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Archive for March 23rd, 2012

An estimated 1.5 million children in Burundi do not have birth certificates

Posted by African Press International on March 23, 2012

BURUNDI: Birth registration campaign targets tens of thousands

An estimated 1.5 million children in Burundi do not have birth certificates (file photo)

BUJUMBURA,  – An estimated 1.5 million children in Burundi are without birth certificates with those under five missing out on free medical care, but a nationwide campaign currently under way to register about 170,000 children under 18 in the next two months, could begin to change things. 

People fail to get birth certificates partly due to ignorance, local customs in some areas, long distances to registration offices, corruption, and the cost of late registrations.

Access to free health care for under fives is a particular challenge.

Jeannette Kanyange, a vendor at Kirundo market and a single mother of two children under four, said she had attempted to register the children in the past but failed. Registry officials had asked for the father to be present, despite the fact that single mothers are allowed to register their children without the presence of the father. “If they [the children] are ill, it is a real problem, I cannot afford the cost of the medical bill,” she said.

Parents do not consider registration of their children a priority because of “ignorance of their rights and lack of information on the importance of registration,” said Evariste Nsabiyumva, assistant home affairs minister. 

“Customs play a role in this. There are many cases of polygamy and if a marriage is not legalized, children will not be registered.”

Members of the minority Batwa ethnic group do not generally register their children, said Nsabiyumva. 


Birth certificates are free if issued within the first 14 days of life, but parents have to pay 30,000 francs (US$21.4) if they register their children later than two weeks after birth. 

Corruption is also to blame, said Aline Mukakaringa, a resident of the Busoni area in Kirundo. 

“I went there. They [the registry officials] asked me for 2, 000 francs (about $1.4) but I know it is free. If you have to pay them and pay the witness, where can I get the money. They registered them [her first two children] but I never got the birth certificates. I did not try to register the third [child].” 

The current birth registration campaign is focusing on Kirundo and Muyinga provinces, according to the head of the NGO Geste Humanitaire, Hermenegilde Rupereza, and will then be rolled out in the other 15 provinces. 

The UN Children’s Fund is supporting the registration campaign launched on 16 March in the northern province of Kirundo and organized by the Ministry of Interior and  Geste Humanitaire.


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Half of rural households have cut their number of meals

Posted by African Press International on March 23, 2012

SWAZILAND: Diets downsized by financial crisis

Half of rural households have cut their number of meals

MBABANE,  – It is 6am in rural Mliba in central Swaziland, and Melody Thwala and her seven-year-old granddaughter Thandi are busy with their daily task of harvesting wild `umbhidvo’ weeds before Thandi goes to school. Thwala will use what they have gathered to make a spinach-like dish to supplement the family’s one daily meal.

“My grandchildren have a meal at school and this is a relief to me. At our home we have only one evening meal,” said Thwala, a widow who lives with her unmarried daughter and four grandchildren.

According to a report by the UN Country Team in Swaziland, released on 16 March, a fiscal crisis which started early in 2011 has put an additional strain on poor households like Thwala’s and worsened poverty in a country which already had high rates of unemployment and food insecurity and the highest HIV rate in the world.

The report, based on a November 2011 survey of 1,334 households, found that poor households have had to adopt extreme measures to cope with reduced incomes resulting from job losses and wage cuts, as well as higher food and fuel prices and reduced access to social services. About half of rural households and one third of urban households have cut their number of meals or meal portions and in more than one out of four rural households, meals were skipped for the entire day.

“In rural areas and especially among female-headed households, coping mechanisms are supplemented by other budget management methods, such as gathering of wild food and harvesting immature food,” write the authors, who warn that the crisis threatens to halt or reverse progress Swaziland had made in reaching the Millennium Development Goals in health, education and food security.

Swazis usually eat their `umbhidvo’ with maize meal, the national staple food which is grown in almost every garden and farm. But a year of low rainfall reduced the usual yield from Thwala’s maize garden by half and she cannot afford to buy maize meal.

“That is why our meals are one a day,” said Thwala, adding that the family had been forced to sell a cow which had provided them with milk.

Cutting back on food and selling household assets were found to be two common coping mechanisms among households which experienced economic “shocks”, the most common of which were rising food prices and reduced labour income.

“Starting from an already weak situation, food security seems to have deteriorated as households have been coping with the consequences of the fiscal crisis combined with the rising food price,” notes the assessment.

A significant drop in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union in the wake of the global economic slowdown helped precipitate Swaziland’s financial meltdown over the past year, but according to Sibusiso Hlatshwayo, an independent financial consultant in Mbabane, the capital, this was not the only factor.

Vanity projects

“Government’s spending choices on vanity projects that have been criticized by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] have not changed, and the government’s unaffordable public service employee rolls that are the highest in Africa per capita have not been cut back. Secondly, Swaziland’s economy was shrinking long before the global recession; large, decades-old businesses have been relocating from the country and there is no new investment,” he said, adding that the government’s lack of money to pay its suppliers had resulted in small companies going out of business, putting more people out of work.

The financial crisis has also hit social services with grants to the elderly which had helped women like Thwala support their families suspended, and the government no longer paying school fees for many orphaned and vulnerable children, including two of Thwala’s grandchildren.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative and acting UN resident coordinator in Swaziland Jama Gulaid pointed out that the financial crisis had also led to an acute shortage of fuel for government vehicles. “If vehicles are grounded for lack of fuel, how does one deliver outreach services and or conduct field supervision?” he said.

A spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare confirmed that its officers had had to curtail visits to impoverished households in remote, rural areas.

Children moved to cheaper schools

The report suggests that households living in rural areas have been harder-hit by the crisis than those in urban areas, and that female-headed households and those with members living with HIV were most likely to resort to cutting educational expenditure. Among these households, almost one fifth had withdrawn children from school, and more than 10 percent had moved children to lower quality schools.

Samantha Zwane, a single mother of two children, has held the same job of receptionist for 10 years, but her rare pay increases have not kept up with the ever-escalating costs of food, electricity, bus transport and other supplies.

“I had to choose between moving from a three-room to a two-room flat, even if it meant we would have to all sleep together in a room, or enrolling my daughter and son in a cheaper school. The only flat I could find was far away and it would mean higher commuting costs [so] I had to change the children’s school,” she said.

While the grim economic situation is prompting people to make necessary if painful decisions, so far they are managing to cope. Starvation is not yet a problem although malnutrition is widespread and is leading to an unreported crisis of stunting in children’s growth, according to UNICEF.

“Nutrition is a challenging area for most countries in East and Southern Africa, including Swaziland,” said Gulaid. “Yes, external shocks worsen the situation but there are many contributory factors. We need multiple strategies to address child malnutrition and everyone must do more – the government, households/communities, development partners and the private sector.”

The survey concludes with several recommendations for improving public financial management, increasing employment and setting up social welfare services which would better prepare households for occasional economic downturns.


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Wildfires have destroyed large tracts of grassland in northern Kenya

Posted by African Press International on March 23, 2012

KENYA: Conflict fears as wildfires destroy pasture, cause displacement

Wildfires have destroyed large tracts of grassland in northern Kenya

ISIOLO,  – Wildfires have destroyed large tracts of grassland in northern Kenya, giving rise to fears of conflict between pastoralist communities amid an already serious food security crisis.

“In the areas we have managed to visit, the loss of vegetation is large, at least 20,000 hectares,” said an officer with the Kenya Forest service in the town of Wajir, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly. He said an overall assessment to establish the total level of destruction had yet to be conducted.

According to Mohamed Wako, an elder, tension is rising along the Isiolo, Garissa and Wajir borders with residents accusing each other of causing the fire.

A Wajir resident, Ibrahim Mohamed, said the fire is suspected to have been started by a cartel of traders who are hoping to secure aid agencies’ and government contracts to supply fodder in the region. A fortnight ago, residents of the Habaswein area of Wajir barricaded a road to prevent trucks ferrying hay, accusing the truck owners of being behind the inferno.

The districts of Wajir North, South and West are the most affected with the fire spreading to parts of neighbouring Isiolo. “The wildfire which broke out last month but was stopped, started again two weeks ago and burnt more areas we have not visited… Extensive rangeland has been affected,” the forest officer said.

“We have lost a number of livestock, mainly calves, weak and sick animals that were not able to move quickly,” Adan Dualle, a Wajir resident told IRIN, adding: “Two people burnt by the fire are still at Wajir District Hospital.”

Some herders have been forced to migrate further north towards Moyale with some crossing the border into Ethiopia. “We are already faced with a shortage of pasture. While we had enough just last month, I am afraid the situation will be worse if it fails to rain,” said Dualle. 

At least 500 families from the Biyamadow, Dadachabulla and Sarif areas have been displaced and forced to move to neighbouring districts, he added. A further 150 families had also been forced to flee from Berami Villlage to the Bute and Buna areas, according to a Wajir North District resident, Hussein Nurow. 

Food insecurity

The fire (cause unknown) is fast spreading in Isiolo’s Merti and Garbatulla areas, according to officials. 

“We are unable to control the fire,” said Diba Golicha, chairman of the Rangelands Users Association in Merti. “The government should give us helicopters or planes to fight this fire. It’s spreading fast and getting close to Marsabit [north of Isiolo]. We also want this matter be investigated.” 

The cause of the fire is being investigated and more resources being mobilized to ensure that it does not spread further and damage infrastructure, according to the upper eastern regional commissioner, Isaiah Nakoru.

The March-May long rains are forecast to be below-average and poorly distributed, meaning that further improvements in pastoral food security are not expected, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS NET). Food security in the area had improved after good October-December 2011 short rains regenerated pasture, increasing household milk availability and incomes. 

“The majority of households will remain in either the Stressed [consumption is reduced but minimally adequate] or Crisis [significant food consumption gaps with high or above usual acute malnutrition] phase of food insecurity through June 2012,” said FEWS NET.


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