Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Valparaíso Blaze Highlights the City’s Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/valparaiso-blaze-highlights-citys-poverty/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:05:46 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133670 The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality. The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed […]

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The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

The bleak landscape left behind on La Cruz hill, one of the hardest-hit by the blaze that started on Saturday Apr. 12 in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. Credit: Pablo Unzueta/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile , Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The blaze that tore through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso revealed the dark side of one of the most important tourist destinations in this South American country, which hides in its hills high levels of poverty and inequality.

The fire that broke out Saturday Apr. 12 and was still smouldering two days later claimed at least 12 lives, completely destroyed 2,000 homes, and forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.

The flames covered at least six of the 42 hills that surround this city of 250,000 people, which is built in the form of a natural amphitheatre facing the Pacific ocean.

Jorge Llanos, 60, lived on the Cerro El Litre, one of the hills lining the city. Early Saturday he set out for his job at the market at Quilpué, near central Valparaíso, where he has a vegetable stand.

“I was coming back home on the bus when I saw the inferno. I got off and from the street I looked up at the hill: ‘My house!’ I shouted. When I got there, it was too late,” he told IPS.

Since the night of the fire, Llanos has been staying at a school that is operating as a shelter.

On Monday, he climbed the hill to look at his house. “There’s nothing there…I lost everything,” he said, sobbing.

Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, is built on a bay surrounded by hills and mountains where most of the city’s inhabitants are concentrated. It is this South American country’s second-largest port.

The hills, which start to rise just one kilometre from the coast, are densely populated with brightly coloured wooden houses. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the city a World Heritage Site.

Valparaíso is also a cultural centre in Chile. Nobel Literature laureate Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) built one of his three houses there, and it is the site of the National Council of Culture and the Arts.

It has also been the seat of Congress since the return to democracy after the 1973-1990 dictatorship, when the old legislature in Santiago was replaced by the new building in Valparaíso, to decentralise the branches of government.

But 22 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to a national average of 14 percent.

Valparaíso is also one of the areas in Chile with the largest number of families living in slums.

According to the Fundación Un Techo Para Chile (A Roof for Chile Foundation), Valparaíso is the city with the most slums in Chile, and the region of Valparaíso is home to one-third of all families living in shantytowns.

In terms of inequality, this city also holds the record: while the average monthly income of the poorest 10 percent of the population is just 270 dollars, the monthly income of the wealthiest 10 percent averages 7,200 dollars.

“The enormous blaze that has affected this city has brought to light the terrible vulnerability of the families living in slums, who were hit the hardest,” the director of Un Techo Para Chile – Valparaíso, Alejandro Muñoz, told IPS.

The fire, which spread from forested areas at the top of the hills down into poor neighbourhoods of mainly wooden houses, “completely destroyed four slums,” he said.

This was the worst fire ever in a Chilean city in terms of the area affected – some 900 hectares – but not with respect to the number of victims.

In 1953, for example, 50 people were killed in a fire, and in 1960 a blaze destroyed the flat part of the city.

Muñoz pointed out that Valparaíso is a World Heritage Site, and Viña del Mar, a nearby coastal resort, is known as the “garden city”. But “a harsh and sometimes difficult to understand reality hides behind the hills of both cities – that of slum-dwelling families,” he said.

Lorena Carraja and her 80-year-old parents have been staying since Saturday at an improvised shelter set up on a tennis court. In the cold, bleak camp, she described the moment when the flames reached her home.

“It was a veritable inferno; we were completely surrounded by fire which in one second spread from one side to the other, with strong winds that carried the flames from hill to hill. It was horrible, terrifying, I had never seen anything so huge in my whole life, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she told IPS.

But in the end, Carraja, 50, didn’t lose her home, although she did lose many of her belongings. “It doesn’t matter, everything can be replaced; thank God we’re alive,” she said.

Then she sighed and described, with a catch in her voice, how she heard “people screaming, children crying, while people were fainting.”

Cities in Chile were built with little urban planning, experts say. And families seeking a chance at a better life have flocked to the outer edges of large cities like Valparaíso.

But “the central and local governments have not taken an interest in the arrival of marginal populations to the cities, and there hasn’t been systematic concern in this country for the people who come to the cities,” Leonardo Piña, an anthropologist at the Alberto Hurtado University, told IPS.

“Valparaíso is no exception,” he said.

Piña added that the houses on the hills around the city “were built one on top of the other, and while it is exotic and seen as extraordinarily beautiful, to the point that it was named a World Heritage Site, that hasn’t meant that the concern has gone any farther than just giving it that label.

“The disaster has shown how bad the neglect is,” the anthropologist said.

The UNESCO declaration drew heavy flows of investment to Valparaíso from the Inter-American Development Bank, and the implementation of an ambitious Programme for Urban Recovery and Development generated high expectations among the people in this port city.

However, the 73 million dollars invested in the programme between 2006 and 2012 failed to make a dent in the poverty and marginalisation.

Piña said the main thing missing were policies that would effectively bring basic services to the poor, in order to make it possible for them to have a decent standard of living.

A long, intense drought, high winds, and unusually high Southern Hemisphere autumn temperatures came together to make it “the perfect fire,” said the regional governor of Valparaíso, Ricardo Bravo.

Experts agree that what is needed now is relief for the victims of the tragedy.

But later what will be required is political will to reduce the poverty in the “crazy port,” as Neruda referred to the city in his poem “Ode to Valparaíso”, written in the watchtower of La Sebastiana, his house built like a ship. The city, he wrote, would soon forget its tears, to “return to building up your houses, painting your doors green, your windows yellow.”

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Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:48:37 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133588 Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is. Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate […]

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Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is.

Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives — most Rwandans are still coping with the trauma of the violence. Most affected are the women who have children born of genocidal rape. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the genocide."The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu." -- Claudine Umuhoza, genocide survivor

Umuhoza, who lives in Gasabo district, near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, was only 23 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.

During the conflict that ensued she was raped by seven men — one of whom stabbed her in the stomach with a machete. She was left to die, lying on the floor.

Umuhoza survived only because a Hutu neighbour helped her escape to safety and gave her a fake Hutu identity card.

“The neighbour who saved my life is no longer in Rwanda, his family went to Mozambique. I’d like to say thank you for saving me. I would have died if it was not for him,” she remembered.

She lost four brothers and other family members in the massacre.

Now 43, Umuhoza is infected with HIV and has not yet told her son the origins of his birth.

“I have not being able to disclose to my son how he was born. My son doesn’t know. I got married in September 1994, after the genocide ended.

“I was pregnant when I married and after giving birth my husband realised the child born was not his. He didn’t accept this and as a result he left home,” she told IPS.

Umuhoza never remarried. Rape is a taboo subject in Rwanda’s society.

According to Jules Shell, the executive director and co-founder from Foundation Rwanda, even though this Central African nation has made great strides in rebuilding the country, women who were infected with HIV as a consequence of rape still face severe stigmatisation.

The U.S.-based NGO was established in 2008 and began supporting an initial cohort of 150 children born of rape with their schooling in 2009.

“A disproportionate number of the women who were raped were also infected by HIV,” Shell told IPS, explaining that the exact infection rate was not known but it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s women are living with HIV.

According to the government, women comprise the majority, 51.8 percent of this country’s population of 11.5 million. However, antiretroviral treatment only became widely available here 10 years ago and is accessible through the national healthcare system.

“We will never know the true number of children born of rapes committed during the genocide.

“As many women are afraid, unable, or understandably unwilling, to acknowledge the circumstance of their children’s birth … we will never know the true number,” Shell said.

The consequences of the genocide still affect the youth who were born after it.

“Many of the young people are experiencing a phenomena common to the children of Holocaust survivors, known as the ‘intergenerational inheritance of trauma’.

“This has resulted from the inability of mothers to speak openly to their children about their experiences and own trauma, which in turn affects them,” explained Shell.

Like Umuhoza, many other women still have not publicly acknowledged that their children were born of rape, though their children are aware that they have fathers who are unknown to their mothers.

This also creates problems for these children when they try to register for national identity cards, which requires the identification of both names of father and mother.

But thanks to Foundation Rwanda, Umuhoza’s son is about to finish high school — something she did not have the opportunity to do. Umuhoza is one of  600 mothers currently supported by Foundation Rwanda, which also provides fees and school material for their children.

“I am very happy that my son is in secondary school. One thing that I pray to god for is to see my son in school … and I have a hope that he will be able to go to university.

Preventing another genocide
There are over 3,000 volunteers in the country using various strategies to bring about reconciliation such as community dialogue, community works, poverty-reduction activities and counselling.

Richard Kananga, director of Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that another genocide could occur if national authorities do not promote inclusive and reconciliation to bring people together.

“Through community dialogues people are being able to talk to one another. Talks have helped to reduce the suspicion promoting trust and healing,” he said.
 

“It is very important for me. I know it is expensive, but I didn’t even think that he would attend secondary school. So doors may open suddenly. I have hope,” she trusted.

Her dream is that her son becomes a lawyer to advocate for poor and marginalised people. However, he has dreams of his own and wants to become a doctor.

“He always sees me going for treatment and feeling a lot of pain and he dreams about being able to treat me,” she explained.

Because of her ill health and the severe stomach pains caused by the machete wound, Umuhoza is only able to perform light housework.

As a survivor she receives medical treatment from the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) — to which the government allocates two percent of its national budget.

And on Apr. 15 she will undergo an operation to repair her wounds in the military hospital in Kigali.

Twenty years after the genocide, the country has not been able to forget its past, remarked Shell. She explained there is still stigma and discrimination against Tutsis, particularly in rural and isolated areas where they are very much a minority.

According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) survey, at least 40 percent of Rwandans across the country say they still fear a new wave of genocide.

“Suspicion is still there. Trauma is still an issue. We still have recently-released prisoners who are now in society but not integrated yet,” Richard Kananga, director of the Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the NURC, told IPS.

The NURC was created in 1999 to deal with aspects of discrimination among local communities and lead reconciliation in Rwanda.

According to Kananga, reconciliation is a continuous process.

“We can’t tell how long it will take, it’s a long-term process. We have researchers to measure how people perceive this process of human security in the country. We cannot say that in 20 more years we’re going to reach 100 percent [of people who feel secure],” he said.

The children born after the genocide may represent a dark period of Rwanda’s history, but, according to Shell, they also represent the “light and the hope for a brighter future.”

Umuhoza believes it too.

“I have hopes that the future for Rwanda will be good. Comparing how the country was 20 years ago and how it is today. I wish for unity and reconciliation.

“The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu. Rwandans will still know who they are,” said the mother.

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Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:56:17 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133585 Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half. The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and […]

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Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half.

The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and 2,000 police to restore order and prevent further sectarian violence that has left thousands dead and displaced roughly a quarter of the population.“The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure. In Bangui there are only two hotels." -- spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping

The Council in December mandated a joint AU-French force that thus far has proven unable to clamp down on violence against the Muslim communities, particularly outside of the capital Bangui, where peacekeepers have been light on the ground.

The Council’s morning session was preceded by reports of anti-balaka attacks in the central town of Dekoa, 300 kms north of Bangui, that left some 13 dead.

Despite Thursday’s vote, rights groups point out it will be a full six months before the mission, known as MINUSCA, is operational.

“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable Central Africans who need protection and assistance right now,” said Mark Yarnell, senior advocate at Refugees International.

“Clearly, a U.N. peacekeeping operation, once fully deployed, can contribute to peace and stability over the long term. But this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement, and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”

A “re-hatting” of many of the 5,000 AU troops would take place on Sep. 15, the official start date of MINUSCA’s peacekeeping operations. It is unclear, given a paucity of peacekeepers in several other countries, how long it will take the mission to reach full capacity.

“You will not even be getting to 10,000 troops by September given the global shortage,” Yarnell told IPS. “There is no guarantee they will arrive by that date.”

A spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping told IPS the landlocked country is a particularly difficult location to build the infrastructure for a mission from scratch.

“We can send engineers to assist and we’ll ship some equipment and cargo to Cameroon, the nearest port,” he said. “The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure.  In Bangui there are only two hotels – we will need to construct our bases, starting with sanitary facilities and offices.”

The transition will come nearly two years after the Séléka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels from CAR’s neglected northwest and Chad, announced their alliance and took up arms against the government of former president François Bozizé.

In March of 2013, the rebels captured Bangui and for nearly a year presided over a state of anarchy, pilfering what was left of the state infrastructure and targeting Christians with impunity.

Christian anti-balaka self-defence militias with unclear ties to the former regime formed to combat the rebels. Following the arrival of French and African Union troops in December, the militias began gaining the upper hand.

In January, under international pressure, former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned the presidency and ex-Seleka forces began pulling back from the capital, creating a power vacuum and leaving Muslim communities under threat from the vengeful Christian majority.

Peacekeepers were slow to recognise the anti-balaka as a new and larger threat, even as militias repeatedly carried out massacres in Muslim enclaves. The result, according to the U.N., has been the “ethnic-religious cleansing” of the West of CAR.

In a report, Amnesty International called the exodus of Muslims from CAR “a tragedy of historic proportions.”

“Not only does the current pattern of ethnic cleansing do tremendous damage to the Central African Republic itself, it sets a terrible precedent for other countries in the region, many of which are already struggling with their own sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts,” the report said.

In response to a Central African government request, the resolution gives MINUSCA the emergency capacity to supplement the state’s meagre police force by authorising peacekeepers to make arrests and carry out basic law and order functions.

The first of an expected 1,000 EU peacekeepers arrived this week and are expected to spell French troops that have guarded a makeshift camp for displaced persons at Bangui’s aiport. Until MINUSCA is fully functional, EU advisors are meant to assist local authorities in rebuilding the criminal justice system. Several recent arrests of anti-balaka leaders have seen them flee or be released only hours later.

The Security Council had an opportunity to mandate a peacekeeping mission as far back as November, but due to logistical and financial concerns gave the AU time to demonstrate its capacity at peacekeeping on the continent.

Though observers have highlighted the efforts of troops from Rwanda and Burundi, Chadian peacekeepers were implicated in atrocities of their own, including the deaths of over 30 civilians in a market on Mar. 29. The Chadians were allegedly attempting to evacuate residents from one of Bangui’s few remaining Muslim enclaves when they opened fire.

Chad has since withdrawn its battalion from the AU mission, forcing African leaders to search for a further 850 troops.

The CAR vote comes as Rwanda commemorates its own 100 days genocide that began 20 years ago this week.

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When Medicines Don’t Work Anymore http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/medicines-dont-work-anymore/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=medicines-dont-work-anymore http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/medicines-dont-work-anymore/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 12:01:49 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133564 In this column, Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, warns that humanity is looking at a future in which antibiotics will no longer work, unless an effective global action plan is launched to address the crisis.

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In this column, Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, warns that humanity is looking at a future in which antibiotics will no longer work, unless an effective global action plan is launched to address the crisis.

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The growing crisis of antibiotic resistance is catching the attention of policy-makers, but not at a fast enough rate to tackle it. More diseases are affected by resistance, meaning the bacteria cannot be killed even if different drugs are used on some patients, who then succumb.

We are staring at a future in which antibiotics don’t work, and many of us or our children will not be saved from TB, cholera, deadly forms of dysentery, and germs contracted during surgery.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will discuss, at its annual assembly of health ministers in May, a resolution on microbial resistance, including a global action plan. There have been such resolutions before but little action.

This year may be different, because powerful countries like the United Kingdom are now convinced that years of inaction have cause the problem to fester, until it has grown to mind-boggling proportions.

The UK-based Chatham House (together with the Geneva Graduate Institute) held two meetings on the issue, in October and last month, both presided over by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies.

This remarkable woman has taken on antibiotic resistance as a professional and personal campaign. In a recent book, “The Drugs Don’t Work”, she revealed that for her annual health report in 2012, she had decided to focus on infectious diseases.

“I am not easily rattled, but what I learnt scared me, not just as a doctor, but as a mother, a wife and a friend. Our findings were simple: We are losing the battle against infectious diseases. Bacteria are fighting back and are becoming resistant to modern medicine. In short, the drugs don’t work.”

Davies told the meetings that antibiotics add on average 20 years to our lives and that for over 70 years they have enabled us to survive life-threatening infections and operations.

“The truth is, we have been abusing them as patients, as doctors, as travellers, and in our food,” she says in her book.

“No new class of antibacterial has been discovered for 26 years and the bugs are fighting back. In a few decades, we may start dying from the most commonplace of operations and ailments that can today be treated easily.”

At the two Chatham House meetings, which I attended, different aspects of the crisis and possible actions were discussed. In one of the sessions, I made a summary of the actions needed, including:

- More scientific research on how resistance is caused and spread, including the emergence of antibiotic-resistance genes as in the NDM-1 enzyme, whose speciality is to accelerate and spread resistance within and among bacteria.

- Surveys in every country to determine the prevalence of resistance to antibiotics in bacteria causing various diseases.

- Health guidelines and regulations in every country to guide doctors on when (and when not) to prescribe antibiotics, and on instructing patients how to properly use them.

- Regulations for drug companies on ethical marketing of their medicines, and on avoiding sales promotion to doctors or the public, that leads to over-use.

- Educating the public on using antibiotics properly, including when they should not be used.

- A ban on the use of antibiotics in animals and animal feed for the purpose of inducing growth of the animals (for commercial profit), and restrictions on the use in animals to the treatment of ailments.

- Promoting the development of new antibiotics and in ways (including financing) that do not make the new drugs the exclusive property of drug companies.

- Ensuring that ordinary and poor people in developing countries also have access to the new medicines, which would otherwise be very expensive, and thus only the very rich can afford to use them.

On the first point, a new and alarming development has been the discovery of a gene, known as NDM-1, that has the ability to alter bacteria and make them highly resistant to all known drugs.

In 2010, only two types of bacteria were found to be hosting the NDM-1 gene – E Coli and Klebsiella pneumonia.

It was found that the gene can easily jump from one type of bacteria to another. In May 2011, scientists from Cardiff University who had first reported on NDM-1′s existence found that the NDM-1 gene has been jumping among various species of bacteria at a “superfast speed” and that it “has a special quality to jump between species without much of a problem”.

While the gene was found only in E Coli when it was initially detected in 2006, now the scientists had found NDM-1 in more than 20 different species of bacteria. NDM-1 can move at an unprecedented speed, making more and more species of bacteria drug-resistant.

Also in May 2011, there was an outbreak of a deadly disease caused by a new strain of the E Coli bacteria that killed more than 20 people and affected another 2,000 in Germany.

Although the “normal” E Coli usually produces mild sickness in the stomach, the new strain of E Coli 0104 causes bloody diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps, and in more serious cases damages blood cells and the kidneys. A major problem is that the bacterium is resistant to antibiotics.

Tuberculosis is a disease making a comeback. In 2011, the WHO found there were half a million new cases of TB in the world that were multi-drug resistant (known as MDR-TB), meaning that they could not be treated using most medicines.

And about nine percent of multi-drug resistant TB cases also have resistance to two other classes of drugs and are known as extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). Patients having XDR-TB cannot be treated successfully.

Research has also found that in Southeast Asia, strains of malaria are also becoming resistant to treatment.

In 2012, WHO Director General Margaret Chan warned that every antibiotic ever developed was at risk of becoming useless.

“A post-antibiotic era means in effect an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The World Health Assembly in May is an opportunity not to be missed, to finally launch a global action plan to address this crisis.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:05:23 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133550 “I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, […]

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Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, Manuel and Leónidas, 4 and 5, were evicted by the local authorities from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat – an old apartment building with a common courtyard that had been occupied by 13 families who couldn’t afford to pay rent. The evicted families included a dozen children.

Since then, she told IPS, her sons “don’t like the police because they think they stole their house.”

Spain has the second-highest child poverty rate in the European Union, following Romania, according to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost – A Call for Fair Alternatives and Solutions” released Mar. 27 in Athens by Caritas Europa.

Bulgaria is in third place and Greece in fourth, according to the Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisation.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe, aggravated by the foreign debt, “have failed to solve problems and create growth,” said Caritas Europa’s Secretary General Jorge Nuño at the launch of the report.

“We’re doing ok. The kids are already pre-enrolled in school for the next school year,” said González, a native of Barcelona, who left the father of her sons in Italy when she discovered that “he mistreated them.”

She started over from scratch in Málaga, with no family, job or income, meeting basic needs thanks to the solidarity of social organisations and mutual support networks.

According to a report published this year by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, in 2012 more than 2.5 million children in Spain lived in families below the poverty line – 30 percent of all children.

UNICEF reported that 19 percent of children in Spain lived in households with annual incomes of less than 15,000 dollars.

“Child poverty is a reality in Spain, although politicians want to gloss over it and they don’t like us to talk about it because it’s associated with Third World countries,” the founder and president of the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Catholic priest Ángel García, told IPS.

Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said on Mar. 28 that the information released by Caritas Europa “does not fully reflect reality” because it is based solely on “statistical measurements.”

But in Málaga “there are more and more mothers lining up to get food,” Ángel Meléndez, the president of Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, told IPS.

Every day, his organisation provides 500 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches and 600 dinners to the poor.

For months, González and her sons have been taking their meals at the “Er Banco Güeno”, a community-run soup kitchen in the low-income Málaga neighbourhood of Palma-Palmilla, which operates out of a closed-down bank branch.

According to Father Ángel, child poverty “isn’t just about not being able to afford food, but also about not being able to buy school books or not buying new clothes in the last two years.”

“It’s about unequal opportunity among children,” he said.

The crisis in Spain is still severe. The country’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU: 25.6 percent in February, after Greece’s 27.5 percent.

In 2013, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2013-2016, which includes the aim of reducing child poverty.

Caritas Europa reports that at least one and a half million households in Spain are suffering from severe social inclusion – 70 percent more than in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out.

“Entire families end up on the street because they can’t afford to pay rent,” Rosa Martínez, the director of the Centro de Acogida Municipal, told IPS during a visit to the municipal shelter. “More people are asking for food. They’re even asking for diapers for newborns because they are in such a difficult situation.”

Of the nearly 26 percent of the economically active population out of jobs, half are young people, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As of late March, 4.8 million people were unemployed, according to official statistics. The figures also show that the proportion of jobless people with no source of income whatsoever has grown to four out of 10.

Social discontent has been fuelled by austerity measures that have entailed cutbacks in health, education and social protection.

A report on the Housing Emergency in the Spanish State, by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) and the DESC Observatory, estimates that 70 percent of the families who have been, or are about to be, evicted include at least one minor.

“The right to equal opportunities is dead letter if children are ending up on the street,” José Cosín, a lawyer and activist with PAH Málaga, told IPS.

Cosín denounced the vulnerable situation of the children who were evicted along with their families from the Buenaventura corrala on Oct. 3, 2013.

Fifteen of the people who were evicted filed a lawsuit demanding respect of the children’s basic rights, as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect in 1990.

The Convention establishes that states parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

The number of families in Spain with no source of income at all grew from 300,000 in mid-2007 to nearly 700,000 by late 2013, according to the report Precariedad y Cohesión Social; Análisis y Perspectivas 2014 (Precariousness and Social Cohesion; Analysis and Perspectives 2014), by Cáritas Española and the Fundación Foessa.

And 27 percent of households in Spain are supported by pensioners. Grown-up sons and daughters are moving back into their parents’ homes with their families, or retired grandparents are helping support their children and grandchildren, with their often meagre pensions.

“When times get rough, the social fabric is strengthened,” said González. She stressed the solidarity of different groups in Málaga who for three months helped her clean up and repair the apartment she is living in now, which is on the tenth floor of a building with no elevator, and was full of garbage and had no door, window panes or piped water.

González complained that government social services are underfunded and inefficient, and said she receives no assistance from them.

Like all young children, her sons ask her for things. But she explains to them that it is more important to spend eight euros on food than on two plastic fishes. It took her several weeks to save up money to buy the toys. Last Christmas she took them to a movie for the first time.

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Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:58:25 +0000 Noor Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133534 For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources. “We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks […]

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Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

By Noor Ali
ISIOLO COUNTY, Kenya, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources.

“We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks and raids, lost almost all my animals to raids for them to only be wiped out by drought four years ago,” Wario told IPS.

Merti division lies in Isiolo County, in Kenya’s Eastern Province which stretches all the way to the country’s northern border with Ethiopia.

Kenya’s underdeveloped, vast and semi-arid north is plagued by prolonged and recurrent violent conflicts over resources, deadly cattle raids, and increased incidents of natural disasters like droughts and floods.“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house.” -- farmer Amina Wario

The African Development Bank’s Kenya’s Country Strategy Paper 2014 to 2018 indicates the region is the poorest in the country, with more than 74 percent of the population living in a desperate state of poverty.

“First we believed the El Niño phenomenon, flash floods, Rift valley fever and severe droughts [from the 1980s through to 2009] were a curse. Our people conducted rituals to prevent similar phenomena but it became more rampant,” Wario said. Emergency food aid offered little relief.

Although traditionally communities in Kenya’s arid regions have been pastoralists, over the years “the impacts of climate change have combined with other environmental, economic and political factors to create a situation of increasing vulnerability for poor and marginalised households,” says a report by CARE International.

But Wario and his household can no longer be classified as vulnerable. He’s moved away from the livelihood of his forefathers and is currently one of a new generation of successful crop farmers in this far-flung, remote village in Merti division some 300 km north of the nearest established town of Isiolo.

His only regret is that he took so long to switch from pastoralism.

His first wife, Amina Wario, told IPS this change was thanks to the Merti Integrated Development Programme (MIDP), an NGO in the region which educates pastoralists and livestock owners on climate change resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

“We grow enough food for our family, relatives, traders and local residents. This farm produces watermelons, paw paws, onions, tomatoes, maize, and tobacco for us for sell to those with livestock and earn an average profit of Ksh 50,000 [581 dollars] a month,” Amina Wario told IPS.

The Wario family farm is partitioned by trenches of flowing water from the nearby Ewaso Ng’iro River, which is drawn by a pump.

Five years ago, the MIDP began teaching 200 families who had lost all their livestock to drought about alternative livelihoods.

Now, more than 2,000 families across Merti division, a region where people are predominantly pastoralists, are part of the programme.

At Bisan Biliku, a settlement 20km from Merti town, many wealthy former livestock owners are now farmers.

Khadija Shade, chairperson of the Bismillahi Women’s self-help group, said the community’s departure from pastoralism has empowered and emancipated people in Bisan Biliku.

Women are now innovators and the main breadwinners in their families, she said. The women’s group grows a wide variety of crops and also purchases livestock from locals, all of which is sold to a chain of clients in Isiolo County, central Kenya and the country’s capital, Nairobi.

She also runs an exclusive shop that sells women’s and children’s clothes, and perfumes.

“[Now] we have enough money but nowhere to keep the money safe. We need banking facilities. At the moment we travel far to use mobile phone banking,” she added. This is because there is no mobile network coverage in Bisan Biliku and locals are forced to travel to an area with coverage.

A respected clan elder in Bisan Biliku, who requested not to be identified, told IPS that after attending a series of seminars by the MIDP a few years ago, he sold some of his livestock, bought a truck and built two house in Isiolo town, the capital of Isiolo County. He rents out the houses and earns an additional income.

“From the seminars I learnt how to reduce risks and increase my income and lead a better life. Now I am obviously not at risk of being a poor man,” he said.

Abdullahi Jillo Shade from the MIDP told IPS that the project “has been embraced by many families in Merti [town], and the neighbouring settlements of Bisan Bilku, Mrara and Bulesa and Korbesa.”

“Our people are proud farmers and traders. They have changed the tidal wave. These days we have more trucks transporting food to the market in Isiolo town than trucks with relief food…” he said.

Others too are adapting to the changing climate in their own way.

Isiolo legislator Abdullahi Tadicha says decades of deliberate marginalisation and punitive policies have denied those in northern Kenya development funding and subjected communities to displacement, massive losses of wealth, and severe poverty.

However, money has now been set aside to assist communities.

“The Isiolo south constituency development fund committee has identified, prioritised and allocated funds to address food insecurity and disaster management, and to support families rendered poor by past drought, floods and conflicts,” he told IPS.

The constituency fund, he said, helped start the Malkadaka irrigation scheme on 400 hectares of land in Isiolo south in August. It supports 200 families whose livestock were wiped out by successive droughts and floods.

Yussuf Godana from the Waso River Users Empowerment Platform, a community-based organisation, told IPS that locals suffered the most during the recurrent droughts but said education has helped people accept that erratic and harsh weather trends are not a curse but a global crisis.

He said thanks to the community diversifying its livelihood and the reduced conflicts over resources, “this whole place is now covered with a green carpet of crops – it’s an oasis.”

Partners For Resilience (PFR) is an alliance of various associations including Netherlands Red Cross (lead agency) and CARE Netherlands. It is working in partnership with Kenya to empower communities, with a focus on educating people about disaster prevention and management, and strengthening the resilience of at-risk communities.

Abdi Malik, a PFR official working with the Kenya Red Cross, told IPS that the various adaptation programmes in the region have created relief-free food zones and recorded significant decreases in families seeking food and assistance with school fees.

These programmes, said Malik, have also changed how the Kenya Red Cross engages with the local communities. Now people only visit their office to seek support for various projects, unlike in the past when they camped outside for days waiting for relief food.

Amina Wario is optimistic that her family will never need aid again.

“Our family is now respected, from the proceeds from this farm we have constructed a house … and educated our children.

“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house,” she said happily.

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Criminal Court a U.S.-Israeli “Red Line” for Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:52:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133495 When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. But he held back one of […]

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Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.

But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.

Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”

There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate, that’s clearly a U.S.-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.

A Flurry of Treaty Signing by Abbas

The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.

They include: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.

“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” he declared.

And in a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”

He said the U.S. administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.

In a statement released Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.

The U.S. government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.

HRW also said that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before Congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the U.S. to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”

She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.

The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centres, HRW said.

HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.

Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the U.N.’s various specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Such a move would have triggered provisions under U.S. law that automatically cut U.S. funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.

Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which include former world political leaders, said in a statement Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the U.N. non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a U.N. non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”

This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.

It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.

“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry.”

More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

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Chile Graduates in Earthquake Preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:52:06 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133441 Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country. Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the […]

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President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country.

Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the hills, two km away from the Pacific ocean, after a tsunami alert was issued by the Chilean Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service.

But despite the fear, nearly one million people participated efficiently in a mass evacuation, and the six people who were killed died of heart attacks or falling debris.

The 8.2-magnitude temblor occurred at GMT 23:46 and was the strongest in a series of quakes that have hit northern Chile since Jan. 1.

“We were in our apartment, which is on the third floor of a building. My daughter and my husband and I all held onto each other. Suddenly, the windows burst and glass started to fall on our backs. It was horrible,” a woman who lives in the northern city of Iquique, and had later evacuated to higher ground away from the coast, told Tierramérica.

“We have learned a lot, and many of the elements that didn’t work right in 2010 functioned perfectly now,” the director of the National Seismological Centre, Sergio Barrientos, told Tierramérica.

Four years ago, “the seismological monitoring system broke down and we were only able to provide information on the earthquake a couple of hours later,” he said.

“On this occasion, even though it was a much smaller earthquake, we managed to deliver the necessary information just a few minutes after it occurred,” he added.

President Michelle Bachelet flew over the most heavily affected areas, Iquique and Arica, 1,800 and 2,000 km north of Santiago, respectively, to view the destruction.

“There has been an exemplary evacuation process, with strong solidarity that has made this a process without major setbacks, which has protected people from a tsunami or other serious problems linked to the quake,” she said.

Tuesday’s earthquake was also a trial by fire.for Bachelet, who took office as president for the second time, on Mar. 11.

The president ended her first term just 12 days after the 8.8-magnitude quake and tsunami that devastated vast areas in central and southern Chile on Feb. 27, 2010.

That time the emergency preparedness protocols didn’t work, and a tardy tsunami alert was blamed for some 500 deaths, added to the destruction of over 200,000 housing units. Bachelet faced legal action, and several members of her first administration are still under investigation.

Four years later, the president decreed a timely state of emergency for the affected regions and called out the armed forces and the security forces to keep public order.

The tsunami warning sirens sounded early enough to allow thousands of people to begin evacuating calmly.

Significant investment in economic and human resources lies behind these changes. In 2012, the National Seismological Centre signed an agreement with the Interior Ministry to strengthen the network of sensors and set up new stations, while creating a robust communications system.

The ongoing investment of nearly seven million dollars has included the installation of 10 new monitoring stations, the purchase of satellite equipment, and training for the staff at the National Seismological Centre and the National Emergency Office.

The disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies are bearing fruit not only in Chile, but in the rest of Latin America as well, according to the regional office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes are common in different parts of the region, often associated with conditions of vulnerability, poverty and insecurity.

However, local populations are better prepared today, regional cooperation is effective, and warning and response systems are efficient, UNESCO reports.

“The situation has improved greatly since the 27 February 2010 tsunami that impacted Chile,” said UNESCO which, in alliance with the authorities, is involved in work on education for tsunami preparedness in Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

In Chile, the work has been carried out in 144 schools in areas at risk of flooding – lower than 30 metres above sea level.

“Citizen education is essential in these situations, especially in a country like Chile, where a tsunami can occur 15 or 20 minutes after an earthquake and it takes 10 minutes to analyse the information,” hydraulic engineer Rodrigo Cienfuegos of the National Research Centre for Integrated Natural Disaster Management (CIGIDEN) told Tierramérica.

“People have to react in an autonomous manner; they have to know where to evacuate to immediately after an earthquake of the characteristics of the one we had on Tuesday,” added Cienfuegos, an expert on tsunamis.

One of the biggest challenges now is for people to be prepared to deal with the impacts that follow the quake itself: living in evacuation centres, and putting up with the lack of food, water and electricity.

“The idea is that, once the emergency is over, people will be more ready to live through that complex period,” he said.

According to Cienfuegos, an academic at the Catholic University, this South American country, one of the world’s most earthquake-prone, with more than 4,000 km of coastline, should rethink human settlements in the future.

“We have to be aware of the threat that living so close to the coast means,” he said. “It’s hard to move people away who for years have been living close to the sea, but measures have to be taken when the construction of new human settlements is being studied.”

For now, the people of northern Chile should be ready, seismologists warn. It has been 137 years since the last major quake in the north of the country and the energy that has accumulated is greater than what was released on Tuesday.

*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Brazilian Dams Accused of Aggravating Floods in Bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 22:42:11 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133433 Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept. Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo […]

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A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept.

Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built by Brazil, which they blame for the disaster that has already cost 59 lives in Bolivia and material losses of 111 million dollars this year, according to the Fundación Milenio.

Bolivian President Evo Morales himself added his voice on Wednesday Apr. 2 to the choir of those who suspect that the two dams have had to do with the flooding in the Amazon region. “An in-depth investigation is needed to assess whether the Brazilian hydropower plants are playing a role in this,” he said.

The president instructed the foreign ministry to lead the inquiry. “There is a preliminary report that has caused a great deal of concern…and must be verified in a joint effort by the two countries.”

Some 30,000 families living in one-third of Bolivia’s 327 municipalities have experienced unprecedented flooding in the country’s Amazon valleys, lowlands and plains, and the attempt to identify who is responsible has become a diplomatic and political issue.

Environmentalists argue that among those responsible are the dams built in the Brazilian state of Rondônia on the Madeira river, the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, whose watershed is shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

In Bolivia – where the Madeira (or Madera in Spanish) emerges – some 250 rivers that originate in the Andes highlands and valleys flow into it.

“It was already known that the Jirau and San Antonio [as it is known in Bolivia] dams would turn into a plug stopping up the water of the rivers that are tributaries of the Madera,” independent environmentalist Teresa Flores told IPS.

“Construction of a dam causes water levels to rise over the natural levels and as a consequence slows down the river flow,” the vice president of the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), Patricia Molina, told IPS.

Her assertion was based on the study “The impact of the Madera river dams in Bolivia”, published by FOBOMADE in 2008.

“The Madera dams will cause flooding; the loss of chestnut forests, native flora and fauna, and fish; the appearance and recurrence of diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue; the displacement of people, increased poverty and the disappearance of entire communities,” the study says.

“Considering all of the information provided by environmental activists in Brazil and Bolivia, by late 2013 everything seemed to indicate that the elements for a major environmental disaster were in place,” Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA) researcher Marco Octavio Ribera wrote in an article published Feb. 22.

But Víctor Paranhos, the head of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR) sustainable energy consortium, rejected the allegations.

The dams neither cause nor aggravate flooding in Bolivia “because they are run-of-the-river plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and the dams are many kilometres from the border,” he told IPS.

In his view, “what’s going on here is that it has never rained so much” in the Bolivian region in question. The flow in the Madeira river, which in Jirau reached a maximum of “nearly 46,000 cubic metres per second, has now reached 54,350 cubic metres per second,” he added.

Moreover, the flooding has covered a large part of the national territory in Bolivia, not only near the Madeira river dams, he pointed out.

The ESBR holds the concession for the Jirau hydropower plant, which is located 80 km from the Bolivian border. The group is headed by the French-Belgium utility GDF Suez and includes two public enterprises from Brazil as well as Mizha Energia, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui.

At the Jirau and Santo Antônio plants, which are still under construction, the reservoirs have been completed and roughly 50 turbines are being installed in each dam. When they are fully operative, they will have an installed capacity of over 3,500 MW.

Claudio Maretti, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Amazon Initiative, said “there is neither evidence nor conclusive studies proving that the dams built on the Madera river are the cause of the floods in the Bolivian-Brazilian Amazon territories in the first few months of 2014 – at least not yet.”

In a statement, Maretti recommended “integrated conservation planning, monitoring of the impacts of infrastructure projects on the connectivity and flow of the rivers, on aquatic biodiversity, on fishing resources and on the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the major alterations imposed by human beings.”

The intensity of the rainfall was recognised in a study by the Fundación Milenio which compared last year’s rains in the northern department or region of Beni – the most heavily affected – and the highlands in the south of Bolivia, and concluded that “it has rained twice as much as normal.”

Several alerts were issued, such as on Feb. 23 for communities near the Piraí river, which runs south to north across the department of Santa Cruz, just south of Beni.

At that time, an “extraordinary rise” in the water level of the river, the highest in 31 years, reached 7.5 metres, trapped a dozen people on a tiny island, and forced the urgent evacuation of the local population.

The statistics are included in a report by SEARPI (the Water Channeling and. Regularisation Service of the Piraí River) in the city of Santa Cruz, to which IPS had access.

The plentiful waters of the river run into the Beni plains and contributed to the flooding, along with the heavy rain in the country’s Andes highlands and valleys.

The highest water level in the Piraí river was 16 metres in 1983, according to SEARPI records.

Flores, the environmentalist, acknowledged that there has been “extraordinarily excessive” rainfall, which she attributed to the impact of climate change on the departments of La Paz in the northwest, Cochabamba in the centre, and the municipalities of Rurrenabaque, Reyes and San Borja, in Beni.

Molina, the vice president of FOBOMADE, cited “intensified incursions of flows of water from the tropical south Atlantic towards the south of the Amazon basin,” as an explanation for the heavy rainfall.

She and Flores both mentioned deforestation at the headwaters of the Amazon basin as the third major factor that has aggravated the flooding.

In Cochabamba, former senator Gastón Cornejo is leading a push for an international environmental audit and a lawsuit in a United Nations court, in an attempt to ward off catastrophe in Bolivia’s Amazon region.

“The state of Bolivia has been negligent and has maintained an irresponsible silence,” he told IPS.

Molina proposes taking the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to denounce the environmental damage reportedly caused by the Brazilian dams.

With reporting by Mario Osava in Rio de Janeiro.

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Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-many-want-get http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:05:02 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133429 In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers. “For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been […]

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Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers.

“For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been very volatile and violent…Last year there were nine humanitarian workers who lost their lives,” Judith Léveillée, deputy representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in the CAR, told IPS from Bangui.“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts.” -- Benoit Matsha-Carpentier of IFRC

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and this is my seventh mission,” she said.

The conflict in the CAR began in 2012 when Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks against the government. During the following two years, the conflict has grown along sectarian lines, with Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias taking up arms against Séléka groups. While Muslim civilians represent a majority of the targeted population, Christians have also been threatened.

“There are situations where we physically cannot access the people we need to reach because the forces that are fighting are making it hard for us to get to them,” Steve Taravella, spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told IPS.

“Roads are blocked, convoys are redirected, food supplies are looted and people are being otherwise attacked,” he said.

In recent months, due to both the increase of international forces and the mass flight of the Muslim population, the U.N. has reported a calming of hostilities in the capital.

Nevertheless, the extreme and often random violence in the CAR poses a complex network of security challenges for aid workers trying to reach the approximately 2.2 million people in need to humanitarian assistance.

“At one point, the only road that goes from Cameroon to Bangui, the one we use as a corridor for food, was completely closed because the drivers from Cameroon, who were mainly Muslim, didn’t want to cross the border. [For weeks] they were too scared,” Fabienne Pompey, the regional communications officer for the WFP based in the CAR, told IPS.

“Now the road is open to transport the food from the border, but we use a military escort from [the African Union peacekeeping mission] MISCA.”

“Insecurity and banditry is on the rise, and this is of course a very big problem for humanitarian organisations…Its difficult to drive on the roads, and its complicated to have vehicles in your own compound because there is a risk that they will be stolen,” Marie-Servane Desjonqueres, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in central and south Africa, told IPS.

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

International presence

The creation of a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the CAR and an increase of international troops were both key elements of U.N. Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon’s six-point recommendation of Feb. 20.

Nevertheless, security remains an issue and aid workers continue to be targeted and attacked by armed groups, the U.N. reported Thursday.

Currently, the only international military forces in the CAR are roughly 2,000 French troops, under the Sangaris mission, and approximately 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, under the MISCA mission.

Following the UNSG’s request, the European Union pledged nearly 1,000 to lend further support, but this force has yet to materialise.

For UNICEF and the WFP, the use of armed escorts allows for access into areas of the country with serious security concerns.

“We do regularly act with [escorts from] the Sangaris or MISCA operations…but that is in the case of a last resort,” explained Léveillée. “It’s very important that we keep our neutrality. We don’t necessarily want to be associated with armed escorts.”

On Mar. 3, the UNSG proposed a 12,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission in the CAR. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which must approve all peacekeeping missions before their implementation, is expected to vote on the resolution during the second week of April, with a perspective implementation in September, current UNSC president and Nigerian ambassador, Joy Ogwu, told reporters Wednesday.

Negotiating access

While some organisations, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) do not use armed escorts, negotiating with the parties to the conflict is a universally used tactic to gain access to people who would be otherwise inaccessible.

“We do not have armed personnel for security, we rely on the respect of the parties to the conflict,” Sylvain Groulx, head of the MSF mission based in Bangui, told IPS. “A lot of our operation includes outreach and dialogue.”

“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts,” Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, spokesperson for the IFRC, told IPS. “This is actually one of our principles.”

“There are ongoing discussions, whether at high level with the government or at the volunteer level…with whoever is in front of them, to make sure [aid workers] have safe access to those who are in need.”

Beyond the larger international organisation, the IFRC has a network of national, country-specific societies, which help facilitate support on a more local level. This IFRC national society in the CAR has had a major impact in helping both the IFRC and other humanitarian organisations that may be experiencing restrictions get aid to the Central African population.

“If it’s too dangerous to have us on the ground, then we [distribute] using a local partner,” Desjonqueres explained. “Our main partner in CAR is the Central African Republic Red Cross. They have a very strong network all over the country, a lot of volunteers all over the place.”

Changing the perspective

Broadening respect for humanitarian access is an important factor in the ability for aid workers to support the suffering population in the CAR.

“One of our mandates is to disseminate the respect for international humanitarian law,” Desjonqueres continued. “For many years, we have been conducting sessions…to talk about those basic rules of humanity that need to be respected during times of war, and that includes safe passage for humanitarian workers.

“We are distributing food to the people in need, our criteria is people in need,” stressed Pompey. “It is very important to repeat this every time so that the parties involved in the conflict let us go.”

For the crisis in the CAR, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 600,000 people, getting aid to those in need is an immediate objective, but it is not a long-term solution.

“The best option would be a political settlement [to the conflict],” Pompey told IPS, “something inside the country to help make peace.”

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Sahel Food Crisis Overshadowed by Regional Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:55:38 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133290 Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity. “The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic […]

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In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
TUNIS, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity.

“The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic (CAR) because of insecurity. Until now, there has not been enough of a response from the international community, especially given the proportion of the disaster foreseen,” Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), told IPS at the organisation’s regional conference being held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 28.

Last month, the U.N. appealed for more than two billion dollars to address the needs of 20 million “food insecure” people across Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid area beset by persistent drought and chronic food insecurity stretching from the Sahara desert in North Africa and Sudan’s Savannas in the south. It is described by the U.N. as “one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.”

Countries in the Sahel currently facing food shortages are Mali, Mauritania, the Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic (CAR), Niger, Chad and Nigeria.

New research by international NGO Action Aid highlights how Nigeria and Senegal are alarmingly unprepared to cope with a worsening food crisis.

John Abuya, head of Action Aid’s international humanitarian action and resilience team, told IPS: “Disaster preparedness structures at regional and community levels are still weak and need to be strengthened so as to provide the necessary response and resilience in case of an emergency.”

“Based on early warning signs, it is likely that the Nigerian and Senegalese governments will be overwhelmed if their food crisis escalates. Although Nigeria has a National Emergency Management Authority, its response at state level has been weak and resources have been allocated inadequately by the central government,” Abuya said.

Food insecurity in the Sahel is set to increase in 2014 by 40 percent compared to 2013 when 11.3 million people had inadequate food and required around 1.7 billion dollars in donor assistance.

Feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created approximately 724,000 refugees and 495,000 internally displaced persons.

According to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Chad’s open-door policy has resulted in it receiving 419, 000 refugees (86,000 from CAR, and 333,000 from Darfur, Sudan).

Out of the 103,000 refugees residing in Mauritania, a majority are from Mali and Western Sahara, while Burkina Faso has received 43,000 refugees from Mali since the crisis there began in 2012.

Following Mali’s military coup in March 2012, terrorists and criminal organisations exploited the country’s power vacuum and occupied the northern territory creating a huge displacement of the population. It resulted in a refugee outflow into Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and, to a lesser degree, Algeria and other countries.

Mali maintains it has the capacity to feed its people but is restricted by poor infrastructure and instability in the north.

Last year, it produced two million tonnes of cereal in addition to one million tonnes of rice.

“Mali’s problem is not agricultural, it is a logistical problem about transporting the food to people. The crisis and the instability in the north is not permitting us to use the roads safely. Therefore the food that farmers produce is restricted in its movement because of insecurity,” Issa Konda, head of Mali’s agricultural delegation attending the FAO conference, told IPS.

Despite efforts to stabilise Mali, including the deployment of a peacekeeping force and presidential elections in mid-2013, very few Malian refugees want to return due to the fragile humanitarian and security situation.

Niger’s severe food shortages due to recurrent drought have also been compounded by conflict in neighbouring countries. Half of the country’s 17 million people are without adequate food all year round, while one in 10 is unable to feed themselves for three months of the year.

Conflict in northern Mali, southern Libya, northern Nigeria and CAR has put pressure on Niger’s resources to deal with its food crisis as thousands of displaced civilians take refuge in the country due to its porous borders.

Since 2012, Malian refugees have regarded neighbouring Niger as a safe haven. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 51,000 refugees (47,000 from Mali and 4,000 from Nigeria) have entered the country as a result of regional conflict.

Last year’s rainy season in Niger, which lasted from July to October, was disappointing says the country’s Minister in the President’s office for the national strategy for food security and agriculture development, Amadou Diallo.

“The situation is dire and has not been improving for several years. We are unable to meet the food demand. The problem is that demand is growing from rising population numbers and incoming refugees, in addition to terrible drought our food supply is being compromised,” he told IPS.

Niger’s refugee crisis escalated last year after neighbouring Nigeria launched a military offensive against Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, causing 10,000 people to flee northern Nigeria into south-eastern Niger and Cameroon.

Of the 25 countries listed by the U.N. as being vulnerable to becoming failed states, 13 are in the Sahel. Breaking the cycle of recurrent food crises in the region is next to impossible while there is limited security says Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.

“In the Sahel we have the solutions. We have the capacity. We have the willingness.  However, as long there is insecurity then food production and access to food is at risk.  There is not enough reliability and stability for us to adequately address food insecurity in the Sahel,” she told IPS.

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Despite Risks, Cuban Fisher Families Don’t Want to Leave the Sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/despite-risks-cuban-fisher-families-dont-want-leave-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-risks-cuban-fisher-families-dont-want-leave-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/despite-risks-cuban-fisher-families-dont-want-leave-sea/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 14:45:10 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133204 The road to Guanímar, a fishing village on the southern coast of Cuba, is as narrow as the future of its 252 inhabitants, who don’t want to abandon the area despite its vulnerability to hurricanes, storm surges and flooding. “If they can’t fish, the people here won’t know how to make a living,” Maricela Pérez, […]

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The seafront wall in Guanímar accelerates erosion and land loss. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The seafront wall in Guanímar accelerates erosion and land loss. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

The road to Guanímar, a fishing village on the southern coast of Cuba, is as narrow as the future of its 252 inhabitants, who don’t want to abandon the area despite its vulnerability to hurricanes, storm surges and flooding.

“If they can’t fish, the people here won’t know how to make a living,” Maricela Pérez, 63, who lives just a few metres from the beach, tells Tierramérica with a look of anguish.

“We can’t stand to live anywhere else. We were born and raised here,” says Mayelín Hernández, a homemaker who returned to the coast two years ago.

She says many of the families who have been relocated to safer areas by the local government have returned to this settlement of 152 precarious shacks, to keep fishing in the Gulf of Batabanó as their forebears did.

“They close up their house in Alquízar (a nearby town) and they spend more time here, in the ‘quimbos’ (shacks built with materials salvaged from the remains of houses destroyed by hurricanes),” says the 41-year-old Hernández, who comes from a fishing family. She left a small rural property nine km from the coast to return to the beach.

The old dilemma of leaving everything behind for safety reasons has reemerged with the new zoning regulations being implemented in Cuba for residential or commercial areas or protected zones, such as the coastline.

The policy is aimed at combating irregular and illegal building and land-use practices and updating the land registries and zoning plans for Cuba’s 168 municipalities.

Guanímar is along a stretch of coastline south of Havana which, along with the northern coast in the capital, is the area most vulnerable to flooding and high winds during storms in this archipelago located in the Caribbean hurricane corridor

Scientists estimate that by 2050, the rising sea level will have covered an additional 2.3 percent of the national territory.

The new zoning laws put a priority on the country’s 5,746 km of shoreline, which includes the Isla de La Juventud – the second-biggest island in the Cuban archipelago – and 2,500 keys and islets, and on the enforcement of six specific laws, especially decree-law 212 on management of coastal zones, in effect since 2000.

The laws prohibit activities that fuel natural soil erosion, such as construction or the use of vehicles in the dunes; roads or walls parallel to the shoreline; the felling of mangroves; and the introduction of exotic species.

One example of strict application of the law is the city of Holguín, 690 km northeast of Havana, where sun and beach tourism is flourishing. As of July 2013, the local authorities had demolished 212 public buildings that had been built on the dunes.

“The aim is to protect the environment and carry out climate change adaptation actions,” Yailer Sánchez, an environmental inspector in the government’s Environment Unit, tells Tierramérica.

Construction of private buildings on the sand is the most frequent violation of decree-law 212, according to Sánchez. The objective of the authorities is to eliminate all illegal buildings and relocate the inhabitants within the next two years.

Because of the sensitive nature of the issue, the government says the 245 coastal communities in the area will receive “special treatment” in the process.

But the enforcement of the new zoning laws has altered the heavy calm that usually reigns over Guanímar, except during the four months of summer, when thousands of people flock to its beach, visitors fill up all of the houses and shacks, and locals do brisk business selling fried fish and other tasty snacks.

“This is the best beach around here,” says Hernández. “Why not admit it: we don’t want to leave. We quickly measured when (the authorities) came and said they were going to remove everyone with houses 50 metres from the sea…Mine’s 53 metres away,” she adds.

Narciso Manuel Rodríguez, a 59-year-old fisherman who owns his own boat, comments that “They say they’re going to give people homes away from here. But I prefer to evacuate during storms and come back, like I always have.”

The policy is to relocate the inhabitants of at-risk areas, and block construction of new homes.

Rodríguez’s daughter was resettled in Alquízar after Hurricane Charley destroyed her home on Aug. 13, 2004.

Another group of families from Guanímar was relocated to the town in 2008 after the area was hit by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Gustav “hit with all it had” when it passed four km off the coast, the fisherman says.

In October 1944, Guanímar experienced one of the worst storm surges in Cuban history, that was up to six metres high and penetrated as far inland as 12 km.

When there is a threat of hurricane or tidal wave, the 57 families who live right along the beach pack up their belongings, including their small livestock and pets, on local government trucks.

“At those times, people feel that the risk is real,” says Guanímar town councillor Ricardo Álvarez.

The local population “doesn’t know very much about environmental problems. We don’t even get the newspaper here,” he says.

Álvarez says people need information and should participate more in decision-making. “It’s important to understand that these things are difficult for people to deal with,” he adds.

The government shop that sells the basic food and other products provided at subsidised prices under the ration card system will also have to be removed from the dunes, as a result of the new zoning laws.

“Services are gradually being lost,” Álvarez complains.

The primary school closed six years ago. And a physiotherapy hospital that offered treatment based on medicinal mud, which was devastated by the 2008 hurricanes, was never rebuilt.

“People get used to living with the danger, and have their reasons for wanting to stay where they are,” biologist María Elena Perdomo tells Tierramérica. “Educational work is needed to convince people, and when the time comes, legal measures can be taken as well.”

A study by architect Celene Milanés found that in 2012, 90 to 95 percent of residents surveyed in the beachfront towns of Chivirico and Uvero and the coastal city of Santiago de Cuba, in the east, were unfamiliar with decree-law 212.

Coastal areas are home to 60 percent of the world population, who are at risk due to rising sea levels. More than 180 countries have large populations in low-elevation coastal zones, and 130 countries have major cities within a few km of the coast.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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West Africa’s Refugee and Security Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/west-africas-refugee-security-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-africas-refugee-security-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/west-africas-refugee-security-crisis/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 10:18:02 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133076 In West Africa, the Malian and Ivorian political crises have resulted in the biggest number of refugees in the region. But brewing insecurity could mean that they will be unable to return home any time soon as armed groups remain a threat to West Africa. In Nigeria, Islamist groups have targeted civilians, and are now […]

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A girl playing in a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

A girl playing in a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Mar 19 2014 (IPS)

In West Africa, the Malian and Ivorian political crises have resulted in the biggest number of refugees in the region. But brewing insecurity could mean that they will be unable to return home any time soon as armed groups remain a threat to West Africa.

In Nigeria, Islamist groups have targeted civilians, and are now hiding in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon. In Mali, even though the United Nations mission is providing military support, the Movement for Unity Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) Islamists remain a threat and there have been a number of bomb explosions.“We have to have military escorts in this region to protect the mission from possible kidnappings.” -- Mohamed Bah, UNHCR

Côte d’Ivoire too has faced insecurity. While the country recovers from its post-electoral crisis that resulted in over 3,000 deaths between 2010 to 2011, refugees are slow to return from Ghana, Togo and Liberia.

There are now 93,738 refugees, mostly in Liberia, Togo and Ghana, and 24,000 Ivorian internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

But the situation in the west of the country, in Bas-Sassandra, where most of the killings were perpetrated during the post-election crisis, remains fragile with the resumption of attacks during the last few weeks.

Ilmari Käihkö is a PhD student at the department for Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, who has conducted extensive field studies in eastern Liberia and investigated the Ivorian refugee areas there.

He said that Ivorian refugees were waiting for the results of the 2015 presidential elections before deciding whether to return home.

“Refugees believe that [current President Allassane ] Ouattara will lose. There might be a negative reaction if he wins,” he told IPS.

Côte d’Ivoire’s government has made a special effort to encourage the return of its refugees. It has sent several envoys to refugee communities to share the word that they will be welcomed when they return home.

This policy is working in part as several notorious supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo have come back to Côte d’Ivoire, including former Abidjan Port Authority director Marcel Gossio and over 1,300 ex-combatants.

Gbagbo, who is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court, is accused of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 2010 to 2011 post-electoral crisis.

For Käihkö, the situation remains tense and the potential for more violence remains high as there are also land ownership issues in western Côte d’Ivoire that need to be addressed to ensure the safe return of the refugees.

The Ivorian refugees in Liberia are mostly from western Côte d’Ivoire, where some of the world’s biggest cacao producers originate. However, many have lived on the land without title deeds, adhering to the policy of “the land belongs to who takes care of it”. This has resulted in a conflict of ownership of land between the native Guérés and settlers to western Côte d’Ivoire.

According to Käihkö, the issues concerning land ownership are a key reason why many Ivorian refugees choose to remain in Liberia — many feel they don’t have anything to return to.

Nigeria too faces ongoing insecurity.

Already, violent attacks perpetrated by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria have forced 1,500 persons to flee in southern Niger’s Diffa Region and more than 4,000 to Cameroon over the last few months.

Boko Haram has targeted schools, hospitals and other institutions perceived as being from the West. And, as the number of refugees and IDPs increases, operations to provide aid for these people have been restricted because of security fears.

And it’s not just in Nigeria that the security situation has complicated humanitarian operations.

Across the region, aid workers have been abducted and attacked, and expat workers are becoming targets. On Feb. 8, an International Red Cross Committee convoy was attacked and five Malian employees were kidnapped by MUJWA.

As humanitarian agencies become targets they are increasingly forced to spend money on security for their staff that ideally should go to those in need.

“We have to have military escorts in this region to protect the mission from possible kidnappings,” Mohamed Bah, information officer at the Burkina Faso’s UNHCR office, told IPS.

Burkina Faso shares a border with Mali and although the security situation remains relatively stable, UNHCR says “strict security measures are in place in rural areas, particularly in Dori and Djibo, limiting the office’s access to its people of concern.”

This complicates both aid operations and repatriation.

“This insecurity limits access to repatriate in Mali. We need MINUSMA [U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali] support to go meet the repatriates. Several NGOs have limited their presence in return areas,” Olivier Beer, from the UNHCR’s Mali office, told IPS.

Young girls near a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Young girls near a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

In December 2012, few weeks before French forces started to bomb Islamist targets, there were as many as 500,000 Malian refugees and IDPs.

Now, as the stabilisation effort continues with MINUSMA slowly taking over military operations, numbers have reduced to 167,000 refugees in isolated camps in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria and Mauritania. Within the country there are about 200,000 IDPs.

The UNHCR does not recommend a homecoming yet.

“For an organised UNHCR-backed return, there are some protection criterions that need to be met to ensure safety and dignity,” Beer said. A lack of housing and schooling, insecurity and no access to justice have all contributed to the delay in repatriating refugees.

However, it may take longer for the refugees to return home, even if the security issues are resolved. Several U.N. agencies and NGOs have warned that West Africa faces a grave food crisis.

More than 800,000 Malians, according to British NGO Oxfam International, currently need food assistance, and numbers are likely to reach even more critical proportions when food reserves will be empty when the lean season will start in mid-May.

Côte d’Ivoire refugees will also face a challenge. UNHCR Liberia bureau chief Khassim Diagne stated that if their food supply was not increased within two months more than 52,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia would starve.

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Cameroon ‘Safe Haven’ Town Strains Under CAR Refugee Influx http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/cameroon-counts-cost-cars-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroon-counts-cost-cars-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/cameroon-counts-cost-cars-crisis/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 08:50:13 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132982 Abdul Karim arrived in Cameroon’s eastern border town of Garoua-Boula from Central African Republic’s Yaloke district at the end of February as part the largest influx of refugees into Cameroon. In February, some 30,000 refugees — the largest number since the crisis began in CAR last March — crossed the border into Cameroon, according to […]

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Child refugees from Central African Republic in Cameroon’s eastern border town of Garoua-Boula share a plate of rice in the early morning. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Child refugees from Central African Republic in Cameroon’s eastern border town of Garoua-Boula share a plate of rice in the early morning. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
Garoua-Boula, Cameroon, Mar 18 2014 (IPS)

Abdul Karim arrived in Cameroon’s eastern border town of Garoua-Boula from Central African Republic’s Yaloke district at the end of February as part the largest influx of refugees into Cameroon.

In February, some 30,000 refugees — the largest number since the crisis began in CAR last March — crossed the border into Cameroon, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). And the small border town of Garoua-Boulai is struggling to meet the basic needs of both refugees and local residents.“Over 100 trucks came in from CAR with refugees yesterday and some are already arriving today.” -- Ngotio Koeke, the Cameroon Army Commander in Garoua-Boulai

Since their arrival, Karim and 32 members of his family, have been sharing 50-square-metre UNHCR tent, in a temporary refugee camp called Pont-Bascule, in Garoua-Boulai.

“I am here with my two wives, my children, my brother’s children and my mother. We left CAR with nothing. We solely depend on UHNCR for our needs,” he told IPS.

Karim and thousands of others of refugees are waiting for UNHCR Cameroon to register them and find them places to live. According to UNHCR aid workers, several citizens from Chad and Nigeria who were in CAR and fled the violence are currently in Garoua-Boulai.

Violence between Séléka-aligned Muslims and and the anti-Balaka Christian vigilante militias has killed two thousand people and displaced a quarter of the country’s four million population since Séléka rebels staged a coup last March. It is estimated that almost 130,000 refugees from CAR are currently in Cameroon.

Many of the refugees enter Cameroon’s eastern border town of Garoua-Boula  by travelling on the cargo trucks that make deliveries to CAR’s capital, Bangui from Cameroon. Courtesy: Monde Kingsley Nfor

Many of the refugees enter Cameroon’s eastern border town of Garoua-Boula by travelling on the cargo trucks that make deliveries to CAR’s capital, Bangui from Cameroon. Courtesy: Monde Kingsley Nfor

The number fleeing CAR increases daily. Each day hundreds of container trucks from Cameroon’s Douala International Airport make their way into CAR along the Garoua-Boulai highway. And each day almost a hundred trucks return to Garoua-Boulai carrying mainly Muslim refugees brutalised by the anti-Balaka Christian militia.

“Over 100 trucks came in from CAR with refugees yesterday and some are already arriving today. This has been the case since February,” Ngotio Koeke, the Cameroon Army Commander in Garoua-Boulai, told IPS.

Adamu Usman, a truck driver told IPS: “We have been transporting many refugees each time we offload the trucks and return to Cameroon from Bangui [CAR's capital].”

“I can’t estimate how many refugees my truck carries but it could be close to a hundred people.”

He explained that during his most recent trip to CAR, he witnessed some of the most heart-breaking tragedies.

“A pregnant woman on board my truck suddenly began having labour pain and lost her baby before we reached Cameroon,” Usman said.

He explained that when they reached an anti-Balaka blockade and were forced to stop “the anti-Balaka young men entered the truck” and left soon after without harassing anyone because they saw “this woman lying down in blood with a dead baby by her.”

Most of the refugees are indigenous Mbororo people from western and northern CAR who have been targeted by militia groups for their wealth and livestock.

“We did not even know who Séléka was, but now we are the ones to suffer. It is not fair for every Muslim to be hated. We do not even look like the Chadian Muslims in CAR but they still attack us,” a Mbororo refugee named Abdul told IPS.

Abdul says even if the violence stops, he won’t return home.

“I don’t have anything. I left behind a herd of cattle. I will not get it back if I ever go back.”

While adults in the camp worry about the uncertain future that awaits them and their large families in Cameroon, children can be seen staying close to their mothers, sharing meals from common trays, while others play, enjoying their new environment and having numerous playmates.

But the situation in Garoua-Boulai is far from idyllic. The town’s mayor Esther Yaffo Ndoe told IPS that their small community does not have the capacity to deal with the refugees.

“Garoua-Boulia is town with a population of just 40,000 but today we are close to 80,000 people because of CAR crisis … the present needs of the town in terms of health, food and shelter exceed the capacity of the local administration and aid agencies. Refugees have been staying in the temporary site for more than two months today waiting to be transferred on,” Ndoe said.

She said amid the influx of refugees, it was becoming difficult for locals to survive “as scarce resources are now shared with refugees.”

Food has become scarce and the prices of goods and services are increasing. There has been an upsurge in prices of basic foods like rice and maize. A kilogram of rice that used to sell for one dollar, now sells for 1.50 dollars. Maize has increased from 80 cents to one dollar per kg.

But Ndoe complained that the presence of the refugees has increased insecurity and also juvenile delinquency in the town.

Buba, 24, a local farmer and a motorcycle rider in Garoua-Boulai, told IPS that his farm had been vandalised by some of the refugees.

“The sticks I used in the fencing on my farm have been partly destroyed by refugees. My farm is now exposed to cattle [who eat the crop]. Some of the refugees are harvesting premature crops from people’s farms.”

However, many of the refugees are engaged in petty trading, selling firewood and basic foodstuffs to their fellow refugees and to local residents for their survival.

But the health of the refugees is also a concern as many have problems related to malnutrition, diarrhoea, gastrointestinal disorders and malaria, according to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).

“Until the refugees are settled in camps and have access to clean water, sanitation, food and shelter there is also risk of epidemics of cholera, measles and malaria. These risks are increased as the rains have started and vaccination is needed,” Jon Irwin, MSF’s head of Mission to Cameroon, told IPS.

He explained that they were focusing on caring for children suffering from acute malnutrition. According to UNHCR, 51 percent of the refugees from CAR in Cameroon are children under the age of 11.

“Malnourished children are more vulnerable to malaria and chest infections and this is exactly the trend we see with the Central African refugees in Cameroon,” Irwin said.

MSF has called for urgent mobilisation of humanitarian actors and stakeholders so that the necessary resources are made available to the refugee population who are scattered across Cameroon’s border. The MSF mobile clinic, which provides assistance to refugees in different towns and villages along Cameroon’s border, attends to about 70 people daily.

“Logistically, it is also difficult for our teams to provide care to refugees who are disseminated in several locations. We want to provide health care to a maximum number of people but we spend a lot of time travelling in order to access the refugees who need us more,” Irwin said.

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Split over Ukraine Could Undermine Peace in Syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/split-ukraine-undermine-peace-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=split-ukraine-undermine-peace-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/split-ukraine-undermine-peace-syria/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 21:57:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132834 As the protracted Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there seems to be little or no hope of a resolution to the devastating crisis. The death toll has now been estimated at more than 140,000, up from over 100,000 last March, claiming the lives of both rebel and security forces. And according to U.N. figures […]

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Calm and composed, Omar heads a family of seven in his tent at a refugee camp in Jordan, including his elderly mother, Samah. He used to be an Arabic language teacher back in Syria. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Calm and composed, Omar heads a family of seven in his tent at a refugee camp in Jordan, including his elderly mother, Samah. He used to be an Arabic language teacher back in Syria. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

As the protracted Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there seems to be little or no hope of a resolution to the devastating crisis.

The death toll has now been estimated at more than 140,000, up from over 100,000 last March, claiming the lives of both rebel and security forces.

And according to U.N. figures released Tuesday, about 5.5 million children have been reduced to the status of refugees, the economy is in free fall, half of the total population of 22 million are living below poverty levels, about 2.5 million have lost their jobs and unemployment is estimated at 44 percent.

Still, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) remains paralysed and unable to act – and will continue to remain so, since the United States and Russia are now bickering over a new divisive issue: the spreading crisis in Ukraine.

A peace conference in Geneva last month, presided over by Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, ended in shambles.

Three out of the eight children gathered in Omar’s tent said they were continuing their education. One reason for not attending school is the distance, they say, especially for those living in the outskirts of the village like Omar. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Three out of the eight children gathered in Omar’s tent said they were continuing their education. One reason for not attending school is the distance, they say, especially for those living in the outskirts of the village like Omar. Credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

With Ukraine taking centre-stage, says one Third World diplomat, Syria has slipped from the negotiating table.

“The three years of deadly devastation in Syria may soon be a thing of the past – and perhaps forgotten,” he predicted, particularly if the big power confrontation over Ukraine continues to escalate.

Jose Luis Diaz, head of Amnesty International’s U.N. office, told IPS one measure of how outrageous the situation in Syria — and of the complicity of some countries in that tragedy — is that the most the UNSC has been able to achieve in three years is to call on the parties, and principally the Syrian government, to abide by the most basic responsibility.

And that responsibility, he said, “is not letting people die of hunger and lack of medical care.”

After taking a tough stand against Western-inspired moves to punish the government of President Bashar al Assad, Russia and China last month supported a Security Council resolution, adopted unanimously, calling for humanitarian access to Syria.

“We hope Russia and China are taking seriously the UNSC’s intention to ensure its recent resolution on humanitarian access is respected, including if necessary by agreeing further steps against parties that don’t comply,” Diaz added.

Mohammad, one of the Jordanians living in the village, has been trying to assist the incoming refugees. He says that most of the aid goes to the camp, with those living with host communities receiving a minimum, which however does include food vouchers distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). Credit: EC/ECHO/A. Al Sukhni

Mohammad, one of the Jordanians living in the village, has been trying to assist the incoming refugees. He says that most of the aid goes to the camp, with those living with host communities receiving a minimum, which however does include food vouchers distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). Credit: EC/ECHO/A. Al Sukhni

In a hard-hitting statement Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said three years ago, the Syrian people stood up in peaceful protest to demand their universal rights and freedoms.

“In response came brutal force, escalating bloodshed and the devastation of civil war,” he said.

Ban appealed to all warring parties to reflect upon the long and growing list of horrors taking place in Syria every day.

The secretary-general said he “deeply regrets the inability of the international community, the region and the Syrians themselves to put a stop to this appalling conflict.”

Ban specifically appealed to both the United States and Russia to help re-energise the virtually defunct peace process in Geneva.

Diaz of Amnesty International told IPS, “Just as important is that the UNSC follows through on its various statements, including in the latest resolution, that those responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law will face justice.

“We continue to believe the Council should refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

In a statement released Thursday, the New York-based Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect (R2P), said, “Syrians cannot wait any longer.”

The Centre urged the UNSC to demand full implementation, by all parties in Syria, of resolution 2139 (demanding humanitarian access), including the cessation of attacks on civilians, lifting of sieges and facilitation of immediate humanitarian access to all areas of the country.

The Centre also asked the UNSC to authorise targeted sanctions against any government and non-state actors who continue to act in defiance of resolution 2139 and are responsible for mass atrocity crimes; impose an arms embargo on Syria; and refer the Syrian situation to the ICC for investigation, and hold accountable those responsible for mass atrocity crimes.

Additionally, it called for increased efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, including by engaging with all relevant regional powers.

Conscious of the deadlock in the UNSC, the Centre said: “Given the detrimental effects of UNSC division and inaction on Syria, we urge the permanent members of the Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) to commit to refrain from using the veto, in any case where crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or genocide, are occurring.”

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South Africa Battles Drug-Resistant TB http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/south-africa-battles-drug-resistant-tb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-africa-battles-drug-resistant-tb http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/south-africa-battles-drug-resistant-tb/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 10:04:55 +0000 Brendon Bosworth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132655 Despite an increase in diagnosis times, South Africa is facing a growing drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) burden as nationally there remains a large gap between the number of patients diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and those who start treatment. Between 2007 and 2012, recorded cases of MDR-TB, which is resistant to at least two of the […]

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South Africa is battling to reduce its cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) with the success rate for those on treatment at about 40 percent. Miriam Mannak/IPS

South Africa is battling to reduce its cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) with the success rate for those on treatment at about 40 percent. Miriam Mannak/IPS

By Brendon Bosworth
CAPE TOWN, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Despite an increase in diagnosis times, South Africa is facing a growing drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) burden as nationally there remains a large gap between the number of patients diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and those who start treatment.

Between 2007 and 2012, recorded cases of MDR-TB, which is resistant to at least two of the primary drugs used to combat standard TB, almost doubled.

South Africa has improved its ability to test for drug-resistant TB by introducing GeneXpert, a rapid testing machine that can diagnose TB in sputum samples in less than two hours.“We have in South Africa one of the only rising epidemics of drug-sensitive TB and drug-resistant TB. And we are not doing very well at detecting it and treating it.” -- Gilles van Cutsem, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

But in 2012, just 42 percent of patients diagnosed with MDR-TB began treatment, according to government figures. The success rate for those on treatment is about 40 percent.

“If we don’t do something about it now, MDR-TB is going to become XDR-TB [extensively drug-resistant TB],” Dr. Jennifer Hughes, a drug-resistant TB doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IPS. XDR-TB is a strain of TB resistant to at least four of the main TB drugs.

“If we don’t start focusing on how we treat XDR-TB properly as well, we’re just going to drive further and further resistance as we go.”

Treatment Gap

Most of South Africa’s provinces have increased their treatment capacity for MDR-TB patients after the government introduced a 2011 framework for decentralising MDR-TB care. This allows patients to start treatment at sites closer to their homes instead of the country’s few specialised TB hospitals, where a typical stay is six months.

But provision of treatment at primary healthcare level needs to increase, Dr. Norbert Ndjeke, director of the Department of Health’s DR-TB, TB and HIV division, told IPS.

“[Decentralisation] is not moving at the speed we want it to,” admitted Ndjeke. There is no special budget for decentralisation and provincial governments choose how to prioritise their spending, he said.

The number of sites MDR-TB patients can start treatment in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and the Free State provinces has quadrupled due to decentralisation. The number of sites in the Western Cape, for instance, went from four to 17, while Gauteng now has five treatment sites instead of one.

Limpopo Province has not added new facilities, while North West and the Northern Cape provinces have doubled available treatment initiation sites, going from one to two, and two to four, respectively.

When properly implemented, decentralisation can cut the treatment gap.

In Khayelitsha, a large semi-informal township on the fringes of Cape Town, a combination of quicker testing and decentralisation has led to the time between diagnosis and treatment for drug-resistant TB dropping from 73 days to just seven days between 2007 and 2013, according to data by MSF. Ninety-one percent of patients diagnosed with MDR-TB in Khayelitsha in 2013 began treatment.

Ndjeke noted that provisional national data for 2013 indicates that 10,095 MDR-TB patients began treatment. Figures are not yet available for the number of patients diagnosed during that period, but in the first nine months of the year 7,271 patients were diagnosed with MDR-TB, possibly indicating a shrinking gap between treatment and diagnosis.

Accurate recording and reporting of patient numbers and outcomes remains a challenge, and the government is working to improve its systems, he said.

Large Burden

South Africa has the world’s third-largest TB burden, after India and China, according to the World Health Organisation. It also reports the world’s most cases of XDR-TB, a virulent form of the disease that is resistant to at least four of the main TB drugs and has a treatment success rate of less than 20 percent. An estimated one percent of the population of about 51 million develops TB every year.

“We have in South Africa one of the only rising epidemics of drug-sensitive TB and drug-resistant TB. And we are not doing very well at detecting it and treating it,” said Gilles van Cutsem, MSF’s medical coordinator for South Africa and Lesotho, at a media briefing.

Doctors are concerned about the rise in transmission of drug-resistant TB.

When drug-resistant TB started emerging it was mainly due to patients not being able to complete their full course of treatment for standard TB, said MSF’s Hughes. But now most drug-resistant TB transmission happens through people breathing it in from others, she said.

New Drugs Offer Hope 

One of the main challenges for treating drug-resistant TB is that the available drugs come with side effects including nausea, vomiting and permanent deafness, which often deters patients from finishing their treatment course.

“The drugs are horrendous – it’s a terrible regime but it’s the best they’ve got,” Hughes told IPS. On average, patients need to take between 12 and 15 tablets daily for two years, she explained.

South Africa is running a clinical access programme for up to 200 XDR-TB - and pre-XDR-TB patients with limited treatment options for a new drug called Bedaquiline, the first drug designed specifically to treat TB in over 50 years.

One of the features of the drug, which is taken along with other drugs, is that patients get better a lot quicker, said Dr. Francesca Conradie, clinical advisor to Sizwe Hospital, a MDR-TB hospital in Gauteng.

“It’s the first in a pipeline of maybe four or five drugs that will revolutionise the way we treat MDR-TB,” said Conradie.

Based on the outcomes of this initial programme, South Africa’s Medicines Control Council will decide whether or not to register Bedaquiline for use for more patients.

A new regime of drugs for drug-resistant TB patients could be ready by 2022 based on the outcomes of existing trials, said van Cutsem.

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Q&A: Women Hold the Key to Peace in DRC http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/qa-women-hold-key-peace-drc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-women-hold-key-peace-drc http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/qa-women-hold-key-peace-drc/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 09:51:46 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132708 Matthew Newsome interviews MARY ROBINSON, former Irish president and United Nations Special Envoy for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes Region

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Ireland’s former President Mary Robinson has been working hard to include women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes Region in the regional peace-building process. Credit: Matthew Newsome/IPS

Ireland’s former President Mary Robinson has been working hard to include women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes Region in the regional peace-building process. Credit: Matthew Newsome/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
ADDIS ABABA, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Ireland’s former President Mary Robinson has been working hard to include women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes Region in the regional peacebuilding process. Because without their involvement, she says, peace and security in the region will be unrealistic.

As the first female United Nations Special Envoy for the DRC and the Great Lakes Region, she strongly believes that women’s empowerment at a community level is critical.

Robinson, who was Ireland’s first female president from 1990 to 1997, told IPS that she has been taking steps to heighten the inclusion of women in the peacebuilding process and “expects people to start seeing a difference in their own lives, particularly women and girls.”

“And I want governments to continue to understand the importance of their role in implementing their Peace, Security and Cooperation action plan. Their commitments are very specific so we can mark and hold them to account and monitor how they are implemented. That is my task but I also need the support of CSOs, the media and everyone living in the region to make this happen,” she said."Progress would be limited if the vast potential and value of women was not incorporated into the search for durable peacebuilding solutions in the region." -- former Irish President Mary Robinson

Robinson spoke about her launch of the “Women’s Platform for the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework” in conjunction with the Global Fund for Women and other bodies promoting women’s rights and gender equality. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: Why do you think it is important to have more women peace builders?

A: I subscribe to the view that more and more people believe that women and girls are central to peace and development in countries. They are the ones working on peace at a local community level and yet they have never properly been represented in the peace processes, which is usually “bad men forgiving other bad men in front of cameras” as we say.

We also know that women are agents of change and have a great capacity to organise their communities. Progress would be limited if the vast potential and value of women was not incorporated into the search for durable peacebuilding solutions in the region.

Q: You are the first woman to be appointed U.N. Special Envoy. Do you think that there are enough women peace builders in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region?

A: The more women that are involved the better. It is notable that the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appointed more women as special representatives in difficult countries like South Sudan or Liberia. They are doing a good job and making an impact because women understand profoundly the impact that fighting has on families. This is something that women have particular empathy for.

Q: How do you plan to engage non-state actors including CSOs and the media in the region’s peacebuilding process?

A: It’s very important for me to engage civil society and the media in what we are trying to do, which is bringing about peace security cooperation and development in the Great Lakes region – particularly the DRC and Eastern Congo where there has been so much suffering for so long.

I say that because governments have committed both at the regional level and at the national level to take steps on security and have committed to not encourage armed groups in another country, as well as not harbouring those who commit terrible crimes and to work together for development.

They have benchmarks now, which I think are too technical. They need to instead be held accountable by society. To help achieve this I have established a platform for women’s groups to achieve more visibility for what women are doing in tackling gender-based violence in their livelihoods and through greater access to clean energy, etc.

Q: Why is it important to engage non-state actors such as CSOs?

A: We are deliberately taking these steps to make the peace and security process more real for people in the region. We are also going to be working with young people – there is going to be a summit for young people hosted by Kenya in May. I want people to feel that this peacebuilding process is different from previous ones.

I believe that the governments are serious and I think they are also trying to be serious. We ourselves are also engaged, we know what to expect and we will be in a stronger position to hold governments to account because of our work with non-state actors, particularly women and youth.

Q: Do you think peace and security is improving in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region?

A: The framework that I work to, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, is one year old (Feb. 24) and I believe we have achieved a lot in this time period. We have managed to have the M23 rebel group defeated as well as establish a Kampala political agreement so that those who fled to Rwanda and Uganda, are able to return and go through a process of re-integration if they haven’t committed serious crimes. We also have the commitments on the development side.

I am organising a private sector investment conference in May together with the Great Lakes conference because we really need a peace dividend. The World Bank has been engaged, the World Bank president has promised to pledge a billion dollars to fund projects. Those are being worked on in the key countries in the region. I hope that in 2014 we will see a real commitment from governments in the region to end armed groups.

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What We Can Learn from Child Soldiers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/can-learn-child-soldiers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-learn-child-soldiers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/can-learn-child-soldiers/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:46:03 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132618 In 2003, Moses Otiti, a 15-year-old from Uganda, was walking in a group with his father when members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ambushed them. Because he was a child, Moses was the only one to survive. For the next 12 months, he was forced to serve the LRA as a soldier in the […]

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Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 2014 (IPS)

In 2003, Moses Otiti, a 15-year-old from Uganda, was walking in a group with his father when members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ambushed them.

Because he was a child, Moses was the only one to survive. For the next 12 months, he was forced to serve the LRA as a soldier in the rebel group’s war against the Ugandan government.“In the first month when I joined [the LRA], I was not comfortable with the things that were going on, but then I reached a situation where everything became almost normal." -- Moses Otiti

“The reason why they didn’t kill me was because they were really [looking for] people who were young…they really wanted to groom them as soldiers who can fight the battle against the government,” Otiti told IPS.

Conflicts in the modern age are being fought less frequently between states, and more often within them. And with this shift, the use of children in combat has emerged as a striking trend.

Researchers and those who work on the issue of child soldiers say that in conflicts where the phenomenon is present, there is a greater likelihood that mass atrocities will be committed.

“Children don’t have the same capacity to make decisions or to understand what may be right or wrong, or they might not have the same level of life experience or education to determine some of the things that an adult can,” Shelly Whitman, director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, told IPS.

“It is a time when they are very impressionable and they are still figuring out their identity and moral compass.

“Problems of economics, development and social dynamics [are important] to look at as well,” she added. “When we get down to that level, it shows you that there are a whole wider set of problems, it is possible that when that is allowed to happen the [societal] degradation can go further.”

The role of violence

Moses describes the centrality of violence to the recruitment process, explaining how the LRA soldiers threatened to kill him, just like his father, unless he joined their army.

“For them to recruit you, they would cane you until you are at the point where you are about to die, and if you survive that means you can be a soldier. But if you die, that means you would not make a very good soldier…and that would be the end of you,” Otiti told IPS.

A map of where in the world most child soldiers are located. Source: A Window to the World

A map of where in the world most child soldiers are located. Source: A Window to the World

Commanders like children because it is easier to manipulate their psychological capacity to participate in mass atrocities. For example, Cambodian child soldiers under the Khmer Rouge were, as a result of this malleability, more ruthless towards civilians than adult soldiers, state Jo Boyden and Sara Gibbs in their book “Children of War”.

“Children are particularly affected by excessive violence because it occurs at a crucial stage of a human being’s development,” Marie Lamensch, assistant to the director at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), told IPS.

“The environment in which a child grows up affects his cognitive and affective development. Child soldiers, whether they kill or not, are exposed to physical and verbal violence, they are subject to fear and helplessness,” she said. “That trauma will affect the way they react to their environment, now and in the future.”

This is not to say that children do not have morals.

“[Children forced into military service] have their moral compass in the first few weeks of being abducted, and they know what they are doing is wrong, but the more they kill people, the more they rape or do other things like that, their brain and moral compass switches off,” Moses Makasa, director of development for Watoto, a Ugandan organisation which helps to rehabilitate former child soldiers like Otiti, told IPS.

Otiti’s experience echoes this process. “In the first month when I joined them, I was not comfortable with the things that were going on, but then I reached a situation where everything became almost normal,” he said.

“When I joined them (the LRA), I really felt that what they were doing wasn’t right, but then that thought kept on fading away from my mind…[But] I never liked it.”

Moses explained how this fading distinction between right and wrong made life with the LRA easier to manage.

Past, present and future

Several current conflicts display the correlation between child soldiers and the potential for mass atrocities.

South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) are “two situations where grave violations of human rights are taking place and where there is a great danger of mass atrocities,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a meeting of the General Assembly on Jan. 17.

On Feb. 4, the UN also published a special report on children in Syria’s civil war, which indicated the use of children in combat.

In 2002 the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, entered into force.

These outlawed the involvement of children under age 18 in hostilities and made the conscription, enlistment or use of children under age 15 in hostilities a war crime. In 2004, the U.N. Security Council also unanimously condemned the use of child soldiers.

Child soldiers are “the most easily identifiable warning tool” for mass atrocities, said Roméo Dallaire, U.N. commanding officer in the 1994 Rwandan peacekeeping mission, Canadian senator and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, connecting the recruitment of child soldiers as both a precursor and “primary weapon” of the genocide in Rwanda and any potential future genocide.

Since Moses Otiti escaped from the LRA during a firefight with government forces, he has worked to rebuild his life, and is now studying hard to become a doctor.

“When I was still there, there were certain things they would do, like killing people, and that is how I used to understand things. But when I came home…my understanding of taking peoples lives for granted really changed,” he told IPS. “Every person is very important.”

“These children who are suffering so much today are the ones who will either repair those societies or repeat the violence of these societies in the next generation,” Anthony Lake, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, said in February.

If the world does not seriously address the education and rehabilitation of these children, “we are going to lose generations,” he warned.

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If a Two-State Solution Fails, What Next? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/two-state-solution-fails-next/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-state-solution-fails-next http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/two-state-solution-fails-next/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 00:38:02 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132405 The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday. When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 […]

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Gaza women demonstrate to demand release of their loved ones in prison in Israel. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Gaza women demonstrate to demand release of their loved ones in prison in Israel. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday.

When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 percent of U.S. citizens said they preferred a democratic state where Jews and Arabs are equal, against only 24 percent who supported “the continuation of Israel’s Jewish majority even if it means that Palestinians will not have citizenship and full rights.”"We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true.” -- Shibley Telhami

The Barack Obama administration has repeatedly warned both parties that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution to their conflict is closing.

This is widely understood to be driving the frenetic efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cobble together a framework for further talks which he hopes would culminate in a permanent status agreement by the end of 2014. But should these efforts fail, the United States has no alternative to the current two-state formula.

The poll, commissioned by pollster Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, indicates that, as Telhami said, “if the two-state solution fails, the conversation among the American public might shift to that of a one-state solution as the next-best thing.”

In that context, United States citizens hold the value of one person, one vote very strongly. Telhami told IPS that this value was held even among those polled who felt the United States should be favouring Israel over the Palestinians in negotiations.

“We asked if you want the U.S. to lean toward Israel, towards the Palestinians or to stay neutral. As usual, two-thirds want the United States to be neutral and among the rest, most want it to lean toward Israel. So we asked that segment what they would do if the two-state solution was no longer an option. And we still got 52 percent of that segment who would support one state with equal citizenship.

“We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true,” Telhami continued. “A lot of people try to reconcile their support for the cause with their moral view of the world and that view is antithetical with occupation or inequality for many of these people.

“So for them, two states is a way out, where they can say ‘I’m not paying too much attention to occupation now because it will be going away.’ But if the two-state solution goes away then the status quo looks permanent and I think people, even the segment that primarily cares about Israel, will have an issue with that.”

The possibility of the two-state solution finally collapsing seems stronger with each passing day. Despite some positive statements from Kerry and Obama, the sentiments that have been expressed by both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have, almost from the beginning, been pessimistic and accusatory, with each side seeming to jockey for position to avoid blame for what they have portrayed as the inevitable failure of the U.S.-brokered efforts.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the leader of the left-wing Israeli Meretz party that there is strong opposition within the Palestinian Authority to continuing talks beyond the agreed upon deadline of Apr. 29.

Abbas has repeatedly stated that ongoing Israeli settlement construction makes negotiations very difficult for Palestinians and sends the message that while the Palestinian leadership talks with Israel, the Israelis are simply taking the West Bank through settlement expansion.

Bolstering Abbas’ case, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released a report on Monday which stated that starts on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank increased by 123.7 percent in 2013.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday for a meeting with President Obama and the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accused the Palestinians of not doing enough to advance peace talks and called on them to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu vowed to stand firm against pressures on him to make compromises on what he referred to as “our crucial interests. “

Given these stances, it seems there is little hope for Kerry’s dogged efforts. Obama warned of the consequences of failure in an interview published Sunday with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg when he said “if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction…If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Indeed, this poll shows that even within the United States, fallout will be a factor.

“Americans still have a generally favourable view of Israel and think it ought to live in peace and security,” Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, told IPS.

“But much of that support is fairly soft, and most Americans do not support backing Israel no matter what it does. This latest poll confirms that basic view, and suggests that Israel cannot count on deep U.S. support if peace talks fail and its control over the West Bank and/or Gaza becomes permanent.”

But Leon Hadar, lecturer in Israel Studies at the University of Maryland and senior analyst with Wikistrat, disagrees and believes this poll does little but satisfy the “wishful thinking of some.”

“My guess is that most Americans would support the establishment of a democratic and liberal system here, there and everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia, Congo, and certainly China,” Hadar told IPS.

“But the main problem is that there is no constituency in the U.S. or for that matter among the Israelis and the Palestinians advancing such a formula. That’s very different from the South Africa story when you had powerful constituencies in this country, including Congress, pushing for that.”

Telhami disagrees. “It may not have a direct impact on foreign policy. I don’t expect even 80 percent support for a single, democratic state will mean the White House and State Department will suddenly support it. But it results in a lot of civil society pressure.

“U.S. foreign policy is based on a lot of considerations, and domestically it is more responsive to groups that are better organised and today that means groups that are supportive of Israeli government positions. But I think the discourse itself will alter the priorities and put a lot of strain on the relationship.

“This will mean pushing the government to act on this issue. We see it now, with academic boycotts and boycotting of settlement products. Those things can happen at a level that changes the dynamic of policymaking.”

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Political Wrangling Stymies CAR Peacekeeping Force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/political-wrangling-stymies-car-peacekeeping-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=political-wrangling-stymies-car-peacekeeping-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/political-wrangling-stymies-car-peacekeeping-force/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:21:48 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132355 Budget constraints in Washington and obstinacy at the highest levels of the African Union (AU) have combined to dangerously delay a possible U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to sources close to negotiations currently underway in New York. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was set to deliver his report on CAR […]

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Flee or die: refugees from CAR in Cameroon. Credit: European Commission/cc by 2.0

Flee or die: refugees from CAR in Cameroon. Credit: European Commission/cc by 2.0

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2014 (IPS)

Budget constraints in Washington and obstinacy at the highest levels of the African Union (AU) have combined to dangerously delay a possible U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to sources close to negotiations currently underway in New York.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was set to deliver his report on CAR to the Security Council this past Friday.“We agree with the principle of African solutions to African problems, but it should not come at the expense of African lives.” -- Philippe Bolopion

But the document, believed to contain a damning portrayal of ethnic cleansing and atrocities as well as a recommendation for an official mission, was held up at the last moment and delayed to this week, raising fears that its language could be toned down to accommodate the reservations of the U.S., AU and others.

Whatever the immediate outcome, the struggle illustrates an evolving and at times tense relationship between the Security Council, a more assertive AU and the U.N. over interventions on the continent.

“The reality is that a U.N. mission is absolutely essential to stabilising CAR, and the secretary-general’s reporting is spot-on as to the desperate situation on the ground,” said a high-ranking human rights officer in Bangui who spoke with IPS on the condition of anonymity.

But there is hope that this time Ban will not wilt in the face of pressure.

In December, with violence ratcheting up, the Security Council, after initially considering a French proposal for a full mission, chose instead to mandate and enlarge the existing AU mission in the country – thereafter called MISCA – and authorise the deployment of French “Sangari” troops, currently numbering 2,000.

The move saved hundreds of millions of dollars in the short term, but has proved a stop-gap measure.

Underpinning the tension between the AU and the U.N. is a push by the Africans and international partners to encouraged “African solutions to African Problems,” in this case, letting MISCA handle its mandate without calling in the U.N.

“We agree with the principle of African solutions to African problems, but it should not come at the expense of African lives,” said Philippe Bolopion, U.N. director of Human Rights Watch.

CAR “is not the time or the place for the AU to make a point,” Bolopion told IPS. “It’s pretty clear that the AU-French combination on the ground is not enough to protect civilians. A huge chunk of the Muslim population has had to flee under their watch.”

Smail Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, speaks to journalists following a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic on Feb. 20, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Smail Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, speaks to journalists following a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic on Feb. 20, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

In April, 700 EU troops are set to spell French troops stationed the Bangui airport, allowing the Sangaris to travel out into more rural areas where the peacekeeping presence is thin and small bands of lightly armed Christian anti-balaka militias can wipe out entire villages.

In an interview with African Arguments, Amnesty International’s senior investigator Donatella Rovera said neither the French nor AU forces, by now numbering 6,000, have been effective.

“The military efforts belonged to the AU and French and they have had huge coordination problems,” said Rovera. “They weren’t present where things were happening, when they could have made a difference, when they could have stopped some of the massacres. They did not seem to be very willing to confront the new actor.”

The small U.N. political mission already in place, BINUCA, is grossly underfunded and ineffective at fulfilling its basic mandate. At the time of the December vote, observers expressed concern to IPS that without a bona fide, well-funded intervention, though violence might be temporarily snuffed out, the inequities and development shortfalls that led to the crisis would kicked down the road.

At the time, logistical concerns were also raised: where would an already overextended Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) raise troops?

Money was an issue as well: in the U.S., which funds over one-quarter of peacekeeping operations, Congress would soon set a 2014 budget that left a 12-percent funding gap in their dues and allocates exactly zero to a recently announced mission in Mali. How could they afford another venture in CAR?

Yet later that month, the Security Council saw fit to increase the number of peacekeepers in an already in-place mission in South Sudan. Many wondered if CAR was being shortchanged.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who has publicly pleaded the case of CAR before the Council, was put in an awkward position by budget considerations. In a workaround, the U.S. provided 100 million dollars of direct assistance to a trust fund set up for MISCA, thereby making themselves investors in their success alone.

But MISCA is in many ways a poster child for AU stubbornness.

“It is important to remember that the MISCA mission has been around in various forms since 1996, so this is a country where many of the officers have been posted often. Many even learned [the local language] Sango,” said the human rights official in Bangui.

“The AU itself is very much opposed to a U.N. mission because they want to claim success in CAR and want to keep the MISCA mission, which suits the U.S. as well,” said the official. “The AU has long misrepresented the reality on the ground.”

In December, the AU’s envoy to the U.N., Smaïl Chergui, brushed aside accusations that Chadian MISCA troops had repeatedly attacked civilians in CAR. But last week, Chadian troops were again charged by locals with killing three civilians in a Christian neighborhood of Bangui.

At a Jan. 14 meeting of the AU’s Defence Committee, Chergui told gathered ministers in Addis Ababa “we are hopeful that we will soon significantly improve the security situation and prove the prophets of doom wrong.”

Yet in February, the U.N.’s refugee agency and the human rights group Amnesty International identified rampant ethnic cleansing against the country’s Muslim minority.

After an initial bout of violence committed by predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels left a thousand dead in December, the French Sangaris set about disarming and arrested the group, who had held power in Bangui since taking the city in March.

At the time, observers, including U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, expressed concern over the potential for revenge killings against Muslims in areas vacated by the Seleka. Those fears proved disastrously correct and peacekeepers proved no match for containing disparate but potent attacks by Christian anti-balaka militias.

In Bangui, where upwards of 150,000 Muslims lived prior to the conflict, by some accounts fewer than 10,000 remain.  Palm fronds hanging outside houses in formerly diverse neighbourhoods indicate where Christian families have seized a home deserted by their former neighbours, either murdered or attempted to flee, likely to Cameroon or Chad.

At least 100,000 Muslims have left the country entirely and countless displaced persons have fled to the bush.

In December, members of the Security Council explained their piecemeal solution to the violence in CAR by pointing to the six-month time frame for implementing a full U.N. mission. But three months later the same reasons are given for dampening hopes of a mission now.

Though the French have publicly spoken in favour of an official mission, they remain in delicate negotiations with regional power-broker Chad over existing missions in Mali and their basing rights in the country.

And they, like the AU, have reason to want the current mission to be seen as a success. President Francois Hollande, who visited Bangui Friday, wants to impress a sceptical populace after he made interventions in former colonies a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

Earlier this month, out of sight of peacekeepers, 70 Muslims were killed over the course of two days in the southwest town of Guen, made to lie down on the ground then shot one by one.

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