Gaza ‘genocide’ warning, Ethiopia aid to resume, and Kenya’s Haiti mission: The Cheat Sheet
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
‘A genocide in the making’ in Gaza, UN experts warn
On 16 November, a group of UN experts said grave violations committed by Israel against Palestinians “point to a genocide in the making”, citing evidence of increased genocidal incitement and overt intent to “destroy the Palestinian people under occupation”. The situation for civilians on the ground, meanwhile, is increasingly dire. Fuel to run the trucks and forklifts needed to deliver aid in Gaza has run out. The enclave’s telecommunications network has collapsed. Only nine of 35 hospitals are partially functional; the rest have shut down. At last count, more than 11,000 people had been killed and more than 27,000 injured since Israel began bombarding the enclave more than six weeks ago. This came after Hamas, the Palestinian political and militant group that governs Gaza, launched an attack into Israel on 7 October that Israeli officials say killed 1,200 people, many of them civilians killed deliberately. Palestinian casualty figures have not been updated since 10 November, because the Gaza Health Ministry said it cannot communicate with key hospitals in the north of the enclave, which has been cut off from the south by an Israeli ground invasion. Nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes out of a population of around 2.3 million. Hundreds of thousands have fled the north along a corridor opened by the Israeli military to the south of Gaza, where shelters are overcrowded and disease is spreading because of a lack of water for sanitation. Israel is also intensifying its military activity in the south and dropping leaflets warning residents to leave their homes. The World Food Programme said on 16 November that civilians face an “immediate possibility of starvation” and that food and water supplies are “practically non-existent”. On 15 November, the UN Security Council backed a resolution calling for “extended humanitarian pauses” in the fighting in Gaza, falling short of growing global calls for a ceasefire. For more, watch this video below from Palestinian photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun, and check out his longer-running Snapshots series offering an ongoing look at the long-term situation in Gaza.
A step closer to Kenyan police deployment in Haiti
Kenya’s National Assembly approved the deployment of 1,000 police officers to help quell gang violence in Haiti. The decision, which is now expected to be ratified by the Senate, comes a month and a half after the UN Security Council authorised a Kenya-led Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to the Caribbean nation, where gangs control 80% of Port-au-Prince and large parts of the Artibonite department. But Kenyan President William Ruto’s pledge to send police to Haiti has struggled to gather support. Opposition politicians filed a lawsuit arguing that the deployment was unconstitutional, which led the high court to temporarily block the participation of Kenyan police in the mission. Before approving the deployment, lawmakers also had concerns and asked Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki to address seven key points, including establishing an insurance package for the officers deployed, making sure no taxpayers’ money would be used to finance the mission, and considering the possibility of reducing the number of officers sent to Haiti to 500 after some time. The public’s concerns range from fear for the officers’ safety to scepticism over sending police abroad while there are important security issues to tackle in the country. It is still unclear whether and when the force could be deployed, as the high court’s ruling is still pending; the hearing has now been pushed to 26 January 2024. For more on the multinational force set for Haiti, check out this story, where Haitians citizens affected by gang violence offer their views; this Q&A with human rights advocate Pierre Espérance; and this analysis of the risks of a new foreign intervention in Haiti.
US to re-start food distribution in Ethiopia
The United States will resume food aid in Ethiopia next month, after agreement with the government on reforms aimed at curbing an alleged campaign of coordinated and large-scale food thefts. USAID said in a statement that the new safeguards include improved oversight, commodity tracking, and registration processes for those receiving food. A food aid freeze, imposed on northern Tigray in March and then nationwide in June in the wake of the allegations, has led to significant hunger-related deaths. USAID said aid reforms, which will run on a trial basis for one year, will “ensure aid reaches those experiencing acute food insecurity”. Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme – which is overhauling its own distribution systems – is about to roll out aid to 3.2 million drought- and conflict-affected people in the Afar, Amhara, Somali, and Tigray regions. Once its new accountability systems are running, assistance will be expanded. An estimated 20 million people in Ethiopia are in need of food aid.
Good news for UK asylum seekers, but for how long?
The UK’s highest court has ruled that plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda are against the law. But that may not stop Rishi Sunak. The British prime minister has promised legislative changes to support the government’s plans of sending people who enter the country illegally to Rwanda. The government also wants asylum seekers to either seek refugee status in Rwanda or wait for another country besides the UK to offer them refuge. For all of that, the UK agreed to pay Rwanda £140 million – even though, technically (read our story about that here), no asylum seeker has been sent to the country yet, largely because of legal challenges. The UK Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that there was evidence asylum seekers could be at risk of being sent back to their home countries, where they may risk persecution – a process in law called “refoulement”. The government, meanwhile, said it wanted to stop people from arriving by “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods”, such as on small boats across the English Channel. Sunak says he is talking to Rwanda about protecting against such returns, but the real test for Sunak – and possibility of a major policy shift for asylum seekers in the UK – will be at the next general elections, expected by January 2025.
Mali army seizes rebel stronghold
Mali’s military junta has seized the northern stronghold of a major rebel movement that it has been fighting since August. The town of Kidal had been held by Tuareg armed groups for nearly a decade, but the rebels withdrew without a fight as the army and its Russian mercenary allies entered earlier this week. The conquest is a symbolic victory for the junta, which has garnered national support by vowing to expand state sovereignty and territorial control. Still, Tuareg fighters have promised to continue fighting, and the army may struggle to hold and administrate Kidal on a long-term basis. Though far from monolithic, Tuareg communities have been involved in several revolts since Mali’s independence in 1960. Fighters declared a breakaway northern state called Azawad in 2012, but then made peace with the government after an Algerian-led mediation. That peace agreement fell part, however, earlier this year, with tensions increasing amid the withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping mission. See our recent briefing for a full explainer.
More hunger in a warming world
Increased heatwaves and droughts caused by climate change meant 127 million more people suffered moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021 compared to annual figures between 1981 and 2010. That’s just one of the stark findings of the Lancet Countdown Report, which details the health impacts of a warming world. A day dedicated to discussing health is being held at the COP28 climate summit on 3 December, alongside events dedicated to ‘peace, relief and recovery’ on the same day. A declaration highlighting the gap between climate and conflict policies and finance is to be launched, as The New Humanitarian reported this week. The declaration will be accompanied by a “package of solutions” that are still being determined, with governments and multilateral agencies expected to announce their funding and other commitments to the declaration’s objectives. Overall funding to pay for adapting to a warming world remains very low compared to need, but on 16 November, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development announced that rich, highly polluting nations met the overdue promise to provide $100 million per year to lower-income countries for the first time in 2022.
In case you missed it
BRAZIL: The El Niño climate phenomenon caused a record-breaking heatwave that prompted red alerts in various parts of the country. Temperatures reached more than 40 degrees Celsius in some cities, and caused power outages in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Earlier this year, Europe’s hottest summer on record was tied to the deaths of 62,000 people.
GABON: The military junta that deposed president Ali Bongo in August has committed to hold elections in 2025. Bongo had held power since 2009, after succeeding his late father, who had ruled from 1967.
SOMALIA: The World Food Programme has warned that Somalia faces a dire food crisis following flooding across East Africa that killed dozens and displaced over 700,000. With authorities struggling to provide relief, the UN agency says the floods, coming after a devastating two-year drought, could leave 4.3 million Somalis facing “crisis-level hunger or worse”. The organisation says a $378 million funding gap has left it able to feed less than half of those in most need.
SUDAN: The risk of genocide is “grimly high” in the Darfur region, the UN’s special adviser on genocide prevention, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, said this week. Nderitu’s comments come after the RSF and aligned militia forces attacked ethnic Masalit civilians in West Darfur’s Ardamata town earlier this month. More than 800 people were reportedly killed in the attack.
SYRIA: French judges have issued arrest warrants for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two other officials over alleged complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes related to the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta in 2013 and Douma in 2018, killing over 1,000 people. In addition to the Syrian Armed Forces, Islamist militias and Turkish forces have also faced accusations of possessing or using chemical weapons during Syria’s more than decade-long civil war.
While Israeli military operations in Gaza continue, and the civilian death toll climbs ever higher, it’s hard to think too far ahead to what comes next. But overarching questions around ending Israel's occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state remain as imperative as ever. For some guidance on what the Hamas attack on 7 October and Israel’s ensuing bombardment, siege, and ground invasion might mean in the longer-term and where events might lead, we turned to Yezid Sayigh, a Palestinian academic who was an adviser and negotiator to peace talks with Israel from 1991 to 1994. There is “no alternative” to a two-state solution, he told The New Humanitarian’s Special Coverage Editor Eric Reidy. But is it still possible? Read the Q&A to find out Sayigh's answer to this and other critical questions.
Why loneliness is on the global health agenda
Loneliness is a health threat. Now, there’s a new body aimed at tackling a risk that experts say is on par with smoking, excessive alcohol, and air pollution. The World Health Organization has launched a “commission on social connection”, stacked with a robustly social group of 11 commissioners from the US to Vanuatu. Google’s chief health officer is on board, as is Ayuko Kato, Japan’s minister for loneliness and isolation. The problem isn’t exclusive to older people in rich countries: The WHO says the rates of “social isolation” are similar across regions, while between 5% and 15% of teens face loneliness worldwide. “Social isolation can affect anyone, of any age, anywhere,” said Chido Mpemba, the youth envoy for the African Union Commission. The new anti-loneliness body will meet in December; it aims to publish a report on fostering social connections within a couple of years.