Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar:
Call for a Juba uprising
A social media campaign – “South Sudanese for Change” – is calling on young people to rise up and take to the streets of Juba on 16 May in emulation of events in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The spark is the apparent murder of two kidnapped activists, Dong Samuel Luak, a human rights lawyer, and opposition politician Aggrey Izbon Idri. The planned showdown will challenge a government widely seen as brutal, corrupt, and incompetent, and that has failed to deliver peace. Spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth has taken it seriously enough to warn: “The government will deal with anybody who protests.” In truth, “South Sudanese for Change” appears to be a largely diaspora-driven movement. However fed up people may be with President Salva Kiir, taking to the highly militarised streets of Juba is not for the faint-hearted. The government is not known to have large stocks of teargas, but it does have a lot of bullets. Look out for our upcoming briefing on the stalled peace process.
No Pulitzer, no freedom for Myanmar journalists
Myanmar this week freed two Pulitzer-winning reporters after more than 500 days in jail, but other journalists still face charges for their reporting in troubled Rakhine State. The country’s powerful military is pursuing charges against editors at the Irrawaddy, Radio Free Asia, and Development Media Group, a Sittwe-based outlet that has been reporting on a military crackdown on the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine rebel group. “We remain terribly concerned about the state of media freedom and the democratic space in Myanmar,” two UN rights experts said. Last year The New Humanitarian interviewed DMG editor Aung Marm Oo, who spoke of the competing pressures he faces, especially when it comes to Rohingya issues. “Sometimes our life is more important than anything,” he told reporter Verena Hölzl, explaining why his newspaper wouldn’t use the term “Rohingya” to describe the minority group, which is denied citizenship in Myanmar.
Migrants held in Yemen
An estimated 3,000 migrants – mostly from Ethiopia – are still being detained by Yemeni authorities in the southern provinces of Aden and Abyan. This is despite at least 14 deaths from treatable illnesses, a shooting that left a teenage boy paralysed, and reportedly “inhumane conditions”. Authorities allied with President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi began rounding up migrants around 21 April, holding them in sports stadiums and a military camp. Since then, the UN’s migration agency says some 1,400 people were released, but more have also been arrested and many of the detainees are now fasting during the day for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Despite Yemen’s four years of war, thousands of people – mostly from sub-Saharan Africa – have continued to cross from Djibouti and Somaliland to Yemen in the hope of making it to Saudi Arabia for work. It was always an arduous and risky trek. Now, even more so. Read more about the journey here.
Displaced in the city
The figures have become almost too easy to ignore, such is their scale: at least 28 million new internal displacements from conflict, violence, and disaster in 2018. Alarmingly, this is par for the course for a past decade that has seen an inexorable rise in the global stock of internally displaced people as conflicts become more protracted and climate shocks proliferate. It will be little surprise to regular Cheat Sheet readers to see Ethiopia top the chart (see below), but the annual report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre highlights another trend: urban IDPs. This, it warns, is driving “fast and unplanned urbanisation, further aggravating inequalities, and generating further risk of displacement and instability”. The report urges far more investment at city level and to help national governments to deploy the technological tools needed to fill vast gaps in gathering and analysing data and formulating cohesive responses.
The flood risk from Trump’s wall
The number of people apprehended at the US-Mexico border topped 100,000 for the second straight month, US customs officials said this week. The more than 109,000 people taken into custody or ruled inadmissible in April is the highest monthly total since 2007. US President Donald Trump continues to push for a contentious border wall – a plan that could trigger unintended consequences for communities on both sides of the frontier. This week, the Texas Observer examines what a wall would mean on a stretch of the Rio Grande separating the Texan town of Roma from the Mexican municipality Miguel Alemán. There, US and Mexican officials had blocked previous plans for a border wall when engineering reports revealed a barrier could magnify flooding. A 2010 hurricane saw floodwaters surge more than four metres in one stretch. Current plans would see a border wall erected along some 100 kilometres of two adjoining counties – much of it cutting through the Rio Grande floodplain. Read (or listen to) the story here.
Dementia: Asking the right questions
“Humanitarian actors are not deliberately overlooking the needs of people living with dementia, but they do need support to understand what those needs are.” A new report says that with the use of suitable techniques, a range of “hidden disabilities” can be better recognised. There is a large deficit in humanitarian services tailored for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, it finds. The report, “Forgotten in a Crisis“, recounts an experiment in Syrian refugee family interviews in Lebanon where asking different questions revealed 28 percent of the cases had disabilities. But without using a specialised questionnaire devised by a statistical alliance, the Washington Group, only two percent were estimated to live with disabilities. The Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance, Alzheimer’s Disease International, and Alzheimer’s Pakistan published the 56-page study, which argues that “humanitarian actors are unaware of, and not looking for, this at-risk population”. More than half of 50 million people living with dementia worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries.
Clashes, airstrikes, shelling and, yes, more than 150,000 people forced to flee in one week alone, doubling the number of newly displaced in northwestern Syria since February to more than 300,000: if this is a truce, who needs war? Our weekend read offers our now-regular reminder: no, the war in Syria is not over. In fact, as Tom Rollins reports, there are warnings of a further escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas, potentially of a full-on offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his Russian allies to rid the territory of Islamist extremists and other rebel groups. A ground offensive now seems to have started. This eventuality, not to mention the humanitarian catastrophe predicted by aid agencies if it came to pass, was supposed to have been averted by last September’s deal between Russia and Turkey. This deal is now looking a lot more shaky. Eighty civilians were killed between 28 April and 6 May. More than a dozen medical facilities were hit by airstrikes over a similar period, at least two on a UN “no-strike” list. Some aid operations are being suspended. Worse is probably to come.
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meets next week in Geneva in a forum that will help measure governments’ progress on targets aimed at lowering disaster risk – think of it as the SDGs for DRR. In addition to testing how many acronyms we can jam into a sentence, The New Humanitarian will be hosting a sideline event along with the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding. We’ll be discussing local and indigenous approaches to humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction. We’ll share key takeaways from our ongoing coverage of locally led humanitarian action – from micro-NGOs in Venezuela to Rohingya activists in refugee camps in Bangladesh. We’ll also hear about new research on indigenous approaches to reducing disaster risk, as well as local organisations building resilience in their own communities. It happens on Monday 13 May at 18:30 local time. Tune in to the livestream (or register to attend if you’re in Geneva) here.
(TOP PHOTO: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a signing ceremony in Juba.)