Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 13:59:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Leaked Internal Documents Show U.N. Ignored Child Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 20:07:08 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140861 Anders Kompass, Director for Field Operations and Technical Cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was asked to resign after leaking the report on child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Anders Kompass, Director for Field Operations and Technical Cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was asked to resign after leaking the report on child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

Leaked United Nations documents show high-level staff knew of abuses by soldiers in the Central African Republic and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports.

The documents, released Friday by the organisation AIDS-Free World as part of their Code Blue campaign, implicate the U.N. in making no attempt to stop the ongoing crimes or protect children, and then scrambling to cover up inaction.

“The documents indicate a total failure of the U.N. to act on claims of sexual abuse, even when they know that U.N. involvement might be the surest route to stopping crimes and ensuring justice,” said Paula Donovan, AIDS-Free World’s co-director, in a statement.

Included in the leak is Anders Kompass’ own account of the events, which shows his claim that he was asked to resign by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was acting on a request from the head of U.N. Peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous.

Another revelation is an email chain involving Joan Dubinsky, Director, U.N. Ethics Office; Susana Malcorra, Chef de Cabinet, Executive Office of the Secretary-General; Carman Lapointe, Under Secretary General for Office for Internal Oversight Services; and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the subject “CONFIDENTIAL — Call from DPR Sweden regarding Anders Kompass”, dated Apr. 7-10, 2015, detailing discussions across U.N. departments about Kompass’ case.

AIDS-Free World suggested that the latest documents bring into question the independence of the U.N.’s Office for Internal Oversight Services and Ethics Office, which is supposed to operate at arm’s length from the rest of the U.N. system, to ensure accountability.

The documents show that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

“By agreeing to be interviewed by the UN, the children expected the abuse to stop and the perpetrators to be arrested. When children report sexual abuse, adults must report it to the authorities. A child needs protection and, by definition, does not have the agency to decide whether to press charges. They deserved the protection they assumed they would receive once the UN knew of their abuse,” AIDS-Free World said in a statement.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan Continues to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 22:22:13 +0000 Ann-Kathrin Pohlers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140844 Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

By Ann-Kathrin Pohlers
MUNICH, Germany, May 28 2015 (IPS)

After peace talks failed earlier this month, the ongoing conflict in South Sudan between government forces and opposition forces that began at the end of 2013 is having a severe impact on the country’s food security and civilian safety.

While fighting continues, widespread burning, destruction, and looting of property have aggravated the efforts of both sides to gain control of the oilfields in the north of the country.

"South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses." -- Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan
“South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses,” Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan, based in Nairobi, told IPS.

To date, 10,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes.

Aid organisations are calling this a severe humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried the brutal violence against civilians and children, including the burning down of entire villages and the rapes and murders of women, and children as young as seven years old, over the past few weeks.

The states of Unity and Jonglei are the worst affected. It is unclear exactly who is responsible for the violence and destruction of property.

An estimated 13,000 children under 15 years of age have been recruited by both government and opposition forces, an act that constitutes a war crime, not only in South Sudan but also according to international law.

Another concern is the displacement of civilians and destruction of agriculture.

“People should be planting crops right now, instead they are fleeing,” Pawel Krzysiek, a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, told IPS.

With the rainy season fast approaching, farming communities in Unity State need to plant their crops now to ensure decent harvests, something they cannot do due to the fighting. Many people have little choice but to depend on food aid.

According to Oxfam,  two-thirds of the population is now food insecure, with 7.8 million people in “Phases 2, 3 and 4 of food insecurity.”

The number of hungry people is projected to rise to 4.6 million by the end of July, accounting for 40 percent of the population. The rights group further estimates that 800,000 people have reached “emergency levels of hunger, facing extreme and dangerous food shortages.”

An Oxfam statement released Wednesday cautioned that this latest analysis “was undertaken before the recent escalation of the war, so it is expected that for thousands of people in South Sudan, the outlook is now even worse.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Children have been badly hit, with malnutrition at a “critical level” in 80 percent of all counties in the Greater Upper Nile, Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states.

Dependence on food aid will only increase now with worsening displacement – gaining access to those most in need is becoming increasingly difficult, aid workers say.

“ICRC is providing food and medicine for about 120,000 people. Many of them are displaced as a result of the fighting, which is challenging our aid workers,” Krzysiek says.

More than two million people are displaced, about 500,000 of them are completely cut off from services.

Besides civilians, aid organisation now find themselves affected, with ongoing violence limiting both the options and capacity of various humanitarian groups.

According to Krzysiek, medical facilities in Unity State and Jonglei State were attacked, targeted and detroyed. Aid organisations were forced to evacuate staff to ensure security.

ICRC was forced to move its base from the city of Kodok to Oriny to the disadvantage of civilians.

“The hospital of Kodok is the only one in its region and therefore very important. People now have even more limited access to health services and food because of the country‘s insufficient infrastructure,” Jean-Yves Clemenzo, based at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, told IPS.

Humanitarian organisations putting their operations on hold could spell disaster for the roughly 50 percent of South Sudan’s 12 million who are almost entirely dependent on the delivery of aid supplies.

UNICEF estimates it will distribute aid to meet the humanitarian needs of children alone to the tune of 165 million dollars by the end of 2015.

Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the continous deterioration of the conflict. Over the last couple of months, dozens of cases have been documented in which civilians were arrested arbitrarily, beaten up or tortured by unidentified forces.

“It looks like we are seeing a repeat of late 2013, when government forces moved through these areas burning, looting and destroying large parts of it,” Wheeler told IPS.

South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, in a moment that marked the end of a two-decade-long war for independence, which claimed 2.5 million lives. But peace was short-lived.

In December 2012 a power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his then-vice president Riek Machar escalated after Machar was accused of attempting to depose Mayardit.

War broke out once again on Dec. 15, 2013, and since then the world’s ‘newest country’ has been consumed by a tide of violence.

Back in March 2015, peace talks hosted by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa failed.

In response, the United Nations security council imposed sanctions on the country, in a resolution that threatened travel bans and asset freezes on individuals or entities “responsible for, complicit in, or engaged directly or indirectly in actions or policies threatening the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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ACP Aims to Make Voice of the Moral Majority Count in the Global Arenahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140829 Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, May 27 2015 (IPS)

“Four decades of existence is a milestone for the ACP as an international alliance of developing countries,” Dr Patrick I. Gomes of Guyana, newly appointed Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, said at the opening of the 101st Session of the group’s Council of Ministers.

“With the organisation currently repositioning itself for more strategic engagements with regards to its future, this is an opportunity not only to review the past, but also to project to the decades ahead, especially in terms of how to be effective and better respond to the development needs of our member countries in the 21st century,” he added.“From the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player” – Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers

The meeting, which opened May 26, brought together more than 300 officials from the ACP group who are determined to put an emphasis on re-positioning the ACP group as an effective player in a challenging global landscape.

At the group’s 7th Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Equatorial Guinea in December 2012, the group issued the Sipopo Declaration which noted that “at this historic juncture in the existence of our unique intergovernmental and tri-continental organisation, the demands for fundamental renewal and transformation are no longer mere options but unavoidable imperatives for strategic change”.

Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers, told the opening session of this week’s Council meeting that “from the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player.”

A key focus of the 40th anniversary is how to enhance regional and intra-ACP relations in order to better position the ACP group to deliver on development goals in the post-2015 era, starting with playing a decisive role at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as at the U.N. Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be held in New York in September.

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

For ACP Secretary-General Gomes, the most critical meeting for the group will be the 8th ACP Summit, which had originally been scheduled to be held in November in Suriname before that country had to withdraw due to multiple commitments.

Inviting member countries to step forward and offer to host the event, Gomes said that the 8th Summit “must be a beacon that refines our strategic policy domains for the next decade and project a powerful political vision to serve the ACP in our engagement with the European Union.”

More importantly, that summit would provide the strategic direction and financial commitment necessary to build the capacity of the ACP group to address the development needs of its populations.

Viwanou Gnassounou of Togo, ACP Assistant Secretary-General for Sustainable Economic Development and Trade, told IPS that the group “will be fully engaged in 2015 in high-level negotiations not only calling for a strategic approach but also trying to raise our common voice in a more holistic manner.”

He said that the ACP is finalising a position paper to be presented in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, as well as at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi in December.

Participants at the Council of Ministers meeting agreed that the plethora of priorities facing the ACP today calls for widening its partnership with the European Union and beyond, embracing the global South as well as emerging economies with greater determination, and promoting South-South and triangular cooperation.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement which currently governs relations between the ACP and the European Union expires in 2020 and the ACP Secretariat has commissioned a consultancy exercise to formulate the ACP Group’s position future relations with the European Union.

The ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers, which meets May 28, is expected to place a special focus on migration and discuss recommendations from an ACP-EU experts’ meeting on trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants following the unacceptable loss of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea as people try to reach Europe.

The two sides are also expected to exchange views on the broad range of issues affecting the ACP-EU trade relations at multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as financing for development as a follow up to the ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-Development Agenda approved in June 2014, which called for “an ambitious financing framework to adequately tackle sustainable development issues and challenges.”

In this context, the declaration said that a “coherent response based on a global comprehensive and integrated approach, fuelled by traditional and innovative financing solutions and governed by principles for efficient resource use seems the most appropriate way to finance sustainable development.”

Edited by Phil Harris  

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When Kenyan Children’s Lives Hang on a Driphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140785 Prof Grace Irimu shows IPS a drip feed bag and a copy of Kenya’s ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’ as she explains the importance of intravenous treatment in saving the lives of young children affected by acute watery diarrhoea. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Prof Grace Irimu shows IPS a drip feed bag and a copy of Kenya’s ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’ as she explains the importance of intravenous treatment in saving the lives of young children affected by acute watery diarrhoea. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 23 2015 (IPS)

Acute watery diarrhoea is a major killer of young children but misunderstanding over the benefits of fluid treatment is preventing many Kenyan parents from resorting to this life-saving technique and threatening to reverse the strides that the country has made in child health.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, released in April this year, reports that the country’s under-five mortality rate fell to 52 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014, down from the 74 deaths in 2008-09, but still far from the 32 per 1,000 live births targeted under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).“Parents must … understand that rapid fluid treatment is life-saving for children diagnosed with shock or poor blood circulation due to diarrhoea” – Prof Grace Irimu, Associate Professor of Paediatrics, University of Nairobi

The primary treatment for acute watery diarrhoea is rehydration, administered intravenously in the most severe cases of very young children suffering from shock after losing excessively high quantities of body fluids. A fluid bolus – or rapid liquid dose – delivered directly through an intravenous drip allows a much faster delivery than oral rehydration.

However, notes nurse Esther Mayaka at the Jamii Clinic in Mathare, Nairobi, “parents of children brought to hospital with acute watery diarrhoea are refusing to have them put on [drip] fluid treatment and this is a major concern because diarrhoea is a leading killer among children and giving fluids is still the main solution.”

She told IPS that the ongoing rains and floods in many parts of the country “have created a comeback for diseases like cholera whose most telling sign is watery diarrhoea which needs to be managed with fluids.”

In February this year, Kenya’s Director of Medical Services, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, issued a cholera outbreak alert following an increase in cases of acute watery diarrhoea in several counties, including Homa Bay, Migori and Nairobi.

According to Prof Grace Irimu, Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Nairobi, the reluctance to resort to drip fluid treatment has arisen due to misunderstanding generated by a Fluid Expansion As Supportive Therapy (FEAST) study in 2011 to establish whether the bolus technique was the best practice to use among children diagnosed with shock.

The FEAST study, which was conducted among children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, found that fluid boluses increased 48-hour mortality in critically-ill children with poor blood circulation or shock in these resource-limited settings in Africa, but Irimu told IPS that the study excluded diarrhoea and only studied illnesses associated with fever, such malaria and sepsis.

“Parents must therefore understand that rapid fluid treatment is life-saving for children diagnosed with shock or poor blood circulation due to diarrhoea,” she said.

The Kenya Paediatric Association is also trying to set the record straight and, in a statement shared with IPS, the association reiterated that “diarrhoea complicated by severe dehydration is one of the biggest killers of children globally.”

According to the paediatrics association, the FEAST study excluded children with diarrhoea and dehydration because “the value of giving fluids in this group is well known. Giving appropriate fluid therapy is essential.”

Prof Irimu told IPS that the FEAST study had led to a revision of the ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’, Kenya’s national guidelines for paediatric care, and clauses that address the treatment of diarrhoea were also revised.

Previously, a child diagnosed with shock as a result of diarrhoea would be given fluids in three cycles, every 15 minutes depending on the response. Now, the child receives the fluids in two cycles and if there is no response, health providers are advised to proceed to slower fluid administration where the child is given the amount that the body needs, depending on the level of dehydration.

Meanwhile, the country continues to make strides in dealing with HIV/AIDS – another critical health issue covered by the MDGs – among children. Studies show that the number of children with HIV aged between 18 months and 14 years fell from 184,000 in 2007 to 104,000 in 2012, according to the most recent Kenya Aids Indicator Survey.

However, Prof Joseph Karanja, a reproductive health and HIV/AIDs expert in Nairobi, says that the country can still do better because “through available antiretroviral drugs as a preventive measure among HIV positive mothers, HIV transmission to the infant can be reduced to as low as one percent.”

Dr Pauline Samia, a paediatric neurologist and a board member of the Kenya Paediatric Association, says that there is also a commitment to address conditions that challenge the management of HIV among children such as epilepsy.

“Though research in this area is limited, an estimated 6.7 percent of children with HIV also have epilepsy, with at least 50 percent of children with HIV having central nervous system problems such as delayed development, behavioural challenges and convulsions,” she observes.

Regarding progress in other MDGs, some progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of underweight children less than five years of age, one of the goals set for eradicating extreme hunger and poverty.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reports that not only has childhood malnutrition declined significantly, from 35 percent in 2008 to the current 26 percent, but the prevalence of underweight children also decreased from 16 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2014.

On the front of improving maternal health, the survey says that while maternal mortality remains high at 488 deaths in every 100,000 live births, in the past five years more than three in five births (61 percent) took place in healthcare facilities, a marked improvement compared with the 43 percent in 2008.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Slum-Dwelling Still a Continental Trend in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 22:47:28 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140782 Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 22 2015 (IPS)

Nompumelelo Tshabalala, 41, emerges from her dwarf ‘shack’ made up of rusty metal sheets and falls short of bumping into this reporter as she bends down to avoid knocking her head against the top part of her makeshift door frame.

“This has been my home for the past 16 years and I have lived here with my husband until his death in 2008 and now with my four children still in this two-roomed shack,” she told IPS.

Tshabalala lives in Diepkloof township in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a densely populated informal settlement – a euphemism for slums, where an estimated 15 million of the country’s approximately 52 million people live, according to UN-Habitat, the U.N. agency for human settlements.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe has an estimated 835,000 people living in informal settlements, according to Homeless International, a British non-governmental organisation focusing on urban poverty issues. “Local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs” – Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust

“Slum-dwelling here in Africa has become normal, a trend to live with, which is difficult to combat owing to numerous factors ranging from political corruption to economic inequalities necessitated by the growing gap between the rich and the poor,” Gilbert Nyaningwe, an independent development expert from Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Overall, out of an estimated population of 1.1 billion people, Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, reports UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Worldwide, notes the U.N. agency, the number of slum-dwellers now stands at 863 million and is set to shoot up to 889 million by 2020.

Development agencies in Africa say slum-dwelling remains a continental trend despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goals targets compelling all countries globally to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

According to the United Nations, that 100 million target “was met well in advance of the 2020 deadline”, and in African countries such as Egypt, Libya and Morocco the total number of urban slum dwellers has almost been halved, Tunisia has eradicated them completely, and Ghana, Senegal and Uganda have made steady progress, reducing their slum populations by up to 20 percent.

However, sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest rate of “slum incidence” of any major world region, with millions of people living in settlements characterised by some combination of overcrowding, tenuous dwelling structures, and poor or no access to adequate water and sanitation facilities.

Hector Mutharika, a retired economist in late Malawian President Kamuzu Banda’s government, blamed poor service delivery for the increase in slums in Africa.

“The increasing numbers of slum dwellers in Africa is due to poor service delivery here by local authorities which more often than not worry most about filling their pockets from local authorities’ coffers instead of channelling proper housing facilities to poor people, which then pushes homeless individuals into building slum settlements anywhere,” Mutharika told IPS.

For Rwandan civil society activist Otapiya Gundurama, the roots of the problem go far back in time. “Shanty homes in Africa are a result of the continent’s urban infrastructure set up during colonial rule at which time housing and economic diversification were limited, with everything related to urban governance centralised, while towns and cities were established to enhance the lifestyles and interests of a minority,” Gundurama told IPS.

Some opposition politicians in Africa, like Gilbert Dzikiti, president of Zimbabwe’s opposition Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (DARE), see the trend of growing slums here as a result of government failure. “The perpetual rise of slum settlements in Africa testifies to persistent failure by governments here to invest in both rural and urban development,” Dzikiti told IPS.

African civil society leaders blame rising unemployment on the continent for the continuing rise in the number of slums. “Be it in cities or remote areas, slums in Africa are a result of huge numbers of jobless people who hardly have the means to upgrade their own dwellings,” Precious Shumba, director of the Harare Residents Trust in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

In order to reverse the trend of growing slums across the continent, Shumba said, “local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs.”

African slum-dwellers like South Africa’s Tshabalala accuse city authorities of ignoring the mushrooming of informal settlements for selfish reasons.

“Slums here are sources of cheap labour that keeps the wheels of industry turning, which is why local authorities are not concerned about our living standards because they [local authorities] are getting more and more revenue from firms thriving on our sweat,” Tshabalala told IPS.

Meanwhile, rising slum settlements in Africa are also having a knock-on effect for other development goals in the education and health sectors for example.

“The United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal attainment of primary education for all by the end of this year is certainly set to be missed by a number of countries here in Africa, especially as many of these sprouting slum settlements have no schools to help the children growing in the communities get any education,” a senior official in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

At the same time, “there are often no toilets, no water and no clinics in most slum-dwelling areas here, exposing people to diseases, consequently derailing the MDG of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in informal settlements,” Owen Dliwayo of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Ethiopia’s First Film at Cannes Gives Moving View of Childhood, Genderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:11:45 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140769 A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

By A. D. McKenzie
CANNES, May 22 2015 (IPS)

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape. These are the three stars of Lamb, a poignant film directed by 36-year-old Yared Zeleke and Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.

The film was warmly received at its premiere this week, with the director and cast receiving applause. It is slated for general French release later this year, Zeleke said.“I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother ... I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me” – Yared Zeleke, director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first film at Cannes

Shot in the highlands and forests of northern and central Ethiopia, Lamb tells the story of nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) and his beloved pet, a sheep named Chuni. The animal follows Ephraim around like a devoted dog, and plays the role of best friend, albeit one who can only say “ba-ah”.

When the film begins, we learn that Ephraim has lost his mother in an ongoing famine and, in order to survive, his father has decided to take him to stay with relatives in a remote but greener region of their homeland, an area of intense beauty but increasing poverty. Ephraim will have to stay there while his father seeks work in the city, not knowing when he can return.

The relatives are an intriguing bunch. There’s the strict farmer uncle who thinks Ephraim is too girly (the boy likes to cook), his wife who’s overworked and worried about her small, sick child, a matriarchal great aunt who tries to keep the family in line with a whip, and an older girl cousin – Tsion – who spends her time reading and with whom Ephraim eventually bonds.

Soon after arriving in their midst, Ephraim is told by his uncle that he will have to learn what boys do: he will have to slaughter his pet sheep for an upcoming traditional feast.

The news pushes Ephraim to start devising ways to save Chuni, and that forms the bulk of the storyline, while the film subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Throughout it all, the magnificent rolling hills are there, watching.

We learn in passing that Ephraim is half-Jewish through his mother, whom the relatives refer to as “Falasha people”; but Zeleke says that this is not at all meant to signal division, because Ethiopians generally do not identify themselves by religious affiliation. In fact, the Christian relatives all seem to have admired the mother.

They attribute Ephraim’s skill at cooking to her teaching, and some of the most moving moments are centred on food – feeding and being fed by a loved one.

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of ‘Lamb’, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

The film is dedicated to the director’s grandmother, and another striking element is how sympathetically women are portrayed, although Zeleke told IPS that this was probably done more “semi-consciously” than on purpose.

“A lot of the writing process for me is intuitive,” he said in an interview. “But I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother whom I’m named after and who was known for her great storytelling. I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me.”

In Lamb, Tsion – played by the smouldering Kidist Siyum – is shown as smart and knowledgeable, but her love of reading is considered useless by the family because it does not get the back-breaking household chores done. Ephraim’s ability to cook and sell samosas on the market is seen as more helpful, drawing attention to some of the burdens of childhood in poor countries.

Tsion is eventually pushed to make a sad choice, leaving Ephraim more alone than ever, but the film ends on an upbeat note, with the possibility of acceptance. A simple and unforeseen act of kindness towards Ephraim by Tsion’s abandoned suitor might trigger most viewers’ tears.

As a first feature, Lamb is a glowing success for Zeleke, who grew up in central Addis Ababa and went on to study film-making at New York University, after a first degree in natural resource management and an attempt at a Master’s in agri-economics at a Norwegian university.

“I always wanted to work with Ethiopian farmers, and to tackle the biggest issue facing our country, but in the end, I made up a film about them instead,” he told IPS.

With his credible story and the feel of authenticity, the director shows that he knows his culture and people, while the loving attention to the landscape and the tight focus on his characters also reveals confidence and vision.

Members of the cast equally turn in a fine performance.  Amare Rediat is affecting and sincere as Ephraim, with his huge expressive eyes, and Siyum has a coiled energy that conveys the frustration of a bright girl expected to marry and “breed” quickly because that is her only fate.

Produced by Slum Kid Films – an Ethiopia-based company that Zeleke co-founded with Ghanaian producer Ama Ampadu and which works to support the country’s film sector – Lamb was shown in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard category. This section highlights daring, innovative, off-beat works, and Zeleke’s film certainly fits the bill.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*   This article is published in association with Southern World Arts News (SWAN).

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Burundi Leader, Stifling Attempted Coup, Cracks Down on Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 21:06:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140732 A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkuruziza, who narrowly avoided his removal from office by a citizen-backed military coup, has turned against the media that closely reported the day to day protests.

Nkuruziza was out of the country in Tanzania at a meeting of East African leaders when he learned that hundreds of Burundians were cheering his overthrow and thousands were fleeing into exile. Upon his return he quickly regrouped, dismissing the defence and foreign ministers and attacking news outlets.

A press release from the Committee to Protect Journalists recapped: “In recent days, at least five radio stations were attacked during violence over an attempted coup in the capital, Bujumbura, and threats were made against a newspaper which caused it to stop publishing, according to reports.”

“We call on the authorities and the citizens of Burundi to respect the role of journalists and the media during these uncertain times, when a consistent flow of information is vital,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator. “Attacking news outlets is never a solution, especially when citizens need to know what is happening around them and those in power should be listening to what their people are saying.”

Last Thursday, unidentified individuals fired grenades into the compounds of privately owned stations Bonesha FM, Renaissance Radio and Television, Radio Isanganiro, and the privately owned Burundian station African Public Radio, according to reports. Another report on Thursday said that the offices of African Public Radio had been burned down, with a report saying that it had been hit by a rocket. None of the stations are currently operating.

In Burundi, where Internet penetration was only 1.3 per cent in 2013 according to the International Telecommunications Union, radio is the primary source of news.

Meanwhile, elections are going forward next month despite an outcry from citizens that the president was seeking a third term in office in violation of the constitution.

Requests that the elections be postponed were most recently received from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Previous requests came from the Burundi’s Catholic hierarchy and the U.S. State Department, among others.

President Nkuruziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, in his first public address, thanked loyalist forces for crushing the attempted coup. He warned demonstrators to end weeks of protests against his bid for a third consecutive term in office.

Nkuruziza, who uses Twitter, then sent the following tweet: “I ask all Burundians to keep calm. The situation is under control.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kenyans Attack Food Insecurity with Urban Farms and Sack Gardenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/kenyans-attack-food-insecurity-with-urban-farms-and-sack-gardens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyans-attack-food-insecurity-with-urban-farms-and-sack-gardens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/kenyans-attack-food-insecurity-with-urban-farms-and-sack-gardens/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 19:52:20 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140724 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 19 2015 (IPS)

In the midst of one of Africa’s largest slums, vegetables are growing.

It began as a French initiative to support jobless youth after a spasm of post-election violence in 2008 – and feed them at the same time.

The ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept, introduced by the NGO Solidarites International, makes it possible to grow food in small spaces and save money for other purchases. In Mathare, Kiambiu and Kibera slums, with close to 3 million inhabitants, Solidarités has brought sack-gardening to about 22,109 households, directly benefitting over 110,000 people.

The upright urban farms in Kibera consist of a series of sacks filled with manure, soil and small stones that enable water to drain. From the tops and sides of these sacks, referred to as multi-story gardens, Kibera farmers grow kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, vegetables and arrowroot which sprout from the tops and sides.

Today, Kibera has thousands of sack gardens spread across 16 villages in the slum, according to Douglas Kangi, principal agricultural officer on the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Project at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Across Africa, informal growing operations are expected to become critical in the coming years. With a constant stream of people leaving the farms for the cities, the continent’s urban population is set to top 700 million by 2030 up from 400 million today and 53 million in 1960, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

City farming, either in sacks or on small bits of land, has taken root in Cameroon, Malawi and Ghana with 25 to 50 percent of all city households said to be engaged in food cropping. In Malawi, 700,000 city dwellers have home gardens. In Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some schools have their own gardening programmes.

Meanwhile, in Mali, farmers with small plots are still reeling from a recently-published agreement between Mali and Libya which gave a 50-year, renewable lease for 100,000 hectares of rich farmland to Libya free of charge, water rights included, in exchange for the building of an irrigation system and other infrastructure needed to grow rice and raise cattle.

The land in question is located in the Office du Niger, the agricultural heart of the West African country and responsible for most of the country’s food.

With the current chaos following Qadaffi’s ouster and death, and a punishing drought, the prospect of a major displacement of the Malian farmers seems dim. Still, tens of thousands of poor families live and grow crops on the land but are uncertain what their future holds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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African Women Mayors Join Forces to Fight for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:45:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140678 Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 18 2015 (IPS)

When some 40,000 delegates, including dozens of heads of state, descend on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year, a group of African women mayors plan to be there and make their voices heard on a range of issues, including electrification.

The mayors, representing both small and big towns on the continent, are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy.

“In my commune, only one-fifth of the people have access to electricity, and this of course hampers development,” Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal in Cameroon, told a recent meeting of women mayors in Paris.“As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope” – Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal, Cameroon

Mbock Mioumnde was one of 18 women mayors at last month’s meeting, hosted by Paris mayor Anne Hildalgo and France’s former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who now heads the Fondation Énergies pour l’Afrique (Energy for Africa Foundation).

Organisers said the meeting was called to highlight Africa’s energy challenges in the run-up to COP 21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and which has the French political class scrambling to show its environmental credentials.

Mbock Mioumnde told IPS in an interview that clean, renewable energy was a priority for Africa, and that political leaders were looking at various means of electrification including hydropower and photovoltaic energy and, but not necessarily, wind power – a feature in many parts of France.

“We plan to maintain this contact and this network of women mayors to see what we can accomplish,” said Mbock Mioumnde. “As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope.”

Hidalgo, the first woman to hold the office of Paris mayor, said she wanted to support the African representatives’ appeal for “sustainable electrification”, considering that two-thirds of Africa’s population, “particularly the most vulnerable, don’t have access to electricity.”

Currently president of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), Hidalgo said it was essential to find ways to speed up electrification in Africa, using clean technology that respects the environment and the health of citizens.

The mayors meeting in Paris in April also called for the creation of an “African agency devoted to this issue” that would be in charge of implementing the complete electrification of the continent by 2025.

Present at the conference were several representatives of France’s big energy companies such as GDF Suez – an indication that France sees a continued business angle for itself – but the gathering also attracted NGOs which have been working independently to set up solar-power installations in various African countries.

“I’m happy that women are organising on this issue. We need solidarity,” said Hidalgo, who has been urging Paris residents to become involved in climate action, in a city that has come late to environmental awareness, especially compared with many German and Swiss towns.

“The Climate Change Conference is a decisive summit for the planet’s leaders and decision-makers to reach an agreement,” Hidalgo stressed.

Climate change issues have an undeniable gender component because women are especially affected by lack of access to clean sources of energy.

Ethiopian-born, Kenya-based scientist Dr Segenet Kelemu, who was a winner of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, spoke for example of growing up in a rural village in Ethiopia with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.

“I went out to collect firewood, to fetch water and to take farm produce to market. Somehow, all the back-breaking tasks in Africa are reserved for women and children,” she told a reporter.

This gender component was also raised at a meeting May 7-8 in Addis Ababa, where leaders of a dozen African countries agreed on 12 recommendations to improve the regional response to climate change.

The recommendations included increasing local technological research and development; reinforcing infrastructure for renewable energy, transportation and water; and “mainstreaming gender-responsive climate change actions”.

The meeting was part of a series of ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)’ workshops being convened though June 2015 in Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East. The CVF was established to offer a South-South cooperation platform for vulnerable countries to deal with issues of climate change.

In Paris, Hidalgo’s approach includes gathering as many stakeholders as possible together to reach consensus before the U.N. summit. With Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome, Italy, she also invited mayors of the “capitals and big towns” of the 28 member states of the European Union to a gathering in March.

The mayors, representing some 60 million inhabitants, stressed that the “fight against climate change is a priority for our towns and the well-being of our citizens.”

Hidalgo’s office is now working on a project to have 1,000 mayors from around the world present at COP 21, a spokesperson told IPS. The stakes are high because the French government wants the summit to be a success, with a new global agreement on combating climate change.

Borloo, who was environment minister in the administration of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, used to advocate for France’s “climate justice” proposal, aimed at giving financial aid to poor countries to combat climate change.

Calling for a “climate justice plan” to allow poor countries to “adapt, achieve growth, get out of poverty and have access to energy,” Borloo was a key French player at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that conference ended in disarray. The question now is: will a greater involvement of women leaders and mayors make COP 21 a success?

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Burundi President, with Shrinking Pool of Support, Faces Ousterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-president-with-shrinking-pool-of-support-faces-ouster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-president-with-shrinking-pool-of-support-faces-ouster http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-president-with-shrinking-pool-of-support-faces-ouster/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 20:31:30 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140636 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 14 2015 (IPS)

The days of African presidents rewriting the constitution to crown themselves Presidents for Life may be coming to a close but Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza appears to have missed the signs of this historical shift.

Opposition to his tone-deaf overreach for an unconstitutional third term now includes religious leaders, members of his party, members of the military and a wide swathe of the population.

Even a finger-wagging message from the U.S. was studiously ignored.

Now, street protests have turned deadly as the president’s remaining loyalists turned their guns on unarmed civilians marching with hands up in the iconic “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Whatever happens in Burundi, this development sends a strong message to other African presidents who may be tempted to cling to power against the will of the people,” said Maud Jullien, a reporter for the BBC in the Burundi capital of Bujumbura.

Recent images of Burundians carried on television, showed crowds of cheering people marching through the streets and chanting “No to a Third Term”. One young man stopped to tell a reporter: “It’s the people’s victory. We fought and were shot at. We didn’t eat but in the end, victory is ours.”

As in Burkina Faso, which recently sent its president packing, military leaders in Burundi have moved into the vacuum left by Nkurunziza who was outside of the country at a meeting of East African leaders in Tanzania when the coup was announced. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Maj Gen Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief and ally of the president who was dismissed in February, took the helm and announced that since the president had lost support of the people as well as of “many high-ranking army and police officials”, the airport would be shut down, effectively cutting off Nkrunuziza’s path to return home.

“We don’t think Burundi should be allowed to go to war again,” declared South African President Jacob Zuma after a meeting with Namibian President Hage Geingob. “People must stop the escalation of the violence that is taking place there.”

Zuma said the violence was particularly regrettable since Burundi has enjoyed a decade of peace after a bitter civil war had been hard won.

Rwandese President Paul Kagame also weighed in. “If your own citizens tell you we don’t want you to lead us, how do you say I am staying whether you want me or not?”

Curiously, Burundi is among the top five African countries receiving U.S. military training. Of the five – Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda and Burundi – three are now led by U.S.-trained soldiers, noted Wall Street Journal correspondent Drew Hinshaw.

Sean McFate, who trained soldiers in Burundi and Liberia from the U.S. security company DynCorp, warned: “If the most capable institution is the military, in a crisis, that is what the country is going to lean on, whether that is the appropriate tool or not.”

This partially explains why African leaders initially opposed the siting of the U.S. Africa Command on the African continent.

Although President Barack Obama cautioned in a speech in Ghana that Africa needed strong institutions, not strongmen, his administration has seen the great part of U.S. funds earmarked for training soldiers, not building health ministries or electoral commissions.

Speaking from Tanzania, in one of his last televised addresses, Nkrunuziza said he saw no problems in holding national elections scheduled for Jun. 26. The country’s Catholic bishops feel otherwise.

“Instead of sticking to this path of confrontation which mostly leads to loss of lives, our leaders and all other protagonists should embrace dialogue and consultation,” said Bishop Gervais Banshimiyubusa, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Burundi.

Catholics make up roughly two-thirds of Burundi’s seven million population and yield significant political influence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Is It Still Fit for the Purpose?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 11:48:04 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140625 A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Events are being organised around the world to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, but a recent seminar held in the Austrian capital was not held to applaud the body’s past contributions.

Rather, the 45th International Peace Institute (IPI) Seminar, held from May 6 to 7,  saw representatives from the political, NGO, media and military sectors come together to discuss the organisation’s capability to deal with the crises and challenges of the future.

There was consensus among participants that the difficulties in the realms of international peace and security are very different today from those that dominated the international community at the time of the foundation of the United Nations in 1945.The global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard

Not only has the number of member states quadrupled since then, the global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard.

At the same time, the planet is afflicted by other threats that do not stop at national borders, such as climate change, pandemics and wars, which have global dimensions and are extremely difficult to contain in our globalised world.

As Martin Nesirky, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Vienna, put it: “The UN grew from the ashes of World War Two and there has been no global conflict since then, but neither has there been global peace.”

This year, debate about reform of the United Nations comes at a time that represents a possibility for change and action on two major fronts.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although they have not yet been fully realised, are being pushed forward in the spirit of adapting a new development agenda in the form of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Furthermore, there are hopes that a global agreement on climate change will finally be reached in Paris in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

According to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, “this is not just another year, this is the chance to change the course of history.”

However, the not all participants at the IPI seminar were convinced that the United Nations could fulfil its destined role without adapting to the fast changing circumstances that shape the world community.

A hotly debated issue was the long demanded reform of the U.N. Security Council and the power of veto held by its five permanent members – China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russian Federation – which were said not to represent the world community.

Some participants noted that the current geopolitical situation is marked by a breakdown of power relations which have complicated the work of the United Nations enormously.

Richard Gowan, Research Director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), expressed his concern about the escalation of power struggles in recent years.

“Tensions between Russia and the West, and to some extent China and the West, have severely impaired the UN’s ability to deal with the Syrian crisis and stopped the UN having a serious role in the Ukrainian crisis altogether.”

He called for resolution of ongoing geopolitical competition to enable the United Nations to regain the strength to deal with pressing crises” and warned that “if the Security Council breaks down, the rest of the UN will ultimately break down.”

Meanwhile, as the world faces the most severe refugee crisis since the Second World War, it was stressed that the proper functionality of international institutions – and of the United Nations in particular – is of the highest importance. More than 53 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced today, a figure equal to the entire population of South Korea.

The last tragic incidents of hundreds of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean have shown that the international community is failing to ensure the security of those seeking a safe future in Europe. “Desperation has no measure and no cost,” said Louise Aubin, Deputy Director of the Department of International Protection at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

During her work for the U.N. refugee agency, Aubin came face to face with the situation of the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, situated some 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border, which houses an estimated 500,000 Somali refugees, some of whom are third generation born in the camp.

“It’s impossible for me to explain as a parent that I would actually accept that situation,” Aubin said.” There is no way I would not do anything in my power to try to send my children somewhere else. And that somewhere else is across the Mediterranean.”

In the light of the recent tragedies suffered by refugees, participants said that it is necessary to create safe access to asylum in order for refugees to enjoy the rights that are theirs under international law.

It is clear that this responsibility does not lie only with the United Nations, they agreed, pointing to the role of the European Union in dealing with refugee flows.

However, both the United Nations and the European Union are only as strong as their member states allow them to be.

If the UN at 70 turns out not be fit for the purpose, it has to take immediate measures to become so – otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Texans Propose to Adopt Threatened African Rhinoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/texans-propose-to-adopt-threatened-african-rhinos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=texans-propose-to-adopt-threatened-african-rhinos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/texans-propose-to-adopt-threatened-african-rhinos/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:55:05 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140619 Rhinos in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa. Credit: cc by 4.0

Rhinos in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa. Credit: cc by 4.0

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Thefts, murders and mutilation of Africa’s wildlife, from white rhinos to elephants with their prized horns and tusks, are at an all-time high, say conservationists who are keeping track of the poaching of species by fortune-seeking hunters.

To save the animals from further decimation, the U.S.-based Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) proposes moving about 1,000 of South Africa’s white rhinos to a comparable climate in the U.S.

Allan Warren of the EWA says the need is urgent as rhinos are being poached to near extinction in southern Africa, and there appears to be no effort to stop it.

“The rhino horn is worth about 90,000 U.S. dollars per kilogramme, and each horn weighs about four kilos so it is more valuable than gold,” Warren said.

Under EWA’s scheme, rhinos would relocate to individual ranches in Texas, with South African ranchers granted partial ownership of the rhinos’ offspring. “It is not about hunting, it’s about preserving, saving the species from certain annihilation in South Africa,” Warren said. “Most of the rhinos to be moved are these baby rhinos whose mothers are slaughtered by poachers who slice off their horns.”

According to an “Elephant Summit” in 2013 held in Gaborone, Botswana, run by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the majority of animal tusks wind up in Asia. The U.S., Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands are also cited to a lesser degree on the summit’s map.

In March of this year, world leaders met again in Kasane, Botswana to review progress since the 2014 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade. According to this group, illegal sales of ivory are now a 19 billion dollar business, 1000 park rangers have been killed by poachers in the last decade, and a rhino is killed every 11 hours.

With Botswana having a tough policing policy that has sharply reduced poaching, South Africa earlier this year approved the transfer of about 100 rhinos to that country. In addition to providing more space, Botswana also has a harsh “shoot to kill” policy against the hunters. It’s controversial, but some wildlife conservationists believe it’s the only way to stem poaching.

A different solution was proposed by Rhinos Without Borders which, in partnership with Great Plains Conservation, as well as various government ministries and safari groups, hopes to move up to 100 rhinos (both black and white) from existing high density populations in South Africa, and release them into the wild in various parts of Botswana.

Meanwhile, the plan to move rhinos to Texas faces several challenges: it needs approval from the US Department of Agriculture, it must find enough ranchers in Texas who want to take the rhinos; and it must raise the funds to move the creatures, at an estimated cost of at least 50,000 dollars per rhinoceros.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Popular Nigerian Author Calls on Americans to ‘Reject Silence’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/popular-nigerian-author-calls-on-americans-to-reject-silence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=popular-nigerian-author-calls-on-americans-to-reject-silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/popular-nigerian-author-calls-on-americans-to-reject-silence/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:35:19 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140603 Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, co-curator of a spectacular World Voices week with over 100 African writers, closed the May 4-10 event with an admonition.

Referencing “codes of silence” that govern American life, Adichi urged her audience at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union University in New York City “to reject silence.”

“There is a general tendency in the United States to define problems of censorship as essentially foreign problems,” she was quoted to say by reporter Nicole Lee, writing for the Guardian UK publication.

Americans like to be comfortable and this comfort has brought a “dangerous silencing” into American public conversation, Adichie observed. “The fear of causing offense, the fear of ruffling the careful layers of comfort, becomes a fetish,” she said. As such, the goal of many public conversations in the United States “is not truth … [it] is comfort”.

According to Adichie, social media is a contemporary “tool of silencing”. The Twitter campaign to Bring Back Our Girls focused on the abduction of 200 girls in Nigeria, for example, and it appeared as if Boko Haram only targeted girls.

While that image recalled the actions of the Taliban in denying rights to women and girls, in fact, the terrorist group kidnapped almost as many young boys, making them into child soldiers. Boko Haram, she reminded the audience, is opposed to Western-style education for both girls and boys.

“It is censorship to force a story to fit into something that already pre-exists,” she said.

Breaking silences, Adichie cautioned, is not always welcomed. “I have often been told that I cannot speak on certain issues because I am young, and female or, to use the disparaging ‘Nigerian speak,’ because I am a ‘small girl’ … I have also been told that I should not speak because I am a fiction writer … But I am as much a citizen as I am a writer.”

It was as a citizen and writer that Adichie spoke out against the recent criminalisation of homosexuality in her home country, a law that not only put the safety of many innocent civilians at risk, but also many of her friends, as the Guardian writer pointed out.

Chimamanda Adichie has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. The author of Purple Hibiscus,” a coming-of-age novel set in post-colonial Nigeria, and two more critically-acclaimed novels, “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2006) and “Americanah” (2013), as well as a collection of short stories, she won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008.

The country’s elections in March have made Adichie more optimistic about Nigeria’s prospects. “It was proof that democracy…is making progress,” she says.

The event was hosted by the Freedom to Write group PEN American Center.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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NGOs Urge Commission of Inquiry to Probe Sexual Abuse in U.N. Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:31:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140599 Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a press conference on the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by foreign military troops during the French military intervention in that country on May 8, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a press conference on the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by foreign military troops during the French military intervention in that country on May 8, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 12 2015 (IPS)

A rising tide of sexual abuse in U.N. peacekeeping operations has triggered the launch of a high-level campaign to end the continued attacks on women and children and an urgent call for the creation of an independent commission of inquiry.

The latest “horrible” sexual attacks have been attributed to French peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) although U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said they were “not under the command and control of the United Nations.”"The truth is startling and simple: No new mechanisms, no new methods of operation, no new policies can ever work in practice to prevent or punish sex abusers on staff who commit sexual offenses at present, because the U.N. bureaucracy responsible for implementing changes is completely dysfunctional." -- Paula Donovan

“We do hope that anyone who engaged in the atrocious activities involving children in the Central African Republic face justice and are prosecuted,” he told reporters last week.

Paula Donovan, co-director at AIDS-Free World, who helped break the story of a long-suppressed report on sexual abuse in CAR, told IPS: “From confusion and ineptitude on the ground, to cover-ups at the highest levels of the U.N. in New York, Member States must subject U.N. peacekeeping to a rigorous, entirely independent commission of inquiry with complete access to documents and staff.”

Until that happens, any new polices or procedures will fail, just as the current policies and procedures do, in their implementation, said Donovan, a former executive officer at the U.N. Children’s agency UNICEF and regional advisor, East and Southern Africa.

Last year, there were more than 50 cases of sexual abuse at the hands of U.N.-supported field personnel, although the actual number is said to be far higher.

But the existence of diplomatic immunity is said to allow perpetrators to go unpunished and avoid legal constraints.

A longstanding proposal, going to back to 2008, for an international convention to punish those accused of sex crimes in U.N. operations overseas never got off the ground.

But against the backdrop of the current campaign, called Code Blue, the proposal may be revived, even though it could be shot down by developing countries who provide most of the soldiers in the 16 peacekeeping operations currently under way, with an estimated total of 106,595 military personnel and 17,000 civilian staff.

The largest contributors of peacekeepers include Bangladesh (9,307 troops), Pakistan (8,163), India (8,112), Ethiopia (7,864) and Rwanda (5,575), according to the latest U.N. figures.

Asked whether an international convention will deal more effectively with sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. staff, police and experts on mission (who are currently covered by the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities), a sceptical Donovan told IPS “jurisdictional issues are incredibly complex in peacekeeping operations.”

“But the truth is startling and simple: No new mechanisms, no new methods of operation, no new policies can ever work in practice to prevent or punish sex abusers on staff who commit sexual offenses at present, because the U.N. bureaucracy responsible for implementing changes is completely dysfunctional,” she declared.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, told IPS the proposed convention is long overdue.

“If not now, when?” she asked. “It’s time to close the accountability gap. We have addressed this point in our recent international security sector workshop.”

She said: “I am hopeful about this convention and we will advocate for its adoption and ratification. We, in civil society, are always hopeful—as that is one of our sources of strength amidst growing conservatism among governments and as a result, repression of civil society.

“At the same time, we are also realistic as we have our ears close to the ground. We know what is happening. The information we receive is not filtered—unlike what U.N. headquarters and government missions receive.”

So, realistically speaking, she had doubts that troop contributing countries (TCCs) will actually support such a convention—except maybe the European countries and Canada.

However, these are not the biggest troop contributing countries. The biggest TCCs are in the developing world, she pointed out.

“We should do active lobbying with the big TCCs and show them that the convention will be useful to them—it can serve as a guide for Member States to monitor their troops; and in investigating and prosecuting troops who have committed crimes,” she added.

A 2008 report of the ‘Ad Hoc Committee on Criminal Accountability of U.N. Officials and Experts on Mission’ said “some delegations reiterated the view that it was premature to discuss the possibility of negotiating an international convention on the topic, as had been proposed by the Group of Legal Experts, and as had been subsequently supported by the Secretariat in its note.”

It was argued, the report said, that it was necessary to understand the actual impediments to prosecution, before embarking on the negotiation of a convention.

Some delegations expressed support, in principle, for a convention requiring member states to exercise jurisdiction over their nationals participating in U.N. operations.

The report further added: “It was noted that while bilateral agreements existed in the area, they provided incomplete coverage and did not usually address judicial cooperation between States and the United Nations.”

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the TCCs should also put themselves in the shoes of the recipient countries. Don’t they want to see accountability if crimes are committed against their own people?

“I am also hoping that this convention would include mandatory training on U.N. Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, 1820 and supporting resolutions on women, peace and security (WPS). The TCCs should be mandated to train their troops prior to deployment and debrief using the WPS resolutions as guide after deployment.”

She said the United Nations also has a Conduct and Discipline Unit under the Department of Field Support that maintains global oversight of the state of discipline in peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

“However, I once had a discussion with a Conduct and Discipline Officer in a peacekeeping mission and we asked him if they are integrating UNSCR 1325 in their training and he had no clue what I was taking about,” she said.

The U.N. is committed to a zero- tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse but its Member States are not. The convention will bring some coherence, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Farmers Fight Real Estate Developers for Kenya’s Most Prized Asset: Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 18:56:24 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140554 David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NGANGARITHI, Kenya, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Vegetables grown in the lush soil of this quiet agricultural community in central Kenya’s fertile wetlands not only feed the farmers who tend the crops, but also make their way into the marketplaces of Nairobi, the country’s capital, some 150 km south.

Spinach, carrots, kale, cabbages, tomatoes, maize, legumes and tubers are plentiful here in the village of Ngangarithi, a landscape awash in green, intersected by clean, clear streams that local children play in.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children. I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.” -- Paul Njogu, a resident of the farming village of Ngangarithi in central Kenya
Ngangarithi, home to just over 25,000 people, is part of Nyeri County located in the Central Highlands, nestled between the eastern foothills of the Abadare mountain range and the western hillsides of Mount Kenya.

In the early 20th century, this region was the site of territorial clashes between the British imperial army and native Kikuyu warriors. Today, the colonial threat has been replaced by a different challenge: real estate developers.

Ramadhan Njoroge, a resident of Ngangarithi village, told IPS that his community’s worst fears came to life this past January, when several smallholder families “awoke to find markers demarcating land that we had neither sold nor had intentions to sell.”

The markers, in the form of concrete blocks, had been erected at intervals around communal farmland.

They were so sturdy that able-bodied young men in the village had to use machetes and hoes to dig them out, Njoroge explained.

It later transpired that a powerful real estate developer in Nyeri County had placed these markers on the perimeters of the land it intended to convert into commercial buildings.

The bold move suggested that the issue was not up for debate – but the villagers refused to budge. Instead, they took to the streets to demonstrate against what they perceived to be a grab of their ancestral land.

“We cannot have people coming here and driving us off our land,” another resident named Paul Njogu told IPS. “We will show others that they too can refuse to be shoved aside by powerful forces.”

“I was given this land by my grandmother some 20 years ago,” he added. “This is my ancestral home and it is also my source of livelihood – by growing crops, we are protecting our heritage, ensuring food security, and creating jobs.”

But Kenya’s real estate market, which has witnessed a massive boom in the last seven years, has proven that it is above such sentiments.

Those in the business are currently on a spree of identifying and acquiring whatever lands possible, by whatever means possible. It is a lucrative industry, with many winners.

The biggest losers, however, are people like Njoroge and Njogu, humble farmers who comprise the bulk of this country of 44 million people – according to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Land: the most lucrative asset class

Last September, Kenya climbed the development ladder to join the ranks of lower-middle income countries, after a rebasing of its National Accounts, including its gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI).

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The World Bank praised the country for conducting the exercise, adding in a press release last year, “The size of the economy is 25 percent larger than previously thought, and Kenya is now the fifth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria, South Africa, Angola and Sudan.”

According to the Bank, “Economic growth during 2013 was revised upwards from 4.7 percent to 5.7 percent [and] gross domestic product (GDP) per capita changed overnight, literally, from 994 dollars to 1,256 dollars.”

The reassessment, conducted by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that the real estate sector accounted for a considerable portion of increased national earnings, following closely on the heels of the agricultural sector (contributing 25.4 percent to the national economy) and the manufacturing sector (contributing 11.3 percent).

David Owiro, programme officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a local think tank, told IPS, “Kenya’s land and property market is growing exponentially.”

His analysis finds echo in a report by HassConsult and Stanlib Investments released in January this year, which found that the scramble for land in this East African nation is due to the fact that land has delivered the highest return of all asset classes in the last seven years, up 98 percent since 2007.

Land prices in the last four years have risen at twice the rate of cattle and four times the rate of property, while oil and gold prices have fallen over the same period, researches added.

Advertised land prices have risen 535 percent, from an average of 330,000 dollars per acre in 2007 to about 1.8 million dollars per acre today. Thus, equating land to gold in this country of 582,650 sq km is no exaggeration.

According to Owiro of the IEA, a growing demand for commercial enterprises and high-density housing in the capital and its surrounding suburban and rural areas is largely responsible for the price rise.

Government statistics indicate that though the resident population of Nairobi is two million, it swells during the workday to three million, as workers from neighbouring areas flood the capital.

This commuter workforce is a major driver of demand for additional housing, according to Njogu.

As a result, two distinct groups who see their fortunes and futures tied to the land seem destined to butt heads in ugly ways: real estate developers and small-scale farmers.

What is sustainable?

While the land rush and real estate boom fit Kenya’s newfound image as an economic success story, they run directly counter to the United Nations’ new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised in September.

The attempt to seize farmers’ land in Ngangarithi village reveals, in microcosm, the pitfalls of a development model that is based on valuing the profits of a few over the wellbeing of many.

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Farmers who have lived here for generations not only grow enough food to sustain their families, they also feed the entire community, and comprise a vital link in the nation’s food supply chain.

Taking away their land, they say, will have far-reaching consequences: central Kenya is considered one of the country’s two breadbaskets – the other being the Rift Valley – largely for its ability to produce plentiful maize harvests.

In a country where 1.5 million people experience food insecurity every year, according to government statistics cited by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), pushing farmers further to the margins by separating them from their land makes little economic sense.

Furthermore, encroachment by real estate developers into Kenya’s wetlands flies in the face of sustainable development, given that the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified Kenya’s wetlands as ‘vital’ to its agriculture and tourism sectors, and has urged the country to protect these areas, rich in biodiversity, as part of its international conservation obligations.

For Njogu, the land rush also represents a threat to an ancient way of life.

He recounted how his grandmother would go out to work on these very farmlands, decades ago: “Even with her back bent, her head almost touching her knees, she did all this for us,” he explained.

“When she became too old to farm, she divided her land and gave it to us. What if she had sold it to outsiders? What would be the source of our livelihood? We would have nowhere to call home,” he added.

Already the impacts of real estate development are becoming plain: the difference between Ngangarithi village and the village directly opposite, separated only a by a road, has the villagers on edge.

“On our side you will see it is all green: spinach, kale, carrots, everything grows here,” Njogu said. “But the land overlooking ours is now a town.”

Various other villagers echoed these sentiments, articulating a vision of sustainability that the government does not seem to share. Some told IPS that the developers had attempted to cordon off a stream that the village relied on for fresh water, and that children played in every single day, “interacting with nature in its purest form,” as one farmer described.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children,” Njogu clarified. “I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.”

Villagers’ determination to resist developers has caught the attention of experts closer to the policy-making nucleus in Nairobi, many of whom are adding their voices to a growing debate on the meaning of sustainability.

Wilfred Subbo, an expert on sustainable development and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told IPS that a strong GDP is not synonymous with sustainability.

“But a community being able to meet its needs of today, without compromising the ability of its children to meet their own needs tomorrow, [that] is sustainable development,” he asserted.

According to Subbo, when a community understands that they can “resist and set the development agenda, they are already in the ‘future’ – because they have shown us that there is an alternative way of doing business.”

“Land is a finite resource,” Subbo concluded. “We cannot turn all of it into skyscrapers.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Migrants Between Scylla and Charybdishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 11:13:22 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140545 Mohammed (left) and Ahmed, two Somali migrants who survived crossing the Mediterranean and are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, although they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Credit:  Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Mohammed (left) and Ahmed, two Somali migrants who survived crossing the Mediterranean and are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, although they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
AUGUSTA, Syracuse, Italy , May 11 2015 (IPS)

Not even a month has passed since over 700 hundred migrants lost their lives in their attempt to reaching the shores of Italy and the media spotlights have already faded on the island of Sicily, Italy’s southern region and main gateway to Europe.

Yet, the migration flows have not stopped.

Five days ago, on May 3, 300 people arrived in the port of Augusta, in the province of Syracuse, and among them were 19-year-old Ahmed and 22-year-old Mohammed.“That boat trip was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, I’m OK and it will get better now” – Mohammed, a Somali migrant who survived crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy

Both come from Somalia but they met in Libya, where they had worked for several months in order to save enough money to pay the smugglers running the traffic in migrants across the Mediterranean.

Ahmed and Mohammed are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, but they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Ahmed wants to go to Belgium, where some of his relatives already live, while Mohammed hopes to continue his trip towards Germany.

Crossing the Mediterranean was frightening, but they seem to have left all of their fears on the Libyan shores and their eyes are full of hope for the future.

“The sight of the sea from Libya was so scary, but when I look at it from here, it’s beautiful again,” says Ahmed, who is hoping to be able to study in Europe and become a doctor.

For Mohammed, “that boat trip was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, I’m OK and it will get better now.”

Before leaving Libya, Ahmed had heard about the tragedy of the 700 who lost their lives, but that did not stop him because, he says, the risks are higher in Somalia than on the boats.

“The weather has been bad these days, but look how calm the sea is today,” a carabiniere standing in front of the centre told IPS. “We are getting ready for many, many more to arrive.”

Despite the fact that more than 25,000 migrants have already made it to Italy this year, the actual ‘migration season’ is just about to start. Meanwhile, Europe is lurching to answer southern European states’ request for help.

Currently, the Mediterranean is patrolled under Operation Triton, a border security operation conducted by Frontex, the European Union’s border security agency, which aims to deter migrants. Operation Triton replaced Operation Mare Nostrum, which had been a broader Italian search and rescue initiative.

During an extraordinary European summit on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean held on Apr. 23, E.U. leaders agreed to triple funding for rescue operations in the Mediterranean, but this is far from being the ‘European solution’ to the migration crisis.

“Of course more capacity and more boats and early detection by planes increase the possibility of saving more people,” the Frontex press officer in Catania, Ewa Moncure, told IPS.

“But even with the best efforts, if people are put on these boats and sent to sea with no safety equipment, with not enough water, then nobody can guarantee that they will be found on time and that the rescue services will save everybody, because that would be simply a lie.”

While E.U. leaders continue to discuss possible naval blocks off Libyan territorial waters and southern European states try to open a debate on quotas of refugees to be shared among all member states, local authorities and Sicilian citizens are left with the task of handling the first aid and reception operations.

Augusta, a town of around 40,000 inhabitants, is one of the main bases of the Italian Navy in Sicily and it served as the headquarters of the Mare Nostrum operation, until it ended in October 2014.

Between April and October 2014, the town also hosted an emergency centre for unaccompanied minors, raising concerns and complaints of around 2,000 people who signed a petition to move the centre somewhere else and to propose naval blocks at the departure ports.

“This petition suggested exonerating from the allocation of migrants those municipalities that already suffer from economic insolvency and high unemployment levels, as is the case of Augusta,” Pietro Forestiere, local spokesperson for the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party and one of the initiators of the petition, explained to IPS.

“The logic behind it is that you cannot ask someone who is already struggling to deliver proper services to its citizens to take care of migrant reception as well.”

The emergency centre of Augusta was eventually closed in October, but its example could be easily extended to the whole region, which suffers from the highest levels of poverty and the second highest unemployment rate in the whole of Italy.

Yet, despite the voices calling for strong action against immigration, it is very common to hear people in Augusta sympathise with the migrants, especially when it comes to refugees.

“They are made of flesh and blood, just like us. We simply can’t let them drown,” Alfonso, who owns a stand in the fish market, told IPS. “They are escaping war and poverty. If we can’t prevent them from coming, once they approach the coast, we must help them.”

Most citizens in Sicily do not appear to fear future arrivals. The problem is rather the feeling of being abandoned in handling the situation, as a customer at the market pointed out:

“This is a port, we have always been used to seeing foreigners around. The impact on our daily life is quite limited. Yet, something needs to be done, not so much for us but rather to help them, and we can’t do it on our own. This is a European – if not global – issue, and Europe must act.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Prepaid Meters Scupper Gains Made in Accessing Water in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/prepaid-meters-scupper-gains-made-in-accessing-water-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prepaid-meters-scupper-gains-made-in-accessing-water-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/prepaid-meters-scupper-gains-made-in-accessing-water-in-africa/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 17:25:45 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140502 Whether they like it or not, many Africans faced with the possibility of having to access water through prepaid meters have resorted to unprotected and often unclean sources of water because they cannot afford to pay. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Whether they like it or not, many Africans faced with the possibility of having to access water through prepaid meters have resorted to unprotected and often unclean sources of water because they cannot afford to pay. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 8 2015 (IPS)

While many countries appear to have met the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, rights activists say that African countries which have taken to installing prepaid water meters have rendered a blow to many poor people, making it hard for them to access water.

“The goal to ensure that everyone has access to clean water here in Africa faces a drawback as a number of African countries have resorted to using prepaid water meters, which certainly bar the poor from accessing the precious liquid,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development, a Zimbabwean democracy lobby group, told IPS.

Prepaid water meters work in such a way that if a person cannot pay in advance, he or she will be unable to access water.Despite U.N. recognition that water is a human right, international financial institutions such as the World Bank argue that water should be allocated through market mechanisms to allow for full cost recovery from users

As a result, African rights activists like award-winning Terry Mutsvanga from Zimbabwe and other civil society organisations are against the idea of prepaid water meters.

“If one has to pay upfront before accessing water, then it would mean those in most need would be denied access,” Mutsvanga told IPS, adding that water is a global human right.

Mutsvanga was echoing the United Nations General Assembly which, in July 2010, emerged with a binding resolution on the human right to water and sanitation – but for Africa, the human right to water may be far from reality.

Laden with a population of approximately 1.1 billion, Africa’s 300 million people have no access to safe drinking water, according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Many rights activists on the continent attribute Africa’s mounting water challenges partly to the advent of prepaid water meters.

“We already have hundreds of millions of people without access to clean water, and imagine the severity of the water challenge if water prepaid meters would reach everyone on the continent,” Mutsvanga said.

Over the years, prepaid water meters have been widely used in African countries like Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland and Tanzania, as well as South Africa, where the meters which were rolled out in 1999 are currently in low-income areas.

Zimbabwe is currently conducting a pilot project aimed at installing the prepaid water meters, in towns and cities to begin with. And the country’s impoverished urban dwellers like 51-year old Tinago Chikasha are in panic mode, fearing the worst may be coming their way.

“Local authorities are pressing ahead with the idea of prepaid water meters, but jobless people like me have no money to make prepayments for water while we already have unpaid water bills running into thousands of dollars, which local authorities say they will deduct through all future water prepayments, meaning we run into the danger of having dry water taps for as long as we owe local authorities,” Chikasha told IPS.

In non-African countries like the United Kingdom, prepaid water meters are no longer being used after they were declared illegal in 1998 for public health reasons.

They were also abandoned in South Africa at one stage following a massive cholera outbreak, but were reintroduced and have replaced previously free communal standpipes in rural townships.

Despite U.N. recognition that water is a human right, international financial institutions such as the World Bank argue that water should be allocated through market mechanisms to allow for full cost recovery from users, and civil society activists like Melusi Khumalo in South Africa blame capitalist tendencies for necessitating the advent of prepaid water meters.

“Prepaid water meters are a result of such negative policies by institutions like the World Bank and they [prepaid water meters] deny water access to those in most need,” Khumalo, who is affiliated to Parktown North Residents’ Association in Johannesburg, told IPS.

In Zimbabwe, Mfundo Mlilo, chief executive officer of Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA), told IPS: “We are vehemently against the prepaid meter project because it will not solve the problems of water delivery, and these prepaid water meters will not lead to residents receiving adequate safe and clean water, while the same prepaid water meters will also not lead to increase in revenue flows as the City [of Harare] claims.”

Last month, Harare’s Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi was reported by Zimbabwe’s Weekend Post as saying: “With these meters we expect roughly to save about 20-30 percent of the current costs we are incurring.”

According to Mahachi, at least 300 000 households in the Zimbabwean capital are scheduled to have prepaid water meters installed, while all new housing projects will be obliged to install meters.

Meanwhile, with prepaid water meters set to rake in big money for some of Africa’s local authorities, there are those like Nathan Jamela, an urban dweller in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, who fear the health consequences.

“We experienced the worst cholera outbreak in 2008, and we fear that if prepaid water meters are installed in every household here we will slide back to the crisis, with many people unable to afford to pay for water,” Jamela told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kerry Brings Promise of 45 Million Dollars for Kenya’s Massive Refugee Camphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/kerry-brings-promise-of-45-million-dollars-for-kenyas-massive-refugee-camp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kerry-brings-promise-of-45-million-dollars-for-kenyas-massive-refugee-camp http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/kerry-brings-promise-of-45-million-dollars-for-kenyas-massive-refugee-camp/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 18:25:50 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140469 Aerial Views of Ifo 2 Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Aerial Views of Ifo 2 Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 5 2015 (IPS)

At a meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week pledged an extra 45 million dollars for the U.N. which is sheltering over a half million refugees fleeing civil unrest, terrorism and violence in Somalia and South Sudan.

The Dadaab refugee camp – the largest in Africa – was threatened with closure after Somali militants of the al-Shabab insurgent group attacked a Kenyan university not far from the Somali border. Over 147 students, mostly Christians, were slaughtered by the group.

The U.N. set up the first camp at Dadaab in 1991, and many who live in the now-sprawling complex are teenagers and children who have never been to the countries their parents fled.

The funding brings Washington’s refugee aid to Kenya to 289 million dollars in the past two years. The U.S. also has a widening military footprint in the region. U.S. drones have been hunting down and striking at al-Shabab militia from a military hub in Djibouti. This year the U.S. will spend 100 million dollars on anti-terrorism efforts in Kenya, Kerry said.

This anti-terrorism effort could include the sharing of intelligence, which would be useful in preventing future attacks, as well as help with funds to combat youth radicalisation and for counter-terrorism training.

Kerry took issue with opposition leaders in Kenya who call for the immediate withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia – a presence that is blamed for the al-Shabab attacks on Kenyan citizens. Urging Kenya to be a little patient, he added: “The exit strategy needs to be a success.”

Kerry said the Kenyan president has now agreed to leave the refugees in place for the time being. “Kenya has a great tradition of hosting refugees, and the key is to accelerate efforts to have a plan in place for the people in all the refugee camps to be able to return home, in an orderly and voluntary manner, with dignity and with safety,” he said. “That’s his goal. That’s our goal.”

Kerry outlined other planned spending in the region, including five million dollars to finance a court in South Sudan to hold perpetrators of violence to account.

The trip to Kenya was the first by a senior U.S. official since 2012, ending a freeze between the two countries started by charges against Kenyatta for crimes against humanity over post-election violence in 2007 and 2009. The case by the International Criminal Court was closed after failure to win cooperation last year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Urban Slums a Death Trap for Poor Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 18:08:55 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140465 Children on their way to school in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Credit: Save the Children

Children on their way to school in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Credit: Save the Children

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 2015 (IPS)

It’s called the urban survival gap – fuelled by the growing inequality between rich and poor in both developing and developed countries – and it literally determines whether millions of infants will live or die before their fifth birthday.

Save the Children’s annual report on the State of the World’s Mothers 2015 ranks 179 countries and concludes that that “for babies born in the big city, it’s the survival of the richest.”

Speaking from the launch at U.N. Headquarters, Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, said that for the first time in history, more families are moving into cities to give their children a better life. But this shift from a rural to an urban society has increased disparities within cities.

“Our report reveals a devastating child survival divide between the haves and have-nots, telling a tale of two cities among urban communities around the world, including the United States,” Miles added.

The document estimates that 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050 the concentration of people in cities will increase to 66 percent, especially in Asia and Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges and along railroad tracks.

Rizelle, 17, and her three-week-old baby. Rizelle lives in a squatted home under a bridge in San Dionisio, Indonesia. Photo credit: Save the Children

Rizelle, 17, and her three-week-old baby. Rizelle lives in a squatted home under a bridge in San Dionisio, Indonesia. Photo credit: Save the Children

While women living in cities may have easier access to primary health care, including hospitals, many governments have been unable to keep up with this rapid urban growth. One-third of all urban residents – over 860 million people – live in slums where they face lack of clean water and sanitation, alongside rampant malnutrition.

Miles said that despite the progress made on reducing urban under-five mortality around the world, the survival divide between rich and poor children in cities is growing even faster than that of poor children in rural areas.

In most of the developing nations surveyed, children living at the bottom 20 percent of the socioeconomic ladder are twice as likely to die as children in the richest 20 percent, and in some cities, the disparity is much higher.

Robert Clay, vice president of the health and nutrition at Save the Children, explained that urban poor are more transient, as they tend to have unsteady jobs and living situations. In rural areas, many people at least have land and food, and a stronger support system within the community.

“In urban areas this doesn’t exist. Urban cities are overcrowded by many ethnic groups living side by side so it’s a bit harder to bond, communicate and build trust. It’s the hidden population that is more problematic to reach,” Clay told IPS.

He said lack of data makes it harder for charities like Save the Children, or national and municipal governments, to access these marginalised communities.

The 10 developing countries with the largest child survival divide are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, India, Madagascar, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda and Vietnam.

Among the 10 worst wealthy capital cities for child survival, out of the 25 studied, Washington D.C. (U.S.) was number one, followed by Vienna (Austria), Bern (Switzerland), Warsaw (Poland), and Athens (Greece).

The river that runs through the Kroo Bay slum community in Sierra Leone. Credit: Save the Children

The river that runs through the Kroo Bay slum community in Sierra Leone. Credit: Save the Children

By looking at the mother’s index rankings of 2015, based on five criteria – maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status, economic status and women political status, Save the Children says that conditions for mothers and their children in the 10 bottom-ranked countries – all but two of them in West and Central Africa – are dramatic, as nations struggle to provide the basic infrastructure for the health and wellness of their citizens.

“On average, in these countries one woman out of 30 dies from pregnancy-related causes, and one child out of eight dies before his or her fifth birthday,” Miles said.

Globally, under-five mortality rates have declined, from 90 to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, these numbers, says the organisation, mask the fact that child survival is strictly linked to family wealth, and miss addressing the conditions of poverty and unhealthy life of slums.  

Positively, the report has also uncovered some successful solutions found by governments to reduce maternal and infant mortality, and close the inequality gap between rich and poor children in their own countries. The most successful countries are Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), Egypt (Cairo), Guatemala (Guatemala City), Uganda (Kampala), Philippines (Manila) and Cambodia (Phnom Penh).

“Ethiopia, which recently had accelerated economic growth, managed to develop effective targeting policies, and provided accessible preventive and curative health care for poor mothers and children,” Clay said.

“[Ethiopia] should be a blueprint for other countries, which should bring access to communities in slums so that local people are not left behind,” he underlined, adding that hiring urban outreach workers who can go into the communities, speak the language of the people living there and understand their conditions and needs is vital.

Save the Children is calling on national governments worldwide to find new policies and plans to invest in a universal maternal and infant health care, develop cross-sectoral urban plans, and reduce urban disadvantages, and to increase the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 development agenda, concluded Miles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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