The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines rightly has dominated the global twenty-four hour news cycle. Humanosphere has devoted more of our reporting time to the issue than anything else this week. With nearly one million people displaced and close to twelve million affected, the scope of the problem is vast and the relief effort has a long way to go.
While we were paying attention to the Philippines, there were other notable news stories that garnered less attention. Here are ten notable events and happenings (presented in no particular order) that you might have missed this week. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Do add anything else of note in the comments section.
1) Polio is worse this year in Pakistan, so the region is taking on the challenge by working together.
The number of polio cases in Pakistan have already exceeded the total from 2012. Health officials announced Wednesday that there are sixty-two cases of polio in 2013. The total for 2012 was fifty-eight. Pakistan is one of only polio-endemic countries, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Attacks on polio workers over the past year have hampered the effort to vaccinate children. An estimated 240,000 children living in the northwest were not vaccinated in August due to a ban by the Taliban.
The problem is affecting neighboring countries. An outbreak of polio in Syria was recently linked to Pakistan. To deal with the issue, the WHO is working with twenty-one Middle Eastern countries to stop polio in its tracks. However, much of what happens in Pakistan is out of the control of the UN and its neighbors.
2) Storm slams Somalia’s Puntland killing around 300 people.
The northeastern Puntland region of Somalia was beset by flooding after a tropical storm struck land. The government of the semi-autonomous region said that 300 people are feared dead with hundreds more missing.
“Given that Puntland is a semi-arid region, it rarely rains but when it does, to an extent we have seen… the impact is devastating,” said Hussein Gadain, a senior FAO technical adviser, to AFP.
The declared disaster area will receive $1 million in support from the Somali government. The UN deployed an assessment team, but destroyed roads in an area will poor infrastructure makes it hard to determine the totality of the damage caused by the flooding and what people are facing in the region.
Flood waters have caused most of the damage, killing more than 1,000 livestock, but the icy rain caught people by surprise.
“I have buried 10 members of my family, the icy storm and rain killed more than 100 people here,” a resident of Eyl, Hussein Abdullahi, told the Reuters news agency on Monday.
“I have never witnessed such fatal cold. Some people were blown away and others died after their houses collapsed on them.”
3) A crisis continues in the Central African Republic.
One in four people living in the Central African Republic (CAR) cannot meet their daily food needs. The UN warned that the continued violence could lead to a genocide. Actress, activist and UNICEF ambassador Mia Farrow visited this week and called it a failed state.
Things are not well in the Central African Republic since the president was ousted by rebels in March. The lawlessness and increasing humanitarian crisis simmers below the radar. Efforts to draw more attention to the country have yet to succeed, hence bringing in the celebrity.
“If nothing is done, the CAR could descend into a deep, inter-communal religious conflict — with much greater bloodshed than even what we’ve seen thus far,” wrote Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch in Foreign Policy.
The lean season, when harvested food runs out, usually starts in May in the CAR. The situation is so bad that the UN estimates the lean season my start at the beginning of 2014. Adding five months of food insecurity for people who are already struggling could have a disastrous effect. Humanitarian work is hampered by continued violence.
“Immediate action must be taken to end violence in the country to allow hundreds of thousands of displaced persons to return to their homes and farms,” said Housainou Taal, WFP’s representative in CAR. “We call upon the different armed groups to respect the rights of civilians and to provide humanitarian access for our staff to reach those in dire need,” he added.
4) Still no peace deal between the DR Congo and M23 rebels.
The M23 rebel group said last week that it would lay down its arms, putting an end to fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was good news from a region where headlines tend to focus on fighting, rape, maternal mortality and conflict minerals.
The plan was to sign a peace deal this week between the rebels and the Congolese government. Negotiations began with the assumption a deal would be struck quickly, but it did not work out quite as planned.
Congo’s information minister wants the document to be called a declaration, not an accord. He says that latter term gives legitimacy to the group.
“You sign an agreement with a body that is legitimate and that exists. The M23 is not legitimate: on the contrary it is a criminal group – labelled as such by the international community,” said Information Minister Lambert Mende. “Militarily, we have finished M23 and what is more important for us is to maintain our credibility towards the Congolese people.”
5) The UN is hosting a climate change conference in Poland and it is full of the usual political brinkmanship.
Tears shed and a fast declared by the Philippines representative at the UN climate change summit in Warsaw, Poland drew a blip of attention to the event. Meanwhile, representatives from around the world are back at negotiating a way forward to deal with climate change and its effects.
There is a push to set up a fund to support developing countries affected by the effects of global warming. The United States is poised to say no, according to a leaked State Department memo. The US is concerned by the blame associated with such a commitment.
“It’s our sense that the longer countries look at issues like compensation and liability, the more they will realize this isn’t productive avenue for the [U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change] to go down,” says the memo.
On the bright side, the same memo says that the US is committed to moving forward global climate change negotiations so a new agreement can be reached in 2015, when the Kyoto protocol expires.
6) US declares the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram a terrorist group.
Boko Haram, the group that has terrorized northern and central Nigeria, is now listed alongside “Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorists” by the United States. The loosely affiliated Islamist group has launched attacks on Nigerian police and civilians alike.
The US announcement means that any finances held by the group or its members in the US will be frozen, among other sanctions.
“By cutting these terrorist organizations off from U.S. financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north,” Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said in the statement.
Nigeria’s government troops have increased security operations in the past few months. Fighting has led to some important captures of Boko Haram leaders, but attacks persist in the north. A state of emergency was declared in the northeast states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe in May. Since then, 45 attacks launched by Boko Haram have killed an estimated 1,188 civilians, insurgents and military personnel.
However, reports from groups like Human Rights Watch have called attention to the crimes against humanity carried out by Nigerian forces during their campaign against Boko Haram.
“The unlawful killing by both Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces only grows worse; both sides need to halt this downward spiral,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in October 2012. “Nigeria’s government should swiftly bring to justice the Boko Haram members and security agents who have committed these serious crimes.”
7) One million people in Niger are faced with severe food shortages.
Flooding earlier in the year knocked out crops across Niger and left 230,000 people homeless. The government now says that $112 million is needed to respond to the estimated one million people who face food shortages.
The country is a part of the Sahel belt across West Africa. The arid region has struggled with food insecurity at worrying levels over the past few years. More than 11 million people are food insecure in the region, with 5 million children under five years old at the risk of acute malnutrition.
Instability in Nigeria and Mali make matters worse. Recent reports showed that the new offensive in northern Nigeria has led 40,000 people to flee to Niger. Rains and harvests are slightly improved across the Sahel, but the needs are still immense, says the UN.
8) A spike in malaria cases in Cameroon is made worse by poor hospital capacity and people selling free bednets.
More than 2,600 people are dead due to malaria in northern Cameroon, say the latest reports. Hospitals have treated more than 600,000 cases and have struggle under the pressure. The government stepped up its efforts by providing more medicines, bed nets and testing devices to the hospitals.
The lack of bednet use is behind the outbreak, says the government. It is supplying free nets to children under five years old. However, the bednets that supposed to be distributed for free are being sold in hospitals and neighboring countries.
Voice of America interviewed a Nigerian-born street vendor named Johnson Nnandi who was selling the benets. He is making somewhere between $10 and $15 per net.
“At times we sell one for six thousand francs, at times seven thousand francs. But when business is not going on well we sell for 5,000 francs,” said Nnandi.
9) Pakistani private schools ban Malala’s book.
Education rights activist Malala Yousafzai While she gets a lot of acclaim from Western leaders like former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, she is not as well loved back home. Two private school groups announced bans on the book.
The All Pakistan Private Schools Federation and the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, a network of 40,000 private schools across the country, denounced the book and said it was not welcome in their schools.
“Everything about Malala is now becoming clear,” said Adeeb Javedani, the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association president. “To me, she is representing the West, not us.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by the head of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation. Chairman Kashif Mirza also cited western influence and audience as reasons that he sought to keep the book out of the schools. However, he was more supportive of the young activist calling her a role model.
10) Family Planning advocates gathered in Ethiopia to increase access for 120 million women and girls by 2020.
The event is mostly a pep-rally for the call to increase access to family planning, started at the London Conference for Family Planning last year. However, two rather important announcements came out of the event. First, the United States led the way in helping to present a new road map to maintain and ensure women have access to different kinds of contraceptives after giving childbirth.
Spacing between births helps to protect the health of mothers and encourages women to take more control over their reproductive health. Reseach shows that women want to wait two years between births, ensuring they have more support can make this a reality.
“If these women were not to use family planning, then they would have shortened birth intervals, which would mean higher risks of mortality for their child,” said Koki Agarwal, director of the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program. “So even 30 percent higher risks for children who were born when the intervals are less than three years. And also the mothers themselves cannot recover and have problems with anemia and ability to breastfeed their child, so the child does not get full nourishment.”
Second, a new progress report on increasing family planning access shows that more countries are committed to the cause. An effort led by the group Family Planning 2020 seeks support countries in monitoring and evaluating the progress towards their commitments. Better data on family planning will be made accessible to more people and governments will take a more evidence based approach to access.