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Monday:  October 6, 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 WFP (11)

Tuesday
Oct162012

High food prices top UN agenda on World Food Day (REPORT) 

(Video: World Food Programme)

Rome: Global governance of food security and a so-called new world food order were on the table at World Food Day talks held by the United Nations on Tuesday in the face of drought and high prices.

The United Nations focused the talks in Rome on lowering food prices which have been pushed up by droughts in Australia and the United States and a drop in harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region.

A meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization chaired by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll brought together ministers from 20 countries including major producers and import-dependent developing countries.

“The key is to ensure global governance on food issues,” Le Foll said.  “Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility,” he added.

FAO chief Jose Graziano Da Silva said: “Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term.”

He said new mechanisms for stronger global governance of food security that are being set up were part of “a new world order that needs to emerge.”

(PHOTO: YemenFoxNet)But there were divisions among participants at the meeting, with the United States voicing strong opposition to the proposal of setting up strategic food reserves in particularly vulnerable countries, to be tapped when prices spike.

Graziano Da Silva said establishing reserves could be “an instrument to avoid poor countries paying the price” of price rises — although FAO’s official position is only in favor of setting up “small emergency stocks”.

“If you bolster the size of the stocks, you increase difficulties in terms of costs and management,” said FAO’s David Hallam, who is in charge of markets.

Millions go hungry

Around 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even though gains have been made in recent years when the United Nations estimated 1 billion people on the planet were not getting enough to eat. Still, the number is troubling.

FAO said the talks were aimed at boosting “the effectiveness of measures to address food price volatility and to reduce its impact on the most vulnerable.”

Global food prices rose by 1.4 per cent last month, after holding steady for two months, as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, the FAO said earlier.

The food import bill for poor countries is therefore estimated to rise by 3.7 percentage points from last year to $36.5 billion.

The FAO estimates that about 870 million people in the world - or one in eight humans - suffer from hunger, saying the figure is “unacceptably high” even though it has gone down from more than a billion in the early 1990s.

The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said that figure rises to 1.5 billion people if you include malnourishment which hampers the physical and psychological developments of children.

(PHOTO: Agriaim)When global food prices rise as they are doing now “it is not just that there are fewer meals but the meals are also less varied,” De Schutter said, adding: “This threat is not really seen as a priority but it should be.”

Graziano Da Silva said it was vital to help small farmers as a way of combating hunger and World Food Day events highlighted the crucial role played by farming cooperatives in the developing world.

He underlined the fact that the figure of the number of people suffering from hunger had stopped going down over the past five years.  “The numbers are increasing in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

“We cannot tolerate this in a land of plenty where production is sufficient for everyone,” he said, adding that the funds for aid and agriculture budgets had gone down over the past three decades, stranding small farmers.  “They have had to fight to adapt,” he said.

Graziano Da Silva added that promises made by governments to eradicate hunger made when prices hit record highs in 2007 and 2008 had not been kept.

The non-governmental group Action Against Hunger said that “some 100 million more people have become under-nourished” due to the price rises of 2008.

In a message to mark World Food Day, Pope Benedict hailed cooperatives as “an expression of true subsidiarity” and urged the international community to come up with legal and financial mechanisms to strengthen them.

The pope also emphasized the “vital role” played by women in cooperatives.

- This article appeared in GulfNews.

Tuesday
Mar062012

World's Smallest Territory/World's Hungry, Benefit From Biggest Anticipated Movie (REPORT) 

Hungry no longer?  

 

(HN, March 6, 2012) -- Next month brings the launch of one of Hollywood's most anticipated `book-turned-film series' of 2012, The Hunger Games.  In the spirit of others before it - "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" - author Suzanne Collins's bestselling young-adult adventure book trilogy features teenaged heroine Katniss Everdeen and depicts a remade North America, run by a dystopian dictatorship.

Renamed Panem and ruled by the governing body called `The Capitol' a highly advanced metropolis which holds absolute power over the rest of the nation, The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding `The Capitol' are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.  

(PHOTO: The Hunger Games, 1st edition, 2008/Scholastic) Since its initial publishing in 2008, the novel has been translated into 26 different languages and rights of production have been sold in 38 countries. "The Hunger Games" is the first novel in The Hunger Games trilogy, followed by Catching Fire, published on September 1, 2009, and Mockingjay, published on August 24, 2010.

The film adaptation, which will be released on March 23, was written and produced by Collins herself and directed by Gary Ross. The cast features Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gale with cameo's by notable's Wood Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and singer Lenny Kravitz.  

Collins has said that the inspiration to write The Hunger Games came from channel surfing on television. On one channel she observed people competing on a reality show and on another she saw footage of the invasion of Iraq. The two "began to blur in this very unsettling way" and the idea for the book was formed.

PITCAIRN

So where on Earth would a Hollywood producer film a futuristic Panem that would live up to the enormous interest in the storyline of The Hunger Games and be believable?  North Carolina, USA of course.  In fact, The Hunger Games was shot almost entirely on location in the southern US state - Asheville, Charlotte, Concord, DuPont State Forest, Hildebran, North Fork Reservoir, Pisgah National Forest, and Shelby.

The US is obviously one of the biggest nations on the planet. And, if The Hunger Games premise were to come true, would be taken over by a New `North American' order in Panem. 

But it's one of the world's tiniest territories that is reaping the rewards of one of the most waited-for movies of the year.

Which territory is this?  Pitcairn of course.

(MAP: Pitcairn Islands/Wikipedia) The Pitcairn Islands are a group of 4 volcanic islands Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean which stretch between Tahiti, and Easter Island. The islands are spread over several hundred miles of ocean and have a total land area of about 18 square miles.  Only Pitcairn, the second largest island with only about 48 people, is inhabited; and only from 4 families: Christian, Warren, Young, and Brown.

Pitcairn is the least populous jurisdiction in the world (though it is not a sovereign nation). The United Nations Committee on Decolonisation includes the Pitcairn Islands on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The islands are a British Overseas Territory and have alternately been `found' by both Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 1600's. The original settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were Polynesians.

(DRAWING: A depiction of the British HMS Bounty arriving at Pitcairn, circa 1700's/Wikipedia) As far as Hollywood goes, the islands are best known as home of the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers (British, who came to the islands in the 1700's);  and the Tahitians (or Polynesians) who accompanied them, an event retold in numerous books and films.

But now, with The Hunger Games, Lionsgate, the film's distributor has expanded its promotional campaign to be as `experiential' for fans as possible. As if Panem actually existed

And what would a fictitious Panem have as its web address?  Likely something with the .PN URL - which just happens to be, the web domain of the smallest populated territory on the planet, Pitcairn.

According to Movieline, this unique designation was a "happy coincidence with a financial benefit"  to Bill Haigh, the governmental registrar for Pitcairn's domain offices, which provides the web affiliation for companies to protect their brand, and he says the proceeds "go a long way toward the islands' infrastructural upkeep".

(PHOTO: Pitcairn postage stamp, superimposed with Jennifer Lawrence's photo/TaimiOnline) The island’s internet domain name sales are reportedly now bringing in as much income as Pitcairn postage stamps or the islands other export, honey; equaling "tens of thousands of dollars", he says.

Again, Movieline reports that, "While it's impossible to know how many .PN's will be registered, an online registry  shows already established PN's as Capitol.pn, and CapitolCouture.pn; there are registrations for Panem's various districts (District1.pn, through District13.pn), and each of the main characters have their own addresses (e.g. PresidentSnow.pn)". 

 At approximately $75 per registrar the islands could go a long way towards creating revenue for real things it needs support for such as telecommunications, supply shipping, children's education, and medical care among other modern day staples. 

ACTUAL, GLOBAL HUNGER

In an interview with Suzanne Collins, she stated that the books "challenge the reader to explore issues such as severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others".  

(GRAPH: Global hunger, 2010/FAO) The starvation and need for resources that Panem citizens experience both in and outside of the `Hunger Games' arena create an atmosphere of survival that the main characters try to overcome in their fight for self preservation. She goes on to say, "The choices the characters make and the strategies they use are often morally complex."

So it's no surprise then that a film called "The Hunger Games" is a perfect fit for messaging around the poverty, hunger and famine issues plaguing many countries and millions of people across the world.

In fact a month before the release of the film opening on March 23, the cast and producers teamed up with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Feeding America to raise awareness about global hunger - launching a public service video and a new website wfp.org/hungergames with the movie’s stars urging fans of the film to help end hunger and malnutrition.

Hunger affects 1 in 7 people in the world – almost one billion men, women and children who go to bed every night not having enough to eat or enough nutrition to sustain them.  "The Hunger Games" campaign states that for just $5 a month, Feeding America and WFP will help to provide at least 20 meals to someone in need.

“This partnership will help us spread the word that hunger is the world’s greatest solvable problem,” said Nancy Roman, Director of Communications of WFP, adding that millions of readers identified with the characters in The Hunger Games trilogy and are excited about the upcoming movie.  “We want to tap into that excitement." 

 Said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO, Feeding America, "There is enough food to feed everyone living in the US, but it’s not getting to millions of low-income people who need it”.

On the website users can watch the public service announcement; participate in a Hunger Quiz; or make a donation to actively become a part of the solution and help solve world hunger.

CATCHING FIRE

With early projections of $100 million dollar success already being hyped in Hollywood for The Hunger Games launch - the cast has set out on a mall tour speaking to thousands of people ahead of the movie's release.

Looking towards the future, Suzanne Collins, her directing partner Gary Ross and Lionsgate aren't waiting for the film to open to begin the next chapter. They are already anticipating that The Hunger Games will `Catch Fire' - and the only way to keep a flame burning, is to keep going. 

(PHOTO: Catching Fire, published 2009/Scholastic) So weeks before The Hunger Games even arrives in theaters, the script for "Catching Fire" - the sequel - has already been written and is being reviewed by Collin's herself according to the NY Daily News.

Lionsgate has already announced a release date of November 22, 2013 for the sequel and filming is set to begin rolling in the fall, with stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson all returning. 

Indeed, "Catching Fire" is also what the The Hunger Games beneficiaries hope will happen too.

A three film trilogy that could potentially bring worldwide awareness of the inequity of life which the millions who face hunger and poverty around the world deal with every day?  A blockbuster, made in North Carolina which brings global awareness to the world's least populated territory?

Perhaps,  the real legacy of "The Hunger Games" could mean `Hunger no longer'.  Now that's a blockbuster.

--- HUMNEWS

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

Monday
Oct242011

Indochina: Floods Impacting Millions, Crops Damaged (BRIEF, PHOTOS)

A Cambodian boy rides his motorcycle through flood waters. CREDIT: WFP Cambodia/Polly Egerton(HN, October 24, 2011) - A wide swath of Indochina is being hit by historic floods. An area the size of Spain is said to be under water, with tens of thousands of hectares of rice paddies and dozens of factories damaged.

Over the weekend, flood waters began to submerge streets in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Laos and Cambodia have also been hit by widespread flooding.

In Cambodia, aid agencies are reporting severe flash floods and rising water levels in 17 out of 24 provinces affecting more than 1.2 million people. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an immediate response operation to address the food requirements of over 12,000 families - or 60,000 people. 

WFP is by providing a monthly 50kg of rice per household in Cambodia, said spokesperson Gaelle Sevenier.

Impoverished Laos, which is also flood-prone, is reported to have had almost eight percent of its rice farmland damaged. The UN says 12 out 17 provinces have been affected by severe flooding caused by tropical storm Haima and Nock-Ten this year.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, David Singh from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said the floods in South East Asia are threatening 8 million people.

Prokeab village in Kampong Thom province shows the overwhelming impact of flood waters on people's lives and livelihoods. Credit: WFPHe said the floods underline shortcomings in disaster risk reduction, with the highest concern being many children drowning because they can't swim (reportedly over 200 children in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand out of an estimated total of 740 related deaths). There are also thousands of workers unemployed because of poorly located manufacturing plants. 

UNISDR wants the governments of the affected countries to open discussions with the private sector on what adjustments needed to be made in their land use and basic prevention measures when these events were now so predictable.

Across the region, the well-being of millions are be drastically affected by the loss of livelihoods, as manufacturing plants are forced to shut and agriculture struggles to recover.

Singh said that, over the long term, countries such as Thailand need a more comprehensive framework to manage disasters, especially floods. The main shortcoming right now is there are about eight institutions that deal with water. Most of the countries in the region have no comprehensive framework to deal with this catastrophe.

Their analysis have raised fears that the current flooding in Thailand may be a prelude to even worse flood catastrophes in the future. UNISDR believes that the worst is yet to come.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

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.

Saturday
Jul302011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- UN News Center 

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
Feb092011

Second Tsunami of Floods Hits Already-Drenched Sri Lanka (Report)

(HN, February 9, 2011) - A devastating second wave of floods that has hit Sri Lanka are much worse and more serious than those that had hit the country some weeks ago, says the UN.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) official figures indicate more than 1-million people are affected by the floods, including almost 200,000 persons in 703 temporary evacuation centres in 15 districts. There has been fourteen deaths and it's estimated that more than 7,700 houses in 13 districts have been damaged or destroyed, Elisabeth Byrs of OCHA has told a media briefing in Geneva monitored by HUMNEWS.

While the Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center is doing its best, resources are becoming increasingly limited, the UN says.

Another challenge is that some measures taken by the authorities, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in response to the first wave of floods had been almost erased, including the re-contamination of wells in the water and sanitation sector. The work is further being further complicated by flooded roads and the insufficient availability of boats and helicopters.

The $50 million Sri Lanka Floods Flash Appeal, launched in early January, is currently funded to only 15 per cent, with $7.7 million received, but would be revised upwards at the end of this month, given the current situation of unforeseeable rains which meant that the overfilled reservoirs could lead to new population displacement.

Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) says the Rome-based agency is scaling up its food assistance to flood-affected people.

In January, the WFP provided rations to 500,000 people in five districts in response to the first wave of flooding. Now, with the second wave, WFP has dispatched food assistance for 326,000 people over the past weekend and continued to move towards 500,000 people in this ongoing emergency.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that in January 450,000 metric tons of rice paddies had already been damaged and now there was even more damage to the rice harvest, which was a particular problem for the most vulnerable people.

Initial estimations suggested that at least 87,000 farming households would be affected by the damage to the rice crops, having a knock-on effect on the wider community of people who would be receiving that harvest food.

WFP was facing a number of challenges, Casella underscored. Not only had WFP been using the stocks for its conflict returnee programmes to assist flood-affected people, its rice suppliers also faced difficulties in meeting their deadlines to deliver to the WFP as they had themselves been affected by the floods.

Saturday
Jan152011

Battered Sri Lanka Contends With Destructive Climate Change (Report)

(HN, January 15, 2011) - Still recovering from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the long-term effects of armed conflict, the island nation of Sri Lanka now finds a quarter of its territory under water.

Families wade through floodwaters triggered by heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka, carrying clothing and possessions to higher ground. CREDIT: UNICEF

Recent catastrophic floods have decimated crops, driven tourists away at the height of the season - and caused a spike in food prices. The freak weather has even caused a plunge in temperatures. On Thursday, the capital city of Colombo hit 18.8 Celsius - the coldest day on record in more than 60 years.

Today, in its Twitter feed, the Sri Lankan Red Cross said initial estimates of damage is in the $500-million range.

The rains started December 26 and in one day alone on January 12, 300 millimeters fell, said a spokesperson for the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elizabeth Byrs.

Already 27 people have died, and more than 1-million people have been affected - roughly a third children.

The country - a major tea and rice producer - faces loosing as much as 20 per cent of its harvest due to flood waters. The UN says about 300,000 people have been displaced; one UN official described eastern parts of the country as "a lake." The worst hit areas are Batticalao, Trincomalee and other regions in east-central Sri Lanka and the central provinces. Many roads have been rendered impassable.

More than 360,000 people are living in temporary shelters, Byrs told a media briefing in Geneva, monitored by HUMNEWS.

About 200,000 acres of rice fields are reported to be under water. Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the floods had come just before the harvest season in February and March - in what was expected to be a bumper crop. The Rome-based food agency is gearing up to meet the food needs of about 500,000 people over a period of six months, Casella said.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, has warned of a major food crisis in the country and his ministers have been ordered to develop an emergency plan.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Donations for flood victims can be made to the Red Cross in Sri Lanka

Saturday
Jan012011

HUMNEWS Person of the Year: Orphan Sephora in Lesotho

(HN, January 1, 2011) - Sephora celebrated New Years Day today the same way she observed it ever since she lost her mother five years ago - cleaning the small house she shares with her grandmother in a remote village in Lesotho.The HIV epidemic in Lesotho has hit children disproportionately hard. CREDIT: HUMNEWS

Sephora is known to aid agencies and statisticians as a "double orphan." She lost both parents to AIDS, giving her unenviable membership in the orphan community in this impoverished southern African country - a neglected group now estimated to number between 270,000 and 400,000.

Like Sephora, almost half of all orphans in Lesotho do not live with either parent. Almost 20 percent of all orphans have lost both biological parents.

Most of the orphans in Lesotho come from families devastated by HIV AIDS. Lesotho has the third highest HIV AIDS rate in the world - with almost 30 percent of the adult population affected - according to the charitable organization Sentebale. It estimates that every day, 100 children in Lesotho are devastated by the death of a parent. With so few orphanages in the country only about one percent have access to institutionalized care.

An 'orphan' is defined by the United Nations as a child who has 'lost one or both parents'. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 16 million children under 18 have been orphaned by AIDS. Around 14.8 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to international HIV and AIDS charity AVERT.

Sadly, Sephora was born into a family with parents belonging to the highest risk groups: her father was a migrant miner in neighbouring South Africa and her mother was among the 40,000 people toiling away in Lesotho's garment factories.

Now at 14, Sephora does not attend school - she hasn't been inside a classroom for many years. Even when she was in school she was forced to repeat classes due to low marks and non-attendance. The stress of living in a troubled household made studying difficult. And even
though primary education in Lesotho is compulsory and free - there were weeks in winter time when Sephora didn't have shoes and stayed home. There were also days when teachers sent her home because she didn't have money for basic stationary items.

Sephora wasn't enrolled in Grade One until she was 10 years old - in fact about half of children I'm Lesotho start Grade One at six years old and above. Each year almost a quarter of all students must repeat classes and drop-out rates are extremely high. Only two percent of boys and eight percent of girls from the lowest wealth quintiles enroll in secondary school, which is not free.

Sephora's younger brother, Oscar, does attend school - one of the reasons is he receives a free meal at lunch paid for by the World Food Program (WFP). On some days, her hungry grandmother goes to the school yard to get a portion of Oscar's lunch. Sadly the school feeding program may be discontinued shortly due to funding shortages.

Sephora says she and her classmates have never touched a computer or surfed the Internet. There is a dire lack of good-quality textbooks and education on how to protect themselves from HIV/Aids and other dangerous diseases. A recent study of southern African countries funded by UNESCO pegged Lesotho's children as having the lowest knowledge of HIV and Aids prevention measures.

Indeed, Sephora had the odds stacked up against her well before she was born. With one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world her chances of either contracting the disease during birth or becoming infected as teenager was extremely high. The district of Leribe, where Sephora lives, has the highest prevalence rate in the country, at 30 percent. By the time she reaches 24, she could be among half of all women at that age that have been infected. And by the time she reaches
18 she will have probably reached middle age: life expectancy in Lesotho is just at around 40 years old.

According to UNICEF: "The nexus of significant levels of poverty, chronic food insecurity and a high prevalence of HIV has dealt a serious blow to child survival, development and protection in Lesotho."

When Sephora's parents were still alive they rarely sought health treatment for themselves or their children. Only 34 percent of poor households live within an hour of the nearest health facility. Even
those who do make it to a clinic are more likely than not to find a lack of medicines, poorly trained health care workers and few doctors. It is still unclear where doctors will be found to staff a multi-million dollar hospital in the capital Maseru.

Lesotho is a small mountainous country of 1.9 million people surrounded by South Africa. With about half of all households living in poverty, it has been mostly sidelined by the economic miracle happening across the border. When the 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa, many of Sephora's relatives were prevented from traveling to their jobs across the border due to a sudden border tightening imposed by the Government of Jacob Zuma.

So for Sephora - and the millions of other Aids orphans on the African continent, today will be just another day. Many will be asking, as they start a new decade, whether change will come quickly enough to bring them back into school before they become adults, to bring them at least one meal a day, and to save them from deadly diseases such as HIV/Aids.

Sephora represents the millions of children like her living with poverty, disease and inequity and is a character composed by HUMNEWS based on official statistics, mostly from the World Bank, and on interviews, other data collected by HUMNEWS and on real children we've met in Lesotho. She is HUMNEWS' person of note for 2010.
To help children in Lesotho such as Sephora, visit Sentebale and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Both have substantial and well-regarded programmes for children impacted by HIV and Aids.

Lesotho is one of the 116 countries in the geographic gap covered exclusively by HUMNEWS.

Friday
Sep032010

(NEWS BRIEF) UN agency warns of tragedy unfolding in southwest of flood-hit Pakistan

 

(HN, September 3, 2010) – The United Nations refugee agency has called for boosting relief efforts in the flood-hit province of Balochistan in south-western Pakistan, where some 2 million people have been affected by the recent disaster and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating.

“By any definition it is a humanitarian tragedy in Balochistan. We need to scale up our activities in the province, if not, I think we are heading for a major humanitarian disaster there,” Mengesha Kebede, Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Mr. Kebede, who just returned from a visit to Balochistan, said the situation in the remote province has been largely overlooked as attention followed the flow of the Indus River south, ignoring the mounting crisis to the west.

There are almost two million people affected by floods in Balochistan, he said, noting that over half of them have been displaced, including 600,000 who had fled flood waters in Sindh province.

“I have worked in humanitarian situations globally and worked in refugee camps in Africa during emergencies, but to be honest I had never seen a situation as devastating as I saw in Balochistan,” said the UNHCR official.

“I owe it to the people there to put this on the table and help end their plight,” he stated, stressing the need to focus on the areas of sanitation, shelter, food and health care.

There were some 28 camps set up in the province but conditions were a major concern. “We are focusing on identifying and improving the most critical issues in relation to camp layout, hygiene and health conditions,” he said.

UNHCR is one of numerous UN agencies that are on the ground in Pakistan to try to provide relief to the victims of the disaster, which has left a fifth of the country under water and affected over 17 million people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has so far delivered one-month food rations to nearly 175,000 people in eight districts in Balochistan, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing water daily to over 200,000 people and has built emergency latrines in the most affected areas.

Stefano Savi, head of UNICEF’s office in Balochistan’s provincial capital Quetta, noted that, as in most disaster situations, children are among those most affected. “If we don’t scale up our nutrition activities, the lives of thousands of children are at risk,” he warned.

“The psychological impact of this disaster on children must also not be underestimated,” he added, “and this is why we are working to make their lives as normal as possible, through the establishment of child-friendly spaces and learning centres.”

The nearly $460 million sought by the UN and its humanitarian partners in the initial floods response plan for Pakistan is currently 63 per cent covered, having received $291 million in funds and an additional $20 million in pledges.

UNHCR has revised its section of the wider appeal from $41 million to $120 million as the needs of the flood victims continue to outpace the ability of aid groups to respond.

The award-winning Hollywood actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has released a video message this week in which she appeals to the public to step up their financial support for aid efforts in Pakistan.

“This is not just a humanitarian crisis – it is an economic and social catastrophe,” she said.

- UN News