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Friday:  August 15, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Friday
Mar022012

UN-Leashing the Power of Women (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Kate Holt, IRIN) (HN, March 2, 2012) -- This week, the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women opened on Monday at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It's special focus? The development of `Rural Women'. 

For the next two weeks, leaders - men and women alike - are meeting  to focus on women's visibility, contributions, and empowerment, in poverty and hunger eradication, development, climate change adaptation, conflict resolution, gender inequality, technology and energy access, and ending female genital mutilation and sex slavery.

The session, led by Chile's former President and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, is also preparing the agenda for the UN Rio+20 Conference that Brazil will host in June. The Commission was established by ECOSOC resolution 11, June 21, 1946; just a year after the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945. Of the 160 signatories, only 4 were women - Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), Virginia Gildersleeve (United States), Bertha Lutz (Brazil) and Wu Yi-Fang (China).

(PHOTO: Minerva Bernardino/Archive) The Commission's mandate was expanded in 1987 to include the functions of promoting the objectives of equality, development and peace at the national, sub regional, regional and global levels. Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its program a follow-up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.

45 member states of the UN serve as members of the Commission at any one time. The Commission consists of one representative from each country elected by the Council on the basis of equitable geographical distribution: 13 members from Africa; 11 from Asia; 9 from Latin America and Caribbean; 8 from Western Europe and other States and 4 from Eastern Europe. Members are elected for a period of 4 years(SEE BELOW FOR FULL LIST)

In her opening speech to delegates, UN Deputy Secretary General Aisha-Rose Migiro welcomed attendees from around the world which included government officials, rural women, representatives of the UN and civil society; the media and the private sector to review progress, share experiences, good practices, analyze gaps and agree on actions to empower rural women.

(PHOTO: Opening session of the 56th UN Women's Conference/UN News Centre) Migiro, called for `systematic and comprehensive strategies' to empower women and girls in rural areas as `key agents of change' by maximizing their `potential to combat extreme poverty and hunger for themselves'.   "If rural women had equal access to productive resources", she said, "Agricultural yields would rise and hunger would decline".

Further, "They are leaders, producers, entrepreneurs and service providers, and their contributions are vital to the well-being of families, communities and economies, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals".

World population demographics put the number of women and men in the world as roughly equal (with men just slightly ahead by a few hundred million). The idea is that women are becoming the most effective catalysts of sustainable development, and they must be supported.  

Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), said empowering women, "Requires a transformation in the way governments devise budgets and make and enforce laws, policies and land rights; including trade and agricultural policies, and how businesses invest and operate.  Private sector partnerships are crucial”, she said.

"Let us be clear. This is not just hurting the women.  It is hurting all of us”, said Bachelet.  "It's a matter of human rights, equality and justice on behalf of women.  

According to a UN Women's report released last week, rural women and girls comprise 1 in 4 people worldwide and they constitute a large share of the agricultural workforce.

(PHOTO: UN Multimedia) The gathering squarely noted that not only do women face gender inequality - despite progress; they also face blowback from Mother Nature too. How to bring women online while also creating sustainable solutions is a major focus of the conference.   

Some 86% of the global rural population of both genders derives a livelihood from agriculture,  with an estimated 1.3 billion people engaged in small scale farming or working as `landless laborers'.  Increasingly, almost 70% of agriculture laborers are women, producing the majority of global food grown; while playing key roles in rural economic activities, such as planting crops, saving seeds and selling their produce. Not to mention, performing virtually 100% of household labor.

In South Sudan, women farmers are working with a host of civil society groups like the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Norwegian People's Aid, Catholic Relief Services and Concern Worldwide, organizing themselves to engage in climate-resilient crop production and sustainable pursuits like goat rearing and bee keeping.  The women grow food drought-tolerant crops such as cereals, legumes, sorghum, bulrush or pearl millet and vegetables in order to improve their children’s overall nutrition and bring in a small, market-based income.

In Mexico, rural women have organized themselves to struggle against financial and environmental crises. In many cases, local NGOs have assisted in this process by building formal structures and developing capacities.  39% of Mexican households are rural.

(GRAPH: Poverty in the world, darker is worse/PRB.ORG)But still, generally worldwide, women continue to face lower mobility, less access to training, market information, and financial resources.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, rural women can tap just 5% of the services and facilities  including bank credits, public services, welfare, employment and the market; a mere 3% of the $7.5bn in official allocations for rural advancement and agriculture between 2008-2009 were assigned to gender equity.  Additionally, rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population and while women have equal property ownership rights in 115 countries and have equal inheritance rights in 93, gender disparities in land holdings persist worldwide."

The conference platform posits that if rural women had equal access to productive tools such as seeds, tools, and fertilizer; and laws were loosened -  agricultural yields would rise by up to 4% and there would be 100 million to 150 million fewer hungry people worldwide.  

Mobile is Key

Mobile phones are changing lives and strengthening economic enterprises, providing information about credit, markets, weather updates, transportation or health services - changing the way rural women and men obtain services and conduct business. 

In a recent global survey, 93% of women reported feeling safer because of their mobile phone, 85% reported feeling more independent, and 41% reported having increased income and professional opportunities.

(PHOTO: UNH WC Superhero/UNH) Sisters Doing it For Themselves

Women on the ground in the global South aren't waiting. They are already busy deploying a combination of indigenous techniques and adaptive agricultural methods to stave off the impacts of climate change, and in June on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, UN Women will join the Government of Brazil in convening a high-level meeting on women and sustainable development.

It All Starts With Education

"Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people," the UN said and, "Just 39% of rural girls attend secondary school". Far fewer than rural boys (45%), urban girls (59%) and urban boys (60%).  A lack of a high school education can mean poverty and even earlier death, and even a lack of local schools is a reason fewer girls attend high school. 

"Data from 68 countries indicates that a woman’s education is a key factor in determining a child’s survival," according to UN statistics. "Every additional year of primary school increases girls’ eventual wages by 10–20 percent. It also encourages them to marry later and have fewer children, and leaves them less vulnerable to violence."

(GRAPH: Girls, Women global education levels/PRB.ORG) If Women Ruled The World There Would Be No War

In a study of 24 major peace processes since 1992, UN Women  found that women composed only 2.5% of peace signatories, 3.2% of mediators, 5.5% of witnesses and 7.6% of negotiators.  

War is always most devastating to women and children who are often the victims of rape, abuse, and sexual slavery during and after conflict.   But when women's interests are not represented at the negotiation tables, in the post-resolution restructuring process, or in the governance bodies established after the war, the interests of children and families are almost always omitted from discussions.  The UN recognized this 12 years ago when it voted to "ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels; urging governments to `adopt a `gender perspective'".

For instance, in Egypt, rural women are receiving identity cards so they can obtain social services, and are able to vote and can have a say in shaping the future of their country.  In India, more than a million women are now members of local village councils.  This has changed their lives for the better, and also the lives around them.

(PHOTO: Martine Perret)From Costa Rica to Rwanda, where quotas have been used, more women are in positions of decision-making. They are using their voices to secure land rights, to understand political processes, to engage with governance and policy issues, to tackle domestic violence, to improve healthcare and employment, and to demand accountability.  

But in other parts of the world, a recent study which covered 17 countries in Asia and the Pacific showed that the proportion of elected representatives in rural councils who are women ranged only from 0.6 percent to 37%.

In her speech UN Women's Bachelet pointed the finger at her own organization, the UN too, saying, "Here in the United Nations, we must lead by example. From 2007 through 2010, the UN experienced an unprecedented increase in women at the most senior levels - from 17% to 29% at the Under-Secretary-General level, and from 20% to 25% at the Secretariat at the Assistant Secretary General level".

Last December the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Member States to take concrete steps to increase the political participation and leadership of women, including the follow through on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Labor Organization conventions,  the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the report on the Social Protection Floor, that UN Women launched last year.

(PHOTO: FAO) Still, despite all the progress of the global women's empowerment movement, many conference speakers have lamented the need to `reality-check' the situation by reminding delegates that currently in the world: "925 million people were chronically hungry, of whom 60 percent were women.  Moreover, 884 million people in the world lack access to potable drinking water; 2.6 billion people do not have access to sufficient sanitation facilities; and 1 billion people do not have adequate access to roads and transportation systems."

What future will we leave our children?

The African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) is a bold political initiative that aims to put women at the centre of development on the continent. Launched in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2010, with roots traceable to the UN First World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975. However, the disheartening reality is that very few women in Africa actually know about the Women’s Decade and the policies set out to be implemented during this decade.   

What's clear from this 56th Conference on Women is that women worldwide want change, they want to have their voice be heard, and they are impatient for equality and solutions to their own problems.  Out of sheer survival, many women are taking circumstance into their own hands and making progress despite the world.

Because these life situations, cannot stand:  In Afghanistan - 87% of women are illiterate; in  Pakistan 90% of women face domestic violence and more than 1,000 women and girls are victims of honor killings every year according to the Human Rights Commission.  In the DRC  420,000 women are raped every year; while in India, 100 million people, mostly woman and girls are victims of traffickers.

Before they go though from UN Headquarters next week, the commission will agree on urgent actions needed to make a real difference in the lives of millions of rural women by making recommendations for other policy forums, such as the Rio+20 and, they will celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th.  A celebration indeed.  

Full List of Current UN Women's Commission Members:

Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Comoros, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, US, Uruguay, Zimbabwe.

---- HUMNEWS (c) 2012

Tuesday
Feb142012

UNEP Report Says World Soil Management is Key to Food, Water, Climate Future

(PHOTO: Soil, side by side/Treehugger) (HN, 2/14/2012) - According to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Year Book 2012 released Monday on the eve of the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, 24% of the global land area has already suffered declines in health and productivity over the past quarter century as a result of unsustainable industrial land-use and dramatic improvements in the way the world manages its precious soils will be key to food, water and climate security in the 21st century.

WHY? Soils contain huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter that in turn binds the nutrients needed for plant growth and allows rainfall to penetrate into underground aquifers.

Since the 19th century, an estimated 60% of the carbon stored in soils and vegetation has been lost as a result of land use changes, such as, clearing land for agriculture and cities and by some estimates, the top one metre of the world's soils store around 2,200 Gigatonnes (or, a billion tonnes) of carbon; three times the current level held in the atmosphere.

The report states some kinds of agriculture processes have triggered soil erosion rates at 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form soil and by 2030, without changes in the way land is managed, over 20% of habitats such as forests, peatlands and grasslands in developing countries alone could be converted to cropland which also aggravate losses of vital ecosystem services and biodiversity.

There could also be profound implications for climate change as amounts of this carbon could be released to the atmosphere, aggravating global warming linked to the burning of fossil fuels and points to the world's peatlands as an area of special concern. WHY?  The draining of super carbon-rich peatlands is currently producing more than 2 Gigatonnes of CO2 emissions annually; equal to around 6% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions and is happening at a rate 20 times greater than the rate at which the peat, and thus the carbon, is accumulated.

The Year Book, launched 4 months in advance of the Rio+20 Summit, highlights another issue of emerging global concern - the challenges of decommissioning the growing numbers of end-of-life nuclear power reactors.

There are plans to close up to 80 civilian nuclear power reactors in the next 10 years, as the first generations of reactors reach the end of their `design lives’. So far in world history, 138 civilian nuclear power reactors have been shut down in 19 countries, including 28 in the United States, 27 in the United Kingdom, 27 in Germany, 12 in France, 9 in Japan and 5 in the Russian Federation.

Decommissioning has only been completed for 17 of them, so far but events such as the tragedy of the tsunami that struck Fukushima and its nearby nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011 has caused heightened concern.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of developing countries have built or are considering building nuclear power plants, including the United States which just announced at least 2 new reactors to be built on February 4.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said: "The Year Book spotlights the challenges, but also the choices, nations need to consider to deliver a sustainable 21st century and urgently improve management of world's soils and the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors".

"Superficially they may seem separate and unconnected issues, but both go to the heart of several fundamental questions: how the world will feed and fuel itself while combating climate change and handling hazardous wastes," he added.  "The thin skin of soil on the Earth's surface is often one of those forgotten ecosystems but it is among the most important to the future survival of humanity. Improved, sustainable management such as no-till policies can assist in productive agriculture without draining peatlands," said Mr. Steiner.

Across the globe, there are examples of how multiple benefits can be delivered through effective management of soil carbon. In Kenya, the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund is providing the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project with US $350,000 to pay smallholder farmers to improve their agricultural practices, to increase both food security and soil carbon sequestration.

From Dakar to Djibouti, the `Great Green Wall’ initiative is a massive forestation project creating a 15 km wide strip of trees and other vegetation along a 7000 km transect to improve carbon sequestration, stabilize soils and conserve soil moisture amongst others.

In China, similar approaches are being monitored to assess whether land degradation in arid areas can be reversed.  In Brazil, changes in crop production and rotation practices have been found to have significant effects on soil carbon stocks and conversion to no-till techniques in soybean, maize and related crop systems resulted in a decrease of soil carbon degradation. And in Argentina, significant increases in soil carbon stocks have also been achieved, where farmers changed to no-till systems, along with enhanced benefits in water retention, infiltration and erosion prevention.  The UNEP Year Book 2012 is available at: http://www.unep.org

--- HUMNEWS

Monday
Feb062012

Sound the Horn: Opinion on the Horn of Africa `Famine’ 

(PHOTO: Dadaab Refugee camp, Kenya/WFP)By Lily H. Ostrer

On Friday, February 2, the United Nations declared an end to the famine in the Horn of Africa that killed tens of thousands of people in the last nine months. With an unstable political situation and 2.3 million people still in need of food, there is a high likelihood that famine conditions will return to the region within the next 100 days. While natural occurrences such as drought may have initiated the famine, its severity and persistence can be attributed to people and politics. Indeed, the situation in the Horn of Africa is a perfect storm of environmental, local, and international dynamics, topped off by the presence of a militant Islamist group blockading aid efforts.

For this very reason, it is imperative that we consider multi-dimensional solutions to the crisis in the Horn of Africa. The need will not end with the UN’s declaration last Friday, nor will the political situation change overnight. Activists have called on the media and on donors to continue to pay attention and give money to maintain a response to the humanitarian needs, and we agree. But as members of the Harvard community, we should all seek to encourage further academic engagement to derive holistic, multi-disciplinary solutions.

The UN reserves the label of “famine” for only the most severe emergencies—at least two deaths per 10,000 people per day, at least 30 percent of children with acute malnutrition, and at least 20 percent of the population unable to reach its food need. When the UN declared famine last July, the region, including Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, had faced nearly two successive years of almost no rainfall and over 12 million individuals needed food aid. Somalia fared the worst, as years of political instability and war have left millions displaced and al-Shabaab, the group with de facto control over the country, has blocked food aid and shut down refugee camps.

(MAP: WFP) Indeed, al-Shabaab is the most obvious reason why simple humanitarian solutions cannot end the famine in Somalia. Al-Shabaab has denied access to aid organizations, evicted refugee camps, and prompted widespread violence throughout the region, taking credit for bombings in Somalia and neighboring countries. Because of this, al-Shabaab is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, which puts Somalia on the map in the U.S. war on terror. The African Union has had a force in Somalia since 2007, and Kenya invaded in 2011, introducing regional complexity to the humanitarian crisis. But U.S. policy towards the region is additionally sensitive due to the Black Hawk Down tragedy in 1993, when 18 U.S. soldiers died on a mission in Mogadishu. For these reasons, no matter what develops in Somalia, the U.S. is unlikely to ever put troops on the ground, leaving Kenyans and other African nations to deal with al-Shabaab. However, as Davidson College Professor Kenneth J. Menkhaus points out, while responding to al-Shabaab is necessary, responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis will draw attention to Shabaab’s inhumane acts, weakening its stronghold in the country. Sensitivity to the historical and political situation in Somalia is key to effective intervention, but it should not detract from the importance of fighting acute malnutrition and food shortages.

Much work has been done to study food security in the developing world and many of the manmade causes of this famine are known. Soaring food prices have played a large role. Last August, the prices of maize and sorghum, two important staples, were 84 percent and 240 percent higher than a year before. In addition to poor local harvests, U.S. production of ethanol and the diversion of crops for the production of biofuels have exacerbated price increases. A systemic underinvestment in agriculture in East and Central Africa has led to decreased agricultural capacity in recent years. While up to 60 percent of the populations of many of these nations depend on agriculture for their livelihood, many governments devote only five percent of national expenditure to agriculture. At the same time, investment in infrastructure is vitally important for the transportation of crops and fertilizer. Robert L. Paarlberg, a professor at Wellesley College and an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard, has been mapping the impact of the under-usage of biotechnology in Africa. Scientific advances in developing seeds resistant to drought and insects would greatly improve the region’s food production, where farmers are now less productive on a per-capita basis than they were in 1970. Paarlberg posits that the spread of such technology has been held up by the richer countries in which they were developed. The usage of newly developed surveillance techniques, a focus of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, could allow for improved early warning systems.

(PHOTO: Kenya/WFP)We now know many of the causes of famine, but coordinating the response in a tense political climate remains challenging for humanitarian organizations. Consequently, donors who want to support the cause are left unsure about which organizations can reach people in need, who can bring about immediate relief, and how we can transition to long-term change. As a university, our mandate must be to reach greater understanding of the crisis by bringing together experts from many disciplines. Harvard has responded in important ways to humanitarian crises in the past, from fundraising to utilizing its academic expertise, and we commend the important strides it has made in responding to this crisis. I hope the university continues to leverage its academic capital to bring about an end to one of the most complex recurring crises to face humanity.

---Lily H. Ostrer ’14 is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House, Harvard University, and her piece was originally published in the Harvard Crimson HERE)

Thursday
Jan262012

Somalia: Returning to my Homeland (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW)

Michael Bociurkiw interviews UK-based Somali, Samira Hashi upon her return from her homeland and talks to her about leaving, why she went back, the dire situation in refugee camps and bringing about change.

Michael Bociurkiw: You fled Somalia as an baby at the beginning of the civil war, where did you and your family go? - how did you end up in the UK? 

Samira Hashi: I was born in 1990 in the city of Mogadishu, once known as the 'Jewel of Africa'. Ten days into my livelihood the civil war broke out in Somalia. 

My mother had two choices, to hang about and wait till things got worse of flee for a better life and future for herself and her children. My mother, one of the many educated people in Somalia, fled as early as possible. 

The nearest location for safety, at the time was Kenya, which hadn't even opened a refugee camp yet. Whilst they (refugee camps) were being established my family and I stayed in camps in Mombassa, later moving to another similar refugee camp in Otanga. For two years my family struggled to survive, barely being able to feed ourselves let alone put a roof over our heads. Luckily organizations such as the Red Cross were there to offer support and aid as well as relief from the trauma of the on-going war. 

I come from a very large family that are all spread around the world, they couldn't bare to see me and my family suffer and they did all they could to support us in such a difficult time as well as getting us out of that grueling situation. I moved to the UK at a very young age, we settled quickly and began out new lives here. I would say that was one of the best and most admirable decisions my mother made and I give her my greatest gratitude towards her. 

MB: What has life been like for you growing up in the UK? 

SH: Coming from a country with little solidarity, security and governing system, that is now recognized as a 'failed state', my mother put great pressure in teaching us the value of liberty and independence. 

Education was always her priority and she ensured me and my sisters obtained qualifications that would one day help us stand on our own two feet. As soon as we came into the UK me and my sisters began nursery and have been working consistently up the academic ladder. As a result of a strong, persistent mother all of my 4 older sisters have successfully passed higher education and have achieved a university degree, some now on advance levels working towards procuring their masters.

Currently I am studying International Business and Law at Kingston University, not only to demonstrate my intellectual ability but also to achieve my goal in establishing my own business. Education is an essential part of my life as one day I wish to enlighten and empower girls and young women all over the world using my knowledge and skills in life. 

MB: You are model and have grown in that field, how did you start and what are you looking to do now? 

SH: At a very young age I was aware that I was different from all of my other sisters. They are very reserved and shy and found that they sat well with the education system. I have always had this suspicion that although knowledge is power theirs more to life than just an exam paper and textbooks. I was desperate to explore the world, learn and experience things that a printed document written by a man twenty years ago couldn't teach me. My mother wasn't always fond of my new aspirations, she always believed I would get lost in this cruel, harsh, beautiful world. Despite all her pleading and appeal for me to stick with my sisters, I became to anxious and set out on a journey in finding myself and my purpose of living. 

Throughout my journey I came across a modelling agency at the age of 17 who seemed very intrigued in working with me. I signed the contract and later realised that this is something I entirely enjoy. It was more than taking a photo with a camera man that captured me, its the warmth feeling I felt when connecting with people I was working with. The ability to portray a strong emotion or expression without speaking, the idea of manipulating an image to create something that could be compared with art, it excited me. I grew a passion for modelling, I was determined to succeed and knew nothing could stop me other than myself. I learnt the ropes of the industry and gained further confidence.

Soon I felt restricted and believed I could achieve great things from my modelling career but felt I wasn't given the opportunities to deliver. This lead me to leaving my old agency and advertising and promoting myself to gain recognition from modelling agencies that were on a higher level. For one year I crafted and worked extremely hard, I was dismissed and rejected by a number of agencies still I refused to loose hope and give up on my dreams and ambitions. I learnt to brand myself, believe that I had the ability to be the best and make use of any opportunity that passed my way. I discovered my purpose in modelling when I got signed to one the biggest modelling agencies in the world 'Elite London'. It verified the belief I had in myself now knowing that individuals that have the ability to transform my modelling career are convinced that I can achieve great things.

Through my modelling career I understand that I could put myself in a position where I am recognised for the work that I do. I have never wanted to make a fortune or become famous. My aim in modelling is to become a role model, to get to a point in my career where I can bring about change and make a difference to the world. Where I have the ability and power to educate and inspire girls and young women and give a voice to those that are not heard.

I wish to motivate young people to take no notice of what their forced to believe and to create and carve their own pathways for themselves. Like myself to find their own destiny and work towards becoming a unique, successful, independent individual. 

MB: What motivated you to go back to Somalia now? 

SH: Somalia has always played a huge role in my life. My mother enlightened me and my sisters with the Somali culture from the clothes she wore, to the food we ate, the weddings we went to, the music she would sometimes blast from the stereo or laptop. My mother refused to let go of her culture and everything she knew just because she came into the UK. She wanted to teach us about our heritage and roots.

Other than the war my mother always embraced the good memories she held of our country and never failed to stop telling us stories. Somalia was always in my heart but I never felt any connection as I was to young to remember. The only recollection I had was what I saw on the news and many times that wasn't something positive.

I always knew I had some responsibilities towards my country as a young Somali growing up in London but I never thought of the extent or necessity that our help was needed. What motivated me to return was the desire to gain a deeper understanding of my country, to feel assured and content with my roots and myself, and to see what aid I can offer or facilitate in helping a country that most desperately needs it.  

As Somalia is my country of birth and previous home to my large family I felt obliged to return and participate in the process of development. At many of times prior to going back home and even when I was actually in Somalia I was scared for my safety and constantly prayed that God would protect me. Despite that, I defeated that anxiety for the purpose of a better future not only for myself and my family but for the whole of my country and its people. 

MB: Tell us about the documentary you worked on... 

SH: I recently contributed on a 60 minute documentary for BBC 3 which enabled me to return to Somalia and highlight issues such as; the war, famine and drought and bring them into the surface of the media.

As a young Somali who fled in 1990 my age and the war in Somalia are in correlation; we both turned 21 last year. The idea of the documentary was to reach out to a young audience that may not have any concept of current affairs and issues occurring on the other side of the world. The documentary was mind-blowing as it fulfilled all my desires in gaining a connection with Somalia and grasping a broader concept of its current state.

Working on this documentary not only altered my views on my country, it also changed me as a person. My experiences in Somalia has made me more humble than I ever thought by appreciating the simplest things that we take for granted, such as clean water that runs continuously from our taps. The programme that was once only supposed to be a personal journey, I am now seeing as a platform to bring about change.

MB: What are the conditions like for the people you met .... is there one particular person or memory that touched you? 

SH: The conditions in Somalia were not as vibrant and radiant as the stories my mother used to always share with us. The powerless state has little effect in protecting and preventing the on-going war that's now long over due.

Somali's have been fleeing since 1990 and continue to still leave hastily in their thousands. Current invasion of Al'Shabaab militants have left the country in turmoil and people in fear, restrictions on aid and external intervention has left the Somali people to perish due to the famine and drought. Hope for a better further and better lives melt away day by day. Even when they think the suffering is all over, Somali's overcome many more barriers and hurdles.

The refugee camp at times cannot accommodate the thousands of displaced people so they have to sit and wait for days sometimes months for just a piece of sheet of plastic to shelter themselves and their families. Food is always scarce and with such harsh conditions of heat and lack of water, Somali's are bound to deteriorate.

A special memory that I refuse to neglect is the protection and safety of Somali refugees in one of the camps in particular area situated in Ethiopia called 'Halloweyn'. The security and preservation in some these refugee camps is extremely poor. One of the issues raised and covered in the documentary is the number of rape victims that actually occur so often in the camps and the diminutive action taken to prevent this as well the level of awareness which is more less being concealed.

I interviewed two young women who had been subjected to rape by the locals due to travelling far into the woods to collect wood fire to cook and feed their families. I then discovered that this happens so often that the Somali refugee's had protested outside the UNHCR compound in Dollo Ado, for their voices to be heard and someone to do something about it.

It is embarrassing to say that this issue has not once been raised in the UK media or in fact anywhere else. I am currently in the process of establishing my own charity that helps protect vulnerable women all over the world and I feel compelled to begin with Somali women. I am going to develop this charity by initially gaining support from the large Somali Diaspora located all over the world. I want to raise a petition that helps support my concerns and votes against the defective security and protection system that is currently in place in this particular refugee camp. I plan to transmit these problems to my local MP who I hope could then highlight them within the House of Parliament.  My objective this year is to help establish a beneficial system where Somali women within the 'Halloweyn' refugee camp our guarded from rape and gender based violence.

Simple almost effortless arrangements could be put in place for example; a security guard that safeguards the women and observes whilst they collect the wood fire, women proceeding into the outskirts only in large numbers, only men collecting the wood fire or even a half way meeting point. This will ensure and shield the well-fare of not only the mental mind state of Somali women but also their health and future refuge. 

MB: What more can the rest of the world do... what is your message? 

SH: The outside world can:

  • Raise more awareness about Somalia
  • Deal with issues that are could easily be dealt with but are overlooked by the war and famine such as; the number of rapes that occur within the refugee camps
  • Urge the Somali Diaspora (especially the young) to do more for their country as hope lies within them. We are the future of Somalia
  • Highlight areas such as; Somali-land that has maintained a safe and working system for the Somali people - Showing that not everything within the Somali community is negative.
  • Please get involved and sign up for my petition and help protect our girls, young and old women  

My message: This is not the end for Somalia, we have a very bright future and only us the people of the country can bring about those changes. Don't give up on such a beautiful place and don't loose hope. Believe and we will all achieve a better and safer environment for ourselves and our children. 

You can contact me if you wish to help or discuss any of the issues that I have raised further

 samirahashi5@hotmail.co.uk 

Friday
Dec232011

THE HUM - HEADLINES FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC GAP - 12/23/2011

Algeria 

Algeria Eyes 2.5 Million Tourists Per Year By 2015

(PHOTO: Marriott, 198 room hotel expected to open in 2014 in Setif) Courtyard by Marriott Announces Its Second Hotel in Algeria

Bhutan 

Health referral cost escalates

Cambodia 

Challenges Ahead as Cambodia Preps for Asean Presidency

Cambodian PM Pays Last Tribute to DPRK's Leader Kim Jong Il

MSF Steps Up Tuberculosis Support in Cambodia

Finding profit potential in the rich soil of Pailin

Digital content key to growth for Kingdom’s telecom firms (Perspective)

Central African Republic

CAR: UNSC extends mandate of UN office

Chile

Pinera Says Chile Will Be First Developed Latin America Nation

Christmas Island

(PHOTO: Kirimati, Christmas Island, NASA) Seen from Space: Christmas Island

Congo (DRC)

Congo Opposition Leader Ready To Take Oath Office, Says Adviser

Egypt

Meeting condones peaceful use of nuclear power for generating electricity

India

Much anticipated short film fest in Gauhati today

Kenya

Ebola fear strikes Kenya

Morocco

Snake Charmers, Old Markets and Friendly People

Myanmar

Myanmar to allow private mining in noted ruby area

Samoa

Samoa considers decriminalising female impersonations

Slovenia

Stay at a former military prison turned art hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Suriname

Suriname, Fiji ink comminique at UN

UAE group to set up mint house in Suriname

Swaziland

Over 600 armed officers hunt ‘scarface’ in Swaziland

High tech ticketing system comes to SD

Switzerland

Concern as asylum seekers forced onto street

Revised CO2 law reflects uneasy compromise

Syria

Syrian company owner  molests Pinay, 2 other workers in UAE

Violence, sectarianism stalk Homs

Taiwan

PFP VP candidate to visit Bhutan in search of happiness

Tajikistan

Tajiks need more private investment to spur economy, WB says

Tanzania

Kindle, eBooks and the future of Tanzania’s poor readership

In Tanzania, two journalists charged with incitement

Police fail to charge Tanzania media boss

Thailand

Shipbuilding seeks revival

Junie Browning Finally Surrenders to Thailand Police

China signs currency swap deal with Thailand

Turks and Caicos

Sandals Foundation brings Christmas joy to TCI kids

TCI draws more than 1 million tourists in 2011

Togo

Togo to Receive Assistance to Better Manage Flood and Land Degradation Risks

Tokelau

Tokelauan New Zealanders get help to maintain language

Tonga

Tonga speaker at risk of arrest over bail breach

Investor embarks on beef plan

Trinidad and Tobago

Chicken prices will eventually go up

Key and ministers off to Oz

Turkmenistan

Native of Turkmenistan Oleg Kononenko in second space flight

Tunisia

New Tunisian premier names coalition government dominated by Islamists

American Children Kidnapped and Taken to Tunisia By Father

Turkey

Turkey: Post-Earthquake, How Easy to Stop Substandard Construction?

Tuvalu

The Tuvalu Drought: A Microcosm of Things to Come

Uganda

Don't Break Your Nails. Hire a Chef

Lazy Ugandan men face arrest

Ukraine

Ukraine will start 2012 in precarious condition

United Arab Emirates

Citizenship law for Emirati women sets good example

Young people spend nearly 10 hours a day online

United Kingdom

Sony - Netflix's U.K. Plans Undermined By Amazon Deal

England riots: all-night courts praised, but were they a publicity stunt? (Perspective)

United States

U.S. Population Grows at Slowest Rate Since 1940s

The U.S. Isn’t Into Social Networking as Much as You’d Think, and Females are Into It More Than Males

Uruguay

Uruguay Set to Invest in Its Dairy Farmers to Make Them More Green

Vanuatu

Vanuatu minister accused of making threats

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Calls Obama a 'Clown'

No more kumbaya

Malicious Spam Depicts Demise of Venezuela President

(PHOTO: Theresly Malavé, Venezuelan criminal defense lawyer & president of NGO Justicia y Proceso Venezuela (Venezuelan Justice & Process) & Jackeline Sandoval, the director of the Foundation for Due Process (Fundepro); Credit Gustavo Bandres)NGOs count 24 political prisoners in Venezuela

Vietnam

Vietnam fuel companies suspected of dodgy tax practices 

Wallis and Futuna Islands

Real Estate In Wallis And Futuna Islands Look Great

Western Sahara

Justice for Killing of Young Saharawi Boy Demanded

Yemen

Unrest puts child marriage issue on back burner

Yemen faces critical period to cement political settlement: UN envoy

Zambia

Zambia’s Free Education Policy to Benefit Poor

(PHOTO: Lusaka, Zambia; CREDIT: Jacqui Wintle; September 2011)Women farmers need funding in face of climate change says environment advocates

Zambia to host 200th David Livingstone celebrations

Zimbabwe

Women still marginalised in Zimbabwe

Blitz Triggers Transport Woes

Tuesday
Oct252011

Two African Candidates Shortlisted For International Criminal Court (NEWS BRIEF)

Outgoing ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Credit: ICC(HN, October 25, 2011) - Two candidates from the African continent are among four shortlisted to head the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

The pair come from Tanzania and Gambia, and, along with a Briton and Canadian, have been shortlisted to replace the tough-talking ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, whose term ends next year.

They are: Mohamed Chande Othman, Tanzania’s Chief Justice and Fatou Bensouda of Gambia - currently the ICC's deputy prosecutor.

Also in he running are Andrew Cayley, a British national and the International Co-Prosecutor of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. Rounding out the list is Robert Petit, a war crimes counsel in Canada's Department of Justice.

The four were short listed by the selection committee of the Assembly of States Parties, which oversees the court. The committee, which had been set up by the Assembly at its ninth session in December 2010, was composed of five members representing each of the regional groups,

The process comes at a time when an increasing number of the ICC's files originate from Africa - including Kenya, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

Bensouda was appointed the ICC's deputy prosecutor in September 2004 and previously worked as a legal adviser and trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, reported The Standard Newspaper of Kenya.

"She has long been regarded as the favourite to take over from Moreno-Ocampo, particularly at a time when the ICC's cases are largely focused on Africa," the paper said.

Othman was appointed Tanzania's chief justice in December 2010, after being elevated by President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete from judge in the High court of Tanzania and the court of appeal for seven years. He is a reputed human rights expert.

Canada's Petit also has impressive international credentials. From 2006 to 2009, he was the International Co-Prosecutor for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which is aiming to try Khmer Rouge leaders for violations of international criminal law in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. He has also served as a Legal Officer in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Regional Legal Advisor for the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, a Prosecutor for the Serious Crimes Unit of the United Nations Mission of Support to East Timor, and a Senior Trial Attorney for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

- HUMNEWS staff, agencies

Monday
Oct032011

Africa's Famine: Seeing is Believing (REPORT) 

By Peter Greste in Africa

Dadaab Refugee Camp, KENYA - As with most natural disasters, numbers swirl around the drought on the Horn of Africa like so many dust particles. 

They float up from the tyres of aid agency Land Cruisers in great billowing clouds; they blow in from donor conferences like a sandstorm sweeping in from the east; they get in your eyes, and cloud the air making it almost impossible to see through the statistics and understand what is really going on.

Consider a few of the big ones: in Somalia alone, four million people are still starving nationwide; three million of those live in the South. Of these, 750,000 people risk death in the next four months if they do not get aid immediately. 

According to the United Nations agency responsible for monitoring food supplies in Somalia, almost half a million children are suffering from "severe acute malnutrition". About 75 per cent of those are also in the south. 

More than 900,000 Somalis are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries - 90 per cent of them in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya - already the biggest in the world - has 450,000 of them, and will almost certainly reach half a million by the end of the year. In Ethiopia, the camp in Dolo Ado has taken in 83,000 refugees in the last nine months. 

UN-estimated mortality rates among children under five are alarmingly high, with an average of 15.43 deaths per 10,000 individuals daily, well above the famine threshold of two deaths per 10,000 people per day.

The numbers are of course vital in describing the vast scale of this crisis. Without them, the logisticians trying to deal with it would never be able to get a handle on their jobs. 

But once you get on the ground and start seeing those towering numbers in terms of real people with tragic stories, the fog starts to clear a little, and you begin to get a sense of what it means in human terms.

'Tragedy and loss'

Think a bit more about those last set of figures. If you were in southern Somalia, and your five-year-old child was in a school of a thousand other children, malnutrition would be killing one or two of their classmates every single day. It would probably be only a matter of days before a friend of your child's would be among the dead. 

In just two months, 90 would have died, and at that rate there is a one-in-ten chance that your own child would have been among them. And that is just amongst the under-fives. When you consider the impact of this famine on the old and the frail; on illnesses attacking those with immune systems already weak with hunger; on the consequences of exhausting treks through the desert, death comes to almost every family in one way or another; often many times over.

This is not hypothetical. It is true of almost every one of the thousand people who walk into Dadaab every single day. 

Each has a name and a face and a chilling story of tragedy and loss.

Consider 70-year-old Rahma Ali Hussein and her sister Fatuma Mursal, who thinks she is 90. They lived with their extended family in Dinsor in the Bay region of southern Somalia. Like farmers everywhere, they hung on to the land, hoping they would be able to survive until the drought broke. 

But the al-Shabab fighters, who still govern over much of southern Somalia, kept out most donors and kept in civilians who wanted to flee. One by one, Rahma's and Fatuma's relatives died, until all that remained were the two resilient old sisters, their granddaughter, her child, and a couple of goats.

'Colossal' price

That was when they decided they had no choice but to risk al-Shabab's checkpoints and walk with the goats to Dadaab in neighbouring Kenya. Neither knew how far it was, but it would be two and a half months on foot before they would reach the refugee camp.

Once they arrived, they joined a queue, registered their presence, received a package of food and added their names to the refugee statistics.

I met them as another group of local refugees who had formed their own aid agency, replaced the tattered rags they arrived in with a new set of clothes and a few shreds of dignity. They told their story matter-of-factly, with flat unemotional voices as though it was not unusual; and in a way they were right. 

Their tale - or variations of it - has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times across the region, and so because of that, outsiders tend to see each one as nothing remarkable.

That seems to miss the point completely; the extraordinary thing is just how many of those tales are piled one on top of the other in a heap so big that it becomes impossible to see the detail. In the end, our eyes glaze over, we lose sight of what it all means and wind up looking only at colossal numbers again.

Of course, sometimes the numbers do reveal something important, and here is one set we ought to consider. In the summary of the same UN report that detailed the statistics I began with, there is a graph that compares the amount of money the UN reckons it needs for a particular part of the crisis, with the amount actually donated.

The numbers show that international donors have promised 119 per cent of the amount they need for food assistance - a lot more than is actually needed.

Almost all of the emergency food goes to distribution points in centres like Mogadishu and Daddab - places that draw people away from their homes and their fields, into huge camps where they are easy to reach. But food aid is high profile; it looks good on television news programmes at home, and often the money gets spent in the donors' own country buying food from farmers with their own powerful domestic lobbies.

But for less visible things like assistance for agriculture or education in Somalia that would actually encourage people to stay in their homes and so recover once the crisis has passed, the UN has received 29 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. 

For once, the numbers appear to speak for themselves.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing  

Wednesday
Aug312011

Shame on You: Drought, Famine & the Failure of International Aid! (PERSPECTIVE)

by Rachel Zedeck 

At a UNICEF-supported feeding centre in East Africa, a weary mother pauses after her baby received emergency therapeutic food. CREDT: M Bociurkiw(HN, August 31, 2011) During this weeks’ hash a Director at the German Red Cross said to me, “The drought was so inconvenient this year.  We were all on annual leave.  Do people expect me to give up my holiday.”  After swallowing some vomit, I started to reflect on exactly how this humanitarian disaster has been allowed to escalate to such an extreme.  More and more, my nausea has been induced by the world of international aid; in particular the inaction of the Red Cross coupled with the pandering of World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Oxfam and the list goes on.  These organizations (whether non-profit or UN agency) literally have every means available to understand impending drought and insidious threat of famine.   I focus on three. 

First, weather is predictable. That’s right. In Kenya and in many regions of Sub Saharan Africa we have historic and predictive weather mapping. Even in darkest Arica, rain isn’t magic.  Second, how long have NGOs been operating here?  What happened to common sense? Every year this region suffers through a drought of varying intensity and subsequent adversity.  2010 was the first break from drought in 7 years while Kenya experienced more than a billion dollars in economic loss in 2009.  So while this may be the worst drought in the last 60 years, this is not a new story! Finally, why was no one talking about preventative measures?  I was in Nairobi and can’t remember one campaign speaking publically about impending drought.   Mr. Abbas Gulet, the Head of Kenya’s Red Cross, head of the region’s only non-profit Superbrand should be most ashamed.  Not only responsible for one of the largest humanitarian missions in the world, he is ethnically Kenyan theoretically giving him even greater insight into how is organization’s $30+ million annual budget. Instead of answering what they should have been doing, I can tell you what the community as a whole isn’t doing.   It’s actually worse than the mismanagement following Katrina. 

First, neither the public, private, or NGO sectors are educating Kenyans about drought, better water management or irrigated crops. Ironic because irrigation is a key component in Kenya’s 2030 Vision for the country’s strategic development.  With the unprecedented use of mobile phones and content (ICT for Development) in Africa, educating and supporting millions of people in rural Kenyan isn’t just a fantasy. Considering the UN seeks $16.9 Billion USD for emergency relief let alone campaigns like Kenyans for Kenya, raising funds to purchase food that doesn’t exist.  Instead we could have sent a series of 10 sms’ to every Kenyan citizen for less than $6 million.   Another $100 million (or much more) could have been allocated to low interest loans to help farmers purchase drip (gravity fed) irrigation and trained them on how to install, maintenance and store excess crops for drought season.  Guess what, food aid is still food and needs to be grown which means farming.  

There isn’t a simple answer to food security and we can’t end drought.  Instead, Kenya and its neighbors need to grow and store more food while eliminating crop losses. This translates into a combination of hard work complimented by agriculture innovation, affordable agriculture finance, community outreach and expansion of existing road networks. NO overnight solutions but practical, sustainable and scalable.   It is time for an evolution; the UN and NGOs must recognize their chronic failures and share leadership with the commercial sector able to offer proactive and practical strategies for the future of humanitarian disaster.  

- Rachel Zedeck is Managing Director of the Backpack Farm Agriculture Program, an internationally recognized social enterprise in Nairobi, Kenya exclusively supporting smallholder farmers with access to ecologically friendly training and packages of green agri-tech believing “Africans can feed Africa”  thru the power of multi-functional farming impacting social, economic and ecological domains.

Friday
Aug052011

Famine in Somalia: Children Pay the Greatest Price (NEWS BRIEF) 

(HN, August 5, 2011) The International Red Cross is asking for $86 million in donations to help feed the people of Somalia.

Many Somalis, starving and searching for safety, are risking their lives to get to camps which are now spreading all over the capital of Mogadishu. Others continue to cross into Kenya and taking up residence in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp which is currently home to 420,000 people. It’s official capacity is 90,000.

Children are paying the greatest price in this crisis. The United Nations says 640,000 children are acutely malnourished and calculates that, in the worst hit areas, ten percent of children under the age of 5 could perish in the coming weeks.

The U.S. estimates the drought and famine in Somalis have killed more than 29,000 children under the age of 5 in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone.

World Food Program Executive Director, Josette Sheeren, warned in a article published on the WFP site on July 24th that “In the Horn (of Africa), we could lose a generation. Those that survive could be affected deeply” she said. It is particularly critical for young children to get the nutrition they need as their brains develop.  

To make matters worse access to aid is a huge problem in Somalia. David Orr, of the WFP told Al Jazeera that the largest problem continues to be access – “the worst of the famine, which is in the south is very difficult area to access”.

The access to aid is primarily impeded by the hardline Islamic militant group al-Shabaab, whose control of much of southern Somalia and ties to al-Qaeda discourages Western aid.

The U.N. refugee agency reported on Friday that al-Shabaab is boosting its ranks in the region by giving people money at a time of rising food prices and as other options dwindle for Somali families who cannot find handouts or afford to pay for food themselves.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton called on the militant organization al-Shabaab, which controls much of the southern section of Somalia, to offer Western aid workers “unfettered access” to more than three million famine victims.

On Friday Hillary Clinton said Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, will visit Kenya this weekend to lead a U.S. fact-finding mission to East Africa to see what more America can do help victims of the famine sweeping the region.

The foreign minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, called for an urgent meeting of Muslim nations to discuss the famine in Africa. He said the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation could meet in Istanbul or in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the crisis.  

 -      To help and learn more about aid needed in Somalia and the Horn of Africa click here and here

 -      HUMNews Staff 

Wednesday
Aug032011

UN: Somali Refugees on the Rise as UN Envoy Calls for Somalis to Pull Together (NEWS BRIEF)

Recently arrived refugees wait in the shade outside the Dagahaley camp reception centre (Photo: UN News Center)(HN, August 3, 2011) A senior United Nations official has appealed to all Somalis, both inside and outside the country, to work to support the ongoing peace process and alleviate the plight of those suffering from famine, while pledging the world body's support in the coming days. 

“This is a time of great crisis, but also of rare opportunity. It is a time for everyone to pull together to help those suffering and to work towards a better future for all,” Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, said in a letter addressed to the Somali diaspora.

“I appeal to all those who are able – Somalis and the international community alike – to give as much as they can during this Holy Month to feed the hungry, heal the sick and prevent the famine spreading further,” he stated, referring to the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan that began on Monday.

The UN has estimated that the number of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa has topped 860,000, many of them forced out by the ongoing drought and famine. 

The agency has reported that since January, 125,000 Somalis have fled to Kenya, and another 76,000 to Ethiopia. Earlier Somali refugees were largely forced out by fighting between government forces and insurgents.

Somalia is at the center of the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years. Earlier this week, the UN warned that the famine in two areas of southern Somalia could spread to five or six more regions unless there is a massive and immediate response from the international community.

Drought in the Horn of Africa, has left large areas of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djbouti ravaged, leaving an estimated 12.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. 

In addition to those Somalis dealing with famine, the U.N. refugee agency says another 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in Somalia's south-central region due to the instability in the country. 

The international community has been stressing the need for a strategy to restore peace and stability in the country, which has not seen a fully functioning national government since 1991. 

Mr. Mahiga noted that despite recent progress on the political front, one of the contributing factors to the famine has been the ongoing fighting in the country. Some of the extremists are continuing their efforts to intimidate the population by preventing the movement of people from the worst-hit areas. 

“We call for the humanitarian agencies to be given unhindered access to all areas to provide desperately needed help,” he wrote, adding that the insecurity in many areas means that aid workers take huge risks to make their life-saving deliveries.

-HUMNews Staff / UN News

Saturday
Jul302011

UN Calls for More Funds to Save Lives Across Horn of Africa (REPORT) 

According to the United Nations more than 12 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti are currently in need of humanitarian aid and that number is expected to rise. 

"If we are to avoid this crisis becoming an even bigger catastrophe, we must act now" said Valarie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which issued yesterday's appeal. 

The emergency is expected to persist for at least three to four months, and the number of people needing humanitarian assistance could increase by as much as 25 per cent, OCHA said, putting strain on the work of UN agencies.

An OCHA spokesperson said in Geneva that the request for funds lifts the Horn of Africa appeal to a total of $2.4 billion, of which $1 billion has been received so far.

OCHA reports that, driven by the worst drought in 60 years, some 1,300 new Somali refugees arrive daily in Kenya, several hundred more flee to Ethiopia and at least 1,000 others crowd into the capital, Mogadishu, fleeing not only drought but continued fighting between Government forces and rebels.

“Women and children are forced to walk weeks under gruelling conditions to reach safety, and are arriving in refugee camps in appalling health, overwhelming the already stretched capacity to respond,” the agency said.

The agency also said that outright famine, declared recently in two areas of southern Somalia, “could spread throughout the rest of the south within one or two months, if the humanitarian response did not increase in line with rising needs.”

Drought conditions in Kenya’s northern and north-eastern districts have deteriorated further after the poor March-June rains. The food crisis is expected to peak in August and September.

In Ethiopia, La Niña weather conditions have diminished two consecutive rainy seasons, resulting in rapidly deteriorating food security in lowlands of southern and south-eastern areas, as well as in parts of the central highlands. In Djibouti, the drought has forced growing numbers of pastoralists and people in rural areas to migrate to urban areas, where food insecurity is rising.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that its emergency airlifts were flying tons of specialized nutritional food for malnourished children in Mogadishu and other food supplies in southern Somalia, and it was continuing to feed more than 1.6 million people in Kenya.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said six flights and two ships have delivered more than 653 tons of corn soya blend, and about 230 tons of therapeutic food to treat severely malnourished children. It is also building up its food pipeline which already supports 500 nutrition centres in southern Somalia.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was working to accommodate some 3,000 people who since Monday settled spontaneously on the edge of Dadaab refugee complex, already the world’s largest refugee camp.

A spokesperson said the refugee agency is “very concerned about the protection of civilians” in Mogadishu amid renewed fighting between pro- and anti-Government forces. An offensive by pro-Government forces has increased the risk to the capital’s citizens as well as the estimated 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had recently fled drought and famine in neighbouring regions.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, today welcomed the Somali parliament’s approval of a new Cabinet and said the new Government must “immediately” tackle the problems facing the country.

Augustine P. Mahiga said the formation of the Cabinet “sends a strong, constructive signal and represents a positive start for the new Somali administration.”

“The new Government must immediately tackle the most critical tasks with the objective of creating a national vision based on a constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and a focus on the delivery of services,” he said.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WFP today issued a joint statement calling for a longer view of the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa.

“Beyond the emergency, it will be necessary to put into place the long-term solutions needed to guarantee food security in the Horn of Africa. There will be no sustainable solution to the crisis without measures that enable the countries of the region to become food self-sufficient, develop food crop production and support pastoralism and massively reinvest in agriculture and livestock-raising in the region,” it said.

- UN News Center 

Wednesday
Jul202011

Horn of Africa Famine Declared (REPORT)

Key Facts:

  • 10.7 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
  • Extremely high levels of child malnutrition are being reported in multiple locations
  • Relief operations need to be scaled up, as access to worst-affected areas of Somalia becomes a possibility
  • Total humanitarian requirements are $1.87bn: about $1bn is still needed

 

A severely malnourished baby lies in the paediatric unit at a hospital in the Rift Valley Province. CREDIT: UNICEF(HN, July 20, 2011) - Famine exists in two regions of southern Somalia: southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Across the country, nearly half of the Somali population – 3.7 million people – are now in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south.

The declaraton was made at a press conference in Nairobi today by the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden.

In the last few months, tens of thousands of Somalis have died as a result of causes related to malnutrition, the majority of whom were children. Affected by consecutive droughts and ongoing conflict, malnutrition rates are currently the highest in the world, with peaks of 50 per cent in certain areas of southern Somalia.  Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent; more than 2 people per 10,000 die per day; and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities.

“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” stressed HC Bowden. Noting that the lack of resources is alarming, Bowden continued, “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine affected areas”.

While UN humanitarian agencies have welcomed the recent statement by Al Shabaab requesting international assistance in southern Somalia, the inability of food agencies to work in the region since early 2010 has prevented the UN from reaching the very hungry – especially children – and has contributed to the current crisis.

Despite challenges, humanitarian agencies are working hard to respond. In an effort to reach more children with life-saving interventions, the UN and its partners have scaled up emergency nutrition, water and sanitation, and immunization efforts to combat malnutrition and reduce disease. To expedite the delivery of supplies into the worst-affected areas, the UN has started airlifting urgently needed medical, nutrition and water supplies.

The most affected areas of Somalia are in the south, particularly the region of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, which host an estimated 310,000 acutely malnourished children. In southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle today, acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent, with under-five deaths exceeding 6 per 10,000 per day in some areas.

Nearly half of the population in Somalia is facing a humanitarian crisis and is in urgent need of assistance. The number of people in crisis has increased by over one million in the last six months. Over 166,000 Somalis have fled the country to seek assistance and refuge in neighbouring countries since the start of the year, with over 100,000 of those fleeing since May. So far in July alone, almost 40,000 new Somali arrivals have been registered in refugee camps in the region.

“More than ever, Somali people need and deserve our full attention. At this time of crisis, we must make exceptional efforts to support Somalis wherever they are in need and expect that all parties will do the same” said Bowden.

- Via UN OCHA

Tuesday
Jul192011

UN To Declare Famine in Horn of Africa - CBC (REPORT)

Nomadic girls and women fill containers with water from a large puddle in the middle of the road near the town of Wajid, in the southern Bakool Region of Somalia. CREDIT: UNICEF(HN, July 19, 2011 - UPDATED 1815GMT) - The United Nations is poised to declare a famine in parts of Somalia, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported late last night.

While a famine is expected to be declared in Somalia Wednesday in Nairobi, CBC reported, as many as 12 million people are impacted in the unstable country, as well as Kenya, Ethiopia, and neighbouring countries.

UN sources in Kenya confirmed that a famine would be declared at any time and that all agencies were gearing up for the upgrading of the crisis.

The drought is the worst the region has seen in about six decades, raising memories of the devastating Ethiopian famine in 1984-1985, in which more than one million people died.

CBC reported that food insecurity has already reached emergency levels — one level below famine. "Famine/catastrophe" is the worst-case scenario on a five-level scale used to gauge food security.

Fresh details of the situation in the region are expected this morning during the regularly-scheduled UN media briefing in Geneva.

The UN employs several indicators to declare a famine, including acute malnutrition in more than 30 per cent of children, at least two deaths per 10,000 people every day and access to less than four litres of water a day. Large-scale displacement of people, civil strife and pandemic illness are also taken into consideration.

At a UN media briefing in Geneva today monitored by HUMNEWS, Paul Spiegel, Chief of Section, Public Health, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), seemed to suggest a famine would be declared imminently.

Spiegel said that the situation in Dolo Ado - a transit camp in southern Ethiopia on the Kenya-Somali border - was very dire, and he had been taken aback by what he had seen there. A new camp called Kobe, where the new arrivals are placed, has seen an extremely high mortality rate of 7.4 deaths per 10,000 people/day in June. The baseline for Sub-Saharan Africa was 0.5 and an emergency is generally declared at greater than or equal to 1 death. The preponderance of the deaths are among under-five children.

The malnutrition rates, one of the major causes of death, is extremely high. The severe malnutrition rate was 26.8 per cent in June, an extremely rare and very high finding, Spiegel said.

Somalia has been particularly hard hit by the current crisis, with thousands of people fleeing the country every day - at the rate of more than 2,000-a-day into Kenya and Ethiopia. Most of those fleeing are women and children, many clinging to life from acute malnutrition.

"Added to the drought, this is a region which suffers insecurity and conflict, population growth, poverty and over-utilization of land," said Valeria Amos, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator for humanitarian affairs.

Aid groups and UN agencies are calling for more assistance to meet the mounting need. Roughly $835 million US has been received to assist people in the Horn of Africa, but $1 billion more is needed, the UN said. CBC said the United States has been slow in committing funds.

Raouf Mazou, Deputy Director, East Africa and the Horn of Africa Region, UNHCR, said at a media briefing in Geneva today monitored by HUMNEWS that there are definitely not enough resources to respond to the needs. An appeal for about $136 million was issued last week, but so far only about 17 per cent of what was required is available.

Canada has contributed roughly $22 million, but is expected to announce new funding within a week, the CBC's Brian Stewart, a distinguished senior fellow at the Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, said.

"Normally Canada is expected to pay up to four per cent of major humanitarian emergencies," he added.

Stewart, who was one of the first journalists to alert the world to the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, said the key need is to buy sufficient food and water from inside Africa.

"Shipments from abroad take far too long and take away from Africa's own potential to deliver good and fast supplies," he noted. A UNICEF official said one of the main constraints to helping women and children in Somalia is restrictions on access, caused by the ongoing unrest.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today its Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, is leaving for the region today, first visiting Ethiopia before proceeding to Kenya and Somalia.

Monday
Jul182011

East Africa's Dust Bowl (REPORT/BLOG) 

By Peter Greste

Wajir, Kenya - The people out here are tough, and so are their animals. But there is a limit to how much any human can take, and people like Alfon Abdulahi Mohamed have reached it.

We met Alfon as we drove towards what the aid agencies have called the "ground zero" of East Africa's devastating drought-hit areas.

For mile after dusty mile, the land was not just parched but burned out. All shades of brown and yellow sand, crisp grey thorn bushes, and pools of deep red dust billowed up in great waves, as we ploughed through the dirt road like a ship in a storm.

On our way, we passed an abandoned borehole. We found nothing but the bleached bones of livestock. We stopped at the village to ask why. Alfon stepped forward and told us that her own camel was in the bush nearby, too weak to walk.

This stoic old woman with eight children to feed, took us through the scrub to the slowly dying animal. It had collapsed in the feeble shade of another thorn-bush, moaning softly when Alfon stooped to scratch its neck.

For all her crusty exterior, Alfon almost broke down when she explained how the female camel, who she called “Dup Muthow, had given her and her children milk for years.

But Dup hadn’t had a decent drink for months. The camel looked as though it would be lucky to survive the night.

The tragedy here is that this crisis is as much man-made as it is natural. The meteorologists have blamed the prolonged dry-spell on the "la Nina" phenomenon - when cooler-than-normal ocean currents cycle through the Pacific Ocean.

But out here, they also blame the government.

Alfon told us that the pump that drew water her village borehole broke down about a month ago. The government had since been promising to fix it .

Elsewhere, shockingly bad roads, intermittent electricity supplies and damaged bridges make it difficult, if not impossible, to move goods and services around.

Bad economics are also to blame. As we drove through the town of Wajir, we saw the market stocked with fresh vegetables, grains and pulses, but all of it is beyond the reach of all but the richest people here.

The rise in global grain prices, the surge in oil, speculative traders and bad infrastructure have all conspired to drive up the price of staples such as maize by around 80 per cent. Over the border in Somalia, it is closer to 200-300 per cent.

And then there is the politics.

Al Shabab, the Islamist movement fighting to bring down the government, had until recently banned international agencies from delivering aid into areas under its control.

That means most of southern Somalia has missed out on desperately needed help, driving hundreds of thousands of people into neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia and even into Mogadishu, Somalia's war-torn capital.

To a lesser extent, politics has also slowed development in drought-affected areas of the entire Horn.

It is no coincidence that the hardest hit are also on the fringes of national politics, and so tend to suffer from neglect - not all of it always benign.

This crisis wouldn’t have happened without the drought, of course. But it wouldn't be half as bad if humans hadn't got in the way.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on July 17, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Saturday
Jul162011

Horn of Africa Drought Threatens Millions (VIDEO REPORT)