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Archive for May, 2009

Sudan’s ex-president Nimeiri dead at 79

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2009


Former Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiri, 69, gestures during an interview with Reuters in this May 4, 1999 file photograph. Nimeiri, who took power in a coup in 1969 and brought Islamic rule to Sudan, died on May 30, 2009, after a period of illness, government officials said. Picture taken May 4, 1999. PHOTO/ REUTERS



Former Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiri, who brought Islamic law to Sudan and became a close U.S. ally before he was ousted in a coup in 1985, died on Saturday, government officials said.

He was 79-years-old.

We were expecting this for a time, he had developed an illness. Today he died, presidential assistant Magdi Abdel Aziz told Reuters.

The funeral will probably be in Khartoums Omdurman area today morning.

He was too ill to be taken out of the country for treatment, his secretary Makkawi Ahmed said, without giving any further details of his illness.

Mr Nimeiri came to power in a 1969 coup that ended five years of civilian rule marred by corruption and economic problems. He spent 16 stormy years as Sudanese leader until he was himself overthrown in 1985 and granted political asylum in Egypt.

A devout Moslem, Mr Nimeiri began his rule as a left-wing admirer of Egypts late president Gamal Abdel Nasser but he gradually shifted to the right to become a U.S. ally, smashing insurrections by Moslem groups and leftists.

He imposed Islamic sharia law in 1983, an act that is widely seen as the major catalyst for a 22-year-long war that pitched the Muslim north against the mainly Christian south.

Sudans economic growth ground to a halt during his rule with long queues for petrol and other basic commodities.

By early 1985, his problems were compounded by a foreign debt of nine billion dollars, an influx of refugees from neighbouring countries and a devastating drought.

The execution of liberal theologian Mahmoud Mohamed Taha for sedition also whipped up opposition to his rule.

When he flew to Washington less than a month before his overthrow to seek more aid from the United States, riots broke out, leading to his downfall.

After a period of civilian rule, Sudans current President Omar Hassan al-Bashir seized power in 1989.

Nimeiri returned to Sudan in 1999 after 14 years in exile in Cairo and made calls for national unity but he played little role in Sudanese politics after his return.

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AFGHANISTAN: Kuchis and Hazaras may fight again, human rights group warns

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2009

Photo: Masoud Popalzai/IRIN

KABUL, – Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has warned that tensions may erupt between Hazara locals and Kuchi nomads in central parts of the country. Conflict over land and grazing has resulted in deadly fighting between the tribes over the past three years. Government officials have acknowledged their failure to settle the ongoing dispute. IRINs Noorullah Stanikzai

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PAKISTAN: Afghans caught up in conflict face uncertain future

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2009

Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
Ahmed Gul, an Afghan refugee in Lahore, Pakistan, is worried about his future in his host country

LAHORE, – Nazir Khan, a 40-year-old Afghan refugee, recently began working as a watchman at a private house in Lahore, capital of Pakistans Punjab province. I am lucky I found work; now I can support my family at least, he told IRIN.

Khan, who has lived in Pakistan for 25 years, fled Buner district in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) when fighting broke out there between Taliban militants and Pakistan army forces in early May.

According to a situation report on 29 May by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), just over 2.5 million people have been displaced since 2 May.

There is uncertainty over how many Afghan refugees may be included among those.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of January 2007 Pakistan hosted about 1 million Afghan refugees in camps assisted by UNHCR. However, a 2005 Pakistan government census suggests a further 1.5 million Afghans were living outside camps.

Since 2005, the Pakistan government has stepped up pressure on these people to return to their country.

Nader Farhad, UNHCR spokesman in Kabul, said rates of return to Afghanistan had been slower this year than in previous years, with only 20,000 returning so far.

As fierce fighting broke out in areas of NWFP earlier in May, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antnio Guterres, expressed deep concern over the well-being of some 20,000 registered Afghan refugees living in the conflict-affected districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Upper Dir.

We have reports that many have fled together with the local population. Some have chosen to return to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance and others have chosen to relocate to existing refugee sites in Pakistan, Guterres said.

Farhad said that 114,000 Afghans had been living in conflict-affected areas of NWFP and had been forced to relocate to other parts of Pakistan or live with friends and relatives.

Afghan refugees harassed

According to watchman Khan, the Afghans he knows have shunned displacement camps and opted to move in with relatives, often in cities such as Peshawar or Lahore. I had no idea what the situation would be like at camps. There are so many reports of harassment of Afghans that we were scared of any dealings with officials in case we faced persecution, he said.

The arrest of Afghans in Pakistan, often after terrorist attacks, has been regularly reported in the local media and drawn calls from the Afghan government on Pakistan to avoid mistreating Afghan nationals.

For the Afghans forced to move from places they have called home for decades, the new conflict is giving rise to growing anxiety over their future.

I have lived in Buner since I was 20. I worked as a carpenter there, said Khan. I am now considering returning to Afghanistan, but people say the economic situation there is very bad. But then things are tough here too.

Ahmed Gul, a cousin of Khan, moved in with relatives in Peshawar after leaving the Bajaur tribal area late last year following conflict there. The future for Afghans is uncertain. Since 2005, when camps were closed in most parts of NWFP for security reasons, we have been treated like criminals. I just dont know what to do or where to go. The fighting has made our lives very difficult.


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MIDDLE EAST: Tobacco kills ” get the picture?

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2009

Photo: WHO
The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2009 is “Tobacco Health Warnings”, with an emphasis on picture warnings

DUBAI, – Tobacco Health Warnings is the theme for this years World No Tobacco Day on 31 May. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments to increase public awareness of the dangers of smoking by requiring that all tobacco packages include pictorial warnings to show the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use.

Health warnings on tobacco packages are a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives,” said WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Ala Alwan in a press release. “But they only work if they communicate the risk. Warnings that include images of the harm that tobacco causes are particularly effective at communicating risk and motivating behavioural changes, such as quitting or reducing tobacco consumption.

In its report – entitled Showing the truth, saving lives: the case for pictorial health warnings – WHO said only 10 percent of the worlds population lives in countries where warnings with pictures are required on tobacco packaging. Studies carried out in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand revealed that having graphic images on cigarette packets of the consequences of smoking motivates more users to quit and reduces the appeal of taking up smoking for non-users.

Tobacco continues to be the leading preventable cause of death in the world, killing more than 5 million people every year. It is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer, according to the WHO report.

Photo: WHO
WHO data on tobacco consumption prevalence by percentage and sex within the Eastern Mediterranean Region

According to WHO, current trends show that by the year 2020/2030, tobacco is likely to be the worlds leading cause of death and disability, killing more than 10 million people annually (70 percentof these deaths occurring in developing countries) and claiming more lives than HIV, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and homicide combined.

Middle East statistics

The most recent WHO information for tobacco uses in the Middle East is from surveys conducted around 10 years ago in 19 countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). They revealed that Yemeni men were the biggest smokers in the region, with 77 percent smoking, and Lebanese women topped the female category with 35 percent smoking.

Overall, the richer Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman) had the lowest prevalence of smokers, with Oman faring best, and the poorer Levant countries (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan) and Yemen had the highest.


Tobacco facts
Tobacco use is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced
There are more than one billion smokers in the world, about one third of the global population aged 15 years and over
Globally, use of tobacco products is increasing, although it is decreasing in high-income countries
Almost half of the world’s children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke
The epidemic is shifting to the developing world
More than 80% of the world’s smokers live in low- and middle-income countries
Tobacco use kills 5.4 million people a year – an average of one person every six seconds – and accounts for one in 10 adult deaths worldwide
Tobacco kills up to half of all users
It is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of deaths in the world
100 million deaths were caused by tobacco in the 20th century. If current trends continue, there will be up to one billion deaths in the 21st century
Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030, and 80% of those deaths will occur in the developing world


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AFGHANISTAN: Using clinics as polling stations “not a good idea” – ICRC

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2009

Photo: Masoud Popalzai/IRIN


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has expressed concern over the use of health facilities for voter registration or as polling stations in Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential elections, saying this could jeopardise the security of health workers and put patients at risk. IRINs Ahmad Zia Entezar reports.

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SOUTH AFRICA: Decriminalizing sex work only half the battle

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2009

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Should sex work be legalized?

JOHANNESBURG, – Proposals to decriminalize sex work in South Africa have been moved back to the front burner after the newly installed premier of the country’s richest province, Gauteng, remarked that the issue should be addressed “objectively and with an open mind”. A review of the current legislation is underway.

The Sexual Offences Act of 1957 prohibits all sex work, and any activity associated with it – keeping or participating in the management of a brothel, procuring someone to become a sex worker, soliciting or selling sex, and living off the earnings of a sex worker – is a criminal offence. The Act was amended 50 years later to make buying sexual services a criminal offence.

Enforcement of the sweeping law is extremely difficult; the police generally use municipal by-laws that target street-based sex workers under the guise of being a “public nuisance”, leading to claims of police harassment, while the authorities ignore thousands of classified adverts for sexual services in daily newspapers and elsewhere.

The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) sets out four scenarios in a report released in May 2009: maintaining the status quo, partial criminalization, non-criminalization, or the “regulation of adult prostitution and prostitution-related acts.” Public submissions and comments on the proposed changes can be made until 30 June 2009.

The country is divided on the issue. “Worldwide, you will find it [sex work]… We must begin to appreciate that commercial sex work is an industry, here in Gauteng,” said the province’s female premier, Nomvula Mokonyane.

“The best is to recognize commercial sex work, make sure it has different support systems … have a designated area, register people, let them be subjected to periodic health tests, and also let them be subjected to what me and you are subjected to tax.”

‘Lowering morals’

''Worldwide, you will find it [sex work] … We must begin to appreciate that commercial sex work is an industry, here in Gauteng''

Although Mokonyane did not explicitly call for sex work to be legalized, her view was at odds with South Africa’s chief prosecutor, Mokotedi Mpshe, who told local media that decriminalizing sex work would be bad for the country’s morals.

Proponents of decriminalization said a changing the law would not destigmatize the sex industry, but would improve the health and safety of sex workers.

Lauren Jankelowitz, of the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit (RHRU) at the University of the Witwatersrand, which runs sex worker-friendly clinics and outreach programmes, said most sex workers were reluctant to access health services or report incidents of rape and assault to the police, fearing both stigma and arrest.

At a forum in Johannesburg on 28 May, Sex Workers and the World of Work, sponsored by the South African Business Coalition on HIV and AIDS (SABCOHA), Jankelowitz said a change in the law would be a step in the right direction, but given the prevailing conservative views of government, this was unlikely.

Regardless of the law, South Africans had to change their prejudiced views of sex workers, and the police, health workers and the public should be sensitized, she said.

Eric Harper, director of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT), told IRIN it would take more than sensitization training to change the treatment of sex workers.

“The emphasis has to be less on opinion change and more on actual practices to make sure people are treated in a humane and dignified way, and are given access to the services they deserve,” he said. “If I’m a health worker, I have to know that I have to act in a professional way, regardless of what I think about what people are doing.”


Research by the RHRU found 45 percent to 60 percent of its patients in the sex worker outreach programme were HIV-positive, yet Jankelowitz said many sex workers did not have access to reproductive health and HIV services.

Daytime clinic hours were often inconvenient for sex workers, who mainly work at night and sleep during the day; when sex workers did visit clinics, they often found unfriendly healthcare workers, and could be arrested on the way there.

''A sex worker could be going to the grocery store and if a policeman sees her and knows she is a sex worker, he might arrest her for loitering or being a public nuisance''

“A sex worker could be going to the grocery store and if a policeman sees her and knows she is a sex worker, he might arrest her for loitering or being a public nuisance,” Jankelowitz told IRIN/PlusNews.

Lindi Nyembe*, a sex worker in the Johannesburg’s inner-city neighbourhood of Hillbrow and co-ordinator of the local branch of Sisonke, an organization advocating sex worker’s rights, said police often extorted sexual or monetary bribes from sex workers, and were reluctant to open cases for those who were raped or assaulted by clients, as their attitude was that they “deserved it”.

“I’ve known women who have said, ‘Better safe in the hands of the criminals than in the hands of the police,'” she said.

In a case brought by SWEAT in Cape Town, the High Court recently ruled that the police were guilty of harassing the sex workers, because they arrested them knowing that the sex workers would not be charged or prosecuted.

Harper said in countries such as New Zealand, which had decriminalised sex work, relations between police and sex workers were greatly improved. In South Africa, better relationships between sex workers and law enforcement could encourage sex workers to report cases of human trafficking and children’s involvement in the sex trade.

He warned that while decriminalization was a step toward addressing human rights violations and increasing access to health care, it did not necessarily guarantee real improvements in sex workers’ lives: “It’s a step in that direction, but it’s not a magic wand that is going to make stigmatization disappear.”


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BURUNDI: New peace structure to bolster stability

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2009

Photo: Jacoline Prinsloo/IRIN
Supporters of the FNL, the last rebel group in Burundi to be integrated into government institutions – file photo

BUJUMBURA, – With the integration of Burundi’s last rebel groups into government institutions almost complete, the team that mediated the peace process has set up a structure to monitor the implementation of the pact signed in 2006, officials said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who chairs the Regional Initiative for Burundi, initiated the Partnership for Peace in Burundi (PPB), to monitor the consolidation of peace in the country until December 2009.

The partnership is mandated to promote sustainable peace in the country and “contribute to an enabling environment for the period leading up to the elections” scheduled in 2010, according to Dumisani Kumalo, a member of the South Africa-led mediation team that brokered the agreement between the Burundian government and the last rebel group, the Forces nationales de libration (FNL).

“The major task of the PPB in this new phase is to monitor the consolidation of the peace process between now and the end of the year,” Kumalo said at a news conference in Bujumbura on 27 May.

Kumalo said the PPB would comprise representatives of the Political Directorate – which has been guiding the peace process; the UN Mission in Burundi (BINUB); as well as the International Conference for the Great Lakes region, an initiative of the UN and African Union.

BINUB, he said, would provide the secretariat as well as the logistical support to the PPB while the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region will “regularly brief the leaders of the Regional Initiative to ensure that they remain updated on the peace process”.

Photo: Judith Basutama/IRIN
Charles Nqakula, chairman of the peace mediation team

South African politician Charles Nqakula, chairman of the Burundi peace mediation team, said he hoped the PPB would succeed as “there is a lot of optimism and confidence – for the first time in Burundi we are going to assist a democracy of dispensation.

“This is a great moment for Burundi. The work that we were asked to do has been completed; that is why we are now moving to a new phase which is the phase of consolidating peace.

The 15-year civil war resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Burundians.

Greater stability

Both the government and the FNL have praised the move to complete the peace process.

Evariste Ndayishimiye, the government’s representative in the PPB, said Burundi was entering a phase that heralded greater stability.

“FNL is now part of Burundian society, with its integration in institutions and its involvement in the DDR [Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration] process,” Ndayishimiye said.

However, he said there was a need to closely monitor the process as there will be “no more negotiations”.

Photo: Barnabe Ndayikeza/IRIN
FNL leader Agathon Rwasa

FNL leader Agathon Rwasa said a precise programme of action of the PBB should be drawn up to settle existing challenges, including dissatisfaction among some recently demobilised FNL combatants, scheduled to end in June.

With DDR expected to end in December, South African peacekeepers are expected to leave and their place taken by a Burundian unit comprising former FNL combatants integrated into the police and the army.


However, analysts have expressed scepticism over the completion of implementation of the ceasefire agreement, citing persistent reports of criminality.

Ramadhani Kibuga, a lecturer at a private university for peace and reconciliation in Bujumbura, said: “The time was not yet ripe for the end of the South African mediation. Even if combatants of the FNL were integrated in the national army and police, there are still many uncontrolled elements in the country.

“Considering the big number of combatants the FNL presented, the DDR process left many frustrated,” Kibuga said. “They have a feeling they were left out of the process.”

Andr Ndayishimiye, a political analyst, told IRIN: “The disarmament programme has not yet yielded significant results; acts of violence and abuses continue to occur as several arms remain in circulation in the hands of civilians.”

He said the FNL had handed in very few arms, whereas it probably had many. “The national defence forces also need to be further sensitized in effectively protecting civilians,” Ndayishimiye said.


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AFGHANISTAN: Farmers face poppy dilemma

Posted by African Press International on May 29, 2009

Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
Farmers are tending to their opium poppies fields (file photo)

FARAH, – Taliban insurgents are forcing farmers in Farah Province, southern Afghanistan, to grow opium poppies and are imposing a hefty tax on yields, some farmers and provincial officials told IRIN.

The Taliban told me to grow poppies or I would be punished, said Abdul Sattar, a farmer in the Poshtroad District, southwestern Farah Province.

They say by growing opium [poppies] we are actually demonstrating our support for `jihad against the Americans, said Abdul Majid, another farmer.

Mullah Shah Mohammad and Mullah Salaam, two senior insurgent commanders in Farah, confirmed to IRIN that the insurgents were encouraging poppy cultivation and were demanding up to 20 percent of the harvest.

It is an obligation upon every Muslim in this country to pay and support the `jihad and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Shah Mohammad told IRIN on the phone from an unidentified location, calling the exercise a kind of Islamic tax, `usher.

Mullah Salaam dismissed allegations about punishments: We dont punish people who do not grow opium.

Under strong international pressure, the Afghan government has declared poppy cultivation a crime and is ostensibly committed to eradicating all poppy fields in the country.

The Taliban are forcing people to grow poppy in order to create animosity and rifts between the government and the people, said Joma Khan Bashiri, head of Farahs counter-narcotics department.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation is concentrated in the seven most unstable provinces of southern and southwest Afghanistan where Taliban insurgents are considered influential.

Farmers in southern Helmand Province also said they were told by the insurgents to grow poppies.

The Taliban gave assurances they would protect our poppy fields from the government, said Ahmad Jan, a farmer in Helmand.

Drugs, crime, conflict

Over the past seven years, and despite strong efforts to curb opium production, Afghanistan has annually produced over 90 percent of the worlds heroin and opium, according to annual reports by UNODC.

Drug abuse is widespread with serious humanitarian consequences.

It is also believed that opium production has strong links to the insurgency, organized crime, corruption and other illegal activities, and has often led to violent incidents.

On 3 May, insurgents took up positions in Granai village, Bala Boluk District, in Farah Province and demanded a share of the villagers poppy income. The incident turned into a fire-fight between the insurgents and patrolling Afghan and US forces as a result of which dozens of civilians were killed and injured, US-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 15 May.

Others have highlighted the organized crime element: Insurgent commanders benefit from taxation in kind at the farm-gate, from direct involvement in trafficking and sales and from protection money paid by traffickers to smooth exports, says Jacob Townsend in the JamesTown Foundations publication in January.

Who to obey?

As the government and insurgents pursue diametrically opposed policies on poppy cultivation, farmers – especially in volatile southern areas – are increasingly facing a dilemma.

If we grow poppy the government will destroy it, but if we dont grow poppy the Taliban think we are defying them, said a farmer in Farah.

Whilst still stressing the importance of the manual eradication of poppies, government officials say the bigger priority is apprehending the big-time drug smugglers.

The Interior Ministry has said hundreds of drug smugglers have been arrested and imprisoned, and dozens of heroin-producing laboratories destroyed over the past year – actions praised by the UN – but the extent to which these moves have significantly affected the heroin trade, is still unclear.

Meanwhile, UNODCs executive director, Antonio Maria Costa, has told the UKs Guardian newspaper that efforts are being made to stop any drugs leaving the country in a bid to allow the domestic market to become saturated with drugs, thus driving down drug prices inside Afghanistan and discouraging farmers from poppy cultivation.

Manual eradication is incompetent and inefficient, Costa was quoted as saying.


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Cameroon/Ivory Coast: Footballers Eto’o and Yaya make Africa proud

Posted by African Press International on May 29, 2009

Abidjan (Ivory Coast): Two Africans generated enormous support among soccer fans around the continent for the winning team in Wednesday’s European Champions League final played in Rome.

Samuel Eto’o, the prolific attacker from Cameroon, and Yaya Tour, the central defender from Cote d’Ivoire, both played for the Barcelona football club’s team in its contest against Manchester United.

About an hour before the game began, the Tour family home in Cote d’Ivoire was jam-packed with supporters and cameramen who joined the family to watch the game.

Though Yaya is not the first in the family to contest the European final – his elder brother Kolo Tour played in an Arsenal side that lost to Barcelona in 2006 – he has became the first Ivorien player to be part of a winning team.

Another Ivorien who has played in the finals is Didier Drogba, who was part of the Chelsea side that lost to Manchester United in last year’s final.

Though an Ivorien had never played on a winning side, played on the loosing side, Yay’s father, Mory Tour showed no signs of nervousness as he welcomed guests to his home on Wednesday.

“I don’t feel pressurized,” he said, “this is sport and we mustn’t concentrate so much on results. It will be good if we win but it will be equally good if the other team wins. We must just play fairly and leave the rest to God, who already knows the outcome.”

The Tour family’s prayers were answered in the 10th minute when Eto’o dribbled his way through the Manchester defence and made it 1-0 for Barcelona.

There were cries of joy in the Touré home and the jubilation continued until half-time. But there was a still a long way to go and the Tour wives knew it all too well – they joined in prayers to the Almighty that their son’s team would win.

When Kolo called from the stadium in Rome, their father could not hold back his emotions. He cried out: “Thanks my son, you carved the path and your brother is going to avenge your loss today.”

When the Argentine star Lionel Messi. made the score 2-0, those gathered in Tour residence erupted in ecstacy.

Based on a report in Le Patriote, Abidjan, and translated by Michael Tantoh.

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West Africa: Protecting children from orphan-dealers – there are many unlicensed orphanage homes in Ghana

Posted by African Press International on May 29, 2009

Accra (Ghana) The recent rape of an eight-month-old boy in an orphanage in the Ghanaian capital Accra revealed conditions that child rights advocates say are rampant across West African orphanages. When the authorities investigated the incident they discovered 27 of the 32 children living in the home were not orphans.

A January 2009 study by the Social Welfare Department – responsible for children’s welfare and supervising orphanages – showed that up to 90 percent of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages in Ghana are not orphans and 140 of the 148 orphanages around the country are un-licensed, said the department’s assistant director Helena Obeng Asamoah.

“We are alarmed at the extent to which the orphanages have abused the country’s child protection laws,” she told IRIN.

Accra-based child protection specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Eric Okrah told IRIN: “Running an orphanage in Ghana has become a business enterprise, a highly lucrative and profitable venture.” He added: “Children’s welfare at these orphanages has become secondary to the profit motive.”

In Ghana a small orphanage might have a budget of up to US$70,000 a year, depending on its size, the bulk of the funds coming from international donors and NGOs, with small contributions from local corporations, according to research by Ghanaian non-profit Child Rights International (CRI).

Donors are attracted to orphanages because they appear to be a simple solution, said Joachim Theis, UNICEF head of child protection for West Africa. “You have a building, you house children in it, it is easy to count them. And they are easy to fundraise for. It is a model that has been used for a long time. But it is the wrong model.”

After researching financing in several Ghanaian orphanages, CRI’s Bright Apiah surmised that as little as 30 percent of funds received are spent on child care.

Peace and Love Orphanage owner, Grace Amaboe, told IRIN profit is not her motive. “I go for these children on purely humanitarian grounds. It is absolutely false for anyone to suggest that I exploit these poor children…I am simply helping the children’s parents and have never used any children in my care for financial gain.”

UNICEF’s Theis said mis-categorisation of children as orphans affects thousands of children across West Africa, but statistics are scant and more research needs to be done to understand the problem.

Of the estimated 1,821 children living in orphanage care in Sierra Leone, UNICEF and child protection agencies have verified just 256 as having lost both parents. One in eight Liberians is classified as a child missing one or both parents. But many of the estimated 5,800 estimated children in orphanages are reportedly not orphans, according to local child rights activists.

Across the region some orphanage staff target deprived, rural communities and “exploit the poverty and ignorance of parents” by promising them money and offering to fund their children’s education, CRI’s Apiah said. Some parents unwittingly sign documents giving up their right to legal custody of their child, said the Ghana Social Welfare Department’s Asamoah; many of those signing are illiterate.

Maame Serwah, 40, sent her 10-year-old son to the Peace and Love Orphanage because she did not have the means to raise him. “It was even difficult to feed myself. I just could not handle the painful sight of him almost always crying. I believed the orphanage was a way out.” But since learning of the abuse, she approached the Social Welfare Department to retrieve him. “I now…need my son, I will do whatever it takes to raise him myself,” she told IRIN.

In some West African countries, families have a tradition of putting their children in the care of relatives or caretakers if this means the chance of a better education or of work, but some orphanages exploit this tradition, Theis said. “When parents sign a form from an orphanage, they have no conception of giving up their children forever…The concept of never seeing their child again is inconceivable.”

As awareness of problem increases governments and child protection agencies in some countries are working to improve regulation.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has created a special committee on adoption of Liberian children, one of whose tasks will be to examine orphanage practices.

Ghana’s Social Welfare Department, with help from child protection agencies such as UNICEF, is drawing up guidelines on orphan critieria and orphanage conditions, and promoting alternative programmes to orphan care.

Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is also strengthening orphanage standards and auditing orphanages nationwide, which has forced many to close, according to UNICEF.

But governments must also enforce existing legislation, Apiah said. Ghana’s 1998 Children’s Act stipulates that orphanages must present annual audit reports to the Social Welfare Department in order to renew their licenses, but most orphanages do not comply, he said.

“The problem stems from…systemic failure, which encourages the proliferation of unlicensed and unmonitored orphanage,” Apiah said. “These problems will be there as long as we continue to lack a firm social safety net to support poor parents to raise their children.”

Supporting such safety nets – giving vulnerable families cash transfers, paying for children’s education or healthcare – can influence a family’s decision as to whether or not to keep their child, said UNICEF’s Theis. “A range of solutions, from safety nets to foster care to community care, have been shown to work, and are much cheaper than putting children in orphanages,” he said. “Putting children into institutionalised care instead of a family setting must always be a last resort. “

source.UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

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ZAMBIA: Health funding frozen after corruption alleged – Over US$2 million has allegedly been embezzled from the health ministry

Posted by African Press International on May 28, 2009

Photo: Anthony Morland/IRIN
Over US$2 million has allegedly been embezzled from the health ministry

LUSAKA,- Foreign aid for government health projects in Zambia, where most of the national health budget is donor- funded, was frozen last week after allegations of corruption.

The governments of the Netherlands and Sweden announced they had suspended aid after a whistleblower alerted Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission [ACC] to the embezzlement of over US$2 million from the health ministry by top government officials.

“The misuse of Dutch taxpayers’ money is unacceptable,” said Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders in a statement, adding that Dutch aid would be put on hold until the ACC and Zambia’s Auditor General released the findings from their investigations.

Donors fund 55 percent of the country’s health budget. The Dutch government, the largest supporter of Zambia’s tuberculosis (TB) programme, contributes about 13 million euros (US$18 million) annually to rural healthcare, preventing malaria, TB and HIV, and training medical staff.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) had earmarked 88 million kroner (about $12 million) for Zambia’s health ministry before the scandal broke, but will now await the ACC’s findings before releasing the funds. “SIDA will not accept any abuse of development money,” Charlotta Norrby, head of SIDA in Zambia, told local media.

Nkandu Luo, a former health minister, told IRIN/PlusNews that the suspension of funding could compromise the health of many Zambians: “This decision by donors is a crisis and it’s important [to] address the concerns of the donors … and restore support to the Ministry of Health.”

But government spokesperson Ronnie Shikapwasha said it was still not clear whether the money in question included donor funds. “Government is currently engaging donors on the revelations concerning the plunder of public resources in the Ministry of Health,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. “We want to ensure that operations go on smoothly and the poor people, for whom that aid is meant, do not suffer.”

He said the government was working hard to make certain that all the culprits were brought to book and the stolen money recovered, and urged the donor community to “help us to make our system more transparent … to ensure that this sad development does not repeat itself in the future.”

Read more:
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Donors call the shots in HIV/AIDS sector

About 14 percent of Zambia’s 11.7 million people are HIV positive, and about half the estimated 300,000 people in need of antiretroviral (ARV) medication obtain it from government clinics and hospitals.

“HIV/AIDS is one of the biggest challenges that we have in the country, and the programmes will be affected – there is very little money coming from our government,” said Luo.

“The suspension of donor aid … will affect service delivery,” agreed Swebby Macha, president of the Zambia Medical Association. “Especially in the areas of drug supply and equipment, preventive programmes of HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and the rural retention scheme for our health workers. As things stand … the government will have to run the health sector with 45 percent funding.”

Shikapwasha said it was too soon to say what impact the suspension of donor funding would have on the health sector, but Georgina Mutila, an HIV-positive widow in the capital, Lusaka, said she was “very much afraid” that the supply of free ARV and TB drugs would be affected. “Our friends who have money might afford to buy ARVs, but for some of us that will be a problem.”

President Rupiah Banda, who was voted into office in October 2008 after the death of his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa, has repeatedly been accused of being soft on corruption.

Mwanawasa’s anti-corruption drive endeared him to Western donors and in 2005 Zambia’s $7.2 billion external debt was slashed to barely $500 million after his government achieved the benchmarks for fiscal discipline and good governance set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


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AFRICA: Prevention efforts and infection patterns mismatched

Posted by African Press International on May 28, 2009

Photo: UNDP Angola
Few prevention programmes are evidence-based

JOHANNESBURG, – In at least five African countries, scarce resources are being spent on national HIV prevention campaigns that do not reach the people most at risk of infection, new research has found.

Between 2007 and 2008, UNAIDS and the World Bank partnered with the national AIDS authorities of Kenya, Lesotho, Swaziland, Uganda and Mozambique to find out how and where most HIV infections were occurring in each country, and whether existing prevention efforts and expenditure matched these findings.

The recently released reports reveal that few prevention programmes are based on existing evidence of what drives HIV/AIDS epidemics in the five countries surveyed.

In Lesotho, where nearly one in four are living with HIV, an analysis of national prevalence and behavioural data found that most new infections were occurring because people had more than one partner at a time, both before and during marriage. But Lesotho has no prevention strategies to address the problem of concurrent partnerships, or target couples who are married or in long-term relationships.

An evaluation of Mozambique’s prevention response found that an estimated 19 percent of new HIV infections resulted from sex work, 3 percent from injecting drug use, and 5 percent from men who have sex with men (MSM), yet there are very few programmes targeting sex workers, and none aimed at drug users and MSM.

The research also found that spending on HIV prevention was often simply too low: Lesotho spent just 13 percent of its national AIDS budget on prevention, whereas Uganda spent 34 percent, despite having an HIV infection rate of only 5.4 percent.

Debrework Zewdie, director of the World Bank’s Global HIV/AIDS Unit, noted that the current global economic downturn made it more important than ever to get the most impact out of investments in HIV prevention. “These syntheses use the growing amounts of data and information available to better understand each country’s epidemic and response, and identify how prevention might be more effective.”

The reports made recommendations on how the countries could move towards more evidence-based prevention strategies to make more efficient use of limited resources.

Lesotho was advised to revise the content of its prevention messages to address multiple concurrent partnerships and integrate partner reduction into all future policies. One of the recommendations to Mozambique was that condom promotion programmes be focused on high-risk groups such as sex workers.

The five-country project also aimed to build capacity to enable these nations to undertake similar studies in future, as part of their ongoing efforts to evaluate and plan HIV responses.


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GLOBAL: Moving the fight from the boardroom to the ground – The people most affected by the pandemic are often left out of the response to it

Posted by African Press International on May 28, 2009

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
The people most affected by the pandemic are often left out of the response to it

NAIROBI, – The war against HIV/AIDS, which has too often been fought in plush offices and conference centres, needs to be reclaimed by people in developing countries, who are most affected, or it will continue to be a losing battle.

This was the message from the Global Citizens Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, organized by international anti-poverty agency ActionAid, and attended by a broad range of organisations in the field of HIV and AIDS to discuss using social mobilization to “repackage” the HIV response.

“The fight against HIV did not originate in boardrooms – in the US, the momentum came from gay activists propelling HIV onto the national agenda,” said Leonard Okello, head of ActionAid’s global HIV team.

“In Uganda it came from poor women forming TASO [The AIDS Support Organisation], which has since grown into a national model for community-based care, and in Senegal it came from community and religious leaders – it was citizens rising up to make their voices heard and to put AIDS on the agenda. We need to go back there.”

Participants pointed out that although community-based organizations did the lion’s share of HIV-care work, they received a fraction of global AIDS funding.

The Bungoma Orphans, HIV/AIDS and Poverty Organization (BOHAPO), in western Kenya, supports orphans and widows in the area with food, money for transport to the hospital, and school uniforms, but has never received any funding from the government or international NGOs; it relies on the local community and sporadic individual donations from abroad.

“A lot of HIV money goes to paying for offices and other administration costs,” said Edwin Walela, founder of BOHAPO. “It would be better if that money went straight to helping the widows and orphans – the government gives them ARVs [antiretrovirals], but then they have no money to buy food so they are still dying … they need more help.”

Brian Kagoro, ActionAid’s Pan African policy manager, said it was time donors started directing funds to where they actually worked and involved people living with HIV who were often left out of policy discussions about the pandemic.

“We need to stop chasing the money and let the money chase the people’s ideas. We talk about people being infected and affected by HIV, but we don’t think of them as people with ideas of their own about their condition.”

He called for a global mass movement, built on the resilience and determination of people living with HIV, to replace “this grasshopper movement that hops from conference to conference.”

Participants also highlighted the need to put more pressure on governments to make good on their commitments. “We’ve stopped expecting our governments to keep their promises, and so there is no reaction, no anger from us when they don’t,” said Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Campaign. “We need to find that anger and channel it, not to politics, as we so often do, but to water, to education, to HIV.”

He cited the example of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, which used legal advocacy and grassroots mass-mobilization to get the South African government to provide free ARV therapy, generic drugs and greater commitment to the needs of people living with HIV.


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In Brief: High food prices despite good rains in Djibouti – Most poor households in Djibouti still cannot afford sufficient food

Posted by African Press International on May 27, 2009

Photo: IRIN
Livestock sales have also increased due to improved animal health

NAIROBI, – Most poor households in Djibouti still cannot afford sufficient food, despite an improvement in food security due to rains in the coastal belt and large-scale distribution of aid, an early warning agency stated.

The price of imported rice, the main staple for poor households, increased by 6 percent in April, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), said in its May food security update.

It noted that the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) was concerned about high levels of acute malnutrition, particularly in peri-urban areas around Djibouti City and in the northwest pastoral zone. Admissions to feeding centres rose from 7,302 to 18,417 children between December 2007 and December 2008.

Generally, milk production, the main income source for people living in the southeast roadside pastoral subzone, was abundant due to recent rains in the coastal areas. Livestock sales have also increased due to improved animal health.

However, with the hot season in late May, pastoralists in southeastern zones are likely to move herds back to coastal areas in search of pasture and water, resulting in overgrazing and competition for limited pasture.


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ZIMBABWE: Cholera is not going away anytime soon – The epidemic has entrenched itself as Africa’s worst outbreak in more than 15 years

Posted by African Press International on May 27, 2009

Photo: IRIN
Broken sanitation infrastructure

JOHANNESBURG, – Zimbabwe’s cholera caseload is expected to top the 100,000 mark within the next few days, amid warnings by aid agencies that although the disease is subsiding, it has not been eradicated and could flare up again.

“The epidemic has entrenched itself as Africa’s worst outbreak in more than 15 years,” killing more than 4,300 people and infecting 98,309 since August 2008, with an “unacceptably high” 4.4 percent death rate, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in a report, The Spectre of Cholera Remains in Zimbabwe, released on 26 May.

In terms of international norms, a “controlled cholera outbreak” usually leads to a fatality rate of one percent or less. The waterborne disease, characterised by watery diarrheal stools, vomiting and rapid dehydration, can cause death within 24 hours if not treated.

The severity of Zimbabwe’s epidemic is attributed to the collapse of the water, sanitation and health infrastructure. The conditions that caused the outbreak – the worst on the continent since cholera rampaged through refugee camps in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1994, killing up to 40,000 people in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide – are still intact.

“The eradication of cholera in Zimbabwe, or the complete conclusion to this current epidemic, is unlikely unless the underlying causes of the health crises are addressed,” the IFRC noted in its report.

Worst-case scenario just got worse

In December 2008 the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted a worst-case scenario of 60,000 cases – the number reached in February 2009 – and then revised its prediction to 115,000 cases. At the current fatality rate, should the revised WHO forecast be realised, the number of deaths from the outbreak would surpass 5,000 people.

The rate of cholera infections has been slowed by the end of the rainy season, and a humanitarian response in which thousands of community-based volunteers were mobilised in education drives, nationwide cholera treatment centres were establishment and millions of litres of clean water were distributed, but these are all temporary measures.

Emma Kundishora, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Red cross Society, told IRIN the NGO was building boreholes and digging latrines in rural areas, “as we don’t want this situation to be repeated,” but funding was becoming critical.

The IFRC expressed dismay at the “surprisingly slow donor response” to the cholera outbreak, and said that less than half its original budget of 10.17 million Swiss francs (US$9.35 million) to combat the disease had been covered, resulting in the “premature” scaling-down of cholera-related assistance.

“But while the international community continues to wrestle with the politics of Zimbabwe, Zimbabweans are still being infected,” it commented.

''The endemic frustrations of operating in Zimbabwe – inadequate transport and communications – also played out more acutely. Aid organisations were often only made aware of community-level outbreaks when their treatment centres were inundated with cases''

Hollow victories

“The steady decline in the spread of the illness should not be seen as a complete victory,” the IFRC urged. “Unless significant efforts are made to rehabilitate at least some components of the country’s degraded infrastructure, communities remain vulnerable to further and severe outbreaks.”

Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak sprang from a confluence of events: unchecked infrastructural degradation, extreme weather conditions, HIV/AIDS, economic decay and widespread hunger.

“The endemic frustrations of operating in Zimbabwe – inadequate transport and communications – also played out more acutely. Aid organisations were often only made aware of community-level outbreaks when their treatment centres were inundated with cases,” the IFRC said.

The effects of malnutrition – Zimbabwe is the world’s most food-dependent country – “with somewhere between 65 and 80 percent of the population reliant on food aid”, the IFRC said – enhanced the disease’s deadly efficiency.

The 2008 harvest was the worst in the country’s history and 2009 is not expected to be much better. “The food crisis is undermining stunted efforts to provide antiretroviral treatment, and is contributing to the high fatality rate of the cholera epidemic,” the ICRC pointed out.


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