Friday, 31 May 2013

MALNUTRITION: Responding to Namibia's drought crisis

JOHANNESBURG, 30 May 2013 (IRIN) - Namibia, already the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, is experiencing a severe drought, with some regions receiving the lowest seasonal rainfall in three decades, according to figures released by the country’s meteorological service this week.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba declared the drought a national emergency on 17 May, following an Emergency Food Security Assessment that found that 331,000 people - over 14 percent of the total population - were in need of food assistance.

“Because of the climate conditions in Namibia, there’ll always be pockets of food insecure communities,” UN Resident Coordinator Timothy Bandora told IRIN. “Government has declared an emergency not because the situation is dire now, but because down the road [it will worsen].”

Cereal production for 2013 is expected to be down by an estimated 42 percent compared to 2012, according to a government forecast. Pastures for grazing have also been severely affected in six regions where many households rely on livestock production, with 4,000 livestock deaths already recorded. 

“There’s no feed and no water,” said Bandora, adding that the government is encouraging households to sell off livestock as animals lose weight and prices fall rapidly. 

The Namibian, a local newspaper, reported that cows were selling for 260 Namibian dollars (US$27) in the northwestern Kunene region last week, compared to 2,500 Namibian dollars ($255) per animal a year ago. The additional 50 Namibian dollars ($5) per head of cattle the government is offering as an incentive for farmers to sell has had a limited impact in many communities that depend on livestock farming, said Bandora.

The government has released a total of 200 million Namibian dollars (US$20.4 million) for responding to the drought crisis and is already distributing food aid and drilling additional boreholes in some regions.

“The government has the resources to respond to the immediate food needs,” commented Bandora. “But they lack capacity in some areas. We’re working with [them] to build the Directorate of Disaster Risk Management’s capacity and improve skills.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) supported the government with technical assistance during the emergency assessment that was conducted in April, but Bandora said there was a need for a more detailed assessment to be carried out. 

“We need to go and identify those people who are affected as a result of the current drought, not by chronic drought conditions that are already covered by a number of government programmes,” he said.


POVERTY: Equity takes centre stage

By Jaspreet Kindra 

JOHANNESBURG, 30 May 2013 (IRIN) - As aid officials haggle over ways to reduce developing countries’ disasters risks, they are increasingly looking to target the inequalities that make some communities more vulnerable than others. 

These inequalities fell under the spotlight at the recently concluded Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, a meeting that considered asuccessor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), the global plan to make the world safer from natural hazards, which concludes in 2015. The new action plan, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2 (HFA2), is still under negotiation, and a key part of these talks has explored how to address inequality and discrimination. 

There is “growing consensus” among NGO and UN agencies that tackling “common root causes - discrimination (social exclusion) on all sorts of bases (religion, caste, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, etc.) - and unequal access to many kinds of resources, especially land grabs” has to be the core issue addressed by the post-2015 development agenda, noted disaster expert Ben Wisner told IRIN via email. 

But Tom Mitchell, head of the climate change programme at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI), says addressing inequalities is not new; it was on the agenda when the HFA was being discussed in 2004. He says the fact that the issue is still alive reflects the failure of development strategies, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to eradicate these inequalities. 

“Back on the agenda” 

NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid, which have advocated for these issues to take centre stage, have raised the topic again at the Global Platform. 

“Countries with higher income inequality have populations that are more vulnerable to climate change, natural hazards and conflict,” Debbie Hillier, Oxfam’s humanitarian aid advisor, told IRIN. The poorest communities often live in fragile environments like river banks, and in housing constructed with cheap building materials. They lack insurance to cover losses. 

The Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR), in its “Views from the Frontline 2013” monitoring programme, said that 57 percent of all the people it interviewed indicated their disaster losses are increasing. Among the poorest groups, 68 percent of people reported higher losses. 

“There is real growing momentum on the inequality issue,” said Hillier. Besides eradicating poverty, she says, aid officials also want to “address the excessive wealth… [which] entrenches the systems, power dynamics and institutions which keep people poor.” 

The focus on inequality “is starting to drive our thinking in every field - resilience, social protection, climate change,” she added. “This is starting to drip into the HFA2 discussion.” 

"We need to go back to basics and create conditions, particularly for [the] poor and excluded, to demand and enjoy human rights"
Harjeet Singh, ActionAid's international coordinator for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CAA), said,” There is a growing recognition across all UN agencies that merely tweaking the system and policies won’t help anymore. We need to go back to basics and create conditions, particularly for [the] poor and excluded, to demand and enjoy human rights.” 

But the Global Platform “fell short” in promoting DRR as a right. "Unless we tackle the unequal and unjust power that creates inequalities and make people vulnerable, we cannot sustainably deal with the impact of disasters, climate change and conflict,” Singh said. 

Kevin Watkins, the former head of the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report, is making a case for equity-based development targets after the MDGs end in 2015. 
He pronounced in a recent lecture, “Today, inequality is back on the agenda.” 

In a recent statement, UN human rights experts also called for a cross-cutting development goal on eliminating inequalities. 

The High Level Panel (HLP) on the post-2015 development agenda is expected to release its report with its list of recommendations later today. 

Focus on risk 
But the experts and activists at the Global Platform also called for bringing DRR to the development agenda. Risk was absent from the MDGs, say Mitchell and Hillier. DRR was included in the first draft of the HLP report, says Mitchell, but was missing in a subsequent draft. 

“In particular, the risks from climate change, natural hazards and conflict need to be combined,” said Hillier. 

Wisner wrote: “A future set of DRR guidelines (what has been referred to as HFA2) should be coordinated or even integrated with re-cast MDGs, SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], CCA initiatives (climate change adaptation) and support for skillful conflict management (PEACE).” 

Data management 

A statement from the GNDR says: “HFA2 needs a paradigm shift in order to bring community resilience at the heart of the framework.” It would like to see an emphasis on a “bottom-up approach.” 

It also called for the establishment of national databases on damage and losses, community capacities and resources. But accounting of data losses is fragmented at the moment, says ODI's Micthell. The global community lacks a common understanding of what a disaster is and what kind of loss should be accounted for. 

This would require establishing a way to distinguish a disaster - an event that “overwhelms local capacity” - from “an accumulation of individual, small-impact events such [as] one basement flooded,” said Debby Guha-Sapir, director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). For instance, she says, “a series of small road accidents added up is not the equal to a mass transport disaster, or endemic levels of disease is not same as an epidemic”. 

ActionAid’s Singh points out that declaring an event a “disaster” continues to be a “political exercise in most countries. The use of data and accounting methods varies from country to country. On one hand, developing countries struggle to account for uninsured and indirect losses, mainly due to extensive risks from 'everyday disasters'. We are now also grappling with how to account and address the issue of non-economic losses (and damages) due to climate change impacts.” 

ODI’s Mitchell says there is an urgent need to address this problem. 




The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) is greatly concerned by the scourge of counterfeit and substandard drugs, and is increasing its financial and programmatic support to technical and regulatory capacities in partner countries. PMI is also urging greater international cooperation on the issue.

The U.S. Government strongly condemns the proliferation of counterfeit medicines. One of the most insidious threats to continued progress in malaria is the potential for substandard or counterfeit/falsified drugs to infiltrate partner country supply chains in both the public and private sectors leading to dire consequences such as ineffective treatment of disease, severe adverse reactions in patients, development of resistance and death.

PMI is committed to ensuring that all persons with malaria are promptly diagnosed and treated with a safe and efficacious antimalarial drug. PMI takes all reports of suspect counterfeits and illegal diversion [PDF, 60.6KB] seriously.

As noted in the Wall Street Journal “Africa's Malaria Battle: Fake Drug Pipeline Undercuts Progress,” counterfeit, falsified, and substandard medicines pose a considerable direct and indirect threat to public health. Substandard medical products increase the likelihood of drug resistance and harm to patients by preventing them from getting the high-quality medical products they need to alleviate suffering and save lives. Falsified medicines usually have no active ingredient or dangerous substances and can cause serious harm to patients. Malaria medicines have been particularly vulnerable to these threats as has been documented recently through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study documenting the prevalence of substandard or falsified malaria drugs in Africa and Southeast Asia.

PMI is a major procurer of ACTs for public health programs in malaria endemic Africa. In Fiscal Year 2012, PMI procured more than 73 million treatments. As such, we take the issue of ensuring drug quality very seriously and employ rigorous measures to ensure the integrity of the medicines that we supply. We ensure that all medicines directly procured are subjected to stringent quality assurance measures which include pre-shipment, concurrent, or other quality testing.

PMI is responding to this threat by increasing support to prevent the introduction of counterfeit drugs into supply chains, increasing support of national regulatory authorities to improve drug quality through activities such as post market surveillance, technical assistance on quality assurance testing through technology such as mini-labs, and strengthening capacity for regulation in both the public and private sectors.

PMI also employs various screening tools to identify substandard drugs. Last month, PMI entered into partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration to test the Counterfeit Detection Device (CD-3), a handheld screening device that can be used to detect falsified medicines at any point in the supply chain. The first pilot will be conducted in Ghana.

Further, we recognize the role of law enforcement, regulation and investigatory actions in addressing issues pertaining to counterfeit/falsified medicines or the theft and diversion of medicines [PDF, 60.6KB].

Despite these challenges, the unprecedented scale-up of malaria prevention and treatment interventions over the past 10 years in sub-Saharan Africa is having a major impact on malaria illnesses and deaths. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 2012 World Malaria Report, the estimated number of global malaria deaths has fallen by more than one third- from about 985,000 in 2000 to about 660,000 in 2010. PMI continues to see strong progress [PDF, 1.3MB] – mortality rates among children under 5 years of age in 12 PMI focus countries with two or more nationwide household surveys that measured mortality have shown declines ranging from 16 percent (Malawi) to 50 percent (Rwanda).

  Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer
U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator

IPS Pick of the Week: May 30 2013

Native People More Than Just Park Rangers 
Milagros Salazar 
Some good-byes can actually mean the start of a long road working together. That was how it felt at the end of the World Indigenous Network (WIN) conference in this northern Australian city. The big challenge is to consolidate “the indigenous network so its collective voice can be heard” and to ... MORE > >

Nicaraguan Women May Have to Negotiate with their Abusers 
José Adán Silva 
Conservative sectors in Nicaragua have launched an offensive against the Comprehensive Law Against Violence Toward Women, seeking amendments including an obligation for women victims to negotiate with their abusers, human rights groups reported. The Supreme Court (CSJ) decided on May 23 to ask ... MORE > >

Dreams of Education Fly Away for Ghana’s Working Kids 
Albert Oppong-Ansah 
It is a school day but 13-year-old Musah Razark Adams, a Grade 5 primary school pupil in Wuba, northern Ghana, is standing in a rice field wielding a “koglung” – a sling shot to hit birds with. He is not being a naughty boy. For a month of working from 7am to 6pm he is paid 10 dollars and given ... MORE > >

Chevron Rejects Shareholder Demands to Explain Record Political Spending 
Carey L. Biron 
At an annual shareholder meeting held Wednesday, upper-level management for the oil conglomerate Chevron faced renewed questioning over its record-setting political contributions during last year’s national election. At the meeting, a shareholder resolution on the issue focused on Chevron’s ... MORE > >

Sharing Indigenous Knowledge from All Ends of the Globe 
Milagros Salazar 
This city in northern Australia brought them together to share their experiences this week. They are indigenous Shipiba people fighting indiscriminate logging in Peru’s Amazon jungle region and delegates from the Ando-Kpomey community in Togo, which created and protects a 100-hectare ... MORE > >

The Bitter Taste of Liberia’s Palm Oil Plantations 
Wade C. L. Williams 
Sackie Qwemie works for Equatorial Palm Oil, the company that took his land in northwestern Liberia. He has been working on the EPO plantation for three years because the land that he once farmed was given away in a lease to the concession company based in Grand Bassa County, one of this West ...MORE > >

From Slum Girl to World Chess Prodigy 
Amy Fallon 
Phiona Mutesi was a muddy, desperate nine-year-old foraging for food in Uganda’s biggest slum, Katwe, when she discovered, through her older brother Brian, a chess programme. It was not pawns, rooks, bishops, knights or a king that drew her to a church verandah in Katwe, Kampala - it was what ... MORE > >

Poverty Down in Argentina – But By How Much? 
Marcela Valente 
In the 10 years since late president Néstor Kirchner, who was succeeded by his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2007, first took office in Argentina, poverty has fallen, employment has climbed and educational coverage has expanded, although there is no agreement on the exact ... MORE > >

Egyptian NGOs Fear Law That Would Cripple Civil Society 
Cam McGrath 
A controversial bill backed by Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood and submitted to the Islamist-dominated legislature surpasses previous laws used to repress Egyptian civil society, rights watchdogs say. The legislation would allow the government to intervene in the internal governance and ...MORE > >

Wind Power Finds a Toehold in Green-Minded Nevis 
Desmond Brown 
When it comes to generating clean energy and reducing costs, the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis considers itself the leader within the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). But the island of 12,000 residents is finding it difficult to convince other islands to buy into its ...MORE > >

Isolation Devastates East Jerusalem Economy 
Jillian Kestler-D'Amours 
Thick locks hug the front gates of shuttered shops, now covered in graffiti and dust from lack of use. Only a handful of customers pass along the dimly lit road, sometimes stopping to check the ripeness of fruits and vegetables, or ordering meat in near-empty butcher shops. "All the shops are ... MORE > >

Read more IPS reporting here. 

POVERTY: Reshaping the fight against poverty

JOHANNESBURG, 31 May 2013 (IRIN) - After nine months of consultations, the UN High Level Panel on determining the world’s post-2015 development agenda has issued a report calling for a path to sustainable development which will transform the lives of the very poorest. 

Set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and co-chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, it elaborates a vision of how the world should develop and grow after the expiry in 2015 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

While praising the achievements of the MDGs, the Panel said they had failed, among other things, to reach out to the very poorest and most excluded people; to highlight the devastating effects of conflict and violence on development; and promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production. 

Spurred on by the central idea to eradicate poverty by 2030, the Panel also said development needed to be driven by five transformative shifts: Leave no one behind; put sustainable development at the core; transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; forge a new global partnership. 

"What is particularly encouraging is that it sticks its neck out and chooses priorities, instead of an all-inclusive menu that is virtually impossible to monitor, much less implement"
The Panel recommends that almost all targets should be set at the national, or even local, level to account for different starting points and contexts. 

Better focused? 

Debby Guha-Sapir, director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, told IRIN: “What is particularly encouraging is that it sticks its neck out and chooses priorities, instead of an all-inclusive menu that is virtually impossible to monitor, much less implement. The indicators listed are much more specific and better defined than the first phase of the MDGs and will therefore not only be actionable but also measurable. I was particularly heartened to note that comparable indicators, metrics and data are clearly mentioned which means we can look forward to more rigorous attention being paid for better data.” 

On which topic the report’s executive summary calls for “a data revolution for sustainable development, with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens. We should actively take advantage of new technology, crowdsourcing, and improved connectivity to empower people with information on the progress towards the targets." 

“Targets will only be considered `achieved’ if they are met for all relevant income and social groups.” 

For instance, on setting a universal goal to eradicate poverty, the Panel suggests each country could set its own target to bring the number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day to zero and reduce by x percent the share of people living below that country’s 2015 national poverty line. Each country would also set a target to increase by x percent the share of women and men, communities and businesses with secure rights to land, property and other assets; cover x percent of people who are poor and vulnerable with social protection systems; build resilience and reduce deaths from natural disasters by x percent. 


MALARIA: State of the world's children

sotwc-2013-unicef_reports_reportcover_ena.jpgUNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children focuses on “Children with Disabilities.”  Some attention is paid to the role of communicable or infectious disease in the cause of disabilities and the need for children with disabilities to benefit from disease control services, just like any other child.
Of particular focus in the realm of infectious disease is recognition that, “… immunization is an important means of pre-empting diseases that lead to disabilities.” The Report goes on to explain for example, that, “More children than ever before are being reached. One consequence has been that the incidence of polio – which can lead to permanent muscle paralysis – fell from more than 350,000 cases in 1988 to 221 cases in 2012.”
Malaria as an infectious disease continues to exert a disabling effect on children in endemic countries. The Report does present a case study of children who spent several years in a residential home for children with mental disabilities in the Republic of Moldova, but it is also important to recognize that malaria and other infectious diseases can lead to such problems.
In reporting on neurological disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, Donald Silberberg and Elly Katabira explained that, “In addition to the hundreds of thousands of children who die each year from cerebral malaria, many more survive (often repeated attacks) and develop sequelae that have yet to be quantified. These include cognitive disorders and epilepsy.”
Likewise Ngoungou and colleagues after studying children with cerebral malaria in Mali found persistent neurological sequelae including, “ headaches, mental retardation, speech delay, bucco-facial dyspraxia, diplegia and frontal syndrome (one case each), dystonia (two cases), epilepsy (five cases) and behavior and attention disorders (15 cases).”
Immunization is of course a major tool in preventing disability, but we also need to examine the role other disease control efforts can play on preventing disability. Also as mentioned in the case of immunization above, we also need to ensure that all children with any kind of disability in a malaria endemic area promptly receive all necessary treatment and preventive interventions.


In July 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the 27 members of a High-level Panel to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015, the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Panel was co-chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, and it includes leaders from civil society, private sector and government.
The Panel was part of the Secretary-General’s post-2015 initiative mandated by the 2010 MDG Summit. UN Member States have called for open, inclusive consultations involving civil society, the private sector, academia and research institutions from all regions, in addition to the UN system, to advance the development framework beyond 2015.
The work of the Panel reflected new development challenges while also drawing on experience gained in implementing the MDGs, both in terms of results achieved and areas for improvement.
The Panel's work was closely coordinated with that of the intergovernmental working group tasked to design Sustainable Development Goals, as agreed at the Rio +20 conference.
The High-Level Panel submitted its report containing recommendations to the Secretary-General on 30 May 2013.

TUBERCULOSIS (bovine): 'Nobody wants to kill a badger'

'Nobody wants to kill a badger' but cull will go ahead, says farming minister

Nobody "wants to kill a badger" but a cull to stop the spread of a cattle disease must go ahead as planned from Saturday, the farming minister has said.

'Nobody wants to kill a badger' but cull will go ahead, says farming minister
The cull has been championed by Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, who may order the policy to be rolled out across England if effective. This could increase the size of the cull from around 5,000 to about 100,000 animals.  Photo: ALAMY
David Heath, a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, confirmed marksmen will shoot up to 70 animals a day in Gloucestershire and Somerset from Saturday.
Protesters have pledged to stop the cull at any cost, with Brian May, the campaigner and musician, describing it as "a crime against our wildlife".
However, Mr Heath said the Government is determined to go ahead with the pilots, which were delayed amid a storm of protests last summer.
The minister told BBC Radio Five Live that "nobody wants to kill a badger if they can avoid it but we do need to get on top of this disease." He said it must be done as no other country has reined in the disease without similar measures.
"There is not a single country in the world that has borne down on bovine TB without doing something about the reservoir in the wildlife population," Mr Heath said.
The cull has been championed by Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, who may order the policy to be rolled out across England if effective. This could increase the size of the cull from around 5,000 to about 100,000 animals.
Mr Paterson claims removing badgers in dairy areas will stop the spread of bovine TB
He has been targeted by protesters threatening to operate his holiday home in Southern France.
Demonstrators are also threatening to carry out citizens arrests and camp out by setts to stop the killing of badger

MALNUTRITION: GM foods: Do we know enough?

We ask if genetically modified crops lead to health issues or aid farming and conservation of natural resources.

 Last Modified: 30 May 2013 14:09

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands marched against the US food giant Monsanto, across the globe.
In scenes reminiscent of the protests against US-led wars, both in Vietnam during the 1960s and Iraq in 2003, protesters took to the streets in what organisers said to be 436 cities in 52 countries in a 'March Against Monsanto'.
Monsanto has become the focal point of a global campaign against producers of genetically modified organisms (GMO).
We really want to hit Monsanto and these big companies that are trying to take over, not only the food supply but also the government, we want to hit them from every angle. We want to hit them in the pocket book, we want to hit them politically, we want to give people alternatives to these products and talk about ways that we could create solutions.
Nick Bernabee, director of social media for the March against Monsanto
Genetically modified (GM) plants are grown from seeds engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits and improve crop yields.
Corn, cotton, potatoes and wheat are among many other crops grown in the US that are being genetically modified. Some believe they can lead to health problems and harm the environment. Opponents have pushed for mandatory labelling, though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe. Proponents contend that plants grown from GMO seeds allow farmers to grow more food using less resources.
Those who took to the streets wanted to bring awareness to the effects of GMOs, what they are and what effects they are causing to people's health. They also argue that the science underpinning GMOs is untested at best, and harmful at worst, and that it is unwise to allow a few huge corporations to have such control over the earth's food supply.
In Washington, companies including Monsanto have successfully lobbied politicians to insert protections for their business interests, sometimes deep in the small print of unrelated legislation.
Next week, however the Farm Bill is due to be considered in the Senate, and it appears it may prove to be an important battleground in the debate over GMOs.
On Wednesday, the US department of agriculture said a strain of GM wheat was found on a farm in Oregan. The wheat strain was developed by Monsanto and last tested in 2005, but never put into use in the face of worldwide opposition to genetically engineered wheat.
So why does one US company generate so much ire? And why do the US lawmakers go out of their way to promote its interests? Is there enough control or oversight on GM foods?
Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, disscusses with guests: Nick Bernabee, social media director for the March against Monsanto; Tom Philpott, co-founder of Maverick Farm and writer for Mother Jones magazine; Christopher Cook, author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis; and Ryan Grim, Washington Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post
"Monsanto is primarily a seed company. We sell seeds to farmers. The 21,000 people at Monsanto are proud of our efforts to help improve farm prodcutivity and food quality. Agriculture and its uses are important to each of us. Among the challenges facing agriculture are producing food for our growing population and reducing agriculture's footprint on the environment ...
"... While we respect each individual's right to express their point of view on these topics, we believe we are making a
contributin to improving agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land, while conserving natural resources such as water and energy."
- Statement sent to Inside Story Americas by Monsanto, who declined to appear on the show
Al Jazeera