Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:12:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Devastating Earthquake Demolishes Towns in Central Italyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:43:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146676 Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 25 2016 (IPS)

At 3.36am on  August 24, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc and destruction in central Italy.

The initial early morning earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.1 and 5.4 aftershocks, the tremors reported to have been felt by inhabitants in Rome, Rimini and as far south as Naples.

La Repubblica has reported the hamlets of Accumoli and the neighboring town of Amatrice to have been “razed to the ground.”

Not a single building has been spared, including schools and hospitals.

The current death toll has now reached 247 , in spite of 4’300 rescuers using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands in a strenuous bid to find the last remaining survivors.

“My village no longer exists”, the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, stated.

A high number of the fatalities have been of children, amongst them an 18-month-old child in critical condition who died in the now-demolished Ascoli Piceno hospital.

The child’s parents were no strangers to the devastating effects of natural disasters. They had relocated after experiencing the forceful earthquake to hit L’Aquila, a city in the region of Abruzzo, in 2009.

In fact, earthquakes have always been a threat to those who live along the Apennine mountain range in central Italy.

Through the centuries Italy has suffered from the destructive force of earthquakes. Over the years, thousands have died as a result of tremors equal to or stronger than those felt on Wednesday night, 24 August.

The “Messina” earthquake reduced Sicily’s second-largest city to rubble and took the lives of over 82’000 in 1908.

In 1980, the “Eboli” earthquake struck a huge area near the southern city of Naples, some 2’735 were killed and more than 7’500 injured.

The “Abruzzo” earthquake in 2009  resulted in the death of 300 and demolished the 13th century city of L’Aquila.

Italy’s geographical location makes it prone to the threat of powerful earthquakes.

“Many parts of Italy lie on a major seismic fault line, minor tremors and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.” the Italian Foreign office told the Telegraph UK.

Mayor of Amatrice Sergio Perozzi  warned that roads in and out of the town were cut off. “There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” he stated.

Italian authorities are currently warning the public of the risk of aftershocks in the areas affected.

On the same day the earthquake in central Italy struck, a 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar left at least 3 dead and damaged ancient cultural sites and temples in the centre of the country.

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s spokesperson said the UN and its partners are ready to stand by in support of countries where humanitarian aid is most needed in the aftermath of natural disaster.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of  lives lost and damage caused by earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar”, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the Regular Daily.

Natural disasters, particularly in the form of earthquakes,  have quite literally “shaken” the world up this 2016.

The residents of Kunamato, Japan just marked the fourth month since  terrifying temblors left 72 dead in April.

The strongest quake to have hit Japan since March 2011 occurred on the evening of April 14, registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

This was followed by another earthquake of similar scale on April 16,  which was determined to be the “main quake”.

Of the 72 victims, 50 were killed instantly, while 17 died of poor health while seeking shelter at local emergency centers.

In the same month, a massive earthquake resulted in  the deaths of 650  and the displacement of over 30’000 people in Ecuador.

The aftermath of the deathly quake lingers on as the survivors now face the grave socio-economic implications of destructive natural disaster.

In addition to the quake costing an estimated 4 billion USD in structural damage, in a country already economically staggered by falling oil prices, the consequential setbacks it has left on the lives of thousands in terms of unemployment, homelessness, and emotional trauma has led to an increase in domestic violence.

Months later, many survivors of the earthquake in  Ecuador are still living in the grief-stricken aftermath of unprecedented calamity.

It is essential that sustainable solutions are set in place to all those left displaced and traumatised by natural disasters this 2016.

Although the rebuilding of demolished infrastructure and the generation of alternative housing is a priority,  the establishment of support clinics to help those most affected cope with the physiological consequences of an earthquake should also be considered of vital importance.

In light of ongoing natural disasters and the devastating effects they can leave on both the psyche and livelihoods on the victims that cross their forceful paths, we must place a strong focus not only on the restructuring of the cities and towns reduced to rubble, but also on the continuous psychological  support of the traumatised survivors.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146636 The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Deadly Yellow Fever Spreading, Amid Global Vaccine Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:59:12 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146613 A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

As deadly yellow fever spreads to seven provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), new measures have been introduced to ensure that as many people as possible are immunised, despite global shortages of the yellow fever vaccine.

Global emergency stocks of just 6 million yellow fever vaccines have been strained by the current outbreak, which began in Angola and has now spread to neighbouring DRC.

To reach as many people as possible with the limited supply of vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started recommending the use of partial doses.

“Studies done in adults show that fractional dosing using one fifth of the regular dose provides effective immunity against yellow fever for at least 12 months and possibly much longer,” WHO Spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told IPS.

The WHO began recommending that fractional doses could be used as an emergency measure in June 2016, ensuring additional doses would be available for mass vaccination campaigns in Angola and the DRC.

The WHO has also recently changed its recommendations for those who have already been immunised with a complete dose of the yellow fever vaccine.

“We know now that a single complete dose provides lifelong protection,” said Jašarević.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children.

The change in recommendation happened on 11 July 2016, but also applies retrospectively to those already carrying certificates of immunisation required for travel.

“This lifetime validity of these certificates applies automatically to certificates issued after 11 July 2016, as well as certificates already issued,” said Jašarević.

The new measures will potentially mean that more doses are available for mass vaccination campaigns such as the one the DRC government began in Kinshasa this week.

IPS spoke with Heather Kerr who is the DRC Country Director of Save the Children, which is providing support to the DRC Ministry of Health’s mass vaccination campaign.

“So far in DRC there are 74 actual confirmed cases and there’ve been 16 deaths from those cases,” she said. This means that more than 20 percent of people who have contracted yellow fever in the DRC have died. The number of suspected cases in the DRC and Angola is much higher.

“Obviously a big city like Kinshasa worries us, we don’t really know how many people there are in Kinshasa, no census has been done since the 1980s but we estimate around 10 million.”

The current campaign aims to reach 420,000 people in Kinshasa over 10 days, said Kerr.

“The governments decision was in Kinshasa to use what’s called the fractionalised dose, so it’s a fifth of the normal dose.”

Kerr says that since the fractional doses only provide protection for one year, revaccination will be required, but that hopefully by this time there will be more vaccines available globally.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” she said.

“There’s no known cure for yellow fever,” said Kerr. “Prevention is better than cure always, but in this case it really is, so that’s why this vaccination campaign is so important.”

In the early stages Kerr says that yellow fever either has hardly any symptoms or symptoms such as fever, nausea and diarrhea “which could be confused also with something like malaria.”

“Then the more severe symptoms are bleeding because it’s a haemorrhagic fever, and then people can become severely jaundiced and can go into organ failure and that’s why it’s called yellow fever.”

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UN Admits it Needs to do More After Causing Haiti Cholera Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 21:34:15 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146610 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/feed/ 0 133 Organisations Nominate Syria’s White Helmets for Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 11:34:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146605 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/feed/ 2 Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Arable Lands Lost at Unprecedented Rate: 33,000 Hectares… a Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:50:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146571 Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Humankind is a witness every single day to a new, unprecedented challenge. One of them is the very fact that the world’s arable lands are being lost at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost. That means 33,000 hectares a day!

Moreover, scientists have estimated that the fraction of land surface area experiencing drought conditions has grown from 10-15 per cent in the early 1970s to more than 30 per cent by early 2000, and these figures are expected to increase in the foreseeable future.

While drought is happening everywhere, Africa appears as the most impacted continent by its effects. According to the Bonn-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of African lands are now either desert or dry-lands.

The challenge is enormous for this second largest continent on Earth, which is home to 1.2 billion inhabitants in 54 countries and which has been the most impacted region by the 2015/2016 weather event known as El-Niño.

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

IPS interviewed Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer at UNCCD, which has co-organised with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on August 15-19 in Windhoek.

“Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is an evidence. African countries are severely affected,” Tsegai clarifies.

The African Drought Conference focus has been put on the so-called “drought resilience.”

IPS asks Tsegai what is this all about? “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions,” he explains.

“To begin with there are four aspects of Drought: Meteorological (weather), Hydrological (surface water), Agricultural (farming) and socioeconomic (effects on humans) droughts.”

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

Asked for the major challenges ahead when it comes to working on drought resilience in Africa, Tsegai tells IPS that these are mainly:

a) Lack of adequate data base such as weather, water resources (ground and surface water), soil moisture as well as past drought incidences and impacts;

b) Poor coordination among various relevant sectors and stakeholders in a country and between countries in a region;

c) Low level of capacity to implement drought risk mitigation measures (especially at local level);

d)    Insufficient political will to implement national drought policies, and

e) Economics of drought preparedness is not well investigated, achieving a better understanding of the economic benefits of preparing for drought before drought strikes is beneficial.

As for the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explains that they are to seek to improve land productivity, to restore (or preserve) land, to establish more efficient water usage and improve the living conditions of those populations affected by drought and desertification.

According to Tsegai, some of the strategies that can be adopted to build drought resilience include:

First: a paradigm shift on the way we deal with drought. We will need to change the way we think about drought.

“Drought is not any longer a one time off event or even a ‘crisis’. It is going to be more frequent, severe and longer duration. It is a constant ‘risk’, he tells IPS.

“Thus, we need to move away from being reactive to proactive; from crisis management approach to risk management; from a piecemeal approach to a more coordinated/integrated approach. Treating drought as a crisis means dealing with the symptoms of drought and not the root causes,” Tsegai explains.

“In short, developing national drought based on the principles of risk reduction is the way forward.”

Second: Strengthening Drought Monitoring and early warning systems (both for drought and the impacts);

Third: Assessing vulnerability of drought in the country (Drought risk profiling on whom is likely to be affected, why? Which region and what will be the impacts?);

Fourth: Carrying out practical drought risk mitigation measures including the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock, monitoring and measuring water supply and uses, boasting the recycling and reuse of water and waste-water, exploring the potential of growing more drought tolerant crops and expanding crop insurance.

 

The Five Big Options

Asked what is expected outcome of the African Drought Conference, Tsegai answers:

  1.  To come up with a Common Strategy document at Africa level, a strategy that strengthens African drought preparedness that can be implemented and further shared at country level.
  1. To lead to the development of integrated national drought policies aimed at building more drought resilient societies based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land / soil, forest, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.).
  1. Countries are expected to come up with binding Drought Protocol- to adopt Windhoek Declaration for African countries-, which would be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment next year and expected to be endorsed at the African Union summit.
  1. With this in mind, the outcomes of the conference will be brought to the attention of the African Union for the collective African heads of states and governments’ endorsements, and
  1. It is further expected that the conference will strengthen partnerships and cooperation (South-South) to support the development of new and the improvement of existing national policies and strategies on drought management.

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

It has been estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect more people than any other form of natural disaster, Tsegai tells IPS.

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

“Droughts are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant spiralling secondary and tertiary impacts.”

To reduce societal vulnerability to droughts, a paradigm shift of drought management approaches is required to overcome the prevailing structures of reactive, post-hazard management and move towards proactive, risk based approaches of disaster management, he stresses.

“Risk based drought management is, however, multifaceted and requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, and, from a drought management policy perspective, capacities in diverse ministries and national institutions are needed.”

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One Humanity? Millions of Children Tortured, Smuggled, Abused, Enslavedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146555 A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

A boy carrying his belongins in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Children are being smuggled, sexually abused, maimed, killed for their vital organs, recruited as soldiers or otherwise enslaved. Not only: 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million will live in poverty, and 263 million are out of school. And 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.

These are just some of the dramatic figures that the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other UN and international bodies released few weeks ahead of the World Humanitarian Day (WHD) marked every year on August 19.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, summarized the world future generation situation: “Children continue to be tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed in armed conflict.”

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” the UN chief said as he opened the Security Council’s debate on children and armed conflict on August 2.

Meanwhile, the future of humankind continues to be bleak, “unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children,” alerts a United Nations report.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” on 28 June said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on the release of The State of the World’s Children, the agency’s annual flagship report.

“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

The UNICEF report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report flags. “The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.”

Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education, says UNICEF’s report. And “Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.”

Worst in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling, the report warns.

At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes; more than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.  her twin

The UNICEF report goes on to warn that about 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.

Youth, The Other Lost Generation

Meanwhile, there is another lost generation—the youth. “Today, over 70 million youth are looking for jobs while nearly 160 million are working, yet living in poverty. These figures embody a massive waste of potential and a threat to social cohesion,” on August 12 wrote Azita Berar Awad, Director of Employment Policy Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

“Youth unemployment and decent work deficits depreciate human capital and have a significant negative influence on health, happiness, anti-social behaviour, and socio-political stability. They impact the present and future well-being of our societies,” she added.

Moreover, Berar stressed, conditions in youth labour markets are changing constantly and rapidly, so are the profiles and aspirations of young women and men who are entering the labour force every day.

“For most, expectations of decent work are not only about earning an income and making a livelihood. Youth see decent work as the cornerstone of their life project, the catalyst for their integration into society, and the pathway to their participation into the broader social and political arena.”

Anyway, this year’s WHD follows on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of humanitarian action: the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which was held on May 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The WHS main objective was to mobilise world leaders to declare their collective support for the new Agenda for Humanity and commit to bold action to reduce suffering and deliver better for the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

But while succeeding in attracting world’s attention to the current humanitarian emergency, the Istanbul Summit failed to mobilise the urgently needed funds to alleviate the sufferance of up to 160 million people and growing: as little and affordable 21 billion dollars.

Now, the WHD 2016 will continue communications around the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. For instance, the #ShareHumanity campaign, which kicked off last year on 19 August, beginning a global countdown to drive awareness for the WHS.

“Impossible Choices”

Previously, the campaign ‘Impossible Choices’ was launched In April this year with a call to world leaders to attend the Summit and to ‘Commit to Action’.  The launch of final phase of this UN vast campaign coincides with the WHD on 19 August and will run up until the UN secretary-general presents the Wold Humanitarian Summit Report at the UN General Assembly in September.

Following on this ‘Impossible Choices’ campaign earlier this year, the WHD digital campaign ‘The World You’d Rather’ will launch on 19 August.

Featuring a quiz based on the popular game ‘Would you rather’, the digital campaign will bring to light the very real scenarios faced by people in crisis. After being confronted with challenging choices, users will be able to share a personalised graphic on social media, tweet their world leader and learn about the Agenda for Humanity.

But while the UN starves to raise awareness among political decision-makers and mobilise humanity to take speedy, bold actions to alleviate, end and hopefully prevent the on-going, unprecedented human sufferance, world’s biggest powers continue to spend over 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons production and trade.

One Humanity? Yes. But whose? And for Whom?

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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The Counter Narrative to Terror and Violence is Already Among Ushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 05:13:43 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146552 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/feed/ 0 Ethiopian Food Aid Jammed Up in Djibouti Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 22:11:20 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146547 Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
DJIBOUTI CITY, Aug 15 2016 (IPS)

Bags of wheat speed down multiple conveyor belts to be heaved onto trucks lined up during the middle of a blisteringly hot afternoon beside the busy docks of Djibouti Port.

Once loaded, the trucks set off westward toward Ethiopia carrying food aid to help with its worst drought for decades.“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo.” -- Aboubaker Omar, Chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority

With crop failures ranging from 50 to 90 percent in parts of the country, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest wheat consumer, was forced to seek international tenders and drastically increase wheat purchases to tackle food shortages effecting at least 10 million people.

This resulted in extra ships coming to the already busy port city of Djibouti, and despite the hive of activity and efforts of multitudes of workers, the ships aren’t being unloaded fast enough. The result: a bottleneck with ships stuck out in the bay unable to berth to unload.

“We received ships carrying aid cargo and carrying fertilizer at the same time, and deciding which to give priority to was a challenge,” says Aboubaker Omar, chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA). “If you give priority to food aid, which is understandable, then you are going to face a problem with the next crop if you don’t get fertilizer to farmers on time.”

Since mid-June until this month, Ethiopian farmers have been planting crops for the main cropping season that begins in September. At the same time, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has been working with the Ethiopian government to help farmers sow their fields and prevent drought-hit areas of the country from falling deeper into hunger and food insecurity.

Spring rains that arrived earlier this year, coupled with ongoing summer rains, should increase the chances of more successful harvests, but that doesn’t reduce the need for food aid now—and into the future, at least for the short term.

“The production cycle is long,” says FAO’s Ethiopia country representative Amadou Allahoury. “The current seeds planted in June and July will only produce in September and October, so therefore the food shortage remains high despite the rain.”

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

As of the middle of July, 12 ships remained at anchorage outside Djibouti Port waiting to unload about 476,750 metric tonnes of wheat—down from 16 ships similarly loaded at the end of June—according to information on the port’s website. At the same time, four ships had managed to dock carrying about 83,000 metric tonnes of wheat, barley and sorghum.

“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo,” Aboubaker says.

It’s estimated that 1,500 trucks a day leave Djibouti for Ethiopia and that there will be 8,000 a day by 2020 as Ethiopia tries to address the shortage.

But so many additional trucks—an inefficient and environmentally damaging means of transport—might not be needed, Aboubaker says, if customs procedures could be sped up on the Ethiopian side so it doesn’t take current trucks 10 days to complete a 48-hour journey from Djibouti to Addis Ababa to make deliveries.

“There is too much bureaucracy,” Aboubaker says. “We are building and making efficient roads and railways: we are building bridges but there is what you call invisible barriers—this documentation. The Ethiopian government relies too much on customs revenue and so doesn’t want to risk interfering with procedures.”

Ethiopians are not famed for their alacrity when it comes to paperwork and related bureaucratic processes. Drought relief operations have been delayed by regular government assessments of who the neediest are, according to some aid agencies working in Ethiopia.

And even once ships have berthed, there still remains the challenge of unloading them, a process that can take up to 40 days, according to aid agencies assisting with Ethiopia’s drought.

“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” port official Dawit Gebre-ab says of workers toiling away in temperatures around 38 degrees Celsius that with humidity of 52 percent feel more like 43 degrees. “But the ports have to continue.”

The port’s 24-hour system of three eight-hour shifts mitigates some of the travails for those working outside, beyond the salvation of air conditioning—though not entirely.

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“We feel pain everywhere, for sure,” Agaby says during the hottest afternoon shift, a fluorescent vest tied around his forehead as a sweat rag, standing out of the sun between those trucks being filled with bags of wheat from conveyor belts. “It is a struggle.”

To help get food aid away to where it is needed and relieve pressure on the port, a new 756 km railway running between Djibouti and Ethiopia was brought into service early in November 2015—it still isn’t actually commissioned—with a daily train that can carry about 2,000 tonnes, Aboubaker says. Capacity will increase further once the railway is fully commissioned this September and becomes electrified, allowing five trains to run carrying about 3,500 tonnes each.

Djibouti also has three new ports scheduled to open in the second half of the year—allowing more ships to dock—while the one at Tadjoura will have another railway line going westward to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. This, Aboubaker explains, should connect with the railway line currently under construction in Ethiopia running south to north to connect the cities of Awash and Mekele, further improving transport and distribution options in Ethiopia.

“Once the trains are running in September we hope to clear the backlog of vessels within three months,” Aboubaker says.

The jam at the port has highlighted for Ethiopia—not that it needs reminding—its dependency on Djibouti. Already about 90 percent of Ethiopia’s trade goes through Djibouti. In 2005 this amounted to two million tonnes and now stands at 11 million tonnes. During the next three years it is set to increase to 15 million tonnes.

Hence Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its options, strengthening bilateral relations with Somaliland through various Memorandum Of Understandings (MOU) during the past couple of years.

The most recent of these stipulated about 30 percent of Ethiopia’s imports shifting to Berbera Port, which this May saw Dubai-based DP World awarded the concession to manage and expand the underused and underdeveloped port for 30 years, a project valued at about $442 million and which could transform Berbera into another major Horn of Africa trade hub.

But such is Ethiopia’s growth—both in terms of economy and population; its current population of around 100 million is set to reach 130 million by 2025, according to the United Nations—that some say it’s going to need all the ports it can get.

“Ethiopia’s rate of development means Djibouti can’t satisfy demand, and even if Berbera is used, Ethiopia will also need [ports in] Mogadishu and Kismayo in the long run, and Port Sudan,” says Ali Toubeh, a Djiboutian entrepreneur whose container company is based in Djibouti’s free trade zone.

Meanwhile as night descends on Djibouti City, arc lights dotted across the port are turned on, continuing to blaze away as offloading continues and throughout the night loaded Ethiopian trucks set out into the hot darkness.

“El Niño will impact families for a long period as a number of them lost productive assets or jobs,” Amadou says. “They will need time and assistance to recover.”

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Adaptation to Climate Change: Need for a Human Rights Approachhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/adaptation-to-climate-change-need-for-a-human-rights-approach/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-to-climate-change-need-for-a-human-rights-approach http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/adaptation-to-climate-change-need-for-a-human-rights-approach/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2016 20:57:26 +0000 Arif Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146537 By Arif Chowdhury
Aug 12 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The memories of Cyclone Sidr and Aila are fresh in the mind of Razia Begum, a victim of climate change, of Dacope Upazila, Khulna. The standing field crops and houses of her community were destroyed, and they suffered the loss of cattle as well as people who perished in these natural disasters. She says mournfully that Saturkhali, Kamarkhola, Koilashganj and Baniashanta are the most vulnerable unions where access to necessary human rights is disrupted. Furthermore, salinity, flood, river erosion, heavy rain, cyclone, water logging and seasonal variations etc. are the most devastating impacts of climate change in those areas.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Seasonal, temporary, permanent migration is increasing in these areas due to climate change, while illegal trafficking is also a noticeable concern. Locals believe that the reasons behind their misery is the decreasing rate of natural resources at the Sundarbans, high rate of salinity (more than 80 percent soil has some form of salinity) and increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters. More men than women migrate to other places from these areas, and thus women, fall victim to vulnerable, hazardous situation. Although, some adaptation and implementation authorities such as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Shushilon, Heed Bangladesh, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) etc. are working for the betterment of the local people in Dacope, lack of good governance, existence of salinity, non-sustainable embankment, lack of killas, poor communication systems, lack of economic assistance, etc. are seen as obstacles for sustainable adaptation.

A human rights approach to migration and adaptation is related to the core points of governance issues in the context of increased climatic factors. Bangladesh is one the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and every year a large number of people are displaced from their place of origin due to the impacts of climate change. According to the United Nations, “A human rights approach to migration places the migrant at the centre of migration policies and management, and pays particular attention to the situation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups of migrants. Such an approach will also ensure that migrants are included in relevant national action plans and strategies, such as plans on the provision of public housing or national strategies to combat racism and xenophobia”.

Representatives of over 190 countries gathered in Paris for COP 21, to discuss on several issues related to climate change and environment. While touching on the effects of climate change, participants also focused on the practical importance of ensuring human rights. As John Knox stated: “Every State in the climate negotiations belongs to at least one human rights treaty, and they must ensure that all of their actions comply with their human rights obligations. That includes their actions relating to climate change”.

An increase of 2 degree Celsius temperature will not only impact the environment but also affect human rights of developing countries. Thus, the Climate Vulnerable Forum countries at COP 21 suggested following a target of 1.5 degrees rise in temperature, as it could human rights.

The government of Bangladesh needs to address proper approach in governance, so that the human rights of marginalised people can be protected with proper adaptation. To cope with the effects of climate change at place of origin or destination, adaptation can be addressed as one of the major mechanisms. It is mandatory to specify concerns and scopes of legal practices in Bangladesh, and to address local people’s climate change concern, adaptation challenges and safe migration. The government has to cover important issues to ensure safe migration and adaptation. These include: protection of property and possessions left behind by internally displaced persons; right to know the fate of missing relatives; access to psychological and social services; issuing displaced people with all the necessary documents (e.g. passports, personal identification documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates, irrespective of gender etc.) to enjoy legal rights and protection against discrimination in the destination areas, as well as offer protection to those who have returned to their place of origin or have resettled in another part of the country.

Moreover, the government’s approach needs to empower national authorities to take every measure to minimise displacement from these settlements, to ensure medical care and attention for wounded and sick internally displaced persons, according to their requirements. Again, several issues should be managed by national authorities in case of displacement during emergencies, and adequate measures should be taken to fully inform those who have been displaced regarding the reasons for their displacement while also making them fully aware of the process of displacement. It is also important to involve the affected people, particularly women, in the planning and management of their relocation, and afford them the right to an effective remedy, including making review of such decisions by appropriate judicial authorities available and providing the means through which internally displaced people can voluntarily return to their place of origin in safety and with dignity.

The effective governance system encounters major challenges as it encompasses multiple policy areas, such as development approach, community, livelihood, climate change, and environment. At present, there are no legal guidelines for protecting land and other immovable property rights of climate refugees. The necessity of legal practices is certainly the most important to promote the rights of the displaced people.

The writer works as Research Associate for the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM), Bangladesh University of Engineering &Technology (BUET). Email: arifchowdhury065@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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War on Climate Terror (II): Fleeing Disasters, Escaping Drought, Migratinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/#comments Thu, 11 Aug 2016 16:13:57 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146520 Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 11 2016 (IPS)

“No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes.”

Hardly a short, simply-worded statement could so sharply describe the ignored human drama of millions of victims of man-made wars, violence, poverty and disasters like the one spelled out by the authoritative voice of Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, the former rector of United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation headquartered in Japan.

But while widespread violence and climate catastrophes are common to all continents and countries, there is an overwhelming consensus among experts, scientific community and international specialised organisations that Africa is the most impacted region by them.

Only second to Asia, both extension and population wise, Africa is on the one hand home to nearly half of some 40 on-going armed conflicts. On the other, this continent made of 54 states and 1,2 billion inhabitants, is the most hit region by all sorts of consequences of growing climate change—to which by the way it is the least originator.

Key Facts

The cause-effect relationship between climate and massive population movement is already an indisputable fact. See what world specialised organisations say:

1. – Droughts combined with population growth, a lack of sustainable land and water management, natural disasters, political conflicts and tensions and other factors have resulted in massive population movements across Africa, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports.

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Displacement in Africa is the result of a multitude of causes including struggles for political power, communal violence, disputes over land, floods, storms and other such natural hazards, it adds. More than half of the world’s fragile states are in sub-Saharan Africa, and some of these states have the largest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015.”

In short, “the relationship between displacement and the environment is well established in Africa. People leave places with slow-onset environmental degradation, such as drought and desertification and continue to flee rapid on-set environmental emergencies such as tropical storms and flash floods,” says Saidou Hamani, Regional Coordinator for Disasters and Conflict sub-programme, UNEP Regional Office for Africa.

2. – According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, there were 27.8 million new displacements in 127 countries during 2015, roughly the equivalent of the populations of New York City, London, Paris and Cairo combined; of the total, 8.6 million were associated with conflicts and violence in 28 countries, while 19.2 million were associated with disasters in 113 countries.

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

The growing intensity of meteorological disasters due to climate change, coupled with the effects of environmental degradation is likely to continue being a factor behind human displacement.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) predicts there will be 200 million environmentally-displaced people by the year 2050 with major effects on countries of origin, transit countries, as well as receiving countries.

Individuals and communities displaced by disasters and climate change and those displaced by conflicts often experience similar trauma and deprivation. They may have protection needs and vulnerabilities comparable to those whose displacement is provoked by armed violence or human rights abuses. “Climate change is expected to further exacerbate the stress that fragile states are already facing.”“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015” - UNEP

In Africa, environmental degradation and food insecurity are related to floods and other factors such as diminishing pasture for cattle as well as water, firewood and other natural resource scarcities, says IOM. Such factors contribute to displacement, resulting in increasing competition for scarce resources, which also contributes to armed conflict, particularly between pastoralists and sedentary communities.

This is especially pronounced in the Sahel (Lake Chad Basin), Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, all of which have large pastoralist populations who migrate according to seasonal patterns and climatic variations.

Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

3. – “Changes in the regional climate are impacting issues linked to the availability of natural resources essential to livelihoods in the region, as well as food insecurity. Along with important social, economic and political factors, this can lead to migration, conflict or a combination of the two,” according to Livelihood Security Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel.

4. – It is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) reports.

“The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world.”

“Climate change and the environment have a big impact on the lives of millions of forcibly uprooted people around the world.”

Many of them rely on the environment for survival, particularly during emergencies – for food, shelter, energy, fire and warmth, medicine, agriculture, income-generation activities and more, adds UNHCR.

“Unsustainable use of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation, with lasting impacts on natural resources and on the well-being of the displaced and host communities. Additionally, competition over scarce natural resources, such as firewood, water and grazing land, can lead to friction.”

5. – Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx. 718m),according to the International Disaster Database.

In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period.

6. – Disasters and climate change are a growing concern. Since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate or weather-related events since 2008, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre www.internal-displacement.org report. (IDMC 2015).

7. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s science advisory board, projects an increase in the number of displaced over the course of this century. The majority of the people of concern to UNHCR are concentrated in the most vulnerable areas around the world.

Climate change will force people into increasing poverty and displacement, exacerbating the factors that lead to conflict, rendering both the humanitarian needs and responses in such situations even more complex.

Now two key related events are scheduled to take place in the coming days: Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, August 15-19, and the World Humanitarian Day, August 19.

Will this growing, unstoppable human drama deserve the attention of world politicians or at least of the mainstream

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War on Climate Terror (I): Deserts Bury Two Thirds of African Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:21:35 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146481 "No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

"No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Two-thirds of the African continent is already desert or dry-lands. But while this vast extension of the second largest continent on Earth after Asia is “vital” for agriculture and food production, nearly three-fourths of it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

This shocking diagnosis illustrating the current situation of this continent of over 30 million km², home to 1,2 billion human beings living in 54 countries, comes from the top world body dealing with desertification.

In fact, in its report “Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in Africa”, the Bonn-based UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) explains that the continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Poverty and difficult socio-economic conditions are widespread, and as a result many people are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods,” it says.

On this, another UN agency has once more warned, “With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018.”

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 28 July alerted against what it called “race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support.” As little as just 109 million dollars are urgently required for the provision of seeds and other agricultural inputs and services.

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

FAO reports that its prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilisers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to smallholder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.

“Farmers must be able to plant by October and failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region.”

Desperate Situation

Africa’s near, medium-term future looks any thing but bright–by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Also by 2020, in some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent.“The continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel” -- UNCCD

The situation is so dire that the African Union (AU) along with the UNCCD and other partners, have organised the Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

The conference, which is expected to bring together around 700 participants, on August 15-19 will focus on ways to halt and continue to prevent the rapid advance of the desert in the continent. Specifically, participants will concentrate their attention on mitigating the impacts of droughts and the development of national drought policies.

This event comes at an opportune time, as East and Southern Africa suffer from the worst recorded drought in the past 50 years, induced by El Niño.

Namibia appears as one of the most appropriate venues for such an event for several reasons, one of them being the fact that it was ranked 51 out of 120 countries by the 2014 Global Hunger Index, which measures the levels of hunger in the world’s countries.

While Namibia has improved, this ranking still indicates “a serious food problem,” says the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Critical water shortages are impacting harvests and the livestock industry in the agricultural sector, which sustains about 70 per cent of the Namibian population.

“Continued episodes of drought threaten to unravel the gains made in poverty alleviation, and thus drought is an issue that needs collective response.” In 2015 drought reduced Namibia’s national crop yields to 46 per cent below the sixteen-year average, and as a result, around 370,316 people are estimated to be vulnerable to Hunger in Namibia, UNDP reports.

Here, the three top UN agencies dealing with food—FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), informed in their joint World Report on The State of Food Insecurity 2015, that 42.7 per cent of Namibian population was undernourished.

Looking beyond Namibia’s borders, humanitarian and development bodies estimate that over 52 million people are food insecure in East and Southern African Countries, and that number could increase. Alarmingly four of the 15 South African Development Community member states have already declared national drought disaster with 2 additional countries having declared partial emergencies.

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, reminded “Water resources play a defining role in economic development between and across sectors. Investment in water security is not only a matter of protecting society from specific water risks; it is an investment in enabling economic growth.”

This desperate situation pushed FAO to talk about a race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support. “Widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region.”

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, FAO on 28 July said.

Worst Drought in 35 Years

Two consecutive seasons of droughts, including the worst in 35 years that occurred this year, have particularly hit vulnerable families in rural areas, as prices of maize and other staple foods have risen, it added.

“The result is that almost 40 million people in the region are expected to face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season in early 2017. All countries in Southern Africa are affected.”

On this, David Phiri, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, warned, “The high levels of unemployment and sluggish economies, means that the main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 per cent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

Moreover, widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks.

FAO urges investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks, especially that more challenges are still to come.

“El Niño’s counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year and while it could bring good rains that are positive for agriculture, measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock, including making them more vulnerable to disease.”

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Team Refugees: Pivotal Moment in Olympic Historyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/team-refugees-pivotal-moment-in-olympic-history/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=team-refugees-pivotal-moment-in-olympic-history http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/team-refugees-pivotal-moment-in-olympic-history/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 15:01:15 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146455 Kenya. Refugee athletes train for Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Credit: UNHCR

Kenya. Refugee athletes train for Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Credit: UNHCR

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

For the first time ever, a team of displaced athletes will have their chance to demonstrate their relentless determination and integrity in a bid to leave their own distinct mark on Olympic history.

However, before “Team Refugees” even set foot into the stadium in Rio this August, they must be regarded as distinguished winners.

Through perseverance, the team has overcome the anguish and disadvantage that comes with being a displaced young person.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognises that the global refugee crisis is detrimental to international development and security.

“Team Refugees” are amongst the 59.5 million men, women and children who have been forcibly pushed out of their homes. They must not go by unrepresented or unheard of in this year’s games.

War, insecurity, and conflict have driven millions to seek refuge in distant countries with by far, in most cases, alien cultures.

Oftentimes, young vulnerable refugees become lost in a sea of grief and trauma, many bearing the psychological scars of war and the soul-destroying loss of loved ones.

However, this year’s team of Olympic refugees decided to, instead of drown in the waters of loss and grief, constructively use the unfortunate circumstances life has brought them to their advantage.

The perils of displacement have granted “Team Refugees” with an indestructible form of strength, triumphant enough to meet Olympic standards.

The team consists of ten refugee men and women composed of two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a marathoner from Ethiopia, and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan.

The athletes journey has been far from easy. From having borne witness to torture and terror to feeling isolated and petrified in the countries wherein they sought refuge, many believed they would never compete again.

Prior to availing of a place on the Olympic “refugee squad”, 18-year-old Syrian swimmer, Yusra Mardini, was obliged to put her athletic skills to the ultimate test in her quest to seek refuge.

After bidding an ominous farewell to her peaceful childhood memories of Aleppo and fleeing war-torn Syria, danger awaited on her path to safety.

Her journey to Germany took a turn for the worse when the dinghy she shared with a group of refugees broke down and a state of panic erupted between them between Turkey and Greece.

Yusra and her sister instinctively lunged into the water in a struggle to guide the small boat to safety.

Fortunately , Yusra’s landing in Germany led to monumental success. She availed of the sporting opportunities presented to her which eventually resulted in her selection as an Olympian for “Team Refugees”.

When asked about her displaced past and the memories of her traumatic journey in a recent report by the New York Times, Yusra stated “I remember everything, of course, I never forget. But it’s the thing that’s pushing me actually to do more and more”.

James Nyang Chiengjiek, a runner from South Sudan shares yet another story of pivotal triumph in the face of crisis.

James fled his home to avoid being kidnapped by rebels who were forcibly recruiting child soldiers.

He later sought refuge in Kenya wherein he attended a school well-known for its prestigious team of runners.

James soon began training for long-distance events and his life took a monumental turn for the better.

He is adamant is his strive to encourage other refugees to follow their pursuit of athletic stardom. He believes that conflict, warfare, and consequential displacement should not shatter anyone’s aspirations.

In a report issued by the United Nations Refugee Agency, James emphasised the need to “look back and see where our brothers and sisters are, so if one of them also has talent, we can bring them to train with us and also make their lives better.”

In this way, the IOC’s recognition of the importance in representing those affected by displacement. “Team Refugee” is a remarkable step for development and will act as an innovative form of awareness-raising.

The athletes represent the need to acknowledge the rights of the countless victims of the migrant crisis.

IOC President Thomas Bach recently said “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world”.

Bach further emphasised the fact that refugees are fellow human beings, and that that sensationalism and anti-refugee sentiments in the media have done nothing more than build a wall of fear between migrants and settled populations.

He rightly believes the world needs to steer away from feelings of preoccupation and a deep fear of the unknown and instead, focus on the enrichment young displaced persons can bring to society.

These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills, and strength of the human spirit.” Bach declared.

Now, widespread support is sweeping across social media outlets in favour of “Team Refugees”.

In this way, The IOC’s has not only given this squad of displaced athletes a newfound sense of hope and “Olympic” fulfillment, the committee has also helped raise awareness for the ongoing migrant crisis that continues to hinder global prosperity and development.

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African Farmers Can Feed the World, If Only…http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:29:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146449 Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

Can African farmers feed the world?. Apparently the answer is “yes.” Bold as it may sound, this statement is based on specific facts: Africa is home to 60-65 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10 per cent of renewable freshwater resources, and it has registered a 160 per cent increase in agricultural output over the past 30 years.

This data was provided in July this year by the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development), which is the technical body of the African Union (AU), and it reminds that the global population continues to soar, to approach around 10 billion by 2050.

“We’ll need to boost agricultural production by at least 70 per cent,” the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) consequently alerted.

NEPAD goes further and states that, given Africa’s share of the global population is forecast to rise from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, there’s a mounting appreciation that farmers on the second-largest continent –after Asia– will have to play a key role if this boom is to be managed successfully.

“We can and would be happy to feed the world,” said Raajeev Bopiah, general manager of the East Usambara Tea company, which produces over 4 million kilograms of tea a year on its 5,000 acres of land in Tanzania, NEPAD tells. “We just need the knowledge and the funding.”

Roadblocks

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world's children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging - and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world’s children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging – and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

There are a number of hurdles to boosting the fortunes of Africa’s farmers, says the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency), which is the AU implementing body that facilitates and coordinates the development of the continent-wide programmes and projects, mobilises resources and engages world’s institutions, regional economic communities and member states.

“One of the biggest obstacles is the messy system of tariffs and inflexible border policies that govern relations between many of the continent’s 55 states. Only 13 countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry to all Africans, according to this year’s Africa Visa Openness Report.

Businesses in landlocked nations in particular complain that shifting their produce across frontiers to ports is such a fraught exercise that they often incur huge losses in the process, the technical bit of the African Union reminds.

“Transportation in Africa is so hard. It’s expensive and sometimes risky,” NEPAD quoted Ahmad Ibrahim of African Alligator, a mostly Ugandan firm that started off hauling carpets and elevators before moving into the sesame and peanut trade. Ibrahim says border waits “can be long, and goods perish.”

Regional economic bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have enjoyed some success in harmonising customs forms and improving at least a few cross-border transport links, but many say they don’t go far enough, says NEPAD in its report titled “African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” .

“Within their own states too, governments have exhibited a tendency to inadvertently stymie trade. Tanzania’s inconsistent tax regime, for example, has bounced farmers from one tax bracket to another. Those charged with balancing the books say it’s hard to plan far in advance for fear of finding oneself on the hook for unexpectedly high bills.”"African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” - NEPAD

“There’s no guarantee that it will remain constant for a long time, and that hurts. You can’t plan long-term when new taxes are imposed without taking into consideration what is affordable and what isn’t,” NEPAD quoted Raajeev.

Shoddy infrastructure also haunts large swathes of the continent. The transport network in northern Tanzania is so poor that Bopiah’s tea-producing company is severely limited in the weight of goods it can haul on the 70km journey to the port at Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

“You can’t transport more than four tons in a truck on mud roads-as opposed to the 20 tons I could do on proper roads. It’s costing me five times more!” Bopiah said.

In the most egregious recent example of the pitfalls of overwhelmed harbour facilities, at least 10 ships carrying 450,000 tons of emergency wheat for drought-stricken parts of Ethiopia earlier this year were kept waiting out at sea for weeks because the port at Djibouti couldn’t cope with the volume of incoming cargo, NEPAD reports.

And FAO adds that a shortage of silos and an erratic power supply also forces many food producers to turn to expensive diesel-fuelled generators in order to fire their water pumps and greenhouses. Some 30 per cent of all food produced across the world is lost to spoilage or waste.

A lack of adequate storage means “the continent loses food worth 4 billion dollars annually as post-harvest loss,” says Richard Munang, a senior official at the UN’s Environment Program. “Inefficiencies along Africa’s agro-value chains are the basis of food problems.”

By upgrading and expanding facilities, while also boosting low electricity output, Africa could fast become food self-sufficient, just to start with.

Beyond infrastructure issues, corruption continues to undermine the hard work of small landholders and large agribusinesses alike. For companies that must haul their wares long distances or navigate bribe-happy transport hubs, it all cuts deep into their bottom line.

Farmers also face limited funding opportunities. Most countries on the continent lack agricultural banks and commercial banks tend to see agriculture as an overly risky bet. “They think the gestation period is just too long,” Bopiah said.

“For example, if you want to plant a certain crop, it could take five years for it to start paying itself back.”

Deprived of access to proper loans, many farmers are unable to buy some of the tools or chemicals that might enable them to boost their yields. In a continent where wheat yields can be as low as 1-1.5 tons per hectare (in comparison to 3 or 4 tons elsewhere), these limitations are intensely problematic.

As far as leading African agronomists are concerned, Africa is playing a desperate game of catch-up, according to the technical body of the African Union.

“We don’t have the time [that] developing countries had in the 60s. Today in Africa, not only do you have to produce better, but in a globalised world, you have to sell better too,” said Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director at the Washington D.C-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), NEPAD reported.

“With a quarter of people in Sub-Saharan Africa currently going hungry, the stakes are desperately high, and states will have to deploy the full arsenal of modern tools if they’re to feed not only themselves but booming populations elsewhere.”

Now there is an additional huge hurdle challenging the capacity and willingness of African farmers to feed the world: a monster called climate change.

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“Non-lethal” Pellet Guns Maim Hundreds in Kashmiri Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/non-lethal-pellet-guns-maim-hundreds-in-kashmiri-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=non-lethal-pellet-guns-maim-hundreds-in-kashmiri-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/non-lethal-pellet-guns-maim-hundreds-in-kashmiri-protests/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 13:55:16 +0000 Umar Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146407 X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Aug 5 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals in Kashmir’s summer capital are packed to capacity these days, their wards overflowing with pellet gun victims injured during violent clashes with government forces.

Sixteen-year-old Kaisar Ahmad Mir has been in hospital since July 9. As X-ray films dangle near his bed, Kaisar stares with haggard eyes at each passerby. Doctors had to amputate three fingers on his right hand after pellets were fired at him from close range during one of the demonstrations.“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in [my brother's] body.” -- Shakeel Ahmad

“I felt some electric current when the pellets hit my right hand. Then the blood started oozing out, followed by intense pain,” Mir told IPS.

Deadly clashes between protestors and government forces engulfed this Himalayan region –  India’s only Muslim majority state – on July 8, a day when the army gunned down militant leader Burhan Wani during a three-hour gun battle in the remote south Kashmir region of the state.

The government quickly instituted a curfew across the Kashmir valley, severing internet and phone service. But people defied government restrictions and came out in hordes to protest in cities, towns and remote hamlets of the state. Since July 8, 52 protesters have been killed and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets. Many of the victims are children.

Aaqib Mir, Kaisar Mir’s younger brother, told IPS that Kaisar was preparing for his class 10 exams this year.  “My brother is now crippled for life,” Aaqib said.

Eleven-year-old Umer Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Eleven-year-old Umar Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

The pellets are loaded with lead and once fired they disperse widely and in huge numbers. Pellets penetrate the skin and soft tissues, with eyes especially vulnerable to severe, irreversible damage.

Pellets were introduced in Kashmir as a “non-lethal” alternative to bullets after security forces killed nearly 200 people during demonstrations against Indian rule from 2008 to 2010.The state government’s reasoning was that when fired from a distance, shotgun pellets disperse and inflict only minor injuries.

During this summer’s protests, pellets were extensively used against the protesters, injuring hundreds. According to figures issued by Kashmir’s SHMS hospital, out of 164 cases of severe pellet injuries, 106 surgeries were performed in which five people lost one eye completely.

Among those who lost their eyesight due to pellets is 11-year-old Umar Nazir. Umar received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged both eyes. As he lost vision in his right eye, doctors attending him have told his family that Umar’s left eye is also deteriorating due to a severe injury to the optic nerve.

Human rights groups criticize the heavy-handed approach to dealing with the protest demonstrations, and contest the government’s claims that pellet guns are “non-lethal”.

Riyaz Ahmad Shah, 21, was killed on Aug. 2 after being hit by pellets.  An ATM security guard, Shah was returning home when, according to his family, state forces fired pellets at him from close range, killing him on the spot.

“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in his body,” said Shakeel Ahmad, Riyaz Shah’s brother.

According to Al Jazeera, at least nine people have been killed in the region since pellet guns were introduced in 2010.

“Pellets are not being used against rioters in other parts of the country, but here in Kashmir they are being used quite openly without any remorse from the government,” said human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who is also a program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

To protest against the use of pellets, the coalition has created posters with text written in braille to make the world aware of the suffering in Kashmir. “When you don’t see eye to eye with the brutal occupation in Kashmir, this is how they make you see their point,” reads a campaign poster.

Sajad Ahmad, a doctor treating pellet victims in Kashmir, said he had never seen such a “brutal use of force upon people in the past.” He added that while pellets may not kill most victims, they can still be left disabled for life.

“We have done hundreds of surgeries since July 8 and there are children who were crippled and can no longer work or earn,” Ahmad said.

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces.  Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces. Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

On Aug. 5, Amnesty International issued a statement asking the Jammu and Kashmir government to stop using pellet guns.

“Pellet guns are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate, and have no place in law enforcement,” Zahoor Wani, a senior campaigner with Amnesty International India, said in a statement issued in New Delhi.

“Amnesty International India calls on the Jammu and Kashmir government to immediately stop the use of pellet guns in policing protests. They cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence. These risks are almost impossible to control.”

Kashmir’s High Court has issued notices to the state government and the national government of India seeking a response over litigation demanding a ban on pellet guns used by security personnel to deal with protests in Kashmir.

The state government says it is working to find alternatives to the pellet guns to quell the violent protests.

“We disapprove of it… but we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non-lethal alternative,” J&K government spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar said.

Many people in Kashmir want an end to Indian rule and either full independence or a merger with Pakistan, which also claims the territory.

At least 50,000 have died in an insurgency that began in 1987. Over the years, anti-government rallies have occurred frequently, raising tensions between security forces and civilians, which have led to accusations of police heavy-handedness in trying to impose order.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture for Drought-Stricken Madagascarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 22:55:45 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146396 As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
AMBOASARY, Madagascar, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Mirantsoa Faniry Rakotomalala is different from most farmers in the Greater South of Madagascar, who are devastated after losing an estimated 80 percent of their crops during the recent May/June harvesting season to the ongoing drought here, said to be the most severe in 35 years.

She lives in Tsarampioke village in Berenty, Amboasary district in the Anosy region, which is one of the three most affected regions, the other two being Androy and Atsimo Andrefana.FAO estimates that a quarter of the population - five million people - live in high risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

“Most farms are dry, but ours has remained green and alive because we dug boreholes which are providing us with water to irrigate,” she told IPS.

Timely interventions have changed her story from that of despair to expectation as she continues harvesting a variety of crops that she is currently growing at her father’s farms.

Some of her sweet potatoes are already on the market.

Rakotomalala was approached by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as one of the most vulnerable people in highly affected districts in the South where at least 80 percent of the villagers are farmers. They were then taken through training and encouraged to diversify their crops since most farmers here tend to favour maize.

“We are 16 in my group, all of us relatives because we all jointly own the land. It is a big land, more than two acres,” she told IPS.

Although their form of irrigation is not sophisticated and involves drip irrigation using containers that hold five to 10 liters of water, it works – and her carrots, onions and cornflowers are flourishing.

“We were focusing on the challenges that have made it difficult for the farmers to withstand the ongoing drought and through simple but effective strategies, the farmers will have enough to eat and sell,” says Patrice Talla, the FAO representative for the four Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius.

Experts such as Philippison Lee, an agronomist monitor working in Androy and Anosy regions, told IPS that the South faces three main challenges – “drought, insecurity as livestock raids grow increasingly common, and locusts.”

FAO estimates that a quarter of the population – five million people – live in high-risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

As an agronomist, Lee studies the numerous ways plants can be cultivated, genetically altered, and utilized even in the face of drastic and devastating weather patterns.

Talla explains that the end goal is for farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture by diversifying their crops, planting more drought-resistant crops, including cassava and sweet potatoes, and looking for alternative livelihoods such as fishing.

“Madagascar is an island but Malagasy people do not have a fish-eating culture. We are working with other humanitarian agencies who are training villagers on fishing methods as well as supplying them with fishing equipment,” Talla told IPS.

“Madagascar is facing great calamity and in order to boost the agricultural sector, farming must be approached as a broader development agenda,” he added.

He said that the national budgetary allocation – which is less than five percent, way below the recommended 15 percent – needs to be reviewed. The South of Madagascar isalso  characterized by poor infrastructure and market accessibility remains a problem.

According to Talla, the inability of framers to adapt to the changing weather patterns is more of a development issue “because there is a lack of a national vision to drive the agriculture agenda in the South.”

Lee says that farmers lack cooperative structures, “and this denies the farmers bargaining power and they are unable to access credit or subsidies inputs. This has largely been left to humanitarian agencies and it is not sustainable.”

Though FAO is currently working with farmers to form cooperatives and there are pockets of them in various districts in the South including Rakotomalala and her relatives, he says that distance remains an issue.

“You would have to cover so many kilometers before you can encounter a village. Most of the population is scattered across the vast lands and when you find a group, it is often relatives,” he says.

Lee noted that farmers across Africa have grown through cooperatives and this is an issue that needs to be embraced by Malagasy farmers.

Talla says that some strides are being made in the right direction since FAO is working with the government to draft the County Programming Framework which is a five-year programme from 2014 to 2019.

The framework focuses on three components, which are to intensify, diversify and to make the agricultural sector more resilient.

“Only 10 percent of the agricultural potential in the South is being exploited so the target is to diversify by bringing in more crops because most people in the North eat rice and those in the South eat maize,” Talla explained.

The framework will also push for good governance of natural resources through practical laws and policies since most of the existing ones have been overtaken by events.

Talla says that the third and overriding component is resilience, which focuses on building the capacity of communities – not just to climate change but other natural hazards such as the cyclone season common in the South.

“FAO is currently working with the government in formulating a resilience strategy but we are also reaching out to other stakeholders,” he says.

Since irrigation-fed agriculture is almost non-existent and maize requires a lot of water to grow, various stakeholders continue to call for the building of wells to meet the water deficit, although others have dismissed the exercise as expensive and unfeasible.

“We require 25,000 dollars to build one well and chances of finding water are often 50 percent because one in every two wells are not useful,” says Lee.

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