Inter Press Service » Africa Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 OPINION: How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargo Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:08 +0000 Arturo Lopez-Levy A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

By Arturo Lopez-Levy
DENVER, Colorado, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When was the last time in recent memory a top U.S. official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century.Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favourably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stem the epidemic.

As it causes devastation in West Africa and strikes fear in the United States and around the world, Ebola has few upsides. But one of them may be the opportunity to change the nature of U.S.-Cuban relations, for the public good.

Don’t squander the opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba, for example, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. interests.

A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector, and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update U.S. policy towards Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalisation in Cuba.

The whole world has something to gain

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy, and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

As the leading nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should propose the creation of a comprehensive continental health cooperation and crisis response strategy at the next Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015. As numerous Latin American countries have already asserted, Cuba must be included at the summit.

Havana has developed extensive medical expertise at home and abroad, with more than 50,000 doctors and health personnel serving in 66 countries. Preventive measures, early detection, strict infection controls, and natural disaster crisis response coordination are essential parts of the Cuban approach to nipping pandemics in the bud.

The lack of some of these components in already-collapsed health systems explains the failures of governance that inflamed the impact of Ebola in West Africa.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As president, it isn’t enough for him to just retune the same embargo policy implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the U.S. official narrative about Post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

The author can be contacted at or on Twitter at @turylevy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Concerned Over Ebola Backlash Mon, 17 Nov 2014 18:36:22 +0000 Thalif Deen Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which is working on an emergency footing to battle the outbreak of Ebola, is worried about the potential for further isolation of the hardest-hit nations in West Africa.

“It’s a psychological fear,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told IPS. “And there has been a chain reaction.”

He cautioned there should be no action which is not based on science or medical evidence.

Ban said the fight against Ebola is a “top priority” of the United Nations and admitted he was conscious of the fact the disease has had a “heavy impact on all spectrum of our lives.”

The secretary-general’s warning resonated in North Africa last week when Morocco postponed hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations because of its own fears over the possible spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco’s Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine was quoted as saying: “This decision is motivated mainly by the medical risks that this virus would put on the health of our fellow Africans.”

The New York Times said “fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray.”

As a result, the Confederation of African Football last week removed Morocco as host of the biennial soccer championship, with Equatorial Guinea stepping in to take over as host of the 16-team games early next year.

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Geographically, Morocco is a North African country.

Last July, Seychelles forfeited a match after it refused to permit a team from Sierra Leone into the country because of concerns over Ebola.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that Philippine peacekeepers who returned home from Liberia recently were to be temporarily settled either on an island off Luzon or put on board a ship.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that once peacekeepers have completed their missions, these soldiers come under the authority of their respective governments.

Ban told IPS he was thankful for the countries that have pledged “massive resources” to fight Ebola.

These include the United States, UK, China, Japan, France and several other European countries.

He singled out the United States for providing over 4,000 soldiers and Cuba for providing hundreds of medical personnel in the fight against Ebola.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve over six billion dollars in emergency funding to fight the spread of the disease and also protect U.S. nationals.

“I hope the lame duck Congress will approve it,” Ban said.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the overall financial requirements are estimated at about 988 million dollars, of which 60 percent has been funded.

Additionally, there is also a Trust Fund, with 58.7 million dollars as pledges.

Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told the 193-member General Assembly last week that “Ebola is a fearsome enemy and we will not win the battle by chasing it.”

The death toll has exceeded “a grim milestone” of 5,000, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, “with the real number likely to be much higher,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported over 13,000 Ebola cases in eight countries: the three most affected nations in West Africa, plus the United States, Spain, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

As the crisis continues, about 3,300 children have become Ebola orphans while food prices have been rising in the three affected countries, schools have closed and traders have refused to bring their products to the market.

At the just-ended summit of G20 world leaders from both developed and developing nations, the secretary-general said, “The rate of new cases is showing signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But as rates decline in one area, they are rising in others.”

And transmission continues to outpace the response, he added at the conclusion of the summit Sunday in Brisbane, which was hosted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He urged the G20 to step up “so that we can meet the 70/70 goal: isolating and treating 70 per cent of all Ebola cases and providing safe and dignified burials to 70 per cent of those who have died.”

He said the international community must also address the secondary impacts on healthcare, education and soaring food prices caused by a disruption in farming that could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region.

“It is important we do not further isolate these three countries by imposing travel restrictions. This will not impede the spread of the virus: it will simply hamper our efforts to mobilise support,” he argued.

According to the WHO, there is some evidence that case incidence is no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but steep increases persist in Sierra Leone.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leone Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:06:02 +0000 Lansana Fofana School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals. 

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting the virus.

“We have lost hundreds of farmers to the Ebola epidemic and the regions where agricultural activities take place have become epicentres of the pandemic, such as Kailahun in the east and Bombali in the north,” Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, told IPS.

In early November, 4,059 people were killed by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country.

Sesay said that 60 percent of the country’s six million people are engaged in agriculture but as a result of the crisis many are now unemployed. The sector, he said, also contributes to 60 percent of the country’s GDP. However, with the current epidemic, Sierra Leone’s prospect of meeting the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty is a far-off dream.

“We had made significant gains before we were confronted with this Ebola problem. Food productivity had increased tremendously and local foodstuffs were plenty on the markets. We had even begun exporting cash crops to neighbouring countries, including rice, and cocoa. All these have been stultified,” Sesay added.

When President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007, he made agriculture a key priority in his developmental blueprint, which he dubbed “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”.

Bilateral partners, including China and India, have donated hundreds of tractors and other agricultural machinery to help boost the country’s move towards food security. But no farmers are working currently and experts predict that there will be food scarcity if the Ebola epidemic is not contained soon.

“I have discontinued my farming activities temporarily. More than 15 of my colleagues have been killed by Ebola and I cannot risk going to the farm any more. The situation is frightening,” Musa Conteh, a farmer in Sierra Leone’s northern district of Bombali, told IPS.

The health sector is also badly affected by the epidemic. Even though this West African nation has a free government healthcare scheme for children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers; people are refusing to go to hospitals and peripheral health centres as they fear being suspected of having Ebola and being quarantined.

However, many of the country’s doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers are also fearful and have not been going to work. Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola.

“It is a terrible crisis facing us. With our poor health infrastructure, we were certainly not prepared for this epidemic. Perhaps, with the intervention of our international partners, we may be able to defeat the disease much quickly,” Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Abubakar Fofana told IPS.

He, however, said that even after the Ebola epidemic has been contained, the country will be faced with an upsurge in infant mortality because children are not being vaccinated for killer diseases at the moment. “The situation is worrisome,” he said.

Sierra Leone had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world with 267 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births just after the country’s civil war ended in 2002. In 2012 the infant mortality rate had more than halved to 110 deaths per 1,000 live births. In recent years, it had started making progress, with a free healthcare scheme introduced by Koroma. But the Ebola epidemic is sure to reverse all those gains.

The outbreak of the epidemic has forced all schools and learning institutions to close. The government says it cannot put a timeline on when they will resume.

The country’s educational system was considered to be at low, even before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease, with falling standards and persistent industrial actions by teachers.

The Minister of Education Minkailu Bah told IPS that the Ebola crisis is having a dire effect on education and that this will be felt even after the disease has been contained.

“Already, our children are not attending schools or colleges. Their future is uncertain and we do not even know how many drop-outs we’ll have on our hands if this Ebola crisis is not contained,” Bah said.

The government has introduced a teaching programme, on radio and television, for school-going kids. But many say this is ineffectual.

“I don’t think this will work. How many families can afford TV or radio and batteries in their homes? How reliable is the electricity supply? The kids today prefer viewing Nigerian films and watching football. They are not interested in that teaching programme,” Michael Williams, a father of four in Freetown, told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War-ravaged South Sudan Struggles to Contain AIDS Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:01:03 +0000 Charlton Doki Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Dressed in a flowered African print kitenge and a blue head scarf, Sabur Samson, 27, sits pensively at the HIV centre at Maridi Civil Hospital in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. 

Today she paid 20 South Sudanese pounds (about six dollars) for a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) ride to the centre and will have to skimp on food in the next days.

South Sudan at a quick glance

After four decades of on-off war, South Sudan gained independence from north Sudan in July 2011. But stability did not last long.

Violence rooted in political and ethnical power struggles erupted in December 2013, shattering the dreams of peace for the world’s newest country (pop 11.3m).

After independence, South Sudan improved services for its estimated 150,000 people living with HIV. The new conflict reversed these gains, disrupting not only health services but water and sanitation, roads and bridges, food security and community networks.

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million people are newly displaced. Some fled to neighbouring countries, while 1.4 million huddle in 130 camps in South Sudan. Of these, 70 are so remote they are inaccessible to relief agencies, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

South Sudan has limited human resources, organisational and technical capacity to respond to HIV, says the study.

Key drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Sudan include early age at first sex, low level of knowledge about HIV and of condom use, rape and gender-based sexual violence, high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.

The highest HIV prevalence is found in the three southern Greater Equatoria states bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Western Equatoria, where Samson and Mongo live, HIV prevalence is seven percent, more than double the national rate.

She will be hungry and few will help her in the village, although she is blind and a single mother of two children.

“Many people fear to come close because they fear they will contract HIV,” she told IPS.

Seated next to her, Khamis Mongo, 32, has lived with HIV for five years now and has suffered similar rejection. “Some people don’t want to eat from the same plate with me,” he says.

Mongo and Samson are among nearly 1,000 HIV positive people receiving care at the centre, of whom 250 are in antiretroviral therapy (ART). They are lucky: in South Sudan, just one out of 10 people needing ART gets it.

The clinic sees patients coming from as far as 100 kilometres.

“So many patients are dying because they can’t afford transport to collect their medicine here,” clinical officer Suzie Luka told IPS.

A one-way, 80 km bodaboda trip from Ibba to Maridi costs 150 South Sudanese pounds (47 dollars).

The challenges in Maridi are a microcosm of those that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, faces in containing the HIV epidemic.

Newly independent from north Sudan in 2011, and emerging from Africa’s longest civil war over 21 years with one of the world’s lowest human development statistics, South Sudan plunged again into fighting in December 2013.

The national HIV prevalence rate is under three percent and rising steadily, according to the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

This translates into 150,000 people living with HIV in a country whose social fabric and physical infrastructure was destroyed by successive wars.

 “Moving corpses”

Evelyn Letio, from the South Sudan Network of People Living with HIV, describes poor access, quality and continuity of health services, underpinned by denial of the disease and high stigma and discrimination, especially against women.

“Community leaders will hurriedly accept a divorce if it’s the woman who is positive and force her to leave the man’s house,” says Letio.”If it’s the man who is positive, they won’t allow the woman to leave the house so she can take care of him.”

Despite denial by government officials, discrimination is rampant within the civil service, she adds:  “People who have disclosed to be HIV positive are laid off and called ’moving corpses’.”

Inadequate financial, infrastructural and human resources limit efforts to expand HIV services.  The national HIV plan has an 80 percent funding shortfall.

Mongo and Sanson told IPS that the Maridi clinic often runs out of drugs and they have to return days later. Other times, staff has not been paid for months and stays away.

“Treatment has been tricky,” acknowledges Habib Daffalla Awongo, director general for programme coordination at South Sudan AIDS Commission.

According to UNAIDS, just 22 centres provided ART before the new outbreak of violence.

Last December, the ART centres in Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, capitals of the states worst hit by fighting, had to close. The whereabouts of 1,140 patients are unknown. Most likely they have interrupted ART, endangering their lives.

War and AIDS

Forty thousand people living with HIV have been directly affected by the recent violence, according to the United Nations. The new fighting reversed the gains made in HIV services since independence. 

Fast Facts About AIDS in South Sudan

150,000 people live with HIV
20,000 children under 15 live with HIV
12.500 AIDS-related deaths in 2013
15,400 new infections in 2013
72,000 people need ART
1 in 10 people needing ART is on ART
1 in 10 HIV positive pregnant women is on PMTCT
27 percent of people over 15 years are literate
1.9m internally displaced people in 2014

“We have lost many HIV positive people during the conflict, some died in the fighting and others migrated to peaceful areas,” said Awongo.

By U.N. counts,  the new conflict has displaced 1.9 million people.

In Juba, the capital, camps with long rows of white tents have sprung up to shelter some 31,000 displaced people.

Among them is Taban Khamis*, who escaped fighting in the key oil city of Bentiu, 1,000 kms north of Juba. He has interrupted ART and fears his health will soon worsen but he will not go to the camp’s HV clinic for fear of stigma.

“The camp is crowded and there is no privacy,” he told IPS. “Everyone will know that I have HIV.”

Prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections “dramatically increases in camps”, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Awongo is aware of this problem. “We encourage people to come out of the camps to facility points where they can access services but this is not making a difference,” he says.

*Name changed to protect his privacy

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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U.S. Proposes Major Debt Relief for Ebola-Hit Countries Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:16:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The United States proposed Tuesday that the international community write off 100 million dollars in debt owed by West African countries hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak. The money would be re-invested in health and other public programming.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be detailing the proposal later this week to a summit of finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries. If the idea gains traction among G20 states, that support should be enough to approve the measure through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the United States is the largest voting member."The plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.” -- Jubilee USA’s executive director Eric LeCompte

“The International Monetary Fund has already played a critical role as a first responder, providing economic support to countries hardest hit by Ebola,” Lew said in a statement to IPS.

“Today we are asking the IMF to expand that support by providing debt relief for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. IMF debt relief will promote economic sustainability in the worst hit countries by freeing up resources for both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts.”

These three countries together owe the IMF some 370 million dollars, according to the U.S. Treasury, with 55 million dollars due in the coming two years. Yet there are already widespread fears over the devastating financial ramifications of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in addition to the epidemic’s horrendous social impact.

Last month, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. The World Bank, meanwhile, estimates that the virus, which has already killed more than 5,000 people and infected more than 14,000, could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

Of course, much of the multilateral machinery is often too cumbersome to respond to a fast-moving viral outbreak. Yet there is reason to believe that the U.S. plan could have both immediate and long-term impacts.

That’s because the plan would see the IMF tap a unique fund set up in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which facilitated the cancellation of nearly 270 million dollars of Haitian debt to the IMF. Called the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) Trust, it is aimed specifically at responding to major natural disasters in the world’s poorest countries.

Originally, the PCDR Trust was capitalised with more than 420 million dollars. Today, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson told IPS, the trust has some 150 million dollars in it – money that would be available almost immediately.

“Our proposal is for the IMF to provide debt relief for these Ebola-affected nations from this trust,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. would like to see around 100 million dollars put toward this effort, however the precise amount will need to be determined in consultations with the IMF and its membership.”

The IMF, meanwhile, says it is preparing to consider the proposal. In September the Washington-based agency made available 130 million dollars in immediate support to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We are very glad that some donors have expressed an interest in increasing support for the Ebola-affected countries. We are reaching out to all donors to see how we might be able to take this forward … using all the tools available to us,” an IMF spokesperson told IPS.

“[Debt relief] decisions are made according to the merits of the particular case and this would be approached in the same way. We would expect the Board to be briefed soon on this topic.”

Ebola’s “natural disaster”

For development and anti-poverty advocates, debt obligations on the part of poor countries constitute a key obstacle to a government’s ability to respond to critical social needs, both in the short and long term.

In the West African epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak, many analysts have held chronic low national health spending directly responsible for allowing the epidemic to spiral out of control. And when looking at feeble public sector spending, it is impossible not to take into account often crushing debt burdens.

For instance, Guinea spent a little more than 100 million dollars on public health in 2012 but paid nearly 150 million dollars that same year on internationally held debt, according to World Bank figures provided by Jubilee USA, an anti-debt advocacy network that has spearheaded the push for the United States to make the current proposal.

“As bad as Ebola has been, some of these countries have far greater challenges with deaths from malaria than from Ebola,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s executive director, told IPS.

“The amount is incredibly important because it cancels a significant portion of the debt completely. And the plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.”

LeCompte was also involved in the creation of the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief Trust, in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. His office has advocated for the fund’s monies to be used since then – for instance, to react to flooding in Pakistan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But he says these and other proposals have been rejected by the IMF’s membership, on the rationale that these countries were developed enough to be able to mobilise financing in other ways. (The IMF says PCDR funds are for response to “the most catastrophic of natural disasters” in “low-income countries”, when a third of a country’s population has been affected and a quarter of its production capacity destroyed.)

Not only are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone among the poorest countries in the world, but the Ebola outbreak there has a potentially direct impact on the rest of the globe.

“This is a very clear opportunity to point to the 150 million dollars left in that fund and to note that Ebola is every bit the same as the Haitian earthquake in terms of being a regional calamity,” LeCompte says.

“The difference is that this is also a long-term investment in the very problems that allow Ebola to spread. So we’d be not only addressing the current issue, but also the next disease outbreak in that region.”

It is unclear whether there is a mechanism in place to top up the PCDR Trust in the future. The IMF states that “Replenishment of the Trust will rely on donor contributions, as necessary.”

But for his part, LeCompte says the fund has the potential to fill a significant gap: offering a pot of money, immediately available, that could be quickly mobilised to deal with true crises afflicting the world’s poorest countries, from hurricanes to major financial defaults.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Ebola and ISIS: A Learning Exchange Between U.N. and Faith-based Organisations Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:31:05 +0000 Azza Karam Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Azza Karam
NEW YORK, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The simultaneity presented by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on one hand and militant barbarism ostensibly in the name of Islam on the other present the international development community – particularly the United Nations and international NGOs – with challenges, as well as opportunities.

At first sight, the two are unrelated phenomena. One appears to be largely focused on the collapse of health services in three countries, and to a lesser extent, on economic and political ramifications thereof.ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

The other, i.e., ISIS/ISIL/IS, appears to be a complex basket of geopolitical conflagrations involving a violently militant political Islam, weak governance dynamics, botched uprisings, transnational youth disaffection, arms proliferation — all to name but a few.

So what is the connection and why is this relevant to international development and humanitarian engagement?

In a Strategic Learning Exchange organised by several United Nations bodies, and attended by U.N. development and humanitarian staff, and their counterparts from a number of international faith-based development NGOs, which took place in Turin, Italy last week, the confluence of these challenges was tackled head-on.

The U.N. and faith-based NGO staff present work both in their headquarter organisations as well as on the ground in countries in Africa, Asia, and the Arab region.

In both sets of cases, there are realties of overstretched service providers seeking to respond, in real time, to rising death tolls, collapsing state-run services, and the actual inability to deliver basic necessities to communities struggling to stay alive because of diverse, but nevertheless man-made, barriers.

Some of these are run by those carrying arms and demarcating territories as off limits while those within them are imprisoned, tortured, killed, terrorized, and starved. Other barriers are made of communities hiding their ill and their dead, distrusting and fearing those seeking to help, and anguished over the loss not just of loved ones, but also of care-takers, sources of income, and means of protection.

But there are other barriers which the last few weeks and months have revealed as well, some of which present long-term challenges to institutional and organisational cultures, as well as to the entire ethos of international humanitarianism and development as we know it today.

The response to the Ebola virus, first and foremost, focused on the medical aspects – which was/is urgent and unquestionable.

But it took months before international aid workers realised one of many tipping points in the equation of death and disease transmission: that burial methods were key, and that even though there are manuals which seek to regulate those methods so as to ensure medical safety, there was relatively less attention paid to the combined matter of values, dignity and local cultural practices in such crisis contexts.

Burying the dead in a community touches the very belief systems which give value and meaning to life. How those infected with Ebola were buried had to be tackled in a way that bridged the very legitimate medical health concerns, but also enabled the family and community members to go on living – with some shred of meaningfulness to their already traumatised selves – while not getting infected.

When this particular dilemma was noted, faith leaders have been hastily assembled to advise on burial methods which bridge dignity with safety in these particular circumstances. But the broader and more long-term roles of ‘sensitising’ and bridging the medical-cultural gap between international aid workers, local medical personnel and over-wrought communities have yet to be worked out.

And the opportunity to address this medical-cultural gap (which is not new to development or humanitarian work) extends beyond burials of the dead and medical care for the living, to providing psycho-social support, and ensuring economic livelihoods. In these areas, too, faith-based NGOs have roles to play.

The militancy of ISIS and the repercussions of the war currently being waged both with and against them presents a similar set of cultural challenges to national and international actors.

This cultural feature was reiterated with cases from the same Arab region involving Hizbullah, Hamas, and now ISIS. How to navigate practical roadblocks controlled by parties you are not supposed to be talking to as a matter of principle, and who question the very legitimacy of your mandate, as a matter of practice – precisely because it does not ‘do religion’ and is part of a ‘Western secular agenda’?

Yes, there are manuals and protocols and procedures governing the provision of services and rules of engagement – in compliance with international human rights obligations. Yet, some hard questions are now glaring: should any form of ‘dialogue’ or outreach be possible between those who speak human rights law, and those who wish to speak only of “God’s laws”?

Are there lessons to be learned from prior engagement with (now relatively more mainstream) Hizbullah and Hamas, which may have resulted in a different trajectory for the engagement with ISIS today, perhaps?

Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s presence (and elimination of Bin Laden) in Afghanistan have highlighted a link between religious dogma and critical health implications. Unlike with Ebola however, a possible role for faith leaders – and other faith-based humanitarian and development actors – has not been solicited. At least, not openly so.

And yet, could these roles shed some light on the particular ability of some religious actors to maneuver within humanitarian emergencies in these specific circumstances?

Could a clearer appreciation of the potential value-added of faith-based interventions – which have to be distinguished from those of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. – increase understanding of and dealing with a world view that is costing lives, now and in the future?

ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

And if the international community makes a choice to deal with any religious overtones – and is not capacitated in its current frameworks to do so – whose assistance will be needed to call upon, in which fora and with what means?

There are answers to some of these questions already percolating in several policy-making corridors, inherent in the experience of many cadres working with faith-based/ faith-inspired development NGOs, and academics who have devoted decades of research.

What was clear from the discussions in Turin, and other roundtables on religion and development, is that these questions have to be posed, because the answers belie multiple opportunities.

All opinions expressed belong to the author, and are not representative or descriptive of the positions of any organisation, Member State, Board, staff member or territorial entity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hope Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

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How SADC is Fighting Wildlife Crime Wed, 12 Nov 2014 10:10:55 +0000 Mabvuto Banda South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

“We are underpaid, have no guns and in most instances are outnumbered by the poachers,” says Stain Phiri, a ranger at Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve — a 986 km reserve said to have the most abundant and a variety of wildlife in Malawi —  which also happens to be one of the country’s biggest game parks under siege by poachers.

Phiri’s fears probably sum up the reason why there has been a surge in poaching of elephants tusks and rhino horns in southern Africa in recent years.

“We can’t fight the motivated gangs of poachers who are heavily armed and ready to kill anyone getting in their way,” Phiri tells IPS.

He says he is paid a monthly field allowance equivalent to about 20 dollars dollars, which is not enough to take care of his family of six.

“My colleagues and I risk our lives everyday protecting wildlife and it seems we are not appreciated because even when we arrest poachers, the police release them,” says Phiri.

Malawi’s Wildlife Act, he says, also needs serious amendments to empower and protect ranges and to also impose stiffer penalties if the government is serious about tackling wildlife crimes.

Phiri’s story resonates across southern Africa and gives insight into the challenges the region is facing maintaining transfrontier parks and managing wildlife crime.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network that looks at trade in animals and plants globally, says well-equipped, sufficiently resourced rangers are needed on the ground to protect the animals and prevent poaching in the first instance.

Dr Richard Thomas, the global communications co-ordinator of TRAFFIC, tells IPS that most countries in southern Africa have increasingly become the target for poachers because it is a region that has the most rhino and elephants in the world.

“Southern Africa is home to more rhinos than any other region in the world, with around 95 percent of all white rhino and 40 percent of all black rhino,” he says.

According to TRAFFIC, 25,000 African elephants were killed in 2011, while 22,000 were killed in 2012 and just over 20,000 in 2013. This, TRAFFIC says, is out of a population estimated between 420,000 and 650,000.

Last year, Zambia lost a total of 135 elephants to poaching. In 2012 the country lost 124 elephants and in 2011 96 elephants were killed by poachers, according Zambian Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo.

The same is true for Mozambique. The country’s local media have quoted Tourism Minister Carvalho Muaria as saying that the elephant population has declined by about half since the early 1970s. There are currently only about 20,000 left.

The Niassa Reserve, an area of 42,000 square km and home to about two-thirds of Mozambique’s elephants, now has about 12,000 elephants. Poachers killed 500 elephants last year and have wiped out Mozambique’s rhinos, Muaria says.

TRAFFIC says between 2007 and 2013 rhino poaching increased by 7,700 percent on the continent. There are only estimated to now be 5,000 black rhino and 20,000 white rhino.

Last month, South Africa reported that it had lost 558 rhinos to poachers so far this year.

But not all hope is lost. Southern Africa is responding to the threats to its wildlife by collaborating between countries that share borders and protected areas for wildlife.

A case in point is this year’s anti-poaching agreement between Mozambique and South Africa, which aims to stop rhino poaching mostly in the Kruger National Park, which shares a border with Mozambique. The two countries agreed to share intelligence and jointly develop anti-poaching techniques to curb rhino poaching.

Mozambique, said to be a major transit route for rhino horn trafficked to Asia, this year approved a new law that will impose heavy penalties of up to 12 years on anyone found guilty of poaching rhino.

“Previous laws didn’t penalise poaching, but we think this law will discourage Mozambicans who are involved in poaching,” Muaria tells IPS.

South Africa, according to press reports, is also considering legalising the rhino horn trade in an attempt to limit illegal demand by allowing the sale of horns from rhino that have died of natural causes.

Ten years ago the 15-member SADC regional block established the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) directorate. Since then regional protocols, strategies and programmes have been developed and passed, among them the SADC Transboundary Use and Protection of Natural Resources Programme.

Under the SADC Transboundary Use and Protection of Natural Resources Programme is the Regional Transfrontier Conservation Area Programme (TFCA) and Malawi and Zambia have benefited from this arrangement so far.

Malawi’s Minister of Tourism and Wildlife Kondwani Nakhumwa tells IPS that the Nyika Transfrontier Conservation Area project has helped reduce poaching in Nyika National Park, the country’s biggest reserve.

The Malawi-Zambia TFCA includes the Nyika-North Luangwa component in Zambia situated on a high undulating montane grassland plateau rising over 2000m above the bushveld and wetlands of the Vwaza Marsh.

During summer a variety of wild flowers and orchids bloom on the highlands, making it one of Africa’s most scenic views unlike any seen in most other game parks.

“Through the project, Vwaza has managed to confiscate 10 guns, removed 322 wire snares and arrested 32 poachers,” Nakhumwa tells IPS.

Humphrey Nzima, the international coordinator for the Malawi-Zambia TFCA, says that since the project was launched there has been a general increase in animal populations.

“Significant increases were noted for elephant, hippo, buffalo, roan antelope, hartebeest, zebra, warthog and reedbuck,” says Nzima citing surveys conducted in the Vwaza Marsh and Nyika national park.

The escalating poaching crisis and conflicts on the ground occurring in many national parks across Africa will be one of the topics of discussion at this year’s International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Parks Congress 2014, which is currently taking place in Sydney, Australia.

“In Sydney, we will tackle these issues in the search of better and fairer ways to conserve the exceptional natural and cultural richness of these places,” says Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of Gabon and patron of the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Kenya on the Right Economic Path But Challenges Abound Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:26:44 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Though Kenya has posted a strong economic performance, resulting in a recent middle income bracketing, experts say that achieving the targeted double-digit economic growth rate will not be easy. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Though Kenya has posted a strong economic performance, resulting in a recent middle income bracketing, experts say that achieving the targeted double-digit economic growth rate will not be easy. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

Each year on Dec. 10, Lucy Mwende and her two children hop aboard a night bus and travel to the white sandy beaches and warm waters of Kenya’s Indian Ocean, some 441 km from the capital, Nairobi.

But this year they will miss that bus because Mwende says, “crowded places increase the risk of terror attacks.”

The most recent attacks were on Nov. 2 when an army barracks in the port city of Mombasa and a police station in the tourist resort of Malindi, both in Coastal region, were attacked by suspected separatist group the Mombasa Republican Council.

Kenya’s coast is a leading tourist destination and attacks there have hit the tourism sector hard. Earnings from tourism have fallen for three years in a row.

Last year, 1.09 million international visitors came to Kenya. It was a 11.3 percent drop from 1.23 million who visited in 2012.

The country earned 1.05 billion dollars from tourism in 2013, down from 1.06 billion dollars in 2012. Even though the drop appears marginal, government statistics show that a poor performance by the tourism sector in the second quarter of the year slowed down economic expansion to 5.8 percent compared to 7.2 percent in a similar period last year.

Though Kenya has posted a strong economic performance, which resulted in its recent reclassification to a middle income country, experts say that achieving the targeted double-digit economic growth rate, an increase from the current 5.7 percent, will not be easy.

All sectors are required to contribute in catapulting this East African nation’s economic growth, and there is increasing concern on the impact of insecurity on this growth.

“[The government] must become more proactive in addressing security lapses in a manner that will instil investor confidence,” David Owiro, from local think tank Institute of Economic Affairs, tells IPS.

Some sectors are more sensitive to insecurity and the impact to the economy is immediate, he says.

Danson Mwangangi, an economist in East Africa, tells IPS that insecurity, low rainfall and fiscal expansion are also some of the key challenges that the country will “first have to overcome”.

While grappling with insecurity, Mwangangi says, the government must also find ways to overcome its fiscal expansion challenges.

Fiscal policy is a plan that the government sets in regard to taxation and spending and fiscal expansion occurs when the government “decides to either spend more or lower on taxes.”

Although there are several fiscal policies in place to attract foreign direct investment, Owiro says that they are largely in-operational because they were not properly designed.

These policies were designed to ensure that the revenue received by the government is more than what is foregone in taxes.

For instance, capital allowance allows foreign investors to deduct the sum capital that they invested in the country from their tax payments, so that they are taxed less.

“For investors to qualify they had to invest outside Nairobi yet infrastructure connectivity and markets are best in Nairobi. This requirement has discouraged investors,” Owiro says.

Further, tax holidays, where foreign investors are exempted from paying taxes for a period of time have also not worked.

“Foreign investors were required to set up in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ), to manufacture for export. The main idea was to profit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),” Owiro says.

AGOA provides trade preferences for quota- and duty-free entry into the United States for certain goods.

These goods, however, fall within the textile industry. “We do not grow any textile, our cotton industry is dead, most of the textiles we do are re-exports, such as importing cotton with a view to export,” Owiro says.

Kenya therefore ended up with an EPZ that has only a handful of firms as opposed to an industry, he says.

Dinah Mukami of the local lobby group Bunge la Wananchi tells IPS that the government must address the country’s high unemployment rates so that “more people have money in their pockets.”

According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, open unemployment (where people who are unable to find work) is at 12 percent. When you look at the number of people who are underemployed or in seasonal employment, the figure is as high as 44 percent of the workforce.

“Nearly half of the workforce is not fully employed. We have to begin finding opportunities for these people,” Owiro explains.

Young people are adversely affected by unemployment. According to Owiro, for every adult beyond the age of 35 without a job, Kenya have two youthful persons who are unemployment.

But the government can only create a limited number of jobs.

What the country needs is a critical mass of competitive entrepreneurs with an interest in the domestic, regional and international markets “who can create a class of jobs that the government cannot,” Owiro says.

According to Mukami, the system of governance here has a direct impact on the economy.

Since 2013, the country has been implementing a devolved system of governance “bringing the government closer to the people as opposed to a single central national government that sits in the capital, Nairobi,” Mukami says.

Devolution held great promise for ordinary people as it was expected to foster inclusive growth, address inequality and unemployment.

“Human resource and technical support were meant to be devolved from the national to the county governments or the grassroots where they are most needed,” Mukami says.

But instead there is a duplication of jobs, a bloated wage bill, corruption as well as low absorption rates, Owiro says.

Mwangangi says that to cushion the agricultural sector from severe climate changes, the government needs to raise about 12.76 billion dollars —  equivalent to the 2013/2014 national budget — to finance a five-year climate change adaptation and mitigation plan.

Without these needed interventions, Mwangangi says, the challenges various sectors are facing could negate the country’s strong economic performance.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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OPINION: Bringing More International Pressure to Bear on Wildlife Crime Sat, 08 Nov 2014 10:10:05 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers Wildlife crime is not only threatening iconic species such as elephants and rhinos. But marine turtles are also a group of species under threat from criminals. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Wildlife crime is not only threatening iconic species such as elephants and rhinos. But marine turtles are also a group of species under threat from criminals. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Bradnee Chambers
QUITO, Ecuador, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

A surge in wildlife crime is fuelling criminal syndicates, perpetuating terrorism, and resulting in the loss of major revenues from tourism and industries dependent on iconic species while also endangering the livelihoods of the rural poor.

But this surge in wildlife crime is not only threatening iconic species, which include elephants, rhinos and tigers, but also lesser-known animals that are also on the brink of extinction.

Wildlife crime is estimated to be worth between seven and 23 billion dollars per year and is growing at a pace never seen in recent memory.

A great deal of attention has rightly been focused on the illegal trade of ivory from elephants and rhino horns, which has spiked out of control and is devastating these animals’ populations.

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

But what the public does not know is that crime is not just limited to these species — it is also affecting many others, driving some to the brink of extinction and is depleting a wide range of economically important natural resources.

Illegal trapping results in millions of birds being indiscriminately taken every migration to supply the voracious appetite in restaurants that offer local song-bird delicacies.

The illegal charcoal trade is having a major impact on the fragile ecosystems in East Africa and threatening the habitats of birds and terrestrial mammals that depend on these ecosystems for their survival.

The scale of habitat loss is alarming and it is emerging that Al Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group responsible for the West Gate Mall attack in Nairobi in 2013, is financing its activities with proceeds of illegal charcoal sales.

Illegal fishing is the second-largest type of environmental crime, accounting for between 11 and 30 billion dollars a year. It is increasingly becoming a widespread global phenomenon that requires sustained law enforcement, stricter regulation and improved public awareness of the impacts.

The criminal activities also include illegal shark finning, which feeds crime syndicates selling the fins to markets in East Asia. Shark populations have been decimated because of the demand for the animals’ fins and oil. Estimates have shown that fins of between 26 and  73 million sharks are being traded each year, a number which is three to four times higher than overall reported shark catches worldwide.

Marine turtles are another group of species under threat from criminals. Poaching of green and hawksbill turtles, which are endangered, is still widespread in the Coral Triangle of South East Asia and in the Western Pacific Ocean. Poachers use both the shell of the turtle for raw materials for luxury goods and souvenirs, and their meat and eggs — which are considered a rare delicacy.

In Central Asia the Snow Leopard, which is highly-endangered, is still poached for its fur pelt while its primary prey, the Argali mountain goat, is also poached for its horn. As a result there is double impact on the populations of Snow Leopard to the point where there are fewer than 2,500 left in the wild.

The live capture of cheetahs remains a major threat to their already endangered populations. Sought after as pets for the rich and wealthy, many cheetahs are captured and smuggled to private collectors throughout the world. Only one in six cheetahs survives this illegal trafficking.

These are but a few examples of the other species under threat and that demonstrate the magnitude of worldwide wildlife crime.

Quito, Ecuador is hosting a major conference for more than 120 states under the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which will address these and other dimensions of wildlife crime that are not as readily understood globally.

Before the conference is a resolution proposed by Monaco and Ghana that is meant to broaden the fight against wildlife crime.

The resolution is also meant to bring into the spotlight other species of wildlife under threat as well as the increasing number of types of crime. These include some that take place inside countries such as markets for bushmeat and charcoal, and open bazaars that fuel the unsustainable demand for endangered species.

CMS is a convention which requires countries to either put in place conservation strategies to sustainably manage the populations or in the case of endangered species ensure there is no taking.

In this way, the Convention can be a very powerful vehicle for beefing up enforcement, increasing pressure for stronger legislation and working directly in countries to combat wildlife crime.

If adopted, the resolution will unleash the potential of this important convention to start to place international pressure on countries to address all dimensions of wildlife crime both within these countries and internationally where there animals move.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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The Young, Female Face of HIV in East and Southern Africa Fri, 07 Nov 2014 07:24:48 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Gender inequalities explain why prevention is failing to contain HIV infection among young women in East and Southern Africa. UNAIDS calls for a major effort to reduce their risk of infection. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Gender inequalities explain why prevention is failing to contain HIV infection among young women in East and Southern Africa. UNAIDS calls for a major effort to reduce their risk of infection. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Nov 7 2014 (IPS)

Experts are raising alarm that years of HIV interventions throughout Africa have failed to stop infection among young women 15 to 24 years old.

“Prevention is failing for young women,” says Lillian Mworeko, HIV expert with International Community of Women Living with HIV in Eastern Africa, based in Uganda.

Among women in East and Southern Africa, four out of ten new HIV infections among women aged 15 years and over happen among  those aged 15 to 24, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Worryingly, HIV infection rates among young women are double or triple those of their male peers. In South Africa, the HIV prevalence of 18 percent among women aged 20-24 is three times higher than in men of the same age. 

The failure of prevention: young women and HIV in East and Southern Africa

In Lesotho, HIV prevalence of four percent among adolescent girls rises four-fold by the time they are 24.

In Botswana, the number of women newly infected with HIV (6,200 in 2012) has only declined by 14 percent since 2009.

The age of consent for marriage is 15 years in Malawi and Tanzania.

Nearly half of all girls in Malawi are married by age 19.

In South Africa, within the 25- 29 year age group, HIV prevalence among women is 28% and 17% among men (UNFPA)

In Tanzania, young women are almost three times more likely to be HIV positive than young men

In Malawi, the number of women acquiring HIV has not decreased since 2009, at 29,000 per year.

In Tanzania, HIV prevalence jumps from one percent among girls under 17 years old to 17 percent by age 24.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent and young women account for one in four new infections.

Source: UNAIDS

Equally alarming are surveys showing that fewer than two in ten young women know their HIV status.

Experts attribute this high HIV prevalence to gender inequalities, violence against women, limited access to health care, education and jobs, and health systems that do not address the needs of youth.

Biology does not help. Teenage girls’ immature genital tract is more prone to abrasions during sex, opening entry points for the virus, Dr Milly Muchai told IPS.

Muchai, a reproductive health expert in Kenya, says it is not just sex that drives HIV infections among young women but the age of the male sexual partner.

“The risk increases steadily with male partners aged 20 years and over,” she explains.

Older men are more likely to have HIV than teenage boys. The Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey 2012 shows that male HIV prevalence remains low and stable until the age of 24, when it shoots up significantly.

Due to intergenerational sex, women in this region are acquiring HIV five to seven years earlier than men, says Muchai, because these relationships are characterised by multiple sexual partners and low condom use. In transactional sex, the young woman receiving gifts or money loses power to negotiate safe sex.

But Kenya is not a unique scenario.

Shocking figures

In Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana, more than one in 10 females aged 15 to 24 are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS.

Dr Gang Sun, UNAIDS country director in Botswana, says that, in spite of the country’s remarkable progress in reduction of new infections and treatment, HIV is still a girls’ and women’s epidemic due to gender inequality and unequal power dynamics.

Among Batswana youth aged 20 to 24 years, HIV infection among women triples that of men, nearly 15 percent compared to 5 percent, he says.

Mary Pat Kieffer, senior director at Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Malawi, told IPS that as teenage girls become older, the risk of infection rises.

In Swaziland, HIV prevalence is six percent for girls aged 15 to 17 but rises to a whopping 43 percent by age 24.

Source: UNICEF

Source: UNICEF

A package of interventions

Kieffer says that many of the issues – poverty, lack of secondary education, few jobs, rape and intimate partner violence – that underpin the unacceptably high HIV prevalence among young women are bigger than what HIV programs alone can address.

Mworeko observes major gaps in reproductive and sexual health services for young people, when they are neither children nor adults, in the region.

“Whether it is prevention, treatment, care and support services, young people do not have a youth friendly corner,” she says.

Paska Kinuthia, youth officer with UNAIDS in South Africa, told IPS that sexuality education needs to be strengthened in schools across the region.

“The regional average of comprehensive knowledge of HIV and AIDS stands at 41 percent for young men and 33 percent for young women,” he says.

Experts agree there is no one single solution to protect young women and a combination of interventions is needed.

Addressing restrictive laws on the age of consent for HIV testing and for access to sexual and reproductive health services would be a good place to start, experts say.

Promoting gender equality and providing jobs for young people are part of the solution, says Sun.

In Tanzania, HIV infection among girls more than triples between 15-19 and 20-24 years.

This fact, says Allison Jenkins, chief of HIV/AIDS with the United Nations Children’s Fund in Dar es Salaam, underlines “the importance of orienting HIV prevention and economic livelihoods interventions during her transition to adulthood.”

For all these reasons, UNAIDS is calling for “a major movement to protect adolescent girls and young women from HIV infection.”

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Hopes of Controlling Sierra Leone’s Ebola Outbreak Remain Grim Thu, 06 Nov 2014 10:12:45 +0000 Lansana Fofana Concern is being raised by civil society and the public about how Sierra Leone’s government is handling the Ebola pandemic. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Concern is being raised by civil society and the public about how Sierra Leone’s government is handling the Ebola pandemic. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

The fight against the deadly Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa seems to be hanging in the balance as Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr Abubakar Fofana told IPS that the government is overwhelmed by the outbreak.

“We were not prepared for this Ebola scourge. It took us by surprise and with our weak health system, we can only rely on support given to us by our international partners,” he told IPS.

According to a report published last week by British charity Save the Children, five people are infected every hour here and the situation is worrisome.

The government has, however, downplayed this, claiming the report is hugely exaggerated and that the situation is getting better in some parts of the country.

However, concern is being raised by civil society and the public about how the government is handling the outbreak.

Bernard Conteh, the director of the rights advocacy group Anti-Violence Movement, told IPS: “The authorities should be more pro-active. They should pay health workers, who are the frontline soldiers in this fight, reasonably well and ensure they are supplied adequate Personal Protective Equipments. This is not happening. Even the enforcement of the quarantine of Ebola suspects is not effectively done.”

On just one day, Nov. 2, 61 new cases were reported across the country bringing the nationwide toll to 4,059 people infected by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country. Liberia has recorded 2,515 cases while Guinea, where the epidemic first started, has 1,409 recorded cases of Ebola.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic in April, Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola. And the figure keeps going up.

The African Governance Initiative has also painted a grim picture of the outbreak here, saying that it is spreading nine times faster than it did two months ago. Of the 12 districts in the country and the capital Freetown, only Koinadugu in the north was Ebola-free — until recently. It now has at least six confirmed cases. Now, no part of Sierra Leone is unaffected but the virus.

The government has, however, been assisted by the international community. The United Kingdom has sent medical equipment and health workers, and has built test and treatment centres in parts of the capital. China has also sent medical aid, while Cuba has deployed dozens of medics on the ground.

But, there are still many challenges to be addressed. According to the medical charity MSF or Doctors Without Borders, the outbreak is far from over and more help is desperately needed.

“There is a huge gap in all aspects of the response, including medical care, training of health staff, infection control, contact tracing, epidemiological surveillance, alert and referral systems, community education and mobilisation,” MSF says.

As the fight against the killer epidemic continues to prove difficult with the virus spreading fast, the government in Freetown has just implemented a year-long state of emergency. This comes just two days after an earlier 90-day state of emergency, implemented in July in response to the outbreak, ended.

Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Frank Kargbo told IPS the extension of the emergency period was necessary to help control the spread of the virus.

“No one knows when the Ebola epidemic will end. We believe that within this period and with our hard work, we will be able to contain the disease.”

Many attribute the rapid spread of the Ebola virus to people’s attitudes and, as MSF says, a lack of sufficient community education and mobilisation. Cultural practices and traditional beliefs are also greatly hampering the fight against Ebola.

“Our people still continue to touch, wash and bury their dead. This is an easy way to get infected, even though they have been told repeatedly not to do so,” the chairman of the National Ebola Response Committee, Alfred Palor Conteh, told IPS.

People also refuse to report to hospitals when they fall ill because of the fear of stigmatisation by their families and communities. Many believe that Ebola is fatal and that going to treatment centres will not help. Ebola survivors and discharged patients also face stigmatisation.

However, Health Health and Sanitation Minister Fofana said he was hopeful the situation would be brought under control soon with international help.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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UNIDO Forum Expresses Cautious Optimism on Ethiopia’s Economic Strides Wed, 05 Nov 2014 23:29:43 +0000 Julia Rainer By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Nov 5 2014 (IPS)

With annual economic growth rates of over 10 percent and attractive investment conditions due to low infrastructural and labour costs, Ethiopia is eagerly trying to rise from the status of low-income to middle-income country in the next 10 years.

Ethiopia, with some 94 million inhabitants, is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, but it remains a predominantly rural country. Only 17.5 percent of the population lives in urban areas, mainly Addis Ababa.

It is also one of the continent’s fastest growing economies. Between 2015 and 2018 growth is expected to average 7.3 percent, according to a recent study by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

While economic growth since 2006/2007 doubled per capita income to 550 dollars in 2012/13, and the percentage of people living below the national poverty line dropped from 38.9 in 2004 to 29.6 in 2011, government sources admit that eradication of poverty remains a compelling issue.“There is not a single country in the world which has reached a high state of economic and social development without having developed an advanced industrialised sector” – UNIDO Director General Li Yong

The official target of rising to a middle-income country is considered to be realistic, but an East Asian diplomat accredited to the African Union in Addis Ababa says there is reason to be sceptical, partly because although the amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) rose from 0.5 percent in 2008 to 2 percent in 2013, investors continue to face trade constraints.

According to UNIDO, these are mainly related to border-logistics. Djibouti, the main import-export seaport used by Ethiopia, is situated 781 km from Addis Ababa, which makes the cost of land transportation a critical factor.

It is against this backdrop that UNIDO has chosen Ethiopia, along with Senegal, as a pilot country for its ambitious inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) programme, which aims to achieve industrialisation in developing countries in order to eradicate poverty and create prosperity.

According to UNIDO Director General Li Yong, “there is not a single country in the world which has reached a high state of economic and social development without having developed an advanced industrialised sector”.

What distinguishes the ISID programme is that “current modes of industrialisation are neither fully inclusive nor properly sustainable”, he added. UNIDO is therefore not merely promoting industrialisation but trying to approach the needs and challenges of the globalised world that demand future-oriented concepts.

Promoting the sustainability that should be inherent to industrialisation, UNIDO says that the ISID programme takes into account environmental factors together with its partner countries and organisations.

It also fosters an industrialisation that is inclusive in sharing the benefits of the generated prosperity for all parties involved, thereby promoting social equality within populations as well as an equal distribution between men and women to ensure that nobody is excluded from the benefits of growth.

To show how these objectives can be met and to promote ISID, UNIDO organised the Second Forum on ISID from Nov. 4 to 5 in Vienna. In an opening statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “We have a vision of a just world where resources are optimised for the good of people. Inclusive and sustainable industrial development can drive success.”

The Secretary-General, who is a strong advocate of the sustainable development agenda, also said that in order to achieve this objective, “industrial development must abandon old models that pollute. Instead, we need sustainable approaches that help communities preserve their resources.”

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Prime Minister Mahammed Dionne of Senegal – representing the two pilot countries chosen for ISID – commended UNIDO for implementing a partnership programme, and Ethiopia’s State Minister of Industry, Mebrahtu Meles, emphasised that building industrial zones will accelerate industrialisation, as has been done by Asian countries such as China.

Forum participants expressed optimism about Ethiopia achieving economic growth through inclusive and industrial sustainable development provided that leadership and vision focused on the country’s comparative advantages while improving infrastructure.

They said that regional integration could be key for the development of the country, and called for further exploration of UNIDO’s role as a catalyst of transformational change.

In particular additional efforts were required to enhance the productivity in existing light industries such as agro-food processing, textiles and garments, leather and leather products. There was also a need to diversify by launching new industries such as heavy metal and chemicals and building up high-tech industries like packing, biotechnology, electronics, information and communications.

The ambassadors of China, Japan and Italy to Ethiopia – Xie Xiaoyan, Kazuhiro Suzuki and Giuseppe Mistretta respectively – as well as business stakeholders and development banks assured their continued support in helping Ethiopia take the path towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development, mainly through UNIDO.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Middle-Income Kenya Still in Need of Aid Tue, 04 Nov 2014 08:40:00 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Gabriel Kimwaki on his coffee farm in Nyeri County, central Kenya. Agriculture is still the backbone of the economy even when many small-scale farmers continue to receive minimal returns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Gabriel Kimwaki on his coffee farm in Nyeri County, central Kenya. Agriculture is still the backbone of the economy even when many small-scale farmers continue to receive minimal returns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Nov 4 2014 (IPS)

Coffee farmer Gabriel Kimwaki from Nyeri County, in central Kenya, is considering “giving up farming altogether”.

He told IPS that the returns are too low “and with every harvesting season, I am making less and less profit.”

His is not a unique story. Francis Njuguna, an agricultural extension officer in the area, told IPS that while it is still difficult to quantify, “more farmers are shifting to food crops. The cash crop business is proving to be too risky for small-scale farmers.”

Kenya was reclassified as a middle-income country in early October, but as this East African comes to terms with its new ranking, it is becoming clear that status alone will not result in fewer people going to sleep hungry.

There is still a great need to address the plight of Kenya’s poor, as agriculture remains the backbone of the economy.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, based on a five-year average from 2009 to 2013, the agricultural sector’s contribution to the GDP is now estimated at 25.4 percent — up from 24.1 percent.

The contribution that small-scale farmers like Kimwaki make cannot be overemphasised with government statistics showing that small-scale production accounts for at least 75 percent of the total agricultural output and 70 percent of marketed agricultural produce.

Economic analyst Jason Braganza told IPS that “the move to middle-income status was as a result of using better data from high-performing sectors.”

The sectors include agriculture, telecommunication, real estate and manufacturing — the latter sector’s contribution to GDP has risen from 9.5 percent to 11.3 percent, according to Braganza.

What the revised GDP revealed, Braganza said, “is that the country is worth much more than what was previously recorded.”

The country’s GDP is now estimated at 53.4 billion dollars compared to 42.6 billion dollars before the revision, making Kenya the ninth-largest economy in Africa, up from the 12th position.

Kenya’s gross national income rose to 1,160 dollars, up from an estimated 840 dollars before the revision. According to the World Bank, a country is classified as middle income if its gross national income per capita — a nation’s GDP plus net income received from overseas — surpasses 1,036 dollars.

While this has been hailed as a move in the right direction for a country that remains East Africa’s strongest economy, policy analyst Ted Ndebu told IPS that this does not mean that Kenya is “rich and that it has risen above its social economic challenges.”

World Bank statistics show that more than four out of 10 Kenyans live in poverty. The country has a population of 44.3 million. With an economic growth rate of 5.7 percent, Ndebu said that the country “is still a long way off from a double-digit growth rate of at least 10 percent as outlined in the Vision 2030, the country’s economic blueprint.”

Braganza explained that revising the GDP or rebasing the economy is a purely “statistical exercise. It provides a better understanding of the economy but in itself, it does not change people’s poverty status.”

But he added that based on the new statistics, “the government has a better understanding of which sectors are driving the growth of the economy. But it does not mean that fewer people are sleeping hungry.”

He said that economic growth alone would not eliminate poverty.

“Growth must be accompanied by development. It is development that reduces poverty because it addresses issues like access to education, health services, jobs and so on,” Braganza said.

He explained that there were many factors that were not captured in statistics and income bracketing is not always a true representation of the people’s well being. “That is why household surveys are important. They show you the conditions under which people are living.”

Braganza added that this did not mean that rebasing the economy was not important. “It is very significant because the findings can be used to boost development and improve people’s living standards.”

The government would also be able to see which sectors can potentially bring in revenue, and tax them accordingly, thereby exploiting the potential that each sector has to the fullest.

But Ndebu said this could have a downside effect if the sectors are taxed too heavily and could discourage investment and innovation particularly in the telecommunication industry which pioneered mobile payments technology.

But this is not the only implication. Kenya could also be overlooked by donors.

Jason Lakin, the country manager at International Budget Partnership Kenya, told IPS that donors have in recent years focused on the poorest countries and a middle-income country may not be prioritised for funding.

He said that low-income countries generally qualify for more generous assistance.

“Take the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) credits, which are loans given to countries on very concessional terms [low interest and long repayment periods]. Middle-income countries will not qualify for these terms,” he explained, adding that middle-income countries may still get loans at  higher rates or over shorter repayment periods.

“Kenya may not find donor financing as attractive when the interest rates are higher and repayment periods shorter because it has now shown that it can borrow internationally,” said Lakin.

While market rate borrowing may still have higher rates than donor financing, experts say that donor funding usually has other conditions, making it less attractive for a country with other options.

Lakin said that international bond markets for instance “only want to be repaid and do not impose any conditions.”

Although Kenya is not an aid-dependent country since aid accounts for only seven to 10 percent of the national budget, Braganza said that “we still cannot undermine the importance of [aid] because it finances key sectors such as health, agriculture and education.”

“Donor aid is very significant because it is used in social sectors where people are in very severe poverty conditions,” he said.

Ndebu added that there was also aid that does not go through the national budget but through non-government organisations, which significantly complemented government projects.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Uganda Still Grapples with Inadequate Funds to Tackle Climate Change Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:50:52 +0000 Prossy Nandudu A grieving Michael Kusolo and his wife Mary lost all their four children in the 2012 landslides on Uganda’s Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda’s Bududa District. Continuous rains in the eastern district of Bulambuli has left authorities fearing it could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A grieving Michael Kusolo and his wife Mary lost all their four children in the 2012 landslides on Uganda’s Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda’s Bududa District. Continuous rains in the eastern district of Bulambuli has left authorities fearing it could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

Until last month, Allen Nambozo’s only source of income was the cabbages, carrots and bananas she grew along the slopes of Uganda’s Mount Elgon in the eastern district of Bulambuli. 

But weeks ago her little vegetable farm was washed away by ongoing rains in the region. And now she’s not sure how she will earn a living.

The rains did not only destroy crops. The road network that connects Bulambuli to the neighbouring districts of Mbale and Kapchorwa was washed away. Nambozo, and her neighbours, sell their crop at the local markets in these neighbouring districts.

“I have nowhere to grow food. I have to wait for the rain to stop so that I can start afresh,” Nambozo told IPS. Bulambuli is located near the slopes of the fertile Mount Elgon, which is a dormant volcanic mountain. Despite the risks of farming on the Mount Elgon, many of Nambozo’s neighbours have opted to farm on the mountain because of its soil.

But district authorities have asked residents to move to safer places fearing that the continuous rains could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Currently, about 500 households are in danger if they are not relocated because of the continuous rains, Sam Wamukota, a member of the local disaster committee, told IPS.

But many are reluctant because there aren’t adequate facilitates to house them and because they want to remain near their fertile gardens.

“Even if we go to the school for shelter, [we will be] without bedding and food. It is useless, I think they should leave [us in] our homes because there we have some items to use instead of suffering in a group,” Nambozo’s husband, Mugonyi, told IPS.

Festus Bagoora, a natural resource management specialist at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) says efforts by the authority to get people to relocate to safer places have been frustrated by politicians who want to keep voters in their district.

Continuous farming on Mount Elgon and its surrounding areas has lead to the clearing of trees on its slopes.

“The vegetation meant to reduce the speed of the runoff from the mountain is has been cleared that is why whenever there is a land slide, especially on Mount Elgon, it is severe because the runoff carries a lot of material, including rocks that are dangerous to the communities,” Bagoora said.

He said NEMA has been monitoring the area and has advised the government and communities in the disaster prone areas in vain.

He added that this was likely that mudslides would continue because of climate change. Uganda is one of the East African countries likely to experience increased rainfall and droughts in the coming years and proper environment management practices need to be put in place.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which was launched in Kampala in September, some parts of Southern and East Africa will experience an increase in average annual rainfall of five to 50mm each decade.

Some assessments suggest that wet seasons will be more intense, as is currently the case in Uganda.

The report adds that most of the countries experiencing these climate changes lack sufficient data to plan adequately for them.

This has been the case in Uganda. And currently, this East African nation does not have the adequate resources to respond to emergencies that come along with a changing climate.

Chairman of Bulambuli district, Simon Peter Wananzofu, blames the government for taking too long to respond to the disaster.

“We have been pleading with the government to set up a relocation camp so that as we wait for them to [implement] improved infrastructure plans, we are safe somewhere. But they have failed to respond to our plea,” Wananzofu told IPS in a telephone interview.

“As I talk to you now, there are two big cracks on the mountain, which have been here for some time. These are likely to affect five sub-counties in Upper Bulambuli. Lower Bulambuli’s road network has been cut off by floods as well. So the situation is getting pathetic,” he said.

But the Ministry of Water and Environment, through its climate change policy, has developed guidelines for mainstreaming climate change activities in their budget, according to the ministry’s permanent secretary David Ebong.

“Our position is that starting in the 2015/16 budget processes, we want these guidelines to be integrated into the budget cycle so that each sector is compelled to create a budget line item for climate change so collectively we can mobilise resources from all sectors,” Ebong told IPS.

According to Ebong, the country still faces a challenge of inadequate finances to tackle climate change issues. He added that climate new was still a new entrant in Uganda’s budget planning processes.

“Apart from national financing we must look at other financing options like bilateral financing, financing under United Nations —  like the Green Climate Fund, among others — so  that there can be other financing options,” he said.

The move has been welcomed by environmentalists like Bagoora.

“Creating a fund for climate change is a welcome move, the way we react is too inefficient … we should be prepared rather than reacting. When a disaster happens, you start looking for money from left and right instead of acting immediately. And when [there are] money delays, people suffer and the problem increases,” said Bagoora.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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Mozambique Tackles its Twin Burden of Cervical Cancer and HIV Fri, 31 Oct 2014 05:27:07 +0000 Mercedes Sayagues 0 Fossil Fuels Won’t Benefit Africa in Absence of Sound Environmental Policies Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:10:54 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Recent discoveries of sizeable natural gas reserves and barrels of oil in a number of African countries — including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya — have economists hopeful that the continent can boost and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. 

But environmentalists and climate change experts in favour of renewable energy say that the exploration of oil and gas must stop, as they are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment.

Economic policies are not driven by environmental concerns, Hadley Becha, director of local nongovernmental organisation Community Action for Nature Conservation, told IPS.

Becha said that despite the global shift away from fossil fuels, “exploration and production of oil and gas will continue” while Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil and gas, are controlled by multinationals.

Like many experts in the oil and gas industry, Becha believes that multinationals will still be awarded permits by local governments as the extractive industry has shown a great potential for revenue generation.

According to KPMG Africa, a network of professional firms, as of 2012 there were 124 billion barrels of oil reserves discovered in Africa, with an additional 100 billion barrels still offshore waiting to be discovered.

And while only 16 African countries are exporters of oil as of 2010, at least five more countries, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, are expected to join the long list of oil-producing countries.

But Kenyan environmentalist and policy expert, Wilbur Otichillo, believes that in light of the global shift away from fossil fuels, “newly-found oil will remain underground. Most of the companies which have been given concessions for exploration in East Africa are from the West.”

He told IPS that these companies were likely to heed calls for clean energy, “especially since they are likely to be compensated for investments made to explore.”

But unlike Egypt, which has specific Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines for oil and gas exploration, many African countries, including Kenya, have only one classification of EIAs, Becha said.

For example, in Kenya, oil and gas exploration and production is controlled by the archaic Petroleum Act of 1984, which was briefly updated in 2012.

“The Petroleum Act of 1984 is a weak law, especially with regards to benefits sharing and is also silent on the management of gas,” Becha said, adding that the oil and gas sector was very specialised and required detailed and specific environmental impact guidelines.

Experts say fossil fuels will have a significant impact on weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last month, revealed that temperatures on the African continent are likely to rise significantly.

“There ought to be specific guidelines for upstream [exploration and production], midstream [transportation, storage and marketing of various oil and gas products] and downstream exploration [refining and processing of hydrocarbons into usable products such as gasoline],” Becha said.

Policy experts are pushing Kenya’s government to develop sound policies and comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure that Kenya benefits from upstream activities and can also explore technology with fewer emissions.

Executive director of Green Africa Foundation John Kioli told IPS that Kenya was committed to adopting technology with fewer emissions “for example, coal [one of Kenya’s natural resources] will be mined underground as opposed to open mining.”

Kioli, the brains behind Kenya’s Climate Change Authority Bill 2012, emphasised the need to address the issue of governance and legislation in Africa.

He added that while Africa was committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, “the continent lacks the necessary resources. Africa cannot continue looking to the East or West indefinitely for these resources.”

Kenya’s government estimates that the 2013-2017 National Climate Change Action Plan for climate adaptation and mitigation would require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013-2014 national budget.

Danson Mwangangi, an economist and market researcher in East Africa, told IPS that to achieve growth and development, and hence reduce poverty, “Africa will need to exploit fossil fuels.”

He says that industrialised countries are responsible for a giant share of greenhouse gas emissions and Africa too “should be allowed their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, but within a certain period. Not indefinitely.”

Mwangangi said it is now common to find assistance to Africa simultaneously counted towards meeting climate change obligations and development commitments. “This means that measured against more pressing problems like combating various diseases, climate change projects will not be given a priority,” he added.

But even as Africa is adamant that oil and gas exploration will continue, Becha says the gains will be short term and unlikely to revive the economy.

“With oil and gas, it is not just about licensing, there are also issues of taxation…” Becha said.

He explained that in the absence of capital gains tax, as is the case in Kenya and many other African countries, “the government will lose a lot of revenue to briefcase exploration companies who act as middlemen, robbing national governments of significant revenue.”

He added that African countries will have to establish a solvent fund where revenue from oil and gas will be stored to stabilise the economy “oil can inflate the prices of certain commodities hence the need to control surges in inflation.”

Ghana is also among the few countries with a capital gains tax and a solvent fund.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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OPINION: Keeping All Girls in School is One Way to Curb Child Marriage in Tanzania Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:00:58 +0000 AgnesOdhiambo Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

By Agnes Odhiambo
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

“You cannot continue with your education. You have to get married because this man has already paid dowry for you,” Matilda H’s father told her. Matilda, from Tanzania, was 14 and had just passed her primary school exams and had been admitted to secondary school. She pleaded with her father to allow her to continue her education, but he refused.  

She was forced to marry a 34-year-old man who already had one wife. Her family had received a dowry of four cows and 700,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 435 dollars).

“I felt very sad. I couldn’t go to school,” she told Human Rights Watch (HRW). Matilda said her mother tried to seek help from the village elders to stop the marriage but “the village elders supported my father’s decision for me to get married.” Matilda’s husband physically and sexually abused her and could not afford to support her.

A new HRW report, ‘No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania’, takes a hard look at child marriage in the Tanzania mainland. Four out of 10 girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. The United Nations ranks Tanzania as one of 41 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

In the report, HRW documents how child marriage exposes girls and women to exploitation and violence – including marital rape and female genital mutilation – and reproductive health risks. It pays particular attention to the ways in which limited access to education contributes to, and results from, child marriage.

In Tanzania, girls face several significant obstacles to education. In addition to gender stereotypes about the value of educating girls — such as Matilda faced — discriminatory government policies and practices undermining girls’ access to education and facilitate underage marriage.

Marriage usually ends a girl’s education in Tanzania. Married or pregnant pupils are routinely expelled or excluded from school.

Tanzanian schools also routinely conduct mandatory pregnancy tests and expel pregnant girls. Human Rights Watch interviewed several girls who were expelled from school because they were pregnant. Others said they stopped attending school after finding out they were pregnant because they feared expulsion.

One such girl, 19-year-old Sharon J., said she was expelled when she was in her final year of primary school.

“When the head teacher found out that I was pregnant, he called me to his office and told me, ‘You have to leave our school immediately because you are pregnant.’”

A 2013 Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training Tool Kit continues to recommend conducting periodic pregnancy tests as a way of curbing teenage pregnancies in schools. The new Education and Training Policy passed by Cabinet in June 2014 is regrettably silent on whether married students can continue with school, although it does make provisions for the readmission of girls after they have given birth and “for other reasons”.

Government use of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) has a disproportionate impact on children from poor backgrounds and exposes girls to child marriage. The government of Tanzania does not use the PSLE as an assessment tool, but rather as a selection tool to determine which pupils proceed to secondary school. Pupils who fail their exam cannot retake it or be admitted to a government secondary school.

Parents who are financially able can take their children to private schools. But parents whose daughters have failed the exam and who cannot afford private school fees, see marriage as the next viable alternative for girls.

Nineteen-year-old Salia J. was forced to marry at 15 after failing the PSLE.

“My only option was to join a private secondary school, but my parents are poor. My father decided to get me a man to marry me because I was staying at home doing nothing,” she told HRW.

A lost chance for education limits girls’ opportunities and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives. Ultimately their families and communities suffer too.

The Tanzanian government needs to urgently develop and implement a comprehensive plan to curb high rates of child marriage and mitigate its impact. Such a plan should include targeted policy and programmatic measures to address challenges in the education system that put girls at risk of child marriage.

The government should immediately stop the mandatory pregnancy testing of school girls and exclusion of married pupils and of pregnant girls from school. It should develop programs to encourage communities to send girls to school, and to enable married and pregnant girls to stay in school.

In the long run, Tanzania should take measures to increase access to post-primary education by taking all possible measures to ensure that all children can access secondary education irrespective of their PSLE results.

Many girls HRW interviewed regretted not being able to complete their education and asked that the government take steps to ensure girls who become pregnant or marry while in school are not denied an education. Tanzania should listen to the insights of those who know best what is wrong with the system: the girls themselves.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.


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OPINION: Ebola, Human Rights and Poverty – Making the Links Mon, 27 Oct 2014 17:38:33 +0000 Alicia Ely Yamin Health workers in an Ebola screening unit in Kenema government hospital, Sierra Leone. Health systems are not just a means for the technical delivery of goods and services; they are part of the core social fabric of societies. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/Demotix

Health workers in an Ebola screening unit in Kenema government hospital, Sierra Leone. Health systems are not just a means for the technical delivery of goods and services; they are part of the core social fabric of societies. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/Demotix

By Alicia Ely Yamin
CAMBRIDGE, Massachussetts, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

The catastrophic Ebola crisis unfolding in West Africa offers many lessons, not least for global anti-poverty efforts. These will culminate in a set of targets, to be agreed by the United Nations in 2015, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

First of all, the crisis should lead to a re-think of the triumphalism that has marked some of the global health debate in recent years, with some projecting a “grand convergence within a generation” between North and South, rich and poor countries, based upon the “end of preventable mortality, including from infectious diseases”.It is not a coincidence that, in addition to the legacy of colonial exploitation, and pillaging by their own corrupt and unaccountable governments in recent history, Liberia and Sierra Leone are two countries that have been ravaged by brutal civil wars.

Second, neither universal health insurance, without real access to public health as well as effective care, nor cash transfers, without connections to functioning systems, would have thwarted Ebola or the social devastation it is wreaking. Yet both are highly touted solutions to global poverty, and likely to be part of the SDG agenda.

Nor would “pay for performance”, whereby health workers are supposedly incentivised to be more productive by having compensation linked to quotas and outcomes.

All of which brings us to a third lesson from the crisis: silver-bullet solutions that focus on short-term outcomes, and often produce so-called ‘vertical’ interventions (that is, those de-linked from the broader context), actually do not work in the long term, or in the face of crises.

Human rights advocates have argued that there is a need to shift power relations to promote greater equity, to invest in strengthening institutions, to open spaces for meaningful participation by the people who are affected by health and development policies, and to construct effective and accessible accountability mechanisms.

Though often dismissed as airy-fairy, unmeasurable and utopian in mainstream public health and development circles, the Ebola catastrophe illustrates exactly why these investments are crucial.

Health systems are not just a means for the technical delivery of goods and services; they are part of the core social fabric of societies. They can either give expression to norms of solidarity and equality, or they can exacerbate social exclusion.

In the three most affected countries in West Africa, the health systems were all dysfunctional before Ebola hit, and were often a place where people – especially women and children – experienced their poverty and marginalisation.

The inadequate, and now decimated, health systems, and the rippling effects of the crisis on education, housing, and food, all raise issues of access to – and the enjoyment of – fundamental economic and social rights. These are just as important as the violations of civil rights, including unwarranted restrictions on movement, which might stem from the Ebola epidemic.

But it is equally important to realise how massive violations of human rights – civil and political, as well as economic and social – drive epidemics such as Ebola.

The unimaginable suffering we are witnessing is in no way simply an inevitable result of the “natural” pathophysiology or epidemiology of the disease.

It is not a coincidence that, in addition to the legacy of colonial exploitation, and pillaging by their own corrupt and unaccountable governments in recent history, Liberia and Sierra Leone are two countries that have been ravaged by brutal civil wars. These conflicts were fuelled by the rapacious global demand for precious minerals, and destroyed communities, dissolved family units, and disrupted farming, livelihoods and migration patterns.

Nor is it a coincidence that more than half the population in each heavily affected country lives in abject poverty (53 percent in Sierra Leone, 55 percent in Guinea, and 64 percent in Liberia). And, as noted above, women and children disproportionately suffer from the mass deprivation of economic and social rights that those numbers reflect.

I was in Sierra Leone when the evidence of the horrific atrocities during that civil war were everywhere to be seen: roadblocks which had previously been strung with human intestines, and beggars at street corners missing hands that had been cut off by the insurgents.

I was also there after the end of hostilities, when the humanitarian aid groups had mostly pulled out, leaving among other things a health system incapable of dealing with even the most basic health needs. Government facilities were missing essential supplies and medicines; health care workers often had no sutures or gloves, nor running water nor soap, and were using cell phones to provide light during surgical procedures.

The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 23 healthcare workers per 10,000 people, but there is still a desperate shortage of health care workers in the affected countries; in Sierra Leone, there were just 0.2 physicians and 1.7 nurse/midwives per 10,000 people at the outset of this crisis.

When I visited in 2009, close to 50 percent of primary health care providers in Sierra Leone were receiving no salary. To survive they charged illicit fees, and for drugs, or sold bed nets on the private market.

We must learn lessons from the Ebola crisis: not just to build temporary structures staffed by foreigners, which will disappear like sand castles when the crisis is eventually contained, or other horrors on our television screens draw our attention away.

This time, let’s make sure we do not accept the status quo ante as ‘normal’, and instead make long-term commitments to strengthening health systems, including public health measures. These will create not just more productivity and healthy years of life expectancy, but also promote people’s own voice and agency and the possibility of living lives in dignity.

And let’s take the time in finalising the SDGs to consider how best to tackle the rules of the global economic order, including the unfair terms for global trade, that drive the structural inequalities between countries. These limit the possibility of people enjoying their human rights even in the best of times, and can help set the stage for these horrific social calamities.

Ebola has shown vividly that we live in an invariably globalised world. We owe it to those with whom we share this planet, and to future generations, to establish a Sustainable Development Agenda that, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, promotes a “social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth [in that Declaration] can be fully realized” by everyone.

This article originally appeared on openGlobalRights

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Zimbabwe’s Rich Fuel Inequality Through Illicit Financial Flows Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:29:24 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi A woman poses at the front of a shack settlement in Epworth, outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Sixteen percent of the country’s 12.5 million people are deemed extremely poor. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

A woman poses at the front of a shack settlement in Epworth, outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Sixteen percent of the country’s 12.5 million people are deemed extremely poor. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Zimbabwe has lost 12 billion dollars in illicit financial flows over the last three decades and experts say this illegal practice is perpetuating social inequalities and poverty in this southern African nation.

A September report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) estimates that 63 percent of Zimbabweans are poor, with 16 percent of the country’s 12.5 million people deemed extremely poor.

While the number of extremely poor households in the country has reduced from 42.3 percent in 2001, Sydney Mhishi, a principal director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, told IPS that there is an overwhelming demand for cash transfers because of rising poverty and inequalities, mostly in rural areas.

  • Inequalities are more widespread in rural areas — occurring in 76 percent of rural households compared to 38 percent of households in the urban areas.
  • A majority of Zimbabwe’s people, some 7.7 million, live in rural areas.
  • Nearly 200,000 to 250,000 households in Zimbabwe are classified as ultra poor.

In 2013, about 55,000 households received up to 25 dollars in cash handouts every month from the government under the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Programme.

The government is supporting 20 percent of vulnerable and labour constrained households through the programme.

“The demand for the cash transfers is more in depth in urban areas. In urban areas we have also started a mix of cash [transfers] as well as electronic transfers in poor suburbs like Epworth,” Mhishi said.

A study conducted by the Institute of Development of Studies in 2013 and released last month, shows that poverty was increasingly taking on an urban face with levels higher than expected. Zimbabwe’s economy is in a fragile state subjugated by a liquidity crunch, funding constraints, and corruption, which has made the government struggle to raise revenue.

And even though Zimbabwe has vast natural resources, the blessings of its natural wealth has not benefitted its people.

The nation has of some of the largest diamond and platinum reserves in Africa and the world, and has over 40 exploitable minerals. All of this could potentially transform the lives of Zimbabwe’s citizens.

But the valuation of the country’s mineral deposits, experts say, remains unknown because of the shadowy arrangements under which most Zimbabwean mines are being exploited.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) points to a dearth of transparency and accountability in the management of the Marange diamond mines.

Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa said in December 2013, during his presentation of the 2014 national budget, that the government did not receive any diamond dividends in that year.

According to ZELA, of the seven companies operating in the Marange diamond fields, only one has shown some modicum of transparency and accountability by publicly disclosing its diamond revenue.

Janet Zhou, a programmes director with the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, told IPS that her organisation has been campaigning for a tax justice system, which exhorts big companies in the extractive sector to pay their dues to the government to enhance revenue collection.

“Illicit financial inflows cause inequalities because the government loses revenue that should in turn be redistributed to the poor through the trickle-down effect. The rich should pay taxes and subsidise the underprivileged so that they get access to social services,” Zhou said.

Zimbabwe has been affected by illicit financial flows, as money is illegally transferred or utilised elsewhere usually through criminal activities, corruption, tax evasion, bribes and cross-border smuggling.

Research conducted in August by the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) and the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit approximates that between 2009 and 2013, cash-strapped Zimbabwe lost 2,85 billion dollars through illicit financial flows in mining, fisheries, forestry and illegal safari activities.

The illicit financial flows occurred mostly through under-invoicing by multinational companies and weak legal and institutional frameworks. Afrodad policy advisor Momodou Touray says illicit financial flows deprive governments of revenue that should be ploughed into public sector investment and poverty-reduction programmes.

Zhou added that when the government failed to tap revenue from the rich, usually ordinary people become soft targets. Tafadzwa Chikumbu, an economic governance policy officer with Afrodad, agreed.

“Illicit financial flows perpetuate inequality because they are fuelled by rich multinational corporations and rich individuals who have the capacity to do tax planning resulting in transfer mis-pricing and trade mis-invoicing.

“So if the government fails to harness resources from them, it transfers the burden to weaker economic agents, who are the ordinary citizens,” he told IPS.

Chikumbu said this was demonstrated in the country’s August mid-term fiscal statement, which introduced a raft of tax measures targeted at raising revenue principally from ordinary tax payers.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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