Wednesday, 30 November 2011

POVERTY: SENEGAL: Prospects and pitfalls along a Great Green Wall

MBAR TOUBAB, 29 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Jane Labous/IRIN
Kumba Ka, president of the gardner association and Aissa Ka on their plot of land

Former goat-herder Samba Ba proudly points to a row of metre-high acacia trees growing amid the fine grasses that are the only other vegetation in this part of northern Senegal's arid savannah. “Planting trees is a blessing - trees mean life. We call this the Nile River of the Sahel.”
Ba hopes that in time the trees will bear black fruits that can be used as goat-feed. He and his fellow villagers are also planting the Sahel acacia, which produces a gum with medicinal properties, the tamarind, which has edible bitter-sweet fruit, and the desert date or “sump” tree, which bears small fruits whose oil can be used in cooking. These are all thorny trees with small leaves, the only kind that can survive in the arid conditions.
Sedentary and semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen are planting five hectares of vegetable and fruit crops and approximately 1,000 trees as part of the Great Green Wall project (“La Grande Muraille Verte”), an ambitious pan-African environmental programme designed to combat desertification along the southern edge of the Sahara and provide nomadic populations with extra livelihoods while enhancing their food security.
The scheme falls within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which aims to decrease poverty and improve food sources, and is being supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Donors have pledged US$3 billion to the 11 participating countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.

The governments of these 11 Sahelian states intend that 20 years from now, a giant hedge, 15km wide and 7,000km long, spreading across two million hectares, will help slow the advancing desert and impede the hot winds that increase erosion.
“The wall is just the final result. What we're looking for… is to protect and improve the eco-systems of these Sahel regions, and [through this] to improve the diets, health, lifestyle and environment of the Savannah people,” said Matar Cissé, director general of the national agency implementing the project, in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.
Chronic drought has made it increasingly difficult for Fulani nomads to make a traditional living as pastoralists. Ba, 42, a Fulani who has settled in the village of Mbar Toubab, 100km south of where the Sahara desert starts in neighbouring Mauritania, says herdsmen would consider settling in such villages if they could earn a living by growing and selling fruit and vegetables.

 Photo: Jane Labous/IRIN
Fulani goat-herders in northern Senegal

Cissé said, “We are, we hope, developing a system that will help these people help themselves to stay in one place, create jobs and raise their own incomes. For the nomadic peoples, this could fundamentally change the way they live.”

Food production and shifting lifestyles
Villagers are taught how to plant market gardens and use drip irrigation by connecting a small elevated water tank to perforated pipes that deliver small amounts of water to each plant. “We travel great distances in search of pasture and water. If this project is successful… this area won't be hopeless any more,” Ba told IRIN. “To have water and food to feed ourselves and our animals on our doorstep can only be beneficial.”
A Niger government study found that pastoralists with small herds had lost 90 percent of their livestock in successive droughts.
So far, the 133 women participating in the scheme in Mbar Toubab have produced lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, okra, aubergines, watermelons, carrots, cabbages and turnips. Their mango and orange trees have yet to bear fruit, said Kumba Ka, President of the Gardening association, who walks six km every day to work in her garden
Many villagers thought something like this would never be possible. “We’re growing so many different types of vegetables that normally only grow where water is deep,” Ka told IRIN.
Such a project must be based on market research that identifies who will be able to buy the vegetables, where, and at what prices, if it is to support livelihoods and food security, said Peter Gubbels, West Africa coordinator of NGO Groundswell International and author of the Sahel Working Group’s recent report, Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel.
The Great Green Wall could play an important role in environmental management and supporting nomadic livelihoods, but it must not be seen as “the solution” to food security, Gubbels said. The project risks being too ambitious by taking on desertification as well as food security, which are separate issues, requiring separate solutions.

Food security versus desertification
Food insecurity in the Sahel is largely due to a growing gap between rich and poor, with an “underclass of the bottom 30 percent” living in chronic poverty, he said. Solutions include subsidized prices, social protection schemes, and disaster reduction, among many others.

 Photo: Jane Labous/IRIN
The village has been given a tractor

Desertification is what forces people to migrate. “In the popular imagination desertification is about billowing sand dunes advancing at a rate of two kilometres a year, but… [it] is the overuse of natural resources, over-grazing, intensive farming and the subsequent erosion of land-pockets that become completely denuded and then join together,” Gubbels said.
Tree-planting projects to combat desertification work best when the trees are owned by the farmers themselves, said Chris Reij, coordinator of the African Regreening Initiative.
Gubbels noted that “Usually only 20 percent of newly planted trees will survive… so there is a high risk to tree-planting… unless we mobilize millions of [farmers] to invest in trees as well as manage them themselves, the battle against desertification cannot be won.”

Pastoralist-led solutions
The most innovative projects to improve the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists are being developed by the pastoralists themselves, with the help of NGOs, said Reij. In Niger they have established settlement sites where they plant trees and market gardens alongside health and education services. Pastoralists then migrate from these points.
Rather than using such schemes to encourage the nomads to settle - which often leads to tension with sedentary communities - a combination of mobility and agriculture is the most risk-averse survival strategy. “[Partial] mobility…is a much better and less risky strategy than staying in one place… [which] leads to over-grazing,” and if the area does not get much rainfall that year, “you are much more vulnerable,” Gubbels pointed out.
In a worst-case scenario, “[Without] sufficient technical guidance and support… [for the Great Green Wall], in a few years you'll see a broken-down tractor, a scattering of a few small trees in the village plantation, a few families benefiting from the market gardening, and little positive overall change, with the poorest families as chronically vulnerable as before,” Gubbels said.
However, if the ambitious project is seen as a framework for funding and a platform for sharing information across the 11 Sahelian states, he said, it could positively impact the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists.

POVERTY: BURUNDI: A new rebellion?

BUJUMBURA, 30 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Jane Some/IRIN : FNL leader Agathon Rwasa fled Burundi in 2010 for eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where he has reportedly been remobilizing (file photo)

Amid growing concerns about a wave of political assassinations in Burundi, a former police officer has announced the formation of a new armed group, with the aim of overthrowing a government he accuses of numerous killings, rampant corruption and economic incompetence.
The army quickly denied a new rebellion was under way and a news blackout has been imposed.
Some 300,000 people are thought to have died during a civil war that raged in Burundi between 1993 and 2005 and whose aftershocks continue to be felt in the form of frequent violence and political instability.
"Our men are on the front in Cankuzo and Ruyigi [in the east of the country],” said Col. Pierre Claver Kabirigi, naming his group during a 25 November interview on Radio Publique Africaine as the Le front de restauration de la démocratie (FRD) Abanyagihugu.
Kabirigi said his group carried out attacks in the provinces of Cankuzo and Ruyigi. On 21 November, clashes were reported between government security forces and a group of armed men in a locality in Cankuzo.
In a statement, he said he formed his group in reaction to the misappropriation of public funds, as well as a wave of extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by intelligence operatives and police at the instigation of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party, in an operation codenamed Safisha, which is Kiswahili for “to clean”.
Kabirigi further alleged that state agents were behind the 18 September massacre of 40 people in a bar in Gatumba and the 8 October execution of two university students.
"Oddly, as far as the Burundian authorities are concerned, all is well. [But the] Burundian people are feeling abandoned and to deal with this situation, they have decided to take up arms."
In keeping with previous official reactions to armed violence, on 28 November, army chief Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare dismissed Kabirigi’s supporters as mere “criminals” and “bandits”, insisting no new rebel group had been created. He said Kabirigi was a fugitive from justice who had already served prison time.
But Kabirigi’s claims of government complicity in widespread killings have been echoed by Burundi’s human rights community.
According to the Observatoire de l’Action Gouvernementale (OAG), a watchdog comprising 18 organizations, as well as journalists and members of parliament, at least 300 members of opposition parties have been killed by security forces or the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD.
“We have observed with dismay that in all parts of the country, a diabolical machine has continued killing opposition party activists,” OAG chairman Onesphore Nduwayo told a 21 November press conference.
“Since May, at least 300 [civil society] activists or former demobilized FNL combatants have been killed,” he said, referring to the Forces nationales de libération, one of the main armed groups during the civil war, which is now a political party. FNL leader Agathon Rwasa fled Burundi in 2010 for eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where he has reportedly been remobilizing.
“The people were arrested by the Imbonerakure [the ruling party’s youth wing] or by police elements or the secret service and taken to an unknown location and later found dead, executed,” said Nduwayo.
At present, the violence and political assassinations seem directed towards members of the Movement pour la solidarité et la démocratie (MSD) party, whose leader Alexis Sinduhije is also in exile.
“[The MSD] today seems to be in the eye of the storm,” said Nduwayo.

 Photo: Désiré Nimubona/IRIN
Bullets close to the scene of the Gatumba killings (file photo)

The president of the Association for the Defence of Human Rights and Prisoners' Rights (APRODH), Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, added: “I know that there are people who were killed because of their political [affiliations] and I say this loud and clear, they were political assassinations and if I should die because I have spoken the truth, I accept [that].”

A government report on security over the past two years, released this month, acknowledged numerous killings had taken place but attributed them to score-settling, land disputes, banditry and the prevalence, despite several post-war disarmament campaigns, of weapons across the country.
Playing down charges of an orchestrated campaign against the opposition, government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba told reporters that numerous government officials had also died in the violence, especially in the province surrounding the capital, Bujumbura.
The report said several police and military officials were among 223 arrested for crimes including murder or attempted murder, rape or attempted rape, robbery, fraud, embezzlement and corruption, illegal possession and sale of weapons and complicity to escape.
But according to APRODH’s Mbonimpa, only a few people have been arrested and jailed in relation to extrajudicial executions.

Time to talk
The European Union, through its representative in Bujumbura, Stephane de Loecker, called on the government and all political partners to sit and talk to avoid bloodshed.
“The European Union is concerned by the current situation especially the executions and the extrajudicial killings,” said De Loecker, noting that it would not be easy to bring parties to the negotiating table.
According to Pacifique Nininahazwe of the Forum de Renforcement de la Societé Civile, a grouping of civil society organizations, the government should meet the exiled opposition politicians to enable a return to peace and security.
“We do not want any more war in the country. The bloodshed since independence is enough,” said Nininahazwe.

Media under pressure
There are also concerns over increasing pressure on journalists.
On 29 November, Radio France International (RFI) said its Kiswahili service correspondent, Hassan Ruvakuki, had been arrested the previous day while attending a regional summit in Bujumbura because of his alleged links with Kabirigi, whom he is accused of meeting in Tanzania. RFI said it believed Ruvakuki was being interrogated in a military camp in the east of the country.
Explaining the development, National Intelligence Service spokesman Télesphore Bigirimana appeared to contradict the official government position that no new rebellion existed, telling reporters: “[Ruvakuki] was arrested with others, not as a journalist, but as an individual, for investigations. He is suspected of lending support to a rebel group. If he is innocent, I think he will be released quickly."
Reporters Without Borders, which works for press freedom around the world, criticized the authorities for carrying out the "abduction-style arrest" and for failing to disclose Ruvakuki's whereabouts, even to his family.
Meanwhile, the National Council for Communication has banned media from reporting on Kabirigi and his group, or even commenting on its existence.
A few days earlier, Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned that “statements by senior government officials [with regard to journalists] have heightened the tension.
“On November 11, the National Security Council issued a statement, delivered by Defense Minister Pontien Gaciyubwenge, accusing certain members of the media and civil society of flagrantly violating [a separate] blackout on coverage of the Gatumba massacre and calling on the government to enact sanctions against them quickly,” said Bekele.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

POVERTY: SOMALIA: Al-Shabab ban on agencies threatens aid

NAIROBI, 28 November 2011 (IRIN) -
The main Islamist insurgent group in Somalia, which is still in the throes of a major food crisis classified as famine in some regions, has banned 16 aid agencies, including several UN bodies, from operating in areas under its control, accusing them of "illicit activities and misconduct".
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) are some of the UN agencies banned. The Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Concern, Norwegian Church Aid and Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) are among the international NGOs banned by Al-Shabab.
UNICEF spokesman Jaya Murthy told IRIN that men came to the office in Baidao, 240km southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, and told the staff to leave and that the office was no longer UNICEF's.
"Our staff are safe and we are assessing the impact the closure will have on our humanitarian activities in southern Somalia," Murthy said.
The prospect of permanent closure faced by the agencies could lead to the deaths of thousands of vulnerable people, a civil society member in Mogadishu said. "This is truly bad news for tens of thousands that depend on these agencies."
He said it was not clear what prompted Al-Shabab's action but suspected that it was "because of the military pressure they have been under lately, maybe they are seeing enemies everywhere".
On October 16, Kenya began a military incursion into neighbouring Somalia, using terrestrial, aerial and naval assets, with the aim of neutralizing Al-Shabab, which Nairobi says threatens its security and economy.
Murthy said: "UNICEF is extremely concerned about any disruption of its humanitarian work and the feeding of 160,000 severely malnourished children. Any disruption could result in the death of those children."
He said the agency had not received anything in writing from the group.
In a statement issued on 28 November, Al-Shabab accused the agencies of "financing, aiding and abetting subversive groups seeking to destroy the basic tenets of Islamic penal system", adding that the agencies were "persistently galvanizing the local population against the full establishment of Islamic Sharia system".
The group said the aid agencies lacked "political detachment and neutrality with regard to the conflicting parties in Somalia, thereby intensifying the instability and insecurity gripping the nation as a whole".
In addition, the agencies were accused of misappropriating funds and using corruption and bribery in their operations.

"From bad to worse"
The civil society source said if the ban stands, "it could make the humanitarian situation in the country go from bad to worse. I just hope it will be a temporary thing."
The UN has reclassified the regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle in southern Somalia to "humanitarian emergency" from "famine/humanitarian catastrophe".
According to the UN, humanitarian needs persist, with 250,000 out of a former 750,000 Somalis "still at risk of starvation".
Here is the full list of the agencies banned by Al-Shabab: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Health Organisation, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Office for Project Services, Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Concern, Norwegian Church Aid, Cooperazione Internazionale, Swedish African Welfare Alliance, German Agency For Technical Cooperation, Action Contre la Faim, Solidarity and Saacid.

POVERTY: BANGLADESH: Boom brings few benefits to islanders

KURIGRAM, 29 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Maher Sattar/IRIN
Cattle-smuggling bonanza -- but where?

While a recent boost in income for thousands of islanders living near Bangladesh's northern border district of Kurigram has transformed mud huts into concrete homes, overall conditions are still dangerously precarious for most, say locals and aid workers.
"People still die because of lack of care all the time," Mohammad Hashem Ali, 65, of Baalerhaat village, told IRIN. "There are too many to count. The people of Baalerhaat village stopped counting a long time ago."
The cattle-smuggling business between India - where cows are regarded as sacred among Hindus - and Bangladesh has increased at the border near Narayanpur union, a community of 32,000 people.
As the Indian government has increased security elsewhere along the 4,000km border to tackle crime, Narayanpur farmers - spared the increased vigilance until now - have seen an increase in cattle smuggling, doubling their typical monthly income in only one night of business, said locals.
When sold in Bangladesh, a cow can fetch up to four times its price in India.
More than half the villagers are involved in the cattle trade, either as buyers or looking after the cows, said local researcher, Liton Chowdhury, who has examined the impact of smuggling on lives and livelihoods in the north.
Traders earn on average about US$400 a month, while labourers earn about $100 - more than twice what they earned before smuggling activities peaked, he added.
"The impact of this [boon] has been felt. Before there were never any concrete houses on the chars [islands] but now the ones who have made the most money have built [houses]... Some are sending their children to Nageshwari [town] to study. There has been a general improvement in their lifestyle, but not in the actual [quality of life]," said Chowdhury.
Accessing the nearest hospital still means a four-hour journey for many villagers, most of it via slow dinghies to the nearest mainland pier dozens of kilometres away.
"My nephew Sirajul died on the boat on his way to the hospital. He only had appendicitis. He started complaining about stomach pains at night, but it's easier to get a boat in the morning so we waited until then," said Mohammad Nojor Ali, also of Baalerhaat. "He was only 13."

Out of reach
The union of Narayanpur is a collection of temporary river islands formed by deposits of sand and silt from Himalayan rivers meandering towards the Bay of Bengal.
Farmers say the land is difficult to farm, prone to erosion and routinely submerged by flooding.
Unlike ordinary islands, this land is not connected to the earth's crust. Based on weather and erosion upstream, the islands can disappear completely within a few years, displacing entire hamlets.
There are an estimated 600,000 people living on such islands throughout Bangladesh.
Based on the most recent Global Hunger Index, nationwide 5 percent of children die before they reach five years old, while another 41 percent in this age group are underweight, giving rise to the country's "alarming" status.
It is even worse in the islands, say health and aid workers.
According to a 2010 survey by one of the few NGOs working in the islands, Chars Livelihood Programme (CLP), 14 percent of children under five suffered from acute malnutrition, close to the emergency threshold of 15 percent as set by the World Health Organization.
In recent years, the rate of diarrhoea in the chars has been more than double that of the mainland, according to the local NGO, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

 Photo: Maher Sattar/IRIN
Islanders enriched by cattle smuggling trade straw for tin in Narayanpur union

There is no functional government or NGO health facility on the islands. A government clinic was built two years ago but remains unstaffed, according to CLP.
It sends a mobile clinic by boat to the islands once every 15 days with a paramedic and health workers.
"Malnutrition is the biggest problem here. It's not that the people [of Narayanpur] don't have the money to change this, but there are no education centres or health workers here, so their knowledge of diet, hygiene, and sanitation is really poor," said Moqsudur Rahman Ronju, a doctor at the nearest public health centre in Nageshwari town, about 30km from the mainland pier.

From the mainland pier it takes almost three hours by boat to reach the island where Mohammad Hanif, chairman of the local administrative authority, lives. It takes another hour's walk to reach his house.
"About 20, 25 days ago, a woman died here giving birth," Hanif said. "After the birth there was a leakage in her placenta. The [untrained] midwife tried to help her but couldn't. They were trying to take her to the hospital but while waiting for the boat she died."
Boats ferry people between selected drop-off points on the islands and the mainland regularly during the day for Bangladeshi Taka 25 (35 US cents).
At night the process gets more complicated.
A boat-owner must first be found, and prices up to $17 - the equivalent of a month's income for the poorer residents of Narayanpur - must be negotiated for the emergency ride. The passenger then must still get from the pier to the hospital or health centre, another 30km.
When IRIN made the return trip from Hanif's island, the boat's motor gave out several times; according to the boatman, this is common.

An uncertain future
Connecting the island to the mainland will be a huge undertaking, said Hanif. But meanwhile, he is looking for a solution closer to home.
"There is space to build a mini-hospital in Narayanpur," he said. "This would benefit 60,000-65,000 people, not just people of my union but also neighbouring chars, which are even worse off."
However, the supply of cows from India recently has dried up, according to local traders, and the new houses are the only sign of Narayanpur's recent border boon.

MALARIA: Kenya: Targeted Malaria Control Is the Better Option

Tabitha Mwangi : 29 November 2011
In a Daily Nation article titled 'Vague policies blamed for flop in malaria war', health experts meeting in Mombasa were quoted as suggesting that the government's approach of targeting malaria prophylaxis only at women at the greatest risk was wrong and that all pregnant women in the country should be given malaria prophylaxis.
In this case, the health experts were wrong -- the government had done its homework and its approach was appropriate.
Disease control programmes ought to be evidence-based in order to bring maximum benefit to those most at need, and this is the tenet that the government followed.
In 2009, Dr Abdisalan Noor and his colleagues at KEMRI, in collaboration with the Division of Malaria Control developed a malaria risk map for Kenya.
The map was developed from data collected from a total of 2,600 malaria survey reports, 50 per cent by the Ministry of health.
The malaria infection surveys were conducted among children under 10 years of age in the country since 1975.
"In Kenya, there are about 80 districts with very high malaria transmission, almost all around Lake Victoria. There are a few hot spots at the Coast and in North-western Kenya. Only 21 per cent of the Kenyan population is under intense malaria transmission," said Dr Noor, a senior malaria research scientist, based on their findings.
There are two approaches to preventing malaria in pregnancy; intermittent preventive treatment (IPTp) and use of insecticide treated bed nets.
IPTp involves providing pregnant women with three protective doses of a safe antimalarial drug.
The most commonly used drug is the sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine combination generally known as SP.
"The availability of the risk maps from Dr Noor, make it unnecessary to expose pregnant women with little risk of malaria to IPTp. Efforts should be focused to ensure that 100 per cent of the pregnant women in those high risk areas, get IPTp,' said Prof Bob Snow, a renown malaria expert.
The Division of Malaria Control in Kenya used the map that Dr Noor and his team developed to set priorities and target resources efficiently.
The Division, which was then headed by Dr Elizabeth Juma, had been involved in the research process from the beginning and was therefore swift in using the malaria risk map to target interventions where they were most needed.
"Through antenatal clinics, IPTp is being focused in the three regions with intense malaria transmission. These are Western, Nyanza and Coast province. However insecticide treated bed nets distribution for pregnant women will continue in all regions where it is ongoing,' said Dr Elizabeth Juma.
The logic of giving IPTp to all pregnant women, irrespective of malaria risk, is perhaps based on the fact that the drug is cheap.
But the wastage involved in mass distribution of the drugs is huge. These resources would be better used in ensuring that those pregnant women at high risk of malaria actually receive IPTp on time. This has not been happening.
Kilifi, for example, is within the high risk zone where pregnant women are expected to receive three doses of IPTp during their pregnancy, but the figures are not encouraging.
"When I look at my register, there are very few pregnant women who have taken the three doses and just a few more have received two doses. The majority of the women pay a single visit to the antenatal clinic and therefore receive only one dose," says Gladys Etemesi, the nurse-in-charge at the maternal health clinic at the Kilifi District hospital.
To reap maximum benefits from IPTp, a pregnant woman needs to take a minimum of two doses.
"Women will do anything to bring their child for vaccinations, whether they deliver at home or in hospital. Very few women fail to bring their children for vaccination because most now understand the value of immunizations. If it is emphasised that failure to come for antenatal care also places their babies at risk, they are more likely to come,' says Ms Etemesi.
In this case of Kilifi, and in other high risk areas, funds that would otherwise be spent on buying and distributing the drugs to mothers in low-risk areas who do not need them, they can be used to increase awareness in order to have more mothers and children benefit from the drugs.
At the same time, the funds can be used to ensure that those who fail to show up for repeat IPTp visits at the antenatal clinic are followed up at home and given the medicine and also encouraged to sleep under an insecticide treated bed net.
In March this year, the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation launched the first community mass net distribution campaign in Kenya that targeted whole populations in the regions identified as carrying the highest burden of malaria on the malaria risk map.
These efforts would be made more cost-effective if linked with efforts to ensure that all the pregnant women in these areas also get their IPTp doses.

MALNUTRITION: A sweet potato a day...

JOHANNESBURG, 29 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: International Potato Center
The orange stuff is good for you
A helping of an orange coloured sweet potato just twice a week could save lives in Mozambique. This is no ordinary sweet potato - it has been bred to have a high beta-carotene content, a compound rich in vitamin A, which is found naturally in the root, hence the more intense orange colour. The human body is unable to synthesise vitamin A and has to obtain it from external sources.
“We find that children under five [years of age] reported consuming orange sweet potato [OSP] twice a week when available. They tend to eat OSP boiled, and the amount of beta-carotene consumed between OSP and other sources then exceeds the US recommended daily allowance for vitamin A when averaged over the week,” said Alan de Brauw, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who managed the impact evaluation of a three-year study which ended in 2009.
The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, and showed that OSP is effective in providing vitamin A to malnourished women and children in Mozambique, where the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is very high. The research was part of a HarvestPlus project, a programme run by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research.

VAD globally, and in Mozambique
VAD is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may heighten the risk of maternal mortality.
Globally, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight, the World Health Organization has noted.
In Mozambique an estimated 2.3 million children below the age of five years are vitamin-A-deficient, according to a study funded by Helen Keller International and published in the peer-reviewed journal, Public Health Nutrition, in 2004.
The study warned that in the absence of appropriate policy and programme action, VAD will cause over 30, 000 deaths annually among children younger than five, representing 34.8 percent of all-cause mortality in this age group.
A 2010 analysis by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said about one in every six children dies before she or he reaches their fifth birthday. In 2004 it was estimated that the total number of deaths among children under the age of five was 117,000 - about 320 child deaths every day.
Malaria and acute respiratory infection (ARI) are the two main immediate causes of mortality among young children in Mozambique, with AIDS emerging as a major killer. UNICEF says malnutrition is a significant underlying cause of child mortality.
Studies have shown that in areas where VAD is prevalent, vitamin A repletion reduces child mortality by 23 percent on average.

Grow it yourself
Vines bearing the beta-carotene enhanced potato were distributed to more than 10,000 households in Zambezia Province, northern Mozambique, which has the country’s highest number of children living in poverty. Many of these households traditionally grew and ate yellow or white sweet potato, which are poor sources of vitamin A.
IFPRI’s De Brauw reported that by the end of the project, “We found women consuming more OSP (and vitamin A), and by-and-large, households were consuming OSP they produced themselves.“
He said they are planning to do another survey in 2012 to find out how much OSP has been retained by households that participated, to see if the vitamin A in the diet is still adequate three years after the project took place.
When the project ended, OSP was providing more than 70 percent of all dietary vitamin A and was the third most important food in the diet (after maize and rice) for young children. OSP also provided more vitamin A than other local foods such as pumpkin, leafy green vegetables, or mango, according to HarvestPlus. “Available for about 3 months of the year, or longer in other regions, OSP can help close the VAD gap when other vitamin A-rich foods or supplements are not available,” the project said in a release.

Cow cafeteria
Researchers across the world have been studying this hardy root, trying to develop other uses for it.
The sweet potato is a rich source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins A, B1 and B2, calcium, and fibre, and also produces more edible energy per hectare than wheat, rice, or cassava. Around 130 million tons of it are produced annually in more than 100 countries, including China and many parts of Africa, and the CIP says it is the world’s fifth most important food crop by weight.
It is drought-tolerant, and therefore has tremendous potential as a nutrition source in countries where water for irrigation is likely to become scarce as the impact of climate change unfolds, said Genoveva Rossel, curator of the sweet potato collection at the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru. The sweet potato is likely to have been grown in Peru over 5,000 years ago.
The CIP, in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Kenya, has been experimenting with the sweet potato to position it as an alternative to napier grass - also known as elephant grass - a primary livestock feed in Kenya’s dairy industry.
East Africa has the highest per capita consumption of livestock products such as meat and milk in sub-Saharan Africa.
Expanding populations have increased the competition for grains as food for people as well as animals, making it scarcer and more expensive, especially in the dry season. Napier grass requires significant allocations of land and is currently suffering a disease outbreak.
The sweet potato could change this. Apart from using it as animal feed, the CIP is working directly with pig and dairy farmers in Kenya and Rwanda to test the feasibility of using sweet potato vines as silage and leaf protein supplements. Valerie Gwinner, spokeswoman for CIP, commented: “The researchers call it the ‘cow cafeteria’.”

MALNUTRITION: SOUTH SUDAN: Clement John Kandang, “We can’t bring more goods because of the mines”

BENTIU, 29 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN
Clement John in his shop in Bentiu
Violence in Sudan’s breadbasket border states such as South Kordofan has blocked food to South Sudan since just before it gained independence in July. In the new nation’s northern states such as Unity, heavily mined roads have compounded the problem of closed trade routes. Clement John Kandang, 43, who sells sorghum, the state’s staple food, in the capital Bentiu, told IRIN that massive price hikes as shortages increased meant many people were going hungry.
“Prices have gone up because the border has been closed and there are no trips between north and south. Before, we were being supplied by the north.
“It cost 130-150 South Sudanese Pounds [about US$40] for a sack of sorghum; now it’s 400-450 [about $120].
“Right now, things are becoming expensive and some people cannot afford to buy and the business is slowing down.
“Sugar, sorghum, flour and salt are the most expensive things in the market, and you can’t find fruit or vegetables. Meat and eggs are expensive too - it’s [affected] everything, just everything.
“Some of the people are now staying home, begging their relatives to assist them as they can’t afford to buy.
“Things are very expensive because of the separation of the countries and taxes. Things are being imported secretly, and when they [illegal tax collectors] get you on the way, they are charging you half the price you bought the item for from the north, meaning you will not get any profit.
“The landmines are a very big threat to people because all the routes are being blocked. Although we were smuggling things in, now we can’t bring more goods because of the mines. They end up hitting the vehicles on the way and we can’t bring in more goods.
“I grow food myself but due to unsuitable rains, even the crops that grow in the garden, did not harvest well.”

POVERTY: KENYA: City demolitions highlight urban-rural aid gap

NAIROBI, 29 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Inadequate low-cost housing has led to a rapid increase in informal settlements in Nairobi (file photo)Several demolitions of housing near airports in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have not only displaced hundreds of families but challenged the humanitarian response in urban emergencies.
Amid criticism of the way the demolitions were carried out, humanitarian workers say relief aid for urban crises was often not pre-positioned, unlike in rural-based emergencies.
"There is a gap in responding to humanitarian challenges and needs in urban settings in Kenya; including populations displaced by demolitions and evictions," said Choice Okoro, head of communications and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Kenya (OCHA).
"The populations affected and displaced by the Mitumba slum demolitions [in mid-November] are yet to receive any humanitarian assistance. This is due mainly to the fact that traditional humanitarian response systems are tailored and geared towards rural emergencies," Okoro said. "What this means for Kenya is that while more fatalities and displacements have been recorded in urban disasters in 2011, response strategies and priorities have targeted rural districts in the country."
She said 3,025 households were displaced following the demolition of Mitumba slums, near Wilson Airport, which borders Nairobi National Park. The demolitions, which have also taken place in other parts of the city, such as Eastleigh, Kiang’ombe, KPA slums and Embakasi, were part of an operation to reclaim government land and clear structures near vital installations.
"The lack of adequate low-cost housing for the poor is leading to rapid increases in... informal settlements. There are currently over 168 informal settlements in Nairobi, home to over two million people. [They] constitute 55 percent of the city's total population and yet they are crowded on 5 percent of the total land area."
As a result, Okoro said, thousands have encroached on unoccupied land, including road reserves, railway lines, forests and public utilities.
"Whereas there exists advocacy on the legality and due processes for these demolitions and evictions, more planning and preparedness needs to happen to reduce the humanitarian impact of these demolitions and evictions," Okoro said. "This will include ensuring that there are clear plans for resettling populations affected."

Kamau*, owner of a block of flats in Eastleigh, told IRIN on 28 November: "The bulldozers did not spare anything in their path; the worst thing was that there was no notice; many of us were caught unawares."
The demolition of buildings in Eastleigh started on 21 November. Photo: UNICEF
An official says city residents have encroached on unoccupied land, including road reserves, railway lines, forests and public utilities due to lack of affordable housing (file photo)

Mohamud Ahmed, a student in Eastleigh, told IRIN: "I have decided to move even before the flat we are renting is [hit]; it is one of those that has been marked for demolition. The building has 38 flats and many people are moving out; even those with nowhere to go. It is better to move your property rather than wait until the bulldozers arrive.
"Perhaps the landlords were warned; many of those whose homes were destroyed had no notice, they just woke up to the demolitions," he said. "It seems nobody cares about our plight; I appeal to the government to help by informing people like us of when these demolitions are about to take place."
A parliamentary committee has been established to investigate the demolitions, with committee chairman Mutava Musymi saying the manner in which they were carried out done was inhumane.
"It’s not about votes, it is not about politics, it is about the people," Musymi said during a committee session.
On 28 November, the Nairobi Provincial Commissioner, Njoroge Ndirangu, told the parliamentary committee that the provincial administration was implementing a government directive when it oversaw the demolitions.
Asked if he had considered the health, safety and education of the evicted, Ndirangu said he had expected all government departments to ensure that no one suffered during the demolitions.
Ndirangu said the Kenya Airports Authority, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, the Kenya Air Operators Association and the Nairobi City Council had written to Internal Security expressing concern at the dangers posed by buildings near airports.
“I was presented with evidence that these places were in the flight path and were a danger to lives,” Ndirangu told the committee.
The plight of those rendered homeless in Eastleigh was aggravated by ongoing heavy rains.
Johnestone Kibet, whose rented flat was one of those demolished in Eastleigh, told IRIN: "The rains made it difficult to salvage the little that we could, electronic goods just got damaged. It did not help that some onlookers took advantage of the rains to grab whatever they could."
Kibet added that notice of demolition or eviction should not only be served on landlords, some of whom did not pass on the message to tenants. "If we had known our building was one of those to be demolished, we would have moved earlier," he said.
"We have nowhere to go, the rains are destroying whatever we salvaged," another resident said.
In a statement, the Kenya Airports Authority maintained it had notified residents to vacate the areas.
Dominic Ngigi, KAA head of corporate affairs, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying the demolitions were done purely on the basis of safety and security of the airports.
"If an accident were to occur, loss of life would be horrific and the blame will be on the government. This is a disaster waiting to happen," said Ngigi.

*Not his real name

POVERTY: SOMALIA: Resettlement of drought-displaced begins

NAIROBI, 29 November 2011 (IRIN) 
 Photo: Mohamed Amin Jibril/IRIN
Aid agencies in Mogdishu have started a project to resettle thousands of drought-displaced Somalis (file photo)
Resettlement of tens of thousands of drought-displaced Somalis, most of whom had sought refuge in the capital, Mogadishu, is under way, with aid agencies organizing voluntary returns to several areas in southern Somalia, officials told IRIN.
“We started a project to resettle some 4,000 families [24,000 people] back to their homes in time for them to take advantage of what is left of the rainy season," said Mohamed Abdullahi Hussein, the director of the United Arab Emirates-Red Crescent Society (UAE-RCS)in Somalia.
Hussein said the agency was providing the returnees with food to last three months, shelter material and between US$100 and $150 per family.
The returns are voluntary, with most going to Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of southern Somalia, Hussein added.
Abdullahi Shirwa, head of Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), said it was the government's policy to resettle all internally displaced persons (IDPs). "It is not realistic to maintain hundreds of thousands people in overcrowded IDP camps indefinitely. So the best option is to help return those willing to do so to their home areas."
Shirwa said NDMA had scheduled a meeting this week with aid agencies in Mogadishu to organize a programme of resettlement.
"We basically want to see who can do what," he said. "There are agencies that can provide the food; others can provide the transportation, while others can provide shelter material or cash incentives."
Since UAE-RCS began the return process in November, some 460 drought-displaced families have gone home.
"On 28 November we repatriated 261 families [1,566 people] back to Bay region," said Abubakar Sheikh Bashir, team leader for the UAE-RCS resettlement project.
He said many of the returnees, mostly farmers, were eager to take advantage of the best rains in three years "and restart their lives".
Bashir said many families have already returned on their own, "while others sent back the able-bodied and left behind the elderly, the women and children".
Bishaaro Haji Alin, 45, lost four of her nine children in the drought that devastated her home area in Buur Hakaba in Bay region.
"I was here in the camp for the last six months; if we did not come here I could have lost all of my children," Alin told IRIN by telephone, as she boarded a truck back home.
Alin said she was eager to start planting. "My children are fine and we want to go back to where we belong. We got help here but it is not home."
Home for Alin and her family, along with some 10,000 families, had been the sprawling Tribunka camp, the largest in Mogadishu.
Shirwa of the NDMA said the key to resettling the drought-displaced IDPs was to provide them with enough support to allow them to restart their lives.
"Most of the displaced are agro-pastoralists and so it is not enough to say we will give them food until the next harvest; we need to provide them also with some pack animals and maybe two or three cows or whatever animals they had before," Shirwa said, adding "that will not only empower them but help them start afresh."

POVERTY: PAKISTAN: Girls desperate for education in rural Balochistan

QUETTA, 29 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: IFRC :
Most girls in rural areas of Balochistan are out of school (file photo)

Gehava Bibi, 9, is very excited. She is visiting the city of Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan, with her father to buy some basic school supplies. She has never held a pencil or piece of chalk. “This seems like magic,” she told IRIN as she awkwardly drew a few squiggly lines across a piece of paper offered to her by the shop-owner.
Bibi has never been to school; there is no educational facility in her village in the Bolan district, some 154km southeast of Quetta, and like 90 percent of women in rural Balochistan, according to official figures, she is illiterate.
However, recently, an elderly villager, who had spent many years in the southern port city of Karachi, has returned to Bolan and offered to provide the girls in the village with some basic education.
Fazila Aliani, a social activist, educationist and former member of the Balochistan provincial assembly, recently told the media the reason for the lack of educational facilities was the “insurgency” in the province, “while a lack of necessary funds, absence of a well-defined education policy, lack of girls’ schools, acute shortage of teaching staff, and poverty are other factors which contribute to the backwardness”.
She said that except for Quetta, educational institutions were “non-existent in Baloch-dominated areas of the province”. Aliani also said foreign donors seeking to set up schools in Balochistan struggled to do so because of the lack of security and government resistance.
Another reason is the reluctance of teachers to venture into districts they see as dangerous. Strikes by militants on targets that include security personnel occur frequently in Balochistan, with one of the most recent killing 14 members of the Frontier Corps force in the district of Musakhel.
There have also been attacks on teachers, such as one in October, when four female teachers in Quetta had acid thrown at them as they left school. A December 2010 report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch reports the killing of 22 teachers in Balochistan between January 2008 and October 2010.
The attacks on teachers aggravate what is an already grim literacy situation for girls. “I used to teach at a private school in the town of Khuzdar in Balochistan. But it is now just too dangerous to live in the province as a Punjabi settler, and my family and I have now moved back to Gujrat in the Punjab province even though we had lived in Balochistan since I was a small child,” said Amina Bano, 28. Other teachers too have moved away.
Balochistan’s literacy figures for women are the lowest in the country, standing at 14.1 percent, compared with more than 35 percent each in Sindh and the Punjab and 18.8 percent in Khyber Pakhtoonkh’wa.
The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Aslam Khan Raisani, has repeatedly condemned the targeting of teachers, and said those involved were “depriving future generations” of education.
“The lack of development in the province is a reason for the lack of education for girls. It is also fuelling the frustration and anger which has created the nationalist insurgency,” Fareed Ahmed, provincial coordinator in Balochistan for the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.
But while nationalist unrest and lack of development have plagued Balochistan for years, this offers no comfort to girls – and their parents – desperate for an education.
“On our television screens, we see girls sitting in classrooms and learning. Their future will be a better one, and unlike me, since I am also uneducated, they can teach their children in the future. Why can’t it be the same for our daughters?” asked Abdullah Jan, 40, father of Gehava Bibi and two other girls, who wants them all to be educated.
“We are trying to do what we can, but we need help,” he said.

POVERTY: BENIN-TOGO: Joining forces to fight piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

2011Lomé, 29 November 2011 (IRIN) -
West African states are pledging to work together to fight the piracy spreading across the Gulf of Guinea, where it is damaging local economies and starting to impact on the region’s trade, according to the United Nations.
Some 53 piracy attacks have been reported in 2011, up from 47 in 2010. Four of the reported attacks occurred off Togo and 22 off Benin, which share 177km of coastline, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Neither country reported a single attack in 2010.
The IMO says the real figures are likely to be higher as attacks often go unreported when the value of goods and money stolen is below insurance minimums and the ships do not wish to be delayed by lengthy investigations.

Regional cooperation
Individual governments are trying to counter the threat, but many are weak and have limited resources. The Togolese government has made some progress due to constant naval patrols and its geographical distance from Nigeria - where pirates are thought to find refuge in the labyrinthine waterways of the Niger River Delta - but invariably they find new ways to escape the patrols, said sea captain Monty Jones, chairman of shipping agents Togo Oil and Marine.
In response to the attacks, regional cooperation has started to grow - in September Benin began a six-month naval alliance with Nigeria to undertake joint patrols along the coast. The navies of Togo and Ghana are expected to follow suit.
Chris Trelawny, Deputy Director of the Maritime Safety Division at the IMO, says the organization is working with 15 coastal states - all members of Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) - to introduce a coast guard network, and is trying to draw on lessons learned elsewhere.
To help plan a coordinated regional response, an ECOWAS sub-committee of chiefs of defence staff will meet in Benin’s economic capital, Cotonou, at the end of November. A further ECOWAS summit is planned for early 2012 to mobilize political support to combat piracy.
An assessment, co-led by UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA), is also underway in West Africa to examine the scope of the threat and make recommendations for UN support to regional efforts to halt piracy.
“There is a good precedent for international cooperation working,” said Trelawny, citing success in piracy hot-spots such as the South China Sea and the waters off Singapore.
But any efforts at sea need to be backed up by rule of law on land. “You need the judiciary, the prosecution and the port authorities involved,” Trelawny noted.
A secure ocean will assist the long-term development of West Africa. If the waters were secure, private industries such as fisheries, processing plants and distributors would thrive, thereby providing more jobs and boosting the economy, Trelawny said. West African governments should “look at the 200 miles off the coast as an investment opportunity.”

Local economies “crippled”
At a regional seminar on maritime security in Cotonou in mid-November it was announced that there has been a 70 percent decrease in ship activity in the local port. “It [piracy] is having a serious effect on the local economies… The number of ships [in Benin] has gone down and the higher insurance rates are crippling everyone - that is obviously going to have an effect,” Trelawny pointed out.

 Photo: Daniel Hayduk/IRIN
Crew members leave the tanker Bonito in the Lomé anchorage. The threat of piracy has increased drastically in Togo and neighbouring Benin

Most attacks off Benin are directed at oil and energy tankers and are not only damaging local economies and threatening seafarers but could also threaten the security of the energy supply.
The economic damage that piracy can cause can be seen in East Africa, where the presence of Somali pirates has been “hammering” the tourism economy of the Seychelles. In Kenya, only one cruise ship has entered Mombasa port this year, Trelawny said. “It's a wakeup call to West African states.”

“Intimidating” violence
The level of violence in piracy attacks in West Africa is higher than those off Somalia, according to the IMO, with most incidents involving crew members being beaten or threatened with knives and guns, ship property and personal belongings being stolen, and the pirates leaving quickly.
“They [pirates] spray the wheelhouse with machine gun fire before trying to board. It is a normal military tactic: intimidate your enemy,” said sea captain Jones, who has been hijacked several times.
Many pirates are armed with handguns and long guns, he said, and are often high on drugs. “There is no way to reason with them,” he said, adding that a number of seamen have been killed by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the IMO, the attacks are generally for theft, including the theft of oil, rather than for kidnapping and ransom. In previous years some attacks - such as those orchestrated by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) - have been politically motivated, Jones told IRIN.
“The pirates ran the ships out of Lagos [in Nigeria], so they moved to Benin, where they were safe for about three years. The pirates got more sophisticated and moved over to Benin, so now the ships have moved over to Lomé [capital of Togo],” said Jones.
An amnesty programme launched by the government in 2009 for militants in the Niger Delta seems to have reduced the frequency of attacks in Nigeria, said Trelawny. “But more effective enforcement in their waters is spreading piracy into other areas - the pirates will go where they can get away with it.”

Private sector to fill gap
Jones and others believe many pirates are fed inside information about valuable cargo and ship locations. “There are hundreds of containers on board and the pirates know exactly which container has the valuable cargo,” said Jones, who has operated in West Africa for 30 years.
“That means there is a leak, possibly with customs, who know the exact container number. This is much more sophisticated than what meets the eye. It’s not random gangsters, it's organized crime.”
With capacity low in many of the governments concerned, the private sector is stepping in to fight the scourge off the shores of Benin and Togo.
VLC Securité, a private security firm run by Mike Hounsinou, has been hired by ship charterers or owners to ensure the safety of cargoes and crews. "Sailors who are on board the vessels are afraid. They fear because they know what can happen in these waters," Hounsinou told IRIN.
On average, his guards are working on approximately five percent of ships in the Lomé anchorage. The dangers and the training required for the guards working on vessels mean their salaries have increased to 10 times higher than usual, Hounsinou said.
International support is also being offered. Training teams from the United States and European countries are trying to boost governments’ ability to fight piracy and protect oil platforms through the US-led Africa Partnership Station (APS), linked to the American military command, Africom.
So far, APS has provided boats to the navies of Togo, Nigeria, Benin and Ghana to help them fight pirates. The boats are valued at US$800,000 each, and with a range of 150 nautical miles the navy is only minutes away from any vessel in anchorage, according to Jones.
In response to Beninese President Boni Yayi's call for assistance from the UN Security Council, France has pledged an investment of $1 million over the next three years.

Monday, 28 November 2011

POVERTY: Thailand: Build a flood-resilient city

BANGKOK, 28 November 2011 (IRIN)
 Photo: DTU flood team
One of the few remaining refuges to keep cars dry at the height of 2011 flooding in Bangkok: elevated parkways

Less than a year after Bangkok was chosen as a "role model city" by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) as part of the UN's 2010-2015 "Making Cities Resilient" campaign, the worst floods in half a century put that distinction to the test.
IRIN asked experts what the 3,000 low-lying cities such as Bangkok - which includes its delta neighbours - can do to improve their flood resilience.

A master plan capturing the city's development visions, priorities and vulnerability is the first step, said Adri Verwey, an urban flood expert at Deltares a Netherlands-based water management think-tank.
"Cities need to decide the levels of security that they want and which areas need more protection," he said.
In the Netherlands, where 26 percent of land is below sea level, cities with a high density of human and economic capital are designed to withstand a one-in-10,000-years flood, while inland, rural and sparsely populated areas are designed to withstand a-one-in-1,250 years flood.

Find higher ground
Unbalanced development is the weakest point of urban planning in many Asian countries, but Thailand's case is more extreme in that it has focused all its energy on the country's business and political capital, said Anisur Rahman, land use planning specialist at the Bangkok-based Asian Disaster Prevention Center (ADPC).
"Better planning would be developing the country with more attention given to other [surrounding] cities, so they can help share the pressure, especially in a catastrophic situation like this."
Instead of allowing new businesses to set up in and around Bangkok, future investments should be diverted to less-developed areas on higher land, said Rahman.
Lawmakers from Thailand's ruling party have submitted a parliamentary motion to move the capital to Nakhon Nayok Province - a sloping terrain with higher elevation.

Water resources management
"Store and divert" sums up all flood control strategies, said Takeya Kimio, a visiting senior adviser at the Bangkok office of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
"Store" means building more reservoirs and retention ponds to retain water upstream and "divert" means develop sufficient canals and channels mid- and downstream to carry the overflow to sea.
For cities that are slowly sinking and have rising sea levels, governments need to regulate water resources, said Nat Marjang, a lecturer on water resources engineering at the Bangkok-based Kasetsart University.
"Before the law, which regulates groundwater extraction [in Thailand], was enforced, many factories built their own wells to extract water for industrial use. This is an important factor contributing to land subsidence."

 Photo: Shermaine Ho/IRIN

Going, going...
Bangkok is sinking by 30mm annually, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
Combined with a rising sea level of 25mm every year, the city could be under 50-100cm of water by 2025.

Private sector role
The private sector should be directly involved in flood management, said Jerry Velasquez, senior regional coordinator for UNISDR Asia Pacific.
"What we need from them is not only corporate social responsibility and money, but their active involvement. It can be as simple as building a dyke around their factories, choosing the right locations to build factories and coming up with disaster contingency plans."
The Federation of Thai Industries estimated losses from the seven hardest-hit industrial estates could reach US$13 billion, covering 891 factories and 460,000 workers, according to local media.

Re-evaluate flood control system
Despite the extensive network of flood-control infrastructure already in place in Bangkok, experts said it largely failed to keep pace with the city's dramatic urbanization and development.
From 1985 to 2010, the percentage of the total population living in urban areas in Thailand increased from 26.8 to 34 percent, adding 10.5 million people to cities, according to the most recent UN world urbanization prospects.
While many officials believe the barrier known as His Majesty King's dyke, which runs north to south in eastern Bangkok, can save the city from flooding, Vewey said it was designed to handle only the typical annual rainfall and not a one-in-50-years flood like this year's.
As a result, pumping stations failed under the pressure.
Vewey said flood-prone countries needed to be more prepared.
"I'm impressed by the speed of sandbagging and the distribution of food and water [in Thailand], but you can't always solve problems with sandbags... It's shocking how people are unprepared for the flood. It's as if the phenomenon of flooding has been completely forgotten in Thailand," Verwey said.
Flooding in 1995 killed more than 400 people and affected close to four million, according to the government.
Investing in flood prevention is a "calculated choice", said Kimio at JICA. "There are only two options, either reduce the speed of development or invest more in flood control," he said.
Since the 1980s, the risk of economic loss due to floods in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries has increased by more than 160 percent, outstripping the growth of GDP per capita, according to UNISDR.
Nine of the top 10 coastal flood-prone cities by 2070, including Bangkok, are in Asia, according to a recent World Bank report.
Asia accounts for more than half of the developing world's cities most vulnerable to flooding, according to UN-HABITAT.

POVERTY: SOUTH SUDAN: Sex workers risk violence, HIV in Juba's brothels

JUBA, 28 November 2011 (PlusNews)

 Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
Juba's sex workers say many clients refuse to use condoms (file photo)

In the tin warehouses at the back of Jebel Market, in Juba, capital of South Sudan, the business of sex is booming; in the rows and rows of tiny, dark, padlocked rooms - a so-called "sex camp" - girls and women practise the world's oldest profession in the world's newest country.
Juba is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world; construction and trade are thriving, and commercial sex work is no exception. Many of the women in the sex camps are from neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Uganda, drawn to Juba by the lure of making a quick buck; few, however, realize the dangers.
"They [clients] tell you they want you, then they take you to a room and when you ask them to use a condom they pull out a knife or [hold] you at gunpoint," says Charity*, who came from Uganda looking for waitressing or domestic work. "They are beating you, slapping you, saying: 'why you want to use a condom if you come here?'" the 30-year-old says, her experience echoed by many other women.
"Sometimes after the customer enjoys with you they refuse to pay," and especially if the matter of condoms is brought up, says Mary*, 35.
Mary's work enables her to send around US$35 a month to her six children in Uganda.

HIV risk
HIV is already a reality for many of these women, and for others, a very valid risk. Ugandan sex worker Anna says she has known she is HIV-positive since 2006. "I'm not doing this job because I want to - I don't have any choice," says the single mother of three, whose husband left her nine years ago.
"Sometimes you enter the room with them, they give you 10 pounds [around $3.50] and say they don't want to use a condom," Anna said, adding that "some take you by force" if you insist on a condom.
Sex workers often do what they can to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and are usually better informed about HIV than their clients, according to Phyllis Jones-Changa, interim head of Family Health International (FHI), an NGO funded by the US Agency for International Development that works with most at-risk populations, including sex workers.
FHI is training sex workers to be peer educators and distribute condoms in brothels.
"We're finding that the knowledge levels are higher [among sex workers]... the sex workers are actually asking us to provide more condoms," she said. "You do find cases where men don't want to use condoms but I think increasingly we're finding that the sex workers, when they become more aware, they use more condoms."
FHI has tested 17,000 people in the "most at-risk" category since the start of the year in four states - Eastern, Western and Central Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal - and found prevalence to be 8 percent. In comparison, a 2009 survey put the general prevalence in South Sudan at about 3.1 percent.
Jones-Changa added that ongoing efforts by the authorities to evict the sex camps from Jebel Market would make it much harder for organizations such as FHI to conduct HIV prevention programmes for sex workers in the city.
They take you to a room and when you ask them to use a condom they pull out a knife or [hold] you at gunpoint

Growing numbers, less money
Estimates of the numbers of sex workers in Juba vary from 3,500 to as many as 10,000, but they all agree that the numbers are rising. "Within the areas where we work in Juba, we have between 4,000 and 6,000 sex workers registered, and we don't even work in all areas," Jones-Changa said.
Cathy Groenendijk, who runs a local NGO called Confident Children out of Conflict (CCC), spoke of an "explosion" in sex work that she says has pushed prices down from about $35 per sex act six years ago. Charity, who arrived in Juba two years ago, says the price has halved to $1.75 due to a recent influx of new women. She said her last HIV test six months ago was negative, but that the price decrease means that some men come and spend all day in the "sex camp" and have sex with several women who may or may not use protection.
Many of the Ugandan women in Jebel Market flocked over the border to South Sudan at the start of the year, when the South voted almost unanimously to secede from the north after decades of civil war.
Groenendijk says that while many of the sex camps were torn down before independence celebrations, they have simply changed locations. Nearby, there are other camps full of Congolese, Ethiopian and Eritrean women who also came to South Sudan seeking employment.

Children in sex work
While the adult sex market is mostly serviced by foreign women, under-age South Sudanese girls often live in even worse conditions and have to see at least three clients a day for food and the $3.50 daily rent to pimps.
Awut*, 15, looks younger than her age as she stands in a tiny bedroom that she has tried to brighten up by hanging a colourful array of clothes, her most prized possessions, on the walls.
She is one of six girls IRIN spoke to who had dropped out of the CCC programme to send street children to school and refuses to admit to Groenendijk that after an abortion last year, she is now quite clearly pregnant again.
"There's a guy that comes around here," she says, smiling nervously and twirling a strand of synthetic hair around chipped fingernails when asked if she has a boyfriend. Her two friends, also known to CCC, struggle to hide their own growing bellies.
"All three girls are pregnant. That means that they are not using condoms," Groenendijk said, expressing concern about diseases and the young girls' ability to raise children.
Her centre lacked the staff and resources to take on the massive youth problems in Juba; for many young girls, sex work is preferable to life on the streets.
"One of the girls told me that she would rather go and have sex paid for than forced sex in the market... for nothing," she added.
 Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN
Rooms in a brothel in Juba's Jebel Market

Weak HIV programmes
During the 21-year civil war that claimed some two million lives, South Sudan's borders remained closed and its HIV prevalence was relatively low compared with Kenya and Uganda.
Officials fear, however, that HIV prevalence could be higher and continues to rise. "Anecdotally, we have heard that the rate of HIV, particularly along the border areas, and [among] sex workers is rising; however, there is no conclusive data demonstrating this," said Mandisa Mashologu of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in South Sudan, which helped the country secure $26.9 million from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis in 2006 for a five-year programme to help prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.
While South Sudan applies to the now seriously underfunded Global Fund for more cash, Mashologu says, "There is currently inadequate government budget for HIV/AIDS.
"Logistics and supply chain management is one of the major challenges facing government, UNDP and its partners,” she added, noting that Juba's main hospitals ran out of test kits in October as a "Know Your Status" campaign launched a year ago gained momentum.
"Just from anecdotal evidence... it could be explosive if we don't get hold of it [HIV] now and really address it, and because of the economic meltdown right now, [finding funding] is a challenge," Jones-Changa said.
Richard Jeniozi, civil society coordinator at the South Sudan AIDS Commission, said the flow of immigrants, traders, refugees and returnees over the border to a post-conflict country lacking resources and with a long list of health problems meant HIV could soon become a major problem.
"This movement of people over the borders is putting the population... that has low levels of education and high levels of poverty [at risk]," Jeniozi said. "Combating HIV/AIDS is not a one-man business, so I call on the government and all the NGOs to support us and for the population to realize this is a real threat, as our capacity is low after the war."

POVERTY: COTE D'IVOIRE: Cocoa farmers hope reforms will pay off

ABIDJAN, 21 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Olivier Monnier/IRIN
Members of a cocoa growers cooperative in Sikensi, 100km northwest of Abidjan

Income for cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire is expected to rise after reforms announced by President Alassane Ouattara’s government in early November.
Producers should then receive 50-60 percent of the international cocoa price for their beans, rather than the 35 percent they get today, according to Minister of Agriculture Mamadou Sangafowa Coulibaly.
The international price, also termed the Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF) price - where the seller pays the costs, freight and insurance to get the goods to the destination port - refers to the price of cocoa that is ready for export.
The government is making these reforms as a result of conditions set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will allow it to gain access to US$3 billion of debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.
Minister of Economy Charles Koffi Diby said on 8 November that the government plans to put the reforms in place before the end of 2011, and is expecting debt relief to be approved before the end of 2012.
Cocoa brought Côte d’Ivoire $1 billion in foreign exchange receipts in 2006, compared to $1.3 billion from oil and other refined products, according to the IMF. The country produces around 40 percent of the world’s cocoa and delivered a record harvest of nearly 1.5 million tons of beans in 2010-2011.
Some 900,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire grow cocoa, and 3.5 million people live off the income generated by related activities.

The reforms put the onus on the government to regulate the sector more firmly. In a shift in policy seen in many other sectors, the World Bank and IMF now require stricter regulation, having pushed for liberalization of the sector 13 years ago.
The government plans to set a guaranteed price for cocoa before the next season, which begins in October each year and ends the following September. This measure should put Côte d'Ivoire in a better position to influence global cocoa prices, said government spokesperson Bruno Koné.
Under liberalization the government announced an indicative price to be paid to producers at the beginning of each season, but this was often not respected. In reality, cocoa prices tended to fluctuate daily.
The set price for the 2010-2011 season was 1100 CFA francs ($2.26) per kg, but the average price achieved was 805 CFA francs ($1.65) per kg, according to Côte d'Ivoire’s Coffee-Cocoa Management Committee.
The 2011-2012 indicative price was $2.06, but in the week of 24-31 October, farmers received only $1.50 on average for their beans, and many are refusing to sell until prices rise.
“Few trucks leave the farms to the ports. Farmers are waiting to sell, even if [that means] the quality of their cocoa could deteriorate”, said Bilé Bilé, head of a cooperative of 637 producers in Abengourou, near the Ghana border

 Photo: Olivier Monnier/IRIN
Bags of cocoa beans ready for sale

Other changes include setting up a single regulatory body to oversee the sector, replacing the four institutions currently performing this function. Minister Coulibaly also said 70-80 percent of the harvest will be sold before the start of each season, so that the income of producers and the state is more predictable.
Before liberalization, the Caisse de Stabilisation et de soutien des prix des productions agricoles (CSSPPA) - the stabilization fund and support prices of agricultural products, also known as Caistab - managed the sector, but was seen by many to be un-transparent and inefficient in its dealings, said Samir Gadio, West Africa economic analyst at Standard Chartered Bank in London. He also noted that deregulation did not improve transparency.
Minister Coulibaly is stressing transparency. “We saw too many abuses under liberalization; we now want to put good governance at the heart of the reforms,” he told reporters at the launch of the policy changes.
Gadio said analysts will be closely monitoring just how independent the new regulatory body is.

Farmers should gain
Farmers’ associations have largely welcomed the reforms. Mamadou Koné, who leads a producers' cooperative in Duékoué, western Cote d’Ivoire, told IRIN that the reforms should enable growers to stop "being delivered to the fluctuation of the international market… with a minimum price to refer to each season, we can better plan for the future.”
Despite a record crop in 2010-2011, farmers still struggled to get by, with cocoa prices inconsistent and usually too low. Bilé Bilé, head of the Abengourou cooperative, told IRIN the price set by the government had never been respected.
“Producers never received enough, while the cost of living - and of rice.-.has continued to climb,” he told IRIN. Many producers have struggled to make a profit after covering the cost of fertilizers, pesticides and transport, all of which have soared in recent years.
Farmers continued to harvest despite the post-electoral violence that hit the country - much of it in cocoa-growing regions - and a three-month ban on exporting beans imposed in January 2011 by President Alassane Ouattara to cut off the finances of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo during the crisis.
The agricultural sector of the Ivoirian economy is expected to expand by 1.7 percent in 2011, while the industrial side seems set to shrink by 8.4 percent and the services side by 13.4 percent, according to the finance ministry.

Greater voice
Many producers complain that they have not had enough say in the reform discussions. Gervais Seri, president of the National Association of Coffee and Cocoa Producers, told IRIN: "Farmers are at the heart of the industry, so as producer associations, we are recommending that we sit on the board of the new regulatory structure.”
More detail is needed on exactly what the government is proposing, said a foreign diplomat who requested anonymity. Thus far the government has been generous with information in broad terms, but has not provided any details of exactly how the reforms will work.
"Cocoa is a business matter,” Amoikou Boi, a producer in the eastern town of Abengourou, told IRIN. “The State should not impose [changes] without consulting producers.”

MALNUTRITION: ZIMBABWE: One million need food assistance

HARARE, 23 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
Poor rainfall in some areas has been bad news for subsistence farmers

After a thin harvest, Rudo Mangwere, 32, a farmer in Chirumhanzu district, some 200km southwest of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, has resorted to selling wild honey by the roadside to beat hunger. She is one of just over a million rural Zimbabweans who will struggle to feed themselves for the next four months.
A single mother with three school-going children, Mangwere's poor harvest was partly the result of inadequate rainfall in her area during the 2010/11 farming season, but also because she has no access to draught animals - oxen or a horse - to pull a plough.
''Almost every family from my area is on the road[side] these days, selling honey, mazhanje (wild loquats) and firewood. We hardly harvested anything, and this is the only way we can keep our children from starving,'' Mangwere told IRIN.
Like most households from her community in Midlands Province, she can no longer pay her children's school fees and the family is surviving on wild fruits and one main meal in the evening, she said. Although food is readily available in the local shops, most of the villagers do not have the money to buy it.
A report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC), a government-led consortium of UN agencies, official bodies and non-governmental organizations which conducts annual food security assessments, found that 12 percent of the rural population "will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2011/12 season".
The figure represents a slight improvement over the 15 percent who needed food assistance in the 2010/11 season. Parts of Zimbabwe have been hit by a number of poor harvests caused by too little rain, a shortage of income to buy farming inputs, and poor planning, which have forced the government to import cereals and the hungry to depend on food donations.
The report notes that the drought-prone southern and western areas of the country have been most affected, particularly the Masvingo and Matabeleland North and South provinces, where subsistence farming is the sole source of income for most rural households.
"Agricultural production in these regions was once again poor this season," said Felix Bamezon, country director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in a recent statement. ''The situation is made worse by the economic downturn and we're already seeing families resorting to skipping meals and reducing portion sizes."
WFP is implementing a targeted seasonal programme of food distributions, cash transfers and food vouchers to assist low-income households and families with orphans and vulnerable children.
Tomson Phiri, a WFP spokesperson, told IRIN that the programme aimed to reach about 200,000 households in the affected regions with cereals, beans and vegetables during the peak hunger period between November and March.
''We have targeted 34 districts and are already on the ground in 24 districts where we are registering and assisting those in need,'' he said.
WFP is appealing for US$42 million to cover a shortfall in funding for its food assistance programmes in Zimbabwe.
"Longer-term measures such as greater investment in agriculture and the livestock sector are essential,” said Bamezon. “But for now, those who are most vulnerable need urgent assistance."

POVERTY: LESOTHO: Textile industry gets a lifeline

MASERU, 24 November 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Christopher MacLean/IRIN
Lesotho’s textile industry constitutes close to 20 percent of GDP

The Lesotho Government plans to spend 100 million maloti (US$12.7 million) over the next two years in an effort to breathe life into the crucial textile industry.
"The objective... is to stabilize employment in the textile industry and provide capital for companies so that they can take advantage of the global [economic] recovery," Dr Timothy Thahane, Minister of Finance and Development planning, told IRIN. "It's harder for African countries to stay competitive, but this industry is really important to the Lesotho economy, so we have to do what we can."
Lesotho's textile industry grew rapidly in the 1990s and early 2000s, thanks in large part to the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which gave 34 eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa duty-free access to US markets, and the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) credit certification scheme that allowed textile-exporting companies to earn rebates on duties they paid on imports used for production.
However, the industry has been hit hard in the past few years: the SACU scheme ended in March 2010, while the flagging US economy has reduced exports.
In 2005, the textile industry comprised 45 factories and employed around 55,000 people, making it the largest formal sector employer in the country. Exports amounted to roughly $500 million per year. Today, 23 factories employ 33,000 workers - a decline in profits and employment of 40 percent - and exports amount to an estimated $300 million.
The industry still contributes close to 20 percent of Lesotho's annual gross domestic product, and is its largest employer in a country where the unemployment rate is around 40 percent.
"One textile worker can support four to five family members on their wage, so the impact of job losses in this sector across the entire country's economy is critical," said Thahane.
Minimum wages for textile workers are set at 778 maloti ($92) per month.

External factors
Many of the challenges facing the industry are beyond control of the garment companies or the government.
"Exports are down because of the US economy, the poor exchange rate, and the expiration of the SACU certification scheme" said Chin-Yi Lin, president of the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association (LTEA). "We need the US economy to recover, and the exchange rate to become more favourable in order for our industry to bounce back."
The industry is also facing increasing competition from Asia, where production costs are much lower, partly because textile companies can source raw materials locally. "Our lack of economies of scale, the fact that we have to buy goods from far away and bring them to Lesotho, is a competitive disadvantage," said Thahane.
Lesotho's currency, the maloti, which is tied to the South African rand, continues to strengthen against the dollar, rising more than 8 percent in 2010 and exacerbating the situation by driving up the costs of exports to American buyers.

Potential "catastrophe"
Until recently, the AGOA agreement and the SACU certification scheme could offset any competitive disadvantages Lesotho-based companies had. The SACU scheme enabled companies to import fabric and other supplies cheaply from Asia, but it expired after concerns that it was being abused by those who were using it to import items from Asia unrelated to textile production.
No announcement has been made about plans for a replacement incentive and AGOA is set to expire in 2015, a development that Johnny Lin, executive secretary of the LTEA, described as "a catastrophe for Lesotho and other African AGOA beneficiary countries".
"Textile manufacturers will not be able to compete against Asian countries in both price and lead time. A couple of factories might survive this change, but most of them would have to shut down their operations in Lesotho because of higher production costs," he predicted.
However, Thahane pointed out that US President Barack Obama’s administration has expressed its intention to extend the agreement. At a State Department briefing earlier this year, Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said his department was working towards "a seamless renewal of AGOA when it expires in 2015."
Thahane did not divulge details of the plan, which is still being formulated, but said the aim of the $12.7 million capital injection is to keep the textile industry afloat until the global economy bounces back and Americans start buying bigger quantities of jeans and t-shirts again.
"There's not much we can do about the US markets or the exchange rates,” Thahane said. “But we can make sure we are ready for the recovery."

MALNUTRITION: Developing solutions for sustainable water management

22 November 2011
Water resources are under pressure from increasing populations, growing economies and poor management
Boy getting water from community pipe, Sri Lanka Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

This policy brief, published by the International Project Office of the Global Water System Project and produced to inform the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), outlines how scientists and policymakers can advance water security by focusing on interdisciplinary research, and ensuring that all stakeholders are involved in developing sustainable solutions to water problems.
Rio+20 is an opportunity to strengthen commitment to integrated and sustainable management of water resources, which are coming under increasing pressure, say the authors. Water stress is a reality in many parts of the world and human activities are changing the global water system without adequate knowledge of the consequences.
Scientists can offer knowledge, information and technical tools. But this is only part of the solution: governments must set up frameworks for better water management, and many other stakeholders — including decision makers, managers and technical personnel — must be involved to foster commitment and facilitate conflict resolution.
As water crosses natural and political boundaries, governments must consider the water needs of all sectors. Better information will help to evaluate needs and prioritise water allocations between them. But the unavoidable compromises and trade-offs should be assessed based on scientific evidence — not influenced by lobbying and pressure groups.
Water management should be integral to climate change adaptation, and vice versa. To ensure water use stays within the planet's natural limits, interdisciplinary science should be complemented by ethical water governance and management practices.
Research shows that good governance depends on having multiple centres of control, effective legal frameworks, reduced inequalities, free access to information and meaningful participation by stakeholders. In turn, good governance can help attract needed funds for clean water and sanitation.
The future should be seen through a water 'lens', say the authors. They conclude that, in order to develop solutions for sustainable water management, it is important to go beyond technical solutions to understand the complexities of the global water system — including the social and political dynamics, as well as human behaviours related to water use. This is a huge challenge, say the authors, but it is the only way forward.
This policy brief was compiled by the International Project Office of the Global Water System Project based in Bonn, Germany. It was commissioned by the international conference Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions.

MALARIA: India: search for herbal cures

Indian scientists, faced with the obstacle of a growing resistance to currently available drugs to treat malaria, are now looking for newer drugs in the Himalayas.

The search has yielded two potential anti-malarial substances which have shown promising results in laboratory tests. Scientists from Himachal Pradesh University have found that two herbs, popularly known as ice vine (akanadi and patindu in Hindi) and moonseed (giloy), have important anti-malaria properties.
The two herbs have been tested on mice that were artificially infected with malarial parasites, and have yielded promising results, said H.S. Banyal and Vikram Singh of the department of biosciences, HP University. It also did not show any toxic effects on treated mice. The findings have been published in scientific journal Current Science.
However, more studies are needed to identify specific ingredients of these plants responsible for anti-malarial properties.
Herbs have traditionally been a source of modern anti-malaria drug. Artemisinin, which forms the basis for the currently used anti-malaria drugs, was originally extracted from a Chinese herb.
The two herbs are already being used for a variety of medicinal purposes by local people.
C. pareira L or ice vine is a perennial herb. Its medicinal effect is mainly confined to its root. People often use its decoction for treating a range of ailments including malaria, cough, leprosy, stomach aches caused by indigestion and dysentery, and even skin diseases.
Tinospora cordifolia or moonseed is a succulent shrub. The starch from its roots is used to treat chronic dysentery, breathing problems, piles, ulcer, chronic fever, leprosy, snake bite and urinary diseases.