Welcome to IRIN's weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.
Five to read:
Munich, Nice, Turkey, Brexit, Trump: It's all connected
Only seven months in and 2016 has been a rough and confusing year. Writing in The Globe and Mail, Marc MacKinnon attempts to make some sense of the seemingly never-ending chaos - Brexit, Nice, Munich, a failed coup in Turkey, the phenomenon that is Donald Trump - the list goes on. MacKinnon argues it's all connected by the anger and frustration felt by segments of the population left behind, be it by globalisation, technology, secularism, free trade, you name it. In the instability that followed the 2008 financial crisis, radicalism began to thrive. And when people are scared, they hunker down and turn inwards. We aren't necessarily headed town a path that can't be reversed, MacKinnon argues, but the demonisation of those who are different (which often comes with tribal sentiment) doesn't tend to lead anywhere positive.
Afghanistan's war lurches onwards and downwards
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released its mid-year report this week on the impact of the conflict on civilians. The main story was similar to the last few reports: civilian casualties have hit another new record, with 1,600 killed and 3,500 injured in the first half of the year; children accounted for one third of the casualties. But the report is worth a closer read. Hidden deep inside lie details mostly left out of the news, including: casualties from aerial operations increased 110 percent owing to an increase in missions flown by Afghan security forces; casualties attributed to so-called Islamic State increased to 122 compared to just 13 in the same period last year; Afghanistan is one of only two countries (Pakistan is the other) where polio remains endemic and fighting prevented health workers from vaccinating about 385,000 children. A grim, but important, reminder of the conditions civilians in Afghanistan are facing, long after the world's attention has shifted elsewhere.
What role does intelligence-gathering play in peacekeeping operations? Traditionally, not much. But the International Peace Institute argues that as more UN missions operate in increasingly dangerous environments, they need to generate more intelligence, "both to protect themselves and to fulfill their mandates more effectively". However, the UN's "fundamental principles and its multilateral and transparent nature" mean that peacekeeping missions need to take a different approach to intelligence than national militaries. This paper proposes an approach more suited to the UN, rather than the military method of using intel against an enemy. Instead, the authors argue: "The primary aim of intelligence for a UN peace operation should be to contribute to a political solution in the long run." Noble. But is it realistic?
War and the media in Yemen
It's been a frustrating week for Yemen-watchers, and more importantly Yemenis themselves. Kuwait peace talks appeared to be going nowhere fast, as fighting continued and assassinations hit officials and religious figures in Aden. Then Houthi rebels and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh announced they were forming a political council to run the country, a move condemned by the UN and Saudi Arabia. Not sure who these parties are or what to believe? Just in time, Muftah has released its second part of a series on war and the media in Yemen, with pieces on what its like to be a journalist there, why the terms we use to simplify the conflict often miss the point, what's going on in the south, and more. The collection helps explain a complicated situation, and offers some much needed perspective on the lens through which we see it.
Governing the world 'as if' it counts
Some refreshing snark on development's supposed data revolution. Economic historian Morten Jerven, associate professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, writes that, actually, a world where everything is counted, or countable, is not the world he wants. That would be a false world and he's not buying the too-easy-by-half soundbites coming from the UN and others. "The most important things in this world are the things that we cannot count," Jerven argues. "The most marginalised issues are those issues that, willfully or not, remain and will remain uncounted." One particularly flagrant example of data manipulation he draws our attention to relates to poverty. The numbers used to back up the assertion that the UN's Millennium Development Goals halved poverty is "a basic lesson in 'how to lie with statistics'", he says. The reality is: we don't know, and it's getting harder even to know what we don't know. "The deeper point for data users in the development community here is that numbers need to be interrogated meticulously," he writes. For Jerven, this is not an academic point. Important decisions are being made on the back of false data, or on incorrect assumptions about the data. It's past time to accept, he says, that we can only govern the world "as if" it counts. If this leaves you wanting more, you can always read Jerven's book. The title leaves little to the imagination: "Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It."
One to listen to:
Syria's secret library
It doesn't have the notoriety of Madaya, but Daraya - a village in the Damascus suburbs - has been under siege since late 2012. It's hard to imagine what life is like inside for hungry locals, but this BBC radio documentary offers a peek into one surprising slice: a secret underground library with some 14,000 books. It is staffed by, among others, 14-year-old Amjad, who makes sure the checkout system is orderly, and frequented by those who want a fiction fix, perhaps some history, or even help in doing their jobs (in the case of doctors and dentists consulting reference texts). There's Shakespeare and a top shelf of racier material, and one opposition fighter even owns up to reading for hours on the frontline. You can hear fighting in the background as residents talk about this place, a relative haven where they can try their best to escape into literature and imagine the war, just outside, doesn't exist.
One from IRIN:
China's dangerous double game in the Sudans
When two Chinese peacekeepers were killed earlier this month in South Sudan, it raised profound questions for keen observers of the region. What are China's interests there, really? IRIN Asia Editor Jared Ferrie probed further and, in this exclusive report, he reveals how Chinese-manufactured weapons continue to find their way into rebel hands, probably via Khartoum. The politics is complex, but Ferrie skillfully navigates territory he knows well and exposes the overlapping and contradictory relationships Beijing is trying to pull off. How can it be a responsible global player on the one hand, but be arming the rebels on the other? How can it be an ally of both Sudan and South Sudan at the same time, tacitly arming the South Sudanese president's opponents but offering him peacekeepers too? The trick is probably not to look not at how, but at why, and to think oil.