Friday, 31 August 2012

POVERTY: SYRIA: Politics trumps humanitarianism

Photo: SyriaFreedom
Civilians fleeing the northwestern city of Idlib in February. The UN says at least 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria
DUBAI, 31 August 2012 (IRIN) - This week’s media headlines about the Syrian crisis have focused on a walk-out by the Syrian delegation at the Non-Aligned Movement summit, after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called the regime “oppressive”; and a TV interview in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he needed more time to win the war.

But the humanitarian situation of hundreds of thousands of people in need of assistance inside Syria has been - as usual, aid workers would say - largely neglected.

As violence spreads to previously unaffected areas, internal displacement has reached unprecedented levels. Three million people are in need of food assistance or agricultural support. Many more have been affected by a crumbling economy and a lack of social services, especially health care. Meanwhile, funding for humanitarian aid has not matched the strong rhetoric on Syria in the international community. .

Increasingly, aid workers feel it is time to speak out. .

“We have kept silent for quite a while. The political debate has been predominant,” said Radhouane Nouicer, the UN’s top humanitarian official in Syria. “We need to remind people that beyond the political debate, there are also people who are suffering and who are not having their needs met.”

Here are excerpts of IRIN’s interview with Nouicer, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.
IRINGive us an update on the humanitarian situation.
RN: People have to realize that the situation has further deteriorated in recent weeks and that the violence has spread and intensified. Areas which used to be rather safe have become part of the war zone, like Aleppo and even Damascus… We are estimating the number of internally displaced people to be 1.2 million. This comes in addition to the people who have been affected even if they have not been displaced: affected by the war; by the problems; by the non-functioning public services; the unemployment; the miserable conditions that are prevailing. I would highlight particularly the [lack of] medical services, hygiene, water and sanitation, basic shelter and basic household items.
IRINWhat kind of assistance is reaching the people?
RN: We keep trying to scale up our activities. We are doing more than we used to do 2-3 months ago. The World Food Programme (WFP) went from 500,000 beneficiaries to 850,000 in August, and we are planning to reach 1.5 million people in the month of September.
Mattresses, blankets and other household items, as well as cash assistance for some families, have now reached over 250,000 people. The World Health Organization’s assistance has reached more than half a million people. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reached a similar number with vaccinations or with food for children, and other types of assistance.
The positive element in this is that there are more NGOs - eight international NGOs and over 40 national NGOs - now associated with the humanitarian response and trying to make a little difference in the life of the affected populations.
IRINPreviously, the UN had complained about bureaucratic slowdowns, government red tape, a lack of access that made it difficult to adequately respond to the needs. Has the government fulfilled its promises to ease those restrictions and issue more visas to international aid workers?

RN: The government has become more receptive to the concept that there is indeed a humanitarian crisis. They have been more receptive in recent weeks and even more engaged. We have organized many meetings with the representatives of the different ministries involved in the humanitarian situation and we have been allowed to enter into some kind of association with more local NGOs.
There is a security problem which is hampering the [aid] convoys. This is a reality, but that does not only fall on the government, but also on the rules and constraints of the UN in handling UN convoys. Sometimes, the road itself is not safe enough and convoys have to be deferred or the route has to change.
There are pockets where live hostilities are taking place and that indeed is off our limits. We cannot enter. Nobody can, unless the hostilities cease. Otherwise, there are many areas under so-called opposition control, which are accessible and which receive their rations as planned.
There is space for more flexibility. We still need clearance to send convoys. That is not really very problematic, but we would have been much happier without it. Still, the mechanisms are in place to send as much aid as we can.
IRINThe UN has requested US$180 million to respond to the needs in Syria. That appeal is only half met. How big of a handicap is the lack of funding?
RN: We have been able to really scale up in terms of food distribution, but the other sectors are still crippled by the lack of funding. In addition to the procedures and the insecurity, you have the problem of funding, which is a big handicap for the health sector, for the shelter sector, for the cash assistance to destitute families, for education and sanitation. That is still a major problem for us.
IRIN: Why has humanitarian funding failed to match the strong rhetoric on Syria in the international community?
RN: I keep asking the same question to donors. It is legitimate for the donors to also ask us - the UN - to enlarge the donor base and seek donations and contributions from other states. So far, we have failed… and we keep relying on the traditional donors - it is a fact of life.
This operation has been very much politicized. The predominance of the political debate has maybe made many countries not pay enough attention to the humanitarian conditions. That’s my only interpretation.
We kept calling on other states [to donate]. The reactions have not been positive. We still keep hope and we continue our demarches through direct contacts and meetings. We keep hope that very soon they will join in and help. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is now mobilized to join the humanitarian team inside Syria - working on the basis of the funding that has been collected during Ramadan in some Gulf states.
IRINSome donors said they needed assurances that the UN could deliver effectively and with accountability, given the challenges of the Syrian context. Have you proven yourself in that regard.
RN: We have provided enough evidence that there is a possibility to deliver; there is a possibility to send convoys and to monitor the distribution; to identify and assess the needs; and to scale up the operations. Now we need more fuel to go further with this.
IRIN: In recent days, Turkey has said repeatedly that it cannot accept more than 100,000 refugees, and has even called for camps within Syria to ease the burden on Turkey. What will happen if neighbouring countries stop taking in refugees?
RN: This is a new concept - that there could be a ceiling on the number of people that you can or cannot accept. One has to remember that Syria has hosted more than one million Iraqis and 500,000 Palestinians. [So Turkey’s stance] is a quite surprising concept. If it becomes a fact that neighbouring countries stop accepting Syrian refugees - and there is no sign of that at this stage; we haven’t seen anything of that kind; the borders remain open on all fronts - but if that happens and people are forced, to some extent, to remain within their territory, there must be an international mechanism put in place to assist them. That mechanism does not exist for the time being and the UN has nothing to do with that for the time being, because we cannot violate international law and enter Syria from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and help people in areas not in control of the government. We are still working with a sovereign state. We are an international organization that has to abide by international law.
IRIN: What would that mechanism look like?
RN: The mechanism - if agreed upon by all parties involved - would be a type of cross-border mechanism, which means you bring assistance to people inside Syria. It has been put in motion in many other situations, but it must be done in a legal manner within certain parameters. I’m talking about a hypothesis where people are stuck at the border and cannot enter the [neighbouring] countries. We are not there yet. That was the case in Turkey for a few days, while it got more camps ready, but now it has been eased.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

POVERTY: MYANMAR: Kachin refugees feel Chinese heat

Some 4,000 Kachin have been forced back
CHIANG MAI, 31 August 2012 (IRIN) - China is forcing back thousands of Kachin refugees fleeing ethnic violence in northern Myanmar, activists and aid workers say. 

“The latest reports are that the push-backs are still going on and the Chinese government is refusing to face the reality that the refugees are being pushed back into a war zone,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IRIN on 31 August. 

His comments come one week after HRW called on Beijing to stop the forced return of thousands of ethnic Kachin refugees to northern Myanmar, where they risk exposure to armed hostilities, Burmese army abuses, and lack of aid. 

“It’s not over yet,” agreed one international aid worker inside Myanmar, who asked not to be identified. “Over the past week, half of the estimated 8,000 Kachin in China have been forced back."

A local Kachin aid worker confirmed similar numbers, noting that the refugees had been forced to board buses back to Myanmar and that six temporary camps in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province had already been destroyed. 

“It is not true what the Chinese are saying. They are forcing the refugees to leave the camps. After they leave, the soldiers and police are destroying the shelters,” added one aid worker with Wing Pong Ninghtoi (WPN), a local aid group assisting displaced people along the 2,000km Burmese-Chinese border. 

“Many of those who are in the midst of being moved do not know where they are going so there is much confusion with many of the families,” said Moon Nay, a spokesperson for the Kachin Women's Association in Thailand. 

Thousands flee 

Thousands of Kachin fled across the border into southern China after a 17-year ceasefire between their government and the Kachin Indepedence Army (KIA) ended in June 2011. 

Earlier estimates placed the number of refugees inside China at over 7,000 - in 11 temporary camps. However, without access to the area, neither the UN nor international agencies have been able to independently confirm these numbers. 

What is sure is that the push-backs from China will place an additional strain on the more than 120 IDP camps in Kachin State, many of which are already struggling to cope, particularly in areas outside government control. 

“The camps inside Myanmar are already overcrowded and ill-resourced. This is a major source of concern,” said one aid worker. 

In the past, Beijing has denied UN and international humanitarian agencies access to Kachin refugees on their territory. Those sent back to Myanmar will have no option but to live in IDP camps near conflict zones. 

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Trucks carrying the possessions of Kachin refugees forced back from China

China has denied claims that it has been forcing ethnic Kachin refugees to return to a war zone, and says people have been returning voluntarily. 

Responding to a 24 August article in The New York Times, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said people were returning because fighting between the Burmese government forces and the KIA was subsiding, contradicting reports by residents who say the conflict is intensifying.
Furthermore, many of the Kachin in China were not refugees, the Ministry said: “Some of them return to Myanmar for work during the day and reside in China temporarily during the night… China has, in the spirit of humanitarianism, devoted a large amount of human resources, money and other materials to supplying humanitarian assistance to these Myanmar border inhabitants.” 

The refoulement of refugees is illegal under international humanitarian law. 

According to the UN, there are over 62,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State, including 24,000 in government controlled areas, and close to 40,000 in areas controlled by the KIA, which has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government for decades. 

With several thousand believed displaced in the Hpakan area west of Myitkyina, the state capital, following skirmishes this month, it is likely the numbers could be higher. 

Theme (s)Refugees/IDPs,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

POVERTY: GUINEA-SIERRA LEONE: Cholera - rising with the downpours

An aid worker distributes soap and bleach in Guinea's capital, Conakry, where people have been infected with cholera
FREETOWN, 31 August 2012 (IRIN) - Heavy rainfall is accelerating the spread of cholera in Sierra Leone and Guinea, where existing health risks such as poor hygiene practices, unsafe water sources and improper waste management are believed to have triggered the disease which has killed 327 people and infected more than 17,400 in both countries since February.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Sierra Leone was facing its worst cholera outbreak in 15 years. Ten out of the country’s 13 districts have been affected and the government has declared the outbreak a national emergency.
Guinea’s capital, Conakry, has been the hardest hit in the country, with 3,247 cases so far. Cholera has also broken out in nine of Guinea's 33 districts, OCHA said.

“The onset of the rainy season in West Africa has caused an increase in cholera cases on both sides of the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea. The rains are particularly heavy in Sierra Leone this year,” said Laura Marconnet, an external relations officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sierra Leone.

Prevalence is high in the congested slum areas in the capitals of Guinea and Sierra Leone which have few clean toilets and most people defecate in the open, often dangerously close to open wells which are the source of water for most residents. 

Freetown’s densely populated Mabella slum, with tin shacks and poor drainage, has been badly affected. There are several community water taps, but residents complain of lack of adequate toilets, which are usually clogged with water and waste during the rainy season.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in the last 5-6 weeks in cases especially in Freetown. The response is quite difficult in terms of coordinating resources,” said Amanda McClelland, the Africa emergency health adviser at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “The conditions in Freetown are the perfect storm for cholera.”

“We know we haven’t contained it by any means and it has the potential of increasing further and becoming a regional issue,” McClelland told IRIN.

On 17 August, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma declared the outbreak a national public health crisis. The authorities and aid groups have ramped up efforts to treat, inform people and improve sanitation to stem further escalation.

"We are moving quickly to increase our capacity to handle all the new patients that will arrive,” said Karen Van den Brande, head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mission in Sierra Leone. “Our present cholera treatment facilities are stretched to the limit with patients. Everybody is at risk.” A new quick-disbursing humanitarian funding facility is being used for the first time to help tackle the emergency.

Pipe clean-up

Sierra Leone’s national water company has begun a major dam and pipe clean-up to help reduce the spread of cholera.

"There is every possibility that the pipe water system may have been infected since there are many broken water pipes flowing with water which need to be fixed in many parts of city,” said Martin Bash Kamara, deputy minister for energy and water resources. “People should take every precaution to purify the water by boiling it before drinking, cooking or other domestic purposes to avoid contamination." 

Photo: John Sahr/IRIN
Sierra Leone is facing its worst cholera outbreak in 15 years
West Africa has some of the world’s lowest rates of access to water and sanitation. Only 12.8 percent of Sierra Leone’s 5.5 million people have access to proper sanitation and 42.9 percent do not have access to clean drinking water; 28.9 percent defecate in the open, according to UNICEF. In Guinea, only 19 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation and just half its 10 million people have access to safe drinking water sources.

“This is the underlying cause for cholera outbreaks in West and Central Africa. Although measures for cholera response can help contain the spread of the disease and reduce the number of fatalities, it is essential to also tackle the underlying cause of this disease,” said UNICEF’s Marconnet.

The cholera outbreak has not peaked yet, said Marconnet and the rainy season is expected to last for the next two months. Treatment and other efforts to improve sanitation are expected to lower the rate of infection. Cholera is treatable and can be prevented through better hygiene.

“With increased coordinated efforts… we hope that the epidemic in the coming months will decrease due to scaled interventions,” said Charles Mugero of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Sierra Leone.

So far this year, more than 37,400 cholera cases have been reported in 15 West African and Central African regions.

In 2010, 36 percent of cholera cases globally were reported from Africa, which accounted for between 93 and 98 percent of cases worldwide between 2001 and 2009, according to WHO, noting Africa last recorded such a low rate in 1995. In 2010, 317, 534 cholera cases were reported to WHO, with more than 50 percent occurring in the Americas, notably in Haiti. However, the officially reported cases do not necessarily reflect all the occurring cases due to underreporting and other technical limitations. 

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Thursday, 30 August 2012

POVERTY: Israeli Soldiers Show No Mercy to Palestinian Children

Hamza, 17, who was arrested after allegedly throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, hides his face frm the camera. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/IPS.
Hamza, 17, who was arrested after allegedly throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, hides his face frm the camera. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/IPS.
JERUSALEM, Aug 26 2012 (IPS) - In a hamlet of the occupied West Bank, the testimony goes, Israeli troops chase a Palestinian child. “He was about two metres away – the company commander cocked his weapon in his face…The kid fell on the ground, crying and begging for his life.”  
“It was this kind of gray situation, not that terrible,” the Israeli sergeant’s report continues. “Because those kids really do throw stones and that’s risky – it’s not like we actually meant to harm them. I suppose it’s a very scarring experience for them, but the situation is complicated.”
The year is 2007. The sergeant’s account is one of 47 testimonies collected from over 30 Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2005-2011.
Entitled ‘Children and Youth – Soldiers’ Testimonies 2005-2011’, a 71-page booklet has just been released for distribution by the group ‘Breaking the Silence’.
The NGO founded in 2004 by Israeli veterans of the Second Palestinian Intifadah uprising (2000-2005) is dedicated to documenting daily life under military rule in the Palestinian Territories through soldiers’ experiences during their routine round of duty.
In order to sensitise Israeli 12-graders who, next year, will be drafted in the army, the NGO plans to distribute copies of the report at the gates of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv high schools. The school year started last Monday.
“Israeli children enjoy the protection of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is signatory, whereas Palestinian children grow up without protection,” says the brochure’s preface.
“That specific kid, who actually lay there on the ground, begging for his life, was actually nine years old,” the sergeant notes in his testimony. “I think of our nine-year-old kids (…) – a kid has to beg for his life? A loaded gun is pointed at him and he has to plead for mercy?
“But if we hadn’t entered the village, then stones would be thrown the next day and perhaps someone would be wounded or killed.”
“Stone-throwing ceased?” asks the NGO interviewer.
“No,” is the laconic admission.
The events described in the booklet took place as a calm security situation prevailed, after the Intifadah subsided. Yet, the testimonies show that racism, abuse, violence, wounding and killing by targeted shooting, even if “unintentional”, of Palestinian children and teenagers continues unabated.
The NGO grappled with the decision to expose Israeli pupils to the reality depicted so graphically in the report, acknowledges Avner Gvaryahu, a former soldier now turned activist, whose statement appears anonymously in the report. “Yet if you’re old enough to enlist and carry a weapon, you’re old enough to know what’s really happening in the territories.”
And, Palestinian children are old enough, so it seems, to be arrested at gunpoint, harassed and humiliated, beaten “to a pulp”, used as “human shields” against other Palestinians – this, despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling from 2002.
“At first, you point your gun at some five-year-old kid, and feel bad – saying, it’s not right,” another soldier testifies. “But that changes when you go into the village and they throw stones at you.”
During another incident mentioned in the report, a company commander catches a 12-year-old boy, forces him to get down on his knees, yells threats at him “like a madman” in order to intimidate other youth who’d threw stones at the troops.
“The kid cried, peed his pants. (…) It was like something out of a Vietnam movie,” recounts the soldier. “I knew it was just a hollow threat – the guy’s an officer, after all, and I don’t think an officer would do anything, but…”
Eventually, a village elder persuaded the commander to free the boy. The next day, two Molotov cocktails were hurled at vehicles driving nearby.
“So we didn’t really do our job,” the soldier concludes his testimony. “And you wonder what that job really is.”
Most Israeli youth are educated in a system – be it family or school – that, although praising its intrinsic moral values, seldom questions the army’s operational routine and the moral toll it exerts on its soldiers.
National security is usually paramount. Schools extol patriotism, courage, sacrifice. NGO activists insist that moral questioning could prepare future conscripts to fight against indifference and cruelty displayed by fellow soldiers.
The army has said this report is one-sided, arguing that the NGO failed to submit to it its material, thus rendering a military probe into cases of human rights infringement, not to say crimes, impossible.
“The organisation’s refusal to turn to the authorities indicates its true motives – to generate negative publicity for the Israeli army and its soldiers,” a military spokesperson stated.
Activists refute the incitement charge, stressing that they support army service but, at the same time, share the conviction that students must be informed ahead of military service.
Since its creation, ‘Breaking the Silence’ has collected testimonies from more than 800 soldiers. “We’re a society that nurtures family and educational values, but the army treats Palestinian children differently,” says executive director Dana Golan. “Each testimony features stories about the maltreatment of children; each such story is a kick in the gut.”
Golan is aware that some teens will ignore the brochure, but were they to read just one story, the NGO’s goal would be served.
“The main purpose of ‘Breaking the Silence’ is to arouse public discussion of the moral price that Israeli society pays for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population and dominate it on a daily basis,” states the report’s foreword.
But moral debates are aplenty within Israeli society. Just ten days ago in downtown Jerusalem, three Palestinian teenagers were almost lynched by a crowd of 13- to 19-year-old Israelis. The incident unleashed much breast-beating and condemnation.
Yet, no one entertains the illusion that such collective mea-culpa will end the abuses of the occupation. After all, most Israelis are still convinced that they hold the moral high ground vis-à-vis their Palestinian neighbours even though, to paraphrase the saying, their good intentions pave the road to hell, not to future peace.

POVERTY: Detention in Italy Better Than Home in Tunisia

Aicha, whose son went to Italy by boat and was sent back, says there is no choice but to try to go to Europe. Credit: Ihsan Bouabid/IPS.
Aicha, whose son went to Italy by boat and was sent back, says there is no choice but to try to go to Europe. Credit: Ihsan Bouabid/IPS.
GAFSA, Tunisia, Aug 28 2012 (IPS) - A year ago Salim, a 23-year-old from the ancient Tunisian city Gafsa decided to leave his country using a smugglers’ network notorious for transporting desperate Tunisian citizens to Europe by boat.
Salim became head of his household three years ago after his father, a wood-maker, died of lung cancer. Gafsa has historically been a rich city, but most of its inhabitants count themselves lucky if they can earn ten dinars (less than six dollars) a day for hard labour.
Illegal migration seems to be the only way out of a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities for young men and women who see no bright spots in their future.
Typically, smugglers load people into small boats in the harbour city Sfax, 270 kilometres southeast of capital Tunis, and head towards the Italian island Lampedusa, home to 4,500 inhabitants, located 100 kilometres from Tunisian shores.
“On Jul. 3 (last year), a few months after the revolution in my country, I set off for Italy with 98 other people,” Salim told IPS.
It was almost Ramadan – the holy month of fasting for Muslims – when the hopeful migrants were loaded into a refrigerated container truck in Gafsa.
“We were instructed by smugglers not to bring any belongings, and we arrived at the Sfax seashore late at night. We could not see anything around us and were assaulted by other people using knives and machetes who wanted to get their family members on board the small boat,” he said.
“After a long ordeal, just as we were nearing Lampedusa, we were spotted by a plane bearing the Red Cross flag. Humanitarian workers took us to the island where we were welcomed, fed, and given blankets and clothing.”
Salim said he and the other ‘boat people’ were treated well by Italian authorities, but suffered greatly at the hands of the Tunisian army after they were forced to return to Sfax: returnees had their hands bound with ropes and were insulted and interrogated individually before being allowed to return to their towns.
According to the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2008 alone close to 31,700 migrants arrived in Lampedusa, a 75 percent increase compared to the previous year.
Last year, in the aftermath of the January youth revolution in Tunisia that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, some 44,000 people tried to escape to Italy.
Roughly 25,000 were Tunisian nationals but among the other ‘boat people’ were Libyans, Chadians, Nigerians and others from the African continent making the “dangerous journey to hope and a dignified life,” according to Salim.
Following his visit to Tunisia in June this year, François Crépeau, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, advocated decriminalisation of the internationally sanctioned right to leave one’s country, as stipulated in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Being sent back comes at a cost. Upon their return migrants are promised support and employment. But a year after Salim was dragged back to Tunisia he has received no formal assistance from the government.
He said it was regrettable that the first country to spark the Arab spring has failed to change its behaviour towards the poor, who continue to languish in pre-revolutionary poverty. “Maybe young people like us should go for a second round of revolution.”
“My son did not finish high school because he had to support his father at the wood-making shop,” Salim’s mother, 58-year-old Aicha, told IPS at the family’s humble home in Gafsa.
Aicha works at the local hospital kitchen, but hers and Salim’s wages combined add up to less than 120 dinars (74.5 dollars) monthly, which is scarcely adequate to feed her family of five.
“Letting him go was not an easy decision. I kept working hard and saved to give my share of the money to pay for the trip to Europe because I am deeply convinced that this is his only way out of poverty and trouble,” Aicha said.
Zaki, a 24-year-old Gafsan, had a similar story to tell. He used the same smuggling route as Salim in August last year, in particular to allow his younger sister to finish high school.
“She was a good student. I didn’t want her to end up a prostitute,” he told IPS.
He spoke of desperate conditions in Tunisia. “Life at Lampedusa’s camp felt sweeter than living unemployed in Gafsa,” Zaki said.
“There is absolutely nothing to do in Gafsa in terms of employment for young people like myself. I have worked in harsh conditions in all sorts of odd jobs to no avail. We cannot make ends meet. Therefore, my mother and friends helped me go to Sfax via Sidi Mansour, after paying 1,000 dinars (621 dollars) to make the journey to Europe by boat.”
He was loaded onto a fish refrigeration truck together with 120 other boat people, though the truck could only fit 45. Many people got sick and suffocated.
“We had all kind of problems, from assaults by armed gangs to the deficient boat water pump and battery, to the engine that caught on fire,” recalled Zaki.
Now he is back and the family must reimburse loans taken from friends and businesses.
Asked if they will be ‘Harraga’ again – a slang word used across North Africa to refer to those crossing illegally to Europe – Salim and Zaki said they have no other choice.
“You get to a point where your heart is dead. The only time I’ve felt happy and filled with hope was during my short stay in Italy,” said Zaki.
“The double standards applied by the administration and officials here make me sick. We have filled (numerous) forms and applications, all involving substantial fees, in order to get a legal visa. The same goes for employment: our applications simply remain in drawers and are forgotten and so are we.”

MALARIA: HEALTH: “Gene chip technology” deployed in fight against malaria

Administrating a blood test for malaria in Cambodia
BANGKOK, 29 August 2012 (IRIN) - Scientists in the USA are looking to use “gene chip technology” to reduce or contain drug resistance to malaria, an increasing problem globally but particularly in Southeast Asia. 

Researchers from the US University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global Health are developing a “gene chip” which could contribute to identifying drug resistance in blood samples. 

The goal is to “see resistance as it is emerging, respond in real time and modify strategies to save a drug, such as protecting it with new formulations and combinations tailored to the specific location of emergence,” said the lead researcher, Michael Ferdig. “We now have markers for emerging resistance and new hypotheses that we will use to track down the resistance mechanism.” 

Genetic markers or “signposts” are any alteration in the DNA that helps to identify the presence of a specific disease. 

Artemisinin is a natural plant product that represents the first-line treatment for malaria, after resistance to chloroquine, an antimalarial previously widely used, forced treatment to change in the early 1970s. Growing resistance to artemisinin in the greater Mekong sub-region - including Cambodia, the southern provinces of China, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam - means treatment is taking longer to clear parasites. 

“Southeast Asia, and in particular western Cambodia, is the region where all resistances in [the parasite] plasmodium falciparum have emerged,” said Francois Nosten, director of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit along the Thai-Myanmar border, a region which has reported longer treatment times in the past eight years for patients taking artemisinin-based drugs to cure malaria. 

However, experts warn that gene chip technology is years away from practical application. 

“The gene chip is only at the stage of being developed and not there yet,” said Nosten. “Several groups are competing to find the molecular markers of resistance to artemisinin, but it will take several years before something is usable in the field and we do not have this time to waste.” 

According to the World Health Organization, four out 10 people globally who are at risk of becoming infected with malaria live in Southeast Asia. 

Migration from highly endemic malarial areas, counterfeit anti-malarial drugs, and the misuse of artemisinin have all contributed to worsening drug resistance, says the agency


Theme (s)Health & Nutrition,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MALNUTRITION: FOOD: Recognizing the African woman farmer

Not alone any more
JOHANNESBURG, 29 August 2012 (IRIN) - Boys learning new ideas of masculinity around campfires in rural Africa and “sisterhoods” formed to provide a common voice to women are starting to change attitudes about African women farmers, say the authors of a forthcoming book about gender and agriculture. But it will take many more such efforts to support women food producers, who make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. In some countries, that number rises to 70 to 80 percent

Despite being a major presence in agriculture, women “usually produce less than male farmers because of their limited access to land, credit and other production inputs," said Melinda Sundell, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute. Sundell is co-author of the book Transforming Gender Relations in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa: Promising Approaches, which was discussed at a side event today at World Water Week in Stockholm. 

"A study in Kenya found that tools owned by female farmers were worth 18 percent as much as tools owned by male farmers,” she added. "Women’s lack of assets impacts directly on human development outcomes. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has shown that countries in which women lack any right to own land have on average 60 percent more malnourished children.” 

Policies supporting women farmers are “vital to help create the enabling environment” needed for women food producers to thrive, but "changing attitudes is paramount if policy is to become a reality on the ground,” explained Cathy Farnworth, another of the book’s co-authors. 

Although people are aware of the key role women play as farmers, their “’empowerment’ is often seen as a win-lose game - men lose out and women gain. Nowhere is this more clear with land, where typically men govern women’s access rights to land," Farnworth told IRIN via email. 

Grassroots advocacy 
''All too often, men think that work on gender means that they will lose out, and historically it is true that programmes focusing on women only have ignored men’s real needs''
But years of grassroots lobbying and advocacy are paying off. Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS) Kenya, a network of women’s self-help groups and community organizations, helped create a formal base for women’s voices to be heard during the constitutional debates that led to the new constitution in 2010. 

That year, Kenya enacted "one of the most exciting and progressive constitutions on the continent with regard to ensuring women have equal rights to own, control and manage land," said Farnworth. 

“Women networks in Kenya were instrumental to this outcome - but it is going to be a real challenge to convince men and traditional leadership/gatekeepers in the rural areas that women are equally entitled to inherit land from fathers." 

Transforming gender relations 

Transforming gender relations will be essential to this process. "All too often, men think that work on gender means that they will lose out, and historically it is true that programmes focusing on women only have ignored men’s real needs,” Farnworth said. 

Instead, efforts to effect change must target both women and men within households. “These work to transform how decisions taken regarding how to run the farm, and how to allocate money earned, and who benefits. The results have been really very impressive because women and men see the gains to cooperation so quickly - it can take only months to change patterns of behaviour that have existed for generations." 

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Change also depends on the involvement of men at all levels, she said. "This is true particularly in the case of adapting technologies and integrating into market value chains. Our findings show that promoting methodologies that encourage cooperation between women and men farmers reap productivity dividends as women and men share resources across the farm and maximize the efficiency of their decision-making.” 

Role models 
The authors also spoke to traditional leaders in Zambia's patrilineal communities who were trying to get women involved in key decision-making bodies. 

"We talked to the Zambia Men’s Network, which is working to transform male behaviour towards women through organizing campfires where men gather in villages to talk through violence against women, and also work to support women for leadership positions. The Men’s Network is also working with boys in schools and boys’ campfires," added Farnworth. The initiative aims to develop male role models who will work on gender equity issues. 

And Ghana’s former Minister of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, Alima Mahama, provided the book with case study about her work in gender-responsive budgeting - government planning and programming that advances gender equality. Her efforts have encouraged government departments to plan and spend according to the needs of women, men, boys and girls. 

"She managed to get gender-responsive budgeting adopted by four ministries, including the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Education and Health,” said Farnworth. 

Programmes like these are critical, not only for women but for their broader communities as well. “We have seen a common theme throughout the different case study experiences - namely, that improving gender equity can contribute directly to increasing agricultural productivity,” said Sundell. 


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]