Inter Press Service » Active Citizens News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 May 2017 10:56:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible! Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at and find more information on the Summit at

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Mauritian Farmers Go Smart Tue, 26 Apr 2016 04:28:42 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally 1 Unsung Heroes of Rural Resilience Fri, 22 Apr 2016 06:13:43 +0000 Friday Phiri 1 HIV Time Bomb Ticks On Thu, 21 Apr 2016 06:48:39 +0000 Naimul Haq 0 Champions of Hygiene Wed, 20 Apr 2016 05:43:21 +0000 Moraa Obiria Hildah Kwamboka shows how the innovative water spitting jerrican works. Credit: Moraa Obiria/IPS

Hildah Kwamboka shows how the innovative water spitting jerrican works. Credit: Moraa Obiria/IPS

By Moraa Obiria
NAKURU, Kenya, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

Lydia Abuya, a tenant living in the Kaptembwa informal settlement west of Nakuru town, leaves one of the six on-plot toilets. She returns with a pail of water to splash away the waste.

This kind of a toilet, in this densely populated low income area, is now saving hundreds of residents from the spread of diarrhoea and cholera, very common with presence of a pit latrine which was earlier available for her use. Let alone the suffocating odour, overflowing faeces and fear of children playing in the filth.

But this pour flush toilet, as it is called, has given Abuya and 15 other tenants in the plot a new meaning to their lifestyle.

Soon as she finishes pouring the water, she heads to a five-liter jerrican hung outside the wall of the toilets, pulls off a stick covering a hole made on the lower side of the container and lets out water to wash her hands.

“This is our sink. Nowadays, it is our routine to wash our hands once we leave the toilet. Earlier we ran away because of the strong smell that made you hold your breath while inside the toilet,” she told IPS while shying away from the camera.

Her landlady Hildah Kwamboka who has lived in the area since 1990 does a daily inspection of the facilities to ensure their cleanliness. She says the improved toilets have brought forth a change in her compound. “A lot has changed since they (tenants) started using these new facilities late last year. You cannot see any faeces anywhere in this compound. The pit latrines were unclean which encouraged some to soil the open spaces within the compound, “says Kwamboka who is now a hygiene champion.

In the East African nation, county governments are now responsible for provision of sanitation services formerly administered by local authorities. This follows transfer of functions under devolved governance enacted in 2010 Constitution.

According to Nakuru county public health regulations, pit latrines are not permitted in the urban set up. However, they make up 63 per cent of sanitation facilities in Kaptembwa and its neighbouring informal settlement — Rhonda. Pour flush toilets connected to septic tanks or sewer lines are allowed but in these areas pit latrines put up with planks and mud is a common sight that is slowly fading away.

Worse still is the fact that more than 10 households equivalent to users exceeding 40 people share one latrine as indicated in Practical Action’s 2012 baseline findings. This is against the UN habitat recommendations of one toilet for 20 people or four households.

While Kwamboka has made a leap in bringing her tenants closer to achieving the sixth sustainable development goal on accessing and enjoying better sanitation services, her efforts are as a result of a partnership between Practical Action,Umande Trust and Nakuru county’s department of health.

She is a beneficiary of a Comic Relief-funded project themed ‘realising the right to total sanitation’ which the partners implemented in Kaptembwa and Rhonda — highly dense low income settlements — where approximately 140,000 people live.

The project utilised an innovative approach — community led total sanitation — which involves mobilising communities to identify their sanitation problems and address them using own local resources.

With the project, the partners sought to eradicate all urban forms of open defecation, promote better solid waste management activities and proper hygiene behavior.

Achieving these involved educating the locals on maintaining a clean environment and observing high hygienic standards. Also, facilitating landlords to construct improved toilets and provide innovative hand washing solutions such as the water spitting jerrican hang on the wall of Kwamboka’s toilets.

“We introduced a loan facility in which we linked landlords to K-Rep bank from which they borrowed loans at 7.5 per cent interest. And at the end of the project 17 of them had borrowed a sum of up to Sh 4.8 million (US $ 47,300) constructing 43 new improved sanitation units,” said Patrick Mwanzia, the senior project officer for Practical Action’s urban water sanitation and hygiene and waste programme.

Mwanzia, however, says they entered into a memorandum of understanding with the lending institution to continue offering land owners tailor-made loans to specifically meet costs of constructing or upgrading sanitation facilities.

Between March 2012 and January 2015, the partners sensitised more than 135,000 people who have now become agents of change for the provision of sanitation services and adherence to high hygienic standards.

“There was a positive reception from the communities which resulted to construction of 2,204 sanitation facilities with 58,260 people within the plots directly benefitting,” said Mwanzia.

According to United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, only 15 per cent of the 9,126 villages in Kenya had been targeted to eradicate open defecation by 2014.This means thousands of rural and urban residents live with exposure to open space faecal disposal.

“I can now stand outside with a plate of food and eat peacefully. There is no stench or disturbance of flies. Life is more comfortable and bearable, “notes Hesbon Nyambare, a beneficiary of the project.

He is in charge of 35 rental houses and his house is adjacent to six newly built pour flush toilets which cost him Sh 100,000 (US$985). He completed the construction in mid-2015.

While deputy Nakuru county public health officer, Daniel Mwangi, acknowledges the existing gaps in observing recommendable levels of sanitation in the informal settlements, he says enlightening locals on sanitation and hygiene is key since it unlocks their power to engage in proper sanitary activities.

“We have seen tremendous changes following the implementation of the project. Defecation in areas where it was so rampant has declined significantly,” he observes.

He adds that: “There is a challenge of landlords ignoring rules and regulations but we are committed to keeping them within the laws. The law has to be enforced”.

Even so, the locals reversing their habits remain a concern that the county government hopes to address through the hygiene champions trained under the project.


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Not So Smart Idea Thu, 14 Apr 2016 05:59:20 +0000 Manipadma Jena 0 Conserving the Hilsa Tue, 12 Apr 2016 05:37:56 +0000 Rafiqul Islam 0 Ethiopia’s Smoldering Oromo Mon, 11 Apr 2016 04:31:40 +0000 James Jeffrey 7 OPINION: Why South Africa Must Not Lose Plot on Civil Society Tue, 05 Apr 2016 15:35:19 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana and Teldah Mawarire Mandeep Tiwana & Teldah Mawarire work for CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa]]>

Mandeep Tiwana & Teldah Mawarire work for CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa

By Mandeep S.Tiwana and Teldah Mawarire

South Africa celebrated human rights month this March with President Zuma recalling the “heroism of our people who stood up for their rights.” However, this same month which commemorates the sacrifices of those who took part in the struggle against apartheid and those who died in the Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960 was not a happy one for today’s civil society activists and organisations engaged in defending human rights. Two shocking incidents raise troubling questions for the future of civil society in the country.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

A day after observing national human rights day, the land and community rights activist Sikhosiphi Rhadebe was brutally assassinated near his home. A day before national human rights day, the offices of the venerable Helen Suzman Foundation were robbed of their equipment, including computers containing information about politically sensitive cases being pursued by the organisation.

Sikhosiphi Rhadebe was the chair of the Amadiba Crisis Community (ACC), which has led a campaign for several years to protect the ecologically fragile Xolobeni area of South Africa’s pristine Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape province from harmful mining activities. The struggle of the ACC is a principled one. It opposes mining on the grounds that it will adversely affect local agricultural activities and potentially lead to forced displacements.

Sikhosiphi Rhadebe was rallying the local population against the activities of Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM), a South African subsidiary of the Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities (MRC) which wants to mine the shoreline for titanium. His killing with eight gunshots to the head by suspects masquerading as police is not the first instance of violence against those who oppose the mining activities – community activists have reported being subjected to lethal attacks and raids on their houses by local authorities – but it is probably the most brutal.

Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire

Two days prior to the attack on Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, in a robbery orchestrated with military precision, several computers and important documents were taken from the offices of the Helen Suzman Foundation in the upmarket Parktown area of Johannesburg. The Foundation had recently challenged in the High Court regarding the fitness to hold office by the head of the country’s premier investigation agency, Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation also known as the Hawks.

With its mission to promote and defend constitutional democracy, the Helen Suzman Foundation has been involved in a number of high profile cases, including acting as amicus curie or friend of the court in the case involving the non-compliance by South Africa’s government with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir. In a consequential ruling, a few days before the robbery, the Supreme Court of Appeal held the government’s failure to arrest war crimes suspect, Omar Al Bashir when he visited South Africa to attend an African Union Summit in 2015 as “inconsistent with its constitutional duties.”

Both of these instances raise worrying concerns among civil society in South Africa about the price of taking on the rich and powerful. A joint statement issued by 82 organisations after the assassination of Sikhosiphi Rhadebe points out, “For years, poor people’s movements in different parts of the country have experienced regular harassment, intimidation, detention and violence against their members. It is worst felt when the media are far away and when the victims are poor, black or rural, and when major industries stand to make billions in profit.” This sentiment is borne out of the fact that there have been no convictions for the pre-orchestrated massacre of 34 miners by police in Marikana over three years ago. Those who died in Marikana were seeking a wage increase from the profitable and politically well- connected Lonmin mine.

As the Helen Suzman Foundation case shows, it’s not just activists and organisations deep in South Africa’s hinterland who face intimidation. The Pretoria based Southern Africa Litigation Centre which is working with the Helen Suzman Foundation on the Al Bashir case has been subjected to derogatory rhetoric by several political figures who have questioned its sources of funding to insinuate that it is operating at the behest of foreign governments. A civil society statement following the not-so-ordinary robbery at the Helen Suzman Foundation, executed by well-dressed suspects who knew exactly what they were looking for, laments that the ‘raid’ happened in “a context of increasing hostility by some within the state towards civil society.”

Civil society organisations have urged South African authorities to thoroughly investigate Sikhosiphi Rhadebe’s murder as well as the attack on the Helen Suzman Foundation with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice. Positively, the murder case of Sikhosiphi Rhadebe has now been taken over by the Hawks but there are few indications that the Helen Suzman case will receive urgency.

While Sikhosiphi Rhadebe‘s murder and the Helen Suzman raid are serious setbacks for civil society, in a positive development South Africa voted in favour of a landmark resolution on the protection of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In this instance, South Africa broke ranks with its BRICS partners, China and Russia, who sought to undermine the protection of rights defenders by proposing several hostile amendments to the text, which were overruled. The resolution supported by South Africa recognises the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders, expresses grave concerns at the risks faced by them and their families and calls upon states to take all necessary measures to ensure their rights and safety. It is now up to the country to reflect on what this means in reality, with the Rhadebe and Suzman incidents being cases in point.

With the country facing several tests in its nascent 21 year old democracy, the role of civil society in dealing with poverty and inequality while addressing gaps in governance and social cohesion is ever more relevant. So far, despite challenges, South Africa’s myriad – and vibrant – civil society groups have been more or less able to publicly express their concerns and get on with their work to advance human rights and social justice. But the events of this March could mark a turning point. Tellingly, there has been no public condemnation of the two shocking incidents by any senior government official.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban ki Moon has called civil society, the ‘oxygen of democracy’, lauding its role as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth. With its raging contemporary debates on corruption, economic downturn, racism and student protests, South Africa needs its civil society more than ever to come up with innovative solutions to complex national problems. Let’s hope the democratically elected leaders of the country are paying attention. Implementing the recent UN resolution could be a good start.


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Temple Tantrums Tue, 05 Apr 2016 06:10:27 +0000 Neeta Lal 0 The Arab Spring: Five Years On Fri, 01 Apr 2016 13:20:04 +0000 Ugo Tramballi is senior correspondent andcolumnist for the Italian daily Sole 24 Ore.]]> An Egyptian man riding a scooter and wearing a traditional fez known locally as a “tarboush” in Tahrir square Cairo, October 20, 2015.

An Egyptian man riding a scooter and wearing a traditional fez known locally as a “tarboush” in Tahrir square Cairo, October 20, 2015.

By Ugo Tramballi
Apr 1 2016 (Longitude - Italy)

Five years ago the Arab world blew up, and the flames are still raging. What at first had been euphoria quickly turned to chaos. What cannot be denied, though, is that the uprisings were the spark of an epochal change.

There is no law or decree in Egypt – by now back to a sense of normality – which does not claim to be taken in the name of the January 25 Revolution. This event has created around it a rhetoric in apparent contrast with the real importance of what it would celebrate. But were the events of Tahrir Square really a revolution, or just a student uprising? Whichever way the experts define it, along with the upheavals in the whole region, it is still a question as to whether it was a catastrophe or a historic step for the Arab world.

Five years after the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, which began in December 2010, and the Revolt of Tahrir Square, which erupted shortly afterwards in Cairo on January 25, 2011, the memory of these events has blurred. Shortly after Egypt, rebellions took hold in Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In some countries they turned into civil war, in others they were quickly repressed. The only thing that that everyone seems to agree on is that the Arab Springs – as they were called, imagining them to be something like the Prague Spring of 1968 against the Soviet yoke – have been a failure. The only country spared was Tunisia, but only because it is small, with an educated population, religiously and ethnically homogeneous, and not so geographically strategic as to possesses natural resources that could entice others in the region and the world.

Five years after Tahrir, Egypt’s President General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, formerly a general, has essentially imposed a restoration after a period of unrest and a shortlived government of the Muslim Brotherhood, democratically elected but inept. The Sisi regime is more illiberal than that of Hosni Mubarak, which the crowd had overthrown five years ago: the laws are more repressive, most opponents are in prison, and freedom of the press has disappeared. Any criticism is punished as if it were an act of terrorism against the state. But Sisi has the consent of the majority of Egyptians in search of order and stability. His seizure of power in the summer of 2013, against the Muslim Brotherhood, was a brutal coup d’état in every sense. But it was supported by millions of Egyptians who demanded the military release Egypt from chaos.

Elsewhere other “springs” have been a complete disaster. They toppled dictatorial regimes – or, as in Syrian, weakened it – but they did not create democratic forms of government. On the contrary, they have paved the way to anarchy combined with tribal, sectarian and Islamic extremism. Many are convinced that without the great upheaval of 2011, there would be no Islamic State today. It would seem that the dictators of before were better; they managed to control systems and ommunities unprepared for democracy. In short, the riots have shown that the Arab Middle East is not ready, and perhaps never will be, to accept social and political systems that were better than what it had. In some ways, this is a modern form of that old lens full of stereotypes, through which we have always observed the Levant: Orientalism.

Yet the facts would seem to support this view. Today there is no Arab country that is better off than it was in 2010. The only one, Tunisia, is a victim of recurring Islamic terrorism that was not as aggressive before the revolution. But all this is true only if you look at the short-term history, following the daily news of a nascent political process full of fits and starts.

The French Revolution broke out in 1789: there was the Terror followed by the Thermidor, Napoleon, and the Restoration. European states, enemies and friends of France, took advantage of the uncertainty as today Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Qatar are exploiting the instability in Syria, Iraq and Libya, as well as the weakness of Egypt. Then there was 1848: the year of European revolutions, which broke out spontaneously and without a common design, resembling the Arab world in 2011. Then came Napoleon III, and only the birth of the Third Republic in 1870 put an end to the process begun by the Revolution 81 years ago.

Nowadays television and the internet have accelerated the dissemination of information and increased the volatility ofpolitical developments. But before establishing the futility, or worse, the danger of the Arab Spring, we must look to a time frame outside that of journalism. Dictators who were swept away by the uprisings of 2011 were not the alternative to the Arab Springs, but rather their cause. They prevented the modernization and gradual opening of their civil societies; they refused reforms, transforming economic growth into a gift that the leader bestowed on his subjects; they prevented the consolidation of a healthy relationship between state and religion. Because of them, it was inevitable that sooner or later these countries would explode. It was just a matter of time – whether in 2011, or 2015, or later – before those regimes failed under the crust of apparent social order. If today Tunisia is the only democratic model that has come out of the revolts, then this is mainly because its leader from 1957 to 1987, Habib Bourguiba, was the only Arab dictator to have really modernized his country, creating a school system and giving women a role in society.

Yet through protests or with weapons, through a painful political evolution or a tragic bloodbath that still continues, the revolutions of 2011 represent a turning point that the Arab world can no longer avoid. If the French Revolution is the universally recognized barometer for the transition from one historical epoch to another, the Arabs will count their modernity (or post-modernity, if you will) from the Springs.

This story was originally published by Longitude, Italy

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Saving Children’s Lives Through Drones Mon, 28 Mar 2016 09:59:40 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri The drone took 10 minutes to cover 10 km. Photo Credit: UNICEF

The drone took 10 minutes to cover 10 km. Photo Credit: UNICEF

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
LILONGWE, Malawi, Mar 28 2016 (IPS)

The first successful test-flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone was an unhindered 10 km journey from a community health centre to the Kamuzu central hospital laboratory in the capital Lilongwe. Local community members watched with excitement as the drone rose into the sky, after being launched by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and government of Malawi at the area 25 health centre.

The first of its kind in southern Africa, the US manufactured machine was on trial till March 18 to determine if it could replace other modes of transporting dried blood samples from rural clinics to the main laboratories for early HIV screening in children.

UNICEF together with the manufacturer — Matternet — hope this innovation will help solve logistical problems in Malawi’s rural areas due to the bad state of roads and high costs of diesel fuel, among others.

Currently, motorcycles and ambulances are used to transport blood samples between clinics and take up to 11 days to reach the respective testing centers and two months for the results to come back. The longer the delay between the test and results, the higher the default rate of the patient.

According to government figures, 10, 000 children died of Aids-related illnesses in Malawi in 2014. Screening of HIV in children with HIV positive mothers is a little more complicated than that of adults as it requires more sophisticated machinery, which is hard to access for most rural people due to distance.

UNICEF and the Malawi government expect this machine, which is operated through a mobile phone app, will in the long run replace motorbikes and reduce waiting times for results, thereby cutting costs in accessing test results (and later treatment) if children are found HIV positive.

Matternet’s machine will be carrying about 1 kg of the blood samples from rural clinics to main laboratories across the country. This is another innovation from UNICEF after it launched the rapid SMS programme in 2010 with the same aim of speeding up the process of HIV testing and treatment among children.

The drones are said to be cheaper to run than motorbikes because they only need electricity to recharge the battery, unlike motorbikes which use a lot of fuel and need constant maintenance. Nevertheless, their purchasing costs could be a hindrance as each drone costs MK5 million (equivalent to US$7,000).

However, health authorities believe the advantages of drones outweigh the costs. The ninister of health, Peter Kumpalume, said “it is specialist testing that we do for youngsters. If you delay giving them treatment most of them won’t live beyond two years age. So the earlier the detection and the earlier the intervention, the longer they live and become productive citizens of the country.”

He added that this would not be the first time Malawi would be making history in the HIV sector: “Malawi has pioneered a number of innovations in the delivery of HIV services including the Option B+ policy which puts mothers on a simple, lifelong treatment regime. We have also pioneered the delivery of results from the central laboratory to the health facilities through text messages. We believe our partnering with UNICEF to test UAVs is another innovation and will help in our drive to achieve the country’s goals in HIV prevention and treatment.”

Kumpalume furthermore noted that the new innovation was in line with the Malawi government’s 90-90-90 agenda: “Government intends to achieve the 90-90-90 target where 90 per cent of Malawians know their HIV status, to have 90 per cent of all those diagnosed with HIV receive sustained anti-retroviral treatment, and 90 per cent of people on ART to have viral suppression”, he said.

UNICEF’s representative in Malawi, Mahimbo Mdoe, said HIV is still a barrier to development in Malawi. “In 2014, nearly 40,000 children in Malawi were born to HIV positive mothers. Quality care of these children depends on early diagnosis. We hope that UAVs can be part of the solution to reduce transportation time and ensure that children who need it, start their treatment early,” said Mdoe.

Malawi has a national HIV prevalence rate of 10 per cent — still one of the highest in the world. An estimated 1 million Malawians were living with HIV in 2013 and 48,000 died from HIV-related illnesses in the same year.

Whilst progress has been made, and today 90 per cent of pregnant women know their HIV status, here is still a drop off with testing and treating babies and children. The drone tests over the next week will measure the equipment’s performance with differing winds speeds, humidity and distance and if the results prove positive, the experiment will be expanded.

The test, which is using simulated samples, will have the potential to cut waiting times dramatically, and if successful, will be integrated into the health system alongside others mechanisms such as road transport and SMS.

UAVs have been used in the past for surveillance and assessments of disaster, but this is the first known use of UAVs on the continent for improvement of HIV services Matternet co-founder Paola Santana said it would be easier to use the machines in Malawi because of its closely located health structures. Apart from Malawi, UAVs are also being used in Haiti, Papua New Guinea and Switzerland.


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Tree Regeneration Restoring Hope Fri, 25 Mar 2016 07:25:01 +0000 Charles Karis 0 Reaping the Gender Dividend Mon, 21 Mar 2016 11:07:09 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

For the first time, an all-female flight crew recently operated a Royal Brunei Airlines jet from Brunei to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Such a feat certainly appears noteworthy in a country where gender segregation is pervasive. When women are still not permitted to drive a car; where there are separate entrances for men and women in banks, is there a possibility of an all-female crew operating a Saudi Airlines plane from Jeddah to Brunei? Not immediately, as there are disturbing signs that the limited gains on the gender front might face reversals.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

To be sure, official Saudi attitudes to female pilots are not that rigid as is the case with women driving passenger cars. A couple of years ago, a Saudi woman, Hanadi al-Hindi, became the first to be licensed to fly and she has been followed by others. This was largely because of pressure from a billionaire who wanted her to pilot his small and wide-bodied luxury planes. But the numbers of female pilots are still too small to envision an all-female flight deck crew operating the national flagship carrier. Reform to ease the rigours of gender discrimination is still twisting in the wind.

Paradoxically, Saudi women occupy only 13 per cent of job positions in the private and public sector despite accounting for 51 per cent of graduates according to the central department of statistics and information. More and more women are getting educated both at home and abroad but their participation in the labour market is limited. Only 2 per cent of lawyers in the country are women. Women vote and participate in elections. But only 18 per cent of them in the age group 15-59 years are either employed or looking for work. Their rate of joblessness among women is high at 33 per cent.

How does one interpret these dismal numbers? A conservative view is that women are not used to working and have got used to stay at home. Another is that the 33 per cent number reflects a desire on their part to search for work. An unemployed person is not only out of work but is also actively searching for it. The high rate of unemployment thus reflects a situation where job openings are much less than the demand for work. The bogey that they prefer to stay at home is not quite true as more and more women are getting out of the house to take up or seek employment.

According to an article by Elizabeth Dickinson in Foreign Policy, two-income families have become the norm in Saudi Arabia. As many as 1.3 million out of 1.9 million women in the workforce are married. The latest numbers also indicate that the number of female employees rose by 48 per cent since 2010. These trends are very much in line with economic development and urbanisation. The growing number of nuclear families with both the husband and wife working to support a middle-class standard of living has been observed elsewhere in the developing world.

Interestingly, the current juncture of low oil prices offers the best prospect for Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries in West Asia to reap a gender dividend. Oil prices have fallen off the cliff from over $114 per barrel in June 2014 to $40 per barrel. They are expected to stay low in the near future as well, which seriously strains the finances of the Saudi government. With back-to-back double digit budgetary deficits – the gap between dwindling revenues from selling cheaper and cheaper oil and rising expenditures, the decks are being cleared for swingeing cuts in subsidies and reform.

So long as crude prices remain low, Saudi Arabia’s royal family must look to a future beyond oil. Following Thomas Friedman’s first law of petropolitics, there is an inverse relation between oil prices and economic freedom and reform. Reformists like Muhammad bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defence minister are now talking about diversifying into mining, subsidy reforms, expanding religious tourism, leveraging unutilised assets, among other ideas. Foreign investments are being attracted. The big global banks are opening branches in the royal kingdom.

More jobs in the private sector are bound to be created. Unlike in the past when expatriate labour would take them up, the preference now is for using educated Saudi youth. Employing more Saudi women could be part of this emerging scenario. But this is not a done deal as the Saudi government is desperately trying to control the supply of oil to ensure that prices head up from $40 a barrel to a more comfortable range of $60 to $80 a barrel. Leading oil producers thus are contemplating a freeze in output when meet in Doha on April 17. Rising and high oil prices weaken the hand of reformers.

There are signs that this is already happening with the return of more conservative elements. The limited gains in on the gender front in Saudi Arabia thus are tenuous when compared to the situation in other Gulf economies like Bahrain. Even in Iran, the situation is much better. UAE recently appointed women as state ministers for happiness, and tolerance and a 22 year-old to head youth affairs. In contrast, the only female deputy education minister in the Saudi government lost her job last year. An all-female Saudi fight deck crew might have to wait for some more time!


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Myanmar’s Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis Thu, 17 Mar 2016 06:53:13 +0000 Maung Zarni Dr Maung Zarni is a non-resident research scholar, Sleuth Rith Institute, (A permanent Documentation Centre of Cambodia) & former visiting lecturer, Harvard Medical School, USA]]> Dr Maung Zarni is a non-resident research scholar, Sleuth Rith Institute, (A permanent Documentation Centre of Cambodia) & former visiting lecturer, Harvard Medical School, USA]]> 0 Turkey’s Crackdown on the Press Mon, 14 Mar 2016 06:10:50 +0000 Joris Leverink 0 Palestinian Refugees from Syria Fri, 11 Mar 2016 07:09:36 +0000 Silvia Boarini 1 Public Primary Boarding Schools in Pastoral Communities Mon, 07 Mar 2016 06:49:20 +0000 Miriam Gathigah 0 Anti-Mining Protests in Turkey Book Temporary Victory Fri, 04 Mar 2016 06:35:24 +0000 Joris Leverink 0 Schools are in for Summer Wed, 02 Mar 2016 06:43:39 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai Taliban-damaged school in Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Taliban-damaged school in Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Mar 2 2016 (IPS)

“We are extremely jubilant over the rebuilding of our school that the Taliban destroyed it in 2013, due to which we used to sit without a roof,” Mujahida Bibi, a student of 8th grade in Government Girls Middle School North Waziristan Agency, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency — one of the seven districts called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) — has been the headquarters of the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan. Since the launching of military operations in June 2014, this area has been cleared and activities are rapidly returning to normal.

Like Bibi, Abdul Qadeem, 16, is also enjoying his new school, in the adjacent South Waziristan Agency. “Taliban damaged our school in 2012 due to which the rich students shifted to other safer areas to continue studies while we the poor ones stayed in the roofless building for three years,” Qadeem, a ninth grader, told IPS. The school was rebuilt three months ago. “Now students are enthusiastic to study,” he added.

Fata located alongside the Afghanistan border was thick with militants since 2002, when the Taliban government was toppled by US-led forces. The militants were forced to cross over to Pakistan and take refuge in the sprawling Fata.

From 2005, they started attacking government-owned buildings, schools, hospitals and offices not only in Fata but also in the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of Pakistan’s four provinces, in their bid to deprive the people of modern education, which they considered against Islam.

However, with the Taliban’s defeat at the hands of Pakistan army, the reconstruction of the schools began. Taliban damaged a total of 750 schools, including 500 in Fata and 250 in KP. In Fata, 17 per cent of the destroyed schools have been rebuilt, mostly through assistance by donor agencies. “We have deployed 10,000 paramilitary troops to protect the schools from militant attacks,” Javid Shah, an education officer, told IPS.

Before military operations, Taliban blew up schools at their own will, especially those for girls, because Taliban were under misconception that female education was disallowed in Islam, said Shah, adding that “there are several stances that when the authorities rebuilt a school, the militants destroyed it again.” Besides, putting in place security measures, we have also involved local people to protect the schools, he elaborated.

According to him, committees comprising, local elders and officials, have now been entrusted with the responsibility to take measures for security: “the committees have deployed local people as watchmen to protect the schools in nights, because all the destruction was carried out by Taliban after evening.”

The KP government has also completed reconstruction of the 200 schools, Education Minister Atif Khan told IPS. “We have allocated $60m for reconstruction of schools. Only 50 Taliban-damaged schools remained to be rebuilt”, he said. Standard operating procedures have also been issued to the concerned authorities to prepare security plan for educational institutions in their respective areas.

“Under the Sensitive and Vulnerable Establishments and Places (security) Act, we have also asked the private sector to improve security of schools by ensuring installation of CCTV cameras, deployment of security guards and increasing height of the boundary walls up to 10 feet,” he added.

Musarrat Naseem, 13, is also among the fortunate students who have started studying in a new school in the Khyber Agency of Fata. “Our school was destroyed in 2012 due to which we faced hardships. We often took classes under trees in summer and in the sun in winter because of unavailability of required facilities,” said Naseem an 8 grader. Fata has a total of 5,572 educational institutions which have around 574,512 students. “Number of students has increased in our school after its rebuilding. Students from remote areas are also coming to seek admission here,” Samir Ahmed, a teacher in Mohmand Agency of Fata, told IPS.

Taliban destroyed 127 schools in Mohmand Agency, of which 99 have been rebuilt, he said. About 10 per cent students have left schools because of the lack of building and security but now there is boom in admission, he said, elaborating that “parents are coming in droves to enroll their kids in school.” Free books and uniforms have been provided to encourage the poor people to put their children in schools.

Abdul Wakeel, a mechanic in Bajaur Agency, Fata, says that his three children read in a government-run school which was destroyed three years ago: “Since its rebuilding three months ago, my kids are very happy.”

The Taliban wanted to eliminate schools and send our children back to the Stone Age but we are determined to thwart their conspiracies and provides better education to our generation, Wakeel stated, arguing that “we can defeat Taliban militants through education”. Taliban’s campaign against schools has triggered a desire for education among children. Taliban inflicted losses on the poor but their intentions have been exposed. Parents are eager to see their wards educated, he added.


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