Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Fri, 25 Jul 2014 08:01:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Human Development Report Finds South Asia’s Poor on a Knife’s Edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:58:30 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135728 Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Millions still live in poverty and even those who have gained the security of the middle-income bracket could relapse into poverty due to sudden changes to their economic fortunes in South Asia, the latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed.

“In South Asia 44.4 percent of the population, around 730 million people, live on 1.25−2.50 dollars a day,” said the report, released in Tokyo Thursday.

It went on to warn that despite the region’s gains, the threat of more of its citizens being pushed back into poverty was very real and that there were large disparities in income and living standards within nations.

“Many who recently joined the middle class could easily fall back into poverty with a sudden change in circumstances,” the report’s authors stressed.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded healthcare and education opportunities." -- UNDP Human Development Report 2014
Here in Sri Lanka, categorised as a lower middle-income country by the World Bank in 2011, overall poverty levels have come down in the last half-decade.

The Department of Statistics said that poverty levels had dropped from 8.9 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent by this April. In some of the richest districts, the fall was sharper. The capital Colombo saw levels drop from 3.6 percent to 1.4 percent. Similar drops were recorded in the adjoining two districts of Gampaha and Kalutara.

However the poorest seemed to getting poorer. Poverty headcount in the poorest area of the nation, the southeastern district of Moneralaga, increased from 14.5 percent to 20.8 percent in the same time period.

The disparity could be larger if stricter measurements aren’t used, argued economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan.

“There is a very low threshold for the status of employment,” he told IPS, referring to the ‘10 years and above’ age threshold used by the government to assess employment rates.

“Such a low threshold gives an artificially higher employment rate, which is deceptive,” he stressed.

The UNDP report said that in the absence of robust safeguards, millions ran the risk of being dragged back into poverty. “With limited social protection, financial crises can quickly lead to profound social crises,” the report forecast.

In Indonesia, for instance, the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s saw poverty levels balloon from 11 percent to 37 percent. Even years later, the world’s poor are finding it hard to climb up the earnings ladder.

“The International Labour Organisation estimates that there were 50 million more working poor in 2011. Only 24 million of them climbed above the 1.25-dollars-a-day income poverty line over 2007–2011, compared with 134 million between 2000 and 2007.”

Globally some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and 2.7 billion live on even less, the report noted, adding that while those numbers have been declining, many people only increased their income to a point barely above the poverty line so that “idiosyncratic or generalised shocks could easily push them back into poverty.”

This has huge implications, since roughly 12 percent of the world population lives in chronic hunger, while 1.2 billion of the world’s workers are still employed in the informal sector.

Sri Lanka, reflecting global trends, is also home to large numbers of poor people despite the island showing impressive growth rates.

Punchi Banda Jayasundera, the secretary to the treasury and the point man for the national economy, predicts a growth rate of 7.8 percent for this year.

“This year should not be an uncomfortable one for us,” he told IPS, but while this is true for the well off, it could not be further away from reality for hundreds of thousands who cannot make ends meet or afford a square meal every day.

While the report identified the poor as being most vulnerable in the face of sudden upheavals, other groups – like women, indigenous communities, minorities, the old, the displaced and the disabled – are also considered “high risk”, and often face overlapping issues of marginalisation and poverty.

The report also identified climate change as a major contributor to inequality and instability, warning that extreme heat and extreme precipitation events would likely increase in frequency.

By the end of this century, heavy rainfall and rising sea levels are likely to pose risks to some of the low-lying areas in South Asia, and also wreak havoc on its fast-expanding urban centres.

“Smallholder farmers in South Asia are particularly vulnerable – India alone has 93 million small farmers. These groups already face water scarcity. Some studies predict crop yields up to 30 percent lower over the next decades, even as population pressures continue to rise,” the report continued, urging policy-makers to seriously consider adaptation measures.

Sri Lanka is already talking about a 15-percent loss in its vital paddy harvest, while simultaneously experiencing galloping price hikes in vegetables due to lack of rainfall and extreme heat.

It has already had to invest over 400 million dollars to safeguard its economic and administrative nerve centre, Colombo, from flash floods.

“We are getting running lessons on how to adapt to fluctuating weather, and we better take note,” J D M K Chandarasiri, additional director at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Institute in Colombo, told IPS.

Smart investments in childhood education and youth employment could act as a bulwark against shocks, the report suggested, since these long-term measures are crucial in interrupting the cycle of poverty.

The report also urged policy makers to look at development and economic growth through a holistic prism rather than continuing with piecemeal interventions, noting that many developed countries invested in education, health and public services before reaching a high income status.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded health care and education opportunities and other interventions for community development,” the reported noted.

(END)

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OPINION: Tackling Human Vulnerabilities, Changing Investment, Policies and Social Norms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-tackling-human-vulnerabilities-changing-investment-policies-and-social-norms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-tackling-human-vulnerabilities-changing-investment-policies-and-social-norms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-tackling-human-vulnerabilities-changing-investment-policies-and-social-norms/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:38:58 +0000 Khalid Malik http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135724 By Khalid Malik
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

As successive Human Development Reports have shown, most people in most countries are doing better in human development. Globalisation, advances in technology and higher incomes all hold promise for longer, healthier, more secure lives.

But there is also a widespread sense of precariousness in the world today. Improvements in living standards can quickly be undermined by a natural disaster or economic slump. Political threats, community tensions, crime and environmental damage all contribute to individual and community vulnerability.

The 2014 Report, on vulnerability and resilience, shows that human development progress is slowing down and is increasingly precarious. Globalisation, for instance, which has brought benefits to many, has also created new risks. It appears that increased volatility has become the new normal.

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

As financial and food crises ripple around the world, there is a growing worry that people and nations are not in control over their own destinies and thus are vulnerable to decisions or events elsewhere.

The report argues that human progress is not only a matter of expanding people’s choices to be educated, to live long, healthy lives, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. It is also about ensuring that these choices are secure and sustainable. And that requires us to understand – and deal with – vulnerability.

Traditionally, most analysis of vulnerability is in relation to specific risks, like disasters or conflicts. This report takes a wider approach, exploring the underlying drivers of vulnerabilities, and how individuals and societies can become more resilient and recover quicker and better from setbacks.

Vulnerability is a critical concern for many people. Despite recent progress, 1.5 billion people still live in multidimensional poverty. Half as many again, another 800 million, live just above the poverty threshold. A shock can easily push them back into poverty.

Nearly 80 percent of the world lacks social protection. About 12 percent, or 842 million, experiences chronic hunger, and nearly half of all workers – more than 1.5 billion – are in informal or precarious employment.

More than 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by conflict. Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic are just some of the countries where human development is being reversed because of the impact of serious violent conflict. We live in a vulnerable world.

The report demonstrates and builds on a basic premise: that failing to protect people against vulnerability is often the consequence of inadequate policies and poor social institutions.

And what are these policies? The report looks, for instance, at how capabilities are formed, and at the threats that people face at different stages of their lives, from infancy through youth, adulthood, and old age.

Gaps in the vocabularies of children from richer and poorer families open up as early as age three, and only widen from there. Yet most countries do not invest much in those critical early years. (Sweden is a notable, good example.) Social spending needs to be aimed where and when it is needed most.

The report makes a strong call as well for the return of full employment as a central policy goal, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Jobs bring social benefits that far exceed the wages paid. They foster social stability and social cohesion, and decent jobs with the requisite protections strengthen people’s ability to manage shocks and uncertainty.

At the same time, these broader policies may not be enough. The report calls for more responsive institutions and laws to make societies fairer and more inclusive. Tackling long-standing discrimination against ‘structurally vulnerable’ groups such as women and the poor requires a renewed effort to promote positive norms, the adoption of special measures and supportive laws, and ensuring more equitable access to social services.

Countries acting alone can do much to make these changes happen – but national action can go only so far. In an interconnected world, international action is required to make these changes stick.

The provisioning of public goods – from disease control to global market regulations – are essential so that food price volatility, global recessions and climate change can be jointly managed to minimise the global effects of localised shocks.

Progress takes work and leadership. Many of the Millennium Development Goals are likely to be met by 2015, but success is by no means automatic, and gains cannot be assumed to be permanent. Helping vulnerable groups and reducing inequality are essential to sustaining development both now and across generations.

Khalid Malik is lead author of the Human Development Report and UNDP Director of the Human Development Report Office.

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‘Zero Tolerance’ the Call for Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zero-tolerance-the-call-for-child-marriage-and-female-genital-mutilation/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:43:04 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135698 Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

By A. D. McKenzie
LONDON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

Heightening their campaign to eradicate violence against women and girls, United Nations agencies and civil groups have called for increased action to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

At the first Girl Summit in London Wednesday, hosted by the U.K. government and UNICEF, delegates said they wanted to send a strong message that there should be “zero tolerance” for these practices.

“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices,” Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection, told IPS.“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices” – Susan Bissell, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection

“FGM is an excruciatingly painful and terrifying ordeal for young girls. The physical effects can last a lifetime, resulting in horrific infections, difficulty passing urine, infertility and even death.”

Bissell said that when a young girl is married “it tends to mark the end of her education and she’s more likely to have children when she’s still a child herself – with a much higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth”.

“Without firm and accelerated action now, hundreds of millions more girls will suffer permanent damage,” she added in an e-mail interview.

At the summit, the United Kingdom announced an FGM prevention programme, launched by the government’s Department of Health and the National Health Service (NHS) England. Backed by 1.4 million pounds, the programme is designed to improve the way in which the NHS tackles female genital mutilation and “clarify the role of health professionals which is to ‘care, protect, prevent’,” the government said.

According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, some 130,000 people are affected by FGM in the United Kingdom, with “60,000 girls under the age of 15 potentially at risk”, even though the practice is outlawed in the country.

The prevention programme will now make it mandatory for all “acute hospitals” to report the number of patients with FGM to the Department of Health on a monthly basis, as of September of this year.

U.N. officials said that the Girl Summit was a significant development because it marked the importance of the issues addressed.

“International leaders came together in one place and said enough is enough,” Bissell said.

While it is difficult to measure the impact of intensified campaigns on the reductions in child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting over the past few years, the United Nations and other organisations have noted that the numbers of girls affected are in fact decreasing.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of women married before age 18 has dropped by about half, from 34 percent to 18 percent over the last three decades, UNICEF says.

In South Asia, the decline has been especially marked for marriages involving girls under age 15, dropping from 32 percent to 17 percent.

“The marriage of girls under age 18, however, is still commonplace,” Bissell told IPS.

“In Indonesia and Morocco, the risk of marrying before age 18 is less than half of what it was three decades ago. In Ethiopia, women aged 20 to 24 are marrying about three years later than their counterparts three decades ago,” she added.

Regarding female genital mutilation/cutting, Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to one-third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation, while in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence of FGM has dropped by as much as half, Bissell said.

However, officials stressed that with population growth, it is possible that progress in reducing child marriage will remain flat unless the commitments made at the Girl Summit are acted upon. Flat progress “isn’t good enough”, Bissell told IPS.

Recently released U.N. figures show that, despite the declines, child marriage is widespread, with more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. UNICEF says that some 250 million women were married before the age of 15.

The highest percentage of these women can be found in South Asia, followed by East Asia and the Pacific which is home to 25 percent of girls and women married before the age of 18, UNICEF says.

Statistics also indicate that girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. In addition, teenage mothers are more at risk from complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; some 70,000 adolescent girls die every year because of such complications, according to the United Nations.

The statistics on female genital mutilation are also cause for international concern, with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) saying that about 125 million girls and women have been subjected to the practice, which can lead to haemorrhage, infection, physical dysfunction, obstructed labour and death.

According to UNFPA, female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage are human rights violations that both help to perpetuate girls’ low status by impairing their health and long-term development.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin told IPS that a number of states have adopted legislation against female genital mutilation/cutting but that some perpetrators are still operating with “impunity”.

Participating in the London summit, Osotimehin said that certain governments were facing challenges within their own countries because of long-held cultural beliefs, but like Bissell, he said that the picture is not completely bleak, because civil society and grassroots organisations are amplifying their campaigns.

“Our message for girls who are affected by these practices is that they have support – moral, psychological, physical and emotional support,” he told IPS. “We also want to send a message that those who are affected should advocate to try and stop these practices.”

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said it was significant that the summit saw commitment from the African Union and the deputy prime Minister of Ethiopia, as well as from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID). The Government of Canada and several other financial supporters also made commitments.

For the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the pledges show support for the message of “zero tolerance” of child marriage and FGM that her organisation wishes to send. They are also a strong signal that the practices can be ended in a generation, she told IPS.

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Gaza Under Fire – a Humanitarian Disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gaza-under-fire-a-humanitarian-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-under-fire-a-humanitarian-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gaza-under-fire-a-humanitarian-disaster/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:05:54 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135676 Following an Israeli airstrike, Palestinian youth inspect the building their families lived in. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Following an Israeli airstrike, Palestinian youth inspect the building their families lived in. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

As a result of over two weeks of Israeli bombardment, thousands of Palestinian civilians have fled their homes in the north of Gaza and sought refuge in schools run by the UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

Among the worst affected are Gazan children who have been forced to live in constant fear and danger, according to Dr. Sami Awaida, a specialised child psychiatrist for the Gaza Mental Health Programme – a local civil society and humanitarian organization that focuses on war trauma and mental health issues concerning children and adults in Gaza.“Children in Gaza have already suffered from two recent violent and shocking experiences in 2009 and 2012 … This trauma now re-generates previous pain and shock and also leads to a mental state of permanent fear and insecurity among children here” – Dr. Sami Awaida, a specialised child psychiatrist for the Gaza Mental Health Programme

Describing the impact of the current trauma, Awaida told IPS:  “Children in Gaza are suffering from anxiety, fear and insecurity because of this war situation.  The challenge we now face as mental health practitioners is ‘post-traumatic disorder’.”

“This means that children in Gaza have already suffered from two recent violent and shocking experiences in 2009 and 2012,” he continued. “This trauma now re-generates previous pain and shock and also leads to a mental state of permanent fear and insecurity among children here.”

Since Monday July 7, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to a severe military assault and engaged with the Palestinian factions in a new round of violence.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health has so far reported 230 Palestinians killed; most of them are entire families who were killed in direct shelling of Palestinian houses. Meanwhile, the number of injured has risen to 2,500. Many of the injured and the dead are children.

Hospitals in Gaza are currently suffering from a severe shortage of medical supplies and medicines. Ashraf Al-Qedra, spokesperson for the Gaza Ministry of Health, has called on the international community “to support hospitals in Gaza with urgent medical supplies, as Israel continues its military attacks, leaving more than 800 houses completely destroyed and 800 families without shelter.”

Since Israel began its current offensive against Gaza, its military forces have been accused of pursuing a policy of destroying Palestinian houses and killing civilians. Adnan Abu Hasna, media advisor and spokesperson for UNRWA in Gaza, told IPS that “UNRWA has officially demanded from Israel to respect international humanitarian law and the neutrality of civilians in the military operation.”

He added: “UNRWA stresses the need to fulfill the obligations of the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to immediately stop violence, due to the increasing number of children and women killed in the Israeli striking and bombardment of Gaza.”

Assam Yunis, director of the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, spoke to IPS about the stark violations of human rights and the urgent need for justice and accountability. “The current situation is catastrophic in every aspect,” he said.

“Human rights abuses are unbelievable and these include targeting medical teams and journalists, in addition to targeting children and women by Israel.  This points to clear violations of international law as well as war crimes.  Israel must be held legally accountable at the international level.”

Analysing the situation, Gaza-based political analyst and intellectual Ibrahim Ibrash says he believes that “Israel will never manage to end and uproot both Hamas movement and the Palestinian resistance from Gaza. On the other hand, the Palestinian militant groups will never manage to destroy and defeat Israel.”

He told IPS that the consequences for the Palestinians at the internal level after this military aggression ends will be critical, including “a split between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority; many people will be outraged with the Palestinian leadership, and this of course will leave Gaza in a deplorable state.”

This critical crisis in Gaza comes against a backdrop of a continued blockade imposed on the territory by Israel, widespread unemployment, severe poverty, electricity cuts, closure of borders and crossings since 2006, destroyed infrastructure and a stagnant Gazan economy, combined with a lack of political progress at the Israeli-Palestinian political level.

The real truth that no one can deny is that the civilian population, including women and children, in Gaza are the real victims of this dangerous conflict.

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Stunting: The Cruel Curse of Malnutrition in Nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:59:26 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135646 Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
RASUWA, Nepal, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Durga Ghimire had her first child at the age of 18 and the second at 21. As a young mother, Durga didn’t really understand the importance of taking care of her own health during pregnancy.

“I didn’t realise it would have an impact on my baby,” she says as she sits on the porch of her house in Laharepauwa, some 120 kilometers from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, nursing her third newborn child.

It is late in the afternoon and she is waiting expectantly for her two older daughters to return from school. One is nine and the other is six, but they look much smaller than their actual age.

“They are smaller in height and build and teachers at school say their learning process is also much slower,” Durga tells IPS. She is worried that the girls are stunted, and is trying to ensure her third child gets proper care.

A recent United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report shows that Nepal is among 10 countries in the world with the highest stunting prevalence, and one of the top 20 countries with the highest number of stunted children.

“Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.” -- Peter Oyloe, chief of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara (‘Good Nutrition’) project at Save the Children-Nepal
UNICEF explains stunting as chronic under-nutrition during critical periods of growth and development between the ages of 0-59 months. The consequences of stunting are irreversible and in Nepal the condition affects 41 percent of children under the age of five.

“Nepal’s ranking […] is worrying, not just globally but also in South Asia,” Giri Raj Subedi, senior public health officer at Nepal’s ministry of health and population, tells IPS.

A 2013 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) done by Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC) says while the number of stunted children declined from 57 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2011, it is still high above the 30 percent target set by the U.N..

“Stunting is a specific measure of the height of a child compared to the age of the child, and it is indicative of how well the child is developing cognitively,” says Peter Oyloe, chief of party of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara, or ‘Good Nutrition’ project at Save the Children Nepal.

Oyloe adds, “Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.”

Child health and nutrition experts argue that, while poverty is directly related to inadequate intake of food, it is not the sole indicator of malnutrition or increased stunting.

Saba Mebrahtu, chief of the nutrition section at UNICEF-Nepal, says the immediate causes include poor nutrient intake, particularly early in life. Fifty percent of stunting happens during pregnancy and the rest after infants are born.

“When we are talking about nutrient-rich food […] we are talking about ensuring that children get enough of it even before they are born,” says Mebrahtu. The time between conception and a child’s second birthday is a crucial period, she said, one of rapid growth and cognitive development.

Thus it is incumbent on expecting mothers to follow a careful diet before the baby is born.

Basic education could save lives

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, lives a few doors down from Durga. Separated by a few houses, their approaches to nutrition are worlds apart.

Ghimire breast-fed her 18-month-old daughter exclusively for six months. She continues to make sure that her own diet includes green leafy vegetables, meat or eggs, along with rice and other staples, as she is still nursing.

She gives credit to the female community health-worker in her village, who informed her about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

In preparation for her daughter’s feeding time, Ghimire mixes together a bowl of homemade leeto, a porridge containing one-part whole grains such as millet or wheat and two-parts pulses such as beans or soy.

“I was only using grains to make the leeto before I was taught to make it properly by the health workers and Suaahara,” she says.

However, making leeto was not the most important lesson Ghimire learned as an expecting mother. “I had no idea that simple things like washing my hands properly could have such a long term effect on my daughter’s health,” she says.

Even seemingly common infections like diarrhoea can, in the first two years, put a child at greater risk of stunting.

“That is because the nutrients children are using for development are used instead to fight against infection,” says Mebrahtu emphasising the need for simple practices such as proper hand washing and cleaning of utensils.

If children are suffering from infection due to poor hygiene and sanitation they can have up to six diarrhoeal episodes per year, she warns, adding that while “children recover from these infections, they don’t come back to what they were before.”

Fighting on all fronts

Food insecurity is one of the biggest contributing factors to stunting in Nepal. Rugged hills and mountains comprise 77 percent of the country’s total land area, where 52 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people live.

Food insecurity is worst in the central and far western regions of the country; the prevalance of stunting in these areas is also extreme, with rates above 60 percent in some locations.

Thus experts recognise the need to fight simultaneously on multiple fronts.

“Our work in nutrition has proven again and again that a single approach to stunting doesn’t work because the causes are so many – it really has to be tackled in a coordinated way,” says UNICEF’s Mebrahtu.

In 2009 the government conducted the Nutrition Assessment and Gap Analysis (NAGA), which recommended building a multi-sector nutrition architecture to address the gaps in health and nutrition programmes.

“The NAGA study stated clearly that nutrition was not the responsibility of one department, as was previously thought,” Radha Krishna Pradhan, programme director of health and nutrition at Nepal’s NPC, tells IPS.

Nepal is also one of the first countries to commit to the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which recognises multiple causes of malnutrition and recommends that partners work across sectors to achieve nutritional goals.

Thus, in 2012, five ministries in Nepal came together with the NPC and development partners to form the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP).

Public health experts say MSNP is a living example of the SUN movement in action and offers interventions with the aim of reducing the current prevalence of malnutrition by one-third.

Interventions include biannual vitamin D and folic acid supplements for expectant mothers, deworming for children, prenatal care, and life skills for adolescent girls.

On the agricultural front, ministries aim to increase the availability of food at the community level through homestead food production, access to clean and cheap energy sources such a biogas and improved cooking stoves, and the education of men to share household loads.

MSNP’s long-term vision is to work towards significantly reducing malnutrition so it is no longer an impending factor towards development. The World Bank has estimated that malnutrition can cause productivity losses of as much as 10 percent of lifetime earnings among the affected, and cause a reduction of up to three percent of a country’s GDP.

At present the Plan is in its initial phase and has been implemented in six out of 75 districts in Nepal since 2013.

(END)

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Creating a Slum Within a Slum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/creating-a-slum-within-a-slum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creating-a-slum-within-a-slum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/creating-a-slum-within-a-slum/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 07:49:42 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135668 In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement, pictured here. However many say the housing project has become a slum. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement, pictured here. However many say the housing project has become a slum. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

By Adam Bemma
NAIROBI, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

At the eastern edge of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, children gather with large yellow jerry cans to collect water dripping out of an exposed pipe. The high-rise grey and beige Soweto East settlement towers above them. A girl lifts the can on top of her head and returns to her family’s third floor apartment.

Inside, 49-year-old mother Hilda Olali is sweeping the floor. She’s had enough. Her family of five has no running water or electricity in their two bedroom apartment.The rancid smell of refuse wafts into the apartment throughout the day. Hilda Olali's considering a move back to the slum, turning in her family's brick and mortar home for her old mud and tin shack.

“When we first arrived we really enjoyed life. But now it’s hard because we don’t have water for weeks. This forces me to go and buy water outside. I can’t afford that,” she told IPS.

Outside her kitchen window, garbage has been accumulating over the last six months. The rancid smell of refuse wafts into the apartment throughout the day. She’s considering a move back to the slum, turning in her family’s brick and mortar home for her old mud and tin shack.

“In the slum things were cheap. When we came here they took us as if we were people who could afford expensive things,” she added.

It’s been 12 years since the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, or KENSUP, launched its pilot project in Kibera. Many residents feel the government and United Nations’ Human Settlements Programme, or U.N. Habitat, have abandoned them soon after its doors opened.

In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement. The 17 five-storey buildings are home to around 1,800 families. Population estimates in Kibera range from 800,000 to 1.2 million, making it one of Africa’s largest slums.

“We were told to move and it’s like we were forced. They [KENSUP] were carrying everything for us. Transport was arranged by them. I had seven rooms in the slum. Here I only have three,” Olali said.

According to the U.N., cities are now home to half of the global population. Forty percent of Kenya’s 43 million people are living in urban areas. More than 70 percent of Nairobi’s 3.1 million people live in 200 informal settlements, or slums. A lack of affordable housing in the city makes Kibera an attractive place to settle.

Godwin Oyindo, 24, is a recent university graduate and a close friend of Olali’s son. He grew up in Kibera and was hopeful this housing project would change the lives of all its residents.

“This slum upgrading project was established to address a few things in Kibera, the security of tenure, the housing of people, accessibility to services, and also to generate economic activities. One of their main objectives is a slum free society,” Oyindo told IPS.

Back in 2003, the government of Kenya and U.N. Habitat began working together to improve housing and quality of living for residents not only in Nairobi, but in Mombasa, Mavoko Kisumu and Thika. KENSUP is mandated to improve living standards for 5.3 million urban slum dwellers by 2020.

U.N. Habitat came on board with its Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, working alongside KENSUP providing expertise and technical advice. The officer in charge of this department, Joshua Mulandi Maviti, said objectives have been met in all projects.

“Kibera was the focus of our work with the ministry,” Maviti told IPS. “But we also coordinated infrastructure, land tenure, water and sanitation projects across Kenya, in Mombasa, Kisumu and Mavoko.”

Justus Ongera, 24, shares a room with his younger sister in a two bedroom apartment in the Soweto East settlement. The two share the apartment with another family. Ongera believes he may need to instruct residents on how to improve sanitation.

“When we first moved in the garbage outside was cleared every two weeks. Now it’s been rotting there under the sun for six months,” he told IPS. “This is a serious health hazard. Something needs to be done.”

Due to the 12 years which have elapsed since the contract began, U.N. Habitat ended its collaboration with KENSUP once contracts expired, according to Maviti. But he assures this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the relationship.

“The government of Kenya and the ministry haven’t engaged with us on the issues faced by Soweto East residents. We need to hear from them officially to be able to help,” Maviti said.

Olali is now weighing her options, whether or not she should move her three kids out of this apartment project and back into the slum. The fact that she has no running water forces to make a long trek through Kibera to visit the public toilet. This costs her five Kenya shillings each time.

“It all adds up, costing me even more money,” Olali said. “Some women didn’t even know how to flush a toilet before moving in, but now they do. We’ve all experienced a lot living here.”

Kenya’s Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development, along with KENSUP, turned down requests to be interviewed for this story.

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Indigenous Communities Say Education, Funding Key to Fighting HIV/AIDS http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:39:08 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135655 Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Marama Pala, hailing from Waikanae on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, was diagnosed with HIV at 22. The news of her diagnosis spread like wildfire in her tight-knit Maori community.

That was in 1993 but even today, she says, there is a “shame and blame” attitude surrounding HIV, which disproportionately impacts the region’s indigenous population.

“If you are HIV positive, you are seen as ‘dirty’, as someone who must be a drug user or a prostitute. Our people are not seeking help because of this stigma, discrimination and criminalisation – the fear of being charged, hunted down, ostracised or put in jail,” says Pala, who, together with her Pacific Islander HIV-positive husband, runs the INA (Maori, Indigenous, South Pacific) HIV/AIDS Foundation.

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation. The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People." -- Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN)
The Foundation takes a cultural approach to HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention and intervention.

“In the past five years the number of new infections has […] increased in the Pacific Island community living in New Zealand and especially among the Maoris because we are late testers. People who [engage] in risky behaviour [seldom] get tested until they are very, very sick,” Pala, a mother of two, tells IPS.

“Our women are dying because they are afraid to go on medication, partly because they are afraid of the stigma and discrimination. Antiretroviral drugs are widely available in our country and they should not be dying in this time and age,” says Pala, who is a member of the board of directors for the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO).

With HIV and AIDS disproportionately affecting indigenous people across the world, there is a strong need for culturally appropriate programmes designed, championed and delivered by indigenous people, activists and experts say.

Many indigenous women are living in silence with even their immediate families not knowing that they have HIV.

“There are 130 aboriginal women who are living with HIV in Australia, but apart from myself there is only one other woman who speaks openly about living with HIV,” says Michelle Tobin, who contracted the disease at the age of 21.

She began dating a man who told her that he had HIV but “I was naïve and just believed that it wouldn’t happen to me,” she admits. “Within six months I was diagnosed with HIV. I had a baby so I focused all my attention on her.”

“In the early 1990s in Melbourne we weren’t offered treatments when we were first diagnosed. In those days we lost a lot of people in the early stage of the disease, including my late husband,” Tobin, who belongs to the Yorta Yorta Nation, tells IPS.

As a descendant of the Stolen Generation and an aboriginal woman living with HIV and now AIDS, she has experienced stigma and discrimination, especially from within her own family, who disowned her.

Some in her community still think she is contagious and don’t want to be near her, but her struggle has made Tobin a passionate and vocal advocate for indigenous women living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Tobin, chair of the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance and a committee member of PATSIN (Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network), “Aboriginal women are a minority within the minority of the HIV epidemic. We need more resources and funding [to] enable women to speak out about prevention, treatments, isolation, confidentiality, housing and the whole spectrum of issues that impact us.”

In addition to endorsing targets set out in the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Australia has also adopted the Eora Action Plan on HIV 2014, which sets strategic targets to bring greater attention to HIV prevention, including best clinical care for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with HIV.

The recent International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS hosted by the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) in partnership with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organising Committee (AATSIOC), held in Sydney on Jul. 17-19, was themed ‘Our story, Our Time, Our Future.’

It highlighted the need for increased epidemiological data with a focus on indigenous ethnicity. Lack of data about the level of treatment take-up amongst indigenous people living with HIV is posing a challenge for Treatment as Prevention (TasP) strategies.

“We have evidence in Canada that aboriginal people are getting HIV three-and-a-half times faster than the rate of the general population,” Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), tells IPS.

“We believe those trends exist all over the world, but we don’t have the epidemiological data. We are advocating for epidemiological evidence as that is what we need for the dominant cultures to recognise us as a key population at greater risk of HIV and AIDS along with gay men and sex workers, so governments can free up the money for us and we can create our own solutions,” he asserts.

Forty-nine-year-old Stratton, a citizen of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Ontario, with mixed English and Ojibwe heritage, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.

He believes that indigenous people are particularly vulnerable due to “colonisation, neo-colonialism, resource extraction, and assimilation amongst other similar issues” that push them down on social determinants of health and put them at higher risk of all poor health outcomes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was substantially greater than among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (1.5 compared with 0.4 per 100,000 population).

Between 2004 and 2014, 231 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with HIV. In 2013, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections was greater in the indigenous population (5.4 per 100,000) compared to the Australian-born non-indigenous population (3.9 per 100,000).

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation,” Stratton says. “The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to be able to leverage international human rights mechanisms so countries can be held accountable.

“We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, which talks of how to engage indigenous people,” he concludes.

IIWGHA has been working at increasing knowledge and addressing the entrenched stigma of HIV and AIDS within indigenous communities and supporting indigenous-directed research and awareness initiatives.

Its mandate and strategic plan are based on the 2006 ‘Toronto Charter: Indigenous People’s Action Plan’ that acknowledges the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy, social justice and human rights.

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, has been working with women living way below the poverty line, some of whom had their children taken away when they were diagnosed with HIV.

Diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44 while actively using drugs in Toronto, Peltier believes systemic issues – such as the fear of losing one’s child to the authorities – act as barriers preventing people from discussing their condition.

“A social system that is supposed to be there to support women is actually the one that is putting barriers up for the women,” Peltier tells IPS.

When she decided to go home and reconnect with her family and her First Nations community in Wikwemikong, Ontario, some supported her but others remained reluctant to embrace her.

People wouldn’t let her use their dishes and asked her to clean the toilet after use.

“Soon rumours began to circulate and one of the words being used to talk about me was ‘Wiinaapineh’ (dirty disease). I stood my ground and became better with medication, and my family’s support and encouragement,” Peltier says.

“People have to know that there is help available, there is treatment and prevention and that they can have a good quality life,” concludes Peltier, who is today a great-grandmother.

For her, one of the key responses to high rates impacting indigenous women is to empower them to tap into their inner strength and resilience, and break the code of silence to speak up about HIV/AIDS

(END)

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Refugees Living a Nightmare in Northern Pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:15:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135649 Doctors examine internally displaced children from North Waziristan Agency at a free medical clinic in Bannu, a district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Doctors examine internally displaced children from North Waziristan Agency at a free medical clinic in Bannu, a district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Some fled on foot, others boarded trucks along with luggage, rations and cattle. Many were separated from families, or collapsed from exhaustion along the way. They don’t know where their next meal will come from, or how they will provide for their children.

In the vast refugee camps of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, civilians who fled the Pakistan Army’s military offensive against the Taliban in the country’s northern Waziristan Agency now walk around in a state of delirious confusion.

Medical officials here say that almost all the 870,000 internally displaced people in KP are deeply traumatised by over a decade of war in the northern provinces, where they were caught in the crossfire between government forces and militants who crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2001.

“We examined about 300,000 patients at the psychiatry wards of the KP hospital in 2013; 200,000 of them belonged to FATA. This included 145,000 women and 55,000 children." -- Muhammad Wajid, a psychiatrist at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Teaching Hospital in Peshawar
Now, as the army conducts air raids on the 11,585-square-kilometre North Waziristan Agency in a determined bid to wipe out the Taliban, war-weary civilians are once again bearing the brunt of the conflict, forced to leave their ancestral homes and seek refuge in neighbouring KP where shelter, clean water, food and medical supplies are stretched thin.

IDPs have been streaming in since the military operation began on Jun. 15, reaching close to a million by mid-July, officials here say. So far, aid has come in the form of food rations and medical supplies for the wounded, as well as those left dehydrated by the scorching 45-degree heat.

But very little is being done to address the psychological trauma that affects nearly everyone in these camps.

“The displaced population has been living in rented houses or with relatives where they lack water, sanitation and food due to which they are facing water and food-borne ailments,” Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Mian Iftikhar Hussain tells IPS. “But the main problems are psychological disorders, which are ‘unseen’.”

Sitting in front of the Iftikhar Psychiatric Hospital in Peshawar, capital of KP and 250 miles from the largest refugee camp in Bannu, 50-year-old Zarsheda Bibi tells IPS her entire family fled Waziristan, leaving everything behind.

Far worse than the loss of her home and possessions, she says, is the loss of her one-year-old grandson, who died on the long and arduous journey to KP.

“She doesn’t sleep properly because she dreams of her deceased grandson every night,” says Iftikhar, who is treating Bibi for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to Javid Khan, an official with the National Disaster Management Authority, PTSD is one of the most common ailments among the displaced.

He recounts to IPS his recent interaction with a woman in a camp in Bannu, whose husband was killed by shelling in Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan.

“Now she is completely disoriented and extremely concerned about the future of her three sons and one daughter,” he says, adding that those who were uprooted are sure to develop long as well as short-term disorders as a result of prolonged stress, anxiety and fear.

Other conditions could include de-personalisation, classified by DSM-IV as a dissociative disorder in which a person experiences out-of-body feelings and severe disorientation; as well as de-realisation, an alteration in perceptions of the external world to the point that it appears unreal, or ‘dream-like’.

Experts say that people torn from their native villages, thrust into completely new surroundings and experiencing insecurity on a daily basis are highly susceptible to these types of conditions, which are associated with severe trauma.

Khan says women and children, who comprise 73 percent of IDPs according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), are likely to be disproportionately impacted by PTSD, as well as disorders related to anxiety, stress, panic and depression.

Muhammad Junaid, a psychologist working with the displaced, says that victims are also suffering from poor self-esteem, as they are forced to occupy tents and shacks, in extremely unsanitary conditions.

Mothers are particularly impacted by their inability to provide for their families, he tells IPS, adding that permanent phobias are not uncommon.

Another major concern among health officials here is how the situation will affect children, many of whom are at a very sensitive age.

“From childhood to adolescence, a child passes through dramatic phases of physical and mental development,” Junaid says. “During this transition, they gain their identity, grow physically and establish familial relationships, as well as bonds with their community and society as a whole.”

Ripped from their ancestral homes and traditional communities, he says, this process will be interrupted, resulting in long-term mental conditions unless properly addressed.

Parents are equally worried about what displacement might mean for their children’s education.

“Two of my sons are very good at their studies,” Muhammad Arif, a shopkeeper from Mirali, an administrative division in North Waziristan, confides to IPS. “They would do well in class and get good positions. Now there’s no school and I fear they will not progress with their education.”

Even if they were to return to Waziristan, he says, the future looks bleak, since the army operation has devastated homes, buildings and business establishments. Everything will have to be built back up from scratch before the people can return to a normal life, he laments.

After nearly a month in the camp, Arif’s 10-year-old son Sadiq has all but given up hope. Through tears, he tells IPS that children like him have “no sleep, no play, no education.”

“I don’t know what the future holds for us,” he says.

For long-time health experts in the region, the situation is a frightening climax of a crisis that has been building for years, ever since the army began a crackdown on insurgents in the rugged, mountainous regions of northern Pakistan nearly 12 years ago.

“Around 50 percent of the residents of FATA have suffered psychological problems due to militancy and subsequent military operations,” Muhammad Wajid, a psychiatrist at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Teaching Hospital in Peshawar tells IPS.

“We have examined about 300,000 patients at the psychiatry wards of the KP hospital in 2013; 200,000 of them belonged to FATA. This included 145,000 women and 55,000 children,” he says.

Since 2005, nearly 2.1 million FATA residents have taken refuge in KP, according to Javid, posing a real challenge to the local government, which has struggled to balance the needs of the displaced with its own impoverished local population.

The latest wave of refugees has only added to the government’s woes, and many in the region fear the situation is on a knife’s edge, especially in the holy month of Ramadan, when there is a desperate need for proper sanitation and food to break the daily fast.

(END)

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Malnutrition Hits Syrians Hard as UN Authorises Cross-Border Access http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/malnutrition-hits-syrians-hard-as-un-authorises-cross-border-access/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malnutrition-hits-syrians-hard-as-un-authorises-cross-border-access http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/malnutrition-hits-syrians-hard-as-un-authorises-cross-border-access/#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 12:09:41 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135643 Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria, in autumn 2013. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria, in autumn 2013. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
BEIRUT, Jul 19 2014 (IPS)

Gaunt, haggard Syrian children begging and selling gum have become a fixture in streets of the Lebanese capital; having fled the ongoing conflict, they continue to be stalked by its effects.

Most who make it across the Syria-Lebanon border live in informal settlements in extremely poor hygienic conditions, which for many means diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, and – for the most vulnerable – sometimes death.

By the end of January, almost 40,000 Syrian children had been born as refugees, while the total number of minors who had fled abroad quadrupled to over 1.2 million between March 2013 and March 2014.Most who make it across the Syria-Lebanon border live in informal settlements in extremely poor hygienic conditions, which for many means diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, and – for the most vulnerable – sometimes death.

Lack of proper healthcare, food and clean water has resulted in countless loss of life during the Syrian conflict, now well into its fourth year. These deaths are left out of the daily tallies of ‘war casualties’, even as stunted bodies and emaciated faces peer out of photos from areas under siege.

The case of the Yarmouk Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Damascus momentarily grabbed the international community’s attention earlier this year, when Amnesty International released a report detailing the deaths of nearly 200 people under a government siege. Many other areas have experienced and continue to suffer the same fate, out of the public spotlight.

A Palestinian-Syrian originally from Yarmouk who has escaped abroad told IPS that some of her family are still in Hajar Al-Aswad, an area near Damascus with a population of roughly 600,000 prior to the conflict. She said that those trapped in the area were suffering ‘’as badly if not worse than in Yarmouk’’ and had been subjected to equally brutal starvation tactics. The area has, however, failed to garner similar attention.

The city of Homs, one of the first to rise up against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, was also kept under regime siege for three years until May of this year, when Syrian troops and foreign Hezbollah fighters took control.

With the Syria conflict well into its fourth year, the U.N. Security Council decided for the first time on July 14 to authorize cross-border aid without the Assad government’s approval via four border crossings in neighbouring states. The resolution established a monitoring mechanism for a 180-day period for loading aid convoys in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

The first supplies will include water sanitation tablets and hygiene kits, essential to preventing the water-borne diseases responsible for diarrhoea – which, in turn, produces severe states of malnutrition.

Miram Azar, from UNICEF’s Beirut office, told IPS that  ‘’prior to the Syria crisis, malnutrition was not common in Lebanon or Syria, so UNICEF and other actors have had to educate public health providers on the detection, monitoring and treatment’’ even before beginning to deal with the issue itself.

However, it was already on the rise: ‘’malnutrition was a challenge to Syria even before the conflict’’, said a UNICEF report released this year. ‘’The number of stunted children – those too short for their age and whose brain may not properly develop – rose from 23 to 29 per cent between 2009 and 2011.’’

Malnutrition experienced in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from pregnancy to two years old) results in lifelong consequences, including greater susceptibility to illness, obesity, reduced cognitive abilities and lower development potential of the nation they live in.

Azar noted that ‘’malnutrition is a concern due to the deteriorating food security faced by refugees before they left Syria’’ as well as ‘’the increase in food prices during winter.’’

The Syrian economy has been crippled by the conflict and crop production has fallen drastically. Violence has destroyed farms, razed fields and displaced farmers.

The price of basic foodstuffs has become prohibitive in many areas. On a visit to rebel-held areas in the northern Idlib province autumn of 2013, residents told IPS that the cost of staples such as rice and bread had risen by more than ten times their cost prior to the conflict, and in other areas inflation was worse.

Jihad Yazigi , an expert on the Syrian economy, argued in a European Council on Foreign Affairs (ECFR) policy brief published earlier this year that the war economy, which ‘’both feeds directly off the violence and incentivises continued fighting’’, was becoming ever more entrenched.

Meanwhile, political prisoners who have been released as a result of amnesties tell stories of severe water and food deprivation within jails. Many were detained on the basis of peaceful activities, including exercising their right to freedom of expression and providing humanitarian aid, on the basis of a counterterrorism law adopted by the government in July 2012.

There are no accurate figures available for Syria’s prison population. However, the monitoring group, Violations Documentation Centre, reports that 40,853 people detained since the start of the uprising in March 2011 remain in jail.

Maher Esber, a former political prisoner who was in one of Syria’s most notorious jails between 2006 and 2011 and is now an activist living in the Lebanese capital, told IPS that it was normal for taps to be turned on for only 10 minutes per day for drinking and hygiene purposes in the detention facilities.

Much of the country’s water supply has also been damaged or destroyed over the past years, with knock-on effects on infectious diseases and malnutrition. A major pumping station in Aleppo was damaged on May 10, leaving roughly half what was previously Syria’s most populated city without running water. Relentless regime barrel bombing has made it impossible to fix the mains, and experts have warned of a potential humanitarian catastrophe for those still inside the city.

The U.N. decision earlier this month was made subsequent to refusal by the Syrian regime to comply with a February resolution demanding rapid, safe, and unhindered access, and the Syrian regime had warned that it considered non-authorised aid deliveries into rebel-held areas as an attack.

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Do Not GM My Food! http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/do-not-gm-my-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=do-not-gm-my-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/do-not-gm-my-food/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:19:50 +0000 Julio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135627 By Julio Godoy
BERLIN, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

Attempts to genetically modify food staples, such as crops and cattle, to increase their nutritional value and overall performance have prompted world-wide criticism by environmental, nutritionists and agriculture experts, who say that protecting and fomenting biodiversity is a far better solution to hunger and malnutrition.

Two cases have received world-wide attention: one is a project to genetically modify bananas, the other is an international bull genome project.

In June, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it has allocated some 10 million dollars to finance an Australian research team at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), working on vitamin A-enriched bananas in Uganda, by genetically modifying the fruit.

On the other hand,  according to its project team, the “1000 bull genomes project” aims “to provide, for the bovine research community, a large database for imputation of genetic variants for genomic prediction and genome wide association studies in all cattle breeds.”“It makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of (traditional, organic) technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries” – ‘Failure to Yield’, a study by the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists

In both cases, the genetic modification (GM) of bananas and of bovines is an instrument to allegedly increase the nutritional value and improve the overall quality of the food staples, be it the fruit itself, or, in the case of cattle, of meat and milk.

James Dale, professor at QUT, and leader of the GM banana project, claims that “good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food.”

In the ‘1000 bull genomes project’, the scientists involved (from Australia, France, Germany, and other countries) have sequenced – that is, established the order of – the whole genomes of hundreds of cows and bulls. “This sequencing includes data for 129 individuals from the global Holstein-Friesian population, 43 individuals from the Fleckvieh breed and 15 individuals from the Jersey breed,” write the scientists in an article published in Nature Genetics of July 13.

The reactions from environmental activists, nutritionists, and scientists could not be more critical. The banana case has even prompted a specific campaign launched in India – the “No to GMO Bananas Campaign”.

The campaign, launched by Navdanya, a non-governmental organisation founded by the international environmental icon Vandana Shiva, insists that “GMO bananas are … not a solution to” malnutrition and hunger.

The group argues that so-called bio-fortification of bananas – “the genetic manipulation of the fruit, to cut and paste a gene, seeking to make a new or lost micronutrient,” as genetic expert Bob Phelps has put it – is a waste of time and money, and constitutes a risk to biodiversity.

“Bananas are highly nutritional but have only 0.44 mg of iron per 100 grams of edible portion,” a Navdanya spokesperson said. “All the effort to increase iron content of bananas will fall short the (natural) iron content of indigenous biodiversity.”

The rationale supporting bio-fortication suggests that the genetic manipulation can multiply the iron content of bananas by six. This increase would lead to an iron content of 2.6 mg per 100 grams of edible fruit.

“That would be 3,000 percent less than iron content in turmeric, or lotus stem, 2,000 percent less than mango powder,” the spokesperson at Navdanya said. “The safe, biodiverse alternatives to GM bananas are multifold.”

Scientists have indeed demonstrated that the GM agriculture has so far failed to deliver higher yields than organic processes.

In a study carried out in 2009, the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrated that the yields of GM soybeans and corn have increased only marginally, if at all. The report, “Failure to Yield“, found out that increases in yields for both crops between 1995 and 2008 were largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

“Failure to Yield” also analyses the potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades, and concludes that “it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of (traditional, organic) technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries.”

Additionally, the authors say, “recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Yet another ground for criticism is the fact that Bill Gates has repeated an often refuted legend about the risk of extinction of the banana variety Cavendish, grown all over the world for the North American market.

In his blog, Gates claims that “a blight has spread among plantations in Asia and Australia in recent years, badly damaging production of … Cavendish. This disease, a fungus, hasn’t spread to Latin America yet, but if it does, bananas could get a lot scarcer and more expensive in North America and elsewhere.”

The risk of extinction, however, is practically inexistent, as the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), among other institutions, had already shown in 2003.

“What is happening is the inevitable consequence of growing one genotype on a large scale,” said Eric Kueneman, at the time head of FAO’s Crop and Grassland Service. That is, monoculture is the main cause of the fungus.

“The Cavendish banana is a “dessert type” banana that is cultivated mostly by the large-scale banana companies for international trade,” recalled Kueneman, today an independent consultant on agriculture.

On the other hand, as FAO numbers show, the Cavendish banana is important in world trade, but accounts for only 10 percent of bananas produced and consumed globally. Virtually all commercially important plantations grow this single genotype, and by so doing, make the fruit vulnerable to diseases. As FAO said in 2003, “fortunately, small-scale farmers around the world have maintained a broad genetic pool which can be used for future banana crop improvement.”

Actually, the most frequent reasons for malnutrition and starvation can be found in food access, itself a consequence of poverty, inequity and social injustice. Thus, as Bob Phelps, founder of Gene Ethics, says, “the challenge to feed everyone well is much more than adding one or two key nutrients to an impoverished diet dominated by a staple food or two.”

The same goes for the genome sequencing of bulls and cows, says Ottmar Distl, professor at the Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics at the University of Hannover. “Some years ago, we thought that it would impossible to obtain more than 1,000 kilograms of milk per year per cow,” Distl said. “Today, it is normal to milk 7,000 kilograms, and even as much as 10,000 kilograms per year.”

But such performance has a price – most such “optimised” cows calve only twice in their lives and die quite young.

And yet, the leading researchers of the “1000 bull genomes project” look at further optimising the cows’ and bulls’ performance by genetic manipulation of the cattle in order to, as they say in their report, meet the world-wide forecasted, rising demand for milk and meat.

Distl disagrees. “Whoever increases the milk output hasn’t yet done anything against worldwide malnutrition and hunger.” In addition, he warned, the constant optimisation of some races can lead to the extinction of other lines, thus affecting the populations depending precisely on those seldom older races.

It goes without saying that such an extinction would hardly serve the interests of the world’s consumers.

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Pakistani Rights Advocates Fight Losing Battle to End Child Marriages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 15:53:22 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135594 Seven percent of all young boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Seven percent of all young boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

At first glance, there is nothing very unusual about Muhammad Asif Umrani. A resident of Rojhan city located in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, he is expectantly awaiting the birth of his first child, barely a year after his wedding day.

A few minutes of conversation, however, reveal a far more complex story: Umrani is just 14 years old, preparing for fatherhood while still a child himself. His ‘wife’, now visibly pregnant, is even younger than he, though she declined to disclose her name and real age.

The young couple sees nothing out of the ordinary about their circumstances; here in the Rajanpur district of Punjab, early marriages are the norm.

Girls in rural areas are often given in marriage in order to settle disputes, or debts. Some are even ‘promised’ to a rival before they are born, making them destined to a life of servitude for their husband’s family. -- Sher Ali, a social activist in Rojhan city
Umrani’s father, a small-scale farmer, tells IPS he is “proud” to have married his son off and “brought home a daughter-in-law to serve the family.”

Similar sentiments echo all around this country of 180 million people where, according to the latest figures released by the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey (2012-2013), 35.2 percent of currently married women between 25 and 49 years of age were wed before they were 18.

According to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, seven percent of all boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan.

Families like Umrani’s are either blissfully unaware of, or completely indifferent towards, domestic laws governing childhood unions.

Intazar Medhi, a lawyer based in Lahore, tells IPS that the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 – which prohibits girls under the age of 16 and boys under the age of 18 from being legally wed – is one of the least invoked laws in the country.

While the Act is in force in every province, and was recently amended by the government of Sindh to increase the legal marriage age of both boys and girls to 18, it is hardly a deterrent to the deeply embedded cultural practice.

For one thing, violators are fined a maximum of 1,000 rupees (about 10 dollars), what many experts have called a “trifling sum”; and for another, the law doesn’t extend to the many thousands of ‘unofficial’ marriage ceremonies that take place around the country every day.

In a country where 97 percent of the population identifies as Muslim, few nikahs (marriage agreements under Islamic law) are registered with an official state authority.

Scores of married couples live together for years without any documentary evidence of their union, with many families preferring to avoid legal formalities.

It is thus nearly impossible for government officials to estimate just how many such ‘illegal’ unions are taking place, or to dissolve contracts that entail nothing more than the presence of a religious person and witnesses for the bride and groom.

Some advocates like Intezar believe the problem can be rectified by following the example of the Sindh province, whose amendment of the 1929 Act upped its punitive power to include a three-year non-bailable prison term and a 450-d0llar fine for offenders.

He thinks setting 16 as the official marriage age – the same age at which Pakistanis receive their Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) – will make it easier for law enforcement officials to take action against those responsible for marrying off young children.

The government, he says, must also take steps to ensure timely birth registrations as millions spend lifetimes without any documentary proof of their existence.

Tradition trumps law enforcement

But for Sher Ali, a social activist based in the same city as Umrani’s family, a single law will not suffice to clamp down on a centuries-old practice that serves multiple purposes within traditional Pakistani society.

For instance, he tells IPS, girls in rural areas are often given in marriage in order to settle disputes, or debts. Some are even ‘promised’ to a rival before they are born, making them destined to a life of servitude for their husband’s family.

Various tribes also have different standards for determining an appropriate marriage age. For example, Sher explained, in some regions like the Southern Punjab, a girl is deemed ready for marriage and motherhood the day she can lift a full pitcher of water and carry it on her head.

In a country where the annual per capita income hovers at close to 1,415 dollars and 63 percent of the population lives in rural areas, girls are considered a burden and cash-strapped families try to get rid of them as early as possible.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to ending child marriages is the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), an unofficial parliamentary advisor, which also wields tremendous power to influence public opinion.

When the Sindh government announced its plans to extend the marriage age, CII Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani denounced the move as an effort to “please the international community [by going] against Islamic teachings and practices.”

Comprised of prominent religious scholars, the Council has repeatedly urged the parliament to refrain from setting a “minimum marriage age”. Though parliament is not legally bound to any suggestions made by the body, many allege that the extent of its political power renders any ‘advice’ a de facto order.

Indeed, repeated assertions by religious groups that puberty sanctions marriage has led to a situation in which girls between eight and 12 years, and boys in the 12-15 age bracket, find themselves husbands and wives, while their peers are still in middle-school.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from Malaysia, Dr. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi – who is known as a moderate and had to leave the country after receiving several death threats from extremists – said that since Islam does not specify an exact marriage age, it is up to the government to draft necessary laws to protect the rights of its citizens.

He fully supports the implementation of a law that only allows legal unions between people who are old enough to run a household and bring up children.

“Such laws are not at all in conflict with the teachings of the religion,” he insisted.

Qamar Naseem, programme coordinator of Blue Veins, an organisation working to eliminate child marriages, pointed out that such a law is not only a domestic duty but also an international obligation, since the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution against child, early and forced marriages in 2013.

Supported by over 100 of the world body’s 193 members, the resolution recognises child marriage as a human rights violation and vows to eliminate the practice, in line with the organisation’s post-2015 global development agenda.

Various studies have documented the impact of child marriage on Pakistani society, including young girls’ increased vulnerability to medical conditions like fistula, and a massive exodus from formal education.

Experts say Pakistan has the highest school dropout rate in the world, with 35,000 pupils leaving primary education every single year, largely as a result of early marriages.

Slowly, thanks in large part to the tireless work of activists, the tide is turning, with more people becoming aware of the dangers of early marriages.

But according to Arshad Mahmood, director of advocacy and child rights governance at Save the Children-Pakistan, much more needs to be done.

He told IPS there is an urgent need for training and education of nikah registrars, police officers, members of the judiciary and media personnel at the district level in order to discourage child marriages.

Effective laws must be coupled with the necessary budgetary allocation to allow for implementation and enforcement, he added.

“People will have to be informed that child marriages are the main reason behind high maternal and newborn mortality ratios in Pakistan,” he concluded.

(END)

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U.N.’s New Development Goals Must Also Be Measurable for Rich http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:45:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135580 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations is on the verge of releasing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – perhaps 17 or more – to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which will run out by the end of 2015.

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda which, among other things, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030."Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?" -- Jens Martens

Neelie Kroes of the European Commission says the new development agenda is being described as “the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the United Nations in its entire history.”

But Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS that in general, the current list of proposed goals and targets is not an adequate response to the global social, economic and environmental crises and the need for fundamental change.

The proposed SDG list, he pointed out, contains a mix of recycled old commitments and vaguely formulated new ones (such as the goal 1.a. to “ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources to provide adequate and predictable means to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.”).

According to some development experts, the world’s rich nations have mostly failed to meet their obligations on MDG target 8 which called for a “global partnership for development” between developed and developing nations.

As the Geneva-based South Centre points out, “The SDGs should not be a set of goals for only developing countries to undertake as a kind of conditionality or new obligations.”

The Rio-plus-20 outcome document, adopted at an international conference in Brazil in 2012, specifically said the new goals should be “universally applicable to all countries,” including developed countries.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

The OWG is currently holding its 13th – and perhaps final – round of negotiations ending Friday, after which a report is to be submitted to the General Assembly in August.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

Until then, said one senior U.N. official, “there may be plenty of deletes and inserts.”

Martens told IPS governments should not repeat the mistake of MDG 8 on “global partnership”, which was formulated so vaguely it did not imply any binding commitments for the North.

“What we need instead are measurable goals for the rich,” said Martens, who has been monitoring the last 12 sessions of the OWG.

He said any post-2015 agenda must address the structural obstacles and political barriers that prevented the realisation of the MDGs, such as unfair trade and investment rules (including the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism) and the problems of tax evasion and tax avoidance by TNCs and wealthy individuals.

“Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?” he asked.

Among activist groups, there was widespread criticism that water and sanitation was not a “stand alone goal” in the current MDGs but only a secondary goal under Goal 7 on “environmental sustainability.”

Nadya Kassam, global head of campaigns at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS, “We believe water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal for the post-2015 framework, and we are encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”

She said it is unthinkable that water, sanitation and hygiene could not be included – they are critical to so many other outcomes such as good health, education and economic growth.

U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson has made the importance of sanitation clear, with his campaign to end open defecation, which WaterAid strongly supports.

After nearly 15 years on from the MDGs, the original goal on water to halve the proportion of people without has been reached globally. Yet coverage in sub-Saharan Africa remains poor, with 36 percent of the population still living without this essential service.

Kassam said access to sanitation is lagging the furthest behind, and at the current rates of progress, it would take sub-Saharan Africa, as a region, over 150 years just to reach the existing goal of halving the proportion of people without.

“So water, and in particular sanitation, need to be of central importance going forward,” she said.

Martens said it is a positive signal that the current draft list of proposed SDGs contains a goal on reducing inequality within and between countries.

“It will be of utmost importance that this goal does not get lost in the final phase of the negotiations,” he stressed.

However, it would not be sufficient to just have a single goal on inequality — each SDG should have targets and indicators on distribution and inequality, Martens said.

Meanwhile in a statement released Monday, Reporters Without Borders said there was “heated discussion and opposition from certain OWG members such as Russia, Cuba and China” on a proposed SDG covering media and information.

The protection of the right to information is in danger of being weakened or disappearing altogether, to be replaced by a vague reference to freedom of expression, the statement added.

At the Millennium Summit held in New-York in September 2000, 189 U.N. member-states adopted the Millennium Declaration based on the outcomes of several international conferences of the 1990s, including population, human rights, the environment, habitat and social development.

A year later, in August 2001, the U.N. Secretariat released the eight MDGs.

But the goals were devised not by governments through an open debate but by a working committee drawn from several U.N. bodies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (MF), the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The goals were not the object of a formal resolution of the U.N. General Assembly.

The eight MDGs included eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

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South Sudanese Children Starving While Aid Falling Short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 00:20:56 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135568 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

Even as aid workers are warning that children in South Sudan are falling victim to mass malnutrition, international agencies are said to be missing their fundraising goals to avert a looming famine in the country.

On Monday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the international medical relief organisation, reported that nearly three-quarters of the more than 18,000 patients admitted to the agency’s feeding programmes in South Sudan have been children. South Sudan has experienced mounting civil violence in recent months, which humanitarian groups warn has directly impacted farmers’ ability to plant and grow crops.

A child snacks in her family's new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

A child snacks in her family’s new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Yet even as South Sudan’s malnutrition epidemic intensifies, seven major international aid agencies, all of which prioritise food security in South Sudanese villages, may have to shut down their projects due to severe funding gaps.

Naming South Sudan to be “the most pressing humanitarian crisis in Africa,” CARE International, a U.S.-based relief agency, has stated that the United Nations’ most recent appeal for South Sudan is less than half funded.

The U.N. says some 1.8 billion dollars is urgently needed in the country, yet CARE says that seven implementing agencies are short by some 89 million dollars.

“We will be staring into the abyss and failing to avert a famine if funds do not start arriving soon,” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said in CARE’s report.

“This is a not a crisis caused by drought or flood. It is a political crisis turned violent. The people of South Sudan can only put their lives back together once the fighting ends. In the meantime… we are asking the public to help us with our urgent humanitarian work, but mainly we are calling on governments to fund the aid effort before it is too late.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State announced it would provide another 22 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to facilitate “basic life support” in South Sudan. Yet the following day, three U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, expressing “grave concern” over the growing conflict in South Sudan’s border region and urging “renewed diplomatic engagement” with the international community.

While solving the political problem at the root of South Sudan’s current violence is a significant priority, aid workers say the international community’s most dire concern should be for the nutritional needs of South Sudanese children.

“Many of these children have walked for days to receive medical care and food security, and these are only the ones we see,” Sandra Bulling, media coordinator for CARE International, told IPS from South Sudan. “We don’t even know about the ones hiding in the bush.”

Centrality of nutrition

The malnutrition crisis comes amidst tumultuous domestic politics in South Sudan, resulting in fighting that has raged since December. Some 1.5 million South Sudanese residents are now estimated to be displaced within the country, thereby decreasing their access to reliable food sources and requiring them to share already-limited supplies.

Dr. Jenny Bell, a medical worker and expert on South Sudan with the University of Calgary in Canada, acknowledges that “the nation’s health situation wasn’t brilliant before December,” but warns that the civil conflict has “compounded” the country’s medical issues.

South Sudan “already had the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and it had been estimated that one in five South Sudanese children die before they reach age five,” she told IPS.

“But even though there had barely been enough food before, now there really won’t be enough, as [internally displaced] farmers were unable to grow crops [due to the violence], and cannot do so now because South Sudan is well into [its] rainy season.”

Adequate nutrition needs to be South Sudan’s top priority, Bell emphasises. The three leading causes of death in the country – malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections – are much more likely for a person to contract when he or she is malnourished, she notes.

Yet she adds that despite the “amazing agricultural potential” of South Sudan, funding for this purpose has been weak.

“The United States’ monetary aid to the region is complicated because they don’t trust the South Sudanese government,” she says. “Because of this, they’ve shifted everything to humanitarian aid, and all the development efforts have been wiped out.”

In addition to monetary aid for agricultural development, Bell says health-care facilities urgently need both supplies and personnel.

CARE’s Bulling agrees that training medical personnel is of key importance in South Sudan, adding that her focus is to work with local staff but fly in as many experts as possible.

“But it is mainly money that we need, so we can procure medicines and all of the necessary nutritional requirements,” she says.

When asked what it would take for the international community to react to the need for more funding in South Sudan, Bulling cited a technique that she says has historically been effective.

“We need to have photos of children starving and dying before the world reacts to such a disaster,” she says.

“This is what has worked for Somalia … you need these pictures to talk. For South Sudan we do all these press releases and calls to action, but as long as there is no big report with photos to show how bad the situation is, there is no response.”

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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Outdated Approaches Fuelling TB in Russia, Say NGOs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outdated-approaches-fuelling-tb-in-russia-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outdated-approaches-fuelling-tb-in-russia-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outdated-approaches-fuelling-tb-in-russia-say-ngos/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 06:24:16 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135533 By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

When Veronika Sintsova was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2009, she spent six months in hospital before being discharged and allowed to continue treatment as an outpatient.

Today clear of the disease, the 35-year-old former drug user from Kaliningrad says the fact that she beat tuberculosis (TB) is not because of, but rather in spite of, the way many people with tuberculosis are treated in Russia.

“I think it would be fair to say that Russian authorities don’t take the problem of tuberculosis seriously,” she told IPS.

Tuberculosis is a major health threat in Russia, where it is the leading infectious disease killer.The country has the highest rates of multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extremely drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis in Europe and the third highest in the world. And those rates are climbing.Tuberculosis exploded in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union as health care infrastructure crumbled, the country was thrown into economic crisis and crime and poverty soared, leading to overcrowded penal institutions.

It also has the 11th highest burden of all TB in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which just last week said that parts of the country were “disaster areas” for the disease.

Tuberculosis exploded in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union as health care infrastructure crumbled, the country was thrown into economic crisis and crime and poverty soared, leading to overcrowded penal institutions.

But, say NGOs in Russia and international groups working to combat the disease, the continued use of outdated and inefficient approaches to the disease are still fuelling its spread.

Long stays in health facilities filled with people with TB were a cornerstone of the Soviet health care system’s approach to the disease, and have remained, even though they were abandoned years ago in the West because they were seen as contributing to the spread of the disease.

But it is not just in health care facilities where people with TB are being failed. The disease is rife in Russian jails. Overcrowding, poor conditions and bad nutrition all contribute to high infection rates with one in seven prisoners having active TB, according to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service.

The way prisoners with TB are treated typifies the general approach to the disease by authorities. Sintsova said that although she was treated well by doctors, it was during a sixth month spell in prison for a drug offence that she had what she says was “the worst experience” of all the time she had the disease because fellow inmates and wardens took no pity on her when she left her cell.

“They would shout out ‘tuberculosis sufferer on a walk’ as I went along. That really hurt me. It was probably the worst thing I experienced in all the time I had tuberculosis,” she told IPS.

And this abuse is typical, she said, of the way many people with the disease are viewed in Russia. TB is common among those at the margins of society – drug users, alcoholics, people with HIV and those in dire poverty. “In our society, a drug user is not a person and their death from tuberculosis is seen as something they deserve,” Sintsova, who herself has HIV, told IPS.

Third sector groups working with TB sufferers say approaches towards such people need to be changed. Anya Sarang, president of the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, has previously told local media that the “unjustified imprisonment of Russian people, especially drug users, leads to prison overcrowding” which in turn fuels continued TB infection.

Others point to the need to provide integrated care for people with co-infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C. Oksana Ponomarenko, Russia country director for the U.S. organisation Partners in Health (PIH) which works with TB patients in Russia, said on the group’s website: “The biggest problem lies in the fact that each health system in Russia is vertical and operates separately –TB, drug addiction services, HIV care, psychiatric services, among other health programs.

“At federal level and in individual regions these programs are not connected. Often, clinicians in one programme will not have complete information on other nearby services and programmes.”

PIH and other local organisations have started programmes to try and provide integrated treatment to people with TB in some cities, including a mobile clinic.

Some success has been reported in a scheme in the city of Tomsk where prisoners with TB are all housed in one facility. If released before their treatment has finished, they are placed straight into hospital to prevent infecting others when they return to wider society.

PIH says that its methods have been adopted as official state policy on TB and legislation was recently brought in to emphasise the importance of ambulatory, rather than institutional, care in TB treatment. The government has also increased spending on TB in recent years, modernised diagnostic equipment and overhauled research institutes specialising in TB.

But what worries many working with TB patients is the Kremlin’s approach to some of the biggest international funders of TB projects. It recently decided to reject money from the Global Fund for Aids/TB and Malaria, justifying the move by saying that Russia is now a donor to the Global Fund and that it would be wrong for it to continue to take money from it.

Some see the move as entirely political and part of attempts by the Kremlin to crack down on foreign NGOs operating in Russia. Another major funder of groups working on TB programmes, USAID, was expelled from the country in 2012 and forced to stop operating, on the grounds that it was interfering in Russian politics.

Some projects, including a few run by PIH, have already been affected.

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Time to “Drop the Knife” for FMG in The Gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 11:23:18 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135524 Circumcisers in the Gambia publicly declaring that they have abandoned the practice of FGM. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Circumcisers in the Gambia publicly declaring that they have abandoned the practice of FGM. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Jul 13 2014 (IPS)

Women’s rights activists in the Gambia are insisting that more than 30 years of campaigning to raise awareness should be sufficient to move the government to outlaw female genital mutilation (FMG).

The practice remains widespread in this tiny West African country of 1.8 million people, but rights activists believe that their campaign has now reached the tipping point.

Two years ago, GAMCOTRAP, an apolitical non-governmental organisation (NGO) committed to the promotion and protection of women and girl children’s political, social, sexual, reproductive health and educational rights in The Gambia, and one of the groups behind the anti-FGM campaign, sponsored a draft bill which has been subjected to wide stakeholder consultations.

Several previous attempts to legislate against FGM have failed, with no fewer than three pro-women laws having had clauses on FGM removed from draft bills. But activists now appear determined to make the final push and hope that when introduced this time round, the bill will go through.“We’ve caused lots of suffering to our women ... if my grandparents had known what I know today, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem” – former circumciser Babung Sidibeh

The time has now come for final action, says Amie Bensouda, legal consultant for the draft bill. “There can be no half measures. The law has to be clear. It’s proposed by the law that FGM in all its forms is prohibited. This discussion cannot go on forever. The government should do what is right.”

“The campaign has reached its climax,” Dr Isatou Touray, executive director of GAMCOTRAP, told IPS. “A lot of work has been done. I am hopeful of having a law because women are calling for it, men are calling for it. I know there are pockets of resistance but that’s always the case when it comes to women’s issues.”

“In 2010, we organised a workshop for the National Assembly,” she continued. “They made a declaration, pledging to support any bill that criminalises FGM. I am happy to report that, since 2007, more than 128 circumcisers and 900 communities have abandoned the practice. This trend will continue to grow.”

Seventy-eight percent of Gambian women undergo FGM as a ‘rite of passage’. However, after more than three decades of the anti-FGM campaign in Gambia, a wind of change is blowing, sweeping even conservative rural communities.

Sustained awareness-raising programmes have resulted in public declarations of abandonment of FGM by hundreds of circumcisers. Babung Sidibeh, custodian of the tradition in her native Janjanbureh, the provincial capital of Central River Region, 196 kilometres from Banjul, was one of them. The old woman assumed the role after the death of her parents, but she has since “dropped the knife”, as no longer practising FGM is known here.

Sidibeh did so after receiving training in reproductive health and women’s rights. “Soon after we circumcised our children in 2011,” she told IPS, “Gamcotrap invited me for training. I was exposed to the harm we’ve been doing to our fellow women. If I had known that before what I know today, I would never have circumcised anyone.”

With a tinge of remorse, she added: “We’ve caused lots of suffering to our women. That’s why I told you that if my grandparents had known what I know today, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem.”

Mrs Camara-Touray, a senior public health worker at the country’s heath ministry confirmed to IPS that her ministry has since taken a more proactive role on FGM.

She explained: “The ministry has created an FGM complication register. We’ve also trained nurses on FGM. Until recently, when you asked most health workers about the complications that can arise with FMG, they would say it has no complications. That’s because they were not trained. Since 2011, we’ve changed our curriculum to include these complications. After we put the register in place, within three months, we’d go to a region and see that hundreds of complications due to FGM had been recorded.”

In March, Gamcotrap organised a regional religious dialogue that sought to de-link FGM from Islam. Touray said that the workshop was a prelude to the introduction of the proposed law in parliament.

“Islamic scholars were brought together from Mali, Guinea, Mauritania and Gambia,” she told IPS. “We had a constructive debate and it was overwhelmingly accepted that FGM is not an Islamic injunction, it’s a cultural practice. It was recommended that a specific law should be passed and a declaration was made to that effect.”

However, there is resistance in some quarters. An influential group of Islamic scholars, backed by the leadership of the Supreme Islamic Council, continue to maintain that FGM is a religious injunction.

With a large following and having the ears of the politicians, these clerics have in recent times also intensified their pro-FGM campaign.

“It will be a big mistake if they legislate against FGM,” Ebrima Jarjue, an executive member of the Supreme Islamic Council, told IPS.

“Our religion says we cut just small. We should be allowed to practise our religion. If some people are doing it and doing it bad, let them stop it. Let them go and learn how to do it. If circumcising the girl child when she’s young is causing problems, then let’s wait until she grows up. That’s what used to happen.”

Meanwhile, the Women’s Bureau, the implementing arm of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, is hesitant about legislating against FGM.

“As far FGM is concerned, the position of the Women’s Bureau is that there’s need for more sensitisation and dialogue to push the course forward,” Neneh Touray, information and communication officer of the Women’s Bureau, told IPS. She declined to comment on whether the bureau thought that the bill was premature.

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Defying the Ebola Odds in Sierra Leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/defying-the-ebola-odds-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=defying-the-ebola-odds-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/defying-the-ebola-odds-in-sierra-leone/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 18:52:22 +0000 Mohamed Fofanah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135520 A medical centre at the Bandama checkpoint in Kenema to test people in transit for symptoms of Ebola. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

A medical centre at the Bandama checkpoint in Kenema to test people in transit for symptoms of Ebola. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

By Mohamed Fofanah
KENEMA, Sierra Leone, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Adikali Kamara is a 36-year-old student nurse working in the government hospital in Kenema, a sprawling town on the fringe of the Sierra Leone’s Gola tropical rain forest.

On June 19, he began feeling unwell, complaining of fever and a headache, and went to a chemist near where he lived to buy anti-malaria drugs and antibiotics to treat typhoid fever. “I thought that my symptoms indicated either malaria or typhoid because these are the most common ailments suffered by everybody here,” said Kamara.

However his condition did not change and two days later he decided to seek proper treatment at the hospital. That was when the doctors discovered he was suffering from Ebola, a disease that causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea and kills up to 90 percent of those infected.

Kamara was admitted immediately and just seven days later he was discharged after receiving supportive treatment.“People are vehemently denying that Ebola exists despite the massive awareness raising that is going on, and those that do believe the illness exists are so afraid that they do not come to the hospital or bring their relatives when they are sick. That is how Ebola spreads in the community” – Michael Vandi, Public Health Education Officer for Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province

Kamara is one the fortunate 51 persons in Sierra Leone who have survived the current Ebola scourge that is also ravaging two other West African neighbours – Guinea and Liberia. So far, 99 have died in Sierra Leone and a further 315 men, women and children have tested positive.

The Public Health Education Officer for Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province, Michael Vandi, who is based in the Kenema hospital which houses the country’s only Supportive Treatment Centre and testing laboratory for Ebola, said that the country is far from winning the fight against the disease, blaming people’s fear and denial of the disease.

Vandi said that “people are vehemently denying that Ebola exists despite the massive awareness raising that is going on, and those that do believe the illness exists are so afraid that they do not come to the hospital or bring their relatives when they are sick. That is how Ebola spreads in the community before we are aware of cases.”

According to Vandi, people are accusing doctors of administering lethal injections to the Ebola patients or removing vital organs for sale in European markets. He said that some even claim that people are being deliberately infected with the virus to reduce the population.

As a result, doctors and nurses in the hospitals have been attacked and many nurses are not wearing their uniforms on the way to work for fear of being attacked in the streets.

“Patients who were admitted – both male and female – are abandoning the hospitals,” said Vandi. “They are now going to pharmacies or being treated by quack doctors or nurses in their homes. This is worrisome because the signs and symptoms of Ebola mimic the prevalent malaria and typhoid fever in the country and, before they know what they are dealing with, it will be too late.”

The Senior Human Rights Officer who heads the Human Rights Commission’s Office in the Eastern Province, Hassan Yarjah, blames the government’s Ebola awareness raising strategy for fanning mistrust and disbelief among people.

He pointed out that the eastern part of the country, in which almost all cases of Ebola have so far been identified, is an opposition stronghold. “What the central government is doing, which I think is wrong, is sending people to these communities that the people cannot identify with; they are parliamentarians, they are ministers, they are executives from the ruling All People’s Congress party and this is a country where everything is polarised,” he said.

According to Yarjah, people in the country’s Eastern Province are saying that “because a census is scheduled for September, the politicians want to scare people away from this part of the country so that their number will dwindle; then, when they delimit the boundaries for constituency seats, this will mean less representatives for the opposition in parliament in the next election.”

“I think government should use the local structures, like the paramount chiefs, the medical personnel on the ground, and the local councils,” Yarjah told IPS.

Meanwhile, the government has announced a ban on regular trade fairs in Kailahun, one of the districts in Eastern Province worst hit by Ebola. There has also been an executive order for placing medical personnel at a number of checkpoints on roads from the Eastern Province to check people for Ebola-related symptoms.

“This has affected our agriculture,” complained Lamin Musa, a farmer from Kailahun. “We cannot sell our produce now at the trade fairs and this had heaped more hardship on our poor people. Even bush meat, which had been a lucrative trade for us, has been banned. It is difficult for us to understand all the suffering we have to undergo because of Ebola.”

Whatever the misgivings, misconceptions and accusations, the virus is thriving, in part due to dysfunctional medical systems and weak disaster management structures in Sierra Leone and its neighbours.

At the beginning of July, the World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting in Accra, Ghana, with health ministers from 12 West African countries to discuss and propose suggestions to combat the outbreak of Ebola virus that has hit the three West African countries.

The ministers adopted a common inter-country strategy calling for accelerated response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The strategy stressed the need for regional, sub-regional and national leadership, coordinated actions by all stakeholders, enhanced cross border collaboration and the involvement of communities.

For his part, Kamara is optimistic. “I was able to beat this disease and any of you out there can,” he said. “You have to believe that Ebola is real, set aside prejudice and go to the hospital early if you experience the symptoms.”

The problem is that while Ebola may be a killer, a potentially greater threat to Sierra Leoneans and West Africans in general lies in less spectacular diseases. During the current outbreak of Ebola, other diseases are quietly taking their toll. Malaria is still rampant, and there is concern that cholera, which usually attacks during this period of the rains, will resurface to claim more lives.

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Pakistan: Where Mothers Are Also Children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistan-where-mothers-are-also-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-where-mothers-are-also-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistan-where-mothers-are-also-children/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 09:17:35 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135486 Most South Asian nations struggle with the twin problems of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, making it crucial to tackle both simultaneously, experts say. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Most South Asian nations struggle with the twin problems of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, making it crucial to tackle both simultaneously, experts say. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Pakistan, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

If 22-year-old Rashda Naureen could go back six years in time, she would never have agreed to get married at the tender age of 16.

“Looking back, I know I was not ready for marriage,” she told IPS. “How could I have been, being merely a child myself?”

With only a third-grade education, Naureen became a mother at 17 and got a divorce soon after she delivered.

According to Naureen’s mother, Perween Bibi, who works for a small daily wage as a cleaning woman in Pakistan, “I have two more daughters [in addition to two sons] and we gave Rashda away in order to have one less responsibility on our hands.”

Nearly 7.3 million teenage girls become pregnant every year -- of these, two million are aged 14 or younger.
But the opposite turned out to be true. Today Bibi and her husband, who is a private chauffeur, must now find a way to provide for their grandson in a family of seven struggling to survive.

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the story is that Naureen’s pregnancy could easily have been avoided.

“Before marriage my best friend urged me to take contraceptive pills, but I refused to listen to her,” Naureen confessed.

“Even my husband, who had been forced to marry me by his parents, said we should wait, but I didn’t pay any heed; I thought having a child immediately would cement our relationship, and my husband would begin to love me,” she said forlornly.

Dr. Tauseef Ahmed, Pakistan country director of Pathfinder International, a non-profit organisation working to improve adolescent and youth access to sexual and reproductive health services in more than 30 countries, says that early pregnancy is not uncommon among teenage brides.

In fact, having a baby is a way of proving one’s fertility, and the values of adolescent pregnancy are “protected by women and girls themselves,” he told IPS.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly 7.3 million teenage girls become pregnant every year – of these, two million are aged 14 or younger. Meanwhile, an estimated 70,000 adolescents in developing countries die each year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50 percent more likely among infants of adolescent mothers than among mothers aged 20 to 29.

Infants who survive are more likely to have a low birth weight and be premature than those born to women in their 20s.

The problem is particularly pronounced in Pakistan, a country of 180 million people where 35 percent of married women between the ages of 25 and 49 years were wed before the age of 18, according to the latest figures in the 2012-2013 Pakistan Demographic Health Survey.

Experts say one of the main reasons behind the widespread occurrence of chid marriages and early pregnancies is a lack of education.

Naureen agrees, saying her disrupted education stands out as a glaring “missing link” in her early development

Dr. Farid Midhet, who heads the USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Programme (MCHIP) in Pakistan, says there is a strong link between teenage pregnancy and female illiteracy.

“Together these contribute to high infant and child mortality and morbidity, high fertility, illiteracy in general, and production of children who are a burden on society,” he told IPS.

He added that this exacerbates poverty, which in turn fuels a vicious cycle of militancy, crime and social unrest.

Pathfinder International’s Ahmed believes a strong conservative current in Pakistani society – where 97 percent of the population identifies as Muslim – also conspires against the girl child, making early marriage and adolescent pregnancy a foregone conclusion for thousands of girls.

“Early marriage and not getting permission to attend school are the two main indicators of conservative forces here,” he stressed, adding that the “fear of backlash from conservative forces” has resulted in a glaring lack of positive initiatives within the public sector to tackle the problem.

This, despite the fact that study after study has shown that countries that improve school enrollment rates for girls also see a decline in adolescent child-bearing.

Asked how to tackle the health crisis caused by teenage motherhood, Zeba Sathar, country director of the Population Council of Pakistan, answered immediately that she would first and foremost invest in girls’ education.

“Globally proven strategies include keeping adolescent girls in schools, using economic incentives and livelihood programmes, offering life skills, informing families and communities about the adverse effects of adolescent pregnancy, and mobilising them to support girls to grow and develop into women before becoming mothers,” Sathar told IPS.

A regional problem

The phenomenon is not exclusive to Pakistan, with several other countries in the region experiencing equally challenging situations.

Most South Asian nations, like Pakistan, struggle with the twin problems of early marriage and teenage pregnancy, making it crucial to tackle both simultaneously, experts say.

But this is easier said than done, as laws surrounding the ‘official’ marriage age are difficult to enforce and complicated by traditional societal values.

According to a 2013 report by the UNFPA entitled ‘Motherhood in Childhood’, India and Bangladesh remain among the countries where a girl is most likely to be married before she is 18.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka, on the other hand, show much lower rates of pregnancies among women aged 15 to 19.

The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)’s World Population Prospects report states that the adolescent fertility rate among women in the 15-19 age group is 87 per 1,000 women in Afghanistan, 81 in Bangladesh, 74 in Nepal, 33 in India, 27 in Pakistan, and just 17 in Sri Lanka.

India’s eastern state of Bihar had the worst score card for child marriage. Referring to a survey of more than 600,000 households conducted for India’s health ministry between 2007 and 2008, Sathar said nearly 70 percent of women in their early twenties reported having been married by the age of 18.

Bangladesh does not fare any better. One in 10 teens has had a child by the age of 15, while one in three girls gets married by the age of 15.

But numbers, according to Ahmed, do not tell the whole story.

“Early childhood marriages and fertility rates may be four times higher in Bangladesh than in Pakistan, but the former experiences higher aspirations [among women] for better education and gainful employment than Pakistan,” he stated.

Bangladesh’s Population Reference Bureau’s 2013 Data Sheet on Youth states the female labour force participation in Bangladesh is 51 percent, compared to just 20 percent in Pakistan.

Additionally, the percentage of women in secondary education in Bangladesh was 55, while in Pakistan it was just 29.

For women like Naureen, staying in school could have spared her a lifetime of pain.

“I would not have been married and become a mother at such a young age; I would have had time to think about what I was getting myself into… I would have been just a little bit wiser,” she said.

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Reproductive Rights to Take Centre Stage at U.N. Special Session http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/reproductive-rights-take-centre-stage-at-u-n-special-session/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 19:23:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135488 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

A basket of condoms is passed around during International Women’s Day in Manila. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations continues negotiations on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for its post-2015 development agenda, population experts are hoping reproductive health will be given significant recognition in the final line-up of the goals later this year.

At the same time, an upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly in mid-September may further strengthen reproductive rights and the right to universal family planning."Advocates are rallying to ensure that SRHR remains as central to the next set of goals as it is to women's lives." -- Gina Sarfaty

Gina Sarfaty of the Washington-based Population Action International (PAI) told IPS, “We are at a critical juncture for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).”

As the conversation around the next set of SDGs begins to heat up, she said, “Advocates are rallying to ensure that SRHR remains as central to the next set of goals as it is to women’s lives.

“The stakes are high, and the need for action is paramount,” cautioned Sarfaty, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist and research associate at PAI.

World population, currently at over 7.2 billion, is projected to increase by 3.7 billion people by 2100. Much of this growth will occur in developing countries, with 64 percent concentrated in just 10 countries, according to PAI.

In eight of these nations – Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia – an important driver of population growth is persistently high fertility.

The remaining two countries accounting for the world’s increase – India and the United States – are those with already large populations and high net migration.

The ongoing negotiations for SDGs take place against the run-up to the upcoming special session of the General Assembly commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.

The special session, to be attended by several heads of state, is scheduled to take place Sep. 22 during the 69th session of the General Assembly.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, under-secretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS the principles set at the ICPD in 1994 are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.

“But we need to act strong and fast to realise the Cairo vision and achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including family planning,” he added.

The special session presents the perfect opportunity for governments, at the highest level, to recommit to its success and to renew their political support for actions required to fully achieve the goals and objectives of its Programme of Action and achieve sustainable development, he said.

This will also place the Cairo principles firmly in the post-2015 development agenda, said Dr. Osotimehin, a former Nigerian minister of health.

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS the September meeting represents an opportunity for world leaders to assess progress made over the past 20 years against the goals and strategies developed in 1994, identify any remaining gaps in performance that require increased attention and investment, and realign their efforts moving forward.

“This is a very important session for all of us working on sexual and reproductive health since it provides a critical forum for reaffirming and unifying international commitment to ICPD goals and for making an added push to do more on areas and in countries where we are lagging,” she said.

Asked why there wasn’t a follow-up international conference, perhaps an ICPD+20 on the lines of the Rio+20 environment conference in 2012, Mane said the Cairo Programme of Action developed a very forward-looking agenda and set the bar high for the international community 20 years ago.

She said its goals are still relevant and actionable, and the agenda is unfortunately not yet finished.

“My sense is that having a follow-up conference in such an environment was seen as neither strategic nor a good use of resources,” Mane said.

The upcoming special session “is intended to heighten focus on the goals established in the 1994 Programme of Action, stimulate discussion around what we will do to complete the unfinished agenda, re-engage on commitments already made and also push for more.

“I would hope the upcoming U.N. session will highlight the need to include sexual and reproductive health and rights upfront as a core component of the Sustainable Development Goals as the Open Working Group continues to develop its proposal,” said Mane, who oversees sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing nations on an annual budget of over 100 million dollars.

Asked about the current status of world population growth, PAI’s Sarfaty told IPS that despite the fact that mortality has declined substantially, women in sub-Saharan Africa currently have more than five children on average, representing a modest decrease from the average of 6.5 children they had in the 1950s.

Compared to Latin America and Asia, she said, a slower pace of fertility decline has characterised sub-Saharan Africa, with stalls and even reversals along the way.

Of 22 countries where recent survey data is available, 10 are transitioning towards lower childbearing while 12 are currently experiencing fertility stalls.

“Therefore, the expectation that fertility will steadily decline in Africa, as the U.N. projects, will not hold without concerted policy and programme effort,” she warned.

The polar opposite fertility scenario is happening in the high income countries with low levels of fertility.

It is estimated that 48 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where women have fewer than 2.1 children on average in their lifetimes, she pointed out.

While fertility rates in these countries may be below replacement level, their need for family planning does not disappear, she declared.

Sarfaty said family planning use continued in Iran, for example, after the government discontinued its funding of family planning programmes in an attempt to encourage higher birth rates.

In addition to being ineffective, restricting access to family planning also restricts the right of a woman to determine her family size, she added.

Meanwhile, in a report released Thursday, the United Nations said the world’s population is increasingly urban, with more than half living in urban areas today and another 2.5 billion expected by 2050.

With nearly 38 million people, Tokyo tops U.N.’s ranking of most populous cities followed by Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Mumbai.

The largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria: three countries accounting for 37 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050.

By 2050, India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers, China 292 million and Nigeria 212 million.

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Young Latin Americans Face Spiral of Unemployment, Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:33:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135484 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

In Latin America, young people are the main link in the chain of poverty leading from one generation to the next. Civil society groups, academics and young people themselves say it is imperative to strengthen the connection between education today and decent employment tomorrow.

“The region’s youth is a subject in its own right, with great symbolic power. It is probably the age group that generates the richest range of identities and cultural expressions,” Martin Hopenhayn, head of the social development division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country." -- María Fernanda Tejada

One in four Latin Americans is aged between 15 and 29, according to the Santiago-based ECLAC. This makes it a young continent, “but not for long,” Hopenhayn said.

The population aged 0-15 has fallen markedly in the region, so in 20 years’ time it will have an ageing society.

“That’s why it is very important to invest now in young people, because in 20 years’ time we are going to need the non-aged population to be much more productive,” Hopenhayn said.

But investment in youth is relatively low in Latin America, especially when public and private investment in post-secondary education is compared with emerging countries in southeast Asia, or with European countries.

“Young people are the main link in the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Hopenhayn said. This transmission will determine whether young people currently becoming economically independent will re-experience “the income poverty and job insecurity of previous generations, that is, of their parents,” he said.

The key mechanism to interrupt this intergenerational transmission is to improve the connection between education today and employment tomorrow, he said.

Investing in youth

The United Nations highlights that the present generation of youth worldwide is the largest in history, totalling 1.8 billion young people, most of whom live in the developing countries of the South.

Consequently, UNFPA is seeking to build awareness about the urgent need to increase resources devoted to youth. Its theme for World Population Day, celebrated this Friday Jul. 11, is “investing in young people.”

“We must reduce the gap in educational attainments between poor and non-poor young people,” by focusing investment on education for lower-income sectors, he said.

According to ECLAC figures, only 28 percent of young people aged 20-24 from the poorest 20 percent of the population have completed their secondary education; while among the richest 20 percent, about 80 percent have completed secondary education.

“At present, completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for a young person moving into the world of work and a lifelong career to have real expectations of achieving well-being and social mobility, and overcoming poverty,” Hopenhayn said.

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos, a brother and sister who have set up a small fruit distribution business of their own near the University of Costa Rica, in San José, are well aware of this fact.

Ángel, 21, finished his studies as a hairdresser in December 2013 and began working in January 2014. When his 22-year-old sister and her partner separated, the brother and sister started to distribute fruit in local beauty salons.

“Perhaps the main barrier is that if you are experienced and older, it is difficult to get a job, and if you are young, in spite of all your energy, it’s also difficult, but here (in the salon) they have offered me good opportunities,” Ángel told IPS.

Neither of them has started university and Guadalupe has not finished secondary school. In Costa Rica, with its 4.8 million people, 22 percent of young people work in the informal economy, which Ángel and Guadalupe intend to leave.

In Mexico, 37 million people are aged 15-29, out of a total population of 118 million. Nearly 26 percent of this age group are neither studying nor working, and almost 45 percent of them live in poverty.

“I am worried about the lack of opportunities and the prospect of unemployment,” 18-year-old María Fernanda Tejada told IPS. In August she will start studying internatioal relations at the Autonomous University of Mexico, in the capital city.

“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country,” added Tejada, who is the eldest of four children.

In Santiago, 19-year-old Daniel Hurtado is studying medicine, in spite of the social expectation that he would probably work “in a call centre, or as a supermarket packer, in construction or as a waiter,” his father Hugo, himself a waiter, told IPS.

A wage earner in Chile, which has a population of 17.6 million, earns an average of 500 dollars a month, and generally has no chance to send children to university, where medical studies cost between 900 and 1,200 dollars a month. “It’s a gruelling effort,” said the father. “But we are breaking through the barrier,” said the son.

In Hopenhayn’s view, intervening in education is the best means to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, because it is a mass phenomenon that is socially recognised, and has a major impact on the world of work.

According to a study by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly one-third of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in poverty, which contravenes their human rights, enshrined in international treaties.

The study, published in 2012, says that the poverty and extreme poverty rates among young people aged 15-29 in the region are 30.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. Together with under-15s, this group is the most vulnerable to poverty in the region.

Employment opportunities are limited for young people, who have an unemployment rate of 15 percent, while for those aged over 30, unemployment is only six percent.

Another factor is the high rate of informal employment in the region, which particularly affects young people.

“For instance, in Chile between 45 and 50 percent of workers are in informal employment, but in the 15-29 age group, 60 percent are informal workers,” sociologist Lucas Cifuentes, a researcher with the Work, Employment, Equity and Health programme at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told IPS.

He said, “undoubtedly employment is the lynchpin of social development,” and added that “it is impossible to overcome poverty without decent, dignified and protected work.”

In Hopenhayn’s view, recent years have brought about major institutional progress in youth policies, moderate progress in terms of investment in young people, and insufficient progress in investment in young people’s education.

While waiting for that to materialise, Latin American societies continue to seek their own alternative solutions to problems like inequality, and young people demand – in some countries, on the streets – investment to break the transmission of inequality in their generation.

With additional reporting from Emilio Godoy in Mexico City, and Diego Arguedas in San José.

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