Deadly dust storms, a plea on Cameroon, and a data protection guide for humanitarians: The Cheat Sheet

Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

Yemen: The flight from Hodeidah

Yes, we know Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hodeidah has become a regular on the Cheat Sheet. We’re back with more and, no, it’s not good news. As we reported earlier this month, the UN tried and failed to get some civilians out of harm’s way as violence intensified in areas outside the city. Now, Amnesty International has spoken to some of the 100,000 civilians who have been displaced in Yemen since last December, most of them from around Hodeidah. They say their flight – often to abandoned buildings, overcrowded rooms, or informal camps – is treacherous and expensive, and accuse Houthi rebels of mining roads and preventing civilians from leaving. Nonetheless, the UN reported this week hundreds more families leaving their homes in the region in a matter of days. And it’s only likely to be downhill from here.

France – Cameroon needs you now

Listen up, France: If you want to help avert a full-scale civil war in Cameroon (you still have major economic interests in your former colony), it’s time to take a tougher line against its long-serving president, Paul Biya. That’s the urgent appeal this week from a group of (unnamed) French and Cameroonian observers and published by Libération, a French daily. Over the past two years, hundreds of people have been killed and some 160,000 have fled their homes during armed conflict between government forces and anglophone separatists. Insurgents have targeted security forces, elected officials, and teachers, and the army has torched entire villages. “The international community, and especially France, must encourage the government towards dialogue, which it has so far refused,” the observers urged, blaming the government’s intransigence in the face of anglophone calls for greater autonomy. With human rights groups banned from visiting conflict areas, a bishop from the would-be mediating Catholic Church targeted in an assassination attempt, and the press muzzled, such a move by France would raise hopes for a ceasefire and help dispel anglophone perceptions of its bias towards Biya. More on this under-reported conflict soon.

Indonesia: De-radicalisation for the whole family

Two teenage boys ride a motorcycle into a church compound in eastern Indonesia and detonate a bomb. Minutes later, their father drives an explosive-laden car into a different church. Then the boys’ mother, strapped with explosives, blows herself up at another church, along with her two daughters. Indonesia is still reeling from the shock of these attacks last week, which killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens more. The next day, another family carried out a separate suicide bombing on a police station. Both attacks were blamed on an extremist network linked to the so-called Islamic State. In an op-ed published on NPR, Jakarta-based conflict analyst Sidney Jones says the attacks underscore the importance of “rethinking” de-radicalisation programmes in Indonesia, which are overwhelmingly focused on convicted male terrorists while ignoring their families. “It may be heartwarming to see women as peacebuilders, but the fact is that in conflict situations, women can be the drivers of violence as much as – if not more than – their husbands, sons or brothers,” Jones writes.

Syria: Most dangerous for healthcare workers

At least 101 health workers were killed in 23 countries during conflict in 2017, according to a survey by the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition released last week. The group, which includes over 35 NGOs and public health institutions, compiled details of 701 incidents, from damage to ambulances and clinics to full-scale attacks and airstrikes. Various government forces were responsible for 40 percent of the incidents, the report states. Worst by far was Syria. As a footnote reveals, this is before you even take into account telling gaps in the report because of the overwhelming number of incidents there.

Staying with Syria…

“Go big and accept the risks”

The UK aid watchdog has looked into Britain's £2.7 billion of humanitarian assistance to Syria over recent years and given the huge operation an overall good ("amber-green") ranking. The report makes interesting reading for Syria aid-watchers, including our own Ben Parker, who pulled out some previously unreported nuggets in a Twitter thread. Issues of monitoring, targeting, access, and the role of local aid groups all pose dilemmas and balancing acts, especially in helping opposition areas. Former head of USAID's emergency wing, Jeremy Konyndyk, commented that donors need to "to go big and accept the risks" in situations like Syria.

East Africa: The high cost of pirates

Piracy in East African waters escalated in earnest last year. In 2017, 54 incidents were reported, against 27 the previous year and just 16 in 2015, according to the annual State of Piracy report published by One Earth Future’s Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) programme. These “incidents” include suspicious activity, failed attacks, and, for the first time in two years, hijackings and kidnappings. Blame the spike on complacency in the shipping industry, the report says (vessels have cut down on self-protection measures). Fewer counter-piracy ships don’t help, either. OBP put the total economic cost of piracy in East Africa at $1.4 billion, with the extra fuel used by ships that speed through high-risk areas accounting for about half of that. But, as our July 2017 feature explained, there is also an untold humanitarian impact on the region, where organised crime, unrelenting clan wars, and drought have combined to leave millions of Somalis in need of emergency aid.

Technical, but important

GDPRMAGEDDON, humanitarian edition

Once you've cleaned your inbox of messages from hotels you can barely remember staying at touting their new data privacy policies, you might want to spend some time with a new guide that provides an ethical framework for data use in the world of humanitarian relief. From cash cards to fingerprint scanning, the aid enterprise is handling more and more data of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and hasn’t always done a good job. The new manual from the Signal Code group at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, is over 60 pages long, but summarised in nine "obligations" to ensure it isn’t used in ways that are intrusive, exploitative, or dangerous. These include establishing high standards in IT security, privacy, and data protection – from meaningful consent to the "agency" of affected populations.

Our weekend read:

Central Africa Republic: Little peace to keep, but 4.7 million lives to live

Eagle-eyed IRIN readers will have spotted a brief statement on our site earlier in the month on the expulsion of contributor Philip Kleinfeld from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We won’t go into that here (suffice to say we’ll do our utmost to support his vital work, wherever that takes him).

That’s the bad news. The good news is that before Kleinfeld was in Congo, he was in the Central African Republic. He spent five weeks interviewing UN peacekeepers and commanders, warlords, civilians, and rape victims. We’ve just published, “Inside mission impossible”, the first instalment of his three-part special report. UN peacekeeping missions in CAR and other hotspots are often portrayed as failing, abuse-ridden, and incompetent. There is a little of that here, but Kleinfeld does an excellent job of giving the bigger picture, explaining the reality – the challenge of trying to keep the peace in a country with spiralling violence that is one and half times the size of France, much of it dense jungle threaded by narrow bush tracks. A shout-out too to IRIN’s multimedia producer Whitney Patterson. Sharing the peacekeeper’s view atop an armoured-personnel carrier bumping through the jungle, presented with vivid portraits and infographics that help bring the country and its people alive, readers are transported into this overlooked and poorly understood conflict. Check it out, and don’t miss the next two parts in the coming weeks.

And finally…

Deadly dust storms in India: fluke or trend? 

What’s the deal with weeks of extreme weather that has killed more than 100 people in India this month? A series of unusually severe thunder, lightning, and dust storms swept across a wide swathe of the country in April and May, toppling trees and crushing people under debris. Dust storms are common in India at this time of year, but the breadth and intensity of these recent events have come as a surprise. Scientists say multiple factors are at play, including soaring temperatures and a collision of dusty winds with particularly moist air. Climate change is expected to magnify extreme weather across the world, and some in India are predicting this year’s deadly dust storms are a sign of things to come. However, NASA cautions that it’s too early to tell if the extreme weather is the start of a deadly trend, or “simply a rare, chance event”.

(TOP PHOTO: Indian commuters commuters ride they bicycles during a heavy dust storm in New Delhi on 6 April 2018. CREDIT: Chandan Khanna/AFP)

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