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.
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 Wakai in the online journal Africa is a Country. Cameroon’s armed forces did not parade in front of him along Yaoundé’s Boulevard du 20 Mai. Instead, most of this year’s celebrations were led by ruling party officials imploring their militants to vote for Biya in next year’s elections under the slogan “Paul Biya yesterday, today and tomorrow”. But that’s a hard sell in Cameroon’s anglophone regions. Why? The region is simmering. Biya’s clampdown on anglophone militants demanding secession has triggered an armed uprising. Eight members of the security forces have been killed in the past few weeks, and the government claims that the rebels have sanctuary in neighbouring Nigeria. See IRIN’s earlier reporting, and look out for our upcoming story on the crisis.
New Zealand made headlines by proposing the world’s first humanitarian visa programme for so-called climate change refugees. But the proposal is hardly straightforward. Who would qualify in countries where climate change is just one of many factors that trigger displacement? What about communities displaced by natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis? As Nina Hall, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, points out in an article over at The Conversation, any eventual policy will need to pay far greater concern to the needs of the Pacific Islanders themselves. Both New Zealand and Australia already have ample avenues to safe and legal migration for Pacific Islanders, but these may be underused or poorly targeted. New Zealand’s Pacific Access Category programme, for example, uses a lottery system to offer 650 resident visas a year to citizens from Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. But there are only 75 spots each year open to people from Kiribati and Tuvalu – low-lying atoll nations at the most risk from rising sea levels and coastal erosion. New Zealand’s humanitarian visa proposal would only open up 100 total spots for people in all the Pacific Island nations. At the same time, many Pacific nations have instead called for New Zealand and Australia to expand existing work opportunities, such as short-term seasonal migration programmes, which fuel local economies through valuable remittances. About 12,000 Pacific Islanders each year already work in New Zealand or Australia under seasonal work schemes – but this number is grossly overshadowed by the 249,000 working holiday-maker visas Australia alone handed out to backpackers in 2013 – almost all from wealthy countries, according to a World Bank study. Countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu, the study notes, want access to employment, and “do not wish their peoples to be treated as ‘refugees’ fleeing a hopeless economic and environmental situation”. It’s a point Kiribati’s president, Taneti Maamau, underscored at November’s COP23 climate change summit in Bonn. “The continued conversation and predictions for Kiribati to sink in [the] future are not only de-empowering but also contradictory to our current efforts to build our islands,” he said.
We were the world; now what?
Today’s World AIDS Day comes in the wake of worrying developments from Washington: signs of US retreat from its leadership role in the global response. Donald Trump’s administration has proposed more than a billion dollars in cuts to key programmes such as the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief and the Global Fund. According to the One Campaign, if the cuts took effect, they could lead to nearly 300,000 deaths and more than 1.75 million new infections every year. The move is in keeping with Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and broad retreat from multilateralism, which has already been demonstrated by efforts to make deep cuts to foreign assistance, including food aid, and threats to withdraw from UNESCO and the Paris climate deal. Such a drift away from collective positive action is hardly unique to the US. As we reported yesterday, as far-right parties have made gains across Europe, two UN-backed “compacts” conceived more than a year ago to improve the response to the global refugee and migrant crisis now seem “rudderless in the face of strong political headwinds”. So what’s the big picture and where do these trends leave the future of humanitarian aid? On 7 December, the One Campaign’s president and CEO, Gayle Smith, will deliver the Overseas Development Institute’s annual lecture on exactly this subject in London. Details of how to attend or watch the livestream here.