‘This village will disappear. Our community will disappear.’

By Ann Esswein and photos by Felie Zernack

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MAROW, Vanuatu

Mounds of heavy stones are all that protects Jeffrey Daniels’ home from the waves that wash onto tiny Emao, an island dotting the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

But the makeshift dams can’t stop his village from flooding during fierce tropical cyclones, tidal surges, or simply a heavy downpour.

“When the rain comes, we feel trapped as if we were standing on a ship,” Daniels said.

His home is located on an island strip less than 70 metres wide. When Daniels was a child, this land was twice as wide. Now his home and his village of Marow are vanishing, losing ground to the sea year by year. …

This pandemic is a taste of things to come. We’re not ready.

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By Lydia Poole

The humanitarian system has developed to respond to geographically contained and separate crises that are usually a long-haul flight from the centres of power and wealth that sustain it.

But that is no longer how crises work.

If you didn’t believe in systemic crises before, hopefully you do now — because like the COVID-19 virus, crises have jumped the species barrier and we don’t know how to contain them. The humanitarian system isn’t broken, or broke. But it is hopelessly ill prepared for our times, out of ideas, and running out of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides a text-book example of systemic risk, where shocks are transmitted through the networks and systems that our global economy depends on. The cascading consequences are hard to predict, leaving policymakers aghast and adrift as they weigh decisions with little foresight of the trade-offs and their unintended repercussions. …

First, there were whispers of women being sexually abused by aid workers during the Ebola response. Then, we heard 51 voices.

By Paisley Dodds, Investigations Editor at The New Humanitarian

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Illustrations by Robert Flummerfelt for The New Humanitarian

Early last year during a trip to the Ebola outbreak zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we were tipped off that aid workers might be sexually abusing and exploiting women.

“Oh, they love our ladies,” reporter Robert Flummerfelt was told in March 2019 at a bar in Butembo, one of two hubs for workers trying to contain the virus in Congo’s northeast. “They arrive in military convoys to take the sick for treatment, and they are always taking the women.”

Even though the practice seemed well known, we were warned few women would talk. “The victims of this are carrying a secret that they will bring to their graves,” one man said. …

‘Someone has to step up. If we are silent and do nothing, then we fail the next generation.’

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Anticha Sangchai, a university lecturer in Pattani, started a football league encouraging participation regardless of religion or politics. She and other women in southern Thailand are trying to build peace in divided communities. (Luke Duggleby/TNH)

By Caleb Quinley in Pattani, Thailand

Years of conflict and violence have divided communities in Thailand’s deep south. Pateemoh Poh-Itaeda-oh is one of a growing number of women trying to build peace by bringing them together.

In Thailand’s southernmost provinces, militants are fighting for greater autonomy for the region’s Malay Muslim minority within Buddhist-majority Thailand. More than 7,000 people have died since conflict escalated in 2004.

The violence comes from all sides: Insurgents have attacked government targets including civilians; Thai security forces are accused of rights abuses in counterstrikes and anti-insurgency operations. …

In 1970, the tropical disease was only a danger in nine countries. Now, it afflicts over 100.

By Joshua Collins in Bogotá

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A municipal worker fumigates a market to prevent the spread of dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on 25 July 2019. Dengue infections reached new records in Latin America last year. (Jorge Cabrera/REUTERS)

International scientists have for years warned that climate change is likely to lead to an increase in epidemics caused by pathogens and viruses. While there’s no evidence to link the COVID-19 pandemic to global warming, major ongoing outbreaks of dengue fever in Latin America are currently adding credence to the theory.

Dengue has been burning through the region at an alarming and unprecedented rate that is only expected to worsen. In 2019, infections reached new records in Latin America, with over three million confirmed cases, six times the previous year. More than 1,300 people died from the disease. …

Joining the (quantum) dots on a public health conspiracy theory.

by Ben Parker

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An undirected network graph of co-occurring hashtags in tweets about ID2020.

Staff at a US-based non-profit have received death threats linked to erroneous claims about its work on digital ID in a case propelled by the tide of misinformation over coronavirus and false accusations against Bill Gates.

Dakota Gruener, CEO of New York-based non-profit ID2020, told The New Humanitarian the threats were linked to “patently false” online conspiracy theories about COVID-19, and described the episode as “pretty frightening”.

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that false and fringe ideas can undermine international efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic and sow panic, confusion, and division. …

Lessons from the history of pandemics.

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(Louise O’Brien/TNH)

by Ken Arnold, Abbie Doran, and Danielle Olsen

The authors are the International Cultural Initiatives Team at Wellcome, an independent health and medicine foundation.

Jacob Burinescu, a Romanian Jewish immigrant, lived in New York City’s Lower East Side. He ran a cleaning business and was a member of the Yiddish theatre community. When the mistakenly labelled Spanish flu arrived in 1918, he started caring for actor friends — until he contracted the disease himself. His was one of an estimated 50 million deaths across the world during that pandemic.

Two decades earlier, Taipingshan, a densely populated Chinese settlement in Hong Kong, was struck by the third pandemic of bubonic plague. The British colonial occupiers sought to contain the disease by forcibly removing householders who seemed sick. The violent cultural tensions that ensued cast a long shadow over the city’s history. Originating in Yunnan, China, the disease subsequently spread to British India, where it killed millions. …

By Sean McDonald

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COVID-19 is no time to forget history. This is neither the public health sector, the humanitarian response sector, nor the technology sector’s first disaster — and we’d do well to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

As the world braces for the possibility of a prolonged pandemic, the governments managing cases of COVID-19 are ramping up their use of technology. Everyone from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to the Government of Pakistan is promising to roll out a mobile app to help track the virus, or, really, the people with the virus. …

‘The coronavirus is a risk to everyone — but the greatest risks are to refugee communities like ours.’

By Mohammed Arfaat in Cox’s Bazar

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Editor’s note: The coronavirus outbreak could be particularly devastating for people living in cramped refugee and displacement camps, aid groups say. In Bangladesh’s Rohingya camps, aid groups and the government are mapping out contingency plans, and trying to boost health systems and hygiene promotion campaigns. But one roadblock is the government’s months-long ban on phone and internet access for refugees. …

An aid worker’s letter from coronavirus-stricken Italy.

by Flavia Brunetti in Rome

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Two weeks ago, I flew from the epicentre of one crisis to another, in my pajama top, praying the plane would take off and I would make it to my family.

I’m Italian, grew up in the United States, and have lived in Tunisia for the past four years. I work for an aid agency that supports Libya, where fighting is forcing people to flee their homes, and more and more people rely on international assistance to get by.

Like many aid workers, I’ve been running away from home — in my case it’s Italy — most of my life, but when the prime minister announced a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, I got the last flight out of Tunis, with no time to change clothes. …


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