He has done some amazing reporting over the last 10 days with al-Shabab inside Somalia. Check out this dramatic drone footage of an al-Shabab unit on parade. That took months of negotiating with the militants, more used to American UAVs that try to blast them from the sky. He showed the footage to the fighters who were shocked by the low resolution. "We all look the same," said a plump young jihadist, drawing big laughs. "No wonder they bomb the wrong targets," said another.

Mohamed’s second report was a nuanced take on what happened when al-Shabab walked into the central town of Gal'ad, which had just been vacated by Ethiopian troops and the Somali National Army. Elders negotiated the safe return of the soldiers and government officials, a difficult task with a distrustful al-Shabab. But it points to the complexity of the insurgency. "It is better to negotiate and sort our differences without Somali blood spilling,” one of the elders pointed out.

One from IRIN:

Iraq’s displacement and sectarian timebombs

All the attention in Iraq right now is on Mosul, but IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod chose instead to head to the displacement camps of Anbar Province in search of clues about where the country goes next. It’s surely only a matter of time before so-called Islamic State is driven out of Mosul and largely out of Iraq. What will happen afterwards is both uncertain and deeply worrying. This eye-opening feature, the first in a series on Iraq’s massive displacement problem and deep sectarian division, explores the two big issues lurking on the immediate horizon. Without an accommodation between the Sunni minority and the Shia majority, this will surely be just the latest chapter in an ongoing cycle of conflict. Sunni-dominated Anbar matters. It has been a cradle of Iraq’s extremism before and will be again if things don’t change. I’m biased, but this is inciteful reporting: a must-read.

Coming up:

Global Migration Film Festival, 5 – 18 December

The International Organization for Migration has secured screening rights to “a feast” of films that capture the challenges and realities of migration, from Charlie Chaplin’s 1917 film “The Immigrant” to the 2013 film “La Jaula de Oro”, about the journey of three young Guatemalans trying to reach a new life in the United States.

The movies will be screened in 75 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. See here for more.

(TOP PHOTO: A group of children in the Ameriyat al-Fallujah displacement camp. CREDIT: Annie Slemrod/IRIN)

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