Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

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On our radar

Stopping Congo’s ‘attempted genocide’

Describing interethnic fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeast as “attempted genocide,” President Felix Tshisekedi has announced the launch of a military crackdown on the armed groups responsible for the deaths of at least 160 civilians and the displacement of tens of thousands since 10 June. Speaking at the end of a visit to Ituri Province, Tshisekedi said he believed the violence there between militias connected to Lendu farmers and Hema herders was a “plot” to destabilise the central government, and ordered the army to “conduct large-scale operations”. He said the offensive would begin in the worst-affected Ituri districts of Djugu and Mahagi, and extend to South Kivu Province to put a “definite end” to the dozens of rebel groups active in eastern Congo. The region is not only home to multiple insurgencies but is also the centre of the country’s Ebola epidemic. See our latest Ebola briefing here, and look for our coming photo essay on the Ituri violence.

Libya airstrike: Shocked, shocked

Condemnations have poured in since an airstrike hit a migrant detention centre in the Libyan capital Wednesday morning, killing at least 53 people by the latest count, including six children, and injuring 130. While the incident was shocking, it should not necessarily have come as a surprise: Humanitarians have been warning for months of the grave danger faced by the thousands of people detained near the conflict zones in the three-month battle for Tripoli. Reports have emerged that Libyan guards shot at people fleeing the strike, which may have been two hits rather than one. The head of the UN’s mission in Libya was among several who said the attack could constitute a war crime. A statement from the Secretary-General’s office called for an independent investigation into the incident, saying the UN “had provided exact coordinates of the detention centre to the parties” fighting in Tripoli. The Security Council, however, failed to agree on a text denouncing the attack. In case you missed it, here’s a collection of our reporting on what it’s like for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Libya, and how it got this bad in the first place. 

Swine fever spreads, along with Asia’s fears for food security

Back in January, we pointed to warnings about highly contagious African swine fever, which is harmless to humans but has a near 100 percent fatality rate for pigs. This week, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation warned the disease has rapidly spread from China to parts of Southeast Asia, threatening food security and livelihoods. Outbreaks have now been reported across China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and even North Korea (which, you may have heard, is already in a food crisis). The FAO says swine fever is “a serious threat,” as pig meat is a major source of animal protein for many in the region. Price hikes for other types of meat have already been reported, and the FAO says poorer households that rely on pork as a main protein source are likely to feel the most squeezed as food security worsens.

Tracing Africa’s tramadol boom

Synthetic opioid use is booming worldwide, with a particular rise in the use of tramadol in Africa, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated in its annual report released this week. Describing the spread of tramadol as a “crisis”, the UNODC said the prescription painkiller is illicitly manufactured in South Asia and trafficked to Africa, as well as to parts of the Middle East. In Nigeria, the government has mistakenly linked tramadol misuse to the insurgency in the northeast, claiming the jihadist group Boko Haram drugs its fighters. Tramadol has been available in the region’s rural areas for years, taken by farmers and manual labourers to increase their productivity. But Boko Haram is known to execute tramadol dealers in the areas it controls. In the rest of Nigeria, the government’s under-funded rehabilitation centres are struggling to cope with the rising numbers of tramadol and codeine addicts looking for treatment.

One to listen to

Why Chennai is running dry

Take a look at NASA’s before-and-after satellite images over Puzhal Lake – the main reservoir for Chennai in India’s Tamil Nadu state. They show the extent of water shortages hitting the parched city right now. Parts of India have seen potentially life-changing drought, dozens of people have died in heat waves, and the start of monsoon season was weeks late – but these aren’t the only reasons why Chennai is running dry. This week, researchers at the World Resources Institute pose a pertinent question in podcast format: How exactly does a flood-prone city run out of water? It’s not just a matter of rainfall shortages, a WRI analyst suggests, but “excessive demand, erratic supply, and the lack of a plan”. The podcast further explores why this is a concern elsewhere, and how better planning and data can begin to address the crisis.

In case you missed it

JAPAN: More than one million people in southwestern Japan were ordered to evacuate after heavy rains triggered flood and landslide warnings. Some areas have reportedly received a month’s worth of rainfall in a single day.

LEBANON: Lebanese troops began demolishing 20 homes in a settlement of Syrian refugees this week, after the government said that shelters built with anything other than wood and plastic sheeting violated rules against building “semi-permanent” structures in informal camps. Many refugees took down their own concrete walls before the army’s arrival. NGOs estimate that as many as 15,000 people could be impacted if the demolitions continue. 

PAKISTAN: At least 876 people, more than 700 of them children, have tested positive for HIV in Pakistan’s Larkana district, the World Health Organisation said this week. Health experts believe poor infection control and the re-use of needles at blood banks and during medical procedures could be causes. But the WHO said further investigation is needed to determine whether the HIV outbreak is “acute and isolated” or “the tip of the iceberg of a larger epidemic”.

SOUTH SUDAN: Despite a ceasefire, violence has intensified in the Central Equatoria region with civilians “deliberately and brutally targeted”, according to the UN peacekeeping mission. Mission officials said at least 104 people were killed in 30 attacks on villages between September 2018 to April 2019. See our reporting on the fragile ceasefire here.

US-MEXICO: A US inspector general’s report found “dangerous overcrowding” at migrant detention facilities in southern Texas, with 51 female migrants held in a cell designed for 40 men, and 71 men in a cell built for 41 women. Others were held in standing-room only conditions, the report stated.

Your weekend read

Hunger, measles, cholera, and conflict: Ebola not the only killer ravaging Congo

We may have been guilty of focussing lately on Ebola over other issues of concern in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not anymore. This week Olivia Acland reported from Goma on the multiple strands of humanitarian crisis blighting eastern Congo. The situation is particularly bad in Ituri province, where the World Food Programme has just tripled, to 300,000, the number of people it aims to support through food and cash aid as renewed conflict continues to drive people from their homes. Attacks involving dozens of armed groups are also displacing civilians in South Kivu and North Kivu provinces. All of this makes trying to treat deadly measles and cholera outbreaks even harder. It’s all connected to Ebola, too. Part of the distrust that has hampered the response to the world’s second deadliest outbreak of the virus is down to resentment about apathy over these longer-term problems. It’s a quick read, perfect for a busy weekend. 

And finally

Law case makes a splash in pooled funds 

A lawsuit will test the rules behind $110 billion of US charitable pooled funds run on behalf of private donors. A couple is taking Fidelity Charitable to court, alleging their $100 million donation was mismanaged. Unlike other nonprofit ventures, contributions to Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) are allowed to lie idle until the donor decides who to give the donations to. This leads to allegations that the funds are a tax break where wealth can be stashed, with limited impact on good causes. Most DAF donations ($19 billion in 2017) go to US non-profits, but can be spent abroad via US intermediaries. Assets of DAFs swelled from $29.3 billion in 2009 to $110 billion in 2017. DAF management firms like Fidelity Charitable meanwhile may earn management fees on holdings and a percentage from donations.

(TOP PHOTO: UN peacekeepers and government soldiers on an exploratory mission in Ituri province, Democratic Republic of Congo. 15 May 2019.)

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