Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:07:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Aid Arrives for Rohingya After Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:06:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149100 The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.

The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.

Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.

Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.

The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”

Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.

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Huge Health Needs for World’s One Billion Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 17:11:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149099 Credit: IOM

Credit: IOM

By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

With an estimated 1 billion migrants today –or one in every seven people– their health needs are huge. Nevertheless, health systems are struggling to adapt and consequently access to health services among migrant populations varies widely and is often inadequate.

This has been the key issue before senior public health officials from over 40 countries, who met on February 23 in Colombo, concluding that addressing the health needs of migrants reduces long-term health and social costs, enhances health security and contributes to social and economic development.

Health systems must be strengthened to provide equitable, non-discriminatory, migrant-centred health services, noted the participants in the 2nd Global Consultation on Migrant Health, which was hosted by the Government of Sri Lanka, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The scale of human migration currently witnessed is unprecedented, WHO reminds, there are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today, including 250 million international migrants and 763 million internal migrants, the UN body adds. “Some people migrate voluntarily; while others are forcibly displaced, fleeing conflict and war. This has important implications for the health sector.” “With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts” IOM.

On this, IOM said that when one combines the volume of international migration, the large scale of internal migration of an estimated 740 million people worldwide, and the unprecedented and protracted displacement of populations due to unresolved conflicts and natural disasters, we can see that there is urgent need to address the cumulative health needs of people on the move.

“With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts,” adds IOM.

“Yet, despite the clear economic benefits of migration, large groups of migrants remain at risk of social exclusion, discrimination and exploitation…It is important to emphasize that migrants do not generally pose a health risk to hosting communities and they should never be stigmatized or associated with the risk and stigma of importing diseases.”

Rather, it is recognised that conditions surrounding the migration process today, more than ever, can increase the vulnerability of migrants to ill health, particularly for those forced to move and those who find themselves in so called ‘irregular’ situations. In that sense, migration is a social determinant of health.

Sri Lanka is providing leadership on migrant health, the UN health body informs. It is one of the few countries in the world to have a ‘National Migrant Health Policy’, introduced in 2008. Sri Lanka recognizes the contribution of migrants to national and overseas development, the WHO informed.

“Almost 2 million Sri Lankans work overseas, the country hosts a large number of immigrants and receives 2 million tourists annually. Ensuring the health of these migrants and the country’s own population is a top priority.”

Participating health leaders adopted the Colombo Statement, which calls for international collaboration to improve the health and well-being of migrants and their families. The move aims to address the health challenges posed by increasingly mobile populations.

“Protecting the health of mobile populations is a public health and human rights imperative. Ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for all, including migrants and refugees, is something we must all strive towards, and is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind,” said WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

For his part, Dr. Davide Mosca, director of IOM’s Migration Health Division, said “Migrant health must be looked at as a global agenda and the SDGs should be interpreted by linking the call to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people… with the achievement of universal health coverage.”

This can only be realised through the implementation of well-managed and coordinated migration policies, which include financial risk protection and equal access to quality health services, he said.

The Colombo Statement calls for mainstreaming migrant health into key national, regional and international agendas and promotes international solidarity for equitable migrant health policies, a shared research agenda and the development of global frameworks to ensure migrant health is protected.

The momentum generated by the Global Consultation will be carried forward to the World Health Assembly – WHO’s annual meeting in May 2017, where 194 countries will deliberate on priority actions to protect migrants’ right to health.

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Unrest Brings North-East Nigeria Next to Starvationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 15:23:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149091 The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

Years of violence and unrest in North-East Nigeria have left millions of people at risk of starving to death. Both the violent up surging of Boko Haram and the government’s harsh military crackdown have left already historically marginalised communities with next to nothing.

Some towns have already seen all of their children aged less than five years of age die from starvation, according to Toby Lanzer, the UN’s coordinator for the region.

The violence, which began in North-East Nigeria has spilled over into the three other countries bordering Lake Chad: Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

A donor’s conference in Oslo, Norway on Friday raised $672 million dollars for the crisis – well short of the target of $1.5 billion.

IPS spoke to Sultana Begum, Oxfam Advocacy and Policy lead for the Lake Chad Basin crisis, who was in New York ahead of the donor’s conference.

The emphasis on responding militarily to the crisis has left already historically marginalised communities worse off, Begum told IPS.

“It isn’t just Boko Haram. It is the governments and the militaries of the region and the way that they are fighting this war,” she said. “In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.”

International governments have also been providing military and counter terrorism support in the region, says Begum, but she hopes they will also help support Nigeria to increase the humanitarian response through providing the funding needed to help people affected by the conflict.

“In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.” -- Sultana Begum, Oxfam

The military has also been funding vigilantes as a way to fight Boko Haram, a strategy which could potentially backfire and do further harm to local communities, according to a new report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has also been leading parts of the humanitarian response, such as running refugee camps, says Begum.

“New areas that the military has retaken, it is very militarized,” she says. “As soon as possible the military needs to hand (the camps) over to the civilian authorities, to humanitarians.”

However the vast majority of displaced people sheltered in the region are living in the homes of relatives, distant acquaintances and even strangers, who have opened their homes.

“These communities have been so incredibly generous some of them have taken 5, 6 families into their own homes,” said Begum.

“They’ve shared the little food that they have and they have very little themselves. They’ve really opened their hearts. Really they’re the heroes of the story, and they haven’t just been helping for 6 months, 5 months, many of them have been hosting these families in their homes for 2 to 3, sometimes 4 years. Some of the host communities hope that people will pay rent but people really can’t afford to pay rent.”

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.” -- Sultana Begum - Oxfam. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS.

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.” — Sultana Begum – Oxfam. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS.

Begum says that these communities are hosting some eighty percent of the people who are displaced in the region even though they themselves have their own struggles.

“If you look at Maiduguri, for example its an urban area, its an area that is historically been neglected. There are already issues to do with do people not having enough services like access to water, education.”

These host communities ”are really struggling themselves now,” says Begum. “They don’t have that much. There’s an economic crisis in Nigeria on top of everything else that’s going on. You know the price of food is really high. They have very little themselves and they need assistance.”

Sultana also notes that it’s important to recognise that people living on the edge economically may begin to see these groups as an option.

“When research has been done in terms of peoples’ motivations for joining Boko Haram, especially youth and young men in particular, the motivations are often to do with economics,” she said.

“Boko Haram offers them money. They offer them motorbikes. They offer them incentives. They offer them wives. You know these are all things that young men, they want. They need jobs, they need livelihoods and they want to get married and they want to have families and things like that. And those are opportunities they weren’t being offered.”

“So we’re hearing less about the ideological reasons why people are joining Boko Haram and more issues around the financial incentives.”

However in some cases the military crackdown has taken away what little economic opportunities these communities have.

Over the border in Niger, Begum says that emergency measures have destroyed the economy in the Diffa region.

“The two major economies are smoked fish and small pepper production.”

The small pepper “was so lucrative for the region,” people called it ‘red gold’.

“The emergency measures that were bought in banned fishing, banned the selling of fish, basically restricted peoples access to fuel and fertilizer, banned motorbikes, brought in curfews. So what that meant was that people stopped fishing. Most of these fishermen relied on fishing for 89 percent of their income,” she says.

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.”

“Some people have been killed by Boko Haram (or) they have been picked up by the military and accused of being Boko Haram, put into detention, or have disappeared.”

“The farmers are taking part in illegal trade. They are out trying to get hold of fuel and fertilizer illegally.”

This week the UN warned that North-East Nigeria alongside Yemen and Somalia, are at imminent risk of famine, after South Sudan on Monday became the first country to declare famine since 2012. In North-East Nigeria alone more than 5 million people now face serious food shortages, according to the UN.

In all of these four countries the current food crisis is considered man-made, the result of years of unresolved conflict.

However, despite their roots in conflict, much more than a military response is needed to end these crises.

Update: This article has been updated to include information about the funds raised in Oslo. An earlier headline has also been corrected.

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Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:07:19 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149065 Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report.

Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, issued on Feb. 22, 2017.

“Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded.”

As a result, “planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” cautions FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.

By 2050 humanity’s ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent over present levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources, The Future of Food and Agriculture projects.

At the same time, the report continues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food — a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside these trends, the planet’s changing climate will throw up additional hurdles. “Climate change will affect every aspect of food production,” the report says. These include greater variability of precipitation and increases in the frequency of droughts and floods.

Zero Hunger?

The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.

The short answer? Yes, FAO says, the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential – and ensuring that all of humanity benefits – will require “major transformations.”

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

According to the report, without a push to invest in and retool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 — the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.

“Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” it says. In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050.

Where Will Our Food Come From?

Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO.

However there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.

To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, “business-as-usual” is not an option, The Future of Food and Agriculture argues.

“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” it says.

“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” adds the report.

More With Less

The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.

“For this, a twin-track approach is needed which combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, and pro-poor investments in productive activities — especially agriculture and in rural economies — to sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor. “

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

According to the UN body, the world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.

This will necessitate more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, the report says, to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change, it underlines.

Along with boosting production and resilience, equally critical will be creating food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets — along with measures which ensure access for consumers to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, such as such as pricing policies and social protection programs, it says.

On this, Kostas Stamoulis, FAO Assistant Director General for Economics and Social Development, said a media briefing, when asked about the most important challenge of tomorrow regarding food and agriculture, said that it is climate change. “This demands change in practice of agriculture and developing agriculture that is more adaptable to climate change.”

Kostas Stamoulis and the other two authors of the report, Rob Vos, Director of the Agriculture Economics Development Division, and Lorenzo Bellu, Team Leader, Global Perspective Studies, organised on Feb. 21, a briefing session for the media to explain the key issues the new document incudes.

Top Trends and Challenges

The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world’s food systems:

15 Trends:
• _A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth “hot spots,” urbanization, and aging
• _Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
• _Greatly increased competition for natural resources
• _Climate change
• _Plateauing agricultural productivity
• _Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters
• _Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity
• _Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health
• _Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications
• _Increased migration
• _Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers livelihoods
• _Persisting food losses and waste
• _New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues
• _Changes in international financing for development.

10 Challenges:

• _Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand
• _Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base
• _Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards
• _Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality
• _Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition
• _Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient
• _Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration
• _Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts
• _Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats
• _Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance

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South Sudan Declares Famine, Other Countries May Follow Warns UNICEFhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/south-sudan-declares-famine-other-countries-may-follow-warns-unicef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-declares-famine-other-countries-may-follow-warns-unicef http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/south-sudan-declares-famine-other-countries-may-follow-warns-unicef/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:04:43 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149050 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/south-sudan-declares-famine-other-countries-may-follow-warns-unicef/feed/ 0 Red Tape Snarls Nepal’s Ambitious Poverty-Alleviation Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 02:00:02 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149004 Juna Bhujel (looking at the camera) at the Mankha VDC office to complain about non-payment of disaster relief funds to reconstruct housing. She lost her home in Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Juna Bhujel (looking at the camera) at the Mankha VDC office to complain about non-payment of disaster relief funds to reconstruct housing. She lost her home in Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Juna Bhujel of Sindupalchowk District, 85 kilometres northeast of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, lost her daughter-in-law in the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake. Fortunately, she managed to rescue her two-year-old grandson, who was trapped between her mother’s body and the rubble.

Soon after the devastating earthquake, her son, the family’s sole bread-winner, left for Malaysia to seek work, taking out a loan with high interest rates to fund his trip. He has neither returned, nor sent any money back home.“Since 65 percent of the total income of Nepali people goes to food consumption, these programs should be linked with food security." --Janak Raj Joshi, former vice chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund

Bhujel, a member of the Mankha Village Development Committee (VDC), now lives in a makeshift dwelling with a family of five. Their only source of income is when her husband gets menial work in home construction. To make matters worse, she has not received any money from the government to build a house.

“I was already poor, with a small plot of land that produced enough food for only three months, and now I don’t even have a house,” said Bhujel, 55. “If my government does not support me, then who will?”

Bhujel is just one of tens of thousands of earthquake victims who lost their family members and homes, but are still waiting to be formally identified as “poor” by the government.

Nepal has set a target of reducing poverty to five percent by 2030, per the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this central Himalayan country, 25.2 percent of the population now lives below the national poverty line.

The government is planning to distribute Poor Identity Cards to 395,000 families in 25 districts starting in April, providing social security entitlements and benefits with the aim of achieving the targets.

Hriday Ram Thani, Minister for Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, told IPS that with this new identity card, the government will be able to implement more concentrated programs. The ministry is planning to expand the distribution of identity cards to 50 more districts. Nepal has 75 districts.

But the government’s ambitious plans to alleviate poverty face the challenge of weak programming, planning and coordination between various line ministries to successfully implement the proposed programs.

Nepal already has 44 programs to alleviate poverty run by various ministries. For example, the Poverty Alleviation Constituency Development Program run by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has a budget of Rs one billion (9.29 million dollars), and the 9,290,000.00 USD 9,290,000.00 USDPoverty Alleviation Fund under the Prime Minister’s office has a Rs 3.82 billion (2.6 million) budget for this year.

The Youth Employment Fund under the Finance Ministry has Rs 90 million (836,100 dollars), and the Poor with Bishweswor program under the Ministry of Local Development has Rs 160 million (1.486 million) for this year with the mandate to run programs in 483 VDCs in 75 districts.

While the Youth Council Program aims to provide one industry per 10 youth under the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Rural Independent Fund run by Nepal Rastra Bank under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock also has a similar aim to reduce poverty.

Minister Thani said that in order to achieve the target and make it more results-oriented, he has already asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to integrate all these poverty-related projects so that the outcome can be measured — or else to close down the ministry.

“Apart from results documented in reports from any of these ministries, the impact cannot be observed in any of their target areas,” he said.

He added that there is a need to establish a high-level poverty alleviation board under the chairmanship of the prime minister and the Poverty Alleviation Ministry should be the focal ministry that links all the projects under various ministries. “There is a need for an internal expert team within the ministry with 3-5 subject group experts,” he said.

While the Poverty Ministry is complaining about a lack of programs and projects, high-level officials at National Planning Commission said that since poverty is a cross-cutting issue, all the ministries are running their own programs and discussions are being held with the Poverty Ministry on how to integrate these programs.

Apart from these initiatives, about two to three percent of the government budget is spent on nine categories of Social Security Entitlements each year for 8 percent of the total population.

Janak Raj Joshi, former vice chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund, said that it is sad that the government’s programs have been expanding but failed to go deeper and lack sustainability. He also blamed various international organisations for launching time-bound poverty alleviation projects.

“Since 65 percent of the total income of Nepali people goes to food consumption, these programs should be linked with food security,” he said. “The government lacks a vision of proper distribution of resources and the programs have failed to address the core issues. Each program should directly link to the people living under the poverty line.”

Around two-thirds of Nepalis rely on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The National Planning Commission (NPC) aims to introduce various programs to help improve the overall development of agriculture from this year.

Mahesh Kharel, Under-Secretary of the NPC’s Poverty Alleviation Division, said that they have planned an Agriculture Development Strategy from this year. He said that under the prime minister’s chairmanship, the project will focus on agriculture, infrastructure, local development and agricultural roads, livestock and irrigation to promote marketing of agricultural goods.

The government has allotted Rs 58 billion (541 million dollars) for the project. Similarly, the government has also allotted Rs six billion (56 million) to focus on an Agriculture Modernization Project. The program has already started in Kailali, Jhapa and Bara districts, where super zones of wheat, rice and fish have been announced.

Kharel agreed that poverty alleviation needs an integrated approach with some focused programs that directly affect the poor and bring positive changes to their lives. “By making improvements in the agriculture sector, we can help improve the living standards of people living under the poverty line,” he said.

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Worst Drought in Decades Drives Food Price Spike in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:55:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148953 Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

The most severe drought in decades, which has struck parts of Ethiopia and is exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño effect, has led to successive failed harvests and widespread livestock deaths in some areas, and humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations warns.

East Africa’s ongoing drought has sharply curbed harvests and driven up the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region, the United Nations food and agricultural agency on Feb. 14 warned.

“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,” said Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).

Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs, FAO adds, while providing some examples:

Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. In Tanzania, maize prices in Arusha, Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016.

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO


In South Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier, while in Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent.

Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier, while in Uganda, the prices of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher than a year ago in the capital city, Kampala.

Pastoral Areas Face Harsher Conditions

Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions, the UN specialised agency reports. In Somalia, goat prices have fallen up to 60 per cent compared to a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.

Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herders to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia, FAO reports. This also pushes up the price of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 per cent on the year in Somalia’s Gedo region.

According to the Rome-based agency, Ethiopia is responding to a drought emergency, triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

Humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists — causing successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths, it reports.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming with some 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.

FAO also reports that one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis — 435 000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are experiencing moderate acute malnutrition.

Livelihood Crisis

More than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia rely on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of food and income, however, the frequency of droughts over the years has left many communities particularly vulnerable.

Significant production losses, by up to 50-90 percent in some areas, have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power, forcing many to sell their remaining agricultural assets and abandon their livelihoods.

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO


Estimates in early 2016 by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.

The FAO Ethiopia El Niño Response Plan aims to assist 1.8 million vulnerable pastoralists, agro pastoralists and smallholder farmers in 2016.

To achieve this, the UN food and agriculture will prioritize agricultural production support in order to reduce the food gap, livestock interventions to protect the livelihood assets of pastoralists and agro pastoralists, and activities to enhance the resilience of affected communities through coordinated response.

As part of the emergency response, FAO has been providing planting materials to help seed- and food-insecure households in the worst affected regions plant in the belg and meher seasons.

In an effort to preserve livestock, it has been distributing multi-nutrient blocks in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas to strengthen livestock and bolster the resilience of the cooperatives that produce them.

Survival animal feed is also being provided to help farmers produce fodder and improve access to water for livestock. Herds across the country have also benefited from vaccination and treatment campaigns to address their increasing vulnerability as a result of drought.

In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, FAO is enhancing the financial stability of drought-affected households through the purchase of weak sheep and goats for immediate, local slaughter – and providing the meat – rich in protein – to nutritionally vulnerable drought-affected families.

The intervention will help reduce stress on available feed, enable households to focus their resources on their remaining productive animals, and invest in productive assets.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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Ravaging Drought Deepens in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:41:37 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148928 At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Experts warn that Kenya is in the grip of the worst drought in recent history as government estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.7 million, up from two million in January.

This has necessitated the government to declare the crisis a national disaster as large parts of the country continue to succumb to the ravaging drought.The drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

At least 11,000 livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The drought management authority issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 percent of their livestock by April.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated one million children in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are in dire need of food aid.

“The prevalence of acute malnutrition in Baringo, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya where the drought is most severe is estimated at 25 percent,” Mary Naliaka, a pediatrics nurse with the Ministry of Health, told IPS.

“This is alarming because at least 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age is caused by nutrition related issues.”

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

The drought is region-wide. On Feb. 10, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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No Hidden Figures: Success Stories Can Help Girls’ STEM Careershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/no-hidden-figures-success-stories-can-help-girls-stem-careers/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 06:24:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148885 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General & Executive Director of UN Women]]>

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General & Executive Director of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

What makes a young girl believe she is less intelligent and capable than a boy? And what happens when those children face the ‘hard’ subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? A recent study, ‘Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’ showed that by the age of 6, girls were already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Research tells us repeatedly that girls and boys are strongly influenced in the development of their thinking and sense of themselves by narratives and stereotypes that start to be learnt at home and continue at school and through life, reinforced by the images and the roles they see in advertising, in films, books and news stories. 

So, how do we change this, and what should girls learn now that sets them up to thrive in a transformed labour market of the future? The answer is not simply more and better STEM subject teaching. They must also learn that girls have an equal place in that future. This isn’t a given. A major and underestimated obstacle for girls in STEM is the stereotype that has been created and perpetuated that boys are better at these subjects and careers.

Not only do we have to ensure that children enter and stay in education, we must equally pay close attention to what they are learning. The changing future of jobs means that fields of study for children now in school should include equipping them for ‘new collar’ jobs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Jobs that do not exist today may be common within the next 20 years, in the green economy, or areas like robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and genomics.

The media plays a powerful role in biases, with the power through effective storytelling to reinforce negative perceptions and norms or to set the record straight and create new role models. ‘Hidden Figures’, Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, that tells the ‘untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race’ is now released as a film and brings recognition to those who were doubly invisible at NASA—as women and as black women. Making accomplished women scientists visible is important for the accuracy of news and of history. It is also an essential part of building further scientific success.

Census data in the United States of America shows that women comprise 39 per cent of chemists and material scientists, and 28 per cent of environmental scientists and geoscientists. These are not the equal proportions that we ultimately want—but they are far higher levels of success in science than fiction tells us. Alarmingly, best-selling movies have tended to significantly underrepresent the facts. A 2015 global study supported by UN Women showed that, of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job, only 12 per cent were women.  This tells us that women are still hidden figures in science—and it has a chilling effect on girls’ ambitions.

According to a 2016 Girl-guiding survey, fewer than one in ten girls aged 7 to 10 in the UK said they would choose a career as an engineer or scientist. Un-learning this bias and changing the stereotypes is not a simple matter, yet it’s essential if we are to see boys and girls able to compete on a more equal footing for the jobs of the future. This goes hand in hand with the practical programmes that teach immediately relevant skills.

UN Women is working with partners around the world to close the gender digital gap. For example, in Moldova, GirlsGoIT teaches girls digital, IT and entrepreneurial skills and specifically promotes positive role models through video; similarly in Kenya and South Africa, 20 Mozilla Clubs for women and girls teach basic coding and digital literacy skills in safe spaces.

We need to deliberately and urgently un-stereotype the ecosystems in which children play, learn and grow up. Across the world, in schools, at home, in the work place and through the stories we tell—we all need to reflect and enable a world where girls can thrive in science, so that their success becomes as probable as they are capable.

*This article is being published in advance of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, 11 February

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Supporting Local Organisations: A Syrian Perspectivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/supporting-local-organisations-a-syrian-perspective/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=supporting-local-organisations-a-syrian-perspective http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/supporting-local-organisations-a-syrian-perspective/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 05:44:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148882 Fadi Hallisso is co-founder of Syrian NGO Basmeh and Zeitooneh. Credit: L Rowlands/IPS.

Fadi Hallisso is co-founder of Syrian NGO Basmeh and Zeitooneh. Credit: L Rowlands/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

Just 0.2 percent of humanitarian funding goes directly to local and national NGOs, according to a major UN review of humanitarian financing published ahead of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.

Yet nearly one year after the summit, little has changed. International donors continue to overlook organisations with local roots and local knowledge, despite their often much lower operating costs.

The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing Report to the UN Secretary-General argued that responses to crises needed to be put back in the hands of the people most affected.

The panel’s members said that when they spoke to local and national organisations they heard a common complaint; that international organisations were “treated as sub-contractors rather than true partners.”

To find out what it’s like for local organisations working in humanitarian settings, IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, a Syrian organisation that supports Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey.

Hallisso described how some of Basmeh and Zeitooneh’s programs have achieved success despite skepticism from big international donors.

Very little we see stories about the successful examples of Syrians who are trying to help and trying to do something good on the ground,” -- Fadi Hallisso

One such case, says Halliso, was a workshop Basmeh and Zeitooneh started in Beirut where refugees embroider shoes and make other handcrafts:

“We approached different international organisations and all of them were saying this is not feasible. We’ve done the market study. There is no market for these things,” said Hallisso.

So Basmeh and Zeitooneh went to local businessmen and asked them to donate the funds to start the project instead.

With these funds the workshop became successful, the products the refugees make are now exported to the United States and Europe. Only once the project was successful, says Halliso were international donors suddenly interested.

However despite this lack of initial support from international donors Halliso says he has also witnessed international programs struggling to gain traction with locals.

In one case, an international NGO that set up recreation centres didn’t know why people weren’t using the centres. “They asked for our help to recruit people and find them children to come,” said Halliso.

“They were coming from Syria with only the clothes they had. They had far much more basic needs than just these spaces and they didn’t know the world of NGOs, they didn’t know who these people are and didn’t trust them, so why send their kids?”

He said that this example showed the importance of showing people solidarity by showing that you “understand their needs and are responding to them”.

While not all local organisations have achieved success, Basmeh and Zeitooneh has now grown to have over 500 employees says Halliso.

“I never imagined even in the best-case scenario that we would become an organization with 500 employees in several countries, so we were just doing what we felt it is our duty to do, to help our people, our citizens, to show them humanity, and this proved to be the right response because we understood what they needed.”

Yet although Basmeh and Zeitooneh has grown it still encounters challenges when dealing with international donors.

These include long delays waiting for needs assessments to be carried out and a lack of interest in funding smaller projects.

As Halliso explains, while donors may worry that local organisations don’t “have the financial systems in place, don’t have the policies and procedures that prevent corruption and stealing of money,” it is also difficult for local organisations to find support to develop these systems.

“We had trainings on how to write proposals, but writing proposals is not everything. We needed support to buy accounting software. No one from our donors was willing to give us the money, the cash money needed to buy this software.”

Yet, it is not just major international donors who are unsure how to fund local organisations. Individual donors are also unsure how to support local organisations directly from overseas..

“I often meet with people who ask me, ‘I want to help, but I don’t know how and I don’t know where to give my money to because I’m afraid that this will go to the wrong hands or to terrorist groups.’”

One way to address this gap, says Halliso is through the media.

“I think our problem is the media in general around Syria is too much taken about covering the military action, about speaking about terrorism and ISIS. Very little we see stories about the successful examples of Syrians who are trying to help and trying to do something good on the ground,” he said.

Halliso was in New York for meetings organised by the international organisation Oxfam, which has partnered with Basmeh and Zeitooneh, prior to the travel ban imposed on Syrians travelling to the United States.

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New, Aggressive Rust Imperils Wheat Crops in Europe, Africa, Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2017 05:30:52 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148814 A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 5 2017 (IPS)

Wheat rust, a family of fungal diseases that can cause crop losses of up to 100 per cent in untreated susceptible wheat, is making further advances in Europe, Africa and Asia, according to two new studies produced by scientists in collaboration with the United Nations.

The reports, highlighted in the journal Nature following their publication by Aarhus University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), show the emergence of new races of both yellow rust and stem rust in various regions of the world in 2016, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) informs.

At the same time, well-known existing rust races have spread to new countries, the studies confirm, underlining the need for early detection and action to limit major damage to wheat production, particularly in the Mediterranean basin.

“These new, aggressive rust races have emerged at the same time that we’re working with international partners to help countries combat the existing ones, so we have to be swift and thorough in the way we approach this,” said FAO Plant Pathologist Fazil Dusunceli.

Wheat is a source of food and livelihoods for over 1 billion people in developing countries, according to the UN body. Northern and Eastern Africa, the Near East, and West, Central and South Asia – which are all vulnerable to rust diseases − alone account for some 37 per cent of global wheat production.

“Preliminary assessments are worrisome, but it is still unclear what the full impact of these new races will be on different wheat varieties in the affected regions,” said Dusunceli, adding that this is what research institutions across these regions will need to further investigate in the coming months.

“It’s more important than ever that specialists from international institutions and wheat producing countries work together to stop these diseases in their tracks − that involves continuous surveillance, sharing data and building emergency response plans to protect their farmers and those in neighboring countries.”

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat rusts spread rapidly over long distances by wind, FAO says, adding that if not detected and treated on time, they can turn a healthy looking crop, only weeks away from harvest, into a tangle of yellow leaves, black stems and shrivelled grains.

Fungicides can help to limit damage, but early detection and rapid action are crucial. So are integrated management strategies in the long run.

Mediterranean, Most Affected

On the Italian island of Sicily, a new race of the stem rust pathogen − called TTTTF − hit several thousand hectares of durum wheat in 2016, causing the largest stem rust outbreak that Europe has seen in decades, FAO reports. Experience with similar races suggests that bread wheat varieties may also be susceptible to the new strain.

In addition, farmers in the mainland Italy, Morocco and some Scandinavian countries are battling a yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust, while Ethiopia and Uzbekistan fights outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012.

FAO also notes that TTTTF is the most recently identified race of stem rust. Without proper control, researchers caution, it could soon spread over long distances along the Mediterranean basin and the Adriatic coast.

According to the UN agency, various countries across Africa, Central Asia and Europe, meanwhile, have been battling new strains of yellow rust never before been seen in their fields.

Italy, Morocco and four Scandinavian countries have seen the emergence of an entirely new, yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust. Notably, the new race was most prevalent in Morocco and Sicily, where yellow rust until recently was considered insignificant.

Preliminary analysis suggests the new race is related to a family of strains that are aggressive and better adapted to higher temperatures than most others.

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat farmers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan, at the same time, have been fighting outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012, another race, which reared its head in both countries in 2016 and struck a major blow to Ethiopian wheat production in particular.

AF2012 was previously only found in Afghanistan, before appearing in the Horn of Africa country last year, where it affected tens of thousands of hectares of wheat, FAO adds.

To offer support, the UN body, in collaboration with its partners, is stepping up its efforts in training rust experts from affected countries to boost their ability to detect and manage these emerging wheat rust races.

As New Races Emerge, Old Ones Continue to Spread

The already established Warrior(-) race of yellow rust −which came onto scientists’ radars in Northern Europe and Turkey a few years ago − continued its aerial march in 2016 and is now widely present in Europe and West Asia, it reports.

The Digalu (TIFTTF) race of stem rust continues to devastate wheat in Ethiopia, while the most well-known race of stem rust – the highly potent Ug99 – is now present in 13 countries.

“Having spread in a northward trend from East Africa to the Middle East, Ug99 has the potential to affect many wheat varieties grown worldwide as it keeps producing new variants. Most recently, it has been detected in Egypt, one of the Middle East’s most important wheat producers.”

The findings of the Aarhus study build on training sessions conducted in 2016 in collaboration between the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aarhus university, CIMMYT and FAO.

The training, which will be repeated this year, allows rust experts to strengthen their surveillance and management skills, coupled with surveys and collection of rust samples for tests and analysis by Aarhus University. The recently established Regional Cereal Rust Research in Izmir, Turkey, will host the training.

These efforts have been part of FAO’s four-year global wheat rust program, which facilitates regional collaborations and offers support to individual countries eager to boost their surveillance capacity.

It also helps countries act swiftly to control outbreaks before they turn into epidemics and cause major damage to food security. But further research, particularly into breeding resistant varieties, and national response

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Europe Urged to Address ‘Tragic’ Loss of Lives in Mediterraneanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/europe-urged-to-address-tragic-loss-of-lives-in-mediterranean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-urged-to-address-tragic-loss-of-lives-in-mediterranean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/europe-urged-to-address-tragic-loss-of-lives-in-mediterranean/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 14:53:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148802 A youngster walks onto the beach during outing from a reception centre that doubles as a lodging station for unaccompanied minors in Pozzallo, Sicily. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

A youngster walks onto the beach during outing from a reception centre that doubles as a lodging station for unaccompanied minors in Pozzallo, Sicily. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

European leaders should take decisive action to address the tragic loss of life on the Central Mediterranean route and the deplorable conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya, urged two major United Nations agencies dealing with migrants and refugees.

“To better protect refugees and migrants, we need a strong European Union that is engaged beyond its borders to protect, assist and help find solutions for people in need,” said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a joint statement.

“This includes building capacity to save lives at sea or on land, strengthening the rule of law and fighting against criminal networks.”

IOM and UNHCR launched their appeal on the eve of the informal meeting of the European Council on Feb. 3 in Valletta, Malta, calling for “concerted efforts” to ensure that sustainable migration and asylum systems are put in place in Libya, when the security and political situation permits, and in neighbouring countries.

They also urged a move away from migration management based on the automatic detention of refugees and migrants in “inhumane” conditions in Libya towards the creation of proper reception services.

“Open reception centres should offer safe and dignified conditions, including for children and victims of trafficking, and respect key protection safeguards.”

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

The two UN bodies expressed hope that Valetta’s informal summit would also help move towards the adoption of a common approach to migration by the European Union.

“Concrete measures in support of the Government of Libya are needed to build capacity to register new arrivals, support the voluntary return of migrants, process asylum claims and offer solutions to refugees. This should include a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys.”

IOM and UNHCR reminded that in Libya, together with partners, they have made “tremendous efforts to deliver basic protection to refugees, migrants and affected local populations,” who in some places are also in dire need of assistance.

Migrants arrive in Europe after surviving a harrowing sea journey. File photo: IOM

Migrants arrive in Europe after surviving a harrowing sea journey. File photo: IOM


“Security constraints continue to hinder our ability to deliver life-saving assistance, provide basic services to the most vulnerable and find solutions through resettlement, assisted voluntary return or self-reliance. Unhindered humanitarian access remains a priority.”

“We believe that, given the current context, it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country, nor to establish extra-territorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa,“ IOM and UNHCR stated, adding that hey hope that “humane” solutions can be found to end the suffering of thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya and across the region.

2016 was the worst year in terms of people perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. According to preliminary figures from UNHCR, of the 363,348 people who crossed the sea, 5,079 people –almost 1 in 72 – were lost (died or missing).

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Families of the “Disappeared” Search for Clandestine Graves in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:52:55 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148775 Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
NAVOLATO, Mexico, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Juan de Dios is eight years old and is looking for his younger sister, Zoe Zuleica Torres Gómez, who went missing in December 2015, when she was only five years old, in the northeastern state of San Luis Potosí. He is the youngest searcher for clandestine graves in Mexico.

With pick and shovel, in the last week of January he joined the Third National Brigade for the Search for Disappeared Persons, which on Monday Jan. 30 found the remains of a body in a grave hidden in a corn and sorghum field on the communal land in Potrero de Sataya, in the municipality of Navolato, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

It is the second body found by this brigade, made up of a handful of women and men who search in the ground for signs of their children, siblings and parents gone missing during the years of the so-called war against drug trafficking, together with human right defenders and Catholic priests.

“A problem that has not been recognised cannot be solved, nor can it heal,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera, who is behind the creation of the brigades, told IPS during the brigade’s work in Sinaloa.

“All the public prosecutor offices in the country are saturated with this issue, there is no structure in place that would allow us to think that the institutions are going to work. That is why we have had to go out to look ourselves for our family members,” insisted Trujillo, who is searching for four disappeared siblings.

On taking office in December 2006, right-wing president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) militarised the security of the country to combat the drug mafias and threw Mexico into a spiral of violence from which it has not escaped.
One aspect reflects the seriousness of the problem: before that year, the Mexican government identified seven major drug cartels. Ten years later, there are nearly 200 organised crime groups operating in the country, according to information published this month by the Drug Policy Programme of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (Cide).

The data from Cide, one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, also registers at least 68 massacres in that period of time.

In 10 years, the so-called war on drugs launched by Calderón has left more than 177,000 murder victims, 73,500 of them during the administration of his successor, the also conservative Enrique Peña Nieto.

It has also left at least 30,000 missing people, although registers on disappearances vary greatly among the different authorities and civil society organisations.

In 2011, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity headed by the poet Javier Sicilia brought to the forefront the issue of forced disappearance, reporting hundreds of cases in this country of 122 million people.

But it was in October 2014, with the forced disappearance of 43 rural student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, and in January 2016, when five young people were detained and “disappeared” by state police in Tierra Blanca, in the state of Veracruz, that the country discovered that many of the disappearances attributed to organised crime were actually carried out by the authorities.

“That is why they did not look for them,” said Miguel Trujillo, Juan Carlos´ younger brother.

Since then, groups of family members who, desperate because of the absence of the state, started their own searches, have mushroomed around the country.

To do this, they train: they take courses in forensic anthropology, archeology, law; and they gear up: they buy caving equipment, they get trays to find small bones; they form crews and have become experts in identifying graves and bones.

The first brigades were organised in March 2016 in Veracruz, a state in eastern Mexico where several clandestine graveyards have been discovered, where the remains of160 people have been found so far.

There are now at least 13 brigades in the country. And since Jan. 24, different groups have gone out into the field in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Sinaloa, where people belonging to brigades from five states arrived for a 12-day collective search.

“There are two different kinds of searches, for people who are alive or for people who are dead. I think this is where we’re failing, because we also have to look for people who are alive, but the thing is that nobody was doing this,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo.

The groups are supported by civil society organisations, such as the Marabunta Peace brigade, a group of young people from Mexico City who provide security for the families.

“It is very hard for young people to deal with these realities, for them to not get disillusioned with humanity, but escorting the groups gives them hope. Because when they realize that they are able to help, they find hope and they reaffirm themselves as builders of peace,” Miguel Barrera, the head of Marabunta, told IPS.

Sinaloa is the land of the cartel created by the powerful drug lord Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19.

The brigade has made two findings: the one in Potrero Sataya and another in the municipality El Quelite, 10 km from port Mazatlán. The little boy from San Luis Potosí came with his mother, to help search for human remains.

“This is something we have to do because the government is not doing it and it was never going to,” said Mario Vergara, who founded the group The Other Disappeared from Iguala, the municipality where the students from Ayotzinapa disappeared, and now helps brigades all over the country.

“We are making progress in terms of organisation and we are going to continue. The people that remain in each state are going to learn how to coordinate to carry out better searches; we need to replicate the model in each state and engage the governments to help the search groups,” said Miguel Trujillo.

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Kenyans Turn to Wild Fruits and Insects as Drought Loomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 12:10:53 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148735 Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant." --Hilda Mukui

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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Insecurity Fuelling Food Shortages in Lake Chad Basin: UN Coordinatorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/insecurity-fuelling-food-shortages-in-lake-chad-basin-un-coordinator/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=insecurity-fuelling-food-shortages-in-lake-chad-basin-un-coordinator http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/insecurity-fuelling-food-shortages-in-lake-chad-basin-un-coordinator/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 19:30:59 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148730 Toby Lanzer, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel speaks at the International Peace Institute. Credit: L Rowlands / IPS.

Toby Lanzer, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel speaks at the International Peace Institute. Credit: L Rowlands / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

Children under five years of age are not surviving due to severe food shortages in some parts of the Lake Chad region, says Toby Lanzer, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.

“I saw adults sapped of energy who couldn’t stand up, I saw an entire town devoid of two-year olds, three-year olds, four-year olds, and when we asked where are the children – and I get upset when I say this – we were told that they had died, they had starved.”

This was the situation Lanzer saw on a visit to the town of Bama in Northern Nigeria in 2016. He described the visit at a discussion with policy makers, diplomats and journalists at the International Peace Institute – a New York think tank – on Wednesday 25 January.

Communities across the Lake Chad basin have lost the last three planting seasons - Toby Lanzer.

The crisis has left millions of people living on the edge in the Lake Chad basin, due to a combination of abject poverty, climate change and violent extremism, said Lanzer. Four countries – Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria – border Lake Chad, which has shrunk dramatically since the 1960s.

“Around Lake Chad there are now well over 10 million people who I could categorise as desperately in need of … life-saving aid,” he said, including 7.1 million people categorised as “severely food insecure.”

In response to a question from IPS, Lanzer described how ongoing violence in the region has contributed to the food shortages:

“About 85 percent of people across this part of the world depend on the weather and agriculture livestock – it’s an agro-pastoralist community.”

“If your movement is confined you may not plant and communities across the Lake Chad basin have lost the last three planting seasons if you don’t plant than you don’t harvest and if you don’t harvest than you don’t have food,” he said.

“If your cattle or your goats or your livestock isn’t moving cows that don’t walk get sick and they die and then you’ve lost your livelihood,” he added.

Lanzer, whose humanitarian career has seen him work in Sudan, South Sudan, Timor-Leste, and the Central African Republic said that the poverty in the Lake Chad region is some of the worst he has witnessed.

“I don’t think I’ve been to villages before where people don’t have flip-flops, where people don’t have plastic,” he said.

However Lanzer noted that ongoing violence in the region – including due to extremist group Boko Haram – was one of the biggest factors disrupting the lives of people in the region.

Els Debuf, Senior Adviser and Head of Humanitarian Affairs at the International Peace Institute said that although the crisis in the Lake Chad region is one of the most severe it is also one of the most under-reported.

She noted that despite the region’s extreme poverty, communities were also sheltering refugees and internally displaced persons:

“Close to two and half million refugees and internally displaced people – the vast majority of whom are children – are sheltered throughout the region by communities who are themselves among the poorest and most vulnerable in the world,” she said.

The governments of Norway, Nigeria and Germany are planning a pledging conference to raise funds for the crisis in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region on 24 February in Oslo, Norway.

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Drought Could Cost Sri Lanka Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:00:22 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148655 In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jan 25 2017 (IPS)

The warnings are stark, the instructions, for a change, clear.

Sri Lanka is heading into one of its worst droughts in recent history, and according some estimates the worst in 30 years. The reservoirs are running on empty, at 30 percent or less capacity. Only 12 percent of the island’s power generation is currently from hydropower and 85 percent comes from thermal, with a staggering 41 percent from coal.

The rains have stayed away like never before. According to a recent survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the government, last year’s rains were 23 percent less than the 30-year average.One of the long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

Now the instructions: Use water sparingly, do not wash vehicles with pipe-borne water, do not put air conditioning below 26 C, and light bonfires in the morning if you want to protect your crops from the morning mist, a forerunner, according to local yore, of a impending drought.

“It is a very serious situation, something that we have not faced in a long time, but we are taking precautions,” said Lalith Chandarapala, the head of the Meteorological Department. It was his department that first warned of the drought when the rains failed yet again last year around September.

In fact, in 2016, there were only three days of exceptionally high rains, during mid-May, when 300 mm fell on some parts of the island. On either side of them, it was drier than usual.

The effects have been catastrophic. Of a possible 800,000 acres, only a little above 300,000 was planted with the staple rice crops during the last harvesting season due to lack of water.

“This is the lowest cultivation level experienced in Sri Lanka during the last thirty years,” the WFP-government joint survey said. It estimated that by end of December, already close to a million people were affected by the drought in 23 of the 25 districts. By the third week of January, the government’s Disaster Management Center said that over 900,000 were receiving water brought in from outside.

“Even if the country receives average rains in the months of January and February 2017, it is highly unlikely that the current drought situation will improve until March 2017,” the joint assessment warned.

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

The government has already slashed taxes on rice imports to fend off price hikes as well as shortages and decided to buy power on short-term agreements from private suppliers till the next rains. The additional power purchases are expected to cost the government Rs 50b.

It has also restricted water supply to areas where there is an acute shortage of safe water and ordered a survey of private wells. Millions of Sri Lankan households use dug wells for domestic consumption without any purview by any authority. Any move to curtail such use or to use these wells for public supplies will be a deeply unpopular move.

Apart from the short-term impacts of such frequent extreme weather events, experts also worry about the long term implications.

“Changing climate is an issue we have to deal with, our policies now have to reflect awareness as well as adaptation measures,” Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshna Yapa said.

One of these long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

The United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that 45 percent of the country’s rural population was living in degrading agricultural areas at the turn of the millennium, and that within a decade that population grew by a further 20 percent.

Researchers at the UNCCD headquarters warned that “when there is drought, most of the plant cover dies, which leaves the land exposed to wind erosion, and to water erosion when the rains return. In addition, long dry spells can make it difficult for the ground to soak up the rainfall, which is the source of ground water.”

A little known fact is that land degradation has serious impact on Sri Lanka’s economy. “Land degradation may be costing Sri Lanka up to about 300 million United States dollars every year. That is approximately one percent of the country’s gross domestic product,” UNCCD said in a statement to IPS.

In rural Sri Lanka, the impact of generations of land use without proper care is clear. In the southern Hambantota District, farmers who depend on water supply for cultivation have been moving deeper into forests and reserves as water availability becomes less and less reliable in more populated areas.

In the Andaraweva area in Hambantota, about 20 km from the closest town a large banana plantation has come up within what is essentially a forest reserve. The plantation which could be as large 20 acres, gains water from a tank meant to be for wildlife nearby.

The cultivators who have obtained written permission from local government officials to use the tank water, much to chagrin of wildlife officials, use five industrial level pumps powered by small tractor motors to pump the water and send it about a1km into the plantation.

The small lake is being dried out by the over use of water, forcing wildlife officials to despair over water for animals.

“We have been abusing our water resources for so long, at least now we should be more careful with it, or we would have to be really, really sorry,” head of the Hambantota Wildlife office Ajith Gunathunga said.

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Trump to Pull Out of the UN, Expel It from the US?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 14:38:27 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148646 Caption United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. Photo: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Caption United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. Photo: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

So far, Donald Trump’s first decisions as president of the United States have left no doubt that he intends to implement his electoral threats, while most likely not fulfilling the promises he made as a candidate.

Barely 48 hours after his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, a shocking report was circulated saying that “A bill was introduced early January that calls for the removal of the United States from the United Nations.

According to the Congress website, H.R. 193 — known as the American Sovereignty Restoration Act — was introduced to the House on January 3 and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

While its official title says it seeks to end membership in the U.N., there are several other key components of the bill which include: ending the 1947 agreement that the U.N. headquarters will be housed in the U.S., ending peacekeeping operations, removing diplomatic immunity, and ending participation in the World Health Organization.

Should the bill pass, the Act and its amendments will go into effect two years after it has been signed.”

It Is Real

During a UN briefing on Jan. 23, a correspondent noted, “There is a call from the US Congress by five… resolution drafted by five or six congressmen calling on the United States to withdraw its membership from the United Nations.”

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Author: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America |  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Author: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America | Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

The UN Spokesman answered: “We’re not going to comment on draft legislation that is floating around a legislative body.”

So such draft legislation is there.

More explicitly, a US academic, a professor of politics who closely monitors US-UN relations, told IPS the proposed legislation is “real.”

“But it only has six sponsors at this point (a handful of far right and libertarian Republicans), so I doubt it will get very far.”

Regardless of the number of sponsors and if and when it would pass or not, the fact is that the Trump administration’s intention to withdraw from the world’s multilateral body could easily be implemented.

In fact, it would be enough that Washington refrains from paying its share in the UN budget – or even just delaying it — to make the whole structure collapse.

The UN, Bankrupted

This would happen at one of the worst moments for the United Nations’ finances. The world body is, in fact, now bankrupted. Day after day, its agencies – from the children’s fund to the refugees agency — launch desperate appeals for funds to meet the ongoing unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Moreover, an eventual US withdrawal would leave the UN in the hands of big private corporations. Actually, several transnational private businesses have over the last few years been among the major UN humanitarian operations’ funders.

Such a scenario would lead this unique multilateral system to be run by big business pundits. This risk should not be discarded, as the UN would in this case provide a needed “legal” coverage to their actions, whatever these would be.

In other words, the UN de facto is already being transformed into a private corporation, funded and guided by big private business that needs to keep its formal, legal umbrella wide open to handle everything… legally.

The UN? Just a Club!

President Trump’s thoughts regarding the UN were summarised in one of his tweets, in which he wrote: “The UN has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time.”

But that “… get together, talk and have a good time” is certainly not the case for the millions of women and girls who make up 71 per cent of all victims of human trafficking, as reported just a month ago by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Let alone the fact that children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide.

Neither is it the case for the one third of women aged 20 to 24 who were child brides, nor that every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence, as stated in UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report released in July last year.

Not to mention the 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options, and that 16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

All these victims of human rights violations, which have been often perpetrated by US-led military coalitions and/or other members of the UN Security Council, and have been suffering the direct of indirectly consequences of massive war interventions, have so far depended on the UN assistance.

Maybe it would be right to remind here that many key United Nations bodies were created seven decades ago mostly to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of victims of the European conflict that became World War II.

UNICEF, for instance, aided up to five million European children.

Who Would Host the World Body?

Then comes a second point: which country would eventually host the United Nations, should the proposed bill end the 1947 agreement that the U.N. headquarters be housed in the US? And who would afford replacing the US contribution to its budget?

The US shoulders 22 per cent of the world body’s budget in exchange for a non-written pact that an equivalent percentage of key, decision-making staff would be appointed by the US administration.

The total regular UN budget for the year 2016-17 amounts to 5.6 billion dollars, of which the US contributes 610.836.578 dollars, according to the UN report “Contributions by Member States to the United Nations regular budget for the year 2017.”

Japan contributes the second highest share with 9.68 per cent, followed by China (7.921 per cent), Germany (6.389 per cent), France (4.859 per cent) and UK (4.463 per cent) in the top five. Brazil contributes about 3.823 per cent and is 6th in this list.

None of the current major contributors to the UN budget would clearly be able to replace the US share, plus its own.

Moreover, European powers are still facing the consequences of the financial crisis that was created in 2007 by giant private financial corporations based in the US and Europe.

Add to this the fact that they are all now witnessing a growing scenario of the rise of right-wing, ultra-conservative, xenophic, nationalist, and populist parties who clamorously cheer Donald Trump’s ascension to power.

In short, Trump seems to be seriously determined to carry out his electoral threats, while failing his populist promises.

To start with, his decision to trash the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or the so-called Obamacare, a health care system which was enacted by President Barack Obama on March 2010.

Under this Act, hospitals and primary physicians would transform their practices financially, technologically, and clinically to drive better health outcomes, lower costs, and improve their methods of distribution and accessibility.

That Act was abolished on Trump’s first business day, threatening the health benefits of millions of US citizens, who he promised to place at the top of his priorities.

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Threat of Famine Looms in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 20:27:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148420 On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Millions of Yemenis could soon face widespread famine if no action is taken to improve food access through humanitarian or trade means, an early warning system has said.

Up to eight million Yemenis are severely food insecure while another 2 million are facing food insecurity at emergency levels, just one phase below famine, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has found. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the food-insecure population in the Middle Eastern nation could be even higher at up to 14.4 million, representing half of the population.

This has contributed to rising acute malnutrition and risk of mortality. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 4.5 million are in need of treatment for malnutrition, including over 2 million children.

The ongoing conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis has largely driven the food crisis in Yemen, which FEWS Net describes as the “largest food security emergency in the world.” The two-year civil war has left thousands dead and 3 million displaced, limiting humanitarian access and food availability on the market.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded system highlighted the need to improve humanitarian access in order to continue and increase much needed food and nutrition assistance.

Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food.

Though current food assistance from organisations such as the World Food Program (WFP) is helping mitigate the crisis, FEWS NET noted that such operations alone have been insufficient to meet the country’s needs.

Action is also needed to ensure sustained commercial food trade. Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food. The unrest has since disrupted the government and private sector’s ability to import food. Most recently, wheat imports were suspended in December, a staple grain for Yemenis.

Without such imports, humanitarian actors will also be unable to ensure local food availability.

Though food is still available on local markets, increased prices and reduced income have limited access to goods. WFP found that prices of red bean, sugar and onion were respectively 48 percent, 24 percent and 17 percent higher in November than in the pre-crisis period.

A major reduction in food import levels will only serve to worsen food security in the country.

“In a worst-case scenario, where food imports drop substantially for a sustained period of time or where conflict persistently prevents the flow of food to local markets, famine is possible,” FEWS NET reported.

In 2016, the UN requested almost $1.7 billion towards Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Approximately 40 percent remains unfunded.

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Migrants Seeking Europe Catch Their Breath in Moroccohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:35:58 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148422 City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
NADOR, RABAT and CASABLANCA, Morocco, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

With a stable economy and a peaceful political climate, Morocco – which has always been a transit country for migrants — is becoming a potential new destination for settlement. The elusive dream for most of those who cross the Sahara, though, is still Europe.

No more than 15 kilometers separate the Spanish enclave Melilla and the Moroccan coastal city of Nador, in the northeastern Rif region. This tiny Spanish town of 70,000 people became a major crossing point for those seeking to reach asylum in Europe."The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super-poor country." --Miguel Hernandez Garcia

Melilla, together with Ceuta, are the remaining Spanish territories on the African continent and the European Union’s only land border. Precisely for that reason, many Sub-Saharan Africans and increasing number of Syrians dream of reaching the other side as a promised land and better life.

Both cities erected fortified borders as the pressure from migrants increased. Every year, hundreds of Sub-Saharans (many of those undocumented in Morocco) endeavor to cross the fences or embark on the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean.

Last month, rescue ships saved around 60 migrants who were adrift not far from Melilla. In early December 2016, at least 400 people broke through the border fence of Ceuta. On Jan. 1, another wave of 1,100 African migrants attempted to storm the same fence.

Mohamed Diaradsouba, 24, risked his life after he decided to depart Ivory Coast. He traveled almost 5,000 kms from Abidjan to Nador, passing through Mali and Algeria. He left his wife and one-year-old son with the hope of one day coming back.

“Where I lived there was no employment, I couldn’t get money to survive. I came to Morocco because I want to cross to Spain. But here there is no job either. I’m sure I’ll find a job in Spain, France, Belgium or Germany and make my living,” he told IPS.

He and a group of four companions rely on small donations provided by activists and the Catholic Church in Nador. Undocumented migrants are not tolerated by local police, who frequently conduct street sweeps and arrest those without legal papers.

When IPS talked to Diaradsouba on a cold November night, he was living in a rural community called Khamis-akdim, a 15-minute drive from Nador. It had been three months since he and some 300 other people Sub-Saharans Africa had set up a makeshift camp in the surrounding forest due to fear of entering the city.

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

“We’re camping in the bushes up on a hill. Life here is not easy. We have to walk every day to fetch water and food. We sleep in plastic tents, so when it rains everything gets wet. I didn’t bring any suitcase with me, I’m only wearing my clothes. We’re afraid of the police, they don’t know what human rights are, I’d better stay in the forest,” he said, noting that other nationalities like Cameroonians, Guineans and Malians share the same campsite.

The Ivorian migrant did not have any legal papers, refugee card or asylum seeker certificate of any kind. He is among the thousands of invisible undocumented foreigners in Morocco who are not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the Moroccan government.

“It’s difficult to get a paper or a residency permit. I’d have to travel to the capital Rabat (10 hours by train) to make a request. I’m waiting for my luck, one day it will come,” he said.

Diaradsouba had no idea how long he would have to wait to attempt his crossing to Europe. He was still unsure whether he would risk getting through the fences to Melilla, hide himself in the backseat of a car or go by boat. “There’s no fixed price to pay for a boat. We try to gather [funds] among 30 or 40 people. Everything will depend on how much money we’ll have to pay.”

Aziz Kattouf, an activist with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), confirms that those people camping on the forest live in terrible conditions, but he says at least they are in a “safer place” than Nador.

“They’re far from the police’s eyes. They don’t want to stay, their only hope is to cross,” he told IPS, adding that there are other four large camps in the forest where undocumented people have erected tents.

Every two or three weeks, the police raid the camps. “They apprehend men and sometimes children, destroy their tents and take their phones. Many are sent by buses to further areas in the south of Morocco. But they always come back to the camps,” said the activist.

Living alongside the foreigners altered the daily life of residents of Khamis-akdim, but there has not been a case of mistreatment or racism against them. In fact, the local Berber farmers have shown solidarity, said Alwali Abdilhate, a Tamazight speaker.

“We have good relations with the people who are camping. Early in the morning, they go to the streams or waterholes to wash their clothes and buy food in our local market. There’s a bar that allows them to recharge their cell phones,” said Abdilhate, whose family home is located right by the path migrants take to reach the camping area.

A few weeks after the initial interview, Diaradsouba contacted IPS to say he had managed to reach Spain by boat entering through Almeria. He had to pay 2,500 euros to embark on the 12-hour sea journey.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between January and December 2016, 8,162 migrants arrived by sea in Spain, while 69 people died attempting the crossing.

The majority of migrants in Morocco are Sub-Saharan male adults between 18 and 59 years old, says Miguel Hernandez Garcia, coordinator of a program run by the Association Droit et Justice that provides legal assistance for refugees and asylum seekers.

“There are different reasons for leaving their countries, threats of physical violence or political reasons. Some are in touch with members of their communities who have reached Europe and say living conditions aren’t what they used to be in the past. The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super poor country,” Garcia told IPS.

Morocco became the first Arab country to develop a policy that offers undocumented migrants the chance to gain permanent residency. In 2013, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI gave momentum to a new policy on migration after receiving recommendations from the National Council for Human Rights.

“Morocco ratified international conventions and needed to implement policies. It wanted to show a good image to the world as a welcoming country. It was a clever idea to put out this strategy to the international community as an open mind State with humanitarian will. Besides, it’s also a good thing for the economy,” said Garcia.

During a full one-year campaign for regularization, more than 90 percent of the 27,000 migrants who applied were documented. The government is now discussing in Parliament a raft of related legislation – the first law approved on the scope of the new policy was against human trafficking. A second law that still pending is about asylum.

“It’s basically to guarantee the access to rights for migrants. It’s only three years now that this policy is running and still no official body is in charge of it,” Garcia added.

Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the UNHCR representative in Morocco, said the first challenge is to finalise the law on asylum and extend medical benefits to refugees and regular migrants.

“Another challenge has to do with the territorialization of the policy, how you implement the policy on the ground in remote areas. The migrants are spread out across the country. That could be a model for [other] countries in the region. What we want is that refugees are able to find asylum and a protected space. It’s just the beginning, the policies are being developed, but it has to expand and be implemented.”

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