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  • Top Picks: Unfashionable men, unpopular Sahel, and imperfect science

    Welcome to IRIN’s reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

    Four to read:

    “A perfect sandstorm” – humanitarian challenges in the Sahel

    Until the early 2000s, the Sahel was on the margins of geopolitical interest and humanitarian action. Migration, cyclical food crises, the rise of al-Qaeda and global warming has changed that. But the region presents a range of challenges that questions the model of humanitarian action. This new report by the Feinstein Centre unpacks some of those issues.

    In spite of the heightened interests of donors, the Sahel remains a relatively neglected region for the aid system. It’s peripheral in terms of budget allocations; it’s not considered by aid staff as a “prestigious” posting; it’s further marginalised by being regarded as a “francophone pocket”; and it’s an area where the development versus humanitarian tangle is far from being resolved.

    Conflict and migration are the key determinants of how the Sahel is viewed by donors and to some extent mainstream aid agencies. That has far-reaching implications for how (and what kind of) aid is delivered – and how humanitarians are perceived by local populations. The humanitarian aid system “has still not found its footing”, the report notes. It lays out a series of important discussion points to help chart a way forward.

    Counting attacks on healthcare – a very imperfect science

    The issue of attacks on healthcare facilities in war zones is a hot humanitarian topic. It has been ever since the US airstrike on a Medecins Sans FrontiAres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last October. The highly-publicised incident highlighted a growing problem and the discussion that followed led to a UN resolution condemning such attacks and urging greater respect for the rules of war (although it’s unlikely to work without further measures). But how big, exactly, is the problem? Following a raft of recent statements and reports, the World Health Organization has attempted to quantify the number of attacks. As there is no comprehensive database, it looked only at publicly available information and found there were 594 attacks that killed 959 people from January 2014 to December 2015. The true numbers are almost certainly higher. As the report says, “the limitations of available information highlight the need for more and better data collection”.

    For more, read our Q&A with Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Maurer suggests that governments may finally be starting to realise the hidden costs of not respecting international humanitarian law.

    What about the men?

    “In short, women symbolise innocence and deserve our compassion. Men, on the other hand, depict danger.” The unfairness of this base thought underpins this fascinating blog from Thea Hilhorst, a professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at Wageningen University, and a researcher for the Secure Livelihood Research Consortium. After researching refugee responses in Turkey, Lebanon and Greece, Hilhorst is convinced that gender stereotyping is leaving male refugees out of the loop. Psycho-social assistance is almost always for women, she points out, and this over-concentration on women as a vulnerable category negates their importance as social actors and has a negative impact on them too. “There are countless male refugees who are vulnerable, reject violence, and are sincere in their intention to protect their loved ones,” Hilhorst says. “It is time to put the spotlight on our gender-biases.”

    The UN says Yemen’s peace talks are back on track, but those who have been watching the country’s descent into war and humanitarian crisis could be forgiven a bit of scepticism. The complex conflict has deep roots, and this paper from Chatham House’s Peter Salisbury goes a great way towards explaining the history, who’s involved, and why dividing the civil war into two broad sides – as we often do for the sake of simplicity – is both wrong and possibly dangerous for those negotiating the country’s future. Maps showing the maze of frontlines and areas of control help to complete the picture. Even if Yemen’s “big war” ends, Salisbury argues, ignoring local grievances and dynamics risks leaving Yemen in a series of “small wars” that will do no good for the local population, who have suffered enough.

    One to listen to:

    Venezuela is collapsing, and fast

    Rampant violent crime, outrageous corruption, political instability, commodity shortages, a growing healthcare emergency – all signs are that Venezuela’s decline has accelerated precipitously. In this UN Dispatch podcast, journalist Fransisco Toro explains why the once middle-income country has been falling apart of late. Dropping oil prices precipitated the latest plunge, he explains, but that didn’t cause the crisis. Other petro-states have had to deal with the loss of oil revenue too, but they have not fallen nearly as far or as fast as Venezuela. The root problem is the country’s “catatonic” government trying to run a country in the 21st century under a regime of “Bolshevik economics”. The effects on the population are all too real; for example, the healthcare system is in shambles (as IRIN reported recently). “I know people who have died of diseases that could be treated,” says Toro.

    One to watch:

    The Journey from Syria

    Don’t miss the chance to watch Matthew Cassel’s immersive six-part documentary “The Journey From Syria” (the first five episodes of which are now available on the New Yorker’s website). The film records the 1,700-mile trek from Istanbul to northern Europe made by Syrian jeweller Aboud Shalhoub and his brother, along with various other refugees they travel with along the way. It was shot early last summer, shortly before countries along the Balkan route gave in to the sheer numbers of migrants and refugees transiting through and started laying on trains and buses. Shalhoub and his group, which includes women with small children, have to trudge on foot through much of Macedonia and parts of Serbia. Meanwhile, Shalhoub’s wife and two small children are in Damascus waiting for news that he has arrived safely in the EU and can begin the long process of applying for asylum, and then family reunion.

    Parts one to four are in the top link. Part 5 is available here.

    One from IRIN:

    Winners and Losers of the World Humanitarian Summit

    After a three-year consultation process that engaged more than 23,000 people in 153 countries, the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit finally got down to business last Monday and Tuesday in Istanbul. It was a nightmare to cover. Two days of roundtables, side events and special sessions on hundreds of different topics, featuring a dizzying array of aid officials and government representatives from around the globe; thousands of statements, pledges and initiatives. Add to that a labyrinthine complex of five floors at the Istanbul Congress Centre, seven at the neighbouring Lufti Kirdar building, and a constantly changing schedule and you get well you get chaos! Fortunately, IRIN Managing Editor Heba Aly was navigating the halls on your behalf, tapping those in the know for the inside scoop. Her exhaustive rundown of what was actually achieved, and what wasn’t, is essential reading, both for those who didn’t make it to Istanbul AND for those who did.

    Looking at the summit through a wider lens, this commentary from Richard Gowan, senior policy fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, suggests European governments are better off strengthening key UN agencies than striking dodgy migration deals.

    Source: IRIN

  • Magdy Martinez Soliman:Opening Remarks at the ‘Montreux IV’ Workshop for Resident Coordinators and Senior UN Officials

    Dear Colleagues,

    Welcome to ‘Montreux IV’ – hosted under the Joint Programme on Building National Capacities for Conflict Prevention, which continues the proud tradition of UN partners trying to exercise thought leadership on fragility – learning from the action on the ground and for the action on the ground.

    I would first of all like to express sincere appreciation to the Government of Switzerland for continuing to host and support us in this beautiful location. Furthermore I want to thank the Swiss Government for their continuing and invaluable support to the Joint Programme as a whole. I would also like to welcome the representatives from the European Union, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom who have also been contributing generously to this global programme and UN joint effort. We are very happy to work in such a spirit of partnership and to have you all present here for this crucial conversation on conflict prevention and the challenging process of sustaining peace.

    The “Montreux event” has now become a young but respected UN tradition, one which was crafted by leading minds of our response to conflict some years ago, among which chiefly our then Deputy Director of BCPR, Marta Ruedas. . It is a unique opportunity for UN Resident Coordinators working in the most difficult environments to discuss and identify new entry points and opportunities for action. The purpose of this forum is to identify better ways of supporting our colleagues working in countries affected by conflict and other complex political situations.

    At the heart of this event are the 34 Resident Coordinators that we have invited here this week. We look forward to hear from you and learn from your work experience. You are leading our country strategies in a variety of country contexts, with very large or small operations.

    Last but not least, let me welcome also colleagues from across the UN system. We are particularly pleased to have representatives from OHCHR, OCHA, UNWomen, UNICEF, DOCO, and DFS to join our teams from DPA, PBSO and UNDP. Your presence is a reflection of the value we all attach to this event and of the importance we accord to UN collaboration in the area of conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

    This workshop seeks to focus on complex political situations largely outside of UN peace operations. We hope it will prove again to be a valuable space for peer-to-peer exchange and learning, allowing us to reflect collectively on challenges and successes.

    Since we last came together in 2014, conflicts and instability have continued unabated. Crises in countries like Syria, Yemen, CAR, and Mali have had global reverberations. Violent extremism has geometrically grown as a factor of instability, representing one of the major political, security and human rights risks of today’s world and became an issue of national, regional and global concern. And humanitarian needs have skyrocketed. Overall funding for preventive efforts has taken a backseat and, in some cases like Libya and Syria, peace or if you will, political solutions are not on the immediate horizon. That is why the World Humanitarian Summit calls upon the international community to transcend the humanitarian-development divide; just like I believe the peace reviews have asked the UN to transcend the peace and development gap.

    Member States and the UN have been engaged in reviewing the UN’s ability to support peace operations; peacebuilding; women, peace and security. And as part of the 2030 sustainable development framework, Member States have agreed to a new development agenda incorporating a strong commitment to peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

    The HIPPO and Age processes of 2015 have clarified what many of us knew – that the existence of a Security Council mandate is not the only indicator of a country’s level of peacefulness or the lack thereof. And the recently defined concept of “sustaining peace” pushes us to think and act more intelligently to link conflict prevention efforts, inclusive development and peacebuilding. There is a fundamental line of thought here to integrate early warning on human rights deterioration as an indispensable mechanism for the development and peacebuilding actors to rush relapse – avoidance strategies.

    Against this backdrop, I would like to start off the discussion this week with four points of reflection.

    1) working across the charter

    2) early warning and early action

    3) peace and development coordination needs money; and

    4) working confidently with political actors in political contexts

    Firstly, high level discussions across the UN agree on one point: Joint system-wide engagement is the order of the day. Member States and our own leaderships all agree. Now, as senior managers, we must build cross-system efforts to support peaceful, just and inclusive societies and work together to make sure that “no-one is left behind” in the context of the 2030 Agenda. If you will, there is a need to land 3 feet above the ground, the notion of 30,000 feet of “working across the charter”. It is at country level that it can be done – and must happen.

    In our view, this Joint Programme is one of the best examples of system-wide efforts across the development and peace and security pillars. DPA and UNDP working, together with PBSO, to ensure our country leadership have the technical, programmatic, financial and political support for conflict prevention. We are supported by a jointly managed flexible fund, allowing us to work responsively to changing needs while encouraging greater collaborative efforts.

    Secondly, after 12 years of implementation we are in a very good position to learn from our experiences in order to constantly improve our conflict prevention efforts. We should use the Joint Programme to inform a better understanding across the UN system of how to prevent conflicts on the basis of an improved strategic engagement from the UN.

    We know that the causes of conflict need to be addressed way before violence becomes a reality but ensuring that the UN is addressing those causes can still be challenging.

    UNDP and UNCT programming can support peacebuilding and conflict prevention proactively, through democratic governance, improved service delivery, a sharpened focus on poverty eradication and the simultaneous reduction of inequalities, strengthening of the rule of law and building respect for human rights. UNDP’s experience over the last five decades tells us we should amplify our efforts to support local peacebuilders and foster social cohesion; building resilience as our response to acute vulnerabilities – in some cases chronic. We need to build relationships with national governments, with mayors, members of parliament, business people, political parties, and civil society actors. We believe these relationships are crucial to support early conflict prevention.

    Together DPA and UNDP, co-chair the Human Rights Up Front Regional Quarterly Reviews. These reviews are increasingly relied on to ensure that early warning leads to early action. The UN also engages in mediation and uses preventive diplomacy of the Secretary-General’s Good Offices to bring conflicting parties together and stem the flow of rising violence.

    Despite these efforts, we all know the UN can and must still do more together, and more flexibly and nimbly to support the building of peaceful societies. We should use the opportunities afforded by HIPPO follow up process to capitalize on this partnership and to continue to work together to improve our conflict prevention systems and strategy.

    Thirdly, the Peace and Development Advisor cadre provide invaluable support for our RCs and UNCTs to enable early prevention efforts and this system needs to be sustained. In 2016, we have record numbers deployed, with 39 PDAs at present. But we need the resources to sustain it and expand it.

    The use of PDAs provides an illustration of how the provision of strategic guidance and regular analysis can inform the UN’s ability to address the root causes of conflict. And for that reason, the joint programme needs to remain a signature advisory service.

    Indeed, the raison d’A�tre of the Joint UNDP-DPA Programme is to provide catalytic support to national capacities for conflict prevention. Every six months we take stock and re-assess our assistance to ensure we are able to meet emerging needs. The feedback tells us that these Advisors are highly valued and are in constantly high demand. But as resources are limited it is imperative for us to be strategic in the way we dispatch these capacities and cater to the needs of RCs in politically challenging environments. Less diplomatically said, we can’t afford a banalization of the role, an arthritic integration of the post into routine RC offices functions or a loss of the delicate balance between the “P” and the “DV” – either way.

    We also need to remind that the joint programme is not only to be seen as a deployment instrument for PDAs. It is critical that prevention efforts are embedded in UN Country Teams, national stakeholders, and the country-based international community. Resident Coordinators and Country Teams therefore need to try to mobilize sustained funding for conflict prevention activities. We know you do; simply said here, local resource mobilization acquire higher mileage per gallon.

    On this note, I must take a moment to recognize the contribution and leadership of ASG Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, of the Peacebuilding Support Office. Our common vision has been sustained and expanded because of your personal commitment and support, as one of the founding leaders of the joint programme. Through funds from the PBF we have now been able to deploy more PDAs and more effectively draw on the capacities of PBSO.

    Fourthly and finally, as we look towards a period of new leadership in the UN system, we should work together to plan and advocate for an improved UN systemic approach to preventing conflict. We should arrive at a better articulation of our approach and build on the strong commitments we have heard from the Member States in the GA/SC Resolution on Peacebuilding architecture and, of course, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Let me state clearly that development actors are no strangers to political processes – peace actors open doors to development as much as development contributes to sustaining political settlements and peace. Development actors are fully conversant and at ease in political contexts and lets not mistake neutrality and non-partisan for indifference or ignorance. Our legitimacy relies on our neutrality.

    Turning back to the week ahead. Montreux is renowned as an environment that is conducive for generating very concrete, practical ways to enhance our individual and collective efforts. A good place to think, share, shed old skins and reload batteries.

    We look forward to hearing from you all on how we can improve the support we provide to our country teams. I very much look forward to engage with you personally and hear your views on how we can strengthen our collective vision for the UN’s engagement in building peaceful, just and inclusive societies. This is, after all, the heart and soul of goal 16 and cuts across the 2030 Agenda – the mandate of the international community for the development system to engage forcefully in peacebuilding.

    Source: United Nations Development Programme

  • A Q and A with Humanitarian Superstar, Jan Egeland

    In all the policy analysis around the World Humanitarian Summit, one thing that often gets lost is the stakes of this meeting. With an unprecedented level of humanitarian emergencies going on around the world, real results are needed. UN Dispatch talke…

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