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IRIN - Afghanistan


Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: The Cheat Sheet

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 17:01:28 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector   By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.   While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.     Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 links. Oxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".   Iraq’s long road ahead   This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.   In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”   More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties.  allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="450" id="datawrapper-chart-zX0CZ" scrolling="no" src="//" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;">[...]

Afghan healthcare under siege as escalating conflict cuts off access

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 14:30:06 +0000

The baby fell asleep clinging to his father, who perched on the edge of a hospital cot, cradling the child protectively.  Ihsanullah, 17 months, suffers from a virulent, drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, which has alarmed his father and challenged the doctors. "There are injections and so many pills,” said his father, Bismillah. “The baby sees everyday the doctors with a white coat coming to inject him, so he is afraid." But despite the daily needles and pills, Ihsanullah is fortunate: his father left his job as a soldier in the north of Afghanistan so he could bring Ihsanullah to receive cutting-edge treatment at a specialised clinic in the southern province of Kandahar – the country's ethnic Pashtun heartland and a former Taliban stronghold. Throughout Afghanistan, however, an increasingly violent struggle for control is threatening access to vital healthcare. Pressure from a web of armed groups, including a resurgent Taliban, has seen medical workers targeted and health clinics commandeered or shut.  This has obstructed access to lifesaving care for hundreds of thousands of Afghans this year – and heightened the risk from deadly but treatable diseases like Ihsanullah’s tuberculosis. Ashley Hamer/IRIN Ihsanullah, 17 months, and his father wait while the baby receives treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis at a clinic in Kandahar. The child has embarked on an intensive nine-month treatment regime. New treatments, limited reach For the past two months, Ihsanullah has been a patient with aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, which runs one of only two facilities in the entire country where his complex strain of drug-resistant TB can be treated. The baby's case is particularly troubling because tuberculosis is airborne and spread in close quarters, yet none of Ihsanullah's immediate family tested positive for the disease. He has nine months of heavy daily medication ahead of him. The clinic in Kandahar was launched a year ago – the first of its kind for MSF in an active conflict setting. There is limited clinic bed space and a small patient guesthouse, both designed for long-term treatment. New technology allows health workers to speed up the cumbersome diagnosis process and fast-track treatment. A state-of-the-art molecular testing machine brought in by MSF can now identify specific strains of TB on the spot. Previously, smear samples had to be sent to the capital, Kabul, or even to Europe.  Once diagnosed positive for a drug-resistant strain, the patient begins a newly-introduced treatment programme that lasts only nine months – the usual treatment for drug-resistant TB takes two years and requires close medical monitoring throughout. “It is essential that people complete the standard TB treatment regime, because if they stop halfway or take the wrong drugs – which they do – they build up resistance,” said Rod Miller, project coordinator for MSF in Kandahar.  If left untreated, the drug-resistant TB is passed onto others; sufferers face a prolonged, excruciating death. Ashley Hamer/IRIN Specialist equipment brought to Kandahar can now identify specific strains of tuberculosis on the spot. Previously, smear samples had to be sent to the capital, Kabul, or to Europe.  Afghanistan, a nation of 34 million people beset by decades of conflict, counts at least 60,000 ordinary TB cases annually. The disease kills some 12,000 people each year. Globally, the TB epidemic killed 1.4 million people in 2015. Only two new anti-TB drugs have been developed in the last 50 years, which means the same medicines have been in circulation for decades. Naturally, bacteria evolve to resist them. MSF calculates there are at least 2,000 new cases of multi drug-resistant TB across Afghanistan every year – driven by inadequate or incomplete treatment, misdiagnoses and a flood of smuggled or substandard drugs. But reaching[...]

Afghan attacks, Raqqa redux, and plague in Madagascar: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:45:57 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   AU and EU: new BFFs?   African and European leaders are scheduled to meet in a summit in November at a time when relations have reached a turning point, the International Crisis Group says in a report released this week. The African Union has launched potentially transformative reforms that will shake up its peacekeeping operations and should increase its financial self-sufficiency. Because of Brexit, the EU is losing one of its most influential and internationally engaged members – with implications for Africa. One component critical to reshaping AU-EU relations is the Cotonou Agreement, a partnership between the EU and 79 countries from sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific that expires in 2020 and will be renegotiated over the next two years. It’s unclear what shape the post-Cotonou settlement will take, and the future of the linked European Development Fund is equally uncertain. The AU’s reform of its peace and security architecture also has consequences for the EU – its chief funder. There are many points of friction: For the AU, the EU’s “paternalism” grates, while Brussels worries that it’s perceived as a “cash machine” – not to mention serious divergences over the migration issue. But there are deep-shared strategic interests. Both sides “must confront key areas of disagreement and frustration,” says the ICG. “In this context, the AU-EU summit comes at a particularly opportune moment.”   Biggest plague outbreak since 2008 (probably)   In Madagascar, 94 people have died in the worst outbreak of plague since 2008. Since 1 August, there have been 1,153 suspected cases, according to the WHO. This outbreak is nearly three times bigger than the typical seasonal outbreaks the island has every year, and it's reached the capital city, Antananarivo. Also bad: The pneumonic variant that can spread directly from human to human is responsible for two thirds of the cases. Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ibrahima Soce Fall, the WHO’s emergency director for Africa, said the outbreak could be contained quickly and that all strains tested so far are treatable with standard antibiotics. The likelihood of international spread is minimal, he argued. However, the WHO's own literature admits the pneumonic form can produce "terrifying" outbreaks. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has appealed for 5.5 million Swiss francs to support its work on the outbreak, which “involves illness, fear, stigma and discrimination”. Justifying the hefty investment, IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy said: “we are adopting a ‘no regrets’ approach to this response”. In recent years, Madagascar has reported three quarters of the cases of human plague worldwide – a sign, according to a study, of the "deteriorating fabric” of the country’s health system. However, not all cases are reported to the WHO: Weak surveillance in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, another endemic country (it reported 1,962 cases in 2008), may hide continuing outbreaks there.    New lows in Afghanistan   It has been a deadly week in Afghanistan: Multiple attacks claimed by the Taliban have killed at least 100 people and injured hundreds more. Taliban militants targeted an Afghan Army base in Kandahar Province, killing 43 soldiers — the majority of the troops stationed there, according to media reports. Separate attacks in Paktya and Ghazni provinces killed at least 60 and injured at least another 200, according to the UN mission. These attacks are just the latest signs of Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation. More than 8,000 civilians have been killed or injured in conflict through the first nine months of this year – a figure that has Afghanistan on a path to near record-high levels of casualties. The violence also underscor[...]

Six charts that show Afghanistan’s deepening insecurity

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:17:17 +0000

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan continue to soar as the country’s security situation deteriorates, according to the latest statistics released by the UN mission. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, recorded more than 8,000 civilian casualties this year from January until the end of September, placing conflict-caused deaths and injuries at near record-high levels. The numbers have trended steadily upward over the last eight years even if the latest data represents a moderate drop from last year’s peak.   frameborder="0" height="450" name="Civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%" id="Civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan"> UNAMA attributed roughly two thirds of the casualties to anti-government forces – mainly the Taliban and self-proclaimed Islamic State groups. Civilian casualties blamed on government-aligned forces dropped by 19 percent over the same time period a year ago. However, deaths and injuries caused by airstrikes continue to rise: the mission documented 466 casualties from aerial attacks — a 52 percent increase. The US has escalated airstrikes in Afghanistan under President Donald Trump; the US military launched 751 airstrikes on Taliban and IS targets in September, in what the US Air Force called “a record high month for weapons employed in Afghanistan since 2012”. But the UN has warned that less political oversight over airstrikes, and Trump’s strategy to increase troops in the country, could usher in “a more volatile landscape” in the months ahead. Airstrikes in late August killed at least 28 civilians in Herat and Logar provinces, according to the UN.   frameborder="0" height="500" name="Civilian casualties caused by air strikes" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%" id="Civilian casualties caused by air strikes"> The latest UNAMA figures also show that anti-government forces continue to deliberately target religious figures and places of worship — particularly minority Shia Muslims. Civilian casualties from such attacks have skyrocketed over the last five years. UNAMA said this amounts to “disturbing trends of intentional killings” targeting religious leaders and others seen as supporting the government. IRIN recently reported on how moderate imams preaching peace have become targets. Casualties caused by attacks against religious targets spiked in 2016; the 84 deaths recorded in the first nine months of 2017 are already nearing the mark set for the whole of last year.   frameborder="0" height="400" name="Civilian casualties from attacks targeting religious figures and places of worship" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%" id="Civilian casualties from attacks targeting religious figures and places of worship"> The enduringly high casualty numbers suggest the Afghan government may be paying a high price for its strategy to concentrate on defending areas with larger populations, while the Taliban makes gains in rural areas seen as less vital. “This change has led to an increasing number of clashes for control over lines of communication and vital infrastructure,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a September report to the Security Council. “In addition, the more secure hold of the Taliban over some rural areas has allowed them to undertake more frequent attacks in the north of Afghanistan.” The Afghan government’s physical control of its own territory has steadily eroded over the last two years. In a 30 July update, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which reports to the US Congress on how American funding is spent, said that less than 60 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under government control or influence. The government had control or influence over 72 percent of its districts as recently as November 2015.   frameborder="0" height="550" name="District con[...]