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Monday:  July 28, 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 unicef (35)

Tuesday
Aug212012

Bolivia's Children Face Harsh Work in Young Lives (REPORT) 

(Video: Bolivia children work long days in mines/UNICEF)

(8/21/21) - "I have worked as long as I can remember," says Felix Mamani Mayta, a 14-year-old whose life story illustrates an everyday reality for 850,000 children and adolescents in Bolivia.

Felix, who is still in school, began with small jobs in retail and later as a bicycle delivery boy for his family's business, a combination ice cream shop and meat and poultry distributor.

Witty and full of energy, Felix is a board member of the Union of Boys and Girl Workers of Bolivia, an advocacy group that lobbies Congress and municipal councils for legal protections for children.

The group lobbies "so that working girls and boys have a place in society, so that all children and adolescents are taken into account, so that we are listened to as children," he told AFP.

(PHOTO: El Alto, Bolivia/Wikipedia) Franz Rios Apaza is 13 years old and sells cigarettes in the streets of El Alto, a city bordering La Paz and one of the poorest in the country.

"I began working when I was seven," he said. He worked as a bus driver's assistant, and shined shoes, and any other work he could find.

"I don't have a father, only a mother, and we are three brothers," he said. "I am in school. I go in at seven in the evening and get out at 10 at night, and from there I go sell cigarettes until two or three in the morning."

"I earn 50 bolivianos (about seven dollars) on Fridays and Saturday, when I make more money."

Child labor "is a problem of poverty, not only in Bolivia, but in developing countries," said UNICEF's representative in La Paz, Marco Luigi Corsi, adding that there are no easy solutions.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that 850,000 children between the ages of five and 17 in Bolivia work and believes that it puts them at physical and psychological risk.

UNICEF, the Bolivian government and non-governmental organizations have identified 23 categories of child labor that all agree are dangerous.

They include work harvesting sugar cane and chestnuts in the lowlands and the Amazon basin, and mining in the Andean highlands.

In a country of 10 million people "there are about 300,000 who are dedicated full time to some form of child labor and between 40 and 60 percent in Bolivia are likely involved in the worst forms of child labor," says UNICEF spokesman Wolfgang Friedl.

"Bolivia is in a worrying situation, but there is recognition among legislators and government officials that the international laws and conventions to eradicate child labor must be fulfilled," he said.

(PHOTO: Jose Gonzales, 14, pushes a wheelbarrow with silver ore along a shaft in a mine in Bolivia in 2010/AFP)Marco de Gaetano, coordinator of an NGO called El Trabajo de Crecer, which operates in Bolivia and Peru, says the goal is to end all forms of exploitation of minors.

"We are betting on the dignity of labor and the elimination of the worst forms of labor," he said.

Despite this, many child workers in Bolivia, especially those involved in commerce, believe they have been strengthened by their experience.

"Most people think that work is something bad, but on the contrary, for us it was a source of experience," said Felix, who said that as a bus driver's assistant he needed to know fractions to make change.

Tania Nava, head of the local municipality's child welfare office, is skeptical of the benefits. "There is an unresolved debate over whether children should work or not," she said.

"Families, for reasons of poverty, are obliged to have all their members work," she said. However there is unanimous agreement that children deserve access to health, education, dignity and to be protected against exploitation and the worst forms of child labor.

-- This article first appeared on France 24.

Thursday
Feb022012

Children put their mark on the drafting of Turkey`s new constitution

By Lely Djuhari

(PHOTO: UNICEF Regional Director, UNICEF Turkey Representative at the children consultation/UNICEF Turkey-Oktay Ustun)ANKARA, Turkey 1 February, 2012 — Turkey is at pivotal point in the country`s history. Parliamentarians are poised to make fundamental changes to their constitution and children will have a rare chance to leave their stamp on it.

A two-day consultation, Children`s Opinion on the Process for a New Consultation,  began this week bringing together 162 children from child rights committees from all provinces, organized by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the Parliament and UNICEF Turkey.

The new constitution will influence the country`s future as a thriving democracy. Amendments could pave the way to greater freedom of expression. It will change the relationship between the judiciary and political parties. It will also allow the president and parliament to have a say in the composition of the constitutional court - the final port of call when challenging laws in a country.

Academics, non-governmental organizations, disadvantaged groups have already submitted their opinions in the process which started last year. This inclusive dialogue did not occur the previous time the charter was drawn up.

Sevval Lafçi and Mirkan Özdemir, child committee representatives, will present on Thursday the results of the children`s discussions to Cemil Çiçek, Speaker of the Turkish Parliament.

In doing so, Turkey will be one of the few countries in the world where children were consulted in the drafting of a constitution, the basis of all national and sub-national laws.

“We want the government to set their policy with child rights at the centre,” 16-year-old Sevval said. “Getting child rights into the Constitution will make it easier to for us to advocate for children`s right in laws and making sure that resources are given.”

Turkey is a country of 74 million people, of which slightly less than a third is under the age of 18. With a vibrant economy, it is a nation eager to influence regional and global affairs.

“We need to have a constitution that includes the voices of all people. In the past, our constitutions were drafted during times of hardship. This is the first time that we are able to do it during peacetime. We need to capture the spirit of these new times,” said Fatma Şahin, Minister of Family and Social Policies, whose office is responsible for facilitating child participation.

(PHOTO: UNICEF Reg. Dir. Marie-Pierre Poirier speaking. Child rights advocates, Sevval Lafçi & Mirkan Özdemir, stand behind her/UNICEF Turkey-Oktay Ustun)Speaking at her first public event as the new UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said: “In every part of the world, UNICEF supports legislative reforms that are geared to bringing domestic law in alignment with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

She outlined the importance of incorporating the Convention of the Rights of the Child, particularly its four basic principles: non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, the right to live, survival and development and respect of the views of the child.

 “I extend my wholehearted congratulations to the Government of Turkey for having accomplished this invaluable work. The lesson I take from today is inspirational. I will take this as an example to the Governments of Europe and Central Asia of what can be achieved through children participating in the future,” she said.

UNICEF Turkey has been working to empower youth to take on a more active role as citizens. Child rights committees, which meet at least one or several times a year at the province and national level, have been established since 2000 to help young people fight for the rights of the most vulnerable children.

Some children - especially poorer children in rural and eastern areas - are still missing out on the health, nutrition and education enjoyed by others. Tens of thousands of children of primary school age are still out of school, partly due to late starting. Hundreds of thousands are frequently absent and – particularly in the case of girls - may be in danger of dropping out. In remote, predominantly rural areas and fast-growing urban districts, the education and health services may be inadequately equipped and staffed.

Berkay Saygin, another child advocate familiar with these issues, is trying to help others understand how important the constitution is for children.

“Many of my friends don`t understand what child rights are, let alone why a constitution is important for them,” he said with a grin. He recounted the many times he was branded as “uncool and boring” when he brought up the subject during class breaks or lunch times.  “It`s exciting to see this issue on TV and in the newspapers,” he added. “The more I learn about it, the more I want to understand how it impacts my life.”

“Many adults, even some teachers, ask me why am I getting involved in this? I am `just` a child. Getting these principles into the constitution, that children can give their opinion on things which matter to us, gives me the power to answer back. It`s a starting point,” he said.

-- Lely Djuhari is a UNICEF communications specialist whose focus is on child rights in Eastern Europe, South Caucaus and Central Asia.  You can follow her on Twitter at @LelyDjuhari.

Saturday
Dec032011

Child Labour Widespread in Ukrainian Mines (REPORT)

 

(HN, December 3, 2011) - Children in their early teens have been observed and filmed working in coal mines in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government is ignoring the problem, activists say.

There are at least 800 illegal coal mines in Ukraine, where children work alongside adults, according to a video released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2005. However, sources say today the conditions are much worse, with the number of mines at well over 2,000.

The ILO has described the illegal coal mines, or kopankas (копанки), as "one of the most dangerous workplaces in the modern world." One American journalist called the conditions "medieval."

The front line of the situation appears to be in the eastern oblast of Donetsk (Донецьк) and the surrounding Donbas region. Ukraine's richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov (Рінат Ахметов), who owns the Ukrainian football club, Shakhtar Donetsk, comes from Donetsk.

The Donetsk region is also where the elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, spent his troubled childhood and where he started his political career.

Children working in the mines are reported to be as young as 12 and receive as little as $1-a-day. (The Ukrainian Labour Code sets a minimum working age of 16). Children as young as 12 are said to work in illegal Ukrainian coal mines. CREDIT: Дзеркало тижня

Many of the pits where children have been seen working are extremely rudimentary, with small entrance ways located under homes and fences, deep in wooded forests - even in vegetable gardens. In some villages in Donetsk Oblast, the holes are so numerous that it causes a risk to children, who could fall as deep as 50 meters.

A documentary produced by a Baltic company called "Pit Number Eight" shows teenage children collecting coal deep underground with the most minimal of safety equipment and no adult supervision

The ILO documentary (above) says working children have no fixed hours and work in unsafe working conditions using primitive, hand-made instruments. It says that even the simplest of safety measures - emergency exits, ventilation, gas detectors and ceiling reinforcements - are missing.

Rights activists say the industry is so lucrative that the oligarchs and senior politicians - right up to the President's Administration and his circle - profit handsomely from it and have little inclination to stop the use of child labour.

The previous administrations of Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko were successful in closing many of these illegal mining operations, but over 2000 kopanka’s reopened just as soon as Yanukowych and the Party of Regions came to power in March 2010, activists say.

In fact, earlier this year, a Ukrainian government working commission was set up in Donbas, to explore ways of legalizing kopanka’s instead of eliminating them.

Ukrainian activist Lyubov Maksymovich confirmed recently that Kopanka’s are an “open secret” in Ukraine. "Everyone knows about this abuse, but everyone including many journalists are too scared to talk about it publicly, fearing repercussions from the mafia and or the government."

Activists say there is a direct link from the kopankas to the top captains of industry.

Said one: "The business model that kopanka coal pits employ is simple. The illegally-produced coal using child labour. is delivered to the local trading site –or coal bazaar (usually by the truck loads), where it is bought, usually for cash, hand-to-hand by the representatives of conditioning and refinement factories. No paper trail. Afterwards, this illegal coal undergoes conditioning and refinement, where it becomes fully “legal” and a standardized product of these factories, which is then sold for metallurgy, power generation, or is exported."

The profitability of kopanka operations was estimated by the Segodnya newspaper at $125,000 per month per mine, a “backyard cottage” industry that produces 100 tons of coal per day.

Activists and volunteers in Canada and Ukraine say they have sifted through thousands of Russian documents, stories, videos  and TV news items looking for facts (the smoking gun) that could link illegal child labor practices in Kopanka’s directly to the Ukrainian State Coal Mining companies in Donbas. They allege that, through the transaction process, coal and money are laundered to create the appearance of legality.

One critical op-ed on the kopankas penned for the Kyiv Post was reportedly removed from the newspaper's website after it hit a nerve with Akhmetov. In an email dated November 1, 2011, and shared with HUMNEWS, Brian Bonner, a senior editor at the Kyiv Post, is quoted as saying to the writer: "Your opinion piece has created a stir with Rinat Akhmetov's people, so we have deactivated the article until we investigate."

In a July 2011 Kyiv Post article on illegal mines in Donetsk, the newspaper actually praised Akhmetov's mining companies - Pavlogradvuhilia mines, owned by Ukraine’s largest energy holding DTEK, a part of the oligarch's System Capital Management group. The Post reported: "It offers miners a salary of almost Hr 8,000 per month, stringent safety conditions and some social benefits, such as cheap holidays."

The problem of child labour in Ukraine is so widespread that a Ukrainian newspaper, Дзеркало Tижня, called it a "tradition" - estimating as many as 350,000 under-age workers in the country.

In a joint statement in 2009 with the Ombudsman of Ukraine, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said: "More often Ukrainian children become victims of worst forms of child labour, human trafficking, prostitution and pornography." It also called for more stringent enforcement and changes in legislation.

The ILO says  it is working together with trade unions and the government to put an end to child labour and create new jobs.

 - HUMNEWS staff

 

Monday
Sep052011

UN Backers Blast Draconian US Bill to Reduce UN Budget (REPORT)

Palestinian youths in a refugee camp. Proposed cuts would severely curtail aid to millions of refugees in the Palestinian Territory and three countries. CREDIT: Nora Stribrna(HN, UPDATED September 6, 2011 0637GMT) - Supporters of the United Nations are lashing out at proposed US legislation that would slash Washington's support to the world body, threaten crucial overseas programmes and peacekeeping operations, and possibly strangle UN support to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and three countries.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and known as H.R. 2829, threatens funding to the UN from the US, which accounts for 22 percent of the world body's budget.

The bill by Ros-Lehtinen, who is also the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, proposes that countries be allowed to decide how much to pay and which programs they will support, rather than the current arrangement of assessing payments based on a formula.

Moreover, the bill, if passed, would end funding for Palestinian refugees, limit use of U.S. funds to only purposes outlined by Congress and put a hold on creating or expanding peacekeeping operations until management changes are made. Support to the controversial UN Human Rights Council (HRC) would also be cut under the bill.

“We need a UN which will advance the noble goals for which it was founded,” Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said in a statement. “The current UN continues to be plagued by scandal, mismanagement and inaction, and its agenda is frequently hijacked by rogue regimes which protect each other while targeting free democracies like the U.S. and Israel.”

Critics say the bill does nothing to promote reform, transparency and accountability at the UN.

UN police working alongside counterparts in Haiti. CREDIT: UN"This legislation does not bring us any closer to achieving those laudable goals.  H.R 2829 would not only undermine real progress toward reform at the United Nations, but would also return the U.S. to an era of debt and ineffective leadership," said a statement by the Better World Campaign, a non-profit backed by billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner that works on bettering relations between the US and the US.

“We believe in UN reform,” she said. “We just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.”

The U.S. pays 22 percent of the UN’s regular operations budget and is assessed 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget. U.S. payments totaled $3.35 billion in 2010, of which $2.67 billion was dedicated to the 16 peacekeeping operations worldwide, from South Sudan and Ivory Coast to Haiti.

As of July 2011, the UN peackeeping force consisted of almost 120,000 military, police and civilian personnel from 114 countries.

In recent times, the behaviour of UN peacekeepers has stirred controversy. The UN has confirmed that an investigation has been launched into alleged sexual exploitation and abuse involving Uruguayan UN peacekeepers in Haiti.

The bill already has 57 co-sponsors - all Republicans - and could obtain widespread support in a Republican-controlled House. However, opposition is already being generated in the Senate and it is highly unlikely to get support from President Barack Obama.

“We oppose this legislation,” said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman. She said the measure would cut by half U.S. funding for the U.N and “dangerously weaken the UN.”

A Palestinian girl at a refugee camp. Many young Palestinians know of no other life than growing up in a camp. CREDIT: Nora Stribrna“We believe in UN reform,” she said. “We just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.”

Aside from budget support, the US already has significant political influence over key UN agencies: it regularly selects appointees for the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Ending funding for Palestinian refugees - about 5 million of whom are living under UN-run camps in the Palestinian Territory, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - would likely put the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) out of business.

It could also seriously damage relationships with Arab states that have recently been transformed in the "Arab Spring."

The bill is gaining momentum as as the UN General Assembly prepares to vote on recognizing Palestinian statehood regardless of the outcome of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Better World and others say most Americans support the world body - pointing to recent bi-partisan research that found the UN is considered as an important global forum and organization that is still needed today, and the majority of Americans believe the United States should be actively engaged at the United Nations. The survey also showed that Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike support paying UN and UN peacekeeping dues on time and in full. 

- Agencies, HUMNEWS staff. Special thanks to Nora Stribrna for photography.

Friday
Aug262011

Suicide Car Bomber Attacks UN Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria (REPORT)

Victims being evacuated from UN House in Abuja, CREDIT: Vanguard Newspaper

Latest Developments

  • UN revises death toll to 23, including 9 UN staff members; fears more bodies under rubble
  • 73 people injured, 26 of whom remain in intensive care; eight evacuated to South Africa for treatment
  • 50 suspects reportedly arrested, according to Nigerian Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim 
  • Vast majority of the dead Nigerians; 30-year-old Norwegian woman has also been confirmed among the dead.
  • Nigeria asks FBI for assistance in investigation
  • Deputy UN Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro and UN Security Chief Gregory Starr visit victims in Abuja
  • UN promises care of staff and continuity of operations; UN and Nigerian security officials rapped for lax precautions.
  • Embassies demand extra police protection in aftermath of the blast; French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé describes attack as a “heinous and cowardly act."

 

(HN, August 30, 2011 - UPDATED 0300GMT) - A suspected suicide bomber detonated a car bomb inside the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja Friday, killing as many as 23 people and injuring 73 others.

The UN confirmed Saturday that nine of its staff members are confirmed dead and several others injured. Of the injured, 26 are in intensive care - some of whom have been evacuated to South Africa.

The vehicle - reportedly a white SUV - roared past security guards Friday morning and rammed through two gates before stopping inside the entrance to the enormous building, inflicting maximum damage.

Known as UN House, the facility has four floors and is designed as an atrium-like structure. Since the vehicle entered inside the building it was able to inflict tremendous human and structural damage.

One source in Abuja told HUMNEWS that one UN agency - the World Health Organization (WHO) - has had two staffers confirmed killed. At the time of the attack, a WHO staff association meeting was taking place on the 1st floor, above the reception area. "That is apparently where many injuries and deaths occurred," the source said.

Migiro said the bombing was "a shocking incident, an attack on global peace and communities".

"I have looked at the ripped-up gate. It is amazing how this happened and we are grappling with that, now ... an investigation is under way ... We will see what we have to do better," Migiro, who was accompanied by UN Security Chief Gregory Starr, said.

"We are working as a team to ensure that the injured do get all the treatment that they require," Migiro said after visiting the hospital, where many of the injured were receiving treatment.

Starr said the UN had no previous warnings or intelligence about threats against its Nigeria headquarters.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack "an assault on those who devote their lives to helping others."

Aside from WHO, the building houses the offices of UNICEF, UNDP, UNIFEM and many other UN agencies. It also houses a travel agency and a branch of the UK-based Standard Chartered bank. In all 26 UN agencies are in the building, employing about 400 people.

The 23 death toll figure would strike many people as eery as it is the same number of people that died in the 2003 attack on the UN headquarters in Iraq, including  including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello.

Said UNDP Chief Helen Clark: "I deplore this brutal attack against our unarmed colleagues who dedicated their lives to helping the people of Nigeria."

The bomb would have made a direct hit on a security desk at the front, the bank and travel agency and ground-floor UN security offices. It would appear the attackers had knowledge of the facility: Fridays are half-days at the UN in Nigeria and since the attack occurred at 1030am local time it was well before workers began to pack up their belongings for the weekend.

The attack would have come as a surprise to UN security personnel as Abuja has one of the lowest security phases in the UN system.

According to one source, a security clamp-down on Abuja took effect soon after the attack, snarling traffic to and from the airport.

The building is protected by a private security firm hired by the UN; unlike the nearby US Embassy there is no Nigerian security presence. A security building at the front screens all visitors and has x-ray machines to monitor bags and other items. It is a 10 minute walk from several embassies, included the heavily protected US Embassy.

One former UN employee at the building told HUMNEWS that he disliked working at the complex for two reasons: "Number one it is a natural target as all UN agencies are housed in one building, and second the security is rarely at the top of their game from what I have seen."

Soon after the attack, militants from the shadowy group, Boko Haram, the Muslim sect with reported links to al-Qaida that wants to implement a strict version of Shariah law in the nation, took credit for the bombing in a phone call to British broadcaster BBC.

Jennifer Cooke, Director of the Africa Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies described the Boko Haram attack as "a major escalation."

"There's going to be a security reaction from Nigeria which has been fairly lax so far," Cooke told BBC News.

A UN official in Nigeria told the BBC that the UN had stepped up security at all its buildings in Nigeria in the past month after receiving information that the UN could be targeted by Boko Haram.

UN House in Abuja. Observers say the lack of protective, concrete security barriers on the approach road left the building vulnerable to high-speed vehicles. CREDT: HUMNEWSThe attack follows a period of relative calm. However, early this year, there were bombings connected with the local, state and national elections, including one in late 2010 during Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary ceremony, killing at least 12 at a market in Abuja.

"I saw scattered bodies," said Michael Ofilaje, a UNICEF worker at the building, which he said shook with the explosion. "Many people are dead."

"We condemn this terrible act, utterly," secretary-general Ban told reporters at U.N. headquarters. 

Ban reportedly told a Security Council meeting that the attack was "evidence that the UN premises are increasingly being viewed as a soft target by extremist elements around the world".

The explosion punched a huge hole in the building. Workers brought three large cranes to the site within hours of the attack, trying to pull away the concrete and rubble to find survivors. Others at the site stood around, stunned, as medical workers began carrying out what appeared to be the dead.

"This is getting out of hand," said a U.N. staffer who identified himself as Bodunrin. "If they can get into the U.N. House, they can reach anywhere."

Ali Tikko, who was in a building 100 yards (meters) from the site of the blast when it occurred told the AP, "I see a number of people lying on the floor - at least four or five. I cannot see if they are dead. There are a lot of security around."A wide view of the Security Council as Members observe a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in today’s tragic attack on the UN House in Abuja. CREDIT: UN

Ordinary Nigerians were quick to register the shock and disgust in postings on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. "Please pray for Nigeria in this turbulent time. The government has failed us in its entirety," wrote a Twitter user, Toni, from Benin City in Nigeria.

Tweeted MusaT from Nigeria: "When will our President stand up to the call of governance. Maybe he needs to be reminded that the Primary function of government is SECURITY.  Our president is not proactive on the issues of security facing this country, rather he is busy pock-nosing in the judiciary."

In a statement, US President Barack Obama called the attack a "heinous action."

"I strongly condemn today’s horrific and cowardly attack on the United Nations headquarters building in Abuja, Nigeria, which killed and wounded many innocent civilians from Nigeria and around the world.  I extend the deepest sympathies of the American people to the victims and their families, colleagues, and friends, whom we will keep in our thoughts and prayers.

"The people who serve the United Nations do so with a simple purpose: to try to improve the lives of their neighbors and promote the values on which the UN was founded -- dignity, freedom, security, and peace.  The UN has been working in partnership with the people of Nigeria for more than five decades.  An attack on Nigerian and international public servants demonstrates the bankruptcy of the ideology that led to this heinous action."

Many Nigerians and outside observers were upset that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan took a full five hours to comment on the attack, which he described as a "barbaric, senseless and cowardly." The statement also promised to increase security in the nation's capital, and indeed, the diplomatic copmmunity this week demanded more protection in a meeting with government officials.

Jonathan visited the blast site Sunday.

Ban dispatched Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and the UN security chief, Gregory Starr.

The Security Council observed a minute's silence before the start of a meeting Friday on UN peace keeping operations.

The Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, described the attack as a sad development and a wake-up call for security agencies in Nigeria.

- HUMNEWS staff, agencies, Twitter

Saturday
Aug132011

Polio Victim on Front-lines of War Against Crippling Disease in Nigeria (EXCLUSIVE REPORT)

Mallam Aminu Ahmed Wada. In 1965, a few years after polio vaccine was widely available in the west, he was struck by polio. Both of his legs are completely paralysed. He moves on two wooden crutches which are just a few inches high. His mobility depends on the strength of his arms and shoulders. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS(HN, August 13, 2011) - Even amid the congestion and chaos of Nigeria's second-largest city, it's almost impossible to miss the roadside property of the Kano Polio Victims Trust Association.

Scrap metal, wheel-chairs, and small, custom-made motorized vehicles for polio victims seems to stretch for as far as the eye can see.

One of the first people to greet you will be Mallam Aminu Ahmed Wada, polio victim-turned-campaigner. His association started about a decade ago with just a few members and now has more than 2000.

In the mid-1960s, a few years after polio vaccine was widely available in the west, Wada was struck by polio. Both of his legs are completely paralysed, and he moves on two wooden crutches which are just a few inches high.

As Wada speaks, sparks fly all around him as welders work wonders with metal pieces to construct these amazing devices. Some are simply plastic lawn chairs on bike wheels, with hand-operated controls for steering.

The devices transform the lives of polio victims, allowing them to travel to job, classes - and around the dusty streets of Kano.

The NGO buys scrap metal and transform it into wheel-chairs, motorized chairs and crutches for polio victims - which are then sold to the state government and others. Part of the association's work is to employ people struck by polio; Rotary International is one of its key supporters.

Wada is a tireless campaigner for polio eradication. He often travels with vaccination teams, urging mothers to vaccinate their children against the crippling disease that has struck thousands of kids in Nigeria, particularly the north.

"Look at me," Wada begs watching mothers during one rally. "Do you want your children to be like me? Please vaccine them."

In 2003, Islamic leaders in northern Nigeria organized a boycott of polio vaccinations, claiming that the vaccines were a Western plot to infect Muslims and make them infertile. But an enthusiastic campaign by UNICEF and others has helped to reduce the case load.

But total polio elimination - the hope of campaigners ranging from Wada to billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates - appears elusive. In Kano alone there have been six cases in the last three months, according to a HUM correspondent in West Africa.

Wada's son, Umar, was also paralysed by the virus in 2004. This was the time Kano State completely rejected polio vaccine because of the boycott. "I woke up in the night to find Umar's leg was weak," says Wada. "We took him to the hospital, but there was nothing we could do." 

Wada, and his wife Hadiza, have nine children. Hadiza is also a polio victim and moves around on crutches.

These devices transform the lives of polio victims in the northern Nigerian state of Kano. CREDIT: Christine McnabAlthough the numbers of cases have plummeted - last year there were only about 20 recorded cases -Wada is the first to tell you that there is no room for complacency. Recently, he presented a non-motorized wheelchair to a young polio victims in Kano state during the launch of a vaccination campaign.

Polio (poliomyelitis) mainly affects children under five years of age. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. Once polio strikes, it cripples the victim for life. Prevention is primarily through polio vaccine, administered multiple times.

Only four countries in the world remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. The remaining countries are Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

With files from Christine Mcnab

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.

Friday
Jun242011

As Peace Takes Hold in Isolated Burundi, Donor Crisis Feared (REPORT)

Waiting for change in Burundi: According to UNICEF about 50% of the population is under 18 years old CREDIT: HUMNEWSBy a HUMNEWS Correspondent in East Africa

The global economic crisis and the drawing down of the emergency situation is translating into a decline in donor and humanitarian aid agency activity in Burundi - one of the poorest nations on the planet.

As the scarred nation struggles to emerge from four wars since independence in 1962 - between 1993 and 2006 some 300,000 people were killed - Burundi finds itself near the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index - with a GDP per capita of just $110. More than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.

 

The health system is in a shambles and, according to UNICEF, almost 60% of children are stunted, a key manifestation of malnutrition.

On the economic side, the former Belgian colony has a very small tax base and is heavily reliant on external aid. It is set to miss most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One of the most densely populated places in the world, it has difficulties feeding its 8-million inhabitants. Quite the change from independence until 1993, when Burundi's economic performance was one of the best in Africa.

Yet the landlocked, East African country hardly registers on the radar of major donor countries.

And crises elsewhere in the world means that cash-strapped agencies like the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) are scaling down their operations here.

"Maybe donors need to be told that they need to invest in Burundi to prevent another crisis," said a European diplomat. "You can either spend $100 now to treat a mildly ill patient or $1000 later to treat a severely ill patient."

However one main challenge, experts agree, is the provision of good governance. Diplomats say the current leadership is extremely inexperienced and lacking vision. "They are narrow-minded and introverted and are only interested in looking after their own constituencies," said one diplomat.

Periodic violence by armed bandits remains a problem in Burundi. Earlier this week gunmen in police uniforms killed five people.

The humanitarian arm of the European Community (ECHO) is shuttering the doors of its Burundi head office all together next year. Other UN agencies are also expressing fears about the cash situation a year or two up the road.

Part of the challenge in drawing donor attention is generating more media coverage, aid workers say. Few of the major western news agencies have a bureau in the capital Bujumbura, preferring instead to send correspondents from the East African media hub of Nairobi.

A man dries his coffee beans next to a highway near Gitega. Coffee exports represent about 90 percent of Burundi's export earnings. CREDIT: HUMNEWSRelatively peaceful and credible elections last year won the Maryland-sized country international applause. But rampant corruption, low capacity and frequent changes in the cabinet makes the shift from the emergency phase to long-term development difficult, experts say. Recently, western ambassadors wrote a scathing letter to the Government complaining of an escalation in extra-judicial killings.

After President Pierre Nkurunziza, an avid golf player, won the election last year, opposition figures have either fled the country or gone undercover.

A 2006 USAID-funded study recently found that what is needed is diversification of the economy - away from an over-reliance on coffee growing, which accounts for some 90 percent of export earnings. However landlocked and with the nearest seaport well over 1200 kilometers away in Dar-es-Salaam - via poor roads and customs barriers, connecting Burundi to the outside world is not a simple matter. Indicative of the lack of economic activity is that Bujumbura's lakeside port is operating a just a fraction of its capacity.

A Nairobi-based Western diplomat who follows Burundi said the country's only, long-term hope is to take advantage of the opportunities that can come from regional integration. He pointed to the small neighbouring country of Rwanda, which has recovered from its multi-year conflict much better and is even now boasting a tourism sector and functioning stock market.

Said the diplomat: "The Government will have to position itself to benefit fully from regional integration. Instead what we are seeing is a squandering of one opportunity after another. I'm seeing very little political will to open horizons.

"My message is to focus on integration. It will be a catastrophe if they don't."

One glimmer of hope is the prospect of new mining operations in the country. A Canadian mining company is said to have obtained exploration rights for gold deposits. Another is improving yield on coffee exports: the Seattle-based company Starbucks is said to be looking at Burundi as a market for beans.

And in another positive development to further integrate Burundi into the global economy, Seacom Ltd., a closely held company that operates a fiber-optic link off East Africa, said this month it plans to extend the high-bandwidth fibre-optic cable to Burundi.

The USAID study suggests development of the tourism sector as part of an economic development package. But Burundi's sandy beaches - it sits on the clean and majestic Lake Tanganyika - international-quality hotels and guest houses are little known to the jet-setting public. For visitors, it's possible to arrive at Bujumbura International Airport - one of the cleanest and most efficient in Africa - and be sitting on the beach drinking a can of locally-made Primus beer less than one hour after touchdown.Burundi already has some international-standard tourism assets, including a good international airport and the Bora Bora Beach Resort in Bujumbura (shown above). CREDIT: HUMNEWS

International air links are limited, but that may improve later this year with the addition of service by South African Airways. Sadly, deforestation and a decline in the wild animal population doesn't give the countryside the appeal of other East African countries. The part of the country with the most exotic vegetation and wildlife - bordering Congo and Rwanda - is still regarded as a security risk.

Wednesday
Mar302011

Children Recruited to Fight With Rebels in Libya - Reports (UPDATED 1500GMT)

Child soldier, photo courtesy Oxfam.org(HN, March 31, 2011) - Teenage children are joining the fight to oust Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, according to reports.

The British broadcaster, Independent Television News (ITN), today broadcast images of rebel soldiers that are clearly below 20 years old. One of them, Ahmed Saled, brandishing a large knife and wearing a Nike shirt, said he was 17 and claimed his mother knew that he had joined rebel forces.

The development comes amid reports that the US is preparing to arm the rebels, who are vastly outnumbered and out-powered by Gaddafi forces. If children are indeed recruited it creates a tricky situation for the Obama Administration and allies - many of whom are in the forefront of the campaign to abolish recruitment of children in conflict.

In 2000 then U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Child Soldier’s Treaty - an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Treaty raised the age for conscription and participation in conflict to 18 from the old international standard of 15 and requires governments to take "all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities."

"Many of these combatants are young, are poorly trained, are child soldiers," Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and an expert on U.S. foreign policy with a special emphasis on Africa and the developing world, told Jim Lehrer on PBS News Hour, referring to the current conflict in Libya.

She said the region is already awash in arms and that arming the rebels "could be a disaster."

The rebels are not the only side to be accepting children in the conflict.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it has received reports that child soldiers are being recruited to fight for Gaddafi loyalists.Child soldiers guard a road in the DRC. Credit: UNICEF

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado was quoted as saying there is "a serious concern" that child soldiers are among the mercenaries that Gaddafi is hiring to attack rebel forces. She reportedly said the mercenaries had come from Chad, Niger, Central African Republic and Sudan's Darfur region, all places "with known child soldiers."

The U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflicts, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has also quoted reports that children are being killed and injured by taking up arms in Libya.

- HUMNEWS staff, wires

Thursday
Mar172011

Ivory Coast: The Deteriorating Humanitarian Situation (Report)

Fighting in Abidjan, photo courtesy of Africasia(HN, March 17, 2011) --  Life for the people of the Ivory Coast is getting increasingly worse. The three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The crisis has escalated since the end of February 2011, with clashes between armed forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara in the western and central regions of the country, as well as in Abidjan, the financial capital.

With around 400,000 displaced persons and the deaths of almost 400 civilians documented by the United Nations the vast majority killed by pro-Gbagbo forces in circumstances not connected with the armed conflict and with no apparent provocation - the attacks appear to be widespread.

On the Ouattara side, armed fighters have begun a pattern of extrajudicial executions against alleged pro-Gbagbo combatants detained in Ouattara territory since the Forces Nouvelles ("New Forces" or FN) gained effective control of the Abobo neighborhood and Anyama village around February 26.

"The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies directly implicated in the grave abuses of the post-election period," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The international community should also send a clear message to Ouattara's camp that reprisal killings will place them next on the list."

Armed fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara clashed with the pro-Gbagbo security forces yesterday in several areas including Yopougon and Attecoube, while foreigners and ethnic groups viewed as pro-Ouattara are repeatedly harassed.

Fierce fighting and gun battles in the cities of Abobo, Abidjan and Williamsville have seen the most bloodshed. 

Although there is no reference whatsoever on state TV of the ongoing battles in the streets life for much of the population has become very bleak.

Many shops in these cities have been looted and those that have not have been closed as well as most banks.

Man wounded by gunshot in district of Adjame, photo courtesy of AfricasiaDoctors without Borders is reporting that in the city of Abobo only one hospital remains open and in the last two weeks doctors there have treated 129 patients 89 of which have come in with either knife or gun shot wounds.

UNICEF has said that the nation is on the verge of collapse with 1.5 million people at risk from epidemics. Reports of cholera have begun in Abidjan as rubbish lies uncollected and there have been 10’s of deaths reported in rural areas as a result of yellow fever.

In the north schools are closed leaving 800,000 children out of school and although the situation is better in the southern part of the country there are schools closed there as well.

Crime levels are up and armed youth roam the streets with impunity.

As the situation in the Ivory Cost continues to intensify and the country plunges further into economic decay there is real worry that shortages of basic needs will not be able to be met – electricity blackouts and water cuts are among the things people are most concerned about.

Attacks on Foreigners

According to Human Rights Watch residents from Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Niger have given detailed accounts of daily attacks by pro-Gbagbo security forces and armed militias, who beat foreign residents to death with bricks, clubs, and sticks, or doused them with gas and burned them alive.

A Malian man interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how he and six other West Africans were forced into two vehicles by armed militiamen and taken into the basement of an abandoned building. More youths were waiting, who then executed five of the captured West Africans at point-blank range. The homes, stores, and mosques of hundreds of other West Africans have been burned, or they have been chased out of their neighborhoods en masse under threat of death at the hands of pro-Gbagbo militias.

The brunt of these attacks came immediately after Gbagbo's "youth minister," Charles Blé Goudé, called publicly on February 25 for "real" Ivoirians to set up roadblocks in their neighborhoods and "denounce" foreigners.

The situation threatens to worsen further, as a March 7 letter addressed to the Burkina Faso ambassador by a militant pro-Gbagbo group warned. The letter threatened to "cut the umbilical cord" of the Burkina Faso nationals in Côte d'Ivoire unless they left the country by March 22.

Refugees 

U.N. officials say the political crisis has also driven more than 75,000 Ivorian civilians across the border into Liberia, with half that total arriving in just the last two weeks. Aid officials in Liberia's Toe Town say they are struggling to keep up. Augustine Nugba is the local program coordinator for the Catholic charity Caritas.

"As soon as the place is given and we receive the government's okay, we will start to construct a camp and to remove everyone from here," said Nugba.

Food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitation have brought cases of diarrhea and malaria for refugees, including Victorine Tohogninon.

Tohogninon says that since the refugees came to Liberia, the children and the elderly are getting sick.

If the political crisis is not resolved soon, refugee Charles-Camille Kpehia says there will be no one left in Ivory Coast to govern.

- HUMNews Staff

Sunday
Mar062011

Women and Children Showing Up on African Relief Flights From Libya Crisis (Exclusive Report)

A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir. CREDIT: AlertNet(HN, March 6, 2011) - Officials in African countries receiving repatriated migrants from Libya have expressed surprise at the high proportion of women and children among the masses of fit young men exiting the chaotic country.

In one relief flight late this week to the Nigerian capital of Abuja, as many as 30 percent were women and children - among them infants, said an official at from the Nigeria Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), who was greeting a new batch of arrivals at Abuja International Airport.

"I even saw a few women breastfeeding their babies," said the official who asked not to be identified.

He added: "We have even seen some women arriving on their own. They were in Libya  doing artisan work or the like."

Last week, a senior official from Ghana  said that most of the returnees arriving from Libya to Accra were "undocumented and illegal immigrants."

Asked if some of the migrants were asylum-seekers, the official shrugged his shoulders.

NEMA officials awaiting the next batch of Nigerian migrants this weekend at Abuja International Airport CREDIT: HUMNEWSThe NEMA officials echoed comments of authorities in other Sub-Saharan countries that many are arriving without passports or any sort of documentation. Exiting migrants say their documents and back pay have been retained by their employers or taken as they fled the chaos.

With travel rebounding after a prolonged recession, there are few assets available for deployment for the massive repatriation efforts. NEMA has been chartering Egypt Air aircraft but using commercial jets from as far away as Kabul, the official said.

Asked what the arriving women and children need most, the NEMA official said basic items such as milk and blankets. Upon arrival in Abuja the migrants are immediately transported to their places of origin. "As much as possible we try not to keep them here in Abuja," the official said. Those who must stay are accommodated in a UN camp near the airport.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is flying in emergencies supplies to countries bordering Libya. Initial supplies include hygiene kits, nutrition items and recreation and psycho-social relief items.

UNICEF said that while numbers of families crossing the border into Tunisia are reported as relatively low to date, it is concerned that within Libya, children and women have been severely affected by the unrest.

As HUMNEWS reported yesterday, the massive influx of migrant workers to struggling African nations is creating new strains. Nigeria, Niger, Tunisia and Egypt  - among others - are either recovering from prolonged economic downturns or from revolutions that have disrupted normal economic recovery such as tourism.

For Egypt, which had an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers in Libya, the sudden halt in remittances will place a huge strain on already vulnerable families. Even if each migrant sent $100-a--month back to their Egyptian families, that adds up to about $150m a month or $1.8bn-a-year.

The NEMA official said the country still had some ways to go before it could suspend the relief operation as there were stranded Nigerians in Tunisia as well as Egypt.

According to one published report, late last week concerned families of Nigerians still stranded in Libya, stormed the Corporate Headquarters of NEMA to express their fears over the fate of their beloved ones not yet evacuated from Tripoli.

According to a report today in Al Masry Al Youm ( الرئيسيةof Egypt, human rights advocates warn that poor, Sub-Saharan African countries may be unable to provide sufficient support to their expatriate populations and are leaning on European countries to help evacuate vulnerable migrants to safety. The newspaper says the African Union has come in for criticism for its silence on the plight of African migrant workers in Libya.

- HUMNEWS Staff

Friday
Mar042011

Resurgence of Polio in DR Congo Causes Alarm (Report)

The polio vaccine is administered through drops into the mouth. CREDIT: Christine McNab(HN, March 4, 2011) - The global health community is concerned about a massive outbreak of polio in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The DRC has witnessed a sharp resurgence of polio as conditions in the country continue to complicate vaccination efforts, potentially undermining global eradication of the crippling disease. From January 2010 to February 2011 there were 112 new cases - up from only three in 2009.

In neighbouring Republic of Congo, the same disease has killed 169 people and paralyzed 409, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although polio usually strikes children under five, in both countries it is mainly adults who have been infected.

“Vaccination campaigns only started in this country [DRC] in the mid-1980s. Those now over 30 years of age have mostly not been vaccinated,” Health Minister Victor Makwenge Kaput told IRIN late last year.

The outbreak in the DRC is serious enough to warrant a visit by UNICEF's Executive Director Tony Lake, who flew to the capital, Kinshasa, this week to meet with key government officials and to visit sites where health workers are battling the rapidly spreading outbreak .

In response, preparations are underway to go door to door to vaccinate more than 14 million children by the end of May.

"Eradicating polio in DRC and everywhere requires an absolute commitment by government and its partners to vaccinate every child,” said Lake.  “UNICEF will do everything we can to support the DRC’s collective effort to defeat this evil virus once and for all.”

Since hitting its peak in the U.S. in 1952, the number of cases has gone down 99%; now, there are less than 1,500 known cases of polio worldwide.

There are just four polio-endemic countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. While these numbers have been dropping, philanthropist Bill Gates says the majority of outbreaks in 2010 were actually in countries that had been polio-free. The virus travelled back across borders into countries like Tajikistan and Congo.

- HUMNEWS staff, files

Wednesday
Mar022011

Displacement of Migrants From Libya Now Full-Blown Humanitarian Crisis (Report)

(HN, March 2, 2011) - UPDATED 1440 GMT - The situation at the Libya-Tunisia border is at a crisis point, with as many as 15,000 people crossing a day from Libya.

"We can see acres of people waiting to cross the border. Many have been waiting for three to four days in the freezing cold, with no shelter or food," said Ayman Gharaibeh, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) emergency response team at the border. "Usually the first three days of the crisis are the worst. This seems to be getting worse by the day," he added.

More than 75,000 people have crossed the Tunisian border since 19 February, the vast majority Egyptian nationals. An estimated 40,000 more are waiting to enter from the Libyan side of the border. The majority are from developing countries such as Niger, Chad, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, and Vietnam.

There are also sizeable populations of migrant workers stuck in Tripoli, which is becoming increasingly tense and dangerous.

Some 2,500 Somali migrants are holed up in the violence-affected city and unsure what to do, say Somali migrants there.

“We have not left our house in the last 12 days. If we go out we are liable to be attacked," one of the Somalis, Mohamed Aweys, told IRIN by phone from Tripoli. "A friend who went out on 1 March to get some supplies has not returned. We have not seen or heard of him since; his mobile is switched off."

Humanitarian presence in Libya as well as numbers of people crossing into neighbouring countries. CREDIT: ReliefWebThere are also another 500 Somali migrants in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Aweys said, had been targeted as suspected pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. "We spoke to some of them on the phone in Benghazi and they are hiding in their homes."

Another Somali in Tripoli, Mahamud Ahmed, told IRIN: "We have nothing to do with their [Libyans'] problems. Most of us came here to escape our own problems and look for a better life and now we are caught up in a life-and-death situation."

In a sign of the increasing scope of the humanitarian crisis on the borders, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR are urgently appealing to governments for a massive humanitarian evacuation of tens of thousands of Egyptians and other third country nationals who have fled Libya. They want a supply of massive financial and logistical assets to a joint humanitarian programme they established today - including planes, boats and expert personnel.

With tens of thousands of them stuck at the border, and more expected, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva that it was "becoming critically important that onwards transport becomes quickly available to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Many of the people fleeing Libya are vulnerable women and children according to UNICEFBy last night, shelter with tents was expected to have been given to a total of about 12,000 people. Two airlifts are planned for Thursday with tents and supplies for up to 10,000 people.

The water and hygiene situation at the border remains precarious. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has been asked to help with improving these facilities - providing relief to over-stretched Tunisian civilians, the Tunisian Red Crescent and the military.

There are huge numbers of migrants stranded on the Libyan side. Fleming in Geneva said the refugee agency was particularly concerned "that a large number of sub-Saharan Africans are not being allowed entry into Tunisia at this point. UNHCR is in negotiations with self-appointed volunteers from the local community who are guarding the border."

The emergency response leader Gharaibeh said most of those crossing the border were fit young men. "This is the only reason why the situation has not degenerated into a huge crisis so far."

Migrants from sub-Sahara Africa are seen as particularly vulnerable, as they may be targeted as suspected mercenaries. "We have heard several accounts from refugees who tell us their compatriots have been targeted and killed. Others tell us about forced evictions and attacks on their homes," Fleming said in Geneva.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Libya, the Egyptian government reported that some 69,000 people had crossed into Egypt from Libya since February 19.Lack of public facilities are border crossing makes the transit excruciating

"The majority of those who have crossed are Egyptians, most of whom have already been transported to other towns and cities. Around 3,000 people remain in the arrival/departure area awaiting onward transportation," Fleming said.

Today, the Egyptian Red Crescent was due to transport a consignment of UNHCR medical supplies and food into eastern Libya. The food and medicine is being sent in response to requests from tribal leaders who UNHCR met over the weekend, and is expected to arrive tomorrow. Further convoys are being prepared.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for immediate and safe access to western Libya.

It has an emergency team that includes surgeons and nurses, as well as medical supplies, on the Tunisian border waiting to enter western Libya as soon as security conditions permit.

Another emergency team, which also includes medical staff, is already at work in hospitals in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

"This crisis has been going on for 14 days. It's high time, and absolutely vital, that the needs of people affected are met. We call on everyone taking part in the violence to respect the right of the wounded and sick to seek medical care, and to ensure that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need," said the ICRC's director general, Yves Daccord.

"Right now, the situation is far too unstable and insecure to enable much-needed help to enter western parts of the country," he added. "Health and aid workers must be allowed to do their jobs safely. Patients must not be attacked, and ambulances and hospitals must not be misused. It's a matter of life and death."

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Friday
Feb252011

Adolescents Neglected and Vulnerable Group - UNICEF (Report)

(HN, February 25, 2011) - While the world has seen impressive gains for young children, there have been too few gains in areas critically affecting adolescents.'The State of the World's Children 2011,' which is dedicated to investing in the development of adolescents to help break the cycles of poverty and inequity

More than seventy million adolescents of lower secondary age are currently out of school, and on a global level girls still lag behind boys in secondary school participation.

The findings are contained in the State of the World's Children Report (SOWC) - the flagship publication of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) released today. There are currently 1.2-billion adolescents - which the UN defines as anyone 10-19 years old - in the world today, and most are in Africa.

The demographic group has become much more visible due to the "youth bulge" in most regions - especially the Middle East and North Africa. Many find that by the time they reach working age, there are no jobs or few opportunities for waiting for them.

In fact, the continent has the largest proportion of children, adolescents and young people in the world. Almost half its population is younger than 18 years and almost two-thirds are younger than 25 years.

In Nairobi, UNICEF's regional director for eastern and southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy, said: "As the gap between rich and poor, men and women, urban and rural keeps widening, and inequality generates a 'nothing to lose' generation, paying more attention to adolescents and young people is especially critical for the African nations. ."

The report argues that without education, adolescents cannot develop the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the risks of exploitation, abuse and violence that are at height during the second decade of life.

In Brazil for example, UNICEF says the lives of 26,000 children under one were saved between 1998 and 2008, leading to a sharp decrease in infant mortality. In the same decade 81,000 Brazilian adolescents aged 15-19 were murdered.

“We need to focus more attention now on reaching adolescents -- especially adolescent girls -- investing in education, health and other measures to engage them in the process of improving their own lives," said UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake.

The vast majority of today’s adolescents (88 per cent) live in developing countries. Many face a unique set of challenges. Although adolescents around the world are generally healthier today than in the past, many  health risks remain significant, including injuries, eating disorders, substance abuse and mental health issues; it is estimated that around 1 in every 5 adolescents suffers from a mental health or behavioural problem, according to the SOWC.

With 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country. An increasingly technological labour market requires skills that many young people do not possess. This not only results in a waste of young people’s talents, but also in a lost opportunity for the communities in which they live, UNICEF says. In many countries large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked. By investing in adolescent education and training, countries can reap a large and productive workforce, contributing significantly to the growth of national economies.

Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.

“Adolescence is a pivot point – an opportunity to consolidate the gains we have made in early childhood or risk seeing those gains wiped out,” said Lake.

The choice of adolescents for this year's SOWC is a departue from UNICEF's long-standing focus on child survival - child and maternal health. UNICEF argues impressive gains have been made in that phase of the life cycle. UNICEF says there has been a 33% drop in the global under-five mortality rate.

"This shows that many more young lives have been saved, in most of the world ‘s regions girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school, and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and critical medicines such as routine vaccinations."

Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, UNICEF says, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.

To enable adolescents to effectively deal with these challenges, targeted investments in the following key areas are necessary:

  • Improving data collection to increase the understanding of adolescents’ situation and meet their rights;
  • Investing in education and training so that adolescents have the means to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies;
  • Expanding opportunities for youth to participate and voice their opinion, for example in national youth councils, youth forums, community service initiatives, online activism and other avenues which enable adolescents to make their voices heard.
  • Promoting laws, policies and programs that protect the rights of  adolescents and enable them to overcome barriers  to essential services;
  • Stepping up the fight again poverty and inequity through child sensitive programs to prevent adolescents from being prematurely catapulted into adulthood.

- HUMNEWS staff, UNICEF

Monday
Feb072011

Over 6,000 Communities Across Africa Abandon Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (Report)

(HN, February 7, 2011) - Over 6,000 communities have chosen to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), according to a joint United Nations programme designed to eliminate this practice, and the number is growing.Youth Federation representative Asiya Oumer speaks at a declaration ceremony on abandonment of FGM/C in northern Ethiopia's Awash-Fentale District. UNICEF
  
“We are working in 12 out of 17 priority African countries and have seen real results - the years of hard work are paying off with FGM/C prevalence rates decreasing,” said Nafissatou Diop, Coordinator of the joint programme run by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
 
“In Ethiopia, the prevalence rate has fallen from 80 per cent to 74 per cent, in Kenya from 32 per cent to 27 per cent, and in Egypt from 97 per cent to 91 per cent. There is still a lot of work to do.”
 
Three million girls face FGM/C every year in Africa and worldwide, and up to 140 million women and girls have already undergone the practice. Research indicates that mothers and grandmothers of women have enormous influence over their decisions on whether to put their daughters through the dangerous procedure. In countries such as Egypt, the procedure is often administered by women with no medical credentials.

It is little wonder then that experts have concluded that FGM/C is a practice with serious immediate and long-term health effects.

In some countries, the influence of religious and clan leaders, local government officials and former circumcisers has brought a remarkable reduction in female cutting. Some Muslim scholars have called for banning FGM and for legislation criminalizing the practice.

Last year, a 13-year-old girl died after undergoing FGM in a public hospital in Egypt - even though the procedure had been made illegal since 2008.

“We must break the wall of silence that surrounds this issue and step up our national campaign to prevent the practice being passed on to the next generation”, Egyptian Minister of Family and Population Mushira Khattab said last year. “Our target is to make it clear that the practice will not be tolerated in Egypt.”

The UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme, set up in 2008, encourages communities to collectively abandon FGM/C - it is also known as positive deviance. It uses a culturally sensitive approach, including dialogue and social networking, leading to abandonment within one generation. The programme is anchored in human rights and involves all groups within a community, including religious leaders and young girls themselves. Rather than condemn FGM/C, it encourages collective abandonment to avoid alienating those that practice it and instead bring about their voluntary renunciation.
 
To mark the International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, UNFPA and UNICEF are renewing their commitment to put an end to the practice, and call on the global community to join in this critical effort. They also believe that FGM/C can be abandoned in one generation, which would help millions of girls and women to live healthier, fuller lives.
 
“Three years into the programme, more than 6,000 communities in Ethiopia, Egypt, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Gambia, Guinea and Somalia have already abandoned FGM/C,” according to a joint statement.

“Social norms and cultural practices are changing, and women and men in communities are uniting to protect the rights of girls. UNFPA and UNICEF are working with partners to end this harmful practice in one generation and we believe that reaching this goal is possible.”

FGM/C refers to the removal of all or part of the female genitalia. Despite global efforts to promote abandonment of the practice, FGM/C remains widespread in many developing countries, and has spread to other parts of the world, such as Europe and North America, where some immigrant families have now settled. The majority of girls who have undergone the practice live in 28 countries in Africa and Western Asia. 

- UN, HUMNEWS staff