Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
ICC arrest warrant for Putin for alleged Ukrainian war crimes
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, his children's rights’ commissioner, for their suspected involvement in the alleged illegal deportation of Ukrainian children. There were “reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children”, pre-trial judges wrote. Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute and therefore does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC, so it is unlikely that Putin or Lvova-Belova will be arrested or extradited. News of the arrest warrants came the day after the UN-backed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine released a report accusing Russian forces of potential crimes against humanity, including the targeting of civilian infrastructure and the “systematic and widespread use of torture” in regions under their control.
Malawi hammered by Cyclone Freddy
The death toll in Malawi from Cyclone Freddy has risen to 326 people, taking the total number killed across southern Africa to more than 400 since February. The powerful cyclone tore through southern Malawi early on 13 March, the second time in a month, with torrential rains washing away homes, roads, and farmers’ fields. Malawi’s rescue services – assisted by the army and private volunteers – are searching for survivors but more often retrieving bodies buried in the mud or under boulders swept down from the hillsides. Close to 90,000 people have been displaced and the government has declared a state of disaster in 10 southern districts. Struggling farmers have lost their crops ahead of next month’s harvest, and an existing cholera outbreak is set to worsen. Freddy – likely to be the longest storm on record – first struck Madagascar and Mozambique last month before touching down in landlocked Malawi. It then moved back out over the Indian Ocean, gathered strength from a warming ocean, and made a rare course reversal to slam back into Madagascar and the mainland. For more, read our story on the climate-smart solutions being tried in Malawi.
Iran-Saudi deal puts spotlight on Yemen’s war
As part of its China-brokered deal to re-establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran has agreed to stop arming Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Wall Street Journal has reported. Officially, Tehran denies arming the rebels, who have been fighting forces aligned with Yemen’s internationally recognised government – including a Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led coalition – for eight years. Regardless of the report’s veracity, the deal between the regional rivals has put a renewed focus on efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, which many have portrayed as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It’s actually far more complicated than that: The violence is rooted in real grievances, and complex political and military alliances are also at play at a much more local level. Powerful Yemeni groups – all vying for a spot in the country’s future – have often been left out of official peace talks. Still, as analysts try to parse what the new Iran-Saudi deal means for stability in the Middle East (or for Beijing’s role as a diplomatic power player), at least some of the focus is on what it means for Yemen. Watch this short film to find out more on what Yemenis want from peace.
ICRC funding woes fuel internal debate, fears of operational cuts
The International Committee of the Red Cross is debating cuts that could amount to 15% of its budget in frontline emergencies this year, citing extensive funding shortfalls, according to an internal message that has triggered a staff backlash and warnings of direct impacts to people in crises. The ICRC is projecting funding shortfalls of up to 25%, just weeks after approving and launching a 2023 budget for 2.8 billion Swiss francs ($3.02 billion) – its largest ever. In an organisation-wide letter seen by The New Humanitarian, Director-General Robert Mardini said the ICRC would target 400 million CHF in “field budget reductions” out of 2.5 billion currently earmarked for field operations, as well as a longer-term “strategic review” – which could see the global organisation re-examine its reach and focus. “There is no sugar-coating the fact that this year will be difficult,” Mardini said. The 7 March message has been met with outrage from a growing number of ICRC staff. An open letter signed by at least 2,400 people – roughly a tenth of the ICRC’s workforce – questioned leadership’s fiscal management, called for an external audit, and warned against top-down cuts. ICRC employees, the letter states, ”are disappointed, disillusioned, and angry”. The ICRC says the shortfalls, reflected across the aid sector, are driven by tight aid budgets, soaring needs, and rising inflation and costs magnified by the conflict in Ukraine. In a statement, an ICRC spokesperson said the organisation is “looking at how we could lower our costs”, but no decisions on reducing budgets have been taken. Mardini, meanwhile, has been making the rounds, urging donors near and far from Geneva HQ to maintain funding. The ICRC says its current shortages are unprecedented, but it has faced frequent budget woes in recent years.
Deadlier outbreaks a warning for how humanitarians respond to cholera
Why are cholera outbreaks and deaths rising, despite a years-long push to improve responses? An analysis from UK-based Humanitarian Outcomes tries to unpack a complicated problem from an emergency response perspective. Cholera is a deadly yet treatable disease driven by a mix of conflict, violence, poverty (and now supercharged by climate change). The number of countries reporting outbreaks has spiked over the last two years – including those facing overlapping crises like Haiti, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Syria. The rise in cases isn’t unprecedented – what’s most troubling is that outbreaks appear to be more deadly, the report’s authors write: “A rise in fatality rates from a disease that experts agree nobody should die from raises questions as to the quality of the response.” The authors look at a range of factors – from skills and knowledge shortfalls in ground-level responses, poor coordination, and “passing the buck” between the two UN agencies that lead global WASH clusters (water, sanitation, and hygiene); to poor collaboration between the development and humanitarian worlds. Health authorities, meanwhile, have been rationing the oral cholera vaccine since October, but there’s no short-term solution at hand for the shortages.
Russia agrees shorter grain deal extension
Russia has agreed to extend the Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine, but for only 60 days rather than the 120 days of the original agreement. The UN-brokered 2022 deal, due to expire on 18 March, enables the safe shipment of grain from Ukraine’s blockaded ports to boost global supply and stabilise prices. The agreement had rolled over in November without a hitch, but Russia has since argued that “the second part of the deal” – the easing of restrictions on its own agricultural and fertiliser exports – has not been met. Consultations are continuing, the UN said. So far, 24 million tonnes of grain have been exported through the initiative. But the International Rescue Committee noted that only 10% has gone to five countries most in need – with China and Spain instead the largest recipients. It has called on the UN to broker a 12-month deal to help ease global hunger, pointing out that food price inflation is at 40% in countries most at risk of “humanitarian catastrophe” – double the rate of the rest of the world.
MSF criticises lacklustre DR Congo aid effort
More than 600,000 people have been displaced since the M23 rebel group re-emerged in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in late 2021. But the humanitarian response has been cumbersome and poorly coordinated, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. The medical charity said aid groups are concentrating their efforts on Goma – the capital of North Kivu province, where the conflict is happening – while displaced people in remote areas are left with little. The EU released $47 million in aid earlier this month in response to the conflict, but MSF’s DRC coordinator described the intervention as “embarrassing” and “very late”. There’s been no lack of regional diplomatic efforts over the past year, but a string of ceasefire deals have failed to end the fighting. Angolan troops are now set to enter the fray, joining an existing East African military intervention that has been tasked with overseeing an M23 withdrawal. To better understand the conflict’s impact on civilians, scroll through the powerful photo essay we just published from Goma-based Congolese photographer Arlette Bashizi.
In case you missed it
ARGENTINA: The Argentine Statistics Office reported that yearly inflation reached 102.5% in February, a record high since 1991. Prices of food and drink were most affected, increasing 9.8% between January and February alone. After a year of below average wheat production due to sustained drought, this inflationary peak threatens to further increase already high levels of hunger in the region’s top food exporter. Read our recent story for more.
BANGLADESH: Myanmar junta officials arrived in Bangladesh to interview Rohingya refugees as part of a pilot repatriation effort. The move to repatriate as many as 1,100 Rohingya has drawn criticism from activists, as well as from the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR). They say there’s no possibility for safe return as the regime’s brutal clearance operations have led to more than 1 million Rohingya fleeing the country in recent years.
HAITI: The UN’s special envoy has warned that the international community isn’t doing enough to tackle Haiti’s gang crisis. “We’re not getting the job done,” said Helen La Lime. A new report from the US Government Accountability Office, meanwhile, found that only half of the USAID’s projects were built following the 2010 earthquake. It is the latest report to scrutinise how billions of dollars in aid were spent (or not) after the earthquake that killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people.
HEALTH: Only 25% of senior health leadership positions belong to women, even though women form the vast majority of the frontline workforce, according to a new report from the advocacy group Women in Global Health. Women were particularly unrepresented on national COVID-19 task forces, which advocates say led to poorer responses.
ITALY/MALTA: Italian and Maltese authorities have again been accused of ignoring alarms over asylum seekers and migrants stranded on the Mediterranean. The latest incident, in which 30 people died in international waters near Malta on 11 March, follows the drowning of more than 80, including 33 children, weeks earlier. For more on how the search and rescue system in the Mediterranean is supposed to work (but doesn’t), check out our interactive explainer.
SAHEL: Conflicts in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have left 10 million children in need of humanitarian assistance, twice as many as in 2020, according to a new report by UNICEF. Children are being directly targeted by armed groups, and more than 8,000 schools have closed across the three Sahelian countries.
SYRIA: Twelve years into Syria’s war, a new report from Physicians for Human Rights documents how attacks on hospitals and health workers in the rebel-held northwest have put up increasing barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare, “resulting in far-reaching tolls on the health and wellbeing of women, girls, and healthcare professionals.”
TÜRKIYE: Heavy rainfall and flooding hit the southern Turkish provinces of Adiyaman and Sanliurfa, killing a reported 14 people with five more missing. The area was already hit by February’s earthquakes, and tents for survivors had to be evacuated.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: As many as 2,700 Afghan refugees have been “arbitrarily detained” in the UAE for 15 months, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Many have been kept in a cramped and heavily restricted camp – and denied a slew of basic services – while they await resettlement to the United States and other third countries.
For years, Yemen was routinely referred to in the aid sector and media write-ups as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. Not anymore. In terms of both numbers being targeted for humanitarian assistance and size of UN funding appeal, Afghanistan is now the largest single country crisis – a distinction worth making given the scale and complexity of need facing survivors of last month’s earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. If so, why isn’t the international aid sector wholeheartedly responding? This question hangs over this strongly worded op-ed from Alexander Matheou, IFRC’s regional director for Asia-Pacific. Confusion over how to address the Taliban’s repressive policies – particularly for women and girls – has translated into “low-key engagement” and “minimalist investment”, he argues. But how about moving away from this limited, humanitarian-centred approach and ploughing more funds into vital areas like youth training, job creation, and disaster preparedness. It may not all work, he says, but there is much that can be tried, beyond just taking a stand.
Oxfam has ruffled some right-wing feathers with the launch of its new Inclusive Language Guide. The 92-page document – based on feminist principles for language use – aims to embrace diversity, challenge power imbalances, and foster inclusion and belonging. In addition to preferred word choices – and phrases to avoid – it offers handy explanations too. For example, one that we at The New Humanitarian come across often: “vulnerable people”. This choice of words, the guide says, should be avoided, giving the explanation: “People are not vulnerable as such; they are in a vulnerable position. The vulnerability that they are experiencing is situational and does not define them.” But it’s all too much for some. The UK’s right-wing Daily Mail newspaper called it “Beyond Parody!” for referring in its foreword to English as the “language of a colonising nation”, and for daring to suggest the shunning of words like “headquarters” and “youth”.