Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:12:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Everyone Benefits from More Women in Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:38:47 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139448 Group photo at the high-level international meeting on Women in Power held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile, which analysed the human rights of women, as part of the major events held worldwide 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing. Credit: Ximena Castro/Government of Chile

Group photo at the high-level international meeting on Women in Power held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile, which analysed the human rights of women, as part of the major events held worldwide 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing. Credit: Ximena Castro/Government of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Women’s participation in decision-making is highly beneficial and their role in designing and applying public policies has a positive impact on people’s lives, women leaders and experts from around the world stressed at a high-level meeting in the capital of Chile.

“It is not about men against women, but there is evidence to show through research that when you have more women in public decision-making, you get policies that benefit women, children and families in general,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, told IPS.

“So women tend, when they’re in parliament, for example, to promote women’s rights legislation. When women are in sufficient numbers in parliaments they also promote children’s rights and they tend to speak up more for the interests of communities, local communities, because of their close involvement in community life,” she added.

Byanyima, from Uganda, is one of the more than 60 women leaders and government officials who met Friday Feb. 27 and Saturday Feb. 28 at the meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, organised by U.N. Women and the Chilean government in Santiago.“There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women's leadership. Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions.” -- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The conference was led by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who was the first executive director of U.N. Women (2010-2013), and her successor, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also took part in the inauguration of the event.

The meeting kicked off the activities marking the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in September 1995 in the Chinese capital, where 189 governments signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which contained a package of measures to bolster gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Two decades later, defenders of the human rights of women recognise that progress has been made, although they say it has been slower and more limited than what was promised in the action plan.

In terms of women’s access to decision-making, representation remains low.

In 1995, women accounted for 11.3 percent of the world’s legislators, and only the parliaments of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden had more than 30 percent women. And only three women were heads of state and seven were heads of government.

Today, women represent 21.9 percent of parliamentarians globally, and 39 lower houses of Congress around the world are made up of at least 30 percent women. In addition, 10 women are heads of state and 15 are heads of government.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, one of every four legislators is a woman, and in the last 23 years, six women were elected president of their countries, four of them in the last decade. And three of them were reelected.

In March 2014 Bachelet took office for a second time, after her first term of president of Chile in 2006-2010. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff began her second consecutive term on Jan. 1. And in Argentina, Cristina Fernández has been president since 2007, and was reelected in 2011.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, during her participation in the high-level event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”,in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, during her participation in the high-level event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”,in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world” was attended by a number of high-level women leaders, such as Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaité, First Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia Vesna Pusic, several vice presidents, and ministers from around the world.

Speakers mentioned achievements as well as multiple political, cultural, social and economic barriers that continue to stand in the way of women’s access to positions of power.

There are still countries that have not made progress, said Byanyima, of Oxfam, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations.

Tarcila Rivera, a Peruvian journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous women, told IPS that when assessing the progress made in the last two decades, “it should be made clear that we have advanced but have only closed some gaps.”

Rivera, the founder of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru, said the progress made has been uneven for native and non-native women, while there are continuing gaps in education, participation, violence and economic empowerment.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), one of every two women in the region is outside the labour market, and one of every three does not have her own income, while only one of every 10 men is in that position.

Another study by the United Nations regional body concluded that if women had the same access to employment as men, poverty would shrink between one and 14 percentage points in the countries of Latin America.

“There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women’s leadership,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, who prior to heading U.N. Women served as South Africa’s first female vice president (2005-2008).

“Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions,” she added.

But she said “We know that this is not happening enough, and we know that there can be both overt and subtle resistance to women’s leadership. We also know the devastating impact of leaving things as they are. We know that for women’s leadership to thrive, and for change to happen, all of us need greater courage and decisiveness.

“According to available data, it will be some 50 years before gender parity is reached in politics. Unless political parties take bolder steps,” she said.

Mlambo-Ngcuka recounted that during a Thursday Feb. 26 meeting with Chilean civil society representatives she called on a pregnant woman set to give birth in six weeks.

“I reminded everyone that her unborn daughter will be 50 before her world offers equal political opportunity. And that baby will be 80 before she has equal economic opportunity.”

According to the female leaders and experts meeting in Santiago, change cannot continue to be the sole responsibility of civil society groups that defend the rights of women, but requires action by the authorities and those in power – both men and women.

“The heirs of Beijing are the heirs of voices that call on us and urge us to put equality on the political agenda,” said Alicia Bárcena of Mexico, the executive secretary of ECLAC.

“Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women know what is needed to reach gender equality. Now it is time to act,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Manipulate and Mislead – How GMOs are Infiltrating Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 10:29:47 +0000 Haidee Swanby and Maran Bassey Orovwuje http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139429 “There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

“There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

By Haidee Swanby and Mariann Bassey Orovwuje
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

The most persistent myth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are necessary to feed a growing global population.

Highly effective marketing campaigns have drilled it into our heads that GMOs will produce more food on less land in an environmentally friendly manner. The mantra has been repeated so often that it is considered to be truth.

Now this mantra has come to Africa, sung by the United States administration and multinational corporations like Monsanto, seeking to open new markets for a product that has been rejected by so many others around the globe.“It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations are the bedrock of hunger in Africa”

While many countries have implemented strict legal frameworks to regulate GMOs, African nations have struggled with the legal, scientific and infrastructural resources to do so.

This has delayed the introduction of GMOs into Africa, but it has also provided the proponents of GMOs with a plum opportunity to offer their assistance and, in the process, helping to craft laws on the continent that promote the introduction of barely regulated GMOs and create investor-friendly environments for agribusiness.

Their line is that African governments must adopt GMOs as a matter of urgency to deal with hunger and that laws implementing pesky and expensive safety measures, or requiring assessments of socio-economic impacts, will only act as obstructions.

To date only seven African countries have complete legal frameworks to deal with GMOs and only four – South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan – have approved commercial cultivation of a GM crop.

The drive to open markets for GMOs in Africa is not only happening through “assistance” resulting in permissive legal frameworks for GMOs, but also through an array of “philanthropical” projects, most of them funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One such project is Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), funded by the Gates Foundation in collaboration with Monsanto. Initially the project sought to develop drought tolerant maize varieties in five pilot countries but, as the project progressed, it incorporated one of Monsanto’s most lucrative commercial traits into the mix – MON810, which enables the plant to produce its own pesticide.

Interestingly, MON810 has recently come off patent, but Monsanto retains ownership when it is stacked with another gene, in this case, drought tolerant.

WEMA has provided a convenient vehicle for the introduction of Monsanto’s controversial product, but it has also used its influence to shape GM-related policy in the countries where it works.

The project has refused to run field trials in Tanzania and Mozambique until those countries amend their “strict liability” laws, which will make WEMA, and future companies selling GMOs, liable for any damages they may cause.

WEMA has also complained to governments about clauses in their law that require assessment of socio-economic impacts of GMOs, saying that assessment and approvals should be based solely on hard science, which is also often influenced or financed by the industry.

African civil society and smallholders’ organisations are fighting for the kind of biosafety legislation that will safeguard health and environment against the potential risks of GMOs, not the kind that promotes the introduction of this wholly inappropriate technology.

About 80 percent of Africa’s food is produced by smallholders, who seldom farm on more than five hectares of land and usually on much less.  The majority of these farmers are women, who have scant access to finance or secure land tenure.

That they still manage to provide the lion’s share of the continents’ food, usually without formal seed, chemicals, mechanisation, irrigation or subsidies, is testament to their resilience and innovation.

African farmers have a lot to lose from the introduction of GMOs – the rich diversity of African agriculture, its robust resilience and the social cohesion engendered through cultures of sharing and collective effort could be replaced by a handful of monotonous commodity crops owned by foreign masters. 

There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems.

The mantra that GMOs are necessary for food security is hijacking the policy space that should be providing appropriate solutions for the poorest farmers.

Only a tiny fraction of farmers will ever afford the elite GM technology package – for example in South Africa, where over 85 percent of maize production is genetically modified, GM maize seed costs 2-5 times more than conventional seed, must be bought annually and requires the extensive use of toxic and expensive chemicals and fertilisers.

What is more, despite 16 years of cultivating GM maize, soya and cotton, South Africa’s food security continues to decline, with some 46 percent of the population categorised as food insecure.

It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations – such as unfair trade agreements and subsidies that perennially entrench poverty, or the patenting of seed and imposition of expensive and patented technology onto the world’s most vulnerable and risk averse communities – are the bedrock of hunger in Africa.

Without changing these fundamental power relationships and handing control over food production to smallholders in Africa, hunger cannot be eradicated.

A global movement is growing and demanding that governments support small-scale food producers and “agro-ecology” instead of corporate agriculture, an agricultural system that is based on collaboration with nature and is appropriate for small-scale production, where producers are free to plant and exchange seeds and operate in strong local markets.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

This opinion piece was originally published by Common Dreams.

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Bamboo – An Answer to Deforestation or Not in Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139394 Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares into private hands.

According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is also on record as saying the African continent loses over four million hectares (9.9 million acres) of natural forest annually, which is twice the world’s average deforestation rate. And deforestation, according to UNEP, accounts for at least one-fifth of all carbon emissions globally.

The dangerous pace of deforestation has triggered a market-based solution using bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics.“If grown in the right way, and under the right sustainable management system, in certain areas, bamboo can play a role in reversing ecosystem degradation” – Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean human rights activist

EcoPlanet Bamboo, a multinational company, has been expanding its operations in Africa while it promotes the industrialisation of bamboo as an environmentally attractive alternative fibre for timber manufacturing industries that currently rely on the harvesting of natural forests for their raw resource. The company’s operations extend to South Africa, Ghana and Nicaragua.

For EcoPlanet and some African environmentalists, commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent.

“If grown in the right way on land that has little value for other uses, and if managed under the right sustainable management system, bamboo can play a role in restoring highly degraded ecosystems and connecting remnant forest patches, while reducing pressure on remaining natural forests,” Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told IPS.

Happison Chikova, a Zimbabwean independent environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University here, agreed.

“Bamboo plants help fight climate change because of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and act as carbon sinks while the plants can also be used as a source for wood energy, thereby reducing the cutting down of indigenous trees, and also the fact that bamboo can be used to build shelter, reduces deforestation in the communal areas where there is high demand of indigenous trees for building purposes,” Chikova told IPS.

But land rights activists are sceptical about their claims.

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS.

Mutsvanga’s fears of small sustainable farms losing out to foreign-owned export-driven plantations were echoed by Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned African environmentalist and head of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank and advocacy organisation.

“No one can seriously present a bamboo plantation as a cure for deforestation,” Bassey, who is based in Nigeria, told IPS, “and unfortunately the United Nations system sees plantations as forests and this fundamentally faulty premise gives plantation owners the latitude to see their forest-gobbling actions as something positive.”

“If we agree that forests are places with rich biodiversity, it is clear that a plantation cannot be the same as a forest,” added Bassey.

Currently, bamboo is widely grown in Africa by small farmers for multiple uses. The Mount Selinda Women’s Bamboo Association, an environmental lobby group in Chipinge, Zimbabwe’s eastern border town, for example, received funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in order to create sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo resources.

Citing its many benefits, IFAD calls bamboo the “poor man’s timber.”

Further, notes IFAD, bamboo contributes to rural poverty reduction, empowers women and can be processed into boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed.

Currently, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s footprint in Africa includes 5,000 acres in Ghana in a public-private partnership to develop commercial bamboo plantations. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, certification is under way to convert out of production pineapple plantations to bamboo plantations for the production of activated carbon and bio-charcoal to be sold to local and export markets.

Environmentalist Bassey worries whether all these acres were unutilised, as the company claims. “Commercial bamboo, which will replace natural wood forests and may require hundreds of hectares of land space, may not be so good for peasant farmers in Africa,” Bassey said.

EcoPlanet Bamboo, however, insists it does not convert or plant on any land that could compete with food security.

“(We) convert degraded land into certified bamboo plantations into diverse, thriving ecosystems, that can provide fibre on an annual basis, and yet maintain their ecological integrity,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman’s claim, however, did not move long-time activist Bassey and one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, who questioned foreign ownership of Africa’s resources as not always to Africa’s benefit.

“Plantations are not owned by the weak in society,” said Bassey. “They are owned by corporations or rich individuals with strong economic and sometimes political connections. This could mean displacement of vulnerable farmers, loss of territories and means of livelihoods.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/ Phil Harris   

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A New Forensic Weapon to Track Illegal Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:01:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139356 Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, is deploying a new forensic weapon – DNA testing – to track illegal ivory products responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of endangered elephants in Asia and Africa.

Widely used in criminal cases, forensic DNA examination (Deoxyribonucleic acid) can help identify whether the elephant tusk is from Asia or Africa.“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement." -- Adisorn Noochdumrong

Asked whether this is a first, Dr Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at the UK-based TRAFFIC, told IPS: “It’s the first time I’m aware of when it’s been used to test ivory items for sale to prove their (illegal) provenance.”

However, he added, it’s worth noting that at the March 2013 meeting of CITES (the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), State Parties to the Convention were instructed that forensic information should routinely be gathered from all large-scale seizures of ivory (500kg).

Hence this is also an important demonstration of one technique that can be employed in the fight against the illegal trade in endangered species, he said.

The current project is a collaborative effort between Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and TRAFFIC, to battle the widespread illegal trade of ivory in Thailand.

Asked whether African countries have similar projects in collaboration with TRAFFIC, Dr. Thomas told IPS, “Not currently, although the scope of DNA and stable isotope analysis of ivory are being examined by others as means to determine the geographic origin of ivory within Africa.”

He also pointed out that any wildlife product, by definition, is associated with life and therefore open for DNA examination.

“So, in theory it could be a very widely employed technique in addressing wildlife trafficking.”

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sri Lankan and Sumatran elephants are on a list of endangered species, along with the black rhino, mountain gorilla, Bengal tiger, the blue whale and the green turtle, among others.

WWF says the global illicit wildlife trade is estimated at over 10 billion dollars annually and is controlled by criminal networks.

Specifically on the ivory trade, Dr Thomas told IPS, “We’re very wary about speculating over black market prices – in part, because they’re black market and therefore unverifiable, but more because of anecdotal evidence that high prices quoted in the media can lead to interest from the criminal fraternity in getting involved in trafficking.”

In a report released here, TRAFFIC said 160 items of small ivory products legally acquired by researchers, primarily from retail outlets in Bangkok, were subjected to DNA analysis at the DNP’s Wildlife Forensics Crime Unit (WIFOS Laboratory).

The aim of the exercise was to determine whether the ivory products were made from African elephant or Asian elephant tusks.

The African elephant Loxodonta africana is found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asian elephant Elephas maximas is found in Thailand and 12 other Asian countries.

The study also said forensic results show that African elephant ivory accounted for a majority of the items tested.

“Whilst the relatively small number of samples cannot be considered as representative of the entire ivory market in Thailand, it indicates that African elephant ivory is prominently represented in the retail outlets in Bangkok,” it noted.

This capability supports the enforcement component of Thailand’s revised National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) submitted to CITES in September 2014.

The plan was developed to control ivory trade in Thailand and strengthen measures to prevent illegal international trade and includes a strong focus on law enforcement and regulation, including the execution of a robust ivory registration system, according to the report.

“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement,” said Adisorn Noochdumrong, acting deputy director general of DNP.

“We are deeply concerned by these findings which come just at the moment a nationwide ivory product registration exercise is being conducted pursuant to recently enacted legislation to strengthen ivory trade controls in Thailand,” he added.

The report said the Thai government last month passed new legislation to regulate and control the possession and trade of ivory that can be shown to have come from domesticated Asian Elephants in Thailand.

With the passing of the Elephant Ivory Act B.E. 2558 (2015), anyone in possession of ivory – whether as personal effects or for commercial purposes – must register all items in their possession with the DNP from Jan. 22 until Apr. 21, 2015.

Penalties for failing to do so could result in up to three years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of Thai Baht 6 million (nearly 200,000 dollars).

“We remind anyone registering possession of raw ivory or ivory products under Thailand’s new laws that African Elephant ivory is strictly prohibited and ineligible for sale in Thailand,” said Noochdumrong.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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At the Margins of a Hot War, Somalis Are ‘Hanging on by a Thread’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/at-the-margins-of-a-hot-war-somalis-are-hanging-on-by-a-thread/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-margins-of-a-hot-war-somalis-are-hanging-on-by-a-thread http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/at-the-margins-of-a-hot-war-somalis-are-hanging-on-by-a-thread/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 11:14:14 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139313 Credit: Oxfam/Petterik Weggers

Credit: Oxfam/Petterik Weggers

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

After twin suicide bombings at a popular Mogadishu hotel last week that killed 25 and wounded 40, news reporters were seen swarming through the city, spotlighting the victims, the assassins, the motives and the official response.

This left actor Barkhad Abdi, who played opposite Tom Hanks in the movie Captain Phillip and was making his first visit to Somalia since age seven, unlikely to have the usual paparazzi following his every move.Ordinary Somalis have been facing life without a lifeline since the shutdown of money transfers that have been key in rebuilding Somali lives.

Yet Abdi, a Goodwill Ambassador for Adeso, a Kenya-based development charity, was there to bring attention to the plight of ordinary Somalis, facing life without a lifeline since the shutdown of money transfers that have been key in rebuilding Somali lives.

The money – over a quarter of a billion dollars from the U.S. alone – comes from families in the diaspora, the charity Oxfam America reports.

“The small amounts of money that members of the Somali diaspora send their loved ones comprise Somalia’s most important source of revenue,” wrote OxfamAmerica on its website. “Remittances to Somalia represent between 25 and 45 percent of its economy and are greater than humanitarian aid, development aid, and foreign direct investment combined.

“Remittances empower women and help give young men alternatives to fighting in armed groups. The money is the country’s lifeline.”

Because Somalia lacks a formal banking system, small companies were established, run by money transfer operators who could safely and legally deliver money to relatives and friends in Somalia. These companies used bank accounts to wire the money but most of those banks have shut down including the California-based Merchants Bank just last month.

According to the banks, around one percent of money transfer firms could not be properly investigated and pass due diligence checks by the federal currency control office. Yet this decision ignored the 99 percent of money transfer businesses which have been operating in this sector for decades.

Most money wired to Somalia originates in the U.S.

The move by Merchants Bank to pull the plug on the money transfer network could force law-abiding U.S.-based Somalis to choose between three options, according to Professor Laura Hammond of the UK School of Oriental and African Studies.

“They can stop sending money to their relatives living in the Horn of Africa. They can try to find alternative legal channels, but as a result are likely to be charged much higher transfer rates, reducing the amount of money their relatives receive. Or they can use unregulated and illegal ways to send money.”

Opinion writer George Monbiot put it more strongly. The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which triggered the bank closings, is, he charged: “The world’s most powerful terrorist recruiting sergeant… Its decision to cause a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the poorest, most troubled places on Earth could resonate around the world for decades.

“During the 2011 famine in Somalia, British Somalis saved hundreds of thousands of lives by remitting money … reaching family members before aid agencies could mobilise,” he wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

“Government aid agencies then used the same informal banking system – the hawala – to send money to 1.5 million people, saving hundreds of thousands more. Today, roughly 3 million of Somalia’s 7 million people are short of food. Shut off the funds and the results are likely to be terrible.

“Money transfers from abroad also pay for schooling, housing, business start-ups and all the means by which a country can lift itself out of dependency and chaos,” he continued. “Yes, banking has its uses, as well as its abuses. Compare this pointless destruction with the US government’s continued licensing of HSBC.”

Alternative, if more expensive, means of sending money legally, for instance through Western Union, are possible for some but not for people sending money to smaller towns and rural areas in Somalia and other parts of the Horn, where Western Union and smaller companies that still send remittances do not have a presence.

Instead, according to Oxfam, a large proportion of the 200 million dollars sent from the U.S. to Somalia each year will be forced underground. People will send money the way they did before Somali money transfer companies were formed: in cash, stashed in bags and pockets, or in other ways that will be impossible to track.

Meanwhile, as Abdi made a tour of his country of birth to see the impact of the diaspora dollars, he came in for a shock.

“Based on what you hear on the news, I expected to see a shattered country,” Abdi recalled from his visit. “But what I saw instead was a place full of resilience, entrepreneurship and hope.”

Accompanied by his sponsor, the Nairobi-based Adeso service agency, he said he met with young men who were learning how to become electricians to take part of the rebuilding of their country, and with women who were using newly acquired skills to come together and open successful businesses.

“When I was in Somalia I didn’t just see conflict, drought, and hunger,” Abdi said. “I saw people building a better future for themselves. And part of the reason why they’ve been able to do so is because of the remittances they receive from overseas. Let’s not threaten that lifeline and risk reversing all the gains that are being made.”

Hawala is one of Africa’s great success stories, wrote Monbiot. “But it can’t work unless banks in donor nations are permitted to transfer funds to Somalia.”

The report, “Hanging on by a Thread,” by Oxfam, Adeso and the Global Center on Cooperative Security, can be found on the Oxfam website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Hidden Billions Behind Economic Inequality in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/#comments Sat, 21 Feb 2015 13:01:00 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139288 Street vendors in Africa reflect the income inequality that pervades the continent, much of it due to corruption. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Street vendors in Africa reflect the income inequality that pervades the continent, much of it due to corruption. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 21 2015 (IPS)

Reports this year of illicit moneys from African countries stashed in a Swiss bank – indicating that corruption lies behind much of the income inequality that affects the continent – have grabbed international news headlines.

Secret bank accounts in the HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm unearthed this year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) were said to hold over 100 billion dollars, some of which came from Africa, including some of the poorest nations on the continent.

When these funds leave the region, they deny the very nations that need them most.

For example, at least 57 clients of the Swiss HSBC bank associated with Uganda were reported to be worth at least 159 million dollars. The World Bank has estimated that Uganda loses more than 174.5 million dollars in corruption annually.“Income inequality begins with our political leaders and corrupt wealthy business people who, more often than not, illicitly own the resources of the [African] continent” – Claris Madhuku, Platform for Youth Development, Zimbabwe

It is not a crime for Africans to have a Swiss bank account. But questions are now being raised by local tax offices as to whether the proper taxes were paid on the stashed amounts.

In South Africa, the head of the Revenue Service, Vlok Symington, said his office was analysing the information. “Early indications are that some of these account holders may have utilised their HSBC accounts to evade local and/or international tax obligations,” Symington was reported as saying by the South Africa Sunday Times.

“Income inequality begins with our political leaders and corrupt wealthy business people who, more often than not, illicitly own the resources of the continent,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Diamonds, for example, which have made many traders wealthy, are often mined by the poorest of the poor, treated almost as slaves in war-torn African countries, despite the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was established in 2003 to prevent the flow of these diamonds.

“It’s a case of greed and corruption,” thundered Zimbabwean independent political analyst, Ernst Mudzengi. “Africa has parasitic politicians who are primarily concerned with self-centred political power and economic gain as ordinary Africans remain at the periphery in poverty,” Mudzengi told IPS.

Development experts here attribute income inequalities to the continent’s lax anti-corruptions laws.

“African countries do not have sound anti-corruption laws and politicians and the rich amass too much power exceeding even the powers of the police here, leaving them with the liberty to accumulate wealth overnight by whatever means without being questioned,” Nadege Kabuga, an independent development expert in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, told IPS

“It’s shocking how huge banks such as HSBC have created a system for enormously profiteering at the expense of impoverished ordinary people, worse by assisting numerous millionaires from Africa in particular to evade tax payment, disadvantaging the already poor,” Zenzele Manzini, an independent economist based in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, told IPS .

“Very often, government directors, ministers and their secretaries are the ones globetrotting on government businesses, awarding themselves huge allowances and the lower government workers remain stuck at the periphery with no extra benefits besides the meagre salaries they get monthly,” a top Zimbabwean government official in the Ministry of Labour, told IPS on the condition of anonymity, afraid of victimisation.

Writing for Financial Transparency Coalition, a global alliance of civil society organisations and governments working to address inequalities in the financial system, Koen Roovers, the coalition’s European Union (EU) Lead Advocate, asked the deeper question: “How do we prevent this in the first place?”

To catch fraud sooner rather than later, capacity in developing countries must be increased, Roovers said. “The scale of the challenge is significant: the UK-based charity Christian Aid has estimated that sub-Saharan Africa would need around 650,000 more tax officials to reach the world average.”

Rich states have promised help to poor countries to build the capacity they need, but these commitments have yet to be honoured.

Researchers at the U.S.-based Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit organisation working to curtail illicit financial flows, said developing nations have lost almost one trillion dollars through illicit channels.

Without clearly defined measures to curb income inequalities, economists say the African continent may be headed for the worst levels of poverty set to hit even harder at the already poor.

“Africa may keep facing perpetual poverty amid rising income inequalities because governments here have no institutions and expertise to identify and halt money laundering by corrupt wealthy individuals and politicians evading tax,” Zimbabwean independent economist, Kingston Nyakurukwa, told IPS.

According to Roovers, “criminals and their enablers are creative, so the only way to prevent future scandals is to shed light on what criminals and tax dodgers are trying to hide. This is why online registers of assets for all legal persons and arrangements are necessary and should be publicly available.

“If we turn a blind eye to these loopholes,” he added, “economic development for all will continue to be undermined by illicit actors looking to exploit them.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Analysis: Mass Rapes and the Future of U.N. Darfur Missionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mass-rapes-and-the-future-of-u-n-darfur-mission/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-mass-rapes-and-the-future-of-u-n-darfur-mission http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mass-rapes-and-the-future-of-u-n-darfur-mission/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 23:29:03 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139209 A woman from Kassab camp for Internal Displaced Persons, in Kutum (North Darfur), shows her sorrow for the increase of rapes in the area in 2012. Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

A woman from Kassab camp for Internal Displaced Persons, in Kutum (North Darfur), shows her sorrow for the increase of rapes in the area in 2012. Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 16 2015 (IPS)

The future of the U.N. African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) could depend largely on determining what exactly happened in the town of Tabit in Northern Darfur at the end of October last year.

‘Mass Rape in Darfur’, a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week, documents over 200 alleged cases of rape of girls and women that occurred in Tabit over a 36-hour period from 30 October to 1 November last year.

UNAMID conducted its own investigation in Tabit last year, releasing a press statement on 10 November that stated that they “neither found any evidence nor received any information regarding the media allegations during the period in question.”

However, the United Nations Secretary General’s Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, stated on 17 November that, “The heavy presence of military and police in Tabit made a conclusive investigation difficult,” calling for UNAMID to be granted “unfettered” access to conduct a “full investigation.”

At the time the HRW report was released, UNAMID was still yet to be granted that access. UNAMID’s statement from 10 November remained on their website, without retraction or clarification.

IPS contacted UNAMID about the Tabit reports and was directed to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping which did not respond to IPS’ inquiries.

Satellite Image of the town of Tabit, Sudan. Credit: Human Rights Watch.

Satellite Image of the town of Tabit, Sudan. Credit: Human Rights Watch.

The contradiction between the Secretary General’s Spokesperson’s statement about UNAMID’s investigation and UNAMID’s own press release, fits within a pattern of reporting described, and documented in April 2014 by UNAMID’s former spokesperson turned whistleblower, Aicha Elbasri.

IPS spoke with Elbasri about her allegations and the implications of incomplete or inaccurate reporting of the situation in Darfur for UNAMID.

“The Tabit story which is extremely tragic confirmed what I’ve been denouncing for the past two years,” Elbasri told IPS.

Elbasri describes the investigations into her allegations, of incomplete and inaccurate reporting by UNAMID over the period of 2013 to April 2014,  as a ‘cover-up of a cover-up’.

“When Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), requested an independent thorough and public investigation into my charges I expected that Ban Ki-moon would respect this call, which he did not.” Elbasri told IPS.

Disagreement over conflicting reports of what happened in Tabit is also evident between the permanent members of the Security Council.

The United States Permanent Representative to the U.N. Samantha Power said on Thursday: “Because the Government of Sudan denied the UN a “proper investigation”, we have to rely on organizations such as Human Rights Watch to gather witness and perpetrator testimony and to shine a light on what happened.”

However, Russia has endorsed the Sudanese government’s own finding that there was not a single case of rape, calling on the US government to end economic sanctions against Sudan, which Russia claims are contributing to ongoing violence.

In December last year Fatou Bensouda the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court told the Security Council, “Given this Council’s lack of foresight on what should happen in Darfur, I am left with no choice but to hibernate investigative activities in Darfur.”

The ICC has had an arrest warrant out on Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir since March 2009, for his role as indirect co-perpetrator in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, even this arrest warrant reveals political divide between international governments, with some in Africa claiming that the ICC is unfairly targeting Africa.

Exit Would Leave Darfur’s Villages Unprotected

With UNAMID’s authorisation set to expire on 30 June 2015, there are concerns that plans to downsize or withdraw the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, will leave civilians unprotected amid ongoing violence.

“As we speak there are talks about the exit strategy. The Sudanese government is pressuring, with the support of the Russians and Chinese to just end this mission so that they have no witnesses on the ground and the can just finish off their crimes against humanity,” Elbasri told IPS.

“The United Nations is at a crossroads. It has to decide it means what it says. Whether it is still committed to protecting the millions of people in Darfur. Or whether it will just declare its failure and abandon the people of Darfur,” Elbasri said.

The HRW report also questioned the U.N. and A.U.’s downsizing of UNAMID.

“Officials have indicated that this process has been driven by several factors including Sudan’s hostility to the mission, the mission’s high cost, its long standing ineffectiveness with respect to its core mandate, and the perception that the conflict in Darfur is subsiding and no longer requires a robust peacekeeping force.

“The withdrawal of peacekeepers could undermine what little protection the mission has afforded the people of Darfur,” HRW stated.

HRW said that the U.N. and A.U.’s evaluation of UNAMID “should focus on how to urgently improve and bolster the ability of UNAMID to protect people from the kinds of horrific abuses that occurred in Tabit, and effectively investigate human rights abuses without endangering victims and witnesses.”

Professor Eric Reeves, a Sudan researcher and analyst, is also concerned for the future of UNAMID after its authorisation expires at the end of June.

“What will happen is it will not be renewed or it will be renewed in ways that will make it meaningless,” he said. “It’s really meaningless now. But this will go to unheard-of depths with any renewal that Khartoum will permit, otherwise they will simply demand that UNAMID withdraw.”

“We are approaching a moment of truth,” said Reeves.

Reeves told IPS that one of the reasons the UNAMID mission has failed is because it is a hybrid.

“It’s the countries of Africa that continue to celebrate UNAMID as a great success that are responsible here, and none of them is taking responsibility. And short of a non-consensual deployment of a civilian protection force, we will see on July 1st an eviscerated UNAMID or no UNAMID at all,” said Reeves.

“I believe that given the escalating level of violence, we are going to see a major major increase in civilian destruction and displacement. This has been ongoing for three years now, at least.”

Reports of Violence Continue

Hamza Ibrahim, Chairperson of Foreign Committee of the Darfur People’s Association of New York told IPS that violence in North Darfur has continued, including in areas where people have signed peace agreements with the government.

The government forces are occupying or burning down all of the water sources, people who usually access underground water by pump, now have no access to water and are dying of thirst, Ibrahim told IPS.

He said that when people called for help from UNAMID, that UNAMID said that they couldn’t help because they were in a ‘no go’ area.

“UNAMID have to go there to protect the people, that’s the reason they are there. But for us it looks like the mission is failing, because they can’t even protect themselves.” Ibrahim told IPS.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Cancer Locks a Deadly Grip on Africa, Yet It’s Barely Noticedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cancer-locks-a-deadly-grip-on-africa-yet-its-barely-noticed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cancer-locks-a-deadly-grip-on-africa-yet-its-barely-noticed http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/cancer-locks-a-deadly-grip-on-africa-yet-its-barely-noticed/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 01:31:02 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139139 Many specialist doctors and nurses in Africa are migrating to greener pastures, leaving cancer patients with few options. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Many specialist doctors and nurses in Africa are migrating to greener pastures, leaving cancer patients with few options. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

Hidden by the struggles to defeat Ebola, malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis, a silent killer has been moving across the African continent, superseding infections of HIV and AIDS.

World Cancer Day commemorated on Feb. 4 may have come and gone, but the spread of cancer in Africa has been worrying global health organisations and experts year round. The continent, they fear, is ill-prepared for another health crisis of enormous proportions.

By 2020, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 16 million new cases of cancer are anticipated worldwide, with 70 percent of them in developing countries. Africa and Asia are not spared.“Africa is at a crossroads in the face of rising cancer cases, with the disease proving to be more deadly than HIV/AIDS and it is worsening at a time when the continent faces a serious shortage of cancer specialists,” Menzisi Thabane, private oncologist in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province

“Africa is at a crossroads in the face of rising cancer cases, with the disease proving to be more deadly than HIV/AIDS and it is worsening at a time when the continent faces a serious shortage of cancer specialists,” Menzisi Thabane, a private oncologist in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, told IPS.

“Africa and its leaders have failed to recognise cancer as a high-priority health problem despite millions of people succumbing to the disease,” added Thabane.

Most of Africa’s 2,000 plus languages have no word for cancer. The common perception in both developing and developed countries is that it is a disease of the wealthy world, where high-fat, processed-food diets, alcohol, smoking and sedentary lifestyles fuel tumour growth.

While many cancers are linked to unhealthy diets and smoking, a large number – particularly in Africa – are caused by infections like hepatitis B and C which can lead to liver cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes almost all cervical cancers.

An HPV vaccine treatment costs 350 dollars for three doses over six months in most sub-Saharan African countries, whereas in Zimbabwe radiotherapy costs between 3,000 and 4,000 dollars for a whole session.

A study published in 2011 found that since 1980 new cervical cancer case numbers and deaths dropped substantially in rich countries, but increased dramatically in Africa and other poor regions. Overall, 76 percent of new cervical cancer cases are in developing regions, and sub-Saharan Africa already has 22 percent of all cervical cancer cases worldwide.

According to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, the country only has four oncologists catering to over 7,000 cancer patients nationwide. “The shortage of cancer doctors stands as an impediment to comprehensive treatment and care for cancer patients here,” Dr Prosper Chonzi, director of Health Services in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, told IPS.

The shortage of cancer specialists is also seen in West Africa.

Last year, The Vanguard, a Nigerian newspaper, reported that there were an estimated 60 oncologists serving over 300 million people in the West African sub-region with fewer than 20 oncologists serving 160 million Nigerians. Ghana has only seven for 24 million people, Burkina Faso two and Cote D’Ivoire just one. Sierra Leone has more than six million people and no cancer doctors.

Across the continent in Kenya, cancer accounts for approximately 18,000 deaths annually, with up to 60 percent of fatalities occurring among people who are in the most productive years of their life. Men are most commonly diagnosed with prostate or oesophageal cancer, and women are most frequently affected by breast and cervical cancer.

Zimbabwe’s health activists blame the absence of cancer education for the upsurge of fatal cases in the African nation. “Very few people, including government, consider cancer a real threat to the health delivery system,” Agnes Matutu, director of the Zimbabwe Cancer Alliance, an anti-cancer lobby group here, told IPS.

Melody Hamandishe, a retired government nutritionist, told IPS she blamed imported genetically modified foods. This contributes to cancer, she said, as does the abuse of alcohol, often causing liver cancer.

In Zambia, anti-cancer activists accuse the government of not prioritising the fight against the disease. “People are perishing in huge numbers because of cancer here in Zambia while government is seized with fighting HIV/AIDS,” Kitana Phiri, a cervical cancer survivor, now a devoted anti-cancer activist based in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, told IPS.

In Tanzania, cancer is also wreaking havoc. A January 2014 report by the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI), the only specialised facility for cancer treatment in this east African nation, said there are 100 new patients in every 100,000 population out of the country’s population of 45 million.

Finally, in Namibia, uranium workers were reported to have elevated rates of cancers and other illnesses after working in one of Africa’s largest mines.

Rio Tinto’s Rössing uranium mine extracts millions of tonnes of rock a year for the mineral. “Most workers stated that they are not informed about their health conditions and do not know if they have been exposed to radiation or not. Some workers said they consulted a private doctor to get a second opinion,” say researchers at Earthlife Namibia and the Labour Resource and Research Institute who collaborated in a study.

“The older workers all said they know miners dying of cancers and other illnesses. Many of these are now retired and many have already died of cancers,” says the study report.

Cancer is not beyond us in terms of cancer control and reducing the impact of the disease, declared the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) on World Cancer Day this year.

“The global cancer epidemic is huge and set to rise,” said Elize Jourbert, head of CANSA. “In South Africa, more than 100 000 are diagnosed annually. This day helps us spread the word and raise the profile of cancer”.

Under the tagline ‘Not beyond us’, World Cancer Day in South Africa focused on taking a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist regarding cancer care and early detection and that they are within reach.

Meanwhile, Ellen Awuah-Darko, the 75-year-old founder of the Accra-based Jead Foundation for breast cancer, says it was her personal experience of finding a breast lump and ending up paying tens of thousands of dollars to be treated in the United States that made her start to push for change.

“In America I had to put down 70,000 dollars before they’d even talk to me,” she said in an interview with Reuters. “I was lucky, I could afford it after my husband died and left me money, but I thought ‘why should I get treatment when others can’t’.”

Now, every Wednesday, Awuah-Darko goes with healthcare workers into communities in the Eastern Region of Ghana to offer women a simple breast examination and show them how to check themselves.

“Early detection can save your life,” she said. “I want everybody to know that. It’s not something people should be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Mass Rapes Reported in Darfur as Conflict Escalateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mass-rapes-reported-in-darfur-as-conflict-escalates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-rapes-reported-in-darfur-as-conflict-escalates http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mass-rapes-reported-in-darfur-as-conflict-escalates/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 17:08:54 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139099 A displaced mother and her child inspect the remnants of their burnt house in Khor Abeche, South Darfur. Apr. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

A displaced mother and her child inspect the remnants of their burnt house in Khor Abeche, South Darfur. Apr. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

More than 200 Darfurian women were reportedly raped by Sudanese troops in one brutal assault on a town in October 2014, with the conflict in war-torn Darfur escalating to new heights.

A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday claimed up to 221 women in the town of Tabit, in northern Darfur, were raped over a 36-hour period between Oct. 30 and 31.“Three of them participated in the attack, and two said they had orders to rape. Their attacks were more or less a pre-emptive strike on the town for allegedly supporting rebel groups." -- HRW's Jonathan Loeb

Several hundred Sudanese government troops were said to have looted the town, severely beat men and boys, and sexually assaulted women and girls.

Jonathan Loeb, the report’s author and a fellow in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS that HRW investigators were forced to conduct secretive phone interviews with victims and witnesses, as Sudanese forces blocked all access to the town. Even in the aftermath of the October attack, Loeb said United Nations peacekeepers, aid workers, human rights investigators and journalists were denied access.

“The only time they let anyone in, it was in circumstances not remotely close to a real investigation,” Loeb said.

“People did take real risks to talk to us. Some only wanted to speak after they obtained a new phone card or number that wasn’t registered to them, and some only spoke once they were outside the town.”

Witnesses and victims told of brutal beatings and whippings, as well as repeated rapes. They reported Sudanese forces claiming the attack was in retribution for the disappearance of a soldier from a nearby army base.

“[The soldiers] made us lie with our faces down and they said: ‘If anyone [lifted] their head it would be shot off. And if you don’t find our missing soldier you will be food for termites,’” a man called Idriss told HRW.

Khatera, a woman, explained the systematic nature of the Sudanese attack.

“Immediately after they entered the room they said: ‘You killed our man. We are going to show you true hell.’ Then they started beating us. They took my husband away while beating him. They raped my three daughters and me,” she said.

“Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one. One helped beat and the other raped. Then they would go to the next girl.”

Loeb said investigators had several theories on the reason behind the attack.

“We don’t know for certain, but from the victims’ perspective, they were being collectively punished for the soldier going missing. They were accused of abducting or killing him,” he said.

He said other possible reasons for the attack included discouraging rebel forces from using Tabit as a meeting point before attacking the Sudanese base. Four Sudanese defectors told HRW the base had received intelligence that a rebel commander was to soon arrive in Tabit.

“Three of them participated in the attack, and two said they had orders to rape. Their attacks were more or less a pre-emptive strike on the town for allegedly supporting rebel groups,” Loeb said.

Dan Sullivan, director of policy and government relations with activist organisation United To End Genocide, said the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated in recent months.

A U.N. panel reported over 3,000 villages were destroyed by Sudanese forces in 2014, with almost 500,000 people displaced.

“It is bad, and it’s getting worse. The sad truth is, we’re seeing the highest levels of violence and displacement since the height of the Darfur genocide almost a decade ago,” Sullivan told IPS.

“A lot of people have been displaced consistently over a long time. There’s lawlessness, tribes fighting over gold reserves, and the government of Sudan continues to drop bombs in direct violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. There just hasn’t been any enforcement of violations.”

Both Sullivan and Loeb attributed a recent surge in violence to a newly created militia force, the Rapid Support Force (RSF). Sullivan said the RSF was formed largely of former members of the Janjaweed, the Sudanese counter-insurgency force accused of killing tens of thousands of Darfurians during the genocide.

“They are a reconstitution of the Janjaweed, the men on horseback with guns. It’s the same people, but now they’re in this new force and supported by the government of Sudan,” Sullivan said.

Loeb said it was unclear whether the Sudanese government had directly ordered, or had knowledge of, the Tabit atrocity, but said the government at least played a role in the attempted cover-up.

“We’re able to state the soldiers reported they were given orders by a senior commander, and another travelled from the regional capital to participate. We’re not sure how far up the chain of command these orders came from,” Loeb said.

“We know the government at a variety of levels was complicit in the cover-up, and stopping the investigation going forward.”

Loeb said the commissioner of the locality threatened victims and witnesses with violence or death if they spoke to the U.N or journalists.

“There was significant government involvement, an government-orchestrated cover-up. But exactly how high it went, we don’t know,” he said.

The HRW report calls for the U.N. to make greater interventions into the conflict to protect at-risk Darfurian citizens, as well as for a formal investigation into the Tabit incident.

“Citizens in Tabit are extremely vulnerable. They are living in the same houses where the rapes happened, and Sudanese soldiers are a constant presence. We’re recommending the U.N. mission on the ground establish a permanent presence and base in the town,” Loeb said.

“The Security Council should demand that happen. The incident also requires further investigation by an international body. We say the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be best placed.”

Sullivan said the conflict in Darfur would continue until real structural and political change happened in the region. He said current Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, in power since 1989 and indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for the campaign of mass killing and rape, would retain power for the foreseeable future.

“It comes down to accountability. The guy in charge at the beginning of the genocide [Al-Bashir] continues to be president. He’s wanted on charge of genocide, but is set for election again and win again in April,” Sullivan said. “This cloud of impunity is a major part of allowing the attacks to continue.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Zimbabwe’s Famed Forests Could Soon Be Deserthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/zimbabwes-famed-forests-could-soon-be-desert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-famed-forests-could-soon-be-desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/zimbabwes-famed-forests-could-soon-be-desert/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 18:46:55 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139046 Uncontrolled woodcutting in remote areas of Zimbabwe like Mwenezi district has left many treeless fields. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Uncontrolled woodcutting in remote areas of Zimbabwe like Mwenezi district has left many treeless fields. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

There’s a buzz in Zimbabwe’s lush forests, home to many animal species, but it’s not bees, bugs or other wildlife. It’s the sound of a high-speed saw, slicing through the heart of these ancient stands to clear land for tobacco growing, to log wood for commercial export and to supply local area charcoal sellers.

This, despite Zimbabwe being obliged under the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to ensure environmental sustainability by the end of this year.

“The rate at which deforestation is occurring here will convert Zimbabwe into an outright desert in just 35 years if pragmatic solutions are not proffered urgently and also if people keep razing down trees for firewood without regulation,” Marylin Smith, an independent conservationist based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, and former staffer in the government of President Robert Mugabe, told IPS.“The rate at which deforestation is occurring here will convert Zimbabwe into an outright desert in just 35 years if pragmatic solutions are not proffered urgently” – Marylin Smith, independent conservationist based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Zimbabwe lost an annual average of 327,000 hectares of forests between 1990 and 2010.

Smith blamed Zimbabwe’s deforestation on the growing numbers of tobacco farmers who were cutting “millions of tonnes of firewood each year to treat the cash crop.”

According to the country’s Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, Zimbabwe currently has 88,167 tobacco growers, whom environmental activists say are the catalysts of looming desertification here.

“Curing tobacco using huge quantities of firewood and even increased domestic use of firewood in both rural and urban areas will leave Zimbabwe without forests and one has to imagine how the country would look like after the demise of the forests,” Thabilise Mlotshwa, an ecologist from Save the Environment Association, an environmental lobby group here, told IPS.

“But really, it is difficult to object to firewood use when this is the only energy source most rural people have despite the environment being the worst casualty,” Mlotshwa added.

Zimbabwe’s deforestation crisis is linked to several factors.

“There are thousands of timber merchants who have no mercy with our trees as they see ready cash in almost every tree and therefore don’t spare the trees in order to earn money,” Raymond Siziba, an agricultural extension officer based in Mvurwi, a district approximately 100 kilometres north of the Zimbabwean capital Harare, told IPS.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat), there were 66,250 timber merchants nationwide last year alone.

Deforestation is a complex issue. A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that during the decade from 1980 to 1990, the world’s tropical forests were reduced by an average of 15.4 million hectares per year (an 0.8 percent annual rate of deforestation).

The area of land cleared during the decade is equivalent to nearly three times the size of France.

Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent’s population uses fuelwood for cooking, and in sub-Saharan Africa, firewood and brush supply approximately 52 percent of all energy sources.

Zimbabwe is not the only sub-Saharan country facing a crisis in its forests. A panel run by the United Nations and the African Union and led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki found that in Mozambique thousands more logs were exported to China than were legally reported.

Disappearing forest cover is a particular problem in Ghana, where non-timber forest products provide sustenance and income for 2.5 million people living in or near forest communities.

Between 1990 and 2005, Ghana lost over one-quarter of its total national forest cover. At the current rate of deforestation, the country’s forests could completely disappear in less than 25 years. Current attempts to address deforestation have stalled due to lack of collaboration between stakeholders and policy makers.

In west equatorial Africa, a study by Greenpeace has called logging the single biggest threat to the Congo Basin rainforest. At the moment, logging companies working mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are busy cutting down trees in over 50 million hectares of rainforest, or an area the size of France, according to its website.

An estimated 20 to 25 percent of annual deforestation is thought to be due to commercial logging. Another 15 to 20 percent is attributed to other activities such as cattle ranching, cash crop plantations and the construction of dams, roads, and mines.

However, deforestation is primarily caused by the activities of the general population. As the Zimbabwe economy plummets, indigenous timber merchants are on the rise, battling to eke a living, with environmentalists accusing them of fuelling deforestation.

For many rural dwellers, lack of electricity in most rural areas is creating unsustainable pressures on forests in Zimbabwe.

“Like several other remote parts of Zimbabwe, we have no electricity here and for years we have been depending on firewood, which is the main source of energy for rural dwellers even for the past generations, and you can just imagine the amount of deforestation remote areas continue to suffer,” 61-year-old Irene Chikono, a teacher from Mutoko, 143 kilometres east of Harare, told IPS.

Even Zimbabweans with access to electricity are at the mercy of erratic power supplies from the state-owned Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), which is failing to meet electricity demand owing to inadequate finances to import power.

“With increasing electricity outages here, I often resort to buying firewood from vendors at local market stalls, who get this from farms neighbouring the city,” 31-year-old Collina Hokonya, a single mother of three residing in Harare’s high density Mbare suburb, told IPS.

Government claims it is doing all it can to combat deforestation but, faced with this country’s faltering economy, indigenous timber merchants and villagers say it may be hard for them to refrain from tree-felling.

“We are into the timber business not by choice, but because of joblessness and we therefore want to make money in order to survive,” Mevion Javangwe, an indigenous timber merchant based in Harare, told IPS.

“A gradual return of people from cities to lead rural life as the economy worsens is adding pressure on rural forests as more and more people cut down trees for firewood,” Elson Moyo, a village head in Vesera village in Mwenezi, 144 kilometres south-west of Masvingo, told IPS.

“Politicians are plundering and looting the hardwood forest reserves since they own most sawmills, with their relatives fronting for them,” Owen Dliwayo, a civil society activist based in Chipinge, an eastern border town of Zimbabwe, told IPS.

“For all the forests that politicians plunder, they don’t pay a cent to council authorities and truly how do people get motivated to play a part in conserving hardwood forests?” Dliwayo asked.

“We will only manage to fight deforestation if government brings electricity to our doorsteps because without electricity we will keep cutting down trees for firewood,” said Chikono.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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OPINION: The Plight of Women and Girls in Zambezi’s Floodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 18:53:12 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo and Michael Charles http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138974 Flooding in Malawi. Courtesy of the Malawi Red Cross Society

Flooding in Malawi. Courtesy of the Malawi Red Cross Society

By Julitta Onabanjo and Michael Charles
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2015 (IPS)

The flooding of the Zambezi River has had devastating consequences for three countries in Southern Africa. The three worst affected countries are Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

Livestock has drowned, crops have been submerged or washed away and infrastructure has been badly damaged.Imagine being a pregnant woman airlifted from the floodplains and placed in a camp with no midwives, no sterilised equipment nor medical supplies to ensure a safe delivery.

Worse still, hundreds of lives have been lost – and the dignity of women and girls is on the line.

In Malawi, an estimated 638,000 people have been affected and the president has declared a state of disaster. About 174,000 people have been displaced in three of the worst affected districts out of 15 districts hit by floods.

A total of 79 deaths have been reported and about 153 people are still missing. Data disaggregated by age and sex are not readily available, however, it is estimated that about 330,000 of the 638,000 displaced people in the camps are women and close to 108,000 are young people.

The situation is also critical in Zimbabwe. According to preliminary assessments, approximately 6,000 people (1,200 households) have been affected, of which 2,500 people from 500 households are in urgent need of assistance. An estimated 40-50 per cent will be women or girls. More than ten people have drowned while many more have been injured, displaced and left homeless.

In Mozambique, almost all 11 provinces have experienced extensive rainfall. The central province of Zambézia was the worst hit – a bridge connecting central and northern Mozambique was destroyed by the floods in Mocuba district. Niassa and Nampula provinces were also seriously affected.

These three provinces are already among the poorest in the country, and for the most vulnerable – women, girls and children – the impact of flooding can be devastating.

Around 120,000 people from 24,000 families have been affected. The death toll due to flooding, lightning and houses collapsing has risen to 64, while more than 50,000 people from 12,000 families are in need of shelter. Others have fled to neighbouring Malawi. At least 700 out of an estimated 2500 people have been repatriated to date.

Mozambique has a recent history of recurrent floods. UNFPA is supporting the government and other partners to scale up efforts to safeguard the dignity of women and girls. This includes the positioning of reproductive health kits, hygiene kits and promoting gender-based violence prevention.

Flooding in Mozambique. Courtesy of UNFPA

Flooding in Mozambique. Courtesy of UNFPA

Health and reproductive health needs

As with most humanitarian situations, women, girls and children are usually the worst affected. In Mozambique, for example, close to 1,000 orphans and over 100 pregnant women and girls require urgent attention.

Imagine being a pregnant woman airlifted from the floodplains and placed in a camp with no midwives, no sterilised equipment nor medical supplies to ensure a safe delivery. This is a scenario that countless pregnant women are facing.

In addition to efforts by partners to address the food and infrastructural security needs of the people, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and erosion of dignity, and deserve adequate attention.

In Malawi, about 315 visibly pregnant women were identified in the three worst affected districts. Between Jan. 10 and 24, 88 deliveries were recorded by 62 camps in the worst affected districts. Twenty-four of these deliveries were among adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years, as reported from Phalombe, where fertility rates and teenage pregnancies are generally high.

Malawi floods. Some of the pregnant women receiving dignity kits at Somba camp in T A Bwananyambi, Mangochi. Courtesy of UNFPA

Malawi floods. Some of the pregnant women receiving dignity kits at Somba camp in T A Bwananyambi, Mangochi. Courtesy of UNFPA

Women living in camps for displaced people are fearful of gender-based violence, including rape and other types of sexual abuse. Several cases of gender-based violence have already been reported. In one of the districts, a total of 124 cases were brought to the attention of authorities.

The design of the camps and the positioning of toilets are said to be contributing to these cases. A woman from Bangula camp said: “The toilets are far away from where we are sleeping. We are afraid to walk to the toilets at night for fear of being raped. If the toilets could be located close by, this could assist us.”

Personal dignity and hygiene is a major challenge for women and young people, especially for adolescent girls. A teenager from Tchereni camp in Malawi said: “I lost everything during the floods. My biggest challenge is how to manage my menstrual cycle.”

It has been reported that women and girls are sharing sanitary materials, which seriously compromises their health and dignity.

Urgent action

In order to address the  sexual and reproductive health needs of affected populations, UNFPA Malawi has recruited and deployed full time Reproductive Health and Gender Coordinators to support the authorities with the management of SRH/HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) issues in the camps.

UNFPA has also distributed pre-positioned Reproductive Health kits as well as drugs and medical equipment to cater for clean deliveries, including by Caesarean section, and related complications of pregnancy and child birth in six districts and two central hospitals in the flood-affected areas.

Over 300 prepositioned dignity kits were distributed and 2,000 more have been procured, over half of which have already been distributed to women of child-bearing age in some of the most affected districts to allow the women to continue to live with dignity in their state of crisis.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal for CHF 2,7 million to assist Malawi Red Cross to step up emergency response activities, including a detailed needs assessment of the affected regions, the procurement of non-food items, the procurement and distribution of shelter materials, and the provision of water and sanitation services.

A similar process was applied for Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with the aim of saving more lives by providing immediate assistance to those in need.

But as partners working together to address the numerous problems that confront the affected populations – and warnings of more risks of flooding – we cannot neglect the plight of women and girls.

In humanitarian situations especially, the dignity and reproductive health and rights of women and girls deserves our full attention.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ending Hunger in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/ending-hunger-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-hunger-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/ending-hunger-in-africa/#comments Sun, 01 Feb 2015 16:49:46 +0000 Marthe van der Wolf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138958 A major challenge in the path of putting an end to hunger in Africa is global climate change, which is affecting arable land and destroying the harvest of farmers all over the continent. Credit: Tinso Mungwe

A major challenge in the path of putting an end to hunger in Africa is global climate change, which is affecting arable land and destroying the harvest of farmers all over the continent. Credit: Tinso Mungwe

By Martha van der Wolf
ADDIS ABABA, Feb 1 2015 (IPS)

While Africa’s economies are among the world’s fastest growing economies, hundreds of millions of Africans are living on or below the poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day, a principal factor in causing widespread hunger.

One of the key issues discussed at the 24th African Union Summit which ended here on Jan. 31 was food security within the broader of framework of development towards Agenda 2063 – an agenda that touches on many aspects of where Africa should be 50 years from now.

Food security is an important component of Agenda 2063 and with hunger one of the continent’s most pressing concerns, the agenda focuses on social and economic transformations necessary for its elimination, such as providing people with the needed skills and creating jobs to improve incomes and thus the livelihoods of people.Droughts, floods and other environmental disasters make it even more difficult for those exposed to sustain their livelihoods or even think about increasing their agricultural productivity.

On the agricultural front, the emphasis is being placed on scaling up food production and making it easier for intra-Africa trade to take place so that food imports can be reduced.

The overall objective is to end hunger throughout Africa within the next decade.

Ending hunger also featured prominently in the African Union’s activities in 2014. Not only did it declare 2014 as “African Year of Agriculture and Food Security”, but African heads of state and governments also adopted the Malabo Declaration on “Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods”.

At the same time, the “Renewed Partnership for a Unified Approach to End Hunger by 2025” was launched within the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

The partnership is a joint initiative of the African Union, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Institute Lula, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), World Bank, World Food Programme (WFP) and U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The statistics show that hunger in Africa is real. FAO estimates that one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished, but it is not only poverty that is responsible.

Another challenge in the path of putting an end to hunger is global climate change, which is affecting arable land and destroying the harvest of farmers all over the continent.

To place the issue of land on the development agenda, FAO has named 2015 as International Year of Soils within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The aim is to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions, including climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Climate change has a major influence on the livelihoods of especially vulnerable smallholder farmers.  Droughts, floods and other environmental disasters make it even more difficult for those exposed to sustain their livelihoods or even think about increasing their agricultural productivity.

According to Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa, the global food system is inherently unjust.

“That means that countries on the one hand have capacity to produce food enough to feed themselves and feed the world but food production is controlled and hemmed in by multinational corporations, and there is such a lack of support, particularly for small-scale famers in the [African] continent,” she told IPS. “This all means that Africa’s potential is undermined.”

Meanwhile, African Union member states appear to be struggling at times with translating economic growth on the continent into policies that benefit the larger population. The pan-African organisation and its member states have been criticised for being slow in implementing declarations and other signed agreements.

Erastus Mwencha, deputy chair of the African Union Commission, told IPS that many initiatives have been taken in the past to ensure access to food, such as having frameworks in place that ensure resilience when countries face drought. Thanks to the agreements made in 2014, he said, there are already clear improvements in the agriculture sector.

“Agriculture is now receiving priority in member states’ budgeting and action plans. We have seen investment flow in to agriculture, both from government budgets but also private sector investments. And we have also seen the number of countries now achieving higher nutrition levels, indicating that with the agriculture assuming higher priority, investment in food security has improved.”

Tacko Ndiaye, FAO Senior Officer for Rural Development and Gender, believes that eradicating hunger can be reached within a decade. “It is realistic if the investment is there, if the capabilities are there, if the institutional mechanism are there, if the partnerships are there,” she told IPS. “These are very realistic targets, but all those dimensions have to be there.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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Dying in Childbirth Still a National Trend in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dying-in-childbirth-still-a-national-trend-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dying-in-childbirth-still-a-national-trend-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dying-in-childbirth-still-a-national-trend-in-zimbabwe/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:15:33 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138935 Zimbabwe struggles to contain maternity deaths. Here in this southern African nation, the number of women dying in childbirth continues to rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Zimbabwe struggles to contain maternity deaths. Here in this southern African nation, the number of women dying in childbirth continues to rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

For 47-year-old Albert Mangwendere from Mutoko, a district 143 kilometres east of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, transporting his three pregnant wives using a wheelbarrow to a local clinic has become routine, with his wives delivering babies one after the other.

But these routines have not always been a source of joy for Mangwendere.

“Over the past twenty years, I have been ferrying my pregnant wives to a local clinic using a wheelbarrow because I have no (full size) scotch cart and we have lost 12 babies in total while traveling to the clinic,” Mangwendere told IPS.

Mangwendere’s case typifies the deepening maternity crisis in this Southern African nation.An estimated 3,000 women die every year in Zimbabwe during childbirth and at least 1.23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost annually due to maternal complications – United Nations issue paper on 'Maternal Mortality in Zimbabwe', 2013

An estimated 3,000 women die every year in Zimbabwe during childbirth and at least 1.23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost annually due to maternal complications, according to Maternal Mortality in Zimbabwe, a United Nations issue paper released in 2013.

In fact, the United Nations found that maternal mortality worsened by 28 percent between 1990 and 2010. The major causes were bacterial infection, uterine rupture (scar from a previous caesarean section tearing during an attempt at birth), renal and cardiac failure, as well as hyperemesis gravidarum (condition characterised by severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss during pregnancy).

This year, the government has allocated 301 million dollars to the health sector for a country of 13.5 million, according to the local NewsDay publication, which concluded: “This is to say that the government intends to spend on average just over 22 dollars on an individual this year. Compare this with 650 dollars for South Africa, 90 dollars for Botswana, 390 dollars for Botswana and 200 dollars for Angola.”

On top of a barely adequate public transportation system, user fees for delivering pregnant women that are charged in healthcare centres are also at fault, say civil society activists.

“In 2012, the government crafted and adopted a policy that saw user fees for maternity services being scrapped,” Catherine Mukwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a grassroots organisation, told IPS.

“But despite this policy, some facilities still charge indirect service fees, which is scaring away many pregnant women from hospitals and clinics, leaving them in the hands of less skilled midwives.”

Zimbabwe’s local authority clinics say they have resisted scrapping maternity fees despite the official directive, claiming that they are not reimbursed as promised by the government.

28-year-old Chipo Shumba pictured here holds her only child after she lost six others while giving birth over the past few years, a crisis health experts in Zimbabwe say is on the rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

28-year-old Chipo Shumba pictured here holds her only child after she lost six others while giving birth over the past few years, a crisis health experts in Zimbabwe say is on the rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Council clinics have no choice but to charge the council-subsidised 25 dollars for maternity since they haven’t received money from government,” Harare city director of health services, Stanley Mungofa, told IPS.

The actual cost of providing maternity services in council clinics has been pegged at 152 dollars, Mungofa said. At public hospitals like Parirenyatwa in Harare, the cost of a normal delivery is 150 dollars while a caesarean section costs as much as 450 dollars.

In a bid to lower the high maternity fees of public hospitals and council clinics, a group of donors pledged 435 million dollars for the nation’s health system for the period 2011-2015. The fund – the so-called Health Transition Fund – was led by the health ministry and managed by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Importantly, the Health Transition Fund is helping to retain skilled workers by raising low wages. Underpaid doctors make up a large part of the country’s “brain drain” and there are now just 1.6 doctors for every 10,000 people.

Maternal fees may not apply in Zimbabwe’s countryside, where many like Mangwendere and his wives live, but other obstacles present an equally insurmountable barrier to obtaining care. Clinics and referral hospitals are often far away from people needing help, a major cause of maternity deaths there.

Finally, the tentacles of systemic corruption have reached into the health care systems. According to Transparency International, one local hospital was found to be charging mothers-to-be five dollars every time they screamed while giving birth.

A staggering 62 percent of Zimbabweans reported having paid a bribe in the previous year, the group stated in its 2013 report on global corruption.

Zimbabwe’s health sector was one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, but it nearly collapsed when an economic crisis caused hyper-inflation of more than 230 million percent in 2008. Over the following years, chronic under-investment made a bad situation worse.

The increase in maternal mortality is being witnessed despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for maternal health, under which countries should reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015.

A 2012 status report on the MDGs asserted that Zimbabwe was unlikely to meet its mandate of reducing the maternal mortality ratio to 174 per 100,000 live births.

In research conducted in 2013 to address causes of maternal death, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care blamed excessive bleeding after childbirth and unsafe abortion as the major causes of death, although no information was provided to back the claim.

“Statistics on maternal deaths often leave out sad realities of these similar deaths in unreachable remote areas where pregnant women and infants die daily without these cases being recorded anywhere,” said Helen Watungwa, a midwife at a council clinic in Gweru, the capital of the Midlands province, 222 kilometres outside the capital.

“But in any case, with the limited resources we have as nurses, we are doing all we can to save lives both of delivering mothers and infants,” Watungwa told IPS.

“It is truly a miracle that we continue to survive a series of pregnancies while battling to give birth often on the way to the clinic, bleeding heavily without any skilled persons to attend to us, with only our husband tottering with each one of us to the village healthcare centre using a wheelbarrow,” 28-year-old Mavis Handa, one of Mangwendere’s wives, told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Fighting Hunger from the Pitchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-hunger-from-the-pitch-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-hunger-from-the-pitch-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-hunger-from-the-pitch-2/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:48:41 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138930 By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

A video ad is being screened before every match at the Africa Cup of Nations currently under way in Equatorial Guinea. Part of African Football Against Hunger, a joint initiative by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Confederation of African Football (CAF), it shows a player dribbling a football, taking a shot and scoring – the winning kick is a metaphor for ending hunger in Africa by 2025.

“Football, like no other game, brings people together, within nations and across country lines. It’s exactly this type of coming together we need to reach the goal of zero hunger in Africa,” FAO Director of Communications Mario Lubetkin told IPS in an online interview.

As part of the African Football Against Hunger campaign, a video ad is being featured at matches throughout the 2015 African Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea. Credit: FAO

As part of the African Football Against Hunger campaign, a video ad is being featured at matches throughout the 2015 African Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea. Credit: FAO

“Our aim is to harness the popularity of football to raise awareness of the ongoing fight against hunger on the continent, and to rally support for home-grown initiatives that harness Africa’s economic successes to fund projects that help communities in areas struggling with food insecurity and build resilient livelihoods,” he explained.

Last year, African governments came together and undertook to wipe out chronic hunger among their peoples by 2025, in line with the United Nations’ Zero Hunger campaign.

Hunger in Africa is pervasive.  In 2014, some 227 million people across the continent suffered from hunger. According to FAO’s 2014 ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World’ report, one in four people across sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished.“Football, like no other game, brings people together, within nations and across country lines. It’s exactly this type of coming together we need to reach the goal of zero hunger in Africa” – Mario Lubetkin, FAO Director of Communications

And despite its vast fertile lands and a youth bulge, Africa continuous to spend over 40 billion dollars every year on food imports, according to Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture for the African Union Commission (AUC).

“The fact that the continent’s population is growing means that while Africa has made progress in hunger eradication over the last decade, the total number of hungry people on the continent has risen. This brings additional urgency to fund home-grown solutions that allow families and communities to strengthen food security and build resilient livelihoods,” Lubetkin told IPS.

Placing a more direct link between football and the fight against hunger, he said adequate nutrition is essential to both cognitive and physical development and to achieving one’s goals – none of the players in the cup would be able to perform at the level they do without adequate nutrition.

“The human potential that is lost by persistent hunger is still immense. It is in the interest of everybody to join forces to make hunger history. Fighting hunger is a team sport – we need everybody to get involved,” he explained.

It is estimated that over 650 million people worldwide will be watching the African Cup of Nations, which this year sees teams from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, D.R. Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia competing for the trophy from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8.

The initiators of the African Football Against Hunger campaign hope that with the enormous number of people exposed to the campaign, more citizens will become engaged in the struggle against hunger.

“History shows that when citizens are engaged governments are encouraged to allocate funding to hunger eradication,” Lubetkin said. “Citizen engagement also often leads communities to come together to find innovative solutions for shared problems.”

He went on to explain that football events are also being used to spread the message about the work of the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund for Food Security, which was set up by African leaders in 2013, and to encourage countries to become involved in the Fund as donors, project partners and sources of local knowledge.

“The on-the-ground work is done through the Fund, through projects that increase youth employment, improve resource management, make livelihoods more resilient and eradicate hunger by building sustainable food production.”

So far the Fund has leveraged 40 million dollars from African countries to empower communities in 30 countries by building job opportunities for young people, help them use their available resources better and bounce back quicker in situations of crisis.

FAO and the Fund are complementing the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAAADP), a continent-wide initiative to boost agricultural productivity in Africa. Launched by governments 10 years ago, CAADP has been instrumental in bringing agriculture back to the discussion table as a priority sector, according to Komla Bissi, Senior CAADP Advisor at the AUC.

“Our governments are recommitting resources, and it’s time to bring the private sector on board,” he told IPS. He said 43 of Africa’s 54 countries have so far committed to the process; 40 have signed the CAADP compact and 30 of them have developed agriculture sector investment plans.

“The job of eradicating hunger and making food production sustainable is a long-haul game and these ongoing projects – along with future ones – are the seeds of progress in the fight against hunger,” Lubetkin concluded.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Good Harvest Fails to Dent Rising Hunger in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:41:39 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138912 Markets are critical to the success of Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Markets are critical to the success of Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

With agriculture as one of the drivers of economic growth, Zimbabwe needs to invest in the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who keep the country fed, experts say.

Agriculture currently contributes nearly 20 percent to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP), due largely to export earnings from tobacco production. More than 80,000 farmers have registered to grow the plant this season.

But, even as tobacco harvests expand, food shortages continue to plague Zimbabwe, most dramatically since 2000 when agricultural production missed targets following a controversial land reform that took land from white farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans.Food shortages continue to plague Zimbabwe, most dramatically since 2000 when agricultural production missed targets following a controversial land reform that took land from white farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans

Depressed production has been blamed on droughts, but poor support to farmers has also contributed to food deficits and the need to import the staple maize grain annually.

Last year, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that “hunger is at a five-year high in Zimbabwe with one-quarter of the rural population, equivalent to 2.2 million people, estimated to be facing food shortages …”

The report was dismissed by Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, Paddington Zhanda, who said that “the numbers [of those in need] are exaggerated. There is no crisis. If there was a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

WFP had planned to reach 1.8 million people out of the 2.2 million hungry people during the current period, but funding shortages meant that only 1.2 million were helped.

Last year, the government stepped in with maize bought from neighbouring countries. That year, Zimbabwe topped the list of maize meal importers, with imports from South Africa at 482 metric tons between July and September 2014. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo imported more maize meal during that time.

Agricultural economist Peter Gambara, who spoke with IPS, estimated that over one billion dollars is required to reach a target of two million hectares planted with maize.

“It costs about 800 dollars to produce a hectare of maize, so two million hectares will require about 1.6 billion dollars,” he said.

“However, the government only sponsors part of the inputs required, through the Presidential Inputs Scheme, the rest of the inputs come from private contractors, the farmers themselves, as well as from remittances from children and relatives in towns and in the diaspora.”

These inputs include fertilizer and maize seed. Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said he was worried that many farmers could fail to purchase inputs on the open market due to liquidity problems. Totally free inputs were ended in 2013.

Linking agriculture to the reduction of poverty was one of the first Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with a target of cutting poverty in half by 2015. In fact, all MDGs have direct or indirect linkages with agriculture. Agriculture contributes to the first MDG through agriculture-led economic growth and through improved nutrition.

In low-income countries economic growth, which enables increased employment and rising wages, is the only means by which the poor will be able to satisfy their needs sustainably.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe need adequate and appropriate input to improve their productivity. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe need adequate and appropriate inputs to improve their productivity. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“Government should invest in irrigation, infrastructure like roads and storage facilities,” Gambara told IPS. “By supplying inputs through the Presidential Inputs Scheme, Government has done more than it should for small-scale farmers. This scheme resulted in the country achieving a surplus 1.4 million tonnes of maize last year.”

The surplus was linked, explained Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, to good rainfall.

Marketing of their produce is the biggest challenge facing farmers, said Gambara, who recommended the regulation of public produce markets like Mbare Musika in Harare through the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA).

Gambara maintains that the government should provide free inputs to the elderly, orphaned and other disadvantaged in society and consider loaning the rest of the small-scale farmers inputs that they will repay after marketing their crops.

“That will help the country rebuild the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR), managed by the Grain Marketing Board,” he said. “However, the government has not been able to pay farmers on time for delivered produce and this is an area that it should improve on. It does not make sense to make farmers produce maize if those farmers fail to sell the maize.”

In the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa of 2003, African heads of state and governments pledged to improve agricultural and rural development through investments. The Maputo Declaration contained several important decisions regarding agriculture, but prominent among them was the “commitment to the allocation of at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years”.

Only a few of the 54 African Union (AU) member states have made this investment in the last 10 years. These include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Malawi and Senegal.

According to Gambara, as a signatory to the Maputo Declaration, Zimbabwe should have done more to channel resources to agriculture since 2000 when the country embarked on the second phase of land reform.

“Most of these (new) black farmers did not have the resources and knowledge to farm like the previous white farmers and such a scenario would demand that the government invests in research and extension to impart knowledge to the new farmers as well as provide schemes that empower these farmers, for example through farm mechanisation and provision of inputs,” he said.

Everson Ndlovu, development researcher with the Institute of Development Studies at Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology, told IPS that government should invest in dam construction, research in water harvesting technologies, livestock development, education and training, land audits and restoration of infrastructure.

Ndlovu said there were signs that European and other international financial institutions were ready to assist Zimbabwe but a poor political and economic environment has kept many at a distance.

“The political environment has to change to facilitate proper business transactions, we need to create a conducive environment for business to play its part,” said Ndlovu. “Government should give farmers title deeds if farmers are to unlock resources and funding from local banks.”

Economic analyst John Robertson asked why the government should finance farmers which would be unnecessary if it had allowed land to have a market value and ordinary people to be land owners in order to use their land as bank security to finance themselves.

“Ever since the land reform, we have had to import most of our food,” Robertson told IPS. “Government should be spending money on infrastructural development that would help agriculture and other industries.”

Before the land reform, continued Robertson, Zimbabwe had nearly one million communal farmers, a number that increased by about 150,000 under Land Reform A1 and A2 allocations.

‘A1’ farms handed out about 150,000 plots of six hectares to smallholders by dividing up large white farms, while the ‘A2’ component sought to create large black commercial farms by handing over much larger areas of land to about 23,000 farmers.

“Only a few farms are being run on a scale that would encompass larger hectarage and that is basically because the farmers cannot employ the labour needed if they cannot borrow money,” Robertson said.

“Loans are needed to pay staff for the many months that work is needed but the farm has no income, so most smallholders work to the limits of their families’ labour input. That keeps them small and relatively poor.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Zimbabwe Battles with Energy Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:59:47 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138847 Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Janet Mutoriti (30), a mother of three from St Mary’s suburb in Chitungwiza, 25 kilometres outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, frequently risks arrest for straying into the nearby urban forests to fetch wood for cooking.

Despite living in the city, Janet’s is among the 20 percent of the urban households which do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs.

Worldwide, energy access has become a key determinant in improving people’s lives, mainly in rural communities where basic needs are met with difficulty.

In Zimbabwe, access to modern energy is very low, casting doubts on the country’s efforts at sustainable development, which energy experts say is not possible without sustainable energy.

In an interim national energy efficiency audit report for Zimbabwe issued in December, the Sustainable African Energy Consortium (SAEC) revealed that of the country’s slightly more than three million households, 44 percent are electrified.“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country” – Chiedza Mazaiwana, Practical Action Southern Africa

They consumed a total of 2.7 million GWh in 2012 and 2.8 million GWh in 2013, representing 34 percent of total electrical energy sales by the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Transmission Company.

According to SAEC, of the un-electrified households, 62% percent use wood as the main source of energy for cooking, especially in rural areas where 90 percent live without access to energy.

A significant chasm exists between urban and rural areas in their access to electricity. According to the 2012 National Energy Policy, 83 percent of households in urban areas have access to electricity compared with 13 percent in rural areas.

Rural communities meet 94 percent of their cooking energy requirements from traditional fuels, mainly firewood, while 20 percent of urban households use wood as the main cooking fuel. Coal, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas are used by less than one percent.

Engineer Joshua Mashamba, chief executive of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which is crusading the country’s rural electrification programme, told IPS that the rate of electrification of rural communities was a mere 10 percent.

“As of now, in the rural areas, there is energy poverty,” he said. “As the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), we have electrified 1,103 villages or group schemes and if we combine that with what other players have done, we are estimating that the rate of rural electrification is at 10 percent. It means that 90 percent remain un-electrified and do not have access to modern energy.”

Since the rural electrification programme started in the early 1980s, Mashamba says that 3,256 schools, 774 rural centres, 323 government extension offices, 266 chief’s homesteads and 98 business centres have also been electrified.

Zimbabwe Energy Council executive director Panganayi Sithole told IPS that modern energy services were crucial to human welfare, yet over 70 percent of the population remain trapped in energy poverty.

“The prevalence of energy of poverty in Zimbabwe cuts across both urban and rural areas. The situation is very dire in peri-urban areas due to deforestation and the non-availability of modern energy services,” said Sithole.

“Take Epworth [a poor suburb in Harare] for example. There are no forests to talk about and at the same time you cannot talk of the use of liquefied petrol gas (LPG) there due to costs and lack of knowledge. People there are using grass, plastics and animal dung to cook. It’s very sad,” he noted.

Sithole said there was a need to recognise energy poverty as a national challenge and priority, which all past and present ministers of energy have failed to do.

Zimbabwe currently faces a shortage of electrical energy owing to internal generation shortfalls and imports much its petroleum fuel and power at great cost to close the gap.

Demand continues to exceed supply, necessitating load shedding, and even those that have access to electricity regularly experience debilitating power outages, says Chiedza Mazaiwana, an energy project officer with Practical Action Southern Africa.

“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country. The percentage of people relying entirely on biomass for their energy is 70 percent,” she adds.

According to the World Bank, access to electricity in Southern Africa is around 28 percent – below the continental average of 31 percent. The bank says that inadequate electricity access poses a major constraint to the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the region.

To end the dearth of power, Zimbabwe has joined the global effort to eliminate energy poverty by 2030 under the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

The country has abundant renewable energy sources, most of which are yet to be fully utilised, and energy experts say that exploiting the critical sources of energy is key in closing the existing supply and demand gap while also accelerating access to green energy.

By 2018, Zimbabwe hopes to increase renewable energy capacity by 300 MW.

Mashamba noted that REA has installed 402 mini-grid solar systems at rural schools and health centres, 437 mobile solar systems and 19 biogas digesters at public institutions as a way to promote modern forms of energy.

A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) led by Zero Regional Environment Organisation and Practical Action Southern Africa is calling for a rapid increase in investment in energy access, with government leading the way but supported in equal measure by official development assistance and private investors.

Though the current output from independent power producers (IPPs) is still minimal, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) says that contribution from IPPs will be significant once the big thermal producers come on stream by 2018.

At the end of 2013, the country had 25 power generation licensees and some of them have already started implementing power projects that are benefitting the national grid.

Notwithstanding the obvious financial and technical hitches, REA remains optimistic that it will deliver universal access to modern energy by 2030.

“By 2018, we intend to provide rural public institutions with at least one form of modern energy services,” said Mashamba. “In doing this, we hope to extend the electricity grid network to institutions which are currently within a 20 km radius of the existing grid network. Once we have electrified all public institutions our focus will shift towards rural homesteads.”

For CSOs, achieving universal access to energy by 2030 will require recognising the full range of people’s energy needs, not just at household level but also enterprise and community service levels.

“Currently there is a lot of effort put in to increasing our generation capacity through projects such as Kariba South Extension and Hwange extension which is good and highly commended but for us to reach out to the rural population (most affected by energy poverty, according to our statistics, we should also increase efforts around implementing off grid clean energy solutions to make a balance in our energy mix,” says Joseph Hwani, project manager for energy with Practical Action Southern Africa.

Practical Action says that on current trends, 1.5 billion people globally will still lack electricity in 2030, of whom 650 million will be in Africa.

This is some fifteen years after the target date for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which cannot be met without sustainable, affordable, accessible and reliable energy services.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Africa’s Rural Women Must Count in Water Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:58:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138833 Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

More women’s voices are being heard at international platforms to address the post-2015 water agenda, as witnessed at the recently concluded international U.N International Water Conference held from Jan. 15 to 17 in Zaragoza, Spain.

But experts say that the same cannot be said of water management at the local level and countries like Kenya are already suffering from the impact of poor water management as a result of the exclusion of rural women.

“At the Zaragoza conference, certain positions were taken as far as water is concerned, but the implementers, who are often rural women, are still in the dark,” environment expert Dismas Wangai told IPS.

Wangai gives the example of the five dams built around the Tana River, the biggest in Kenya. “It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices” – Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania

He says that the dams have not been performing optimally due to poor land management as farmers continue to cultivate too close to these dams.

“This is a major cause of concern because about 80 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from these dams, as well as 60 to 70 percent of hydropower,” he says.

According to Wangai, there is extensive soil erosion due to extensive cultivation around the dams and as a result “a lot of soil is settling in these dams and if this trend continues, the dams will produce less and less water and energy.”

Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women rights,  and one of the speakers at the Zaragoza conference, told IPS that women must be involved in water management at all levels.

“It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices,” she said.

According to Rusimbi, across Africa women account for at least 80 percent of farm labourers, and “this means that if they are not taught best farming practices then this will have serious implications for water management.”

Alice Bouman, honorary founding president of Women for Water Partnership, told IPS that a deficit of water for basic needs affect women in particular, “which means that they are best placed to provide valuable information on the challenges they face in accessing water.”

She added that “they are therefore more likely to embrace solutions to poor water management because they suffer from water stresses at a more immediate level.”

According to Bouman, the time has come for global water partners to begin embracing local women as partners and not merely as groups vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

Water partnerships, she said, must build on the social capital of women because “women make connections and strong networks very easily. These networks can become vehicles for creating awareness around water management.” She called for developing a more comprehensive approach to water management through a gender lens.

Noting that rural women may not have their voices heard during international water conferences, “but through networks with civil society organisations (CSOs), they can be heard”, Rusimbi called for an end to the trend of international organisations bringing solutions to the locals.

This must change, she said. “We need to rope the rural women into these discussions while designing these interventions. They have more to say than the rest of us because they interact with water at very different levels – levels that are very crucial to sustainable water management.”

Wangai also says that rural women, who spend many hours looking for water, are usually only associated with household water needs.

“People often say that these women spend hours walking for water and they therefore need water holes to be brought closer to their homes” but, he argues, the discussion on water must be broadened, and proactively and consciously address the need to bring rural women on board in addressing the water challenges that we still face.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Renewables Can Benefit Water, Energy and Food Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:48:33 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138830 The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

With global energy needs projected to increase by 35 percent by 2035, a new report says meeting this demand could increase water withdrawals in the energy sector unless more cost effective renewable energy sources are deployed in power, water and food production.

The report, titled Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy & Food Nexusby the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), says that integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability.

The  report, launched at the International Water Summit (Jan. 18-21) in Abu Dhabi, examines how adopting renewables can ease trade-offs by providing less resource-intensive energy services compared with conventional energy technologies. Integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability

“Globally, an energy system with substantial shares of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaics and wind power, would save significant amounts of water, thereby reducing strains on limited water resources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin.

Unfortunately, he said, detailed knowledge on the role of renewable energy at the intersection of energy, food and water has so far been limited.

In addition to the water-saving potential of renewable energy, the report also shows that renewable energy-based desalination technologies could play an increasing role in providing clean drinking water for people around the world.

Amin said although renewable desalination may still be relatively expensive, decreasing renewable energy costs, technology advancements and increasing scales of deployment make it a cost-effective and sustainable solution in the long term.

Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance division, told IPS that “water, energy and food systems are inextricably linked: water and energy are needed to produce food; water is needed for most power generation; and energy is required to treat and transport water in what is known as ‘the water-energy-food nexus’.”

She said deployment of renewable energy is already showing positive results in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an over 50 percent cost share of global desalination capacity.

Some 120 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi lies the Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, which generates over 100 MW of electricity for the United Arab Emirates national grid.

Shams 1, which was designed and developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture among Masdar (60 percent), Total (20 percent) and Abengoa Solar (20 percent), accounts for almost 68 percent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and close to 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

Abdulaziz Albaidli, Sham’s Plant Manager, told IPS during a visit to the plant that the project reduces the UAE’s carbon emissions, displacing approximately 175,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year.

Located in the middle of the desert and covering an area of 2.5 km² – or 285 football fields – Shams 1 incorporates the latest in parabolic trough technology and features more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors.

By concentrating heat from direct sunlight onto oil-filled pipes, Shams 1 produces steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. Shams 1 also features a dry-cooling system that significantly reduces water consumption – a critical advantage in the arid desert.

“This plant has been built to be a hybrid plant which allows us to produce electricity at very high efficiency, as well as allowing us to produce electricity when there is no sun. Also the use of an air-cooled condenser allows us to save two hundred million gallons of water. That is a very important feature in a country where water is scarce,” said.

In addition, he continued, “the electricity we produce is able to provide twenty thousand homes with a steady supply of electricity for refrigeration, air conditioning, lighting and so on.”

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar – the majority shareholder in Shams 1 – told delegates at the just concluded Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit (Jan. 18-21) that “through Masdar, we are redefining the role our country will play in delivering energy to the world.”

“From precious hydrocarbons exports to commercially viable renewable energy projects,” he said, “we are extending our legacy for future generations.”

Morocco is another country aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to nearby Europe through the water, energy and food nexus.

Its first CSP plant located in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate, which is now operational, is part of a major plan to produce over 2,000 megawatts (MW) at an estimated cost of nine billion dollars with funding from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Meanwhile, South Africa is taking advantage of a solar-powered dry cooling system to generate power. In collaboration with Spanish-based CSP technology giant Abengoa Solar, the country is installing two plants – Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One – that will generate up to 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030 and reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas.

Dr Linus Mafor, an analyst with the IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre, told IPS that there is an encouraging trend across the globe with countries implementing projects that aim to account for the interdependencies and trade-offs among the water, energy and food sectors.

He said that the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is one of the promoters of the water, energy and food nexus in six Asian countries which are integrating the approach into development processes.  According to Mafor, such initiatives will see more affordable and sustainable renewable energy deployed in water, energy and food production in the near future.

The Austria-based Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is one of the supporters of the nexus among clean energy, food production and water provision. Its Director-General, Martin Hiller, told IPS that understanding the inter-linkages among water resources, energy production and food security and managing them holistically is critical to global sustainability.

The agrifood industry, he said, accounts for over 80 percent of total freshwater use, 30 percent of total energy demand, and 12 to 30 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

REEEP is supporting countries like Kenya, Indonesia, Kenya and Burkina Faso, among others, in developing solar-powered pumps for irrigation, with the aim of improving energy efficiency.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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