Friday, 9 December 2011

POVERTY: SENEGAL: Talibés turn traders

PIKINE, 8 December 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Aurelie Fontaine/IRIN
A trainer teaches ex street kids market gardening

It is widely assumed that few of the estimated 50,000 ‘talibés’ in Senegal - boys in Koranic schools, or ‘daaras’, studying to become Islamic teachers - who roam the streets begging for money to support their religious leader (‘marabout’) will end up teaching, and most will become vagabonds, delinquents and robbers. Now, child protection experts say their future is not always so bleak - the skills that talibés develop on the streets can turn them into successful traders.
“There is no correlation between these adolescent talibés and youths who rob and mug… I don’t believe these theories,” said Biram Mbagnick Ndiaye, a youth programme team leader at Environment and Development Action in the Third World (ENDA-TM), an NGO that supports training programmes for street children, including talibés.
“We take care of lots of troubled youths, and those emerging from daaras are often the least aggressive and the easiest to reintegrate [into society],” Ndiaye told IRIN in the capital, Dakar.

Employment higher-than-average
Three years ago ENDA did a study of 50 talibés emerging from the daaras of Kaolack in the south of Senegal and Dagana in the north, and found that around 80 percent of them were earning money in small businesses, while the rest were masons or carpenters. Only one did not have a job.
These statistics are better than the national average: some 48 percent of the working population in the formal economy is unemployed, according to the World Bank.
“Some manage to escape [their religious master] and become good traders,” said Ndiaye. “Others migrate to Europe and eventually come back and invest in businesses here.”

 Photo: Aurelie Fontaine/IRIN
Ex-talibé gardening apprentices

Yves Olivier Kassoka, child protection officer at the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) in Dakar, said most talibés learn the Koran by rote and many leave daaras unable to read or write or with training in other skills, but they are used to collecting and saving money.
A Dakar-based teacher, Bernadette Ndiaye, notes that they are also highly resilient and persistent - traits that, with the right guidance, can help them thrive in a competitive market place.

Training a challenge
Engaging in small trade can work for talibés and ex-street kids, but those who want to pursue a vocation or career often have a harder time. Unused to learning, many ex-talibés find it hard to apply themselves to apprenticeships, said trainers at adolescent rehabilitation centres around the country, and there are too few centres and programmes to help all the young people who need assistance.
Pope Ndoye, director of one of the two state-led rehabilitation centres in Dakar, Centre de Sébikotane, which takes in children and youths aged 13-21, told IRIN that they “are not educated, they are idle, they wander the streets, they commit petty thefts, [and] they drink.”
Springboard, a rehabilitation centre in Pikine, 30km from Dakar, is home to some 40 young people aged 16-25, most of whom stay for more than two years. They usually come from broken homes or were once talibés, but there are also some from neighbouring villages to create a good mix, said the centre’s co-founder, Loic Treguy.
At the centre they learn to read and write, and are taught masonry, carpentry, gardening and civic education. They also receive counselling and play sports. Many have never participated in any of these activities and may have taken drugs for years or have learning difficulties, said Treguy.
Students and trainers at the centre grow salad greens, beets, papayas, mangoes, chilli, lemon grass, banana ginger and herbs. Each youth must pitch his or her own tent on arrival and will eventually graduate to a dorm if they behave.
One of the biggest challenges for trainers is dealing with behaviour, said ENDA’s Ndiaye. “Usually, in Koranic schools you learn Islamic values, like respect for others, but it’s not always the case. You can see some quite uncivil behaviour in the streets.” This includes spitting, fighting, and washing in public, much of which the boys consider to be normal, he said.
Springboard’s masonry trainer, Abdoulaye Gueye, told IRIN: “We have to constantly negotiate with them in order to progress, even when they are keen to learn.” The seven apprentices he has taken on are building a new storage room at the centre.
Adjusting to life in the centre “can take a long time” said Treguy. “At first, there are always problems.” Despite the difficulties, most young people eventually take to the training. Moussa Diarra, 18, who once roamed the streets, is now pruning trees in the garden.
He fled his home in Tambacounda, 400km from the capital and the biggest city on eastern Senegal, in his early teens because his brother used to hit him. Now he wants to return home and help support his family. “I could do this gardening there and help them… I’m proud to have learned this business,” he told IRIN.

The right help
Talibés do best when they try to make it in the informal sector, trainers told IRIN. “The problem for that even with all the training in the world, it is hard to find them jobs,” Ndoye told IRIN at the Sébikotane centre. Staff there, try to direct some rehabilitated youths into the army, others to football training academies, he said, but opportunities are few and far-between.
More resources need to be put into training talibés and street children, said UNICEF’s Kassoka. The agency has been helping the government to modernize daaras in Kaolack, and at Diourbel in central Senegal, so that students graduate with some life skills. “It’s working, but it’s very resource-intensive and the government needs to be more engaged,” said Kassoka. “It has the will to take on [the task], but not completely.”
Many talibés are considered at-risk teens and end up in centres for troubled young people, when they actually need more targeted help. More partners are needed to take on the “constant flow of ex-talibés,” Kassoka said.
Ndoye said the state has expanded its efforts in recent years by putting more resources into such centres, particularly in terms of staff training. “There has been a shift in mentality,” he noted. “Before, it was considered shameful for a family to have a child like that… today things are more open - the media discuss it, people are starting to try to understand these youths.”

POVERTY: Swaziland:The misery of a mismanaged monarchy

geoffrey york: Dec. 02, 2011  
MANZINI, SWAZILAND—  When she arrived at her school one morning last month, Simangele Mmema discovered that the food and water were nearly gone.
She had already seen some of her students collapse from hunger at morning assemblies this year. Now she didn’t have food for their lunches. And so she had to send the children home and close the school a week before the end of term. “We can’t keep them here if they can’t eat,” she said.

Grade 1 students at Kholwane primary school in rural Swaziland sit in groups of seven at desks intended to seat two. The school has a shortage of desks, and broken chairs, but no budget for new ones. The school was forced to close early for the year because it had run out of food and water, a result of the country’s financial crisis.
In Photos: Hardship in Swaziland Ms. Mmema, principal of Kholwane primary school in rural Swaziland, is struggling to keep her school alive in the face of severe budget cuts, which have forced many of the country’s schools to close for weeks at a time. The schools are the latest victims of Swaziland’s financial crisis – a crisis largely due to mismanagement by the autocratic King who has ruled this impoverished country for the past 25 years.

As revolution swept across North Africa this year, a growing number of people in sub-Saharan Africa have challenged authoritarian regimes. They are increasingly aware of the link between autocracy and poor economic governance, and they are less willing to accept it.
Long-ruling dictators, including King Mswati III of Swaziland, have faced mounting protests this year. Thousands of Swazi demonstrators have taken to the streets, although so far the King’s police and soldiers have crushed the protests with tear gas and water cannons.
King Mswati, with his 13 wives and a personal fortune estimated at $200-million, is an extreme example of Africa’s autocrats. As one of the world’s last absolute monarchs, he appoints the government and presides over the world’s longest-running “state of emergency,” with all political parties banned since 1973.
Among foreign tourists, the Swazi monarch is famous for his annual Reed Dance, where thousands of bare-breasted virgins dance in front of the king, hoping to become one of his wives. But many of the king’s subjects are angry at the contrast between his vast wealth and the poverty of the people. While schools are shut down for lack of money, the king and his wives have lavish palaces, luxury cars and frequent shopping sprees in Europe on chartered private jets.
He has spent millions of dollars on armoured Mercedes-Benz limousines for his wives and a Rolls-Royce Phantom for himself. He is building a new multimillion-dollar international airport, with a separate royal terminal.Next to one of his palaces, he is building a luxurious new meeting hall for visiting dignitaries, complete with ornamental pillars and domed roof.
When trade unions objected to his spending, King Mswati said the masses should “work even harder and sacrifice even more.”
Swaziland’s financial crisis became severe this year when its customs revenue dropped by 60 per cent under a new regional customs union. South Africa offered a $350-million loan to bridge the gap, but the loan was attached to a series of conditions, including political and economic reforms, and the King’s government refused to accept the deal. Instead it sought other loans, and when the money failed to materialize, it threatened to chop the salaries of public servants.
The King and his friends, including the police and army, have been largely immune from the crisis. But ordinary people are feeling the pinch. Grants to pensioners have been delayed. Supplies of life-saving HIV medicine have been disrupted. Swaziland’s only university was shut down for weeks, and its students have been deprived of meal and book allowances, forcing many to leave school. University programs in law and journalism have been virtually shut down, and the university’s enrolment has dropped in half.
“We feel like a cursed generation,” says Othile Mthethwa, an 18-year-old university student. Because of the cancelled meal allowances, she has to beg her parents for food. “At the end of the month,” she said, “you get really hungry and you can’t study.”
Even before the latest crisis, the Swazi people already had the world’s lowest life expectancy – barely 33 years. Two-thirds of them earn less than a dollar a day. And they suffer the world’s highest rate of HIV, with 26 per cent of the adult population infected.
At Kholwane primary school, about two dozen of the 138 students are orphans because one or both of their parents have died of AIDS. The government promised to support the country’s 69,000 orphans with special payments to schools where they are taught and fed, but the money has stopped arriving, and the government now owes $10-million to the orphans.
Without money for the orphans, Ms. Mmema had to buy maize with the school’s limited budget, carrying it in her own car and milling it herself – until the money ran out. In desperation, she visited government offices and even tried to phone the Deputy Prime Minister, but got no response.
“The officials don’t know how frustrated we are,” she said. “I sacrifice a lot to keep the school going. But when I see the children walking to school barefoot in the winter, that’s when I break down and cry.”
Swaziland’s protest movement was slow to emerge. Most people revere the royal family, believing the King to be a living messiah. Even now, many pensioners refused to complain when their monthly grants were cut off. “It’s from the royalty, and we have to appreciate what they are giving us,” says Abraham Nkambule, a 70-year-old farmer.
In primary schools, children are taught to sing songs of praise for the monarch. “You are the sun, you shine over all of us,” they sing. “You are the lion, your word is final.”
Stephen Lewis, the former UN ambassador on AIDS in Africa, remembers meeting King Mswati and seeing the King’s female aide crawling on her knees into the room and then crawling out backward so that her back would never be turned to him. When Mr. Lewis expressed his horror at this, the King just laughed. “He laughed at everything,” Mr. Lewis recalled.
This year, however, more Swazis have been willing to defy their King and protest against his government. Teachers danced and applauded last month when their leaders called for democracy. “Let us tell the truth and liberate our country,” said Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, in a speech to the teachers.
“Revolution came to Egypt and Libya. The people will lead us, they shall fill the streets. I am ready to pay with my blood for democracy.”

Thursday, 8 December 2011

MALARIA: New mapping

Philadelphia, Pa., USA – December 5, 2011) As One Type of Malaria Declines, New Map Reveals another Strain – Impervious to Interventions – Holding Steady in Parts of Asia and Latin America New data on prevalence of “the last parasite left standing” unveiled in first-of-its kind map by malaria experts at
ASTMH meeting, along with new data on deadliness, lack of treatment
(With signs of declining malaria deaths in Africa raising hopes of eradicating the disease worldwide, researchers unveiled today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) a new malaria map that is the first to identify on a global scale where the long-lasting and potentially deadly form of malaria—a parasite known as Plasmodium vivax—has a firm foothold in large swaths of South Asia and parts of Latin America.

“This map helps us understand just how difficult it is going to be to eradicate malaria,” said Peter Gething, PhD, who led the University of Oxford’s Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) team that produced the study of vivax burden. “It shows that in substantial parts of the world, vivax malaria is endemic and transmission is significant. Unfortunately, the tools for fighting this type of malaria range from ineffective to non-existent.”
Other studies being discussed at ASTMH—the world’s largest gathering of public and private sector malaria scientists, clinicians and program professionals—and published in the December issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, add to mounting evidence that vivax malaria may be killing people far more often than previously thought; confirm that existing treatments are inadequate and potentially toxic to millions; and shed light on the level of precaution that travelers should take when visiting these regions (see Backgrounder for further information).
While not as deadly as the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite that is predominant in Africa, vivax is more common throughout the world, with an estimated 2.85 billion people at risk of infection. And with its unique ability to relapse by hiding in the liver for months or even years, vivax is harder to detect and cure.
The MAP team produced an analysis last year depicting only where vivax is known to exist. Malaria experts immediately called for a map pinpointing where the disease is most prevalent, noting that such a tool is essential to mounting an effective fight against this form of malaria.
Hotspots for vivax malaria highlighted by MAP include substantial parts of India. Rates are high even in urban areas like Mumbai, where malaria—once thought of largely as a disease of rural areas—was previously uncommon. Papua New Guinea also has a high rate of infections and transmission, as do significant parts of Indonesia and Myanmar (including Yangon). In the Americas, the area of greatest concern is a large but sparsely populated portion of the Northern Amazon, most of which is in Brazil. But the hotspot also includes parts of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. In Central America, almost all of Nicaragua is a hotspot for vivax malaria, as are parts of Honduras and Guatemala.
In Africa, Gething said that while vivax is known to exist, infection rates appear to be “very, very low” for most of the continent, though the map indicates a moderate but stable level of vivax transmission in parts of the Horn of Africa and throughout Madagascar.
Stealth Disease Burden: “Large Reservoir” of Vivax Infections Hiding in the Liver
Researchers considered an area to be a vivax malaria hot spot if the data analysis yielded infection rates that exceeded 7 percent. Gething noted that this threshold might be considered relatively low for falciparum infections. But he said it’s high for vivax in part because the figure accounts only for parasites that are detectable in the blood, and also because vivax disease rates have proven hard to reduce.
He noted that in areas where vivax is endemic, at any given time, there are many people carrying vivax parasites only in their liver, from which they periodically emerge to cause new infections in the blood stream. But, he said, this “large reservoir” of vivax is difficult to quantify with existing surveillance tools, chiefly because there is currently no simple test for detecting the liver parasites.
“One person with vivax actually can represent multiple malaria infections over many years in a single community and each time the parasite moves from the liver to the blood, it contributes anew to disease burden and transmission,” Gething said.
The disease burden caused by vivax relapse, he said, is exacerbated by a lack of treatment options. Medicines such as the artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) that are used to cure falciparum infections can help treat acute bloodstream vivax infections. But only one drug—primaquine—can clear vivax parasites from the liver and thus provide a long-term cure to this type of malaria.
However, in a cruel twist of evolution, a hereditary condition that may have evolved in response to malaria exposures can make the drug toxic, sometimes fatally so, to some people who live in vivax-endemic areas. At ASTMH, another team of researchers from the Malaria Atlas Project will present a map depicting the prevalence of the condition, known as G6PD deficiency, within malaria-endemic countries. Preliminary data indicate that this condition is relatively common in vivax-endemic Southeast Asia, though the highest rates are found in sub-Saharan Africa. The condition is also observed in the Americas, though at lower rates.
“We hope that by mapping the prevalence of G6PD deficiency we can provide evidence that will help contribute towards determining the risks and benefits of using primaquine, which is an important, yet potentially dangerous drug,” said Rosalind Howes, the lead investigator on the project.
Even when primaquine is not toxic, the fact that it requires a 14-day regimen has made it impractical for areas where people have little or no access to even modest levels of health care—which is the majority of the malaria-endemic regions of the world.
Meanwhile, bednets and indoor spraying, which, coupled with ACTs, have helped reduce malaria deaths in Africa, appear to have had little impact on vivax. One reason is that the mosquitoes that transmit vivax typically bite outdoors, rather than indoors in the home. And RTS,S, the malaria vaccine candidate in Phase 3 trials that may soon be commercially available, does not target vivax.
This persistence of the vivax parasite in the face of a massive global campaign to eliminate malaria has prompted some malaria fighters to dub it “the last parasite standing.”
Malaria experts say even though vivax still appears to be less deadly than falciparum, growing evidence of its link to fatalities warrant giving it a higher profile in the global malaria eradication campaign.
“It’s time to step-up the fight against vivax malaria and stop looking at this form of the disease as relatively mild and tolerable,” said Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, noted infectious disease expert and president of ASTMH. “We expect to emerge from this year’s conference with a far better view of the state of vivax infections around the world and with new knowledge on treatment challenges that can guide a global strategy focused on eradicating all forms of malaria.”
Preeti Singh, +1 301.280.5722,

MALARIA: Ghana: Household cost in treating fevers in the Dangme West District, Ghana

Bill Brieger : 07 Dec 2011

Is malaria treatment affordable in a rural district of Ghana? - a poster presentation at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting.
Alexander A. Nartey, Patricia Akweongo, Christine Clerk, Elizabeth Awini, Jonas Akpakli, Margaret Gyapong: Dodowa Health Research Centre, Accra, GhanaAlthough Ghana has instituted a national health insurance scheme (NHIS) as a measure to lessen the burden of health care cost to households, majority of people continue to pay cash directly to seek care, a study has revealed.

The study which was conducted in Dangme West District from October 2009 to August 2011 under the INDEPTH Effectiveness and Safety Studies of Antimalarials in Africa (INESS) platform was to assess household cost in treating fevers and the socio-economic burden of fever/malaria to households in the district. Malaria ranks first on the top ten list of most important diseases within the district.

The study showed that 78.9 per cent of the 511 people interviewed from pre-selected households paid out of their own pockets for the treatment of fever while the remaining 21.1 per cent used their health insurance. The majority of the people had health insurance cover but paid directly for care because they claimed it took too long for them to be attended to at the hospital if they presented their health insurance card. Additionally, some of the respondents paid out of their pockets because they preferred the private clinics where they received prompt care for their fevers.

The study also showed that 79.5 per cent of the respondents sought care outside home by visiting a drug store or health facility. An average of ¢5.00 ($3.3 USD) was spent before seeking care at the health facility and direct average cost per visit to health facility was ¢11.5 ($7.8 USD).

The average number of days lost due to malaria was six days while reduction of productivity due to malaria accounted for 28 per cent. About 1.6 per cent of the patients borrowed money to access health care.
It is evident that a household spends substantial amount on drugs, transport and food for an episode of fever within the district. Out-of-pocket payment is very high and places a high burden on household income. A household may spend an average of 12 working days of the daily minimum wage for the treatment of a fever episode.
The study, therefore, recommended that there is the need to investigate why individuals who are insured with the NHIS have to pay to get prompt treatment at NHIS accredited health facilities. Additionally, home based management of fever should be rolled out in rural communities to help reduce household burden of treating fevers.

POVERTY: SUDAN: Security “volcano” ready to blow in the east

KASSALA, 8 December 2011 (IRIN) -

 Photo: IRIN
Guns galore - disarmament operations in the east have only been partially successful (file photo)

Five years after a peace deal was signed to end a rebellion in eastern Sudan, a perceived failure to address the marginalization that sparked the uprising could unleash a new wave of violence, according to several officials.
Although the region has been overshadowed by war in Darfur, the secession of the South and fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels on the border with South Sudan, the east is “a volcano waiting to erupt”, an official working with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Kassala, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN.
“Beja soldiers are right now in the Hamid mountains, on the Eritrean side,” he said.
Bejas form the largest ethnic group in the east. The October 2006 peace accord was signed by the Sudanese government and the Eastern Front, an alliance of the Beja Congress and the smaller Rashaida Free Lions.
“Unofficial sources have already reported that they organized attacks in Sudanese territory three months ago,” said the UNDP source, predicting that conflict on the scale now taking place in South Kordofan and Blue Nile could erupt in Kassala state within a few months.
The prevalence of weapons in the region heightens this risk.
Yassin Abdallah, who manages the government disarmament office in Kassala, told IRIN that an operation conducted after the peace deal netted “guns and ammunition from 598 Beja fighters and 792 Free Lions fighters. This was only some of the fighters at that time, not the majority.
“And the Free Lions are nomads. They always use guns to protect the cattle,” he said.
Ahmed Tirik, a member of parliament, described the situation in Kassala, his home region, as “unpredictable”.
“But if relations between Sudan and Eritrea [which facilitated the peace talks] remain good, the border will stay safe and it will be very difficult for Beja fighters led by Cheikh Mohamed Taher to cross it,” he said.
The Beja Congress has joined the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an umbrella group set up in November with the aim of overthrowing the government of Omar el-Bashir

"Humiliation and tyranny"
Beja community leader Mohamed Ali Adam said many in his community “think that the situation hasn’t improved for them even five years after the war. They have still no access to facilities such as schools as promised by the government. This is an important issue.
“But, since 2006, discussions with the authorities are better. For instance, they gave us the technical support to build water pumps,” said Adam, who chairs the Al-Gandoul network of 30 villages dotted around the town of Kassala, with about 36,000 residents.
This support was not enough for some in the Beja Congress, which on 15 November threw in its lot with the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an umbrella group set up a few days earlier with the aim of overthrowing the government of Omar el-Bashir.
Explaining why it joined the likes of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement and two wings of the Sudan Liberation Army, as well as the northern wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the Congress said the “misery and suffering of the [Beja] people is increasing due to poverty, starvation and other deadly diseases. The ruling regime in Sudan is subjecting its people to humiliation and tyranny. They are arrogant and killing the marginalized people. ”
According to a recent report by Japan’s International Cooperation Agency, “91 percent of households [in Kassala state] do not have enough food, only 39 percent have access to safe water and the maternal mortality rate has risen to 1,414 per 100,000 births compared with 500 pre-war.”
Humanitarian response is greatly impeded by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the war, which is being removed.

 Photo: Maryline Dumas/IRIN
Season of discontent - Kassala's population feels increasingly marginalized

“We should manage to clear the area by 2014 as expected,” said Kelly McAulay, country director for the Mines Advisory Group, which says Kassala is the most mine- and UXO-contaminated state in Sudan. “We have good support from the government. And we have got deminers who used to work in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Now, we have about 80 deminers to clear some 2 million square kilometres.”

Growing discontent
Drought has compounded these problems. This year, water flowed along the seasonal Gasch River only between August and September, rather than starting in July as usual. The just-completed harvest is expected to be poor and consequently the region is braced for higher food prices.
“Popular discontent is boiling,” warned Mohamed Dualeh, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s eastern Sudan sub-office. (There are thousands of Eritrean refugees in the area.)
“During the Eastern peace agreement, the authorities talked about development. It has not materialized as expected. The area is poorer than Darfur. If something has to happen, it will start from within the population, and not from abroad,” he said.
Discontent has already surfaced among students, hundreds of whom demonstrated in late October. There were several injuries and one death in these disturbances.
“The Arab Spring pushed people to act. In response, the authorities settled on very strict security plans,” said Ibrahim Omer Osman, local coordinator for Practical Action, an NGO.
“The atmosphere is like in 1964,” said Tirik, the Kassala parliamentarian, referring to the year when widespread strikes led to the fall of a military government.
“The difference is that the government can still ease the situation, if it helps the population to get food,” he said, suggesting failure to do so carried significant risks.
“Eastern Sudan is a strategic area for Khartoum. There is a big airport in Kassala, roads and the [oil] pipelines. You know, the region is big enough to hide in after attacking a pipeline.”

POVERTY: MIGRATION: Misperceptions of migration fuel tensions

JOHANNESBURG, 8 December 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Tebogo Letsie/IRIN
Thousands of migrants living in South Africa were displaced by xenophobic violence in 2008

About 214 million people were living and working outside their home country in 2010, and international migration has continued to grow despite the global economic crisis, but in many countries negative attitudes towards migrants are also rising.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), focusing on the importance of communicating more effectively about migration in its World Migration Report 2011, released on 6 December, notes that such attitudes stem in part from misinformation and misperceptions about migration that have been fuelled by opportunistic politicians and poor media reporting.
"Few areas of public policy are subject to greater misrepresentation... yet more influenced by public opinion, than international migration," write the report's authors. "Accurately informing relevant stakeholders and the wider public about migration may be the single most important policy tool in all societies faced with increasing diversity."
During periods of economic recession, national debates on migration issues are often politicized, and evidence of the economic benefits that migration can bring is ignored in favour of assumptions that migrants are fuelling unemployment and draining public resources.
People in migrant-receiving countries tend to significantly overestimate the size of their country's migrant population, and often blame them for social ills ranging from crime to unemployment.
A 2010 public opinion poll, cited in the report, found that 57 percent of Americans felt immigration had a negative effect on the country. Another recent study of eight migrant-receiving countries found that an American perception of 39 percent of the US population being migrants differed significantly from the actual figure of 14 percent. Italians believed 25 percent of their population were migrants, more than three times the actual number.
With more and more migrants heading to rapidly developing nations in their own regions, such views are not limited to the developed world. A 2006 survey of South African citizens found that 84 percent felt "too many" foreign nationals were being allowed into the country and 37 percent wanted a total ban on immigration.
Bernardo Mariano-Joaquim, IOM's regional representative for southern Africa, commented that not enough had been done in South Africa, the region's largest recipient of migrants, to highlight the positive effects of migration on the country's economic development.
"In the Mpumalanga region, strong development has been thanks to Mozambican visitors and migrants, who come and purchase good and services and work on the farms," he told IRIN, adding that even in countries with high rates of unemployment like South Africa, certain jobs, particularly of a seasonal nature, are more attractive to migrants than to locals.
Few areas of public policy are subject to greater misrepresentation...yet more influenced by public opinion, than international migration
Southern Africa has a long tradition of intra-regional migration, with South Africa's mining sector attracting workers from neighbouring Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Botswana. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, however, the country's booming economy and progressive refugee legislation have attracted much larger numbers of economic migrants and asylum seekers from all over the continent.
The influx has led to rising tensions, especially in townships where migrants have started businesses and are perceived to be faring better than the locals. In May 2008, hostilities erupted in widespread xenophobic violence that left 60 people dead and displaced about 100,000 others. Commentators have since accused the government of not doing enough to prevent continuing sporadic attacks on foreigners.
The IOM report asserts that such episodes could be avoided by "a fundamental shift in the way we communicate about migration" so as to foster more informed debate and "prevent migration from being used as a platform for other political, social and economic issues".
Mariano-Joaquim notes that in South Africa, as in many migrant-receiving countries, politicians tend to use anti-migrant rhetoric to gain votes and also to make migrants the scapegoats for much wider socio-economic problems.
With their focus on the sensational and the dramatic, local media portrayals of migrants have not helped. "We need more balance," he said. "There are South African business people who are becoming richer thanks to migrant workers; there are migrant workers who have started from nothing employing South Africans."
The IOM report makes the point that "distorted communication about migration can trigger a vicious cycle that leads to misinformation being perpetuated through government policy, the mass media, the public at large and... can, in turn, skew discourse at all levels."
The way forward, according to Mariano-Joaquim, includes de-politicizing debates around migration. "If you looked at migration through the lens of economic development, policies would be completely different," he said, citing the example of Canada and Switzerland, where annual quotas are set for migrant labour depending on the country's needs.
He also called for discussions about migration to include migrants themselves, and for the perspectives of migrant-sending as well as receiving countries to be considered in formulating migration policies.

MALARIA: Zimbabwe: at pre-elimination stage

"Zimbabwe is doing very well as far as malaria control is concerned," she said in Harare. "In fact, in some areas of Matabeleland we have reached the pre-elimination stage which means our system is very advanced and meets WHO standards.”
However, when asked why the same World Health Organisation, which has developed a new drug to combat malaria, had side-lined Zimbabwe from receiving the drug, the official said: "I am not aware of this information."
The WHO said Zimbabwe was very disappointing because its malaria cases were increasing instead of decreasing, therefore it would not test its new vaccine until the disease was "fully" controlled.
At a closed workshop, a WHO spokesperson said: "The WHO has indeed developed a new drug to combat malaria. Unfortunately Zimbabwe will not benefit from this drug just yet because its cases have not been consistent with WHO standards. While we are happy about the progress made by Zimbabwe, its cases go up and down, and we want them to remain down."
She said other African countries, mainly in the West, were already benefitting from the new drug.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

POVERTY: MYANMAR: Landmine survivor needs outstrip aid

BANGKOK, 7 December 2011 (IRIN) -

 Photo: Zin Win/IRIN
Zaw Lwin, 42, lost his leg to a landmine 12 years ago in the eastern part of Myanmar's Bago Region

Myanmar has one of the world's highest casualty tolls by landmines, but for years the country has received little international aid for survivor assistance, risk education and other mine action. The numbers are changing, however.
"Myanmar gets very, very little funding compared to any other country that has a landmine victim population of its size," said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, with the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
While international donations for mine action worldwide have doubled over the past decade, contributions have remained low in Myanmar because the government has refused humanitarian groups access to mine-affected areas, and the country has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, according to NGOs.
Of the 4,191 recorded landmine casualties in 2010, 274 occurred in Myanmar - the fifth highest in the world after Afghanistan (1,211), Colombia (512), Pakistan (394), and Cambodia (286).
Those countries, respectively, received US$102.6 million, $12.1 million, $3.4 million, and $24.3 million in 2010 from international donors - versus Myanmar's $36,000 from Norway's government, according to ICBL's 2011 Landmine Monitor.
This figure excludes monies not reported to ICBL, which for Myanmar included funds from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said Moser-Puangsuwan.
The Norwegian government backed a study in 2010 on the humanitarian impact of landmines and has increased its contribution to about $500,000, said Arne Jan Flølo, the Myanmar desk officer at the Norwegian embassy in Bangkok.
The US government has pledged $200,000 to help survivors.

Progress report
Campaigners against landmines point to recent developments in the country as signs the time has come to "be more brave" in fighting landmines in Myanmar, noting its participation in a recent gathering in Cambodia of signatories to the mine ban treaty.
"There seem to be openings," said Katherine Kramer, Asia's programme director for the NGO Geneva Call. "There are venues to start a dialogue with the government... by offering assistance for humanitarian mine action."
U Win Naing, Myanmar's deputy director-general in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said "careful consideration" was the most appropriate way forward on the issue of landmines, during an address at the annual Meeting of States Parties from 28 November to 2 December in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
"Myanmar also believes that the legitimate right of every state to self-defence in matters of its national security must be recognized and respected in considering this issue," he said, according to a transcript of the speech.
It was the first time a Myanmar official had addressed the gathering.
"I'm really hoping that, with the government's presence at this meeting, they [the government] might be more open to humanitarian mine activity, and then I'm sure funds will increase," said Kramer.
"If you can't do activities openly, then it becomes much more difficult to put large amounts of funds into projects."
An "extremely significant" development came in November when a government minister met five major armed groups to discuss a ceasefire, said Moser-Puangsuwan. Since then, the government has signed a formal ceasefire agreement with the Shan State Army-South, according to local media.
Any ceasefire agreement must prohibit landmine use and allow NGOs access to mine-affected communities, said Moser-Puangsuwan.

Non-state armed groups must sign on, too.
"For the people living in the conflict areas, not much has changed," Moser-Puangsuwan said. "Until there's an end to armed conflict in that country, there's still going to be mine use."
Myanmar was one of four countries worldwide where government forces used anti-personnel landmines in 2011 and the only country where both state and non-state armed groups used them in 2010-2011, according to ICBL.
Since 1999, at least 2,861 people in Myanmar have been injured or killed by landmines but the actual figure is believed to be much higher, campaigners say.

POVERTY: PAKISTAN: Girls fight for the right to education

PESHAWAR, 7 December 2011 (IRIN) -  Photo: Groundreporter/Flickr
Pakistani girls are becoming agents of change in the fight for education

Armed with only a slightly used copy book sent by her aunt from Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtoomkhw’a province, Azeera Gul, 12, is fighting for the rights of girls to an education.
Although her school in the tiny town of Kabal in the Swat Valley is still in a ramshackle state after being burnt down during the Taliban insurgency in 2008, which ended in 2009 after a Pakistan military operation, Gul insists she wants to become a school teacher and educate other girls in her village.
Gul is not alone in wishing to bring change to her valley. One story that galvanized the international media is that of Malala Yousafzai. In 2009, she began campaigning from her remote village in Shangla in Swat against the Taliban for the right to education for girls.
She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, presented annually by the Dutch organization KidsRights, for her pioneering efforts to raise awareness about the treatment of girls in her homeland. Though she did not win the award, her nomination brought home the problems of Swat to millions in the country and won her national recognition with an award from the prime minister.
“This award is a great prize for me. I want education for the girls of Swat,” Yousafzai, now 13, told IRIN.
She is not the only young campaigner. “I want to become a doctor,” said Ludia Bibi, 14, in Mingora. “That is the only way I can help people here and make sure women in particular get the care they need.”
Maria Toor Pakai, 19, grew up in South Waziristan, where women rarely venture out of their homes. She defied tradition by playing squash and is today a top-ranked national player.
There are so many little girls here who could change the future
“I knew my daughter was different and wished to encourage her,” said Maria’s father, Shamsul Qayyum Wazir, who took her to Peshawar in 2002, eager to grant her the opportunity she would have been denied at home. “We had received threats from the Taliban warning us to stop her playing,” he told IRIN.
Today, Pakai lives and trains in Toronto, her story inspiring others. “I always think of the hard rocks of my land, and how tough they made me,” she said.
But while such young women have fought back, others find it harder to do so. “I want my daughters to have a better life than I do, but it is hard here,” said Ujala Gul, 40, a mother of three girls who lives in a village near Saidu Sharif, the capital of Swat. “I am afraid they will end up as powerless housewives just like me, subservient to their husbands.”

Even so, the girls seem more determined than the boys given the harder struggle that lies ahead for them and the struggle they have had to gain any education at all.
“I feel I must do something with my life. Things here must change, otherwise lives for girls and women will never ever change,” Samira Ahmed, 12, told IRIN. She is helping to run classes near Kabal for girls who are not able to go to school.
“There are so many little girls here who could change the future. I have educated daughters and I know they can change the lot of a family. That’s why I want to help all those that I can,” said Mullahzai Tauqir, 65, a grandfather and retired teacher who now runs voluntary classes for out-of-school children near Mingora. “I think my efforts and theirs will one day make a real difference and create real change here.”

MALNUTRITION: Scaling up innovations to fight hunger

29 November 2011

Child in Somalia receiving food distributed by FMSC and GAiN Flickr/Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) Source: Nature

Childhood malnutrition can be prevented using available knowledge to improve food security

Building sustainable food security, rather than concentrating on food aid, is a better way to help the people most vulnerable to food crises, says Josette Sheeran, head of the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP).
"Food aid has saved millions of lives, but it cannot, by itself, solve hunger," she says. The UNWFP is shifting its focus towards building local capacity to deal with future crises compounded by ongoing food price volatility, climatic changes and conflict.
Sheeran points to programmes underway in several countries that aim to "transform the fight against hunger" by developing and scaling up innovative ideas and tools at the grassroots level.
For example, in Cameroon — where 2.8 million people are food insecure — the UNWFP makes a one-time donation of ten tonnes of cereal to each community granary but also trains farmers in management and financial aspects of food storage. Community members can withdraw stocks with little interest and replenish them from their own crops, while funds from the interest and sales help with buying more stock.
In Pakistan, food technologists have created a chickpea paste fortified with micronutrients, which requires no water or cooking — helping to guard children from irreversible damage caused by malnutrition. And in Palestinian territories, 'digital food vouchers' delivered to mobile phones have helped increase local dairy production by 30 per cent, as well as helping people to buy nutritious food.
"Ending hunger does not require major scientific breakthrough," says Sheeran. "For the first time in history we have the scientific knowledge, programmes, tools and policies to defeat hunger but we need global political will".

MALNUTRITION: US–Nepal hybrid maize project runs into criticism

[KATHMANDU] Smriti Mallapaty : 30 November 2011
Maize farmer in Nepal Flickr/CIMMYT: Critics are concerned about the loss of local maize varieties

Uncertainty hangs over a proposed partnership between US and Nepalese scientists to promote hybrid maize in the Himalayan country, after the project sparked local concerns over the potential loss of traditional local varieties and weak biotechnology regulation.
The pilot project of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Nepal's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and US agricultural corporation Monsanto — announced earlier this year (13 September) on USAID's website — aims to train 20,000 farmers on hybrid maize production practices, and facilitate links between producers and end-users.
But concerns have been expressed by civil society organisations, as well as some government officials, and now neither USAID nor the ministry will confirm whether the project is going ahead.
Nepal imports half of the estimated 270,000 tonnes of maize it uses a year, at a cost of about 200 million Nepalese rupees (US$2.5 million).
Hybrid seeds are formed under controlled pollination conditions between two plants selected for specific traits such as high yield or pest resistance. The first generation of hybrid seeds has higher yields than the locally available varieties, but farmers need to obtain new seeds from suppliers each year if they are to maintain these high yields.
Members of civil society organisations expressed concerns at a meeting this month (15 November) that foreign hybrid maize seed could replace local varieties, increase Nepal's dependence on imported seed and pave the way for the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops later because of weak biotechnology regulation.
But Monsanto's Nepal representative, Kiran Dahal, told SciDev.Net: "The farmers are already using hybrid seed; we are just trying to support them".
Monsanto has been importing conventionally bred seeds into Nepal for the past 15 years, including 100 metric tonnes of hybrid seeds in 2010, he said. He added that the partnership was pending the Nepalese government's approval.
But government officials declined to comment on when this might happen or what the final deal will look like.
Hari Dahal, a spokesperson for the ministry, said it was unlikely the agreement would be signed in its current form.
"Mass importation of hybrid seed goes against our obligations under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture," he told SciDev.Net. "If the partnership seeks to improve our own hybrid seeds, then an agreement is possible."
A senior ministry official told SciDev.Net on the condition of anonymity: "If we import hybrid seed our local varieties will disappear. The rights of the farmers will be in the hands of private companies."
Nepal's agriculture policy, announced in 2004, encourages the production and use of hybrid seed varieties; and their distribution after testing, certification and registration.* Since 1960, Nepal approved 25 maize varieties, hybrid and non-hybrid, of which 16 are local. The nine foreign maize varieties include three Monsanto varieties listed in the pilot project.

POVERTY: GUINEA: Avoiding ethnically-driven elections

CONAKRY, 6 December 2011 (IRIN)
 Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN
Some Peulh traders feel they are being targeted by the administration

Politics remain ethnically divisive in Guinea a year after violent clashes marred a bitterly divided Presidential election. Analysts and civil servants say more concerted reconciliation efforts between ethnic groups are needed on the part of the President and opposition leaders to avoid another pitched battle in upcoming legislative elections.
Voting was originally scheduled for the end of 2011, but senior officials told IRIN it is more likely to take place early next year as the census, registration process and other key preparations are nowhere near complete.
“Ethnic tensions are getting worse, not better,” said Vincent Foucher - a researcher at the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict thinktank - who wrote Putting the transition Back on Track. “Everyone is playing the ethnic card… horrible statements are being made from all sides.”
The main political party, President Alpha Condé’s Rally the Guinean People (RPG) is supported by the Malinke, while main opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo’s party, the Union des Forces Democratiques de Guinée (UFDG), is closely associated with the Peulh community. Peulhs are the dominant ethnic group in Guinea, followed by the Malinke and Sousou.

Corinne Dufka, head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in West Africa, says the current administration has fomented ethnic tension rather than trying to reduce it. The President has shown clear favouritism in appointing Malinke to civil service and ministerial posts, and has used the judicial system - based on French civil law, customary law, and decree - to discriminate against Peulh political groups.
Currently, Peulhs hold just six ministerial positions, including the Youth and Tourism portfolios, while the military is Malinke dominated.
Many people fear that Condé is concentrating power in the executive. “Past Presidents had to balance the ethnic positions at least a little, but now there is not as obvious a need,” said Foucher. Even military junta leader Dadis Camara had to put more effort into getting the support of different ethnicities during his short-lived time in power, he added.
Public discourse has been peppered with ethnic rhetoric in recent months. On 21 September 2011, the Governor of Conakry Region, Resco Camara, talked of ordering containers of water from the Mayimbo River to pour on protesters - the river is popularly believed to have dangerous powers against members of the Peulh community.
Mouctar Diallo, leader of the New Democratic Forces party (NFD) and President of a group of opposition parties, Collective Parties Politique Finalisation de la Transition, told IRIN he has never seen Guinea as divided as it is now. “You say your name and you know your ethnicity - and that is how people are defining themselves. An ethno-strategy has become part of the Guinean politics… the situation is very serious.” He too, has shocked many with his strong statements – earlier this year saying President Condé would need to expand his cemeteries and hospitals to bury protesting militants - referring to strong crackdowns by security forces on protesters.
A rice vendor at Concasseur market in the capital, Conakry, told IRIN that Peulhs feel increasingly marginalized in society and politics. Those in the diaspora have made a number of vitriolic statements, with online news site Guineé Presse speaking of impending civil war and a “genocide“ being planned against the Peulh community. “They talk of genocide when there are arrests. Key officials are making strong statements - it is worrying,” said Foucher.
Nevertheless, strained relations between the President’s party and the opposition improved recently when Condé held meetings with opposition leaders to discuss the upcoming elections. He described the meeting as “cordial and rewarding”.
Moustapha Naïte, director general of the Patrimoine Partie Politique, which is linked to the Presidency, told IRIN that although ethnic division is at a high pitch, poverty, not politics, is the root cause of tension between the various communities.

Economy not ethnicity
“People are mistaking economic issues for ethnic issues. What people are really concerned about is the economy and jobs, and that is starting to look up,” he told IRIN, referring to a recent spike in investment in the mining sector, and mining reform that could increase the government’s share in the sector by up to 35 percent.
“We are committed morally and religiously to reconciliation,” Naïte said. “We need to have a debate about the problems that have been posed. There is a sense of frustration in the country, and deepening poverty has accentuated some tensions, but the roots are much more in poverty than in ethnicity.”
Guineans have become poorer in the past 15 years. In 1995 some 40 percent of the population was living in poverty, but in 2010 this figure reached 58 percent, according to the UN.
Oumar Baldet, head of International Alert, a conflict resolution non-profit, agrees. “The biggest danger in Guinea is poverty. One percent of the population takes most of the country’s revenue - it is very corrupt - yet this is somehow socially tolerated.”
HRW’s Dufka said poverty need not be divisive. “All ethnic groups have suffered from bad governance, corruption and a weak rule of law,” she pointed out.

Marriages, baptisms
Some worry that politically driven ethnic division has seeped into communities, creating tension where previously there had been inclusion and tolerance. For instance, in the city of Conakry, most marriages and baptisms have traditionally been inclusive events to which all ethnic groups were invited. Dufka told IRIN that lately she has heard of more ceremonies being limited to one group or another.
In the marketplaces, a few Peulhs, who are angry with what they see as the government’s efforts to undermine them economically and politically, have started to set different prices for Peulhs and for others, say traders.
A Malinke woman at Concasseur market, who asked to remain unnamed, said she was charged 18,000 GF(US$2.67) for a bottle of milk, while the Peulh woman just before her had been charged 15,000 ($2.21). But, she said, this practice was far worse during the election period in 2010.
President Condé has tried to break up monopolies in the import market, traditionally dominated by Peulhs, causing some to feel targeted, said a vendor. Many Peulhs left Guinea for neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire when its President Alassane Ouattara eliminated taxes for traders there.
“Had President Condé pushed for inclusion - ‘let’s all work together; how can I encourage Peulhs to continue to invest in Guinea?’ - this could have mitigated some of these problems and would not have sabotaged the economy,” said Dufka.
Others feel it is high time that the power of what they call “mafias” - who manipulate the market and fix prices - is broken. “It is the President who says monopolies in the market should be broken up to help everyone compete for the benefit of the population… he has not stigmatized one ethnic group over another,” Diallo, a Conakry resident, told IRIN.

Moving forward
Ethnic tensions have long simmered in the country, but with so many Guineans having seen first-hand the impact of such violence in West African neighbours Sierra Leone and Liberia, the appetite for violence is low. Thousands of refugees from these countries fled to Guinea during their civil wars. “Ethnic problems are not fundamental here [Guinea], they’re power-related,” International Alert’s Baldet told IRIN.
Diversity is so fundamental to most city-dwellers’ lives that any degree of ethnic politicking will only go so far, a Conakry-based journalist says. “Many Guineans have more than one wife, each of a different ethnicity. It’s not unusual to find a Guinean with a Peulh mother, a Malinke wife and a Soussou or Forestier father… things are mixed here.”
Lounceny Camara, President of the Independent Election Commission (CENI) in Guinea, told IRIN he hoped ethnicity would play a far smaller role in upcoming legislative elections. The problem is that political debate remains highly polarized in the fledgling democracy. “We have never before seen a second round [of voting in an electoral process] - there is no real middle ground yet,” he said.
Before political campaigning begins, political parties should sign up to a code of conduct committing them to refrain from any comment that risks stirring up inter-communal tensions, says the International Crisis Group.
Most analysts agree that on top of imposing limits and rules, a deep countrywide reconciliation process needs to take place. “It is easier to move ahead with elections than to open such delicate debates as reconciliation,” Baldet told IRIN. “But if you do not address the problems of the past, they’ll just recur... the state has always acted with impunity here, and there has still been no catharsis.”
For years, International Alert has been hosting a dialogue on reconciliation and peace-building with political figures, religious leaders, security sector representatives and civil society organization representatives.
“The President came with intentions to take a South African model [of reconciliation]. Then the reality of power changed and it dampened his ardour,” said Baldet, referring to the assassination attempt against the President in July 2011. According to the ICG, ethnic resentment probably played some role in the event, and most of the people in the first group indicted for the crime are Peulh
The government recently appointed religious leaders to set up a reconciliation commission to address past tensions as well as the roots of inter-community divisions. Baldet told IRIN he hopes it will be as inclusive as impossible.
Dufka supports the idea. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of pushing this,” she said. “This could help focus Guineans on what they have in common…Corruption and impunity affect all Guineans and all ethnic groups - Guineans often lost sight of that.”
But if the initiative is to work it needs buy-in from all sectors of society, she said, and at the moment many civil society members have not even heard of it.

POVERTY: DRC-CONGO: Thousands flee election tension

BRAZZAVILLE, 6 December 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN
Seeking security: thousands of DRC residents are fleeing potential election conflict

At least 3,500 people have arrived by boat in recent days in Congo’s capital, fearing violence in the run-up to the announcement, due before midnight on 6 December, of the outcome of the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to an official.
Yves Ikiaye, a captain in Congo’s immigration service, said those crossing the Congo River, which separates Brazzaville from the DRC capital, Kinshasa, between 4 and 6 December included politicians and their families, diplomats and UN officials.
“We came here to escape war,” said Dorcas Mukaku, a schoolgirl, who arrived with her two younger sisters.
“The Lubas [one of DRC’s ethnic groups] said that if Etienne Tshisekedi was not elected they would set Kinshasa on fire and shed blood,” she told IRIN.
Others, “who support President Joseph Kabila [who is running for re-election], said it had to be him or no-one”, she said.
“I decided to leave my parents and studies behind to observe the situation from afar and save my life. I am too young and have nothing to do with what’s going on,” she said.
However, Congo’s Interior Minister, Raymond Mboulou, said: “We are not in a crisis situation,” adding that it was normal for people from Kinshasa to travel to Brazzaville.
Brazzaville’s chief of police, Général Benoît Moundélé-Ngollo, said a special camp would be set up if the numbers arriving increased significantly.

POVERTY: YEMEN: Children at risk as aid access denied

SANA’A, 6 December 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Children in Dammaj village, northern Yemen, are cut off from food and healthcare

Thousands of people under “siege” by armed rebels in northern Yemen lack food and healthcare, which has already resulted in deaths and risks killing many more, local leaders and aid workers say.
Four children under five have died of hunger since Houthi gunmen cut off access to Dammaj village more than a month ago, Ahmad al-Qurashi, of the local NGO Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection (SOCP), told IRIN.
The village, 9km southeast of Sa’ada City, the capital of Sa’ada governorate, is home to about 12,000 people. The area is controlled by the rebels but is home to an institute for Islamic Salafi teachings, Dar al-Hadith, which is at the centre of the conflict.
Up to 200 other children are at high risk due to the lack of food, water and medical supplies, according to Hussein al-Hajouri, a spokesman for Dar al-Hadith. They could die if aid organizations are not allowed access, he said.
"The situation is getting much worse for those stranded children amid lack of food, fuel and medical supplies,” said SOCP chairman Ahmad al-Qurashi. “Healthcare centres in the area have become inaccessible."
All the roads to medical centres are blocked or unsafe. “For this reason, mothers are compelled to deliver at home unattended,” Al-Hajouri told IRIN. “Last week, a woman died in labour at home after [being in pain] for six days. A number of new-borns have died due to lack of medical services."
Three elderly men have also died because they could not obtain their regular medication, according to the local independent news website,

An armed conflict between the Houthi rebels, who belong to an extreme Shi’a sect of Islam, and Salafi residents of the town, who subscribe to the fundamentalist Sunni branch of Islam taught at Dar al-Hadith, has now killed 30 people and injured dozens more since it erupted in the final week of October, according to Dhaifallah Solaiman, a local council member from Sa’ada.
On 3 December, SOCP made a humanitarian appeal to save the lives of some 3,000 children stranded in Dammaj.
This is taking its toll on the population there, namely the sick, the elderly, women and children, but also the injured
A team with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was finally able to enter the area on 2 December to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance, said communication coordinator Rabab al-Rifai.
According to Al-Rifai, the initial assistance consisted of 500 rations of food, which included wheat grain, rice, beans, sugar, salt and cooking oil.
The ICRC also provided medical items – dressing kits, intravenous fluids, painkillers and antibiotics – and several people were transferred to hospital for treatment. In view of the cold winter, the ICRC also made available 1,000 blankets, soap and nappies to help improve hygiene conditions.
“Thousands of people who live in this part of Sa'ada governorate have been denied access to essential commodities, including their daily needs in food and basic medicines,” said Eric Marclay, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen. “This is taking its toll on the population there, namely the sick, the elderly, women and children, but also the injured.”

Fuel shortages
Complicating matters further, the stranded civilians say they cannot use the wheat grains they received from ICRC because of a lack of fuel in their village.
"We don't need wheat,” Moflih Hajar told IRIN from Dammaj. “How can we have it grinded into flour? All the grinding machines in the village have been closed down due to lack of diesel."
He said almost all the families that received wheat were still without food. "Our children and ourselves need bread, which is impossible to make under the status quo.”

Source of conflict
Sectarian tensions between the Shi’a Houthis and the Salafi students have existed for years, with each trying to spread their ideology in the area. Politics are also at play. The rebels support the popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, while the Salafis believe that a ruler must be obeyed and respected and have issued edicts banning protests.
But according to the local weekly Yemen Times, the current conflict surfaced last month after a letter, written by Yahya al-Hajouri, head of Dar al-Hadith, was leaked to the Houthis. The letter expressed thanks to both the Yemeni and Saudi governments for fighting the Houthis in 2009. The Houthis attacked Dar al-Hadith and residential homes suspected of housing armed Salafis. The latter fired back. The Houthis then resorted to heavy artillery and banned entry and exit from the village.
Dar al-Hadith is run by a hard-core Salafi group and teaches about 7,000 students, including women and children, from Yemen and foreign nations.
Mohammed Abdussalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, accused Salafi students at Dar al-Hadith of attacking them from time to time. "They have been attempting to take over strategic military positions outside their area," he said.
The Houthis have been waging attacks and provoking war inside Yemen since 2004.

POVERTY: SWAZILAND: Contesting the Global Fund audit

MBABANE, 7 December 2011 (PlusNews)

Released in late October, the Global Fund audit recommends Swaziland repay US$5.8 million

On the heels of a decision by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria to cancel its next round of funding, the Swazi government is calling on donors to come to the impoverished country's aid. However, there are fears that the result of a recent Global Fund audit may dissuade donors even as HIV organizations contest its findings.
Economic constraints forced the Global Fund to cancel Round 11 grants at its board meeting in late November in Ghana's capital, Accra. HIV activists in Swaziland say the cancellation has jeopardised the scale-up of HIV programmes. The country is also contesting a recently released Global Fund audit that alleges nearly US$6 million in aid was misused.
With an HIV prevalence of about 26 percent, Swaziland cannot afford to fund HIV treatment domestically - an estimated 90,000 Swazis are in need of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières.
In early 2010, the Swazi government announced it would take over funding for all ARVs, excluding paediatric drugs, from the Global Fund, but a lack of money led to ARV shortages in 2011. Swaziland recently received stopgap funding from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to help supply first-line ARVs until the end of April 2012.

HIV organizations contest audit findings
The audit report released on 31 October by the Global Fund's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommended that Swaziland pay back $5.8 million of around $100 million in grants it had received between 2003 and 2010.
The report says the money due for repayment has been misspent as part of budget overruns, or unbudgeted or unapproved expenses, and the situation has been compounded by a dearth of supporting documentation and oversight.
Swaziland's Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM), which handles the disbursement of Global Fund grant money, denied any corruption, theft or fraud in a statement.
"We are completely transparent," said Derek von Wissell, director of the government's National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA). "There is a lack of understanding about the way things work in Swaziland.”

NERCHA has joined the CCM in insisting that no money was misspent. Both bodies say inadequate local accounting practices were largely to blame for the appearance of financial discrepancies that in fact did not exist.
Among the audit's findings were poor controls in terms of unbudgeted expenditure, such as the purchase of vehicles used to support feeding schemes but not included in original work plans. In its report, the OIG does not question the need for the vehicles, but has asked NERCHA to provide evidence that the nearly 40 vehicles purchased were used in line with Global Fund grant objectives.
Without this evidence, the OIG has recommended that the roughly $1.8 million used to purchase the cars be refunded.
The money went to vehicles that you can plainly see are transporting food to neighbourhood care points," said Alicia Dlamini, a systems manager with a HIV testing and counseling NGO that depends on international donations. "This is not money that disappeared into someone’s overseas bank account.”
Unapproved expenditure was also found in the construction of rural centres built for the care of orphaned and vulnerable children, where costs ran about $1 million over budget, despite fewer than the projected number of centres being built.

Keeping up with the times
Dlamini maintains that the Global Fund Secretariat approved the expenditure, but the audit disagrees, highlighting the need for better guidance from the Secretariat to Fund recipients in order to avoid similar situations in future.
Von Wissell says these situations are historically rooted. "The original plan of the Global Fund was, ‘Let’s get the money out there and get the results’. We were told go buy the drugs we need and get vehicles if they are needed," he told IRIN/PlusNews.
"At the Global Fund now, such flexibility is gone. We started getting money in 2003 and the Global Fund was just starting up, so monitoring systems were just starting up for both of us. You can’t apply 2010 rules to what was done in 2003," Von Wissell said.
Since its inception in 2002, the Fund has tried to implement increasingly tighter financial controls, most notably after the Fund discovered fraud in several countries in 2010. The Fund subsequently instituted a high-level panel to review financial management.
The OIG conceded that financial reporting guidelines had changed over the years but urged NERCHA to improve its financial oversight, and produce missing supporting documentation.
"We order a big batch of drugs on behalf of the Global Fund, to be sent to government’s Central Delivery Stores, which then may lose an order or an invoice - this is Swaziland, and it happens," von Wissell said.
"We go back to the suppliers for a certifiable invoice, but this is not accepted by the Global Fund. The drugs are there. The money was legitimately spent, but the OIG says there is no proof - 60 000 people are alive today because of those drugs,” he added.
The UN recommends that the principal recipients of Global Fund monies, such as NERCHA, should use 14 percent of the annual grants received for programme monitoring and evaluation.
According to von Wissell, NERCHA has never received more than about 2 percent of annual grants for evaluating Global Fund expenditures.
In its audit, the OIG recommended a commitment of Global Fund money and expertise to improve the monitoring and evaluation capabilities of the Fund’s recipients in Swaziland.

Wooing the donors?
Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini has called on the international donor community to come to Swaziland’s assistance “in this hour of need”, but his call may encounter some resistance if donors are alarmed by the findings of the Global Fund’s audit report.
HIV organizations and government maintain that the audit has created false impressions, which may jeopardise future funding for a country that has already seen shortages of HIV treatment, testing kits and related laboratory tests, according to Alicia Dlamini, a systems manager at an HIV testing and counselling NGO that depends on international donations.
“If donors think monies were squandered in Swaziland, they will write off the country," she told IRIN/PlusNews. Thembi Nkambule, director of the Swaziland Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, an umbrella body, said the cancellation of Round 11 may already have jeopardised the government's commitments to scale up HIV treatment and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

MALARIA: Do we have tools and guidelines for malaria elimination?

Bill Brieger : 07 Dec 2011

Sessions at the current American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Philadelphia have focused on progress in the global elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF). Filariasis and malaria have some elements in common, such as some mosquito vectors, and possibly malaria elimination efforts could learn from LF elimination.
The duration of a typical filariasis elimination program might span around 10 years, much shorter than expected for malaria, where Roll Back Malaria has already been working hard for 13 years. Even with this difference LF elimination has important surveillance tools needed for the end game that can be adapted for malaria. As the figure here shows, the first step is mapping which can take at least a year.
Then there are at least five annual mass drug administrations (MDA) with ivermectin or DEC and albendazole. Monitoring goes along with distribution, and as pointed out at a panel presentation at ASTMH, determines whether the program can enter Step 3 (three rounds of annual surveillance) or complete a few more MDA rounds. Eventually the project site is certified as having eliminated filariasis.
An ASTMH symposium highlighted the challenges: “The decision to implement a mass drug administration (MDA) program for LF is based on convenience sampling to demonstrate that the prevalence of infection is greater than 1% in a selected district or implementation unit. Making the decision to stop MDA has been a challenge for countries,” when prevalence drops below 1%.

lf-elimination-steps.jpgFortunately those involved in LF have tools and guidelines to focus their efforts. These guide initial mapping and choice of diagnostic tools, ongoing program monitoring and endline Transmission Assessment Surveys (TAS) The purpose of the guidelines is …

“Effective monitoring, epidemiological assessment and evaluation are necessary to achieve the aim of interrupting LF transmission. Th is manual is designed to ensure that national elimination programmes have available the best information on methodologies and procedures for (i) monitoring MDA, (ii) appropriately assessing when infection has been reduced to levels where transmission is likely no longer sustainable, (iii) implementing adequate surveillance aft er MDA has ceased to determine whether recrudescence has occurred, and (iv) preparing for verifi cation of the absence of transmission.”
The guideline manual provides general guidance to national programmes but reminds program managers that each program is unique and may require further technical guidance.
Several countries, especially in the Asia-Pacific Region and Southern Africa are working toward malaria elimination. Such tools adapted to malaria program needs are required. One of the challenges for the TAS is that while countries have received donations of medicines to eliminate LF, they have found it harder to find or allocate funds to do the necessary surveillance to know when to stop interventions and verify elimination. This also rings true for malaria - donors and governments should not stop funding malaria elimination until certification has been achieved.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

POVERTY: Super 'floodway' mooted for Thai floods

Pratchaya W: 2 December 2011 Floods in Bangkok  A new floodway would help prevent flooding in Bangkok

[BANGKOK] Researchers from a Thai university have come up with a proposal for a 'super express' floodway to help reduce the impact of future flooding on Thailand's capital, Bangkok.
The idea came from Chulalongkorn University's Unit for Disaster and Land Information Studies and would make use of existing irrigation canals that run in parallel to the Chao Phraya River.
Thanawat Jarupongsakul, the leader of the study, said the team proposed to widen the canals and leave a kilometre-wide stretch of empty land alongside them. Motorways running to and from Bangkok would be raised six metres from the ground on both sides of the expanded floodway to act as its dykes.
He said the project would cost about 30 billion Thai baht (around US $1 billion) but, by utilising existing canals, would be much cheaper than digging a new waterway. It would also need less energy as it would mainly rely on gravity, rather than pumps, to drain the water, he added.
The expanded floodway could hold 1.6 billion cubic metres of water and it could drain about 500 million cubic metres of water a day — equivalent of 2.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools a second.
This year's flooding in Thailand has been described as the worst ever, affecting over 2.3 million people.
Thanawat said that this is only one of the 11 non-structural measures that they are proposing to help Bangkok remain safe from severe flooding.
Other measures include: an overhaul of the disaster warning system; urban development control for Bangkok and new satellite towns; flood taxes and insurances and flood risk maps for urban development and city planning.
The researchers have also proposed: water management plans and ground water use control; climate risk and farming plans; water retention area conservation plans; disaster management plans; and a new disaster management agency.
"The floodway is good, but it alone can only partly help the city to deal with severe flooding," admitted Thanawat. "It needs to be implemented with the other measures."
A source in the government's flood command centre said that senior officials were interested he team's super floodway idea but said that long-term maintenance could be a problem given that even maintaining the capacity of existing floodways is problematic.
Sutat Weesakul, director of research projects at the Asian Institute of Technology's School of Engineering and Technology, said the idea is good in principle as the city desperately needs a channel through which the floodwaters can flow through.
But there is need for more discussion on details to ensure its effectiveness and concerns about its maintenance, said Sutat.

POVERTY: Côte d'Ivoire one year on

ABIDJAN, 1 December 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Olivier Monnier/IRIN
People scan news headlines in Abidjan, where life for many is back to normal

One year on from the presidential elections that caused conflict across Côte d'Ivoire, ex-President Laurent Gbagbo has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), tensions have eased in most areas, the economy has improved, and almost all schools have reopened and hospitals are functioning. But reconciliation has a long way to go.
Many feel that international justice, by pursuing Gbagbo and not others, is one-sided. Rifts remain between communities, much of the west remains lawless, and thousands of Ivoirians are too frightened to return home. Many residents are not looking forward to parliamentary elections set for December 2011.
Response to the news of the ICC's arrest warrant for ex President Laurent Gbagbo has been deeply divided. Some are relieved, but many people IRIN spoke to said it smacked of victor’s justice. Many analysts say justice has not been even handed, and that only pro-Gbagbo associates - whether civilian or military - have been charged.
"It's a good thing because it is necessary for the stability of the country, but it is unfair,” said Paul, a financial executive in Abidjan. “Of course Gbagbo has to account for what he did, but he's not the only one - both Gbagbo and Ouattara's camps have had responsibilities in the crisis.” He acknowledged that the solution is not clear-cut: if the ICC pursued President Alassane Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, former rebel leader, the country “would, for sure, face another crisis”.
Others say the ICC is ignoring Côte d’Ivoire’s turbulent history. “If the International Criminal Court wants to run a genuine investigation, it has to investigate what happened in the past ten years, not only during the latest crisis", said Aimée, a recent university graduate who lives in Abidjan’s Yopougon neighbourhood.
Ouattara has pledged on several occasions that Ivorian justice will investigate all sides, and in October the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both camps.

The appointment of former warlords, some of whom are alleged to have committed war crimes, to significant positions in the new national army, Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI), has not always inspired confidence, but such appointments are reportedly a strategy by Ouattara to weaken their influence in the long term, and appears to be having some impact.
A South-African-style Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (DTRC), led by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, was inaugurated in September but Ivoirians are sceptical of its ability to heal the country. “Ivoirians don’t really understand how it is going to work,” Patrick N’Gouan, who heads a civil rights umbrella group, Convention for Civil Society, told IRIN, adding that civil society was not adequately consulted on the commission’s membership.
Albert Gerard Koenders, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Côte d'Ivoire, welcomes the commission while recognizing that “it faces lots of challenges. There is a need for a nationally led justice and reconciliation dialogue - the UN needs to support this,” he told IRIN at a UN security meeting in Senegalese capital Dakar.
Dismantling the mistrust will not be easy. "I don’t really believe in this idea of reconciliation," said Hervé, a mechanic from the neighbourhood of Blokosso, told IRIN. "Gbagbo's supporters are not yet accepting the situation and too many people are too resentful about what happened."

Security better but violations continue
In the commercial capital, Abidjan, shops and businesses have reopened, the port is busy again, security has improved significantly, the city is being cleaned up, and road works are in progress since former President Laurent Gbagbo's capture on April 11, putting an end to a five-month political crisis in which at least 3,000 people died, according to the International Criminal Court.
But in the west of the country - a region with a long history of tension between indigenous and non-native populations - residents and observers say the security situation is still precarious.
President Alassane Ouattara’s government has not yet been able to bring the west or the north under control - both run by rebel group Forces Nouvelles for 10 years - partly because of the lack of security forces, and weak police and judicial systems, which have allowed a “climate of impunity” to remain, said UNICEF spokesperson Louis Vigneault-Dubois.
The United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) recorded 26 extrajudicial killings from 11 July to 11 August - the most recent figures available - mostly committed in the west by the Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI), the national army.
A report published by UNICEF and Save the Children on 23 November cited over 1,000 violations, including 415 sexual assaults, committed in Abidjan and the west since November 2010, most of them against women and girls. UNICEF representative Hervé Ludovic de Lys says this is just the “tip of the iceberg”, given that the vast majority of assaults are not recorded.
Violations continue elsewhere in the country too, according to UN spokesperson Touré, who has just returned from Bouaké, in the centre of the country, where he heard “dreadful” reports of sexual abuse from women and girls, including of babies having been assaulted.

 Photo: Olivier Monnier/IRIN A young mechanic in Abidjan waits for clients

UN spokesman Hamadoun Touré said the setting up of eight new UN military camps should help secure the zone.

Military reform
To produce more professional security forces, reform is urgently needed. Planned reforms are underway and include demobilizing thousands of inexperienced volunteers who joined the FRCI during the war, and strengthening the role of the police and gendarmes.
Initial reforms have already diminished the influence of warlords who once operated across the country, and the parallel economy they put in place in the north is no longer working, said an Abidjan-based African diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous.

Parliamentary elections, scheduled for 11 December, will take place on time, according to Yacouba Bamba, a spokesman for the nation's Independent Electoral Commission.
UN representative Koenders, told IRIN at a regional security meeting in the Senegalese capital, Dakar: “The military, police and gendarmerie have put in place a security plan for the elections... we hope to see open, free and transparent elections in CDI."
Laurent Akoun, general secretary of the former ruling party - Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) - said no candidates from the party are running because of the continued detention of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo and several civilian and military members of the opposition.
He also cited a lack of dialogue with the government as a problem, and said the party has security concerns. A meeting of the FPI on 20 November in Abidjan was broken up by members of the army and civilians wearing pro-Ouattara T-shirts. "What is surprising is that the government is not trying to deny it or blame those who did it," said Akoun. Security forces continue to crack down on active supporters of Gbagbo.
Upcoming elections are vital to the credibility of President Ouattara and the reconciliation process, but, given the legacy of last year’s elections, many Ivoirians IRIN spoke to are lukewarm.
"I'm not sure I'm going to vote - I'm not interested in politics anymore," said Laurent, a physical education teacher and former political enthusiast in Abidjan's Cocody neighbourhood.

Mixed picture for education, health
Most public schools re-opened at the beginning of the school year, but in the west some remain closed as their teachers have not returned, while some families say they don't have enough money to send their children to school.
Jennifer Hofmann, the education cluster coordinator at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said despite the government trying to lure the teachers back, many remain in Liberia About 1,000 intern teachers across the country are waiting to be appointed, but Hofmann said some villages in the west may be forced to hire voluntary teachers. Public universities will not open until October 2012 because so many were vandalized in the crisis.
Although all the main hospitals in Abidjan are up and running, staff numbers are slightly lower than before the crisis, and in the west the health situation is “in a state of humanitarian emergency”, with crumbling structures and lack of stocks forcing health staff to work in mobile clinics, said Dr Juma Kariburyo, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Abidjan.
Money for healthcare support is “running out” for most WHO partners, and medicine stocks and the equipment needed to run mobile clinics are dangerously low, he said. In the aftermath of the crisis the government announced free healthcare, but such a policy requires an effective funding strategy, which has not yet been thought through completely, Kariburyo noted.

Big business
Overall, the economy is growing - surprising many - and is expected to expand by 8-9 percent in 2012, according to the IMF and World Bank. "We hope that Côte d'Ivoire will once again become the economic motor of the region,” said Koenders.
Several large infrastructure projects are already underway, including a third bridge over Abidjan's lagoon, expansion of an Abidjan-based power plant, and plans for a highway between Abidjan and the city of Grand Bassam, 100km to the east.
The Tongon gold mine in northern Côte d'Ivoire was inaugurated in October and should help the country produce 13 tons of gold a year from 2012, said the ministry of Mines and Energy. The cocoa harvest hit a record last season with almost 1.5 million tons of beans exported.
The IMF and the World Bank have made reform of the cocoa sector one of the conditions for US$3 billion of debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative. The IMF resumed its programme in Côte d'Ivoire and agreed to loans of $745 million, while the World Bank has made a gift of $200 million.
Investors are clearly starting to have confidence in Ouattara’s economic vision, said Ranie-didice Bah, an economist at the University of Bouaké. Since his election the President has travelled widely to promote investment in Côte d’Ivoire and a few Western companies are opening branches in Abidjan, including a French food chain, a high-end bakery, and a furniture outlet.
However, many small firms are “still waiting for the recovery”, noted Innocent N'Dry, an adviser at the economic mission of the French Embassy.
And many are not experiencing the benefits of these gains, while the cost of living is high. "There is work", said Hervé, who runs a garage in Blokosso. "But people don't have money, so they pay half of the cost [of vehicle service and repairs] and give the rest when they can,” he said.

POVERTY: LESOTHO: Pastoralists fear land “modernization” act

MASERU, 1 December 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
A new land tenure system is raising concerns among pastoralists

Livestock herders in Lesotho are suspicious of the government’s motives for “modernizing” the land tenure system, fearing it will bring about a radical change in their way of life and deprive them of their birthright to land.
“This land act is not for us, it’s for people sitting in the highest seats of government and in the fancy chairs in the city,” Khotso Lehloka, secretary general of the Lesotho Herders Association (LHA), which represents between 17,000 and 20,000 livestock herders, told IRIN.
About three-quarters of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people derive their livelihood from agriculture, although only around 10 percent of the land is suitable for arable farming.
Constitutionally, all the land belongs to King Letsie III and is held in trust by all Basotho males or heads of household. Land acts passed in 1968 and 1979 did not contain a formal lease-based tenure system because land was regarded as communal.
The 2010 Land Administration Authority Act has broken from past practice by allowing security of tenure, in the hope of luring foreign direct investment to act as a stimulus for the rural economy. A growing population and land degradation are also putting greater pressure on a limited resource.
“The Land Act is part of an overall strategy to modernize the economy of Lesotho, so that investors can come, start a business and receive mortgage financing and insurance,” planning and finance minister Timothy Thahane told IRIN. “This is the kind of process that is necessary in a modern economy.”
The Land Act is part of an overall strategy to modernize the economy of Lesotho, so that investors can come, start a business and receive mortgage financing and insurance
The Human Development Index of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) ranks this mountainous country, which is completely surrounded by neighbouring South Africa, at 160 out of 180 nations.
Each year about 350,000 people routinely face food insecurity, and falling food production necessitates importing between 60 and 70 percent of the national requirement.
The Act establishes the Land Administration Authority (LAA), an autonomous agency of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship that will be responsible for record keeping, the regulation and allocation of land and rentals, and the approval of foreign ownership, which will now be permitted in partnership with a local national holding at least a 20 percent stake.
The goal of these measures is to provide “secure land tenure for all citizens and promote economic growth”. Section 77 of the LAA says “A citizen of Lesotho shall be entitled to the lease free of ground rent of land, which he leases and occupies for his own residential use.”
The Authority has conducted pilot projects in a few selected villages and LAA leasing director Letele Mosae says the system will start rolling out in 2012.

Inefficient land management
Tsoeu Petlane, a researcher who works in Maseru, capital of Lesotho, for the Johannesburg-based think-tank, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), told IRIN the traditional communal system of land ownership had led to inefficient land management.
“Every male Basotho is entitled to inherit plots of land, but while families expand, land does not, so the plots kept getting smaller and smaller. Because this was all done informally, eventually there were a lot of disputes” he explained.
The government is constantly involved in resolving land disputes, and the Act will ensure property is surveyed and documented, along with foreign ownership boosting investment, but there are concerns about how the new system will affect pastoralists.
“There are some unresolved questions,” Petlane pointed out. “What happens to traditional grazing lands? If those formerly communal grazing lands are bought up, where will herders without land feed their cattle?”
A SAIIA report in September 2011, Implementing the ARPM [African Peer Review Mechanism] Views from Civil Society, noted: “It remains unclear to what extent the new system will also address the conflict between chiefs and the state in regard to land allocation and management, as well as inter-communal conflict over land resources which are managed by chiefs.”

“Use it or lose it”
In a direct challenge to land as a Basotho birthright, the inclusion of a “use it or lose it” clause permits the authorities to take land that has not been cultivated for at least three years.
“Sometimes you cannot use land due to economic reasons - it’s not fair that it would be taken away from you just because of that. Governments are supposed to empower people to teach them to use the land to produce food more effectively, rather than enabling outsiders to come in and do it,” said Lehloka.
“The possibility of land being bought and sold, and the payment of ground rent, are highlighted as a possible cause of poverty and landlessness. Those who cannot afford the rent will be forced to sell, which will leave them landless and even more vulnerable. The ‘use it or lose it’ principle, which gives powers to authorities to dispossess lease holders of their right to land for not using it, is seen as another effect of the act that will promote poverty,” the SAIIA report said.
Mosae said it was wrong to term it a “use it or lose it” clause - it was a reference to “abandoned land”.
He said, “Where land is required for either public purpose or public interest, there is a stipulated procedure whereby, among others, the occupier of the land in question must be consulted and agreement must be reached. Thereafter, an amount of compensation must be agreed.”
News of the new land tenure system does not appear to have reached rural communities. Victor Letlaka, 33, a herder and subsistence farmer providing for his wife and five children, told IRIN he was unaware of the new Act and the changes it may bring.
“We were given this by our chief,” he said, pointing to his half-acre plot on the side of a hill in Mokhotlong, the main town in Mokhotlong Province, about 150km from Maseru. The local chief has the authority to dispossess Letlaka of his land at any time, but he is unconcerned.
People simply weren’t made aware of the Act and what its impact will be, so we feel the government may use these laws to hurt or take advantage of the very poor or marginalized
“We are grateful that he gave us this piece of land. If we had to move we would probably get given another... I don’t think there’s a problem with how this happens, it works fine without Maseru government rules.”
The LHA intends to raise greater awareness of the Act. “The government didn’t do enough to talk to people when they were debating and signing the Land Act. People simply weren’t made aware of the Act and what its impact will be, so we feel the government may use these laws to hurt or take advantage of the very poor or marginalized.” Lehloka said.
“The herdboys feel like their autonomy and freedom is jeopardized by this formalizing process, but the reality is we need to coordinate grazing and land recovery better,” said minister Thahane. “Land issues cast against so many vested interests is always controversial, but it is necessary for Lesotho’s modernization.”