The Sentinel

Human Rights Action :: Humanitarian Response :: Health :: Education :: Heritage Stewardship ::
Sustainable Development
Week ending 22 February 2020 :: Number 306

This weekly digest is intended to aggregate and distill key content from a broad spectrum of practice domains and organization types including key agencies/IGOs, NGOs, governments, academic and research institutions, consortia and collaborations, foundations, and commercial organizations. We also monitor a spectrum of peer-reviewed journals and general media channels. The Sentinel’s geographic scope is global/regional but selected country-level content is included. We recognize that this spectrum/scope yields an indicative and not an exhaustive product. Comments and suggestions should be directed to:

David R. Curry
GE2P2 Global Foundation – Governance, Evidence, Ethics, Policy, Practice

PDF: The Sentinel_ period ending 22 Feb 2020

:: Week in Review  [See selected posts just below]
:: Key Agency/IGO/Governments Watch – Selected Updates from 30+ entities   [see PDF]
:: INGO/Consortia/Joint Initiatives Watch – Media Releases, Major Initiatives, Research:: Foundation/Major Donor Watch -Selected Updates
:: Journal Watch – Key articles and abstracts from 100+ peer-reviewed journals  [see PDF]

Recent Developments in Northwest Syria – Flash Update No. 8 – As of 20 February 2020


OCHA – Syria
Recent Developments in Northwest Syria – Flash Update No. 8 – As of 20 February 2020
[Editor’s text bolding]
:: The humanitarian crisis for people in northwest Syria continues to reach new and dire levels. Some 900,000 people have been displaced since 1 December, exceeding worst case planning figures by the humanitarian community.
:: Indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas continue to drive people from their homes and destroy vital services, including hospitals, markets, and schools. Cold weather has made the situation worse.
:: The frontlines in northwest Syria are rapidly moving closer to densely populated areas, with bombardments increasingly affecting IDP sites and their vicinity.

The humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria has reached a horrifying level with almost 900,000 people displaced since 1 December. The majority of women, men, girls and boys who fled their homes to escape indiscriminate attacks moved to northwestern Idleb governorate, a small area already hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The entire population of the Idleb area, estimated at 3 million people prior to the latest wave of violence, is increasingly concentrated in this small area along the Turkey-Syria border with no other place to go to find safety.

Since 1 December, some 300 communities changed control, rapidly bringing the frontlines closer to areas that are densely populated. People from those communities are those who fled. Places previously considered safe by civilians are now coming under fire. On 14 and 15 February, one person was killed, and many others were injured when two IDP sites were hit in Dana sub-district. These locations received some 267,000 displaced people recently and was home to more than 712,000 people prior to the latest wave of violence. Nevertheless, people from areas such as Atareb and Daret Azza, now at the frontlines, continue to flee further into northwest Idleb and northern Aleppo governorates as heavy bombardment impact their communities. According to OHCHR, some 300 people were killed in Idleb and Aleppo due to hostilities from 1 January to 18 February, many of them women and children.

Some 330,000 of the almost 900,000 people who displaced since 1 December fled to areas in northern Aleppo governorate such as Afrin, A’zaz and Al Bab. However, the freedom of movement of civilians from Idleb to northern Aleppo is increasingly at threat. As bombardment extended to the Daret Azza area, the roads leading to one of the two crossings between the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate reportedly came under fire, making it extremely dangerous for civilians to move via this route. Despite the announcement of two additional crossings between areas controlled by non-state armed groups and the Government of Syria opening near Mezanaz and Saraqab, and the relative decline of military activity in proximity of two others in Abu Thohur and al Hader, there is no information that people used these crossings to leave the Idleb area.

Nonetheless, some 1,040 people reportedly moved from the Idleb area to areas under the control of the Government of Syria since 1 December, Humanitarian actors are increasing their readiness for potential further movement of people. Some 1,000 people recently displaced from northwest Syria, reportedly arrived in Ar-Raqqa city where they are receiving assistance at collective shelters.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Idleb area is susceptible to the impact of military activity. Humanitarian transshipments via the Bab al Hawa crossing that provides a lifeline to Idleb were suspended temporarily on 11 February when hostilities intensified. Regular transshipments resumed the following day, truck drivers from inside the Idleb area were reticent to separate from their families given the volatility of the situation. Prior to the most recent wave of violence and displacement, an estimated 1.9 million people were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in the Idleb area.

Indiscriminate attacks continue to damage or destroy vital civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. On 17 February, two hospitals in Daret Azza town were reportedly damaged by airstrikes and put out of service. These hospitals providing some 14,000 outpatient consultations, facilities for hundreds of safe deliveries, surgeries and hemodialysis sessions. According to OHCHR, 10 medical facilities and 19 educational facilities were either directly hit or affected by strikes close by since 1 January in northwest Syria.

Harsh winter conditions further aggravate the suffering of these vulnerable people who fled their homes to escape the violence, most of whom have been displaced multiple times over nine years of conflict. Almost 170,000 of those newly displaced people are estimated to be living in the open or in unfinished buildings while some 284,000 are staying in camps already over-stretched beyond capacity or in makeshift camps where they set up individual tents with no basic services such as latrines. Many people have resorted to burning whatever they can spare such as extra clothes, pieces of furniture or materials they scavenged that let out toxic fumes.

In light of the scale of this dire humanitarian situation, humanitarian actors on the ground continue to leverage all efforts to scale up. However, people’s needs are so vast, with the current resources it is a struggle to meet their needs which grow exponentially despite all humanitarian efforts. As people’s humanitarian needs becoming more severe by the hour, humanitarian workers, who are the backbones of the emergency response, are displaced themselves with their families and struggle to support their loved ones. Many humanitarian NGOs had to leave behind equipment as they displaced with the people they were supporting. Humanitarian assets, warehouses and offices were left behind. Humanitarian activities planned in areas which changed control or close to the frontlines can no longer be carried out.

Some $30 million USD has been dispersed by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the emergency, and an additional emergency allocation of $40 million USD from the Syria Cross-Border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is under process. The humanitarian community estimated that $336 million USD was needed to support some 800,000 people until July 2020 to meet the needs. This inter-cluster plan is under revision as more people are now affected.


A shameful response to the tragedy of Idlib
Financial Times – Editorial
Friday, 21 Feb 2020

What the UN describes as the worst humanitarian catastrophe of Syria’s nine-year-old civil war is unfolding in Idlib. The north-western province is the last redoubt of the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has launched a vicious offensive to recapture it, backed by Russian warplanes and Iranian-supplied fighters.

Roughly 1m people, a third of Idlib’s population — half of whom have been displaced several times already — are fleeing from a campaign of terror that deliberately targets civilians.

Turkey, which has 12 military “observation posts” in Idlib as part of a “de-escalation” accord with Russia in 2018, and has lost troops to regime shelling in recent weeks, is poised to go on the offensive against the Assads. That will not only set Ankara on a collision course with Moscow but aggravate the already appalling conditions Idlib’s people are enduring.

Syria’s pitiless conflict has killed half a million people. It has displaced half the prewar population of 22m, about 6m of them abroad. This new wave of refugees, pressed up against the Turkish frontier to the west and crammed into two north-west Syrian enclaves Turkey seized in 2016 and 2018, is set to become the biggest of the war.

That risks reviving Europe’s 2015-16 “migrant” crisis that turbocharged populist xenophobia. Russia is well aware of this, using it as leverage to frighten the EU into reconciling with Assad rule and stumping up funds to resurrect Syria from the rubble. Turkey is already host to 3.6m Syrian refugees, and part-subsidised by the EU to keep them. It periodically threatens to reopen routes north into Europe for fleeing Syrians — unless it wins support for the buffer zone it is building across northern Syria against the Kurds.

Idlib distils every intractable element that deterred the US and Europe from backing an initially broad-based rebellion against tyranny, before it was hijacked by jihadi extremists.

There are some 20,000 jihadi fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Idlib. But there are also 3m civilians. They have run out of places to run to, and their children are freezing to death in sub-zero temperatures. They face the bombing of hospitals and schools, markets and bakeries — the war criminal’s handbook the Assad regime and its patrons have written in blood. Syrian and Russian air forces have destroyed more than 50 medical facilities in Idlib, such that doctors have stopped providing the coordinates that were supposed to protect them and have, in some cases literally, gone underground.

Idlib, one of the first cities to rise up against the Assads, has been a pivot of a horrendous war that has saved the worst for last. The regime and its sponsors always intended to make it the final killing field in this catalogue of horror. The strategic logic of the Idlib offensive — to recapture two arterial highways from Damascus to Aleppo and from the coast to the east — pales alongside the primeval urge to liquidate all opposition. It should be remembered that when Russia came to the Assads’ rescue in 2015, it did not go after Isis or al-Qaeda. It relentlessly targeted mainstream rebels.

Western response to the tragedy is shameful. Russia has used its veto at the UN Security Council to shield Syria 14 times in 2011-19, often backed by China. But the US is an onlooker and Europe nowhere to be seen. The west has things that Russia (and Iran) want, including relief from sanctions and help to rebuild Syria. President Vladimir Putin needs to be confronted — with the evidence of Russia’s war crimes — before Idlib turns into a bloodbath and more millions of helpless Syrians are scattered to the winds

UN uses tech start-up to help war victims design peace deal – Remesh

UN uses tech start-up to help war victims design peace deal
Financial Times
Thursday, 20 Feb 2020

UN peacemakers are to start using mass online conversations to try to understand what people living in war zones want from peace agreements.

The new technology — which could be used in countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan and Ukraine — has been developed by UN officials working with the New York start-up Remesh and will be rolled out within the next year.

People invited to take part in a mass conversation can answer questions and respond to polls on their smartphones and their responses are analysed in real time to try to present insights to the UN team.
Fabrizio Hochschild, the UN under-secretary-general responsible for digital co-operation, said he wanted to broaden negotiations beyond “the interests of ten men — and usually always they are men — sitting in a room with a UN mediator in between”.

He said the aim was to have a new system which “really reflects the aspirations of those most affected by conflict”.

While more than $27bn is spent each year on peacebuilding initiatives around the world, based on a UN estimate, as many as two-thirds of these actually do not lead to any durable resolution. Instead, conflicts are often resumed two or three times after an agreement is signed.

Several academic studies have shown that wider consultation is key to ensuring the success of any peace deal, but gauging sentiment is difficult because viewpoints and goals shift as conflicts evolve.
Remesh said its platform was a “real-time” dialogue, carried out with simultaneous translation.

“You could think of it as just a really, really fancy AI-powered conversation platform,” said Andrew Konya, founder of Remesh. “It could serve as a way for the mediator to interact directly and have a conversation with the population . . . so they would know whether what they were working on resonated.”

The main challenge is in finding people to engage with, and persuading them to do so. The UN said it would issue both online and physical invitations.

So far, Remesh data on the use of this technology for commercial and political use shows that, on average, about 25 per cent of people who say they want to engage in conversation end up doing so, and about 80 per cent of those respond to a majority of the questions.

However, the company reports that in cases where the topic of conversation is closely related to an issue impacting on people’s lives, these numbers can be much higher.

To guard against hacking, the algorithms are designed to minimise the impact that either lone malicious actors or “swarms” of bots can have on results, and have warning systems to detect participants who are behaving suspiciously. An SMS conversation platform is also under development for populations that do not have good internet access.

Rosemary DiCarlo, UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, said the plan would “give a voice to people who wouldn’t normally have a voice, it allows them to have an input into our thinking”.

The initiative is part of a wider plan by the UN to bring together academics and tech companies to work out how they can be more effective. The London-based Alan Turing Institute has developed an AI tool that it claims is 94 per cent accurate in predicting the location of new conflicts a year in advance.
Separately, the peacekeeping body is also experimenting with using virtual reality to brief Security Council members who are voting on operations in unstable states which are too difficult to visit, such as Yemen.

David Balson, a former employee of UK signals intelligence agency GCHQ, is now part of a company called Ripjar which is working with the UN on other potential tech innovations. He said that the field of peace and security “needs to modernise” to deal with the evolving threats such as hybrid warfare.

“When you look at what’s happening in places like Yemen, places like Ukraine, these are not the type of conflicts that happened 30 years ago,” he said. “These have much more complex actors, intentions, motivations, and some of them are deliberately hidden through deception and the substrate of cyber space


Remesh :: About
Agile research is here
The Remesh platform allows you to have a live conversation with your customers at scale, using AI to analyze and organize your audience’s responses in real-time. Gain fast, frequent, and efficient insights and make decisions with confidence.

Organize the world’s voice into Truths.
Remesh’s mission is to organize the world’s voice into Truths through engaging and understanding populations in real-time and enabling informed action at the speed of conversation.

Access to human truth makes a better world.
Remesh was founded in 2014 with the mission to create a technology that could truly represent the will of the people and amplify their collective voice. As a company, we believe in the power of discovering the Truth which requires engaging, exchanging ideas and having a dialogue with groups of people at a massive scale. Starting conversations that bridge cultural, political, social, economic and geographic divide, ultimately leading to a more unified and less divided world.

Elite Capture of Foreign Aid : Evidence from Offshore Bank Accounts – World Bank

Development Aid – Corruption

Elite Capture of Foreign Aid : Evidence from Offshore Bank Accounts
World Bank – Policy Research Working Paper (English)
Jørgen Juel Andersen, Niels Johannesen, Bob Rijkers
2020/02/18 :: 46 papers
Do elites capture foreign aid? This paper documents that aid disbursements to highly aid-dependent countries coincide with sharp increases in bank deposits in offshore financial centers known for bank secrecy and private wealth management, but not in other financial centers. The estimates are not confounded by contemporaneous shocks such as civil conflicts, natural disasters, and financial crises, and are robust to instrumenting with predetermined aid commitments. The implied leakage rate is around 7.5 percent at the sample mean and tends to increase with the ratio of aid to GDP. The findings are consistent with aid capture in the most aid-dependent countries.


World Bank Group Statement on Development Research
WASHINGTON, February 18, 2020—Due to heightened interest in a Working Paper published by the World Bank, the institution has issued the following statement :
“Research conducted at the World Bank Group aims to support better country outcomes for the poor and vulnerable. The Bank is ranked first among research institutions in development, and our knowledge services undergo extensive review to ensure quality. The Bank publishes almost 400 working papers annually, often as works-in-progress disseminated informally to stimulate discussion and serve as a catalyst for more research.

We fully support our research department’s work to generate independent, relevant, peer-reviewed research, including on the important topic of illicit financial flows. World Bank Group management takes corruption and related fiduciary risks very seriously, especially given the challenging environments in which we need to work to achieve our poverty mission. The draft paper, ‘Elite Capture of Foreign Aid’ underwent several reviews, and it was improved as a result. The revised paper, now published as a World Bank Working Paper addresses a number of comments raised during the review process.

The World Bank Group strongly supports rule of law and good governance practices. We have strict procurement and financial management procedures in place that deter and detect corruption and irregularities in IDA and IBRD funded projects and programs and hold violators accountable wherever possible.”

Political artefacts, aesthetics and heritage: the Valley of the Fallen

Featured Journal Content

International Journal of Heritage Studies
Volume 26, Issue 3 2020
Political artefacts, aesthetics and heritage: the Valley of the Fallen
José Manuel Barros García
Pages: 253-266
Published online: 28 May 2019
When considering the values which define heritage, aesthetic value is usually one of the most important, nearly always linked to the idea of work of art and to concepts such as beauty or harmony. Furthermore, aesthetics and politics tend to be dealt with separately. However, the link between aesthetics and politics is key in order to manage the meaning of those artefacts made with the intention of altering the political environment (political artefacts), particularly when they could be (or when they have already become) heritage. This paper puts forward the idea that in order to fully comprehend the social effects of political artefacts, their relationship with aesthetics must be understood. The function of aesthetics in modifying the meanings and connotations of heritage, when the latter is considered to be negative from a socio-political point of view, is also examined. In order to exemplify this relationship between aesthetics and politics, the resignification of the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos), the most iconic and important Francoist memorial in Spain, is discussed.

Assessing the risk of pre-existing grievances in non-democracies: The conditional effect of natural disasters on repression

Featured Journal Content

International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Volume 42 January 2020
Research article   Open access
Assessing the risk of pre-existing grievances in non-democracies: The conditional effect of natural disasters on repression
Katharina Pfaff
Article 101337
Every disaster carries the risk of destruction but not every disaster prompts violent political process in a country. This article examines the popular argument that natural disasters can lead to higher state violence if resulting shocks caused by a disaster add to pre-existing grievances. If economic inequality or political instability is prevalent before a disaster occurs, disasters are expected to exacerbate the perceived threat to government’s survival in office. Consequently, repression is expected to be higher in the aftermath of a disaster. I test the existence of the expected conditional effect of pre-disaster stability and disasters using cross-national data on natural rapid-onset disasters in non-democracies between 1976 and 2013. As indicators for pre-existing grievances this article focuses on ex ante economic inequality and political dissent. While a natural disaster as such is not associated with a violation of human rights, empirical evidence suggests that the probability of an increase in post-disaster repression is higher when a country has previously experienced grievances.

World failing to provide children with a healthy life and a climate fit for their future: WHO-UNICEF-Lancet

Health – Children – Climate +

World failing to provide children with a healthy life and a climate fit for their future: WHO-UNICEF-Lancet
As climate and commercial threats intensify, WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission presses for radical rethink on child health
NEW YORK/ LONDON/ GENEVA, 19 February: No single country is adequately protecting children’s health, their environment and their futures, finds a landmark report released today by a Commission of over 40 child and adolescent health experts from around the world. The Commission was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet.

The report, A Future for the World’s Children?, finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children.

“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse,” said former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Commission, Helen Clark. “It has been estimated that around 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty. But of even greater concern, every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.”

“Countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health, to ensure that we not only look after our children today but protect the world they will inherit in the future,” Clark added.

Intensifying climate change threatens every child’s future
The report includes a new global index of 180 countries, comparing performance on child flourishing, including measures of child survival and well-being, such as health, education, and nutrition; sustainability, with a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions, and equity, or income gaps.

According to the report, while the poorest countries need to do more to support their children’s ability to live healthy lives, excessive carbon emissions – disproportionately from wealthier countries – threaten the future of all children. If global warming exceeds 4°C by the year 2100 in line with current projections, this would lead to devastating health consequences for children, due to rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition.

The index shows that children in Norway, the Republic of Korea, and the Netherlands have the best chance at survival and well-being, while children in Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali face the worst odds. However, when authors took per capita CO2 emissions into account, the top countries trail behind: Norway ranked 156, the Republic of Korea 166, and the Netherlands 160. Each of the three emits 210% more CO2 per capita than their 2030 target. The United States of America (USA), Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the ten worst emitters.

“More than 2 billion people live in countries where development is hampered by humanitarian crises, conflicts, and natural disasters, problems increasingly linked with climate change,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck from Senegal, Co-Chair of the Commission. “While some of the poorest countries have among the lowest CO2 emissions, many are exposed to the harshest impacts of a rapidly changing climate. Promoting better conditions today for children to survive and thrive nationally does not have to come at the cost of eroding children’s futures globally.”

The only countries on track to beat CO2 emission per capita targets by 2030, while also performing fairly (within the top 70) on child flourishing measures are: Albania, Armenia, Grenada, Jordan, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay and Viet Nam.

Harmful commercial marketing preys on children – with childhood obesity increasing 11-fold
The report also highlights the distinct threat posed to children from harmful marketing. Evidence suggests that children in some countries see as many as 30,000 advertisements on television alone in a single year, while youth exposure to vaping (e-cigarettes) advertisements increased by more than 250% in the USA over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people.

Professor Anthony Costello, one of the Commission’s authors, said: “Industry self-regulation has failed. Studies in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA – among many others – have shown that self-regulation has not hampered commercial ability to advertise to children. For example, despite industry signing up to self-regulation in Australia, children and adolescent viewers were still exposed to 51 million alcohol ads during just one year of televised football, cricket and rugby. And the reality could be much worse still: we have few facts and figures about the huge expansion of social media advertising and algorithms aimed at our children.”

Children’s exposure to commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages is associated with purchase of unhealthy foods and overweight and obesity, linking predatory marketing to the alarming rise in childhood obesity. The number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – an 11-fold increase, with dire individual and societal costs.

A manifesto for immediate action on child and adolescent health
To protect children, the independent Commission authors call for a new global movement driven by and for children. Specific recommendations include:
1. Stop CO2 emissions with the utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on this planet;
2. Place children and adolescents at the centre of our efforts to achieve sustainable development;
3. New policies and investment in all sectors to work towards child health and rights;
4. Incorporate children’s voices into policy decisions;
5. Tighten national regulation of harmful commercial marketing, supported by a new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet family of journals, said: “The opportunity is great. The evidence is available. The tools are at hand. From heads-of-state to local government, from UN leaders to children themselves, this Commission calls for the birth of a new era for child and adolescent health. It will take courage and commitment to deliver. It is the supreme test of our generation.”
“From the climate crisis to obesity and harmful commercial marketing, children around the world are having to contend with threats that were unimaginable just a few generations ago,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “It is time for a rethink on child health, one which places children at the top of every government’s development agenda and puts their well-being above all considerations.”

“This report shows that the world’s decision makers are, too often, failing today’s children and youth: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization said. “This must be a wakeup call for countries to invest in child health and development, ensure their voices are heard, protect their rights, and build a future that is fit for children.”

Notes to editors
[1] About the index; please see pp. 35-38 of the report, with technical details in the Annex, pp. 19-72
[2] This Commission was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Commission Report:
Embargoed link: