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EDITOR’S TAKE: Yemen needs commercial imports to avoid famine (#LetTradeIn)

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 19:26:28 +0000

After increasingly dire warnings that Yemen is on the verge of (or in the midst of) famine, the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has announced it will reopen on Thursday a key port and airport for “humanitarian and relief efforts”, ending a partial blockade lasting more than two weeks.   Hodeidah port and Sana’a airport were shut down after Houthi rebels fired a missile at Riyadh earlier this month, and the coalition responded by closing all routes into Yemen, saying it was to prevent weapons smuggling.   The situation inside Yemen deteriorated quickly and was feared to get much worse, with a run on fuel, water shortages, and concerns that food stores would empty within the next few months. Humanitarians have been tweeting about the impending disaster with the hashtag #LetAidIn.   The semi-opening of Hodeidah and Sana’a is welcome news, if indeed the ships and planes full of food and vital medical supplies are really granted entry. But many Yemenis will need more than aid if they are to survive this crisis; they'll need commercial imports too.   The importance of Hodeidah   Forces loyal to internationally recognised (but deposed) Yemeni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, have been trying to oust Houthi rebels and fighters who side with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh for more than two and a half years.   Even before the war, Yemen was the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, with 4.5 million Yemenis classified as "severely food insecure" in 2014. Yemenis rely on imports for 80-90 percent of their food, including two key staples – wheat and rice – the majority of which comes through Hodeidah and the nearby smaller (and also shuttered) Saleef port. Wheat is mostly shipped to Yemen unprocessed and in bulk and processed at Hodeidah, which, despite its diminished capacity thanks to airstrikes, still has working silos and grain mills. Vitally, there’s no indication yet that the Saudis plan to re-open this port to commercial imports.   Aden, under the Saudi coalition’s control, was re-opened last week for commercial trade and aid deliveries, but it only has 40 percent of the milling and storage capacity of Hodeidah. Other seaports were never really closed, but are too small to handle large-scale shipping anyway.   If traders are forced to use Aden for commerical imports, they may have to pivot to packaged flour or rice. A shift to flour would likely be costly, and that cost would be passed down to the Yemeni consumer.   But it’s not only rising prices that are a concern. A Yemeni source familiar with the matter told IRIN that Aden is also unlikely to be able to scale up quickly enough to handle the amount of imports that could soon be directed its way. Issues include the union that controls the boats and staffing, and the fact that the port’s customs department only works part-time – when the air conditioning in the hangar it uses is actually functioning.   Then there’s the problem of location. By UN estimates, 71 percent of the nearly 19 million Yemenis who need assistance are in Houthi-Saleh controlled areas. Getting food – or aid for that matter – to them from Aden, which is in the hands of various competing forces nominally loyal to Hadi – is extremely difficult. The source told IRIN there are dozens, even as many as 100 checkpoints on the route that can handle lorries between Aden and Houthi-Saleh run Sana’a. Hodeidah and Saleef, which fall in Houthi-Saleh territory, are the natural fit for bringing food to this population.   The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), recently reported that “even if throughput [through Aden] improves significantly, famine will remain likely, once stocks are depleted, in areas that had relied on food imports from [Hodeidah] ports, but that are less able to shift towards Aden as a source of staple food.”   It added that even for areas that are able to access imports from Aden, the famine risk remains, given the likely in[...]



IRIN reporting wins 2017 UNCA award

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 08:07:48 +0000

We are delighted to announce that the United Nations Correspondents Association has recognised IRIN’s outstanding reporting on Asia, awarding a joint silver medal to former Asia Editor Jared Ferrie for the Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for written media. From the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, to the forgotten conflict in the Philippines, to the deepening migration crisis in Afghanistan, Jared Ferrie’s excellent reporting from the region is well deserving of recognition - recently earning an honourable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia. His award-winning entries include: Myanmar says Rohingya rape and abuse allegations “made-up”, despite mounting evidence In the face of outright denials by Myanmar’s government, Jared Ferrie uncovered strong evidence that the military was committing atrocities against the country’s persecuted ethnic Rohingya Muslim community. His story juxtaposes the experiences of survivors against government statements, providing a historical record of both the atrocities and the attempts to cover them up. As Myanmar refused to allow journalists near the police border posts where the accounts were emerging, Ferrie travelled to neighbouring Bangladesh. His vital reporting there revealed that the number of people who fled across the border was far higher than previously reported, and the facts he uncovered directly challenged the government’s narrative. A spokeswoman for Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, insisted that military operations had been conducted “with very much restraint”. And allegations of rape and ethnic cleansing? “Completely false.” With the evidence presented in Ferrie's story, such denials became impossible to believe. EXCLUSIVE: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar In an exclusive interview, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told Jared Ferrie her plan to push member states to sponsor a resolution for a commission of inquiry into military abuses of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslims. “I never said in the past to a reporter what I plan to put in my report,” she said. “This time I am making this point: I will certainly be pushing for an inquiry, definitely, on the Rohingya situation.” With Myanmar unwilling or unable to carry out a credible investigation, pressure was mounting for a UN-backed inquiry. Jared Ferrie’s analysis outlined the challenges to forming such an inquiry. It would require that a Human Rights Council member put forward a resolution, and it would need cooperation from the Myanmar government, which is civilian-led but has no control over the military. Indeed, the Council in the end choose to form a “fact finding mission”, which carries less weight than a commission of inquiry. To date, Myanmar has refused to allow members of the mission access to the country. For more on the denied oppression of Myanmar’s Rohingya people, please see our in-depth coverage here. (TOP PHOTO: A Rohingya family shelter in the village of Hazi Para, Bangladesh, after fleeing Myanmar. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IRIN) bangladesh_5.jpg About Us Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights IRIN reporting wins 2017 UNCA award IRIN Asia Global [...]



IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:05:17 +0000

Over the last decade, we've awoken to the fact that junk food hurts us. It's time for a similar revolution in our news consumption.  In this new TEDx Talk, IRIN Director Heba Aly takes on the role of ‘chief news nutritionist’. Fake news is one thing but Heba explains why we must stop consuming the more insidious, less obvious variety of junk news: “If classical junk news is your greasy double bacon cheeseburger, junk coverage of important news is the low fat blueberry muffin that looks healthy but is actually loaded with calories.” A journalist covering humanitarian crises for the past 10 years, Heba highlights through personal experiences and powerful examples the dangers of simplistic narratives that can warp our views of conflicts and crises, affect realities on the ground and even impact peace negotiations. “It has never been more important to understand our ever-complex world because we cannot prevent, respond to or resolve these crises if we do not properly understand them,” she says.  “This isn’t just about a failure to understand the world around us. Junk news erodes our democracies because it fails to give us the information we need to be responsible, active citizens and to make informed decisions about our own lives.”  IRIN’s mission is to put quality, independent journalism at the service of the most vulnerable people on earth. As Heba explains, “reliable journalism does exist - you just have to seek it out and consume it, and where possible support the journalists producing it.” Food is fuel; knowledge is power. Better diets make us healthier. High quality news helps change the world for the better. Support IRIN’s journalism here. Stop eating junk news | Heba Aly | TEDxChamonix width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2_Gb936ol6k?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen=""> TEDx Talks HebaTEDx.jpg About Us Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news IRIN Global [...]



Bots and bombs: Does cyberspace need a “Digital Geneva Convention”?

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 12:46:39 +0000

Cyber-attacks are on the rise, threatening power grids, driving up geopolitical tensions, and even crippling hospitals. Countries should agree a new “Digital Geneva Convention” to contain the risk and set up a new international organisation to police the new rules.   These proposals from Microsoft’s chief legal officer, Brad Smith, also say that neutral companies dealing with the fallout should win protected status, like a technological Red Cross. Opinions differ on where the gaps are, if any, in international law, and whether Microsoft is a credible voice on the issues or just looking after its own vested interests.   In a public speech in Geneva, Smith argued that cyberspace is a new battlefield and not properly governed by international law. Nation states and murky hacker groups have shown their potential to take out public infrastructure and services, sow political discord, and sabotage businesses, causing extensive social and economic harm.   Experts in international law and the International Committee of the Red Cross, however, give his proposals a cool reception. Cyberspace may throw up some legal dilemmas (for example, how to distinguish military and civilian data travelling on the same network), but it is far from a legal vacuum. Microsoft's proposal for tech companies to be recognised as "first responders" on the cyber battlefield, borrowing language from the Red Cross, has met with surprise and scorn from critics.   Smith spoke to hundreds of diplomats, officials, and visitors at the UN in Geneva, recalling the city’s heritage as “a place where the world has come together” on difficult issues. Introducing Smith’s talk, the head of the UN in Geneva, Michael Moeller, said “algorithms can be as powerful as tanks, bots as dangerous as bombs”. Smith said the global technology sector should reposition itself as “a trusted and neutral digital Switzerland”.   Recounting the bloody Battle of Solferino in 1859, which led to the creation of the Red Cross, Smith said a hi-tech arms race is accelerating in cyberspace and international law isn’t configured to tackle the challenge. He raised examples of cyber-attacks affecting Iran, Ukraine, and the WannaCry malware attack that scrambled 200,000 computers, including some in the British health service.   The laws of armed conflict   Firstly, ICRC is the guardian of international humanitarian law and its representative at the event argued firmly that the law of armed conflict already governs cyber operations. As an example, ICRC’s Philip Spoerri said attacks against essential civilian infrastructure in wartime already constitute violations of international humanitarian law, unless the infrastructure is a military objective.   Carlo Bossoli/Wikimedia Commons The Battle of Solferino, a painting by Carlo Bossoli. Spoerri said there may be value in clarifying other parts of international law about actions that don’t meet the threshold of armed conflict, but noted that political appetite seemed lacking.     Other international law   While telling the story of the laws of armed conflict as a scene-setter, Smith’s proposals also appeared to cover the less well-defined area of international law in peacetime.   Hacking and sabotage may not count as acts of war, but equally they “do not occur in a legal vacuum”, according to a major study. “States have both rights and bear obligations under international law”, according to the Tallinn Manual, updated in February. This NATO-supported review interpreted existing international law as already being applicable and came up with 154 “rules” that can apply to cyber operations in peace or war.   The field is nevertheless politically charged. Issues around attributing the source of attacks, defining the threshold for what constitutes an “armed attack”, and the right to self-defence and countermeasures, once opened for debate, have be[...]



South Sudan needs bold alternatives, not this dumpster fire of failed interventions

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 11:03:17 +0000

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, did not mince her words. "We are not waiting anymore. We need to see a change,” she announced after meeting South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on a visit to Juba last month. “We have lost trust in the government."   Haley has steadily escalated her rhetoric against Kiir throughout the first year of President Donald Trump’s administration. However, this rhetoric still awaits a clear policy, while the international community is continuing to back a failed power-sharing agreement instead of seeking bold alternatives to end the war.   As I wrote here a year ago, South Sudan’s collapse is a product of its winner-take-all political competition in a country that is, fundamentally, a stateless union of ethnopolitical blocs.    The volatile combustion that this radical experiment produced continues to erupt and spill over, with estimates of 100,000 killed, and 6.2 million – more than half the population – in need of aid.   Fragmentation   The downward spiral of political dissolution continues. Kiir’s own political coalition continues to shrink. The rebels lack ammunition, let alone enough guns. Government soldiers go unpaid. Fighters from both groups regularly desert to Uganda for food.    Both sides of the conflict are now more focused on internal fighting than the wider war. In Kajo Keji, in southern Equatoria, two competing opposition forces under rebel leaders Riek Machar and Thomas Cirillo Swaka recently clashed for days in a bitter turf war until the government seized the opportunity and routed both groups.    Along the Uganda border, I met yet another wave of fleeing refugees as local elders described their failed attempts to mediate between the two rebel camps.   Meanwhile, Kiir’s Dinka power base is cracking along clan lines, as evidenced in the standoff with his former army chief Paul Malong Awan, whom Kiir arrested and put under house arrest in Juba.    It has escalated into an especially bitter feud between Kiir’s Warrap and the neighbouring Dinka communities of Malong’s Aweil, which supplied the bulk of Kiir’s fighting force for the war against Machar’s rebel SPLA-IO since 2014.    In private, senior Juba officials readily admit the severity of the dispute, with one describing it as a “time bomb”.   No end is in sight to South Sudan’s misery. The deadly fighting season, when rains dry up, is fast approaching. Neighbouring countries must prepare for even more refugees.   South Sudan is politically insolvent and, if lives matter, too big to fail. If it were a bank, regulators would propose it be wound down or restructured. Since it is an African state, we prefer to keep piling it back up – each time with more and more debt of justice unpaid – and throw our hands in the air when it falls back apart.    Trump’s administration can rightly complain it was handed a lousy baton by former president Barack Obama, whose policy on South Sudan had collapsed. In the Obama administration’s final months, the country it midwived to independence in 2011 was declared at risk of genocide by the UN as hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed out of the country. There was no peace process. Albert González Farran/IRIN SPLA government soldiers advance in Malakal on 16 October 2016 Back to IGAD   However, the United States is directing its new diplomatic energy towards pressuring South Sudan into a new push to “revitalise” the Obama administration’s failed 2015 peace accord, based on the mediation of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development.    The decision to continue with the embrace of the collapsed IGAD power-sharing agreement is head-scratching, since South Sudan is one area where Trump’s proclivity for zigging wherever the Obama administration zagged is clearly a timely correction.   The last attempt to impose this peace [...]



Aid reform in the Pacific held up by power, purse strings, and trust

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 03:15:41 +0000

Furious winds shredded entire villages, stripping off roofs and walls, flinging debris through the air, and burying people under the rubble. It was the 20th of February 2016 and Fiji was on its knees. When all was said and done, Cyclone Winston had crashed through half the population and churned up $1 billion in damages. As the extent of the destruction from the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere became clear, the head of the Fiji Red Cross, Filipe Nainoca, ran through an enormous list of tasks: shelter, water systems, logistics – all of it on an unfathomable scale. He knew the Red Cross, his country even, couldn’t do it alone. “None of us – none of us in Fiji – had ever experienced it before,” Nainoca recalled in an interview with IRIN. “We all needed help. Everybody.”  But Nainoca also had something else on his mind. The international response a year earlier in neighbouring Vanuatu, after Cyclone Pam, had been completely overpowering. International aid agencies, donors, and the United Nations swept in, bringing their own systems and ways of doing things. For Pacific Islanders in the aid community, it was a watershed moment that shaped how subsequent disasters have been managed. When Cyclone Winston struck, Fiji’s government was determined not to let the same thing happen, Nainoca said. And so was he. Nainoca asked the Red Cross umbrella organisation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, for specific expertise. But the foreign aid workers, he cautioned, would have to integrate with his team, not run it. “I made sure that we stayed in control of our response,” he said. Nainoca has a clearly articulated vision of what “localisation” – the aid sector’s latest buzzword for overhauling humanitarian aid – means to him. “It’s our local plan; not a plan that is designed for us.” The debate over locally driven aid takes on added urgency in the Pacific Islands, a region lashed by cyclones, floods, and frequent drought. Rooted in the belief that locals know best what their communities need, “localisation” aims to empower them – whether it be indigenous peoples, community organisations, local NGOs, municipal authorities, or national governments – to lead responses to crises on their own turf. But when it comes to localising aid, the international community has been slow to loosen its own grip on power. ‘Our way’ There’s a particular way disaster response is supposed to work. When a disaster strikes, the government assesses the damage and, if necessary, asks the aid community for support. International agencies are expected to fall in line under a nationally led response. "It means giving up power. It means moving resources" Loti Yates, who leads disaster management for the Solomon Islands government, told IRIN how he sees it: “Whoever comes in will have to work within our context, not the [other] countries working within their [own] context.” But the reality is often far more tangled. When Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu, it also brought in a torrent of NGOs, surge staff, and the aid sector’s labyrinthine coordination system. Some new arrivals had minimal experience working in the Pacific region, let alone Vanuatu. In interviews with IRIN, multiple people from NGOs, governments, and the UN described a response that was overwhelmed and effectively taken over by international staff – to the chagrin of national authorities in Vanuatu, and the anxiety of other Pacific Island nations. “The Cyclone Pam response suggests that despite all of the rhetoric in recent years about the need to ‘localise the humanitarian response’, when we are presented with an opportunity to do this, we struggle to step back and not have things done our way,” a review of the relief efforts by four prominent NGOs concluded. Vlad Sokhin/UNICEF [...]



Yemen “starvation” warnings as Saudi Arabia shuts borders

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 14:13:10 +0000

  Aid agencies are ringing loud alarm bells after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition closed Yemen’s land borders, sea ports, and airspace, warning of the extreme dangers of cutting off access and assistance to a country already on the verge of famine.   The UN’s top relief official Mark Lowcock told reporters on Wednesday that if the new restrictions – now in place for three days – were not lifted, Yemen faces “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades”.   On the same day, 18 major NGOs said in a joint statement that “the humanitarian situation is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel, and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death”.   The Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced on Monday that it was closing all routes into Yemen, two days after a missile was fired by Houthi rebels towards the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The missile was intercepted, but the coalition said it was sealing off the country to “address vulnerabilities” in inspection procedures that had allowed Houthi rebels to obtain missiles like the one aimed at Riyadh, as well as other military equipment.   The coalition is fighting alongside forces loyal to internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi to oust Houthi rebels and forces allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.   The impact of the war has been drastic: The breakdown in Yemen’s health system and sanitation facilities contributed to a cholera epidemic that has killed 2,196 people and infected close to a million since April. The UN counts 5,353 civilian deaths related directly to the war and 8,912 injuries since March 2015 – the real numbers are believed to be much higher. Malak Shaher/MSF Yemen could see a resurgence of cholera if aid remains blocked The coalition’s statement said it would take into consideration the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies and crews, but aid agencies said flights and aid shipments had already been stopped. In some areas, the impact can already be seen on the ground, with fuel and gas prices in Sana’a reportedly soaring.   The International Committee of the Red Cross said a shipment of its chlorine tablets – necessary for fighting cholera – had been denied entry. It is also expecting 50,000 vials of insulin by next week, and ICRC Regional Director for the Near and Middle East Robert Mardini said the medical aid couldn’t wait at a shuttered border as it must be kept refrigerated.   “Without a quick solution to the closure, the humanitarian consequences will be dire,” Mardini said in a written statement.   Médecins Sans Frontières recently reduced its involvement in the cholera response following a decrease in suspected cases, but Justin Armstrong, head of MSF’s mission in Yemen, told IRIN that if the restrictions are not lifted soon there’s “a very valid concern” that the outbreak could worsen again.   Armstrong pointed out that a large proportion of Yemen’s population relies on trucked water for safe drinking, but distribution may be limited with the run on fuel and increase in prices. “If people take greater risks in terms of how they get their water, this could lead to a resurgence of cholera,” he told IRIN.   Lack of food   Getting aid and commercial imports into Yemen was a challenge before this shutdown , and throughout the war rights groups have repeatedly accused the Saudi-led coalition of delaying and diverting aid into the country. The Houthis have also been accused of confiscating aid and limiting humanitarian access, especially in the besieged city of Taiz.  The country’s main port, Hodeidah, has long been operating at low capacity due to airstrikes knocking out four of its five functioning cranes in August 2015. [...]



Libyan migrant “prisons”, climate change inequality, and evidence-based aid: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 18:11:25 +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:   UN bracing for 40,000 Cameroonians fleeing to Nigeria   Thousands of Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria following mounting political violence in the anglophone west of the country, UNHCR warned this week. The UN refugee agency said so far 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria. “Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch warned on Tuesday. Cameroon's anglophone regions have seen boycotts and demonstrations over the past year as tensions have mounted over what the country's English-speakers see as discrimination against them in favour of the majority French-speaking population. Some protesters are demanding greater autonomy under a federal system, while others want outright secession. The government has responded with an increasingly bloody crackdown. Last month, at least eight people were reportedly shot dead by soldiers. Check out IRIN’s timeline of the unfolding crisis.   What’s the score?   Which emergency aid programmes actually work? It's a reasonable question... with fewer straight answers than you might think. For example: "psychological first aid" for traumatised Rohingya refugees: it may sound like an appealing concept, but does it actually work? Is there any science behind it? (Spoiler alert: not much, as this video explains). From 6-12 November, a series of debates, lectures, launches, and training sessions are due to "promote a more evidence-based approach to humanitarian aid". Humanitarian Evidence Week is put on by UK-based NGO Evidence Aid and involves a range of some 20 institutions. A set of recent reviews by Oxfam and Tufts University have brought a new level of rigour to topics as diverse as food aid for pastoralists or water supply in epidemics, but there's still a long way to go. Swathes of humanitarian action are not well measured. According to a blog posted by Geneva-based Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection, the sector seems to some like a football team that doesn't keep score.   The inequality of climate displacement   Staying loosely with the subject of evidence, experts have long been aware of the links between climate change and migration, even if they’ve struggled to bring this crucial topic to the forefront of policy discussions. Establishing clear and quantitative causal links is tricky because although climate change is known to increase the frequency and severity of weather shocks over the long term, it’s not possible to attribute specific droughts, floods, and storms to climate change. Still, available data is worrying: since the 1970s, the amount of human displacement due to natural disasters has doubled. And, according to research published this week by Oxfam, the risks are spread extremely unequally and borne disproportionately by those least responsible for climate change: “between 2008 and 2016, people in low- and lower-middle-income countries were around five times more likely than people in high-income countries to be displaced by sudden-onset extreme weather disasters.” With world leaders poised to gather in Bonn for COP 23, Oxfam stressed that reductions in global climate emissions must be made far more rapidly and called on rich countries to step up their adaptation support for poorer ones.   … meanwhile, in North Korea   In the latest sign that international tensions and sanctions are putting the squeeze on aid groups trying to operate in North Korea, the Red Cross has slashed its budget for emergency response there, citing [...]



New Sahel anti-terror force: risks and opportunities

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 17:14:24 +0000

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are teaming up to take on Islamist militants with the launch of a the 5,000-strong "FC-G5S" force in the restive Sahel. But are more boots on the ground the answer? UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, which votes today on whether to fund the nascent multinational military force, that supporting it was “an opportunity that cannot be missed” and that failing to back it would carry serious risks for a region where insecurity has become “extremely worrying”. The Security Council “welcomed the deployment” of the force in a resolution adopted in June, but put off a decision about financing. The resolution's wording was the subject of a prolonged tussle between France – the G5 force’s main proponent – and the United States, which didn’t believe a resolution was necessary, sees the force’s mandate as too broad, and, as the world body’s biggest contributor, isn’t convinced the UN should bankroll it. On Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Washington wants to know “what the strategy would be, how they see this playing out, what’s involved in it, before we ever commit to UN-assessed funding”.  France has been working hard to win over the United States. On a visit to Washington last week, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said the former colonial power had no desire to become the “Praetorian Guard of sovereign African countries”. Existing forces In 2013 and 2014, France’s Operation Serval drove back militants in Mali’s northern desert from some of the towns and other sanctuaries they had taken. With attacks nevertheless continuing and having spread beyond Mali’s borders, 4,000 French troops are currently deployed under the banner of Operation Barkhane across all the G5 states. Mali is also home to the 14,000-strong MINUSMA force, one of the UN’s most expensive peacekeeping missions. It has come under frequent attack by militant groups such as the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qaeda-linked coalition forged last March. Some 86 blue helmets have been killed in militant attacks since MINUSMA was established in July 2013.   Meanwhile, efforts by civil society groups to negotiate with some jihadist groups have come to nought, while parties to a 2015 peace agreement between Mali’s government and two coalitions of domestic armed groups – a deal that excluded the jihadists – are embroiled in violent divisions among themselves. Some of these domestic groups are also responsible for attacks against the state.  These divisions have dimmed hopes of forging any kind of common front against the jihadists, and even of properly implementing the 2015 accord. The government’s failure to address widespread political and economic grievance further undermines its position. Sylvain Liechti/UN Photo The MINUSMA Camp in Kidal was targeted by intensive rocket and mortar fire Humanitarian fallout All this insecurity comes at a high price for Mali’s civilians. At the end of the 2016-17 academic year, 500 schools were closed, up from 296 the previous year, while the numbers of refugees and internally displaced reached a record 140,000 and 55,000 respectively. Acute malnutrition among children under five has reached “critical levels” in conflict-affected areas around Timbuktu and Gao, according to UNICEF. The agency predicts that 165,000 children across the country will be acutely malnourished next year. “Repeated criminal acts” prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend its operations in the northern Kidal region in mid-October. Funding concerns The primary mandate of the G5 force will be to secure the bloc’s common borders and fight “terrorist” and crim[...]



Donor club set to snub Britain on Caribbean "aid"

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 13:07:15 +0000

A British demand to use aid money to repair hurricane damage to its semi-autonomous territories in the Caribbean looks set to be blocked. Donor countries meeting today in Paris to hammer out new rules on international aid will not agree the proposals, but may consider them later, according to multiple sources. The British want spending to help Anguilla, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British Virgin Islands to come from its aid budget. This could then count towards the 0.7 percent of gross national income target set by UK law. Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel argued that hurricanes Maria and Irma justified a waiver: “this unprecedented event shows the need to consider how the impact of a natural disaster on a territory should lead to a change in how that territory [is] defined in ODA terms.”   Britain needs other major donor countries to agree by consensus any change to what counts as aid, or Official Development Assistance (ODA). Britain uses definitions agreed at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and cannot change them unilaterally. Spending in middle- and low-income countries can count as ODA. However, the three Caribbean territories Patel mentioned fall in the high-income category, so any assistance sent to them cannot be accounted for as part of the global $146 billion annual ODA spend. The details get thrashed out in the OECD’s 30-member Development Assistance Committee (DAC), whose annual high-level meeting opened today. Update 1 November: Communique from the meeting London faces large bills in repairing damage from the hurricanes and already deployed relief and military clean-up teams. The shock to the islands might in time drive them temporarily into middle-income status, but the statistics will take years to show the change, so the British argue that getting them back on their feet should count as ODA. Some high-income small island states such as Barbados also support an ODA rule change due to their vulnerability.   The measure was never likely to pass immediately, given the slow pace of decision-making at the OECD, and the UK’s failure to pick up support in the key donor club before this week’s meeting, several sources said. DAC members may feel "uncomfortable", and that it's "premature" to "improvise" ODA eligibility rules at such short notice, according to Julie Seghers, OECD advocacy officer with Oxfam. Another analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, said pressure from the British populist press drove Patel’s ill-judged negotiating strategy.   Observers say the proposal is now likely to be rolled into a broader discussion (and possibly return to the agenda at next year’s meeting) about how disasters and economic shocks can cause setbacks to higher-income countries that are ineligible for aid.   Aid “diluted”   It's a "difficult time” for the defenders of aid, said Seghers, alluding to the pressure donor agencies are under, for example to use aid budgets to meet political priorities about migration and security.   Amy Dodd, director of the lobby group UK Aid Network, told IRIN the DAC has a key role to hold the line on "what you count and how you count it" and to ensure a level playing field amongst donors. The DAC is "fundamentally an accounting exercise", she said, describing it as "inherently political but quite technical".   Overall, there's a "risk of ODA being diluted" away from core poverty reduction and sustainable development, Seghers warned, adding that DAC members ought to be the "custodians" of a principled approach, of keeping "clear boundaries" on what should and should not count as aid.   Even before dealing with the British waiver concept, DAC members were at least "keen to move ahead" with "clearer rules" on other outstanding issues, Se[...]