Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Deadly protests rock Iraq
At least 44 people have been killed in three days of demonstrations across Iraq, with security forces in Baghdad reportedly firing at protesters who defied a curfew in Baghdad. Demonstrators have been taking to the streets over a lack of public services, unemployment, and alleged corruption. On Friday, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, facing calls for resignation, said he would look to pass a law granting a universal basic income. Early Thursday, Iraqi officials said a cartoonist and his wife who had been participating in the protests were shot and killed in their home in the southern city of Basra by unknown assailants. More than a year ago, Basra was rocked by mass unrest that also focused on poor public services, as some 118,000 people sought treatment for water-borne diseases. Iraq as a whole is struggling to bounce back from years of war against so-called Islamic State: read more here.
Water is ‘boss’ in drought-stricken Angola
Angola is facing one of its worst ever droughts, sparking food insecurity for nearly one million people and impeding children’s education, according to UNICEF. More than 2.3 million people – including nearly half a million children under five – have been affected in southern Angola’s Namibe, Huila, Bie, and Cunene provinces. This year’s drought came early, with scarce rainfall in the first three months of the year, decimating crops and livestock. The number of people facing food insecurity in Cunene went from 250,000 in January to more than 850,000 in March. Of Cunene’s 887 primary schools, 614 have been affected, and some 70 percent of the province’s 214,000 students have faced interruptions in education. “Water is the world’s boss,” Pedro Henrique Kassesso, who was born in 1907, told UNICEF.
A bad start for Cameroon’s ‘national dialogue’
A “national dialogue” to end hostilities in Cameroon’s restive English-speaking regions got off to a bad start this week, with key rebel leaders refusing to participate and demanding international mediation. On Thursday, President Paul Biya said he would release 333 prisoners arrested in connection to the crisis, while recommendations were made to give anglophone areas “special status” with greater autonomy. But the International Crisis Group said the absence of separatists from the talks “risks further frustrating anglophones, widening the gulf between the two sides and empowering hardliners”. Fighting between Cameroon’s security forces and the separatists – who are demanding independence from the majority French-speaking country – has displaced more than 500,000 people, according to the UN. Read our coverage of the violence and impact on civilians.
Going home from Tanzania to Burundi
Some 590 Burundian refugees were transported to their home country from Tanzania this week. The two governments aim to speed up the repatriation of up to 182,000 remaining refugees. Human rights group Amnesty International urged Tanzania not to force anyone back and keep open its “asylum space”. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has said the “political situation” is “unresolved” in Burundi so it does not recommend returns. It does help those who choose to go voluntarily. About 75,000 have returned since September 2017. Tanzania has for decades offered a safe haven to Burundians through long periods of conflict and turmoil. It granted citizenship to at least 150,000 Burundian refugees in 2014, but attitudes have hardened since.
The health costs of Sri Lanka’s disasters
Sri Lanka spends $19 million every year dealing with healthcare costs related to floods and drought, according to estimates from a new study on the economic burdens of disaster. Published in the Asian Development Review in September, the research compared national household surveys – questions on income, healthcare, and disasters – with district-level data on floods and drought. Researchers found exposure to frequent floods and drought increased health risks and triggered higher hospitalisation rates. The link between disasters and health risks aren’t a surprise: poor sanitation, infectious disease, and overcrowding after disasters are a common problem. But research quantifying these costs can be infrequent. On this occasion, researchers found that costs will rise as climate change makes extreme weather more volatile, “further demanding precious resources that are required elsewhere in a rapidly growing but still relatively poor country”. For more, see our recent roundup on the humanitarian costs of climate change.
In case you missed it
BAHAMAS: In his address last week to the UN, Bahamas’ Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that “the global climate emergency” is the greatest challenge facing humanity. Hurricane Dorian lashed the archipelago last month, causing more than $1.3 billion of damage. Part of the island chain’s recovery will rely on luring tourists back. “Please come and visit,” Minnis said. The Bahamas’ tourism sector accounts for some 60 percent of its GDP.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, has launched military operations against 3R – one of 14 rebel groups that signed a peace deal with the government in February. 3R has continued to target civilians and carry out “illegal activities”, according to the UN. The group killed at least 46 people in May, Human Rights Watch reported.
THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA: In remarks at a memorial event commemorating the 368 people who died in a migrant shipwreck near Lampedusa, Italy, in 2013, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi noted that the number of migrants who had died attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year surpassed 1,000 this week, with most perishing en route from Libya to Europe.
SOMALIA/MALI: Al-Shabab insurgents launched a double attack on a US training base and an Italian army convoy in Somalia on Monday, while at least 25 soldiers were killed in central Mali on the same day after suspected jihadists ambushed two military camps. Extremist violence is on the rise in Africa and among our trends to watch in 2019.
SOUTHEAST ASIA: Far fewer people are fleeing by sea, but refugee boat journeys in Southeast Asia may be deadlier today than they were during the 2015 Andaman Sea crisis, when hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants died and thousands were stranded following crackdowns on smuggling networks, UNHCR reported this week. One in every 69 people who fled by sea since January 2018 – mainly Rohingya refugees departing from Bangladesh or Myanmar – died or went missing (compared to one in 81 in 2015).
YEMEN: The International Committee of the Red Cross said Houthi rebels unilaterally released 290 detainees this week (the rebels themselves put the number at 350), in a move UN envoy Martin Griffiths said he hoped would move forward the “exchange of all conflict-related detainees”, part of last December’s long-delayed Stockholm Agreement.
Even if you’ve visited Buenaventura, Colombia, you’ve likely not passed the “invisible frontiers” that its residents skirt day in and day out as they (and police officers) try to avoid the city’s most lawless and violent areas. But Joshua Collins has, reporting our weekend read from beyond those frontiers, where “residents keep silent due to fear of the criminal groups that have carved out private fiefdoms in the city”. Collins found that silence, along with life surrounded by violence left largely unchanged by the 2016 peace agreement, takes a toll: “Our entire culture suffers from post-traumatic stress,” a resident told him. Since 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières says it has treated 21,000 victims of psychological or sexual trauma in Buenaventura, called “the forgotten city” by those who live there – although 60 percent of the country’s international trade passes through it. With World Mental Health Day coming up next week, take a few minutes to explore what Yann Le Boulaire, head MSF coordinator in the Buenaventura region, means when he explains that: “We don’t deal with wounds. There are no wounded here, except psychologically. We deal with deaths.”
Banksy opens up shop
Fancy a welcome mat hand-stitched by a migrant in a detention centre in Greece, made from life vests washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean? How about a disco ball from police riot helmets, or a counting toy for children that involves loading wooden migrant figures onto a lorry? Fear not, Banksy has you covered. Yes, in bizarre news this week, the elusive graffiti artist opened a shop selling branded merchandise – Gross Domestic Product – in the south London borough of Croydon, where he grew up. Banksy said he had been forced into the move because a greeting card company was attempting to trade under his name. Worried about value for money? Don’t be. A painting depicting British MPs as chimpanzees, entitled “Devolved Parliament”, shattered previous Banksy records on Thursday, going under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London for 9.88 million pounds ($12.2 million). And, anyway, Banksy said proceeds from the new shop will go towards buying a new rescue ship for migrants in the Mediterranean.
(TOP PHOTO: An Iraqi protester gestures the v-sign during a demonstration in Baghdad on 2 October 2019.)