FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday:  October 1, 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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Entries in Niger (14)

Tuesday
Jul312012

An African Sahel War on the Horizen? (Perspective) 

(Video: Is the Mali conflict a threat to the region? 1 month ago/AJE)

By Dr Julia Leininger

In the Sahel a war is spreading. Within three months it has overtaken the towns in an area of northern Mali larger than France. 365,000 people have taken flight within the country and across its borders into neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. But it is not the only disaster to strike northern Mali. The people are not only fleeing the violence, a reminder of the Tuareg war of 1990 to 1992: they are also trying to escape drought and famine.

Little in the way of facts and developments is leaking out to the world's public. Journalists, foreigners and most western aid organizations have left. The situation is too dangerous. At best, information is being received by telephone from the border towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Uninhabited desert areas are isolated from modern means of communication. And yet reports on the region paint a clear picture of good and evil. Images of defiled graves in Timbuktu show how Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels are destroying a world cultural heritage dating back centuries.

(MAP: Mali regions-Azawad consists of Gao, Kidal & Timbuktu, as well as the NE half of Mopti, claimed by & internationally recognised as part of Mali/WIKIPEDIA)The inhabitants of Timbuktu appear to have no choice but to watch helplessly as the armed and masked men go about their heartless business. In Gao, a town on Mali's border with Niger, the 'Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa' (MUJAO) is said to have taken the whole population hostage, a circle of land mines ensuring that no one escapes.

It seems to be a clear-cut case: extremist Islamists and Tuareg rebels versus the Malian state. And yet it is not quite so simple. The threatening Islamist gestures of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), MUJAO and Ansar Dine conceal a mixture of hard economic interests, disputes between old-established clans and struggles for an independent Tuareg state to be known as Azawad.

Independence from the Malian state is demanded by the Tuareg Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which began by allying itself with Ansar Dine to increase its strength. But the groups fell out over the question of religion: while the MNLA advocates a secular state, the other three are officially seeking to establish an Islamist regime in western Africa.

The Tuareg and the Islamists

Yet the lines separating the Tuareg and the Islamists seem clearer than they really are. Ansar Dine is led by the respected Tuareg Iyad Ag Ghali. He had hopes of becoming the leader of the MNLA. When they were dashed, he set up the Islamist Ansar Dine, but retained links with his Tuareg clan. He is alleged to have the backing of AQIM. AQIM emerged from an Algerian Salafist movement, is said to be composed mostly of Algerians and Mauritanians and operates across borders in the western Sahel.

(Video: Tuareg's claim independence, 3 months ago/AJE)

Behind the religiously charged scenes, all the groups that are ready to use violence - whether Tuareg, AQIM, MUJAO or Ansar Dine – have a number of things in common.  

First, they are linked to international smuggling: only in an ungoverned area like the Sahel can the lucrative movement of drugs from Latin America to Europe flourish and other smuggled goods find their way to consumers in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Second, their violence has no support in Mali's tolerant and consensus-oriented society. Nor does the introduction of a Wahabi and Salafist form of Islam find any approval in the Sufi tradition of the Malian faithful.

Third, the groups with a propensity for violence are benefiting from the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime of Libya. Innumerable Tuareg who fought in the ranks of the Libyan army have returned, some of them heavily armed, to their desert homes in Mali, Niger and Chad. Trained as soldiers, they are easily recruited for the struggle in northern Mali. Their combat strength and fire power are alarming, even though the actual numbers involved remain unknown. Finally, the fighters in northern Mali are taking advantage of the power vacuum that has prevailed in the capital of the country since a military coup in March 2012.

(Video: Islamists claim victory over Tuareg's, 1 month ago/AFP)

Beside the pictures of war and famine, the coup that ousted the democratically elected President, Amadou Toumani Touré, fades into insignificance. Yet the absence of a workable government is currently preventing effective action against famine, poverty and war in the North of the country. In this former model democracy, supporters of the old regime face sections of the military and young Malians pressing for radical political change. They recall the demands that the old political elite addressed to representatives of the authoritarian regime in the early stages of Malian democracy in 1991.

The state was to ensure the unity of the nation and put an end to the ominous Tuareg rebellion (1991-1995). The old elite also stood for an end to corrupt politics and the enrichment of individuals at the expense of the Malian people. Now the civil and military opposition are also accusing the government led by Touré, who has fled to Senegal, and the constitutional transitional government of being incapable of restoring peace in the North and ensuring sustainable development for all Malians.

Popular Military Coup

In this respect many observers are surprised to find that the military coup has proved very popular with the urban population. Nor has an agreement mediated by Burkina Faso and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) done much to improve the wrangling over the leadership of the country. ECOWAS, for example, has called on the Malian transitional government to have formed a government of national unity by July 31, 2012 (which hasn't happened) and to take action to end the conflict in the North.

(Video: Meanwhile, hunger prevails/FAO)

International support is needed if a further escalation of violence in the Sahel region is to be prevented. In Africa itself the African Union, ECOWAS and Mali’s neighbors Algeria and Chad are discussing the form that engagement might take. ECOWAS has taken Algeria's place as the main negotiating power in conflicts with the Tuareg and AQIM.

The problem with ECOWAS's new role is, however, that Algeria and Chad, being non-members, are excluded. A split in political positions was also to be seen at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa mid-July. While ECOWAS is preparing to intervene with 3,000 troops, Algeria is pressing for a political dialogue with the warring parties. Chad would take military action, but not under ECOWAS's aegis.

Sustained management of the conflict in northern Mali and of the regular catastrophic droughts in the Sahel is, however, achievable only with Algeria and Chad. The integration of these countries can succeed only if Mali, the African Union and the United Nations Security Council adopt clear positions. In the Security Council France has already declared its support for military intervention, while the USA is exercising restraint in view of the forthcoming presidential election. As the Malian military is also opposed to intervention, Mali's transitional government remains incapable of taking action for the time being.

In the meantime, they expect a government of national unity to be formed in Mali and an ECOWAS mission and the UN Secretary-General to present their reports on the situation in Mali. It is to be hoped that in this way a more accurate picture of the facts and developments in the war and the emergency in northern Mali will emerge. It is only on a sound basis of this kind that the advantages and risks associated with a military intervention can be assessed.

-- Dr Julia Leininger works at German Development Institute (DIE) Department 'Governance, Statehood, Security'. She is the regional coordinator for Sub-Sahara Africa. This analysis appeared on July 16 as OpEd in DIE. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Wednesday
May162012

Despite Progress, Millions at Risk as UN Releases Africa Human Development Report (NEWS) 


(Video UNDP)

By Shout Africa

Aid provided to Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger is insufficient, the medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said today. Since late January, nearly 160,000 Malians have fled their country for camps in neighboring nations. Instability persists in Mali, leaving little hope that the refugees will be able to return soon. On top of that, another imminent threat looms: the rainy season, which will further complicate the deployment of aid.

MSF is working in camps in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, and is concerned that the impending rainy season and the current shortage of aid will worsen the problem significantly. “MSF calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP) to increase and speed up the distribution of aid in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger before the rainy season makes aid distribution even more difficult,” says Malik Allaouna, MSF director of operations.

In the makeshift Mauritanian camp of Mbéra, located in the middle of the desert, residents share one latrine for 220 people. They receive only 11 liters of water per person per day and the food distributed by the WFP does not meet the specific nutritional needs of children.

“We received four kilograms of rice – the quality is mediocre and it’s full of pebbles – two cups of oil and two cups of sugar for 10 days,” says one person in Mbéra camp. “They’ve given us just a single ration since we arrived.”

(MAP: LongWarjournal) In Burkina Faso, where MSF is working in four camps, the organization notes that food supplies are distributed inappropriately. “The same quantity is distributed without regard for the number of people in a family,” says Mohamed El Moktar, a refugee at the Gandafabou camp. “We are seven people. After two days, we have nothing left.”

Living conditions are significantly below international aid standards and render people who are already weakened by a very long journey even more vulnerable to illness. Most of the diseases treated during MSF’s medical consultations in the camps are directly related to poor living conditions.

At MSF’s treatment centre in Mbéra, four out of every 10 patients are suffering from respiratory infections and two out of 10 for diarrhea. The next most common ailments are skin infections and malnutrition. Since the organization started working in Mbéra, more than 500 children have been treated for malnutrition.

“Food insecurity is a threat both for the Malian refugees and for the host communities, which are already suffering from poor harvests,” adds Mr. Allaouna. “Only food distribution, in sufficient quantity and quality, will prevent children’s nutritional condition from further deteriorating.”

In Burkina Faso, MSF is working in the Ferrerio, Gandafabou, Dibissi and Ngatourou-Niénié camps. In Mauritania, in Mbéra, Fassala and Bassikounou; and in Niger, it is active in the communities of Mangaïzé, Abala, Chinagodrarand Yassan.

- This article originally appeared on Shout Africa

Tuesday
Apr102012

Sahel NOW: Decisive action is needed to avoid another famine crisis (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video UN)

By Rebecca Barber

This time last year, the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned that the food security situation in the Horn of Africa was 'alarming', and that poor rains could lead to famine conditions in parts of Somalia.

As an international community, we failed to respond.  Four months later the worst was realised and the UN declared a famine in six regions in Southern Somalia. By November, 750,000 people were at risk of starvation.

It's now acknowledged that last year's food crisis in the Horn of Africa took no-one by surprise, and that we had the information needed to take cost-effective, preventive action to save lives.  An evaluation conducted late last year by the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee found that there was a 'failure of preventive action from late 2010', and a 'failure to respond with adequate relief from the time it was needed in early to mid-2011'.

We don't know exactly how many people died in the Horn of Africa, although one estimate suggests a figure of between 50,000 and 100,000. What we do know is that an earlier response which supported livelihoods, preserved household income and supported markets would have reduced rates of malnutrition, and that more substantial provision of food, nutrition, clean water and health services would have reduced the number of deaths. If an earlier response had saved even a small percentage of the lives lost, thousands of men, women and children would be alive today.

(MAP: The Sahel region in West Africa/Wikipedia)In the aftermath of the crisis, Australia has strengthened its commitment to tackling food insecurity in Africa, as well as its commitment to ensuring timely response to crises when they occur.  At the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth last year, the Australian government together with other Commonwealth member states recognised food insecurity as 'one of the most pressing and difficult global challenges of our time', and called for 'decisive and timely measures to prevent crises occurring' and to 'mitigate their impact when they do'.

This commitment is timely, because now another food crisis is unfolding in the Sahel – a belt of arid land that stretches from Senegal in the west through Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad to Sudan. This time, albeit far from the media spotlight, Australia together with the rest of the world has an opportunity to demonstrate lessons learned from the Horn.

More than 13 million people are at risk of hunger in the Sahel – a result of poor rains, a 25 per cent decline in food production across the region, a reduction in remittances from neighbouring countries, and skyrocketing food prices.  Recent assessments by Save the Children show that in some parts of Niger, communities lack nearly two-thirds of the food and cash they need to survive the year. 

In some parts of Mali, families are struggling to cope as the price of millet has risen by more than 80 per cent, while at the same time remittances have fallen by as much as 70 percent as workers return from Libya and Algeria.

One million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition – in plain language this means severely wasted. Malnutrition levels in some areas now exceed the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.  Families have already begun to adopt 'harmful coping mechanisms' such as reducing the number of daily meals, selling livestock which is usually relied on for food and income, going into debt, and taking children out of school. In the long-term this reduces resilience and food security.

In a promising demonstration of lessons learned from the Horn, a number of donors have recognised the scale of the impending crisis and made early and generous commitments to the Sahel. 

The US has pledged $75 million, Canada $41 million, France $22 million, and Germany $19 million.  Australia has pledged $10 million – an amount that pales in comparison to the $128 million contributed to the Horn of Africa last year.  It's not enough.

(PHOTO: Nomads in the Sahel/DailyMaverick) The UN estimates that it will need $725 million to tackle food security and nutrition in the Sahel, but so far just over half of this has been pledged – and even less actually committed.  The lean season (the time between harvests when household food stocks dwindle) is approaching, and the next harvest is not until October. 

The head of the Food and Agricultural Organisation warned last month that there were only two or three months to act to avoid a crisis on a scale similar to that seen in the Horn of Africa last year.  That window of opportunity will soon close.

With the indicators of crisis becoming stronger, the Australian government has an opportunity now to take decisive action and demonstrate lessons learnt from the Horn of Africa.  The consequences of failing to do so will be millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, and thousands of lives lost.

- Rebecca Barber is Save the Children's humanitarian policy and advocacy advisor. This editorial originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Wednesday
Mar212012

International Organization for Migration and Partners Relocate Displaced Malians from Niger's South-western Border (Report) 

(PHOTO: The ICRC registers Mali refugees returning from Niger/ICRC)IOM, in partnership with the Government of Niger and UNHCR, has relocated more than 500 vulnerable Malian families from insanitary and overcrowded makeshift settlements in and around the south-western border village of Sinegodar to a safe site away from the volatile border region.  

The operation, which was launched on March 17, has so far succeeded in relocating 2,114 individuals from Sinegodar to Abala, some 80 kilometres to the south.     

"Some of the Malians in Sinegodar have told IOM they are reluctant to be relocated further south since they hope to return home to Mali as soon as security conditions permit," says Abibatou Wane, IOM's Chief of Mission in Niger.

"Apart from security considerations, this relocation is essential to alleviate the pressure on local populations living in food insecure areas and villages such as Sinegodar, which simply cannot meet the needs of so many newly arrived people," she adds.  

Prior to departure, IOM staff registered the departing families and ensured that everyone was fit to travel. It also provided water and high energy biscuits. IOM medics were on hand to assist vulnerable people with special needs.

Some 28,000 people, including at least 4,500 Niger nationals, have crossed the border into Niger to escape fighting in northern Mali between government forces and fighters from the Mouvement National de Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA.)  

IOM is now working with international and local partners to continue the registration of Malians who are scattered across inhospitable desert border areas and to organize their relocation further south.

Despite the assistance provided by humanitarian agencies, living conditions in the border area continue to be difficult for Malians and the local population alike. According to Niger's Early Warning System (SAP), more than six million Nigeriens are in need of food aid.

"A combination of drought, insecurity and population inflows from neighbouring Mali and Libya has further aggravated the situation in a region which is already facing severe food shortages and malnutrition. To cope with increased food prices and shortages, families are now having one meal a day. Others have sold whatever they had and migrated to urban areas in search of jobs," says Wane.

--- Find more of IOM's work at www.iom.int

Tuesday
Feb212012

10 million Africans face starvation (REPORT) 

 By Mel Frykberg

(GRAPHIC: FEWS Net)The UN warned on Saturday that 10 million people in Africa’s Sahel region faced starvation and called for a greater humanitarian response to the crisis, which is threatening eight countries, particularly Niger, where at least half of those at risk are situated. The Sahel countries include parts of Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Algeria, Niger, northern Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and South Sudan, northern Cameroon and Eritrea.

Helen Clark, the UN development programme’s administrator, and the under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and UN emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, made the appeal during a visit to Niger’s Tillabery region.

Their visit entailed an inspection of an agricultural project supported by the UN, which grows vegetables in a sustainable way, while simultaneously improving the nutrition of the villagers and providing them with a source of income.

“This project shows how a tiny initial investment can make a major difference,” Amos said.

“Just a few kilometres from here, there is a village which has not had this investment, where people are leaving their homes and have taken their children out of school so that they can look for food,” she said.

(PHOTO: Aliyin Would Eleiat, the chief of a village in the Gorgol region of Mauritania shows 1 of few wells that still has water. It serves as the lifeline for 75 families/Irina Fuhrmann, OXFAM)Clark stated that the wider crisis in the Sahel, where poor harvests following repeated droughts had caused severe shortages, threatened 10 million people in desperate need of assistance.

Furthermore, international non-governmental organisations warned that the Sahel could be crippled by this year.

Oxfam has announced that harvests plummeted 25% in the region compared to 2010 because of lack of rains. This will leave more than one million children threatened with severe malnutrition.

---This piece originally appeared in South Africa's New Age

RELATED:

(PHOTO: Baaba Maal with Oxfam in Mauritania/OXFAM)Senegal's Baaba Maal visits Mauritania with Oxfam: "The scale of this crisis is so great that I have to speak out so that the world reacts"

During a 48 hour visit to the Gorgol region of Mauritania, the musician Baaba Maal discovered the harsh reality for communities affected by a food crisis that now touches one in four people across the country. Today 700,000 people are food insecure in Mauritania.

"What is happening in this part of Africa is so close to my heart. People are suffering, especially children. I cannot watch and do nothing,” declared Senegalese singer Baaba Maal after visiting Mauritanian communities at the center of the current food crisis in the Sahel. Low rainfall, poor harvests, a lack of pasture and rising food prices are among the key factors driving this crisis.

Baaba Maal, who met populations in the south of the country, not far from his home village in Senegal, noted: “Some families have almost nothing to eat, and I worry about how they will feed themselves until the next harvest.”

(PHOTO: The Senegal River, which forms the natural border between Mauritania & Senegal, is too low for the crop season/Irina Fuhrmann, OXFAM)The Senegalese singer, internationally renowned and recognized for his commitment to development in Africa, launched an appeal to the international community for urgent action: “We cannot watch and do nothing while our brothers and sisters in Mauritania are victims of such a crisis. I have been able to see the solutions that are being put in place. We have to support and strengthen them."

"I met Hamila, a mother of five children, who had just bought a bag of rice thanks to money provided by Oxfam. This money will allow her to feed her family over the coming weeks. Hamila is among the most vulnerable people in her community but there are many other people who need our help,” explained Baaba Maal.

Last December, Oxfam and its partners launched a humanitarian response in the south of Mauritania in order to provide assistance to 30,000 people, and are planning to scale up operations to avoid a major crisis. In coordination with the emergency plan developed by the Government, the organisation has put in place cash transfers to allow populations to protect their livelihoods. Other actions to improve access to clean drinking water are also underway in order to prevent water-borne diseases that lead to malnutrition, especially in children.

"When I was young, this region was totally green but every year I see it becoming more and more dry. Yet water is there, in the river and in the ground. We have to work together and join forces to solve the problem, so that we never see this situation repeated again,” added Baaba Maal.

Oxfam is calling for urgent interventions to avoid the worst over the coming months, as well as long-term investments to strengthen the resilience of populations, allow communities to cope with bad years, and prevent crises of the future. As well as Mauritania, Oxfam is actively supporting communities affected by this crisis in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Senegal.

--- This piece originally appeared on OXFAM

Thursday
Feb162012

Warnings of Second African Drought in Sahel (NEWS BRIEF)

As many as 10 million people are threatened by drought in the Sahel. CREDIT: Shannon Howard/WFP

(HN, February 16, 2012) -- A persistent drought in the Sahel region of Africa could turn into a famine and threaten up to 10-million people.

This was the main conclusion of an emergency meeting of UN agencies, NGOs, governments and donors hosted Wednesday in Rome by the World Food Programme (WFP).

"We have a short time to act. We have two to three months, no more than that," the head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, José Graziano da Silva, said in no uncertain terms at a press conference after the meeting.

Also attending were representatives of the African Union and the Economic Community Of West African States - as well as the executive director of WFP, Josette Sheeran, the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, the administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, the assistant administrator of USAID, Nancy Lindborg and the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva.

Said Sheeran: "We are having an emergency meeting to avoid a full blown emergency, before we see the effects which are long lasting and devastating. We know what needs to be done. We have learned some lessons from the Horn of Africa. While we can't prevent drought, we can prevent famine. "

More than 10 million people in the Sahel are threatened because late and erratic rains have ruined harvests in parts of Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Senegal, Gambia, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria.

Food shortages have pounded the region at least five times in the past 10 years. Farmers in the region have seen harvests fall by 14 percent in Burkina Faso and 46 percent in Mauritania, says WFP.

The government of Niger says that over 5.5 million people in the country are at risk of going hungry and that a rapid response will be needed to avert a full scale food crisis.  In Chad, 6 out of 11 regions in the Sahelian parts of the country are reporting “critical” levels of malnutrition, with the other 5 at levels described as “serious”.

However the crisis cannot only be blamed on Mother Nature - fighting in Mali has resulted in thousands of refugees fleeing into neighbouring states, including Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.

- HUMNEWS staff

Tuesday
Feb072012

Mali refugees in Niger fleeing Tuareg uprising await food and water aid (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Mali refugees arriving in Niger, February 4, 2012/Radio Netherlands)The thousands who fled the ongoing Tuareg rebellion in Mali to seek refuge in western Niger are suffering from a severe food-and-water shortage, local officials and aid providers say.

"We must fear a humanitarian catastrophe, if nothing is done," Boureima Issaka of the Niger-based aid group Timidria said in Chinegodar, a small village that has seen an influx of some 6,000 refugees in less than a month.

They have sought shelter from a conflict in Mali between government troops and armed rebels that has caused dozens of casualties on either side.

The combat began on January 17, when the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) launched an attack in northern Mali -- the largest offensive by Tuareg rebels since 2009 -- sparking clashes with the army.

Malian civilians have since fled to neighbouring West African countries Mauritania and Burkina Faso, as well as Niger, which has struggled with its own Tuareg rebellions in the past.

Western Niger's small village of Chinegodar, 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border, has grappled with a food crisis following a country-wide drought and the influx of refugees has further stretched resources.

The village, which normally numbers 1,600 residents, has also seen its only well dry up, prompting a severe water shortage, according to the village chief.

Children are among those suffering from malnutrition and dehydration in the refugee camp.

"These children are terribly hungry; we can hear their crying every night," said Balki, a Chinegodar resident who is sheltering 10 of the refugees in her modest home.

According to officials and aid groups, about 10,000 people fleeing the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali and reprisal attacks in Bamako have crossed into Niger, more than 4,500 into Mauritania and 1,500 into Burkina Faso.

General conditions in the Niger refugee camp are also poor, according to Boureima Issaka, the aid worker.

"The majority of people no longer bathe; they sleep under the stars at the mercy of wind, cold nights, scorpions and snakes," Issaka said.

(PHOTO: Newly arrived Mali refugees in Mauritania/Int'l World Service)Shelters made of blankets and cloth protect the refugees from the hot sun and cold nights, but the situation remains bleak.

A United Nations mission visited the village last week and found conditions to be extremely difficult and the hygiene deplorable, prompting fear of a cholera epidemic.

The crisis is compounded by the fact that the Malian region of Menaka -- one of the main flashpoints in the latest fighting -- was the principal source of essential commodities for Chinegodar.

For now, the Chinegodar mayor's office has offered the refugee camp half a tonne of cereal, Doctors Without Borders provided a few boxes of medicine and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working on the water supply.

The refugees themselves leave early in the morning to pick berries or pods of "Dani," a thorny plant sought out in times of scarcity.

Still, some refugees have not eaten in days and wait anxiously for aid.  "Give us something to eat, I suffer from dizziness," Nako, a Malian woman in the refugee camp, told a Doctors Without Borders team tallying the number of malnourished children.

--- This article originally appeared on Africasia.

Friday
Jan272012

Nigeria's Boko Haram vows to fight until country establishes sharia law

A spokesman for Boko Haram tells the Guardian exclusively that the Islamist group says it will not stop deadly attacks until country is ruled according to dictates of Allah.

The Islamist group Boko Haram, which has killed almost 1,000 people in Nigeria, will continue its campaign of violence until the country is ruled by sharia law, a senior member has told the Guardian.

"We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to their knees," the spokesman, Abu Qaqa, said in the group's first major interview with a western newspaper. "Once we see that things are being done according to the dictates of Allah, and our members are released [from prison], we will only put aside our arms – but we will not lay them down. You don't put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside."

Qaqa, whose name is a pseudonym, said the group's members were spiritual followers of al-Qaida, and claimed they had met senior figures in the network founded by Osama bin Laden during visits to Saudi Arabia.

The interview comes a week after Boko Haram claimed responsibility for Nigeria's single deadliest terrorist attack, which killed 186 people in the northern city of Kano.

In an audio message posted on YouTube on Friday, the group's current leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to bomb schools and kidnap family members of government officials.

"If [security forces] are going to places of worship and destroying them, like mosques and Quranic schools, you have primary schools as well, you have secondary schools and universities, and we will start bombing them."

Shekau rejected calls for a negotiated peace from President Goodluck Jonathan, who on Thursday called for the shadowy sect to step out of the shadows and engage in dialogue.

Nigerian officials have voiced hopes for a negotiated settlement with "moderate elements" of the group. "Under the circumstances, if you look hard enough, you can find moderate elements you can communicate with," General Andrew Azazi, the national security adviser to the president, told the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

Western diplomats say Boko Haram has splintered and the hardliners leading the factions responsible for the wave of violence that has killed some 250 people this year appear to have rejected any suggestion of dialogue.

The Guardian was able to contact Abu Qaqa through an intermediary from the group's home state. The go-between has been in contact with the group since its inception, and met with its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, several times before he was killed in 2009. For most of the interview he used a voice modulator, but local journalists confirmed that his undisguised voice matched recordings of previous interviews.

Qaqa said Shekau and others had travelled to Saudi Arabia for training and funding. "Al-Qaida are our elder brothers. During the lesser Hajj [last August], our leader travelled to Saudi Arabia and met al-Qaida there. We enjoy financial and technical support from them. Anything we want from them we ask them."

He said recruits from neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger had joined the group. A recent UN report said weapons from Libya may have been smuggled to Boko Haram and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghre via Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Security officials and diplomats in Abuja said they had no evidence of a link with al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia, but an official confirmed that "elements of Boko Haram have made contact with external groups". The extent and frequency of that contact was unknown, the official said.

In the decade since it first appeared, Boko Haram has graduated from crude driveby attacks on beer parlours to bombing security buildings in the northern Muslim heartland. Its most audacious attack targeted the United Nations building in the capital, Abuja, killing 25 in August. In recent weeks, Christians institutions have increasingly come under fire. A Christmas Day bomb attack on a packed church just outside the capital claimed almost 40 lives.

But Qaqa said the rights of the country's 70 million Christians, who represent half of Nigeria's population, "would be protected" under the group's envisioned Islamic state. "Even the prophet Mohammed lived with non-Muslims and he gave them their dues." But he said everyone must abide by sharia law: "There are no exceptions. Even if you are a Muslim and you don't abide by sharia, we will kill you. Even if you are my own father, we will kill you."

Speaking fluent but non-native Hausa, the lingua franca across the Sahelian belt on the cusp of the Sahara desert, he said: "It's the secular state that is responsible for the woes we are seeing today. People should understand that we are not saying we have to rule Nigeria, but we have been motivated by the stark injustice in the land. People underrate us but we have our sights set on [bringing sharia to] the whole world, not just Nigeria."

Sharia law is already in place across 12 states in the Muslim-majority north. Few believe the group's radical ideology has traction in Nigeria's mainly Christian south, which is also home to millions of Muslims and has so far been out of the group's reach.

Raising his voice for the only time during the interview, Qaqa denied reports that some governors in northern Nigeria paid the group monthly allowances in exchange for immunity from attacks. "May God punish anyone that said so," he said, before adding that the group has popular support in the north.

"Poor people are tired of the injustice, people are crying for saviours and they know the messiahs are Boko Haram.   "People were singing songs in [northern cities] Kano and Kaduna saying: 'We want Boko Haram'," Qaqa said, describing how the group can blend into the communities in which it operates. "If the masses don't like us they would have exposed us by now. When Islam comes everyone would be happy," he said.

Diplomats say Nigeria's security services are belatedly attempting to gain control of the situation, which was previously dismissed as an internal, northern squabble often fuelled by politicians with personal grievances.

"There is an ongoing review of all security agencies," the presidential aide Ken Wiwa said. "This is a relatively new phenomenon in Nigeria and the administration is working hard to improve its capacity to respond. There are various other initiatives which will be implemented but this is as much a political as a security issue."

An official said Nigeria's central bank was involved in measures aimed at strangling the group's external funding sources, including speeding up a cashless economy.

(By the Guardian’s Monica Mark in Abuja, Nigeria.  READ MORE HERE)

Sunday
Jul312011

Fighting Severe Malnutrition One Child at a Time in Nigeria's North (REPORT/VIDEO)

- Words: HUMNEWS staff, with UNICEF
- Video: Courtesy of UNICEF Nigeria. Edited by Max Ramming; narrated by Maggie Padlewska 

 

 

(HN, July 31, 2011) - As government and aid officials fight to stem to tide of malnourished children in the Horn of Africa, on the other side of the continent, a proven method of quickly guiding children back to health is showing impressive results.

In Nigeria's dry north, a programme to endow individual communities with the ability to treat malnourished children has resulting in a sharp decline of cases.A weary mother brings her malnourished infant for the first time to a CMAM post near Katsina. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw

Malnutrition here, as well as in many parts of Africa, is not only due to lack of rain or climbing food prices. Aid workers say poor household feeding practices are also to blame: mothers either stop breast-feeding abruptly and too early or do not have the knowledge on how to prepare nutritious meals.

Dubbed the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), the concept is designed to nurse children back to normal over the course of about eight weeks. For the most part, children are treated at home with ready-to-use therapeutic food. It is a result of a close collaboration between the federal, state and local governments and communities, as well as UNICEF and the European Commission.

On a recent visit to a CMAM post in Katsina, mothers could be seen shepherding their malnourished children through a carefully-planned circuit. First come a check-up, then a consultation, and finally the mothers receive any needed drugs and anti-biotics, and food supplements, including the therapeutic food.

Careful records are maintained so that, over the course of eight weeks of rehabilitation, proper follow-up can take place. When the programme started, there were 100 cases a day treated; now, only about 20 mothers come in every day. "We are very, very happy with the results," said one health worker.

Midwife Fedosi Babendaga at the CMAM post. CREDIT: M BociurkiwThe programme is so finely-tuned that if a mother does not return for a follow-up visit, a trained community volunteer comes to knock on their door.

Midwife Fedosi Babengada says that, in addition to the case management, mothers are also offered nutritional advice on how to boost the health benefits of each meal.

Despite being one of Africa's most prosperous and populous nations, more than one million children aged five and under die of preventable causes every year in Nigeria. It has the fourth-highest number of underweight children in the world. This translates into more than two million children suffering from severe and moderate levels of acute malnutrition - most of them in northern regions.

CMAM reached about 54,000 severely malnourished children in seven drought-affected northern Nigerian states. It is funded by a 3 million Euro grant from the European Commission's humanitarian aid agency (ECHO).

The focus states border Niger Republic and the Republic of Chad - both of which appealed last year for humanitarian food aid following severe food shortages caused by the ongoing Sahel drought and climate change.

Apart from the effects of Sahel drought in Northern Nigeria, other major challenges in the region include poor child care practices - particularly low exclusive breastfeeding rates - as well as inadequate quality and quantity of complementary foods.

Thursday
Apr282011

Meddling Media: How media plays a role in shaping Sub-Saharan Africa (REPORT)

By Vanessa Yurkevich in New York

(HN, April 28, 2011) - Ndimyake Mwakalyelye was a reporter working for Voice of America (VOA) during the presidential elections in Zimbabwe two years ago.Sanjukta Roy and Michael Behrman at the Columbia panel. CREDIT: Vanessa Yurkevich

The government quickly realized people were turning to VOA for their election information and that’s when the government blocked the station’s air waves. “Someone had found a way to penetrate the system,” Mwakalyelye said, referring to the media’s role in the election. After spending what she calls “a small fortune” on the right equipment to override the block, VOA’s listenership went from hundreds of thousands of people to millions. “The jamming” by the government, she said, was “creating a need to broadcast more.”

Zimbabwe is one of nearly a dozen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is no freedom of press. At a conference at Columbia University in New York Wednesday, journalists working in Africa, policy makers and researchers discussed the power and restriction of media in the region.

Mwakalyelye, who sat on a panel, said the landscape of journalism is evolving, and bloggers, citizen journalism and social media are playing larger roles in inciting change. “Its power is unbelievable but it needs to be in good hands” Mwakalyelye says. “Uganda tried to block Twitter and Facebook during the elections” she recalls. “People saw the revolution it caused in Egypt and Tunisia.”

“Freedom of the press is necessary, but not sufficient to ensure a healthy and effective media sector,” said economist Sanjukta Roy, who is currently working on the Media Map Project with Internews, which helps to support independent media and access to information.

In partnership with the World Bank Institute, the project will provide guidance to NGO’s and donors on how investments in local media might serve to advance a country’s governmental and developmental objectives.

Roy explained that in order for press freedom to thrive, the country must also be financially viable and establish an educational system with developmental goals and basic access to food. She said professional journalists and a plurality of sources are essential to a successful media.

Michael Behrman studies quantitative methods in media at Columbia University and said, “Press freedom is an important component in maintaining a long term democracy.” For example, he said. the democratic nation of Mali has one of the freest media in Africa and the government protects freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, Behrman, citing a country like Niger, which never fully capitalized on its a freedom of press during a democratic period in the 1990s, said the country has seen its press freedom deteriorate significantly.

Behrman points out that Africa has the least amount of data regarding the media, and panelists agreed there is currently no means to measure the quality of the content being produced, in part because it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, propaganda from truth.

Behrman said while the lack of data is troubling, it is exactly the reason it’s not easy to predict whether the uprisings in the Middle East could be paralleled in Sub-Saharan Africa. The best way to determine what can cause such a social media and political revolution is to study what happened in the Middle East and use it as an indicator for other regions.

“It would be good if there were such data so that you can get a glimpse and a better understanding” Behrman said. “It would be a natural experiment.”

Saturday
Mar192011

As Exodus of Migrants Continues From Libya Gaddafi Asks Them to go Back to Work (NEWS BRIEF)

A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdi CREDIT: AlertNet(HN, March 19, 2011) - As thousands of foreign migrant workers continue to stream out of war-torn Libya, the marginalized leader of the country has pleaded for oil field workers to come back to work.

In another bizarre news conference, Colonel Gaddafi said: "We need the workforce to come back and work in the oil fields so that we can resume production."

The plea comes as UN officials say thousands of distressed migrant workers - mostly from Sub-Saharan African countries - continue to stream across Libya's borders.

The latest batch to cross were thousands of Niger nationals who arrived by a convoy of trucks.

On Friday alone, at least 2,000 migrants crossed over the border to Niger and to the Dirkou transit camp, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). They arrived in 18 trucks and extremely hungry after a long trek across the desert. Reports are coming in of another 70 trucks of Nigerien migrants headed towards the border.

The exodus has overwhelm border towns like Dirkou - which only has 4,000 residents but now hosts a population of stranded migrants numbering 4,200. Long waits to get home and difficult conditions has sparked occasional violence, the IOM said.

Yesterday a large group of 204 Mauritanians - including 37 women and 48 children - were evacuated by the UN to their homeland. They had been stranded in the transit camp for more than two weeks.

"The situation for the migrants has been understandably difficult," said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM's Director of Operations. "They are impatient to go home and reach safety. They have already lost their money and possessions after in addition to having fled Libya in difficult circumstances."

- HUMNEWS staff

Thursday
Jan132011

World Bank Ups Growth Forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa (Report)

(HN, January 13, 2010) - Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa - the world's poorest region - will expand by as much as 5.3 percent in 2011, up from 1.7 percent in 2009, acccording to the World Bank.Tourism remittances are up in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, boosting economic prospects 

"In Sub-Saharan Africa, if you take out South Africa then we are at average growth rates of above 6 percent, similar growth rates as they achieved during the period before the crisis; overall, a very strong growth picture," said Hans Timmer, Director for the Prospects Group at the World Bank.

The latest Bank forecast for economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is an increase from 5.1 percent and is connected to the global economy recovery, and improved outlook for oil producers such as Nigeria and Angola.

The biggest risk to the continent's growth is another slump in the global economy as most African countries have “depleted the fiscal space they had created during the pre-crisis period and have not had time to rebuild it,” the Bank said.

Some countries saw a welcome uptick in tourist arrivals - especially South Africa, thanks to the World Cup. However, Cape Verde, Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tanzania also experienced an increase in tourism revenue, the Bank said.

Also positive is that remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa, which remained nearly flat during the crisis, registered a modest 1 percent gain in 2010 to reach $21 billion, the Bank says.

Remittance flows are important in supporting household consumption in a number of Sub-Saharan African countries, accounting for up to 25 percent of GDP in Lesotho and about 10 percent in Cape Verde, Senegal and Togo.

There are some dark clouds on the horizon for the region - especially climate change, which weighs heavily on the Bank's agenda for Africa.

Africa is facing an annual loss of 1 to 2 percent annual GDP because of climate variability, the Bank said in its latest Annual Report.

"Global temperature increases are expected to lead to reduced rainfall, water shortages, and compressed growing periods in Western and Southern Africa, and to increased rainfall, heavier flooding, and fiercer and more frequent cyclones in Northeast Africa," said the Bank.

An ongoing drought in Niger, Chad and northern Nigeria is ruining harvests and has forced thousands of families to seek emergency food aid for their severely malnourished children.

A mother holds her child at the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre, which treats undernourished children in Niger. CREDIT: UnicefToday, UNICEF announced a new 3-million Euro commitment from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) for emergency food aid for more than 50,000 children in seven drought-hit states in northern Nigeria. The children's agency has reported a spike in admission of severely malnourished children to therapeutic feeding centres in places like Niger. Soaring food prices are partially to blame.

"When prices of staples soar, the poor bear the brunt. Without global action, people in poor countries will be deprived of adequate and nutritious food, with tragic consequences for individuals and for the future prosperity of their countries." World Bank President Robert Zoellick said recently in an opinion piece.

- HUMNEWS staff, World Bank

Thursday
Jan062011

Soaring Food Prices Cause Concern Worldwide (Report)

(PHOTO: Bikyamasr.com)(HN, January 6, 2011) - Noah commandeers his battered taxi through the early morning haze of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, wondering how he will come up with the money to pay for a trip to the market. Not only has the price of produce shot up in recent months, the price of parking at the market has double in recent weeks.

Noah’s worries were confirmed this week by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which reported that its food price index – a basket tracking the wholesale cost of wheat, corn, rice, oil seeds, dairy products, sugar and meats, has jumped to a record high – even surpassing prices that sparked riots in more than 30 countries – including Haiti, Somalia and Cameroon - in 2007-2008.

While the price of staples such as rice and wheat are below the crises level, sticker shock in markets around the world is being caused by corn, sugar, meat and vegetable oil.

“We are entering a danger territory,” Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the FAO told reporters Wednesday.

(GRAPH: FAO) But some believe the world food supply is more fragile than it ever was, mostly because of extreme weather worldwide last year. Major wheat producers such as Ukraine and Russia have banned exports of wheat in 2010 after extremely poor harvests. And recent severe flooding in Australia’s agricultural heartland of Queensland is already having global repercussions on the world food supply.

This week, young people in the capital of Algiers, Algeria, rioted mostly because of rising food prices – including oil, sugar and flour.

There is also evidence to suggest that in the poorest countries, mothers are being forced by rising prices to cut back on essentials. In Niger - where one in four children die before their fifth birthday, mainly due to malnutrition – record numbers of children are being admitted to the country’s 822 therapeutic feeding centres, according to UNICEF.

Even in developed countries, people in the food business are being forced to cope using innovative means. Cynthia Thomet, co-owner of Atlanta’s Lunacy Black Market, a trendy eatery, said fluctuating prices of produce means much more frequent menu changes.

The sharp increase in commodity prices has prompted food companies like General Mills, Kraft, Sara Lee, Kellogg and ConAgra Foods to drop discounts and start rising prices on many products, said Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

According to the FAO not only is their Food Price Index which tracks 55 commodities in total at a record high, but December 2010 was the sixth month in a row of surging prices - the highest since records began in 1990. The organization says it fears that prices will continue to soar in coming months as supply will fall short of world demand.

(PHOTO: City Farmer)Additionally, in a continuing to struggle world economy rising food prices would see consumers left with less money for discretionary spending on things like eating out and retail items as every day eating becomes more expensive.

Compounding the issue is the growing global population, scheduled to top 7 billion people sometime this spring.  The FAO has previously warned that worldwide food production must rise by 70% by 2050 when the global population will increase to 9.1 billion people, mostly in Asia and Africa.

--- By HUMNEWS’ staff

Monday
Oct252010

(REPORT) Benin suffering from the worst floods since 1963 

(Photo UN News) 

(HN, October 25, 2010) -- Nearly 700,000 people have been affected by severe flooding in the West African country of Benin and at least 60 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.

“Seasonal heavy rains have been hitting West Africa for several months and normally last until November,” said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement. “However, what has happened this year goes well beyond normal flooding for Benin.”

The deluge – the most extreme since 1963 – has had an impact on 51 out of 77 communes in the last five weeks. Along rivers and lakes, fragile huts have been submerged in up to two meters of water.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will begin airlifting supplies, including some 3000 tents, from its emergency stockpiles in Copenhagen.

Edwards said that while the UNHCR's normal work in Benin was with the refugee and asylum-seeking population of some 7,300, "we have been called upon to help with the emergency shelter needs of some of the homeless people in southern parts of the country where we have a presence.”  

Food production has also been badly hit by the floods. Elisabeth Byrs of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said an appeal for funds and aid is being planned.
  
Experts had assessed needs for fresh water and purification measures, food and shelter, she added.

Earlier this month the U.N. reported that the floods affected 1.5 million people in regions in West and Central Africa with Benin being hit the worst. The floods have destroyed entire villages, killing more than 100 people in Nigeria alone. There have been 377 flood related deaths according to the report.

A cholera outbreak has added to the misery, with over 800 cases counted across Benin. In the aftermath of the flooding, Chad, Northern Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria are also facing serious cholera epidemics, according to the U.N.

The heavy floods are caused by torrential rains and high water level waters of the Niger and other rivers.

- HUM News Staff