Tag Archives: Emergencies

Ravaging Drought Deepens in Kenya

Experts warn that Kenya is in the grip of the worst drought in recent history as government estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.7 million, up from two million in January. This has necessitated the government to declare the crisis a national disaster as large parts of the country continue to succumb to the ravaging drought.

At least 11,000 livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The drought management authority issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 percent of their livestock by April.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated one million children in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are in dire need of food aid.

“The prevalence of acute malnutrition in Baringo, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya where the drought is most severe is estimated at 25 percent,” Mary Naliaka, a pediatrics nurse with the Ministry of Health, told IPS.

“This is alarming because at least 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age is caused by nutrition related issues.”

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Miriam Gathigah

This story updates Kenyans Turn to Wild Fruits and Insects as Drought Looms published on Jan. 31, 2016.

Female Genital Mutilation is a Gruesome Impediment to the Empowerment of Women

On 06 February 2017, the world marks the 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).   Consider this, approximately 200 million girls and women alive today globally, have undergone some form of FGM.

One cannot but despair at the indolent pace towards elimination of one of the most brutal cultural norms, a practice that continues to hold women and a Nation’s development back.

While Kenya must be applauded for having brought down the national FGM prevalence from 32 percent to 21 percent in the last 12 years, there are still some communities where about nine in ten girls are mutilated, often forced to leave school and into early marriage.

An often-unnoticed reality is that the effects of FGM go far beyond the negative physical and psychosocial consequences. The social and economic damage done to entire countries has only started to be realised.

The origins of practices such as FGM and their continuation over millennia are traced to man’s objective of subjugating women.  Alas, the dire consequences of such practices are affecting the entire population, including those in non-practicing communities.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognized the close connection between FGM, gender inequality and development, urging global action to end FGM by 2030.

FGM ranks as one of the worst manifestation of gender inequality. Last year, UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report estimated that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa six percent of its GDP leading to around US$ 95 billion in lost revenue.

The Government of Kenya is demonstrating commendable determination to eliminate the practice. Increased resources to the national Anti-FGM Board have resulted in good progress towards implementing the Prohibition of the FGM Act and tangible strides are being made to find alternative rites of passage.

From a medical point of view, FGM causes severe health problems as well as complications in childbirth increasing risks of newborn deaths. Adolescent girls are far more likely to die from childbirth-related complications and face greater risks of getting obstetric fistula, which is the most devastating of all childbirth related injuries. They are also at higher risk of contracting HIV.

While education is arguably the best solution for ensuring women and girls gain equal access to political and socio-economic power in society, FGM makes this impossible because very often for the girls, post-mutilation, is end of schooling, early marriage, and denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  This is a sure recipe for perpetuation of poverty, misery and inequality in society. We therefore must seek alternative rites of passage to broaden opportunities for girls while recognizing this important milestone.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Ruth Kagia

Ruth Kagia is a senior advisor in the office of the President of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

Burundi: Three lessons about the crisis from speaking to those who fled it

Burundi will soon mark two years since it was propelled into a political crisis by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s determination to be elected to a third term in power. As it stands, more than 327,000 of Burundi’s 11 million people have now sought refuge outside the country according to UN figures from early 2017 – nearly all fleeing since the crisis erupted.

This calamity reverses a decade of refugee returns after the 1993-2005 civil war, and a new surge of people fleeing in late-2016 risks overwhelming the woefully underfunded humanitarian response.

Most live in camps in neighbouring Tanzania, which has hosted Burundian refugees since the 1970s. Others are in Uganda, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo, while a smaller number live in urban centres, especially Kigali, where many are not registered as refugees.

Despite many people fleeing, the Burundian government has been trying to project a sense of control, arguing that the crisis has passed. It claims that most refugees are either insurgents or have fallen victim to the economic problems brought about, in their eyes, by international sanctions.

At the UN General Assembly in September 2016, Burundi’s foreign minister controversially claimed that many of its refugees are returning voluntarily and that the country was now stable enough for a policy of returns to be pursued. However, the assassination of a government minister on 1 January, a failed attack on a government spokesman in November, and numerous less high-profile acts of violence and terror, show that Burundi remains deeply troubled.

At the same time, East African Community mediation led by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa reached an impasse in December when he stated that the legitimacy of President Nkurunziza should not be questioned. The exiled opposition read this as blatant support for what they see as a dictatorial regime. The breakdown in mediation will further dent refugees’ hopes of an early resolution to the crisis and increase their frustrations.

During the course of 2016, Crisis Group interviewed over 50 Burundian refugees from all walks of life, and from both Tutsi and Hutu ethnic communities, in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and, for a few with some money and connections, Belgium. We asked three questions: How and why did you leave the country? What problems do you face in exile? And how do you envisage your future and that of your country?

From the responses, and drawing on long, field research-based knowledge of Burundi, three broad conclusions emerged.

Continue reading on The African Arguments

By Richard Moncrieff

Central African Republic: Lifesaving assistance desperately needed

Humanitarian funding to respond to the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been woefully low: less than one third of a requested US$532 million has been raised so far this year, says the international NGO Action contre la Faim. The funding gap is increasingly concerning in a country where insecurity is high and humanitarian needs are immense.

On 17 November, the European Union and the Government of CAR will host a conference in Brussels, bringing together donors to discuss the recovery of the poverty and conflict-ridden country. While the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) welcome the effort, we urge the international community not to ignore the continuing need for critical lifesaving humanitarian assistance, while simultaneously addressing recovery efforts where possible. Both lifesaving assistance and recovery efforts are essential in the current context.

Some 2.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance1, that is half of the country’s population. An estimated 2 million people are food insecure compared with 1.2 million people in 2015.

 “While we need to help CAR on the road to recovery, humanitarian needs remain immense,” warned NRC’s Country Director in CAR, Maureen Magee.

Now, a few weeks before the launch of the Humanitarian Response Plan, a record low commitment to fund lifesaving assistance is imminent.

“The international community must commit to ensure critical humanitarian assistance, while also investing in more long-term development. Both types of funding need to be articulated. From experiences elsewhere, we have seen that a sudden and premature shift from lifesaving assistance to recovery efforts has had a negative impact on the humanitarian situation,” said Arnaud Lavergne, ACF’s Country Director in CAR.

“The endemic poverty and structural underdevelopment are part of the drivers of the conflict. We do need roads, bridges and other development efforts to help the country stabilize and recover, but it’s not a case of one or the other,” said Magee.

Stories we have been told by displaced people living in the capital Bangui echo these sentiments. They are not yet ready to return home and are still frightened by the security situation.

“I’m a carpenter, so it won’t be too hard to rebuild our house which was destroyed in December 2013. But with the insecurity, it is not possible right now,” said Raphael, a father of seven children living in one of Bangui’s displacement sites.

An upsurge of violence in several provinces in the Central African Republic has led to increased insecurity for civilians, notably in the current hotspots in Batangafo, Bocaranga, Bambari and Sibut. In Kaga-Bandoro, in Nana-Gribizi province, one site for displaced people was set on fire, forcing more than 12,000 people to flee yet again.

Humanitarian organisations are also directly affected by the violence, making it difficult to reach people in need. Since 2014, 458 aid workers have been targeted by violence and 20 have been killed. Violent incidents in September and October 2016, and threats to the lives and safety of aid workers, has led to the temporary relocation of relief staff. The houses of humanitarian workers have been burnt down and offices have been looted.

“Civilians, among them aid workers, must be protected, and people in need must have safe access to necessary humanitarian support. Only by ending the acute humanitarian suffering and insecurity will the country be able to move forward,” said Magee.

Key facts and figures about the humanitarian situation in Central African Republic:

An estimated 2.3 million people are in needs of humanitarian assistance and protection. That’s half of the population of 4.6 million people.

As of October 2016, over 385,000 people are displaced within the country, and another 466,000 have fled to neighbouring countries3.

Around 600 children under 5 are treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) per month only in Bangui4, a number that does not seem to go down.

Humanitarian needs continue to surpass available resources. US$532 million is urgently required to cover the humanitarian needs in the Central African Republic in 2016. 11 months into the year, only 32 per cent of the funds have been raised.

CAR rates second last in terms of development in the UN’s development index (187 out of 188 countries).

Source: Action contre la Faim

Picture Credit: Federico Scoppa/Getty Images

Initiative to cut post-harvest grains losses launched

An initiative has been launched to promote the scale-up of innovative technologies for reducing post-harvest losses in Sub-Saharan Africa and help combat malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty.

Agricultural scientists and other experts at the launch last month (5 July) in Kenya say that the continent’s little investments in managing post-harvest losses is a major drawback to transforming Africa.

The experts note that Sub-Saharan Africa losses about 30 per cent of the grains produced owing to inadequate post-harvest management, lack of structured markets, inadequate storage in households and on farms, and limited processing capacity.

This, they add, happens despite existence of innovative technologies developed by agricultural scientists and researchers across the continent to reduce such losses.

“Food loss is a large and urgent problem that presents a clear opportunity for impact,” says Rafael Flor, deputy regional director of Africa for Rockefeller Foundation.

Flor noted that 1.6 billion people globally could be fed with food lost yearly.

The three-year project that aims to reduce post-harvest loss of grains in Africa is being implemented by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with 2.7 million Canadian dollar (about US$2.1 million) from the Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Anne Mbaabu, head of markets and post-harvest management at AGRA, says: “We want to scale up innovations and technologies of post-harvest losses to help smallholder farmers reap benefits from their work.”

She explains that the initiative will increase awareness, accessibility and affordability of existing technologies such as threshers to 10,000 smallholder farmers in Botswana and Mozambique.

Continue reading on SciDev.net

by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk

Photo credits: A. Paul-Bossuet/ICRISAT

New Alliance to Shore Up Food Security Launched in Africa

As over 20 million sub-Saharan Africans face a shortage of food because of drought and development issues, representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan African Parliament (PAP) met in Johannesburg to forge a new parliamentary alliance focusing on food and nutritional security.

Monday’s meeting here came after years of planning that began on the sidelines of the Second International Conference on Nutrition organised by the FAO in late 2014.

“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger.” — Dr. Bernadette Lahai

Speaking at the end of the day-long workshop held at the offices of the PAP, its fourth vice president was upbeat about the programme and what she called the “positive energy” shown by attendees.

“We have about 53 countries here in the PAP and the alliance is going to be big,” she said. “At a continental level, once we have launched the alliance formally, we’ll encourage regional parliaments so the whole of Africa will really come together.”

“This will be a very big voice,” she said on the sidelines of the workshop.

FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, said her role was to ensure that parliamentarians take up food security as a central theme.

“The reason why we’re doing this is because based on the evidence that we have in the FAO, is that once you have the laws and policies on food and nutrition security in place there is a positive correlation with the improvement of the indicators of both food and security of nutrition,” she told IPS.

“Last year we facilitated the attendance of seven African parliamentarians to a Latin American and Caribbean meeting in Lima, and these seven requested us to have an interaction with parliamentarians of Africa,” she said.

A small team of officials representing Latin America and the Caribbean had traveled to Johannesburg to provide some details of their own experience working alongside the FAO in an alliance which had focused on providing food security to the hungry in South America and the island nations of the Caribbean.

These included Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador, who told the 20-odd PAP representatives that in her experience working alongside officials from the FAO had helped eradicate hunger in much of the region.

Continue reading on IPS News

by Desmond Latham

Photo credits: Desmond Latham/IPS News

Newly Empowered Black Farmers Ruined by South Africa’s Drought

Almost half a decade of drought across most of South Africa has led to small towns in crisis and food imports for the first time in over 20 years, as well as severely hampering the government’s planned land redistribution programme.

It’s the cost of food in an economic downturn that has been the immediate effect. But hidden from view is a growing social crisis as farmers retrench their workforce and the new class of black commercial farmers has been rocked by the drought. Also hidden from many is the effect on small towns across the north of the country in particular, which are now reporting business closures, growing unemployment and social instability.

“There’s no food at all, we didn’t even plant in the last season. It’s a cruel twist of fate.” — Thomas Pitso Sekhoto

According to emerging black farmers, the record high temperates and dry conditions of the last few years has led to an upsurge in bankruptcy cases and forced many off their newly redistributed farmland. While some have managed to take out loans to fund the capital-intensive commercial farming requirements, others aren’t so lucky. Even large-scale commercial farmers are now unable to service their debt.

“It’s terrible, terrible, terrible,” said African Association of Farmers business development strategist, Thomas Pitso Sekhoto.

“Now it’s going to be worse because of the winter, there’s no food at all, we didn’t even plant in the last season. It’s a cruel twist of fate, it’s affected us badly. Those who bought land for themselves as black farmers, those who took out bonds, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “It’s a serious setback to black farmers in South Africa – there’s no future if things are going to go like this.”

BFAP farming systems analyst Divan van der Westhuizen says these farmers had already been struggling with increased costs and lower production.

“The depreciation of the rand has a strong correlation on the landed price of fertiliser and oil-based products. Year-on-year there’s an increase of 11 percent on fertiliser and 10 percent on fuel,” he said.

“From the drought perspective it’s tough. The North West of the country was affected by drought conditions for the past four to five years, now production is down and costs are up,” said van der Westuizen. “Even if rains fall now, from a cash flow perspective it won’t be sufficient to cover the shortfall.”

Agriculture development specialists say support for the sector has been limited. The largest agricultural organisation in South Africa, AgriSA, has reported that its office has been inundated with calls for drought relief assistance. Over 3,000 emerging farmers (most of whom are black) and nearly 13,000 commercial farmers have received drought assistance.

“More and more highly productive and successful commercial farmers are struggling to make ends meet,” said CEO Omri van Zyl. “We appeal to government for assistance as these farmers have played a crucial role to produce food on a large scale. It’s especially farmers in parts of the Northern Cape, Free State and North West, Eastern Cape and Western Cape that face a severe crisis currently and who are in desperate need for financial assistance” he said.

Government ploughed millions of dollars into a drought relief programme early in 2016. But the support dried up in February. Now Sekhoto said his farm is in the grip of what could be a terminal cycle.

Continue reading on IPS News

by Demond Latham

Photo Credits: IPS News/Desmond Latham

Juba dismisses UN warning over Machar sacking

Information minister Samuel Makuei said the nomination of Gen Taban Gai Deng to replace Dr Machar was the business of the opposition and not the government.

“This issue is something which has nothing to do with the government, it is the SPLM-IO that has decided to appoint Taban Gai Deng to act in the absence of Machar,” Mr Makuei was quoted saying byEye Radio in Juba.

The UN, however, maintained that the decision to sack Dr Machar was a violation of the peace agreement.

“Any political appointments need to be consistent with the provisions outlined in the peace agreement,” the UN statement reads. The peace agreement says in the event that the post of the First Vice-President falls vacant during the transition period, for any reason, the replacement shall be nominated by the top leadership body of SPLM-IO.

Dr Machar was appointed to the post in April after nearly two years of fighting between his supporters and President Salva Kiir’s forces.

Dr Machar fled Juba again on July 11 due to latest flare up between the rival forces.

On Monday evening, President Kiir’s office said the decision was made within the law because the nominating organ; former rebels, had said Dr Machar who held the position had absconded duty.

In a sign of deepening crisis within the government in Juba, President Kiir said the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) wrote to him advising a replacement as is required by the peace agreement the two sides signed.

Continue reading on The East African

by Joseph Oduha

Photo Credits: AFP

Congo: Jean-Pierre Bemba has served his time. Now let him serve his people

Jean-Pierre Bemba was vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2003 to 2006. 

He is the popular political leader of the Congo’s Equateur Province in the country’s northwest, an area the size of France.  Between 1998 and 2002, the DRC was in a state of civil war, with several African countries involved militarily in support of the government or in support of various rebel movements.  During this period, Jean-Pierre Bemba was President of the MLC party (Movement for the Liberation of the Congo). His party also had an armed wing of several thousand fighters who supported the government against various rebel movements.

The fighting in the DRC stopped in 2002, leading to a negotiated new constitution, and a transitional government from 2003 to 2006. During this period, Bemba was one of four transitional vice-presidents under the transitional president, Joseph Kabila.  The first postwar democratic election was held in 2006, with Bemba obtaining the most votes in the first round, before losing to Kabila in the second round with 42% of the vote.

Before this though in 2002-2003, with a ceasefire in place in the DRC, Bemba decided to send his militia to neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in support of President Ange-Félix Patassé who was facing a number of armed rebellions. Patassé had previously helped Bemba organise his armed force in the DRC.  The civil war in the CAR was particularly nasty in the actions committed against civilian populations by the different armed factions, including Bemba’s.

In view of crimes allegedly committed by his militia in the CAR, Jean-Pierre Bemba was indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for “crimes against humanity” in 2008. The indictment said that Bemba’s militia engaged in pillaging, rape and other crimes against civilians, including cannibalism. The prosecution document did not accuse Bemba of inciting his fighters to commit crimes against civilians. However, the prosecution accused him of failing to engage in proper supervision in order to prevent the crimes allegedly committed by his men.

After eight years of deliberations, the Court convicted Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity this March.  In July, the court handed down a sentence of 18 years in prison, eight of which have already been served. His defence has decided to appeal.

I have read documents produced by both the prosecution and the defence. As a former military officer, I believe that the commander of troops is responsible for everything his soldiers do, or fail to do. But in the case of Bemba, I believe there are mitigating circumstances. The most important being that for much of the time his troops were in the CAR, he was in South Africa engaged in negotiations for the political transition and elections in the DRC.

It is not my place to argue about Bemba’s guilt or innocence. However, I firmly believe that the nature of the offence should not be the cause of a long prison sentence as in the cases of Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor and Chad’s former president Hissène Habré, both of whom actively encouraged atrocities against civilian populations. Bemba’s main offence was apparently neglect.

Bemba has already served eight years in prison during the long period of the trial.  Given the nature of accusations against him, I believe those eight years are sufficient and that he should be sentenced to time already served.

Continue reading on African Arguments

by Herman J.Cohen

Photo Credits: African Arguments