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IRIN - Yemen


UN whistleblowing, Rohingya voice recorders, and Yemen cholera fears: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 17:26:03 +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:   Yemen cholera warning   It has been on the decline for more than 20 weeks now, after hitting more than one million suspected cases and 2,259 deaths, but the World Health Organisation warned this week that Yemen’s cholera epidemic may see a resurgence as rains are expected in April and August. That’s a terrifying prospect for many Yemenis, whose healthcare system is still in tatters. A well-placed source explained to IRIN that while it’s difficult to make solid weather predictions more than a few weeks out, we do know that the second wave of an outbreak is usually less severe than the first (immunity helps), and that it tends to strike worst in the same areas that were hardest hit before. Displacement – a common theme in Yemen’s war – is a large part of the problem, as civilians fleeing violence often end up in camps with poor sanitation, increasing their risk of contracting a disease that should be easy to treat.   UN thaws out its Afghan refugee programme   After a three-month winter break, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is restarting a programme that helps Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan. But it comes as Pakistan’s latest deadline to oust Afghan refugees – the end of March – quickly approaches. Pakistan has long been home to Afghans fleeing war and violence in their homeland. But the Pakistani government has repeatedly warned that time is running out for the more than 1.3 million registered refugees still in the country – and at least 600,000 other undocumented Afghans. The potential for more mass returns is a major fear for the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan: more than half a million people have been displaced by conflict since last January, while the violence has also made it harder for aid groups to access people in need. More than 120,000 of last year’s displaced now live in a single province, Nangarhar, where civilians have been caught in the crossfire among a plethora of combatants, including fighters linked to the so-called Islamic State group, Taliban militants, the Afghan government and US forces. Any mass refugee returns from Pakistan will add to an already dire situation on the ground. UNHCR data shows that Nangarhar is the second-most likely destination among Afghan returnees after the capital, Kabul. But while the aid sector waits to see whether Pakistan will again extend its refugee deadline, large numbers of Afghans are already returning home from elsewhere: the IOM says 88,000 undocumented Afghans have already returned from Iran this year alone.   Read more: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis   Blowing in the wind   More than half of UN core staff wouldn’t feel safe blowing the whistle on misconduct, according to a new internal survey. Despite high levels of pride in the institution, over a third also think the organisation doesn’t hold staff accountable for their actions. Results of the questionnaire, in which 39 percent of staff (more than 14,000 people) participated, were circulated on 1 March and obtained by IRIN.   In a covering email to all staff, UN chief António Guterres said the findings on ethical conduct and accountability required “closer scrutiny”. Explicit protection for whistleblowers at the UN has been policy for over a decade, and a 2005 rule was reinforced last year. Given the recent wave of abuse and exploitation cases emerging across the aid sector, the finding might not instill confidence in misconduct being exposed. However, no benchmark was given to compare the result with other employers. Overall, 27 percent said they weren’t “confident that staff will be protected from retaliation for reporting misconduct or cooperating with audit or investigation”, while 28 percent were neutral on the question. Guterres welcomed results that showed good levels of pride and “engagement”, with 88 percent of respondents saying they were [...]

Suffering Syrians, trapped Venezuelans, and a Ugandan refugee swindle: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 18:29:19 +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:   From bad to worse in Syria’s de-escalation zones   Late last month, IRIN analyst Aron Lund warned of the beginning of a new wave of displacement in northwestern Syria thanks to dual offensives by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey. But since then it’s been “going from bad to worse” in rebel-held Idlib, warns Save the Children, telling how a displacement camp has been bombed, leaving terrified people with nowhere safe to go. And in the nearby Kurdish enclave of Afrin, tens of thousands more people have been displaced since 20 January alone. In besieged Eastern Ghouta, which like Idlib was designated as a “de-escalation zone” in a deal hatched last May in Astana, hundreds of children are said to be in urgent need of medical evacuation, food prices are soaring, and monitors and opposition activists say 200 civilians have been killed in four days of government airstrikes. What is left for civilians in the Astana deal that was supposed to wind down years of horrific violence in Syria? The head of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria said this week that the recent violence had made a “mockery of the de-escalation zones”. The Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, went further, declaring: “humanitarian diplomacy is failing”.   No exit: Venezuela’s neighbours close the door   Our never-cheery New Year listicle of humanitarian crises to watch out for warned that regional hospitality could soon wear thin as Venezuela’s neighbours felt the strain of more than a million newcomers. Fast forward less than six weeks and events have already overshot our gloomiest predictions. On a visit Thursday to Cúcuta, where hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans take their first steps on Colombian soil, President Juan Manuel Santos announced a raft of tough new measures: temporary permits allowing Venezuelans to cross over and return at will for vital trade, food, and medicines would be scrapped; those already in Colombia would have 90 days to register with officials before becoming “illegal”. At roughly the same time, 1,500 kilometres to the southeast, in the first town through the Brazilian escape route, Boa Vista, Defence Minister Raul Jungmann closed the door a little further: more troops would be deployed to the border; Venezuelans in the frontier region would be relocated to Brazil’s interior. Meanwhile, the extent of the humanitarian crisis brewing inside Venezuela, where malnutrition and diseases like malaria are reportedly on the rise, is getting harder to ascertain. Journalists are finding it harder to report on sensitive issues as President Nicolás Maduro becomes increasingly authoritarian ahead of snap April elections. With the International Monetary Fund predicting 13,000% inflation this year and the fallout from the election still ahead, these may soon be seen as the good times. In his comments in Cúcuta, Santos laid the blame squarely at Maduro’s door and challenged him to start accepting international humanitarian aid. Watch this space.   Inflated numbers: Ugandan refugee record tarnished   The Ugandan government has suspended five senior officials for allegedly inflating refugee figures to swindle donor funds. But the scandal could yet be worse, with additional allegations that refugee women in the north of the country have been trafficked back into South Sudan and sold as “wives”. Apollo Kazungu, Uganda’s commissioner for refugees, and members of his staff have been accused of colluding with officials from the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme to fiddle the numbers. Millions of dollars in aid are believed to have been lost as a result, the Guardian reported. The EU, which provides funding to the two agencies, is investigating the charges. Uganda claims to house 1.4 million refugees, a million of [...]

Yemen PR wars: Saudi Arabia employs UK/US firms to push multi-billion dollar aid plan

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 14:09:06 +0000

Saudi Arabia has recruited an array of foreign consultants and public relations firms to draw up and promote its new multi-billion dollar aid plan for Yemen, one that could reduce imports of vital goods into a key rebel-held port, an IRIN investigation reveals.   Critics say the extent of the PR campaign betrays the kingdom’s determination to win the propaganda battle after nearly three years of conflict marked by high civilian casualties, widespread food and fuel shortages, a record cholera epidemic, and fear of famine.   Late last month, Saudi Arabia and its allies announced a new operation that commits billions of dollars “to relieve suffering” in Yemen, which is in the midst of what is often termed the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.   The plan, known as Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations, or YCHO for short, promises $1.5 billion in “new humanitarian funding for distribution across UN agencies and international relief organisations”, plus the setting up of “safe passage corridors” to deliver relief, improved capacity at coalition-controlled ports, and regular flights of humanitarian aid to coalition-controlled Marib. It also includes the $2 billion Saudi Arabia recently said it would deposit in Yemen’s Central Bank to shore up a flagging currency.   But the plan rejects calls by the UN to lift an on-off blockade of Hodeidah port, a vital lifeline for civilians in the rebel-held north: it proposes reducing the overall flow of cargo into the city and stepping up imports into coalition-controlled areas.   Exact details of how (and if) the plan is intended to help hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Yemeni civilians – especially in rebel-controlled areas – are not yet clear. However, IRIN can reveal the lengths Riyadh has gone to in preparing and promoting it.     The press release journalists received announcing the plan came neither from the coalition itself nor from Saudi aid officials. It came, along with an invitation to visit Yemen, straight from a British PR agency.   UK- and US-based consultants and PR firms, including US defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, were also involved in helping to write and promote YCHO, which is tagged as “counter-terrorism” on a website funded by the kingdom’s US embassy. A screenshot of Saudi government-funded website Arabia Now All of this has fed suspicions that rather than a genuine attempt to help the people of Yemen, the plan is really intended more to gloss over the Hodeidah issue and improve Saudi Arabia’s battered image, or at least a bit of both.   From PowerPoint to press release   Two high-placed sources in the UN told IRIN they first learned the particulars of YCHO in a PowerPoint presentation – at the time a “work in progress”, according to one of the sources.   A PDF of the presentation, obtained exclusively by IRIN and marked “confidential for discussion”, lists one “Nahas, Nicholas [USA]” as the author.   Nahas appears to be an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, which has 35 job listings in Riyadh on its website, including “military planner”, a role that requires the applicant to: “Provide military and planning advice and expertise to support the coordination of Joint counter threat operations executed by coalition member nations and facilitate resourcing to enable operations.”   IRIN tried emailing and calling Nahas, as well as several Booz Allen Hamilton spokespeople, but none replied. A switchboard operator at the company’s Abu Dhabi office said Nahas was not currently in.   Following the initial PowerPoint presentation (and, IRIN understands, high-level discussions with UN representatives, donors, and diplomats), press releases – including detailed maps and infographics – were sent to journalists by Pagefield Global Counsel, one of several successors to disgraced UK firm Bell Pottinger (Pagefield employs over 20 former Bell Pottinger staff).   IRIN tried to contact the Pagefield assoc[...]

UN calls for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Yemen as conditions in capital deteriorate

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 16:11:54 +0000

Conditions for civilians in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a are “deteriorating by the hour” after six days of violence, the International Committee for the Red Cross said Monday, as the United Nations called for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting.   The heavy fighting came as the UN, along with other relief agencies, Friday launched a humanitarian funding appeal for Yemen, seeking $2.5 billion for 2018 to meet the needs of 10.8 million Yemenis. The document, drafted before the latest events, said violence against civilians was already causing “unspeakable suffering.”   Monday saw a dramatic change in the more than two year conflict as former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who until several days ago had been allied with Houthi rebels, was reportedly killed, according to Houthi media. Unverified images and video circulated on social media of what appeared to be Saleh’s body with a severe head wound.   The increasingly uneasy Saleh-Houthi alliance has been fighting a Saudi Arabia-led coalition and forces loyal to internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015, but Saleh appeared to have switched sides in recent days, offering in a speech to talk with his former enemies.   But days of clashes that began before Saleh’s offer, in addition to airstrikes Riyadh said were to aid the former president against the Houthis, have reportedly left civilians trapped in their homes, unable to seek help, move to safer locations or get out to buy food and water. Most aid workers in the city are trapped too and unable to venture out.     The ICRC said in a statement that 125 people had been killed and 238 wounded in the latest round of violence, adding that “the targeting of our main medical warehouse by the fighting is hampering our work.” The ICRC is supporting medical teams in Sana’a’s hospitals.   Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, called for a six hour “humanitarian pause” on Tuesday, 5 December, “to allow civilians to leave their homes and seek assistance and protection and to facilitate the movement of aid workers.”   “The wounded must be afforded safe access to medical care,” he said in a Monday statement.   A humanitarian pause is different from a ceasefire: the UN’s emergency aid coordination body defines it as “a temporary cessation of hostilities purely for humanitarian purposes. Requiring the agreement of all relevant parties, it is usually for a defined period and specific geographic area where the humanitarian activities are to be carried out.”   There have been multiple calls for humanitarian pauses in Yemen’s war, with varying degrees of success. Aid workers said a May 2015 break in the fighting allowed for the distribution of some supplies but was not enough to make a real difference.   More than two years later, with more than 5,350 civilians (and counting) killed in violence, 2,223 Yemenis dead of cholera since April, and warnings of famine, the situation is much worse. The UN says Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe and while a coalition blockade on aid (ostensibly to prevent arms smuggling) has been eased, the majority of commercial ships are still not being allowed into the country’s Red Sea ports.   Given the massive scale of Yemen's humanitarian crisis, however, all this does is slow the collapse towards a massive humanitarian tragedy costing millions of lives. It does not prevent it,” said leaders of several UN agencies on Saturday. “Without the urgent resumption of commercial imports, especially food, fuel and medicines, millions of children, women and men risk mass hunger, disease and death.”   One international aid worker in Sana’a contacted by IRIN was sheltering in a strong room and said “it’s terrible” and “the game is changing for the worse... the longer the fighting lasts, the more severe and tragic the consequences.”   (TOP PHOTO: Treatment at a cho[...]

Iranian-made missiles, climate change refugees, and a volcano in Bali: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 15:04:26 +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:   Anxious wait for Bali volcano displaced   Authorities on the Indonesian island of Bali have evacuated more than 55,000 people around the vicinity of the rumbling Mount Agung volcano, which continues to disrupt lives in the tourist hotspot. Mount Agung began erupting on the 21st of November, spewing volcanic ash four kilometres into the air and forcing authorities to close nearby airports. The volcano last erupted in 1963, killing more than 1,000 people. While disaster management authorities say it’s difficult to predict what will happen, it’s likely that Bali residents will be living in uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead. The 1963 eruption stretched out over months, while Mount Sinabung volcano on Sumatra has spiked in and out of danger levels for years – several thousand evacuees have lived in displacement sites since 2015.   UN releases record-breaking humanitarian appeal for 2018   Misery remains buoyant. Next year, some 135.7 million people will be in life-threatening danger thanks to war and natural disasters. The UN's Global Humanitarian Overview for 2018 was released today, summarising critical situations and adding up the cost of projects required to help at least 90 million of them. Every year the UN coordinates a forecast of humanitarian operations and needs among dozens of aid agencies. The UN-led appeals include some NGOs, but not the Red Cross movement. Next year's price tag, if fully funded, would be $22.5 billion, one percent higher than projections at this point last year. In practice, the figure is aspirational: so far in 2017, UN fundraising has landed just 52 percent of its target. Speaking at the launch in Geneva, the top UN humanitarian official Mark Lowcock said the package of projects was the biggest-ever, but also that it was better designed and that donors could have "confidence in its needs assessment and credibility". IRIN will probe further in a sit-down interview with Lowcock. Look out for that next week!    The importance of UNVIM   If you’ve been following our coverage of Yemen of late, you’ll remember Houthi rebels fired a rocket at Riyadh in early November, prompting the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting the rebels to close Yemen’s key airports, borders, and ports to trade and aid. The coalition said the closures were necessary to prevent weapons smuggling from Iran, but it also brought millions of Yemenis ever closer to starvation. The blockade has since eased (although the UN and others say it has not let up enough to avert a humanitarian catastrophe); just in time for a UN panel of monitors to reportedly conclude that remnants of four Houthi ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia this year appear to have been made in Iran. Why isn’t there a UN force guarding against just this sort of thing? Well, actually, there is. It’s called the UN Verification and Inspections Mechanism, UNVIM for short, and how it works is more than a bit confusing. We’ve got you covered. Look out for our explainer next week on what it takes to get a commercial ship, the source of most of Yemen’s food, into the country.   Biya yesterday, today and tomorrow?   At the beginning of the year, the list of Africa’s longest serving leaders looked like this: Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola; Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe; Paul Biya of Cameroon; and Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo. Two of those men have since gone – Dos Santos stepped down in August (after 38 years) and Mugabe resigned last week (after 37), although the armoured vehicles outside his house had something to do with the decision. Guessing who might be next is a mug’s game. But Cameroon’s Paul Biya celebrated his 35th anniversary in a more subdued manner than usual, writes Kangsen Feka W[...]