Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:45:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 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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Zimbabwe Faces Troubling Spike in Cases of Multi-Drug Resistant TBhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-faces-troubling-spike-in-cases-of-multi-drug-resistant-tb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-faces-troubling-spike-in-cases-of-multi-drug-resistant-tb http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-faces-troubling-spike-in-cases-of-multi-drug-resistant-tb/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 23:29:26 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138812 Caring for MDR-TB patients at home or even at taking them to hospitals is a challenge for relatives, especially as the disease is uncertain to completely go away after treatment. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Caring for MDR-TB patients at home or even at taking them to hospitals is a challenge for relatives, especially as the disease is uncertain to completely go away after treatment. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

About eight years ago, 44-year-old Tilda Chihota was struck with tuberculosis which kept her bed-ridden for over six months at her rural home in Zimbabwe’s Mwenezi district, 144 kilometres southwest of Masvingo, the country’s oldest town.

Although Chihota later recovered after receiving treatment at a local district hospital here, early this year, she was once again struck with the same ailment. This time is came with increased severity in the form of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).“MDR-TB cases will continue to increase and worsen as long as the backlog of TB cases keeps increasing." -- Dr. Charles Sandy

MDR-TB occurs when a strain of TB bacteria becomes resistant to two or more “first-line” antibiotic drugs prescribed to combat standard TB.

According to the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, cases of MDR-TB nearly doubled from 156 in 2011 to 244 cases in 2013. This was despite the fact that notifications for ordinary TB drastically declined from 47,000 in 2010 to 38,367 in 2012.

“I am HIV-positive, but because I defaulted on taking treatment drugs, doctors have diagnosed me with MDR-TB,” Chihota told IPS.

Cases of MDR-TB like Chihota’s are common among people who are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the United Nations AIDS organisation (UNAIDS). Close to 80 percent of TB patients in the care of Doctors Without Borders are co-infected with HIV/AIDS.

“The best way of avoiding MDR-TB is prevention through strict adherence to prescribed treatment by the health provider,” Dr. Charles Sandy, deputy director for the AIDS and TB unit in Zimbabwe’s Health ministry, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it takes longer to treat MDR-TB, which can only be cured with the use of very expensive second line drugs that often cause serious side effects.

These include nausea, vomiting and permanent deafness, which often deters patients from finishing their treatment course. On average, patients need to take between 12 and 15 tablets daily for two years, which cost about 5,000 dollars for the entire course.

“The treatment drugs required per each MDR-TB patient are quite expensive and involve the use of quantities of resources enough to treat more than 100 TB patients, which is a strain on government’s public health sector,” Everson Murwira, a local health inspector based in Gweru, a town 222 kilometres west of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, told IPS.

Medical doctors also point out a litany of many other factors fuelling rising cases of MDR-TB here.

“Food insecurity, large numbers of Zimbabwe’s population living in destitution, lack of balanced diet and crowded and often poorly ventilated homes in both the countryside and high density suburbs in cities leads to TB patients not recovering, but rather further suffering from MDR-TB,” Tinashe Chauke, a private medical doctor often treating TB patients in Masvingo, told IPS.

Chauke added that because most Zimbabweans are poor, “they can hardly afford to visit doctors for regular medical check-ups, resulting in most former TB patients falling prey to MDR-TB.”

But government could be doing more to combat TB.

At last year’s World TB Day commemorations, Health Minister Dr. David Parirenyatwa expressed concern at the number of missed TB cases here, saying that based on WHO projections, Zimbabwe missed 30,000 TB cases in 2013 alone.

“We continue to miss TB cases because of stigma and lack of awareness in the community and limitations in access to health services as well as the quality of health services,” Dr. Parirenyatwa said at the time. World Tuberculosis Day falls on Mar. 24 each year.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors without Borders in English) says direct observed treatment is the best model to manage MDR-TB.

“Direct observed treatment of MDR-TB patients in their homes by their loved ones is the best option, but in Zimbabwe, only doctors and nurses can inject patients and nobody else, which creates a challenge for patients,” an MSF medical doctor in Harare, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

With the help of MSF two years ago, 3,200 patients in Zimbabwe were placed under treatment for TB while 63 patients were treated of MDR-TB.

Government cooperation with MSF, however, has been spotty. In a recent case, an MSF clinic in Beitbridge district near the South African border that treated HIV/AIDS and TB was forced to close after government officials accused the clinic of meddling in politics.

According to MSF, Zimbabwe trails behind other countries in Southern Africa in its response to TB. Diagnostics need improving and treatment needs to be decentralised to community levels, the health agency said in a recent report.

A 2010 UNICEF report revealed that 78 percent of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people were living in ‘absolute poverty’, following which the WHO global tuberculosis report of 2012 placed Zimbabwe’s estimated TB incidence per capita at 603 per 100,000 population.

“Besides inadequate medical facilities, there are also many cases where sick people have needlessly died because they could not access medical attention due to bad or nonexistent roads,” said Edmond Kabarapate, the village head of Kafurambanje Village, said in a recent press interview.

Although Zimbabwe has made significant strides in reducing HIV/AIDS infections to 15.6 percent from 16 percent in 2007, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it is still a sad story for this country as it contends with the menace of MDR-TB.

“MDR-TB cases will continue to increase and worsen as long as the backlog of TB cases keeps increasing,” Dr. Sandy told IPS.

Evident of Dr Sandy’s sentiments, the 2009 WHO Global TB Control Report rated Zimbabwe as having the fourth highest incidence of TB in the world. In 2012, the WHO reported that the Southern African nation was amongst 22 countries referred to as the TB “high burden” countries.

Caught up in difficult health situations, especially MDR-TB, many Zimbabweans like Chihota are unsure whether or not they will live after contracting the disease.

“Whether for better or for worse, with the MDR-TB that is wasting me away, taking the complex treatment prescribed to me, I am still very uncertain about what the future holds in as far as my state of health and even my survival is concerned,” Chihota told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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Africa Needs to Move Forward on Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:02:30 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138773 Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Diversification of Africa’s electricity sources by embarking on renewable energy solutions – such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power – is being heralded as a solution to the continent’s energy poverty.

But although a number of countries are already reaping benefits from investment in renewables, there is concern that many of the countries are yet to exploit those resources.

African ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi International Renewable Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi from January 15-17 noted that a mere handful of countries in the continent are tapping into renewable energy resource.“People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid” – Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy

Some of the bottlenecks identified included lack of finance, lack of interest from investors and the desire by some to take on mega projects that could easily fail to attract private investors.

Davis Chirchir, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Energy, told IPS that for many sub-Saharan Africa countries, accessing financing for fossil fuel projects was much easier compared with renewable energy options. “It is a big problem even when the prices for renewable energy solutions like solar and wind are going down” said Chirchir, whose country is now seeing costs reducing as a result of investing in geothermal energy.

Kenya plans to generate up to three gigawatts (3GW) of power from geothermal energy alone from its Rift Valley area.

Chirchir said that despite the long-term benefits, many of the countries in the region lacked their own initial resources for investment in projects.

“While renewable projects are often cheaper, they tend to require up-front capital costs. So for many, we shall require more targeted financing if we are to kick off many from the ground,” said Chirchir.

“In Kenya, our investment in geothermal energy displaced some 65 percent of fossil fuels, and brought down the cost to the customer by about 30 percent,” he added.

Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy and CEO of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, decried the fact that despite the declining costs of generating energy from renewable energy sources, Africa was consuming only one-quarter of global average energy per capita.

“How do we help the majority of people in Africa that rely on charcoal and cow dung for their primary needs? How do we do that? This is where the context of off-grid really comes in,” he suggested.

According to Yumkella, Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects.

“Sometimes the project preparation costs before the investments come are about three to ten percent of project costs. For many African countries that is a lot of money. It takes a big time to get the big projects under way,” he noted.

For Yumkella, African governments urgently need to put in place policies that would support renewable energy power generation using private investments to construct off-grid power stations, especially in areas where it is hard to reconnect to the main grids.

We can have millions of energy entrepreneurs spreading the off-grid solutions while we wait for the big projects to take off,” he explained. “People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid.”

Furthermore, said Yumkella, off-grid solutions would support Africa’s social development agenda at the community level and “that can be done now because off-grids can be in the hands of the poor communities to increase their productivity and help their social development.  But we will need millions of entrepreneurs in Africa in order to make energy poverty history.”

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), even with available renewable energy potential, Africa still has the lowest rate of rural electrification compared with other continents.

Globally, over the last two decades, rural electrification has increased from 61 to 70 percent but there are large disparities in rural access rates – in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, that rate is just 18 percent compared with over 70 percent in developing Asia.

IRENA says that Africa needs to double its rate of expansion of rural electrification and change the way it approaches rural electrification for it to achieve the universal electricity access for all target by 2030.

“And in this expansion, it is estimated that about 60 percent of additional generation will come from stand-alone and mini-grid solutions, with most of it being renewables because they can tap into locally available energy resources,” said Rabia Ferroukhi, IRENA Deputy Director in charge of Knowledge, Technology and Financing.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Meanwhile, African energy ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi renewable energy conference called on IRENA and countries with greater knowledge in renewable energy to help them in supporting the Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative.

This initiative encourages the deployment of hydro, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar options from Cairo to Cape Town to increase capacity, stabilise the grid, and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Ethiopia, one of the countries already investing in renewable energy, especially in wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power, is one of the proponents of financing for the Clean Energy Corridor.

The country plans to generate 800 megawatts of wind power, 1 gigawatt of geothermal power and is constructing a 6,000 MW hydroelectric plant, which will be the largest such facility in Africa costing about 4.8 billion dollars.

Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, told IPS that, if implemented, the Africa Clean Energy Corridor would help to advance renewable energy solutions to the corridor.

Adnan Amin, the Director-General of IRENA, told IPS that the Africa Clean Energy Corridor has gathered strong political support and engagement from within Africa and at the level of the United Nations.

“We have to make sure that we have regional programmes that can support countries to move in the clean direction and this is the concept behind our African Clean Energy Corridor,” said Amin.

“We want to interconnect African markets, create a larger regulated market, because when you have big markets, you can have big projects that pass the technology forward.”

With smart planning and prudent investment, Amin believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Aid Freeze Over Energy Controversy a Blow to Tanzanian Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 13:53:57 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138693 Engineers working on a 512 km pipeline to scale up the amount of gas transported to Dar es Salaam plants for electricity generation and other industrial supplies. Allegations of corruption in Tanzania’s energy sector are holding up foreign aid disbursement. Credit: Juma Mtanda

Engineers working on a 512 km pipeline to scale up the amount of gas transported to Dar es Salaam plants for electricity generation and other industrial supplies. Allegations of corruption in Tanzania’s energy sector are holding up foreign aid disbursement. Credit: Juma Mtanda

By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

As foreign donors drag their feet on injecting badly needed cash into the government’s coffers, local analysts are increasingly worried that this will affect implementation of key development projects that require donor funding.

Donors – including the United Kingdom, Germany and the World Bank – are withholding 449 million out of 558 million dollars pledged for the 2014/15 budget, pending a satisfactory outcome to investigations over corruption in the energy sector.

Senior government officials have been accused by the Parliament of authorising controversial payments of 122 million dollars to Pan Africa Power Solutions Tanzania Limited (PAP), which claims to have bought a 70 percent share of the Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) – a private energy company contracted by the government to produce electricity.The government’s inability to wipe out corruption in the energy sector is setting a bad precedent because the country is poised to prosper economically in the wake of massive discoveries of natural gas resources.

“Many infrastructure development projects that require donor funding will probably stall due to this problem,” Benson Bana, a political analyst at Dar es Salaam University, told IPS. “Donors are keen to see their money is spent on intended objectives and government must learn a lesson to ensure that public funds are managed well.”

East Africa’s second largest economy after Kenya  is currently implementing a myriad of projects that require donor funding in the energy and  infrastructure sectors, such as construction of ports, roads and power plants  under a  25.2 billion dollar five-year development plan.

But the government said last year that the impending delay in the disbursement of aid funds may prompt it to shelve some critical projects until the next financial year.

The international Monetary Fund (IMF) has added its voice to the ongoing standoff between Tanzania and foreign donors, saying that further delay in disbursement of aid would certainly affect the country’s economic performance.

“Performance … was satisfactory through June, but has deteriorated since and risks have risen, stemming from delays in disbursements of donor assistance and external non-concessional borrowing, and shortfalls in domestic revenues,” the IMF said in a statement posted on its website in January 2015.

Tanzania is one of the biggest aid recipients in sub-Saharan Africa, with an annual aid inflow in grants and concessional loans ranging from 20 to 30 percent of its budget.

The move by donors to freeze aid over corruption concerns, said the IMF, is a stunning blow to the country’s economy.

“It will be critical to the business environment to address the governance issues raised by the IPTL case, which would also unlock donor assistance,” the IMF said.

The Ministry of Finance has unveiled a 19.6 trillion shilling (11.6 billion dollar) budget with plans to borrow 2.96 trillion shillings from domestic sources and about 800 million dollars from external sources to finance key projects.

“Achieving our revenue target is a matter of life or death; we are very serious in our quest to reduce reliance on foreign aid and we are refining our business environment to attract investments that can yield revenues,” said Finance Minister Saada Mkuya.

Critics told IPS that it is not wise for Tanzania to cling to unpredictable foreign aid to finance its budget after more than 50 years of political independence.

“For a country like ours to keep depending on donors to finance our development is not healthy, there’s no doubt many project will fail to take off because of this standoff,” Humphrey Moshi, an economist and professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, told IPS.

Political observers say that the government’s inability to wipe out corruption in the energy sector is setting a bad precedent because the country is poised to prosper economically in the wake of massive discoveries of natural gas resources.

“Corruption in the energy sector can be reduced by introducing strong accountability systems in the sector,” Zitto Kabwe, the chairman of a parliamentary oversight committee on public accounts, told IPS, adding that “legislations that subject contracts to parliamentary vetting and transparency would really help.”

Latest data from the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation show that Tanzania has estimated reserves of 53.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off its southern coast.  According to local analysts, these resources are more than enough to put the country on a path of economic development while ending its dependence on aid.

As the government grappled to bridge gaps in its budget, donors last week said  that they would only release the rest of the aid money pledged after seeing appropriate action taken against officials implicated in the so-called “escrow scandal”.

“Budget support development partners in Tanzania take the emerging IPTL case with the utmost seriousness and are carefully monitoring its development  as the case involves  large amounts of public funds,” Sinikka Antila, Finland’s ambassador to Tanzania and chairperson of Tanzania’s donor group, was quoted as saying.

In November last year, parliament called on government to sack senior officials, including the country’s Attorney General and  energy minister who, it said, had played an instrumental role to facilitate the dubious IPTL-PAP deal. The Attorney General, Frederick Werema, has since resigned.

In December, in a desperate bid to win back donor confidence, President Jakaya Kikwete sacked Anna Tibaijuka – a senior cabinet minister holding the land and human settlement development portfolio – for allegedly having received a1.6 billion shilling gift from one of the IPTL’s shareholders contrary to the government’s public leadership code of ethics.

In what appears to be a show of strength, the United States, through its Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has expressed serious concern about the country’s sluggish pace in controlling corruption and has urged the government to take firm concrete steps to combat corruption as a condition for the approval of future aid.

“Progress in combating corruption is essential to a new MCC compact, as well to an overall improved business climate in Tanzania,” Mark Childress, U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania said in December 2014.

“We are encouraged by the State House’s announcement of December 9 that it will soon address the parliamentary resolutions linked to IPTL, and we urge quick government action, given the impact on several key development issues.”

Tanzania was one of 10 countries discussed by the MCC Board, which met in December to determine the eligibility of countries to begin or continue the compact development process.

If finalised, this would be Tanzania’s second MCC compact. Between 2008 and 2013, the MCC funded a 698 million dollar compact for investment projects in water, roads and electric power throughout Tanzania.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Zimbabwe’s Children Are the Battlefield in War to Contain HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwes-children-are-the-battlefield-in-war-to-contain-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-children-are-the-battlefield-in-war-to-contain-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwes-children-are-the-battlefield-in-war-to-contain-hivaids/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 21:39:58 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138689 Many children under 15 in Zimbabwe discover their HIV status only when they fall critically ill later in life. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Many children under 15 in Zimbabwe discover their HIV status only when they fall critically ill later in life. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 17 2015 (IPS)

Fifty-one-year-old Mateline Msipa is living with HIV. Her 17-year-old daughter, born after Msipa was diagnosed with the virus, may also have it, but she has never been tested.

“My daughter is not aware of my HIV status and with the stigma associated with the disease, it is hard for me to now open up to her about my status,” Msipa told IPS.“Talk of rejection, talk of stigma and discrimination about HIV-positive people here has rendered me confused on whether or not I should get tested for HIV/AIDS, although I don’t know what killed my parents." -- 13-year-old Tracey Chihumwe

Msipa’s daughter says she has never attempted to undergo an HIV test despite Zimbabwe’s revised testing guidelines allowing children of her age to get one without parental consent.

“I have no reason to get tested for HIV because I have never engaged in sexual intercourse before,” the 17-year-old told IPS.

Figures show that thousands of children in Zimbabwe are infected with HIV – presenting a major battlefield for government efforts to defeat the spread of HIV /AIDS nationwide.

The U.N. agency UNAIDS estimates that nearly 200,000 children from birth to age 14 have the virus but are not in treatment because they have not been properly tested. It is a trend that researchers term “suboptimal” counseling and testing in that southern African country.

“Children often get tested for HIV [only] when they fall critically ill, which usually doesn’t save them from dying,” Letwin Zindove, an independent health expert who works as an HIV/AIDS counselor here, told IPS.

The new estimate threatens to dash the southern African nation’s effort to meet a U.N. goal of reversing the incidence of infection in the population by 2015.

Older children – between six and 15 – who might have acquired HIV at birth are especially vulnerable to a major outbreak of full-blown AIDS. A study last year by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found this group received inadequate access to provider-initiated HIV testing and counselling by primary care-givers.

Lack of clear national standards for HIV/AIDS testing leads to confusion and missed diagnoses in some cases. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Lack of clear national standards for HIV/AIDS testing leads to confusion and missed diagnoses in some cases. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

The study found health-care workers were reluctant to offer testing which could expose the child to abuse if he or she tested positive. On top of this, long waiting periods for appointments also hindered routine testing and counseling.

Last year, Zimbabwe launched its revised national guidelines for HIV testing and counselling with special emphasis on couples, children and adolescents as it stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus ahead of the 2015 deadline of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Under these guidelines, a child aged 16 years or older is eligible to give full consent for HIV testing and counselling.

However, the study found that many healthcare workers don’t fully understand the new guidelines.

“They expressed confusion about the age at which a child could choose to test him/herself, what type of caregivers qualified as legal guardians, and whether guardians had to undergo testing themselves first,” it said.

The appearance of a slow-progressing HIV disease among children has also contributed to dangerous delays in testing. New research has found that a substantial number of HIV-infected children survive to older adulthood. Delaying testing and diagnosis until symptoms appear results in a high risk of chronic complications such as stunting and organ damage.

Under the U.N.’s MDG Target 6A, countries should have halted new infections and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.

Zimbabwe’s numbers of HIV incidence may be high (14.7 percent of adults) but the numbers are higher yet in South Africa (17.8 percent), Botswana (23 percent), Lesotho (23.6 percent), and Swaziland 25.9 percent.

Countries with low numbers are Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Benin, Sudan, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania and Somalia – ranging from 1.0 percent to 0.7 percent.

While most countries are achieving a measure of success towards the U.N. goal, two have been a major health care disappointment.

Uganda, once hailed as a Cinderella success story, and Chad have seen a rise in infections. It is a disappointing turnaround from the 1990s when an aggressive public awareness campaign that urged medical treatment and monogamous sexual relationships led to a precipitous drop in infection rates in Uganda.

In 2012, H.I.V. infection rates in Uganda were seen to have increased to 7.3 percent from 6.4 percent in 2005. Over roughly the same period, the United States, through its AIDS prevention strategy known as Pepfar, or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, spent 1.7 billion dollars in Uganda to fight AIDS.

Activists say children are not immune to the deep-rooted stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS here — another barrier to testing.

“Zimbabweans are one huge community, closely-knit, and once a child is tested for HIV, it becomes difficult for it to remain confidential, resulting in any child tested becoming exposed to stigma,” Sifiso Mhofu, an affiliate of the Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV, told IPS.

This problem is very real for orphans like 13-year-old Tracey Chihumwe (not her real name) from Mabvuku, a high-density suburb of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

“Talk of rejection, talk of stigma and discrimination about HIV-positive people here has rendered me confused on whether or not I should get tested for HIV/AIDS, although I don’t know what killed my parents,” Chihumwe told IPS.

The Zimbabwean government is now struggling to ensure to that 85 percent of the population – including children and adolescents – knows their HIV status by the end of this year, in a desperate bid to meet the MDGs deadline in December.

But this will not be an easy task.

“Despite revised guidelines of HIV testing for children, pockets of resistance to get children tested for the virus exist from children themselves, parents and guardians as well,” a top government official, who requested to remain anonymous for professional reasons, told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives and Kitty Stapp

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Africa Must Prioritise Water in Its Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-must-prioritise-water-in-its-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-must-prioritise-water-in-its-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-must-prioritise-water-in-its-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 18:35:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138666 Africa must now go beyond household water access indices to embrace water as a key development issue, say experts at the Jan. 15-17 U.N. International Water Conference in Zaragoza. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa must now go beyond household water access indices to embrace water as a key development issue, say experts at the Jan. 15-17 U.N. International Water Conference in Zaragoza. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
ZARAGOZA, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Although African countries have been lauded for their efforts towards ensuring that people have access to safe drinking water in keeping with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), they have nonetheless come under scrutiny for failure to prioritise water in their development agendas.

Thomas Chiramba, Head of Freshwater Ecosystems Unit at the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in Kenya, told IPS that in spite of progress on the third component of MDG7 – halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 – water scarcity still poses a significant threat to sustainable development in Africa.

Attending the United Nations’ International Water Conference being held in this Spanish city from Jan. 15-17,  he said that “there is too much focus on household water access indices and not enough on linkages between water and sustainable development.”While there are now more people in Africa with improved sources of water and sanitation, experts say that this is not enough. The continent is still facing water scarcity, with negative implications for growth and health.

While there are now more people in Africa with improved sources of water and sanitation, experts say that this is not enough. The continent is still facing water scarcity, with negative implications for growth and health.

In view of the rapid and unpredictable changes in environmental systems, Chiramba said that unless Africa broadens its national and international water goals the region will find it difficult to remain economically resilient.

“Water is key to the agricultural and energy sectors, both critical to accelerating growth and development in Africa,” he added.

The theme of the Zaragoza conference is ‘Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action’ and is at the heart of adaptation to climate, also serving as a key link among climate systems, human society and environment.

One of the main aims of the conference is to develop implementing tools, with regard to financing, technology, capacity development and governance frameworks, for initiating the post-2015 agenda on water and sanitation.

More than 300 participants representing U.N. agencies and programmes, experts, the business community, and governmental and non-governmental organisations have converged with the main aim of addressing water as a sustainable development goal.

“Although water goals and targets were achieved under the MDGs, the main focus was on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), all geared towards poverty reduction,” said Chiramba. “But there was no explicit focus on addressing the sustainability aspect.”

As a result, say experts, water management issues were never comprehensively addressed at the national or international level, nor was the key role that water can play in growing the various sectors of the economy.

This year is also the last year of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ which began in 2005, and will set the tone for World Water Day to be marked on March 22, which will also focus on ‘water and sustainable development’.

The primary goal of the ‘Water for Life’ Decade has been to promote efforts to fulfil international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015. The Water Decade has served to forge cooperation at all levels so that the water-related goals of the Millennium Declaration are achieved.

The end of the Decade also marks the beginning of new water campaigns, “this time, with great focus on the impact of water on development,” said Chiramba.

The Zaragoza water conference has brought to the fore the fact that the Decade has achieved the difficult task of isolating water issues as key to the development agenda and has provided a platform for governments and stakeholders to address the threats that water scarcity poses to development, experts say.

“It has also been a platform for stakeholders and government to discuss the opportunities that exist in exploiting water as a resource,” said Alice Shena, a civil society representative at the event.

As a result of the Water Decade, Shena noted, a broader international water agenda has been established that goes beyond universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

“The agenda now includes the sustainable use and development of water resources, increasing and sharing the available benefits which have significant implications for every sector of the economy,” she said.

According to environment expert Nataliya Nikiforova, as a new era of development goals begins under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is clear that water will play a critical role in development.

She said  that if managed efficiently and equitably, water can play a key enabling role in strengthening the resilience of social, economic and environmental systems in the light of rapid and unpredictable changes.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138644 A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138631 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was
ambushed.

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

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More Than Half of Africa’s Arable Land ‘Too Damaged’ for Food Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 10:52:05 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138619 Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

By Busani Bafana
NTUNGAMO DISTRICT, Uganda, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

A report published last month by the Montpellier Panel – an eminent group of agriculture, ecology and trade experts from Africa and Europe – says about 65 percent of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain viable food production.

The report, “No Ordinary Matter: conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soil“, notes that Africa suffers from the triple threat of land degradation, poor yields and a growing population."Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil." -- Rattan Lal

The Montpellier Panel has recommended, among others, that African governments and donors invest in land and soil management, and create incentives particularly on secure land rights to encourage the care and adequate management of farm land. In addition, the report recommends increasing financial support for investment on sustainable land management.

The publication of the report comes with the U.N. declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils, a declaration the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) director general, Jose Graziano da Silva, said was important for “paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all and by all.”

According to the FAO, human pressure on the resource has left a third of all soils on which food production depends degraded worldwide.

Without new approaches to better managing soil health, the amount of arable and productive land available per person in 2050 will be a fourth of the level it was in 1960 as the FAO says it can take up to 1,000 years to form a centimetre of soil.

Soil expert and professor of agriculture at the Makerere University, Moses Tenywa tells IPS that African governments should do more to promote soil and water conservation, which is costly for farmers in terms of resources, labour, finances and inputs.

“Smallholder farmers usually lack the resources to effectively do soil and water conservation yet it is very important. Therefore, for small holder farmers to do it they must be motivated or incentivized and this can come through linkages to markets that bring in income or credit that enables them access inputs,” Tenywa says.

“Practicing climate smart agriculture in climate watersheds promotes soil health. This includes conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, diversification, mulching, and use of fertilizers in combination with rainwater harvesting.”

Before farmers received training on soil management methods, they applied fertilisers, for instance, without having their soils tested. Tenywa said now many smallholder farmers have been trained to diagnose their soils using a soil test kit and also to take their soils to laboratories for testing.

According to the Montpellier Panel report, an estimated 180 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are affected by land degradation, which costs about 68 billion dollars in economic losses as a result of damaged soils that prevent crop yields.

“The burdens caused by Africa’s damaged soils are disproportionately carried by the continent’s resource-poor farmers,” says the chair of the Montpellier Panel, Professor Sir Gordon Conway.

“Problems such as fragile land security and limited access to financial resources prompt these farmers to forgo better land management practices that would lead to long-term gains for soil health on the continent, in favour of more affordable or less labour-intensive uses of resources which inevitably exacerbate the issue.”

Soil health is critical to enhancing the productivity of Africa’s agriculture, a major source of employment and a huge contributor to GDP, says development expert and acting divisional manager in charge of Visioning & Knowledge management at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Wole Fatunbi.

“The use of simple and appropriate tools that suits the smallholders system and pocket should be explored while there is need for policy interventions including strict regulation on land use for agricultural purposes to reduce the spate of land degradation,” Fatunbi told IPS

He explained that 15 years ago he developed a set of technologies using vegetative material as green manure to substitute for fertiliser use in the Savannah of West Africa. The technology did not last because of the laborious process of collecting the material and burying it to make compost.

“If technologies do not immediately lead to more income or more food, farmers do not want them because no one will eat good soil,” said Fatunbi. “Soil fertility measures need to be wrapped in a user friendly packet. Compost can be packed as pellets with fortified mineral fertilisers for easy application.”

Fatunbi cites the land terrace system to manage soil erosion in the highlands of Uganda and Rwanda as a success story that made an impact because the systems were backed legislation. Also, the use of organic manure in the Savannah region through an agriculture system integrating livestock and crops has become a model for farmers to protect and promote soil health.

Meanwhile, a new report by U.S. researchers cites global warming as another impact on soil with devastating consequences.

According to the report “Climate Change and Security in Africa”, the continent is expected to see a rise in average temperature that will be higher than the global average. Annual rainfall is projected to decrease throughout most of the region, with a possible exception of eastern Africa.

“Less rain will have serious implications for sub-Saharan agriculture, 75 percent of which is rain-fed… Average predicated production losses by 2050 for African crops are: maize 22 percent, sorghum 17 percent, millet 17 percent, groundnut 18 percent, and cassava 8 percent.

“Hence, in the absence of major interventions in capacity enhancements and adaption measures, warming by as little as 1.5C threatens food production in Africa significantly.”

A truly disturbing picture of the problems of soil was painted by the National Geographic magazine in a recent edition.

“By 1991, an area bigger than the United States and Canada combined was lost to soil erosion—and it shows no signs of stopping,” wrote agroecologist Jerry Glover in the article “Our Good Earth.” In fact, says Glover, “native forests and vegetation are being cleared and converted to agricultural land at a rate greater than any other period in history.

“We still continue to harvest more nutrients than we replace in soil,” he says. If a country is extracting oil, people worry about what will happen if the oil runs out. But they don’t seem to worry about what will happen if we run out of soil.

Adds Rattan Lal, soil scientist: “Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil.”

Edited by Lisa Vives

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For Zimbabweans, Universal Education May be an Unattainable Goalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/for-zimbabweans-universal-education-may-be-an-unattainable-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-zimbabweans-universal-education-may-be-an-unattainable-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/for-zimbabweans-universal-education-may-be-an-unattainable-goal/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 16:39:07 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138406 Primary school children like the ones pictured here in Zimbabwe's capital Harare often drop out of school, casting doubts on this Southern African nation's capacity to achieve universal primary education for all by December 2015. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Primary school children like the ones pictured here in Zimbabwe's capital Harare often drop out of school, casting doubts on this Southern African nation's capacity to achieve universal primary education for all by December 2015. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

Zimbabwe boasts of one of the highest rates of literacy across Africa but, but without free primary education, achieving universal primary education here may remain a pipe dream, educationists say.

It would also defeat Zimbabwe’s quest to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the deadline of 2015.

One of the MDGs requires countries the world over to achieve universal primary education by the end of 2015 and reintroduce free primary education. But more than 34 years after gaining independence from Britain, educationists say Zimbabwe is far from attaining universal primary education for all.

“Hordes of pupils enrolled in schools after independence at a time the Zimbabwean government made education free at primary school level,” Thabo Hlalo, a retired educationist from Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province, told IPS.“Without free primary education, school attendance has become intermittent, meaning that achieving universal primary education in line with the U.N. MDGs may remain imaginary for Zimbabwe” – Thabo Hlalo, retired educationist from Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province

”But now without free primary education, school attendance has become intermittent, meaning that achieving universal primary education in line with the U.N. MDGs may remain imaginary for Zimbabwe.”

At independence in 1980, the Zimbabwean government abolished all primary school tuition fees, but they have now crept in and crept up. Parents not only contend with fees that they cannot afford but also with expensive essentials like notebooks and uniforms.

Early this year, Zimbabwe reportedly approached the United Kingdom for funds to help cover fees for an estimated one million pupils who would otherwise be forced out of school. The cash-strapped government said it was unable to finance its Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), a scheme meant for poor children.

The U.K. government provided 10 million dollars from its Department for International Development but warned it may be the last contribution.

The school fees have been defended by Zimbabwe’s Education Minister Lazarus Dokora, who has gone on record as saying that parents who default on the fees should be taken to court.

Dokora’s “warning” comes despite the fact that at least 95 percent of Zimbabweans voted in a referendum in March last year to adopt a new Constitution expressly granting free primary education to all. Specifically, Section75 (1) (a) of the Zimbabwean Constitution provides for the right to state-funded basic education.

Despite this constitutional provision, it is still a sad story for many children like 9-year-old Tobias Chikota from Harare’s Caledonia informal settlement located about 30km south-east of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

“I dropped out of school early this year because my unemployed parents couldn’t afford to pay my school feels,” Chikota, who at the time was in Primary Four, told IPS.

While it is a requirement for nations to ensure a predictable and adequate state budget allocation to education under the MDGs, civil society activists here say the Zimbabwean government seems way off the mark in terms of prioritising education.

“Despite the impending deadline for the attainment of the MDGs, our government has not been and remains inconsistent in its budgetary structures in practically directing money towards education, which may make the attainment of universal primary education for all difficult, if not impossible, by 2015,” Catherine Mukwapati, a civil society activist and director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Earlier this year, the Zimbabwean government allocated 919 million dollars to the country’s education sector in its 2015 national budget announcement, but for Mukwapati these were “mere void commitments made on paper, hardly followed by action as customary with our government.

Through UNICEF’s Education Transition Fund (ETF), the Zimbabwean government distributed 13 million textbooks to 5,575 schools countrywide in 2010, resulting in each pupil in primary schools countrywide receiving a set of four basic textbooks.

In spite of this gesture, a 2012 report by Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education found that the country’s rural teachers are overwhelmed with work, operating at a ratio of one teacher to 60 pupils, far over the government-pegged teacher-pupil ratio of one to 40.

According to Save the Children, for over 3.2 million children enrolled in primary and secondary schools in Zimbabwe, there are only about 102,000 teachers.

A UNICEF report on the Status of Women’s and Children’s Rights in Zimbabwe released in 2012 says that at least 197,000 pupils drop out of primary schools each year, a situation that development experts here say hinders Zimbabwe from achieving universal primary education for all in line with the MDGs.

“School dropouts owing to lack of school fees, mostly at primary level, are peaking up annually and, therefore, talking about Zimbabwe achieving primary education for all by 2015 is a non-starter,” independent development expert Evans Dube told IPS.

And for many parents like 43-year-old Tambudzai Chihota, a widow whose six children are out of school due to non-payment of school fees, the promise of universal primary education means little.

“My children didn’t go beyond Grade [Primary] Five here because I had no money to pay their school fees and the universal primary education you talk about may not be my business as long as my children are still without access to further education,” Chihota told IPS.

The crisis facing the education system here has also been worsened by the flight of about 20,000 teachers from the country between 2007 and 2009 at the peak of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

Besides extremely low salaries, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), a teachers’ trade union organisation in Zimbabwe, says that morale is low among teachers, negatively affecting the quality of the country’s education.

An average teacher earns 400 dollars a month, well below the poverty datum line of 511 dollars a month for an average family of five in this Southern African nation.

“Universal education may be far from being achieved here by 2015 due to poor teachers’ salaries, causing a deterioration of the quality of education,” Raymond Majongwe, Secretary General of PTUZ, told IPS.

With just over 12 months left before the deadline for achievement of the MDGs, it appears unlikely that Zimbabwe will meet the target of universal primary education for all.

(Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris)

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Years in the Making, Arms Trade Treaty Enters into Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 14:14:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138402 A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

A new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) beginning on Dec. 24 represents a historic moment in global efforts to keep weapons proliferation in check.

Nounou Booto Meeti, programme director at the Centre for Peace, Security and Armed Violence Prevention, told IPS that in her own home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the uncontrolled trade of arms has contributed to human rights violations including rape and the recruitment of child soldiers."We’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it." -- Allison Pytlak from Control Arms

Meeti has actively campaigned for a global ATT, including advocating for the inclusion of a gender-based violence criterion.

The criterion is especially important for countries like the DRC where rape and sexual slavery has been used to systematically terrorise village after village.

Meeti emphasised that women, men and children are all affected by gender-based violence. In the DRC, when a village is attacked the men are often killed so that the women who are alive will not be able to defend themselves, she explained.

The Arms Trade Treaty, if implemented properly, will require states selling weapons to not only consider if the weapons are going to a country where there are systematic violations of human rights, including gender-based violence, but also how likely it is that those weapons will end up there through diversion from another country.

Meeti urged all countries to do their best to put the ATT into practice “so that we can see the reduction of armed violence, the reduction of armed conflict and the end of gender-based violence.”

She said that it has taken a long time to get to this point because there are a lot of interests in the global arms trade, which is an industry that earns billions and billions of dollars primarily for a small group of arms producing countries.

She added that “the transparency within the ATT will influence the reduction of military expenses in favour of development.”

The proliferation of weapons in countries like the DRC and the free flow of weapons into the ‘wrong hands’ has been allowed to continue because of an almost complete lack of international regulation of the arms trade.

According to Amnesty International, there are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons.

Meeti said that they had shown that there was no management of government stockpiles of weapons in the DRC, making it easy for arms to be diverted to the wrong hands. Porous borders meant that weapons could easily be brought in from any of the nine countries that share borders with the DRC.

She said that non-state actors also had ready unregulated access to arms, funded by the DRC’s vast resource wealth and international actors with interests in exploiting those resources.

Allison Pytlak from Control Arms told IPS that the ATT is “about introducing responsibility into the arms trade, not about trying to stop the trade of arms.”

The treaty also asks “all parties involved, especially the arms dealers, to think twice about where their weapons are going,” Pytlak said.

She said that the ATT aims to fix problems like states receiving weapons after they had stopped acting responsibly.

“Syria is a good example, we’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it,” Pytlak said.

Pytlak also said that weapons often end up in the ‘wrong hands’ through diversion, corrupt officials and theft from insecure government stockpiles.

“A lot of guns start out on the legal market and then end up on the illegal market,” she noted.

“By having export licensing officials who have a second thought about, where are these weapons really going to go? It looks a little bit unstable there, or there’s a history of diversion there, if they start thinking twice about that, the source might dry up and diversion will cease,” she said.

Only the first step

The Arms Trade Treaty covers everything from small arms and light weapons to warships, including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles and missile launchers. The treaty also covers ammunition and parts and components.

Millions of new weapons and 12 billion bullets are produced each year, while over 800 million guns already exist in the world.

The entering into force of the ATT on Wednesday with 61 ratifications and 130 signatures is only a small, albeit notable, step in the right direction.

Two thousand people die from armed violence every day. Armed violence is also fuelling the global refugee crisis, with over 26 million people around the world displaced due to conflict.

Arms affected countries are predominantly also lower income countries, and may struggle to implement the treaty.

Pytlak says that one current option being explored is the possibility of using Official Development Assistance (aid) to help lower income countries with the costs of implementing the treaty.

A new report from Chatham House says that the indirect impact of the arms trade on development includes the diversion of funds from healthcare to defence, increased unemployment and decreased educational opportunities.

In a statement Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty as historic.

“Ultimately, it attests to our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organisations,” Ban said.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Falling Oil Prices Threaten Fragile African Economieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 22:35:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138388 Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

The sharp decline in world petroleum prices – hailed as a bonanza to millions of motorists in the United States – is threatening to undermine the fragile economies of several African countries dependent on oil for their sustained growth.

The most vulnerable in the world’s poorest continent include Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sudan – as well as developing nations such as Algeria, Libya and Egypt in North Africa."In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high." -- Dr. Shenggen Fan of IFPRI

Dr. Kwame Akonor, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, who has written extensively on the politics and economics of the continent, told IPS recent trends and developments such as the outbreak of Ebola and the fall of global oil prices “shows how tepid and volatile African economies are.”

In 2012, for instance, Sierra Leone and Liberia (two of the hardest hit countries with Ebola) were cited by the World Bank as the fastest growing sub-Saharan African countries, he pointed out.

In a similar vein, countries such as Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are considered top performing economies due to the large concentration of their oil and gas reserves.

“But the ramifications of any economic crisis will undoubtedly negatively impact the fortunes of these countries,” said Akonor, who is also director of the University’s Centre for African Studies and the African Development Institute, a New York-based think tank.

The world price for crude oil has declined from 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last week.

There are multiple reasons for the decline, including an increase in oil production, specifically in the United States; a fall in the global demand for oil due to a slow down of the world economy; and a positive fallout from conservation efforts.

As the New York Times pointed out: “We simply don’t burn as much energy as we did a few years ago to achieve the same amount of mileage, heat or manufacturing production.”

There are also geopolitical reasons for the continued decline in oil prices because Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest producers, has refused to take any action to stop the fall.

Despite the crisis, the Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi was quoted as saying, “Why should I cut production?”

This has led to the conspiracy theory it is working in collusion with the United States to undermine the oil-dependent economies of three major adversaries: Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the fall in prices is also affecting Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman.

But they are expected to overcome the crisis because of a collective estimated foreign exchange reserve amounting to over 1.5 trillion dollars.

The drop in oil prices, however, will have the most damaging effects on Africa which has been battling poverty, food shortages, HIV/AIDS, and more recently, the outbreak of Ebola.

The heaviest toll will be on Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa which depends on crude oil for about 80 percent of its revenues, according to the Wall Street Journal. The country’s currency, the naira, has declined about 15 percent since the beginning of the fall in oil prices.

Dr. Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), sees both a positive and negative side to the current oil crisis. He told IPS the recent decline in oil prices will help reduce food prices.

Since oil prices are highly co-related to food prices, high oil prices make agricultural production more expensive and thus cause food prices to increase, he added.

“Now that oil prices are on a downward trend, this is, by and large, good for global food security and nutrition,” he said.

Dr. Fan said poor producers and consumers in developing countries should be able to benefit from this – as long as their purchasing power increases.

However, he cautioned, oil exporting countries may lose government revenues from low oil prices.

Indeed, crude oil producing nations in Africa have felt the pinch of declining oil prices given the dependence of their economies on crude oil, he noted. In the short run, he said, poor people may suffer, if their governments reduce food subsidies.

“In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high.”

When oil prices are low, these governments should use reserves to ensure that poor people are protected through social safety net programmes, he added.

Dr. Akonor told IPS as impressive as the current and long-term economic projections for Africa might seem, it does not change the precarious and fragile nature of the continent’s economic foundations.

“The high debt overhang and the heavy reliance on raw materials (such as oil) and minerals for exports, makes African economies susceptible to shock and systemic risks,” he noted.

Moreover, he said, the underlying human capital formation, especially amongst the burgeoning unemployed youth population, lacks the requisite skills that could lead to real sustainable growth and transformation.

“What is needed then is the effective implementation of development strategies and policies that would lead to long-term structural transformation and durable human development,” he argued.

One way to achieve this is through closer regional cooperation, given the small size of domestic markets and poor continental infrastructure. Transformative and human needs development must, amongst other things, address Africa’s poor infrastructure, said Dr. Akonor.

According to the African Development Bank, the road access rate in Africa is only 34 percent, compared with 50 percent in other developing regions. Only 30 percent of Africans have access to electricity, compared to 70-90 percent in other developing countries.

“What makes Africa’s development challenges vexing is that there has not been a shortage of autonomous development-related ideas between African leaders and interested publics,” Dr. Akonor said.

One can argue that Africa has debated and produced too many blueprints and programmes for over half a century without any tangible results or follow through, he said.

“Thus the major obstacle to durable economic performance in Africa has not been the ambitious nature of the development targets, but rather the absence of political will by African governments and the lack of consistency, coordination, and coherence at the sub regional, regional and even global levels to implement structural change,” Dr. Akonor declared.

“Transformational development will require that Africa add value to, and diversify, its export commodities. Building a solid industrial base and infrastructural capacity are also necessary prerequisites toward autonomous structural change.”

Dr. Fan told IPS that on the broader issue of the factors that influence food prices, it is important to realise the right price of food is not easy to determine.

What is important is that the prices of food (including the natural resources that are used for food production) fully reflect their economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits in order to send the right signals to all actors along the food supply chain.

“If this causes food prices to increase, social safety nets should be provided to protect poor people in the short term and also to help them move on to more productive activities in the long term,” Dr. Fan said.

In so doing, their food security and nutrition is not compromised, he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Anti-Gay Legislation Could Defeat Goal to End AIDS in Zimbabwe by 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:04:34 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138316 Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite a mandate to eradicate HIV/AIDS under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Zimbabwe has done little or nothing to reduce the rate of infection among vulnerable gays and lesbians, say activists here.

The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by the target date of 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

Gays and lesbians activists here say more needs to be done because population groups such as men who have sex with men and transgender people remain at the periphery of the country’s intervention strategies.

“In as far as combatting HIV/AIDS is concerned, there are no national programmes targeted for minority groups or interventions that can easily be accessible by the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community on prevention and care within the public healthcare system,”Samuel Matsikure, Programme Manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), told IPS.“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease” – civil society activist Trust Mhindo

“There are knowledge gaps of healthcare workers on the needs and best methods on prevention, treatment and care for the HIV-positive LGBTI individuals,” adds Matsikure.

GALZ is a voluntary association founded in 1990 to serve the needs and interests of LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe, pushing for social tolerance of sexual minorities.

But 24 years after GALZ was founded, Zimbabwe’s Sexual Offences Act still criminalises homosexuality. According to Section 4.78 of Zimbabwe’s new constitution, persons of the same sex are prohibited from consensual sex or marrying each other.

Civil society activists say the Zimbabwean government has to accept the reality that gays and lesbians exist.

“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease,” Trust Mhindo, a civil society activist, told IPS.

HIV/AIDS activists here rather want the legislation on gays and lesbians changed. “We need to fight for a change of laws so that gays and lesbians are given recognition, without which fighting HIV/AIDS among LGBTI will remain futile,” Benjamin Mazhindu, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV (ZNPP+), told IPS.

Globally halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 is part of the U.N. MDGs, but with members of the LGBTI sidelined in fighting the disease in Zimbabwe, the battle may be far from over.

“Most healthcare facilities in Zimbabwe are not friendly to LGBTI persons, hindering disclosures of ailments like anal STIs [sexually transmitted infections]while sexual and reproductive health information for the LGBTI community is non-existent, creating a vacuum with healthcare facilities for minorities,” GALZ director Chester Samba told IPS.

“If you today walk into any government healthcare centre, be sure not to find any information or literature on gays and lesbians in as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned,” he added.

And for many Zimbabwean gays like 23-year-old Hillary Tembo, living with HIV/AIDS amounts to a death sentence because he fears accessing medical help from government healthcare centres.

“I’m HIV-positive and ridden with STI-related sores in my anus and truly I’m afraid to show this to health workers, fearing victimisation owing to my sexuality,” Tembo told IPS.

But Zimbabwean Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told IPS: “When a person visits a healthcare centre, nothing is asked about one’s sexual orientation.”

According to Samba, although there are no reported cases of HIV-positive LGBTI people being denied antiretroviral treatment on account of their sexual orientation, “there is need for a national HIV/AIDS response to address the barriers preventing members of the LGBTI community from accessing services that address their HIV/AIDS health care needs, including access to information that is relevant to them.”

However, faced with a constitution forbidding gay relations, government here finds it an uphill task to consider a group of people that it constitutionally does not recognise in combatting HIV/AIDS.

“We can’t arm-twist our supreme law which does not condone homosexuality to fit in to the needs of a small group of people who are disobeying the law,” a top government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

And for gays and lesbians in this Southern African nation, whether the U.N. MDGs matter or not, to them suffering may continue as long as they remain a forgotten lot in fighting HIV/AIDS.

“As homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, it is difficult for prevention programmes to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) and all MSMs living with HIV/AIDS are often unable to access HIV treatment, care and support,” Samba told IPS.

Asked how many HIV-positive LGBTI persons there were in Zimbabwe, the GALZ director said that he could not give figures because “there are no mechanisms at national level to capture data based on one’s sexual orientation.”

However, in its yet-to-be published 2014 research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on LGBTI persons, GALZ says that of the 393 MSMs tested for HIV/AIDS this year, 23.5 percent were found positive while of the 179 women having sex with women (WSWs) tested for HIV/AIDS, 32.6 percent were found positive in Zimbabwe.

According to the National Aids Council in Zimbabwe (NAC),1.24 million people in the country are living with HIV/AIDS, which is approximately 15 percent of the country’s over 13 million people. LGBTI persons are part of this percentage.

Statistics from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency this year show that LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe contribute about four percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

With a membership of 6,000 gays and lesbians, GALZ says 15 percent of these are living with HIV/AIDS, with five of its members having succumbed to HIV/AIDS since January. The organisation claims that it normally loses 5 to 10 people each year. “Statistics we have so far are of GALZ-affiliated members, not representative of the national statistics,” said the GALZ director.

For many HIV-positive Zimbabwean gays like Tembo, as the world rushes towards the deadline for attainment of the U.N. MDGs, without clearly defined strategies to fight HIV/AIDS within the LGBTI community, the war against the scourge may be far from over.

“How can we triumph over HIV/AIDS when among the LGBTI community we are without strategies from government to combat the disease?” Tembo asked rhetorically.

(Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris)

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Kenya’s Economy Sees Growth at Top But No ‘Trickle-Down’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 23:03:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138313 David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

David Kamau is a small-scale maize farmer in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some 153 kms from the capital Nairobi. He recently diversified into carrot farming but is still not making a profit.

He says that inputs cost too much and if this trend continues he will sub-divide and sell his five hectares.

This is the story of many small-scale farmers in this East African nation, where agriculture accounts for about one-quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But small-scale farmers – accounting for about 75 percent of total agricultural produce – barely break even.

“A 150 kg bag of carrot is now going for about 27 dollars, up from 22 dollars, but as prices go up, so does the cost of inputs,” says Kamau.“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times” – Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi pro-poor social movement

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Yet agriculture fails to provide an adequate return to farmers because their sector is significantly underfunded, explains Jason Braganza, an economic analyst based in Nairobi.

The percentage of the budget for the agricultural sector is 2.4 percent, down 0.6 percent from the 3 percent in the 2012/2013 budget and well below the threshold of the 2003 African Union Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which mandated that at least 10 percent the national budget should be allocated to agriculture.

The result, says Kamau, is that “farmers are slowly moving out of the farms and trying other economic ventures, Central Kenya used to be a breadbasket but farmlands are being replaced by residential and commercial complexes.”

Farming is not the only sector feeling an economic downslide. Small businesses in Kenya are faced with a lack of essential business support services, especially financial services. Two-thirds of Kenyans do not have access to basic financial services such as banking accounts.

“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times,” according to Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi [People’s Parliament] pro-poor social movement.

She says that the group is planning to hold the government responsible regarding the use of the information in the ‘Socio-Economic Atlas of Kenya’ which the government released last month. The report exposes significant disparities in poverty levels across the country.

“The Atlas is a powerful tool, but whether the government will use the information to change lives and improve living standards remains to be seen,” she says.

Felix Omondi, a resident of Kibera, a division of Nairobi considered the largest slum in Africa, and a member of the Unga Revolution, a local activist group, is one of those who believes that the Atlas is doing some good.

He told IPS that that a programme is under way to upgrade slums and said that this is “one of the ways that the government is using the Atlas to improve the lives of people in the slums.”

In the last three months, the government has been working with residents of the slums to establish income-generating projects and provide basic amenities such as toilets, lighting and drainage.

At least 3,000 youths in Kibera will benefit from these projects. Omondi, a beneficiary, says that he is running one of the posho (corn meal) mills set up by the government to generate income.

Kenya now officially a “middle-income country”

Meanwhile, in autumn the news came out that Kenya had seen its economy grow 25 percent after statistical revision and is now officially a “middle-income country”. A few months ago, a similar type of revision brought Nigeria’s economy to the top of African countries in terms of the size of the economy, surpassing South Africa for the first time.

A growing middle class population is an important driver of this growth, but what does that middle class look like? The recently revised Kenyan figures indicate that the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is 1,160 dollars against the World Bank’s “middle income” threshold of 1,036 dollars.

The latest income-distribution indicators for Kenya (which date back to 2005) show the following:

  • 45.9 percent of the population was at the national poverty line;
  • The income share held by the top 10 percent was 38 percent.

This out-of-date, official information excludes the informal economy, observes Africa Arino, professor of strategic management at the IESE Business School in Spain.

“A taxi driver makes KES 15,000 a month (about 178 dollars or 132 euro), and pays KES 3,500 (close to 25 percent of his income) to rent a room where he lives with his wife and two children,” Arino explains.

“They don’t have a kitchen or a bathroom: these are facilities shared with others in the same building lot. His income is pretty much the average salary of a driver, according to the Kenya Economic Survey 2014. Is he middle class?”

According to Braganza, one of the main challenges facing Kenya is that while the country’s economic growth is real and sustainable, the structure of the economy has remained unchanged. Resources have not shifted into the most productive sectors of the economy which would increase overall productivity and an increase in remunerative employment.

Braganza says that for people to feel the trickledown effect of the economic growth, there must also be structural transformation. “There is a need for more investment in the more productive sectors, as well as investment in emerging sectors. This will contribute towards a reduction in unemployment and poverty.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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UNIDO Development Initiative Gains Momentum in ACP Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:48:32 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138303 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. 

A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council of Ministers meeting in the Belgian capital where UNIDO Director-General Li Yong met with ACP representatives to explore how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in their countries and possible ways of scaling up investment in developing countries.

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers  meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

During the opening session of the ministers’ meeting, outgoing ACP Secretary-General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni had already highlighted the key role of the ISID programme in promoting investment and stimulating competitive industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

In December last year in Lima, Peru, the 172 countries belonging to UNIDO – including ACP countries – unanimously approved the Lima Declaration calling for “inclusive and sustainable industrial development”.

The Lima Declaration clearly acknowledged that industrialisation is an important landmark on the global agenda and, for the first time, the spectacular industrial successes of several countries in the last 40 years, particularly in Asia, was globally recognised.

According to UNIDO statistics, industrialised countries add 70% of value to their products and recent research by the organisation shows how industrial development is intrinsically correlated with improvements in sectors such as poverty reduction, health, education and food security.“We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people” – UNIDO Director-General Li Yong

One major issue that the concept of ISID addresses is the environmental sustainability of industrial development. “We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people,” said Li.

Economic growth objectives should be pursued while protecting the environment and health, and by making business more environmentally sustainable, they become more profitable and societies more resilient.

ISID in the Post-2015 Agenda

“For ISID to be achieved,” said Li, “appropriate policies are essential as well as partnerships among all stakeholders involved.” This highlights the importance of including ISID in major development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 development agenda that will guide international development in the coming decades.

With strong and solid support from the ACP countries, ISID has already been recognised as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the U.N. Open Working Group on SDGs – to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose deadline is December 2015 – and confirmed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in ‘The Road to Dignity By 2030’, his synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.

In fact, goal 9 is specifically devoted to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.”

In this context, Mumuni told the Brussels meeting of ACP ministers that “in building the competitiveness of our industries and facilitating the access of ACP brands to regional and international markets, UNIDO is regarded by ACP Secretariat as a strategic ally.”

ACP-UNIDO – A Strategic Partnership

A Memorandum of Understanding approved in March 2011 and a Relationship Agreement signed in November 2011 represent the solid strategic framework underlying the strategic partnership between ACP and UNIDO, and highlight how the two partners can work together to support the implementation of ISID in ACP countries.

Key is the establishment and reinforcement of the capacity of the public and private sectors in ACP countries and regions for the development of inclusive, competitive, transparent and environmentally-friendly industries in line with national and regional development strategies.

On the basis of these agreements, ACP and UNIDO have intensified their policy dialogue and concrete cooperation. One example reported during the ministers’ meeting was the development of a pilot programme entitled “Investment Monitoring Platform” (IMP), funded under the intra-ACP envelope of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) with the support of other donors.

This programme is aimed at managing the impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) on development, combining investment promotion with private sector development, designing and reforming policies that attract quality investment, and enhancing coordination between the public and private sector, among others.

This programme has already reinforced the capacity of investment promotion agencies and statistical offices in more than 20 African countries, which have been trained on methodologies to assess the private sector at country level.

Implementing ISID in ACP Countries

In Africa, the strategy for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) prepared with UNIDO expertise, is a key priority of Agenda 2063  – a “global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” – and of the Joint Africa-European Union Strategy.

In the Caribbean, high priority is being given to private sector development, climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and value addition in agri-business value chains, trade and tourism.

The CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum in London in 2013 clearly articulated the need for more innovation, reliable markets and private sector information, access to markets through quality and the improvement of agro-processing and creative industries.

In the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific-EU Business Forum held in Vanuatu in June this year called for stronger engagement in supporting the private sector and ensuring that innovation would produce tangible socio-economic benefits.

Finally, in all three ACP regions, interventions related to quality and value chain development are being backed in view of supporting the private sector and commodity strategies.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Renewable Energy: The Untold Story of an African Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:32:55 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138251 By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

Africa is experiencing a revolution towards cleaner energy through renewable energy but the story has hardly been told to the world, says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner, who had been advocating for renewable energy at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, said Africa is on the right path toward a low carbon footprint by tapping into its plentiful renewable resources – hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“There is a revolution going on in the continent of Africa and the world is not noticing it. You can go to Egypt, Ethiopia Kenya, Namibia, and Mozambique. I think we will see renewable energy being the answer to Africa’s energy problems in the next fifteen years,” Steiner said in an interview with IPS.

Sharing the example of the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Steiner told IPS that the decision was taken that “if UNEP is going to be centred with its offices in the African continent on the Equator, there can be reason why we are not using renewable energy. So we installed photovoltaic panels on our roof which we share with UN Habitat, 1200 people, and we produce 750,000 kilowatt hours of electricity every year, that is enough for the entire building to operate.”

He noted that although it will take UNEP between eight and 10 years to pay off the installation, UNEP will have over 13 years of electricity without paying monthly or annual power bills. “It is the best business proposition that a U.N. body has ever made in terms of paying for electricity for a building,” he said.

According to Steiner, the “revolution” is already happening in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Ethiopia which are both targeting renewable energy, especially geothermal energy.

“Kenya plans to triple its electricity generation up to about 6000 megawatts in the next five years. More than 90 percent of the planned power is to come from geothermal, solar and wind power,” he said. “If you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country” – Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

Kenya currently runs a geothermal power development corporation which invites tenders from private investors bid and is establishing a wind power firm likely to be the largest in Africa with a capacity of 350 megawatts of power under a public-private partnership.

In Ethiopia, expansion of the Aluto-Langano geothermal power plant will increase geothermal generation capacity from the current 7 MW to 70 MW. The expansion project is being financed by the Ethiopian government (10 million dollars), a 12 million dollar grant from the Government of Japan, and a 13 million dollar loan from the World Bank.

Renewable energy has costs but also benefits

Phillip Hauser, Vice President of GDF Suez Energy Latin America, told IPS that geothermal power is a good option for countries in Africa with that potential, but it comes with risks.

“It is very site-dependent. There can be geothermal projects that are relatively cost efficient and there are others that are relatively expensive. It is a bit like the oil and gas industry. You have to find the resource and you have to develop the resource. Sometimes you might drill and you don’t find anything – that is lost investment,” Hauser told IPS.

Steiner admitted that like any other investment, renewable energy has some limitations, including the need for upfront initial capital and the cost of technology, but he said that countries with good renewable energy policies would attract the necessary private investments.

“We are moving in a direction where Africa will not have to live in a global fuel market in which one day you have to pay 120 dollars for a barrel of crude oil, then the next day you get it at 80 dollars and before you know it, it is doubled,” he said.

“So if you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country,”Steiner added.

A recent assessment by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) of Africa’s renewable energy future found that solar and wind power potential existed in at least 21 countries, and biomass power potential in at least 14 countries.

The agency, which supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, has yet to provide a list of countries with geothermal power potential but almost all the countries around the Great Rift Valley in south-eastern Africa – Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania among others – have already identified geothermal sites, with Kenya being the first to use a geothermal site to add power to its grid.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin told IPS that the agency’s studies shows that not only can renewable energy meet the world’s rising demand, but it can do so more cheaply, while contributing to limiting global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius – the widely-cited tipping point in the climate change debate.

He said the good news in Africa is that apart from the resources that exist, there is a growing body of knowledge across African expert institutions that would help the continent to exploit its virgin renewable energy potential.

What is needed now, he explained, is for countries in Africa to develop the economic case for those resources supported by targeted government policies to help developers and financiers get projects off the ground.

The IRENA assessment found that in 2010, African countries imported 18 billion dollars’ worth of oil – more than the entire amount they received in foreign aid – while oil subsidies in Africa cost an estimated 50 billion dollars every year.

New financing models for renewable energy

According to Amin, renewable energy technologies are now the most economical solution for off-grid and mini-grid electrification in remote areas, as well as for grid extension in some cases of centralised grid supply.

He argued that rapid technological progress, combined with falling costs, a better understanding of financial risk and a growing appreciation of wider benefits mean that renewable energy would increasingly be the solution to Africa’s energy problem.

In this context, Africa could take on new financing models that “de-risk” investments in order to lower the cost of capital, which has historically been a major barrier to investment in renewable energy, and one such model would include encouragement for green bonds.

“Green bonds are the recent innovation for renewable energy investments,” said Amin. “Last year we reached about 14 billion dollars, this year there is an estimate of about 40 billion, and next year there is an estimate of about 100 billion dollars in green finance through green bonds. Why doesn’t Africa take advantage of those?” he asked.

During the conference in Lima, activist groups have been urging an end to dependence on fossil fuel- and nuclear-powered energy systems, calling for investment and policies geared toward building clean, sustainable, community-based energy solutions.

“We urgently need to decrease our energy consumption and push for a just transition to community-controlled renewable energy if we are to avoid devastating climate change,” said Susann Scherbarth, a climate justice and energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe.

Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, told IPS that “we urgently need a transition to clean energy in developing countries and one of the best incentives is globally funded feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.”

He said policies that support feed-in tariffs and decentralized power sources should be embraced by both the most- and the least-developed nations.

Backed by a new discussion paper on a ‘global renewable energy support programme’ from the What Next Forum, activists called for decentralised energy systems – including small-scale wind, solar, biomass mini-grids communities that are not necessarily connected to a national electricity transmission grid.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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