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Archive for March 20th, 2012

Norway condemns executions in Belarus

Posted by African Press International on March 20, 2012

Published by api

“Norway condemns the execution of Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konavalov in Belarus this weekend,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre.

Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konavalov were condemned to death in November after having confessed to carrying out the bomb attack on an underground metro station in Minsk in the spring of 2011.

“The way the case has been handled raises questions as to whether these men have had proper protection under the law,” said Mr Støre.

Norway is opposed to the use of the death penalty in any circumstances on grounds of principle. This message has been clearly communicated to the Belarusian Ambassador at a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 15 March. The Ambassador was called in to the meeting in connection with the introduction of tougher sanctions by the EU. Norway has aligned itself with this new sanctions regime.




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Mass exodus from Abyan to Aden

Posted by African Press International on March 20, 2012

YEMEN: Cramped shelter conditions for Abyan IDPs

Mass exodus from Abyan to Aden

ADEN,  – Since fleeing their homes in early March after clashes between the Yemeni army and Islamic militants in the southern governorate of Abyan, two families – 19 people in all – have been living in a 22 square metre classroom in al-Fatah School, Tawahi Distrct, Aden Governorate – and they are the lucky ones.

In such cramped conditions, Saleh Salim al-Ammari and his male cousin – both in their 50s – have decided to spend the nights elsewhere, so head off before sunset every day to look for somewhere to sleep.

“We resort to sleeping in a nearby inn, inside a car or in the street,” al-Ammari told IRIN. “Even if there is enough space inside the classroom, we cannot sleep together with women and children despite our being closely related.”

“We hardly find enough space to walk through to the toilet overnight… I cannot tolerate these conditions any longer,” Khairyah Ali, al-Ammari’s wife, told IRIN.

“The challenge is to provide adequate shelter to ensure safety and reasonable privacy,” said Dibeh Fakhr, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen.

A dozen families have not yet found shelter, according to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Sabaa, a tribal leader from Abyan’s Mahfad District, where dozens of displaced families are living. “Some [families] still live in the open while others are sheltering under plastic sheets tacked to trees, without access to water or minimum sanitation services,” he told IRIN. “Overcrowded though the classrooms are, those who have found shelter in schools are the luckiest.”

With the climate “too harsh for providing tents… the authorities were advised to house IDPs in permanent public structures whenever possible,” said Fakhr. In Aden, some 74 schools have been used as temporary shelters for 20,000 IDPs since May 2011.

Shelter remains the biggest challenge. Schools hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Aden are already full and the host community cannot take more. With the recent arrivals, there are now almost 20 people to a room in some schools. Some IDPs have only been able to find space in school grounds or in hallways,” the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in a recent report.

UNHCR said 1,800 people had been displaced in the last two weeks, and that more than 150,000 people had been displaced in the south since May 2011.

Yemen currently has almost half a million IDPs: 314,000 previously displaced and unable to return to their homes in the northern governorate of Sa’dah; 52,000 who have been displaced over the past three months in the north, and more than 150,000 so far displaced in the south.

Edward Leposky, an external relations officer with UNHCR, said they had rehabilitated two abandoned school buildings in Aden to provide temporary shelter for some 2,000 new arrivals. The buildings are adjacent to schools were IDPs had found shelter.

According to Leposky, during an assessment conducted with IDPs of all age groups, the IDPs said they would not like to stay in the camps for cultural and health reasons.

Health risks

According to Alison Parker, chief of communications and advocacy at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), IDPs in classrooms are at risk of communicating diseases such as measles and acute respiratory infections due to overcrowding.

“There is also the threat of cholera/diarrhoea due to inadequate hygiene conditions and inadequate water and sanitation facilities,” she told IRIN.

We have discovered TB cases in schools inhabited by IDPs in Lahj and Aden, said Mohammed Sinan, a medical volunteer with local NGO Charitable Society for Social Welfare. “If the problem of overcrowded classrooms is not solved, we can expect more TB infections within the coming days,” he told IRIN.

More at risk of displacement

With the conflict escalating, another 120,000 people are at risk of displacement in Abyan Governorate, according to UNHCR’s Leposky.

Based on the field knowledge of some international organizations working in Khanfar District of Abyan governorate, it is estimated that many of the 20,000 families currently living in areas which may see fighting, could be displaced, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on 9 March, adding that a significant percentage of potential new IDPs would continue to stay within Abyan, and seek protection and services within their tribal area.

The OCHA report said the current contingency plan envisages coping with a possible sudden outflow of 20,000 households to Aden. The plan will be triggered if 3,000 people move within a one week period.


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Fighting malnutrition

Posted by African Press International on March 20, 2012

CHAD: Fighting malnutrition with “dysfunctional” health sector

A mother feeds her severely malnourished son at the feeding centre of Mao district hospital in Kanem, western Chad

MAO,  – Hovering at around 20 percent in some places, Kanem Region in western Chad is well-known for having some of the world’s highest continual severe acute malnutrition rates. “Emergency” aid agency malnutrition responses have continued year on year since the 1980s.

Part of the problem is due to chronic food insecurity and drought that has affected much of the Sahel this year: This year some 3.6 million Chadians are food insecure due to poor rains, according to the World Food Programme. Dangerous care practices also play their role: Giving babies dirty water instead of breast milk, burning their chests when they have diarrhoea, among others.

But unless something is done to improve the country’s “dysfunctional” health system (as described by half a dozen interviewees), these malnutrition rates are unlikely to change significantly.

IRIN spoke to Ministry of Health staff, aid workers, government officials and mothers to find out if anything can be done to wean Chad from its dependence on emergency nutrition interventions.

“What doesn’t need fixing?”

Taking a tour of the district hospital in Mao – one of two in Kanem Region – it quickly becomes clear the structure is a hospital in name only: most of the rooms are empty, without equipment, and there are few health staff around, other than in the aid agency-supported nutrition wing.

This low capacity is region-wide. Kanem has just six doctors for 410,385 people, according to the health district’s nutrition focal point, Maina Mahamat Abakar Sadick; 65 percent of health clinics are not operational because they have no staff; over half are run by someone unqualified to do so; and 65 percent of them are made of non-durable materials. One in four has no cold-chain facilities and so cannot administer routine vaccinations. As one nutrition expert put it: “What doesn’t need fixing?”

Nutrition, as a sub-set of the health sector, is de-prioritized and poorly understood, according to Dallam Adoum, who runs the Ministry’s of Health’s Centre of Nutrition and Technology (CNTA), which covers everything from prevention to treatment of malnutrition, and was set up before 1960 but still has no budget.

According to him, there are just 15 nutritionists officially working in the Health Ministry – excluding those who have been trained by aid agencies.

Understanding of the causes of malnutrition is pretty low within the Ministry, said Adoum.

This was backed up by Céline Bernier, nutrition coordinator at Action Against Hunger (ACF), who said little nutritional surveillance takes place other than that carried out by aid agencies (such as ACF, UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières and Worldvision, among others.) “The government recognizes there is a problem but it doesn’t necessarily know how to fix it,” she told IRIN.

Things, not people

When the government does invest (5-6 percent of the annual budget is spent on health, according to UNICEF), it tends to focus on “things” rather than people and processes, several analysts told IRIN. “The main problem is human resources,” said Roger Sodjinou, nutrition manager for UNICEF in Chad. “There is no clear idea of the HR strategy of the government.”

Francois Ndoubalhidi who runs the ostensibly independent organization to monitor the country’s petrol resources (CCSRP), says the same is true for the estimated US$1.9 million of petrol funds that are, according to him, directed to the health sector each year.

“The government is more into concrete investments – building health clinics for instance – human resources is not a priority,” he told IRIN.

Building up pools of trained staff requires vision and planning, but most of the 22 regional governments have no nutrition or health plans, according to a nutrition expert at one large aid agency, and “even national plans are not very clear.”

Due to support from aid agencies, 261 health centres across ten regions are now treating acute and severe malnutrition according to UNICEF. But this number must double to reach the 127,000 children expected to suffer acute severe malnutrition over the next six months, said UNICEF head Bruno Maes.

Picking up the pieces

On the nutrition front, aid agencies for the most part pick up the pieces, treating acutely malnourished children all over the country’s Sahelian zone – though gaps remain in parts of several districts, according to EU humanitarian aid body ECHO. LINK

The number of acutely malnourished children being admitted to ACF and UNICEF’s therapeutic feeding and treatment centres at the district hospital in Mao has shot up in recent months, according to Bernier and UNICEF’s nutrition coordinator in Mao, Augustin Ilunga.

Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN
A nurse at Mao district hospital registers new patients into the nutrition wing

In 2011 they treated 14,400 severely malnourished children, and as of the end of February had already treated 2,000. “It looks like the numbers will be even higher this year,” he told IRIN.

Women come from all over the region to treat their children. Harmatta Ousmane,17, brought her 10-month-old son Abakar from the neighbouring sub-district of Kékédiné, after hearing about the Mao centre through neighbours. “I am learning a lot here about how to feed children – what food to give them, to boil water if they need to drink it,” she told IRIN.

However, many mothers often head too late to the centre so their children die en route – health clinics may take far too long to refer them, said Seydou Dicko, head of the ACF nutrition programme in Mao, or mothers go to the health clinic too late because they prefer to visit traditional healers.

These “healers”, however, often end up inflicting tremendous harm, said UNICEF’s Ilunga, burning children when they vomit or have diarrhoea; cutting off a part of their mouth when they have a cough; and pulling out their baby teeth when they are sick. “These healers are brutal, they do not understand the importance of diet or vaccinations,” said Naga Tibé who, as a member of a women’s association in Mao, tries to warn people against visiting them.

But while part of the solution lies in education and convincing families to change, unless health clinics are operational, many women have no alternative, they told IRIN.

Aid agencies are trying to boost government capacity. ACF trains and pays district health staff in nutrition prevention and care, and then tries to reintegrate them into the district health system – 28 have been reintegrated thus far.

UN and donor partners have helped the government develop a recruitment strategy, which aims to boost health staff by 1,000 countrywide this year. UNICEF’s role in this is to help the government recruit and deploy 400 parademics to regions in the Sahel belt.

People working to develop Chad’s water and sanitation sector – lack of drinking water and latrines has a big impact on children’s nutrition – now work hand in hand with nutritionists, and UNICEF is pushing for all health clinics to at least have latrines and running water (over half currently have no water source). Incremental progress in the water and sanitation sector should also improve nutrition statistics, some staff say: the government will sign off on its first sanitation strategy in April, and for the first time has set aside a national budget for sanitation.

The Health Ministry should take note and develop a malnutrition prevention and treatment strategy, with its own budget line, say aid agency staff. “We must profit from the current political stability to progress on malnutrition,” said UNICEF’s Maes.

The ministry could increase its nutrition performance by increasing its recruitment budget so there is at least one state-registered nurse at each health centre; include it in basic medical training; and up the number of places available in medical schools, said Bernier.

“Everything is a question of priority… Malnutrition is rarely a priority for men in power. Health care is expensive, and the more you develop your health system, the more expensive it gets… but there are also economic dividends, at least in the long term.”

The ministry can do little to impact the increasing frequency of droughts decimating harvests in the Sahel, but it can at least do what it can to improve its own systems. If not, said Ilunga, “We’ll just be here giving Plumpy’nut forever.”


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Food needed – food running out

Posted by African Press International on March 20, 2012

CHAD: Alarm rung late, food running out

Women in Eri Toukoul village in Kanem Region have received goats to help them get through the food crisis. Most of the villagers’ animals have died over recurrent droughts

MAO,  – Late Chadian government recognition of a food crisis, a slow build-up from aid agencies, and severe pipeline constraints due to closed Libyan and Nigerian borders mean food aid has not yet arrived in Chad, despite many thousands of people having already run out of food.

Residents of Eri Toukouli village in Kanem Region, western Chad, told IRIN they have nothing to eat. Most are surviving by leaving for towns and cities. Grain stores are empty and the animals they used to rely on are dead.

“Before we had 10-15 animals each, now we have nothing,” said Haoua Idriss, who has seven children. Almost every family in this village once had at least one relative working in Libya who sent back money, but now all have fled the violence there.

In the village of Tassino, Mangalmé District, Guéra Region, central Chad, women have resorted to digging up anthills in the hope of collecting grain left behind by ants, said Oxfam Regional Campaigns and Policy manager Stephen Cockburn from the capital N’djamena.

These examples are backed up by an inter-agency assessment from October 2011, which predicted families in some vulnerable regions such as northern Kanem, would run out of food by February.

When it comes to malnutrition, response gaps remain in the regions of Batha, Hajer Lamis, northern Kanem, Wadi Fira, Ouaddai and Guéra, according to ECHO’s (The European Commission aid body) Technical Assistant in N’djamena, Jane Lewis.

The Chadian government only appealed for help on 21 December. As a result, the UN country team, whose protocol dictates that it waits for an invitation to respond, started mobilizing late. While staff in agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) are working furiously to beat the clock, a lead time of up to six months to get food to where it is needed means that the very soonest food will start to arrive is some time in April.

Border closures

Food import options are severely limited this year, as the Libyan and Nigerian borders are closed, leaving only Port Sudan and a rail link from Douala in Cameroon. Regional food stocks from Nigeria and Cameroon are also diminished because both were also affected by drought, said WFP head of logistics Jean-Pierre Leroy, though WFP is currently exploring options of procuring Nigerian government food reserves.

As of early March, some 14,000 tons of WFP-imported grain was on its way to Douala, and 18,500 tons en route from Sudan; but this is just a fraction of the estimated 160,000 tons needed until the end of 2012.

Getting food to where it is needed can take up to three months between arrival at the port and distribution to regional warehouses, said Leroy, which means anything that comes through after 1 April “will be very tight” as roads could become impassable after rains begin in June.

“Now is the crunch time… It is very complicated. We are very stretched, and can’t afford to have any problems with the Sudan pipeline right now,” Leroy told IRIN. WFP in Chad could face some competition from WFP in Sudan which is stocking up food for displaced people in camps there.

Photo: Stephen Cockburn/Oxfam
Residents of Mangalmé District in Guéra Region dig up anthills to try to scavenge for grain the ants have left behind

WFP plans to provide food to 1.2 million children as well as pregnant and lactating women for six months, according to Alice-Martin Dahirou, head of WFP in Chad.

Little pre-positioning

Despite recurrent droughts in the Sahel region, WFP has no significant pre-positioned food stocks in Chad as they would be too expensive to keep up, said Leroy. However, the organization has managed to cut down its delivery times from six to three or four months because of its Working Capital Fund, whereby it can procure food on a loan basis, creating a rolling stock. In place for three years, it is now starting to work well, said Dahirou.

Chad’s problem is that the government has few emergency stocks – just 40,000 tons, according to Agriculture Minister Djimit Adoum – which sets it apart from its neighbours Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all of which have been building up emergency reserves over recent years.

NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF) has helped some 30 villages across Kanem and Bahr el Gazal regions to build up grain reserves, but “this can only help on a small scale,” Céline Bernier, nutrition coordinator at ACF, told IRIN.

The government will build up emergency stocks only if donors and UN agencies help it to do so, said Adoum.

In January the government put 20,000 tons of subsidized cereals on the market, and it plans to release another 20,000 by the end of March, according to Adoum. Meanwhile, the Chinese have promised US$4 million of rice, though it is unclear how this will arrive in the country.

“Faced with such a large need [3.5 million Chadians will struggle to feed themselves and maintain their livelihoods this year, according to the UN], the proactivity of the government is essential in driving and coordinating an effective response to this crisis,” said Oxfam’s Cockburn.

A “rapidly implemented” national response plan, bringing together all humanitarian actors, is needed, he said. A national response plan was allegedly adopted last week, though details are as yet unknown.

The government, donors and aid agencies all need to build up better mitigation reflexes, ACF’s Bernier told IRIN. “We know the Sahel and we know there will always be crises… Agencies are gearing up and are doing mitigation, but the crisis is now… It’s so much cheaper if we react early.”

While the government is looking to intensify agricultural production, and commits 8 percent of its annual budget to the sector, it does not prioritize food security or nutrition, one aid official told IRIN. Instead, large sums are spent on “roads, and lots of white elephants – there is a poor prioritization of funds here.”

The Chadian government’s Food Security and Emergency Management Committee holds regular food security meetings but few decisions are taken at them, while donors are not as well-coordinated on the food crisis response as they could be, one aid donor who preferred anonymity, told IRIN. The main donors involved are ECHO, the Swiss, the USA, France and Germany.

It was the UN Central Emergency Response Fund’s US$6 million, given early on, that helped agencies to scale up quickly, said staff from several agencies.

Crisis fatigue?

Some say the international community took a while to wake up to the looming food crisis partly because of “crisis overload”. “There are so many crises here – cholera, Nigeria, measles, Libya, meningitis, polio, food – it’s non-stop, so there is a sense of `here we go again’,” one aid expert told IRIN.

Lots of aid agencies operate in the country, but they are unevenly spread, with up to 70 NGOs in and around Sudanese refugee camps in the east, while some highly vulnerable areas in central and western Chad may have just three or four. When responding to the 2009 food crisis WFP had to distribute much of its food itself due to a lack of partners.

Many in the international community are trying to push NGOs westwards to create a more even balance.

Meanwhile, Idriss in Kanem just received five goats from the Food and Agriculture Organization – one of the few international agencies working out of Mao. Just when she thought she had run out of survival options, they have provided a lifeline. But ultimately, she says, her way of life may be coming to an end. “If things continue this way, with bad rains, I don’t know if we will be able to stay here in the future,” she told IRIN.


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