DOMESTIC FOCUS: US president-elect Donald Trump. PICTURE: AFP
DOMESTIC FOCUS: US president-elect Donald Trump. PICTURE: AFP
BLEAK OUTLOOK: Partially empty shelves in a shop in Caracas, Venezuela, where a downward spiral is set to continue. Picture: EPA
BLEAK OUTLOOK: Partially empty shelves in a shop in Caracas, Venezuela, where a downward spiral is set to continue. Picture: EPA
WAR MARCHES ON: A Yemeni pupil walks past a building allegedly destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike, in Sana’a, on January 10. Picture: EPA
WAR MARCHES ON: A Yemeni pupil walks past a building allegedly destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike, in Sana’a, on January 10. Picture: EPA
FOOD AID: Food destined for 19 000 internally displaced people in Pibor County, South Sudan, is offloaded from a UN flight. Picture: EPA
FOOD AID: Food destined for 19 000 internally displaced people in Pibor County, South Sudan, is offloaded from a UN flight. Picture: EPA
Picture: EPA
Picture: EPA
POLITICAL MANOEUVRING: DRC leader Joseph Kabila.Picture: EPA
POLITICAL MANOEUVRING: DRC leader Joseph Kabila.Picture: EPA
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: Some of the millions of people in need of food aid in the Lake Chad region at a food distribution point. Picture IRIN
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: Some of the millions of people in need of food aid in the Lake Chad region at a food distribution point. Picture IRIN
STRIPPED OF RIGHTS: The Rohingya in Myanmar. Picture: IRIN
STRIPPED OF RIGHTS: The Rohingya in Myanmar. Picture: IRIN

(1) The impact of Trump


DOMESTIC FOCUS: US president-elect Donald Trump. PICTURE: AFP
Since Donald Trump’s election, speculation has been rife about what his presidency will mean for the wider world.

His statements on the campaign trail suggest he intends to prioritise domestic and security interests over foreign aid spending and will roll back efforts made during the Obama administration to combat climate change.

But many in the humanitarian sector have been adopting a glass half full attitude, publicly at least, by pointing out that foreign aid has bipartisan support and Republicans in Congress will oppose any major cuts to foreign assistance.

Others are predicting that even if the Trump administration doesn’t significantly cut overall aid spending, it will favour channelling aid through partnerships with the private sector and results-oriented initiatives like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, rather than through traditional recipients like the UN and international NGOs.

A Trump administration seems likely to allocate less aid to reproductive health and family planning programmes, and funding for initiatives relating to climate change will almost certainly be on the chopping block too.

Trump has appointed a number of climate-change sceptics to his cabinet, including Rick Perry, who will head the Department of Energy, and Scott Pruitt, who will lead the Environmental Protection Agency.



(2) Venezuela unravelling


BLEAK OUTLOOK: Partially empty shelves in a shop in Caracas, Venezuela, where a downward spiral is set to continue. Picture: EPA

The oil-rich nation has already displaced civilians.

been unravelling in almost every conceivable way – from runaway inflation and empty supermarket shelves to the virtual collapse of the public health sector.

The government closely guards data on what appear to be steep rises in maternal and infant mortality rates, poverty and malnutrition, but doctors and civil society groups have been monitoring the worrying trajectory.

With the government of President Nicolas Maduro still in denial about the growing humanitarian crisis, the downward spiral will only continue.

Vaticanmediated talks between the government and the opposition that started in October have so far failed to yield an agreement to lift the country’s ban on international aid – a change that could alleviate critical medicine shortages.

Maduro successfully stalled a recall vote that would probably have unseated him last October.

Under Venezuela’s constitutional rules, should Maduro lose a referendum this year, he will still be able to hand over power to his vice-president and keep the United Socialist Party in power.

With a political solution virtually off the table, more social unrest seems inevitable.

Increasingly, Venezuelans will be forced to cross borders in search of livelihoods, health care and affordable food.

Brazil and Colombia are likely to bear the brunt of this forced migration.



(3) Yemen’s downward spiral


WAR MARCHES ON: A Yemeni pupil walks past a building allegedly destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike, in Sana’a, on January 10. Picture: EPA

A small sliver of the world is finally paying attention to Yemen.

That’s in part due to activist campaigns pushing the US and Britain to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, not to mention the Saudis’ grudging admission they had used British cluster bombs in the war (followed by Britain’s statement of the same).

But the war and humanitarian catastrophe marches on.

Despite assurances by the Saudi-led coalition that they take great care to avoid collateral damage, there have been attacks on markets and funerals, and now more than 4 300 civilian deaths since the war began last March.

And that’s only what the decimated health system can count. Peace talks don’t offer much hope.

The UN-backed peace process – already a set of negotiations between elites that didn’t take into account the reality on the ground – is going nowhere, and Houthi rebels have set up their own government.

And now, Yemen is at serious risk of sliding into famine.

Before the war, the country relied on imports for 90 percent of its food.

With the economy in tatters, importers are finding it hard to bring in what the country needs, and families simply don’t have the cash to buy food.



(4) The post-Aleppo future of Syria

The final fall of the last pocket of resistance in east Aleppo was a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But rebels still control Idlib and much of Deraa, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units have Afrin in the north, while Turkey appears to have territorial ambitions.

And there’s Islamic State, resurgent in Palmyra and still in control of Raqqa.

Aleppo marks yet another failure for diplomacy.

The last round of Geneva talks seems a distant memory, and while a new ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey is holding in some parts, the truce doesn’t include all rebel groups.

If this deal doesn’t pave the way for peace talks in Kazakhstan and full-scale violence begins again, it’s not clear where al-Assad will take the fight.

But it’s likely that the siege tactics will lead to more local truces and evacuations.

The year looks bleak for civilians – those bussed from Aleppo are headed into warzones in the middle of winter, joining the 6.3 million already displaced civilians.



(5) Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, new insurgency


WAR MARCHES ON: A Yemeni pupil walks past a building allegedly destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike, in Sana’a, on January 10. Picture: EPA
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There are few groups as persecuted as the Rohingya.

During decades of military rule, Myanmar’s generals stripped away most of their rights, including citizenship, and imposed the apartheid system they live under today.

About half a million Rohingya have fled across the border during attacks on their communities over the past decades, but Bangladesh doesn’t want them and refuses to even register them as refugees.

The last few months of 2016 saw a new wave of migration over the border as Myanmar’s military allegedly carried out widespread abuses of civilians in the wake of attacks by a new insurgent group.

Myanmar’s heavy-handed approach is unlikely to crush the group, known as Harakah al-Yakin (“Faith Movement” in Arabic).

In fact, there is a good chance that by targeting the civilian population, the military will drive more youth to join the insurgency.

So far, the insurgents have targeted only Myanmar security forces and their motivation seems purely local – to push the government to grant the Rohingya citizenship.

But there is a danger that international Islamist groups, including Islamic State, could capitalise on the movement, which could threaten regional stability.



(6) Genocide and famine warnings in South Sudan


FOOD AID: Food destined for 19 000 internally displaced people in Pibor County, South Sudan, is offloaded from a UN flight. Picture: EPA

South Sudan’s descent continues, and it’s likely to only get worse this year.

The civil war drove 400 000 people across the border into Uganda since a peace deal broke down in July, and more than 1.8 million people are now internally displaced.

Fighting has disrupted farming and made it impossible to provide humanitarian relief in many areas.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warns: “All available indicators point to an unprecedented deterioration of the food security situation across South Sudan in 2017.

The risk of famine is real for thousands of people.” The war and competition for resources have led to the “extreme polarisation of some ethnic groups”, warned Adama Dieng, the UN’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide.

If that process continues, “there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide”.

Efforts to pressure the government and rebels to return to peace talks have failed.

South Sudan enters 2017 under the shadow of looming famine and possible genocide, and the international community seems unable or unwilling to force leaders to stop fighting before they drive their country into an even deeper crisis.



(7) Millions displaced in Iraq

All eyes are on Mosul – the battle that could finally finish off Islamic State in Iraq.

Aid groups warn that as many as 1 million civilians are trapped inside, and more than 110 000 people have already fled the surrounding areas.

But there’s another, related problem, brewing in Iraq.

Overall, 3 million people are displaced across the country, many from areas controlled or liberated from Islamic State.

For Sunnis from Anbar province going home is far from a sure thing.

Those thought to have ties to Islamic State can’t go home, and are stuck in camps, makeshift shelters, or elsewhere.

Ignoring this problem risks radicalisation of a population that already feels scapegoated and has in the past been controlled by al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

It’s not just Sunnis at risk.

Some Christians say they are too afraid to go home to liberated villages near Mosul.

The Iraqi government can hardly keep the lights on and has focused its limited resources on the fighting.

But this shortsightedness comes at the country’s future peril.



(8) Refugee crisis in Afghanistan


Picture: EPA

It's been a while since Afghanistan had a good year, but the last one has been especially tough – and it’s set the scene for a disastrous 2017.

After a decade and a half of “boots on the ground” style warfare, the US withdrew almost all of its troops. This triggered an unexpected economic collapse. The past year also saw the emergence of a migration crisis.

Two of Afghanistan’s neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, have been pushing Afghan refugees back over the border in massive numbers, while the EU signed a deal that made aid contingent upon the Afghan government’s agreement to accept rejected asylum seekers. The first plane carrying Afghans deported from Germany arrived in mid-December.

Going into the new year, Afghanistan is struggling to support 583 174 people displaced by conflict, and 616 620 people who returned from other countries.

There’s no sign that the Taliban insurgency will ease up, and efforts at convincing them to talk peace with the government have been unsuccessful. Afghanistan’s military is also battling other insurgent groups, notably Islamic State.



(9) Kabila clinging to power


POLITICAL MANOEUVRING: DRC leader Joseph Kabila. Picture: EPA

The political false dawn of last year, Hillary Clinton aside, was the electoral concession that wasn’t by the autocrat running Gambia.

The announcement turned out to be a ploy by President Yahya Jammeh to buy himself more time to work out how he might extend his 22-and-a-half years in power.

But we’re also shifting our attention from Africa’s smallest mainland country to its second largest – the Democratic Republic of Congo – where President Joseph Kabila appears to be engaged in similar manoeuvring that has already cost dozens of lives and led to hundreds of arrests.

Although violent unrest in the Gambia shouldn’t be discounted, the consequences of Kabila clinging to power could be even more disastrous.

At the moment, an uneasy truce of sorts seems to be holding.

Opposition parties have agreed, in principle at least, to allow Kabila to remain as president until the end of next year, but discussions ahead on a transitional government and delayed elections could quickly unravel.

Kabila might also try to amend the constitution again to delay elections into next year and beyond.

With neighbouring Burundi in extended turmoil over term limits and memories still fresh of the 1998-2003 Second Congo War that dragged in nine African nations and led to about 6 million deaths, events in Kinshasa are worth keeping a close eye on.

The opposition is weak and, in Kinshasa at least, unarmed, so with little international pressure being brought to bear and the media spotlight elsewhere, the received wisdom is that Kabila will quietly cement his hold on power.



(10) Famine in the Lake Chad Basin


HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: Some of the millions of people in need of food aid in the Lake Chad region at a food distribution point. Picture IRIN

In terms of sheer numbers and need, one humanitarian crisis that could overshadow all of the above next year lies in the vast Lake Chad Basin.

It has had little coverage by journalists; perhaps more under-reported than any other humanitarian emergency of a similar scale.

Despite military progress against Boko Haram extremists, last year saw conditions deteriorate fast in this region, where Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria meet.

Mausi Segun, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told IRIN that such appalling scenes, including the faces of thousands of starving children, haven’t been seen here since the 1967-70 war with secessionist Biafra.

Early warning network FEWS NET says 4.7 million people need emergency food aid in north-eastern Nigeria alone and warned last month that a famine is likely to have occurred in remote pockets of the region.

Across the border in Chad, conditions are little better – more than 130 000 people displaced by the Boko Haram conflict are scattered around camps, competing for slender resources.

And it’s not just Boko Haram that is the problem: a combination of human water use and climate change has shrunk the lake itself to a 20th of its original size since the 1960s.

The crisis is likely to deepen this year. – IRIN