Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Signs of an end to Ukraine’s grain blockade?
Ukraine and Russia are one step closer to reaching an agreement that would allow exports of grain and fertiliser to resume from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Some 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on the Black Sea. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February has interrupted agricultural exports from both countries – which together provide for a third of global wheat supplies. That has caused food prices to soar and pushed millions in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere towards hunger and, in some regions, possible starvation. A final agreement between Russia and Ukraine could be signed as soon as next week, following talks between the countries in Istanbul on 13 July – although Guterres cautioned that the deal was “not yet fully done”. Guterres proposed a deal in early June to unblock exports, but little progress was made until the talks this week.
Sri Lanka’s president flees, but leaves a deepening crisis
Following months of protests calling for his resignation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on 13 July, sending an official resignation a day later. The country has faced a growing humanitarian crisis for months, after years of severe economic mismanagement. While Sri Lankans celebrated Rajapaksa’s self-exile – he is the final member of the powerful dynasty to step down – acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe warned that the economy has “completely collapsed”. Spiralling sovereign debt has led to rampant inflation and a shortage of fuel so severe that the country has gone under virtual lockdown. With the price of food skyrocketing, Sri Lankans are increasingly hungry, while a shortage of medical supplies has left a once-strong healthcare system in dire straits. The most recent estimates by the World Food Programme suggest that nearly a quarter of the population is in need of food aid, while 86 percent has adjusted its eating habits by consuming less nutritious food, or missing meals altogether.
Insurgents spread south in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado
It’s been a year since forces from Rwanda and a southern African regional bloc deployed to Mozambique’s northernmost Cabo Delgado province to battle a jihadist insurgency. Yet attacks are rising again, with more people displaced last month (over 60,000) than at any time this year. Foreign troops helped capture major towns from the insurgents – known locally as al-Shabab – allowing some displaced people to return home. But scattered fighters regrouped and are now spreading their attacks to southern parts of the province previously untouched by conflict. The new incursions have led to reports of beheadings and sparked security fears in Pemba, the provincial capital and a hub for aid operations. Humanitarian groups are calling for increased funds, with around 800,000 people uprooted since the start of the insurgency in late 2017. The militants are affiliated to the so-called Islamic State, but a blend of local issues is driving the war. See our recent reporting from the ground for more.
When drugs no longer work
Before COVID-19 disrupted everything, antimicrobial resistance was a growing worry on the humanitarian radar and a top public health threat. We pointed to the risks in our 10 Crises list in January 2020 – you know, before “infodemic”, “self-isolation”, “social distancing”, and “WFH” got their own dictionary entries. Drug resistance develops when antibiotics, including antimicrobials, are overused and abused: Think of the rise of “superbugs” or tuberculosis strains that withstand the most powerful treatments. Health communicators often call antimicrobial resistance a “silent pandemic” because it gets so little attention. The numbers are stark: Resistant bacterial infections alone are blamed for the deaths of 1.27 million people each year, and they’re linked to some 4.95 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Like many health issues (see routine immunisations, malnutrition, abortion access…), drug resistance has worsened during COVID-19. For example, US deaths from drug-resistant “superbugs” rose by 15 percent in 2020, according to new estimates. There could be help on the way in the form of infection-preventing vaccines. A 12 July WHO report lists some 61 vaccine candidates, but the agency says that drug trials need to be accelerated – and that the handful of vaccines already available must be shared fairly. Sound familiar? The global COVID-19 response may be both a blueprint and a warning: Vaccines emerged in record time, but hoarding and inequalities have let the virus linger, mutate, and cost more lives.
France sketches a new Sahel strategy
French officials are visiting Niger late this week to refine future plans for their much-criticised Sahelian anti-jihadist mission. The meeting comes as Operation Barkhane withdraws thousands of troops from extremist-hit Mali – where they first deployed in 2013 – following a collapse in relations with the ruling junta. Niger is set to become Barkhane’s new hub, though French commanders are promising to take a more discreet approach going forward. Instead of big bases and large troop deployments, Paris says it will follow the lead and needs of regional armies. The new strategy may also see France increase support to coastal West African states, where militant attacks have increased in recent years. However, more military solutions won't address the local grievances that insurgents are seeking to appropriate. See our latest Sahel reporting for alternative conflict mitigation strategies.
The climate crisis deals a financial blow to sub-Saharan Africa
As the world heats up, the cost of climate adaptation for some African countries is set to dwarf their spending on healthcare, according to research by Tearfund, an international NGO. Eleven nations least responsible for global heating – Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, and Sudan – may have to spend an average of eight percent of their GDP on dealing with its impact. For already arid Eritrea, that would mean paying five times more for adaptation than it currently budgets for healthcare. Adaptation measures include “climate smart” agriculture like drought-tolerant crops. It will be an uphill struggle for cash-strapped governments to find the money to finance that shift – and more broadly to tap the potential of Africa’s green economy. A recent report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation argues that the current climate agenda has “failed Africa” and additional and “diversified financial resources” are needed. Ahead of the COP27 meeting in Egypt in November, the foundation has offered a series of policy recommendations to help “reshape the climate debate”.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: A single unit of the UK Special Air Services killed at least 54 Afghan detainees and unarmed men in a six-month period during 2010-2011, the BBC suggested in an investigation published this week. Emails uncovered by the BBC showed senior officials were aware that unarmed men were killed “in cold blood” but never reported the squadron to the military police.
CHILDREN IN CONFLICT: Children suffered some 24,000 verified “grave violations” due to conflicts, coups, and violations of international law, according to a new UN report. Top violations included killing and maiming, followed by the denial of humanitarian access. According to the report, children were most affected in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
CÔTE D'IVOIRE: 49 Ivorian soldiers have been arrested in neighbouring Mali in an incident that has raised regional tensions. The ruling junta in Bamako called the soldiers “mercenaries”, but Abidjan said they were doing security and logistics work for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, where a jihadist conflict has caused a major humanitarian crisis.
DATA: The African Development Bank’s public sector financing portfolio topped a new ranking of aid donor transparency, while UK agencies fell. The yearly Aid Transparency Index aims to push donors to publish quality data. Its authors, the UK-based campaigners Publish What You Fund, say clear data makes aid more effective and more accountable.
HAITI: A week of intense gang warfare in the capital, Port-au-Prince, has left at least 89 people dead and thousands in need of water, food, or fuel. Roughly half of those killed since 7 July were not associated with gangs, according to Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), which estimates the toll of the gang violence. The seaside shantytown of Cité Soleil has been one of the worst affected areas, cut off from vital water and fuel deliveries due to the fighting.
MIDDLE EAST: US President Joe Biden landed in Jerusalem on Wednesday to begin his first trip to the Middle East as president. He planned to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and was also scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia. As a presidential candidate, Biden said he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over its killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he has defended his decision to visit the kingdom.
NICARAGUA: Following the recent expulsion of 18 nuns belonging to the Missionaries of Charity, a group formed by Mother Teresa, the government jailed media employees involved in covering that news. The crackdown on the order’s operations – including homes and centres for children and the elderly – is part of a wider government policy to sanction NGOs seen as having ties to the political opposition. ACAPS, a group monitoring access to humanitarian aid globally, lists Nicaragua among the top countries facing access constraints.
PACIFIC ISLANDS: Pacific Island leaders gathered in the capital city of Fiji, Suva, this week for the first time in two years to discuss security concerns and climate change, which is hitting small island states particularly hard. The meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum comes amid geopolitical wrangling between China and the US that has threatened to overshadow Pacific Island unity.
PAKISTAN: Monsoon rains have left at least 170 people dead in the past month. Flash floods washed away hundreds of houses and left countless people stranded, while deluges in Karachi led to boat rescues in some areas. Climate change and poor city planning have been blamed for the worsening annual floods.
SYRIA: After letting a resolution that allows the UN to bring aid across Turkey’s border into northwest Syria without the permission of President Bashar al-Assad to expire on 10 July, on 12 July the Security Council voted to extend it for six months. The extension is a compromise – involving a Russian veto and last-minute negotiations – that prolongs the resolution for half the time the UN and NGOs had originally requested. A group of Syrian and international aid organisations working in the region said it “presents a major risk to continued and predictable humanitarian assistance for Syrian people”.
UKRAINE: An estimated 5.8 million Ukrainians have been displaced to other parts of Europe since the end of February. Of those, 90 percent are women and children and 82 percent are separated from family members who stayed in Ukraine, according to a new survey by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Nearly two-thirds plan on remaining in their current host countries for the time being, but others are already returning to Ukraine, despite the ongoing war. For more on current trends and the human stories behind the numbers, read our latest: Ukraine: Snapshots of a refugee crisis in flux.
Nowhere left to turn, part 2: In a region hit hard by COVID, the welcome for Venezuelan migrants wears thin
Latin America isn’t alone in being hit hard economically by the combination of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. But certain countries in the region, like Colombia and Peru, did suffer particularly deadly pandemics and severe lockdowns. This has worked out very badly for Venezuelan migrants, who are struggling to find employment and encountering rising xenophobia as competition for scarce jobs heats up amid rising food and fuel prices. This deep dive from TNH Latin America editor-at-large Paula Dupraz-Dobias, complete with interactive map, provides in-depth country-by-country analysis that joins the dots on the latest trends affecting millions of migrants. She uncovers some noticeable regional differences: For example, Colombia and Ecuador have made sound efforts to regularise the status of Venezuelan migrants, while Chile and Peru are making it harder for them to enter. Overall, though, the picture is clear: More and more Venezuelans are unable to build new lives in the region and are heading north to the United States – mostly on dangerous overland routes through Central America. For more on why returning to Venezuela isn’t an attractive option, read Sara Cincurova’s companion report from Caracas, where poverty and child malnutrition are rising and the healthcare system is in freefall.
Planet Earth: Soon home to 8 billion, and growing
Maybe you missed that 11 July was World Population Day, as designated by the UN, and thus the perfect time to release the latest UN projections on how many of us will inhabit Earth now(ish) and in the future. Long story short, our numbers are still growing but more slowly and quite unevenly across geographies. By November, 8 billion of us will call Earth home, with India set to overtake China (and its 1.4 billion people) as the most populous country by next year. Farther ahead, world population will likely peak at 10.4 billion during the 2080’s, with more than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 concentrated in eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania. And that uneven growth may not be good news for efforts to ease poverty, address hunger and malnutrition, and expand health care and education, warned Liu Zhenmin, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs. One bit of good news, perhaps: Life expectancy increased almost nine years in the past three decades, to 72.8 years, and will likely hit 77.2 years in 2050.