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Syria cash aid freeze, Somali biometrics, and poverty porn: The Cheat Sheet

Our editors' weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

UK pauses cash aid in northeastern Syria

Syrians in a camp held up a sign on Wednesday saying: "Where are my human rights?". Residents of the Areesha displaced persons' camp say they aren't getting the supplies they need and an abrupt decision to stop cash allowances has made things worse. British aid ministry DFID told NGOs earlier this month to stop UK-funded humanitarian cash handouts, which top up other basic aid packages. A DFID spokesperson said: This is a precautionary measure due to the risks associated with the dispersal of Daesh (so-called Islamic State) members. The move has upset Syrians in camps and war-damaged cities, and thrown aid plans into disarray. NGO officials say it will hurt the vulnerable, and they can't switch in other types of aid or other donors immediately. The area covered by the suspension includes some 70,000 mainly women and children at al-Hol camp who emerged from IS territory. Protesters say they need the cash to make ends meet, not least to pay back loans with shopkeepers. One NGO analyst said some camps were like "debt prisons". DFID says cash is a very minor part of its efforts in the area. Several NGO workers say the move is politically driven and due to fear of negative media coverage about any conceivable misuse of cash. UK officials, one said, were worrying: "how could the Daily Mail spin it?"

Fingerprinting Somalia

Somalia's ability to make social and economic progress potential is held back by the lack of a national ID system, according to the World Bank, but a new report finds that a patchwork of aid databases may already cover more than 60 percent of the population. The report, on beneficiary registration and data management, also says the UN is experimenting with fingerprinting infants. The World Food Programme study found that 5.7 million Somalis are already registered in systems maintained for relief purposes, most recorded with fingerprint scans in WFP's SCOPE platform. Since some systems only record family heads, the report estimates that 9.5 million adults and children are covered by the databases. Data-sharing rules, registration, and de-duplication are inconsistent across the board, the report found. Data storage, cyber security, and privacy measures are of varied maturity and effectiveness. Also, Somali "names are often very similar", further complicating the problem of identifying duplicates. The report concludes that "a biometrics-backed single registry would seem to make sense in Somalia". In a footnote, it says a WFP study has found that biometric registration is "feasible even for infants", while standard practice is to collect fingerprint images only from children over five.

Refugees evacuated after Tripoli detention centre attack

After weeks of violence in the Libyan capital and warnings about the plight of migrants and refugees trapped near front lines, conflicting reports have emerged of a Tuesday militia attack on a Tripoli detention centre. One account said two people were shot and as many as 20 injured, while UNHCR, the UN's agency for refugees, said there were no bullet wounds but 12 refugees required treatment after physical attacks. UNHCR said it evacuated 325 migrants and refugees from the centre after the incident, but 3,000 people are still in migrant detention centres in and around the city. While it couldn't confirm all the details of the attack, Medecins Sans FrontiAres said that its doctors had concluded from photographic and video evidence that the injuries shown are consistent with gunshot wounds. Karline Kleijer, MSF's head of emergency programmes, said the failure to get migrants and refugees out of Libya means the international community can only be blamed for its complete and utter inaction.

Sudanese protesters demand civilian rule

The number of protesters in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, is swelling again as demands grow for the transitional military council to hand over power. After president Omar al-Bashir was ousted on 11 April, the council stepped in and promised elections within two years. Three close allies of al-Bashir Omar Zain al-Abdin, Jalaluddin Al-Sheikh, and Al-Tayieb Babikir have resigned from the council as the calls for civilian rule have intensified. Demonstrations began last December amid price hikes on bread and fuel shortages, with some 60 people being killed in clashes. Al-Bashir, who is being held in prison, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly ordering his forces to commit crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of genocide between 2003 and 2008 in Darfur. The African Union has given the military council three months to implement democratic reforms. As our recent briefing highlighted, humanitarian needs remain high. The country hosts more than 800,000 refugees from South Sudan, while some 13 percent of the population (5.76 million people) are in crisis or emergency levels of hunger, and conflict lingers in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei.

The problem with Sri Lanka's social media ban

Hours after suicide bombers struck Sri Lankan churches and hotels on Sunday, the government turned to a now-familiar tactic: it shut down social media, citing fears that misinformation would spread. Some commentators saw this as a logical step; after all, social networks like Facebook have frequently come under fire for allowing hate speech and false news to flare, including during anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka last year. But others warn that banning social media is troublesome especially in a country like Sri Lanka, which frequently scores low on various press freedom indexes and where media outlets are controlled by a small number of politically connected owners. Online-only outlets like civic media group Groundviews use social media to quash misinformation including inaccurate reporting in traditional media. Sri Lanka's complex divisions, this Buzzfeed article points out, are problems that far predate social media.

In case you missed it

Afghanistan: More civilians were killed by Afghan and international military forces than by the Taliban or other insurgents over the first three months of the year, according to UN figures released this week.

Ebola: Health workers are threatening to strike unless security improves at Ebola clinics in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A doctor from Cameroon was killed last week. Workers say the attacks are thwarting their attempts to contain the latest outbreak.

Food: Conflict and extreme weather are driving rising levels of severe food insecurity, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said in its quarterly global crops outlook, which found that 41 countries are in need of food aid. This number has steadily risen: there were 33 countries in need five years ago, and 29 in 2011.

Pakistan: Gunmen shot and killed a polio vaccinator in the city of Chaman near the Afghan border, The New York Times reported the third killing of a vaccinator this week as Pakistan ramps up an anti-polio vaccine drive. Along with Nigeria and neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio is endemic.

South Africa: The toll from flooding in the coastal city of Durban is expected to rise above 67. Torrential rains triggered floods and mudslides last week, wiping away houses and destroying roads. Some 13 people were killed when a church roof collapsed.

Syria: Amnesty International and Airwars released an investigation this week that they say shows the US-led coalition killed more than 1,600 civilians during its air and artillery campaign against so-called Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa. The coalition says 180 civilians were killed during the fight, which ended in October 2017. For more on Syria, check out our latest reports on the outcry over UN plans to consolidate aid operations in Damascus, and concerns over the humanitarian impact of sanctions.

Venezuela: At least 21 Venezuelans are missing and feared drowned after their vessel, Jhonnaly Jose, capsized in the early hours of Wednesday en route to Trinidad and Tobago from Venezuela. Between three and four million Venezuelans have fled their country's economic collapse since 2015, including tens of thousands to islands in the Caribbean.

Weekend read

What's behind talk of a 'migratory crisis' in Spain?

The rise of Vox in December's regional elections the first time a far-right party has gained a foothold in Spanish politics since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 followed a summer surge of migrant crossings to the southern region of Andalusia (where the party won 12 seats). Vox, which has vowed to deport legal immigrants who commit crimes and build a wall around Spain's enclaves in North Africa, could gain further ground in Sunday's general election. Time then for a hard look at its claims that a migratory crisis exists. Yes, the figures for 2018 show a spike in arrivals, but there's no crisis, according to the left-of-centre government, the UN, and Salvamento Maritimo, Spain's civilian sea rescue service. Of greater concern: government plans to overhaul and curtail Salvamento Maritimo's operations plans rescuers warn could soon cost lives.

And finally...

Experiential marketing and/or poverty porn?

A $50-million-a-year UK Christian charity has been accused of running a "poverty zoo". Their "Compassion Experience" mobile exhibit, on tour in the UK, claims to offer glimpses of poverty in Ethiopia and Uganda, with mockups of children's meagre homes and classrooms (complete with Bibles). It encourages the public to donate to sponsor disadvantaged children. Critics came out in force on social media. The charity rejected criticism, saying the exhibit "challenges visitors over 20 minutes to hear and see the real-life stories". Similar exhibits have toured the United States since 2012, which helped the US sister charity, Compassion International, raise $890 million in 2017.

Source: The New Humanitatian

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/04/26/syria-cash-aid-freeze-somali-biometrics-and-poverty-porn-cheat-sheet