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Archive for May, 2012

Kenyan cases: Appeals Chamber rejects appeals regarding challenges to the ICC’s jurisdiction – Trials to go ahead

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

On 24 May 2012, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided unanimously to reject the appeals regarding the challenges to the ICC’s jurisdiction, raised by the Defence teams in the two Kenyan cases: The Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang and The Prosecutor v. Francis Kirimi Muthaura and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.

The Defence teams of the accused had challenged the Court’s jurisdiction before the Pre-Trial Chamber, submitting that the Court should decline to exercise jurisdiction over their cases and contesting the interpretation of the term ‘organizational policy’ as a component of crimes against humanity under article 7 (2) (a) of the Rome Statute, which the Pre-Trial Chamber had adopted, by majority, in its decision authorising the opening of an investigation into the situation in Kenya, dated 31 March 2010. In its decisions on 23 January 2012, the Pre-Trial Chamber decided, by majority, to endorse its previous definition of the term ‘organisational policy’ and confirmed that the ICC has jurisdiction over the two Kenyan cases.

The Defence teams appealed the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decisions on 30 January 2012, essentially alleging legal, factual or procedural errors stemming from the Pre-Trial Chamber’s interpretation of the term ‘organizational policy’ and its subsequent findings that such policy existed in the two cases. They requested the Appeals Chamber to declare that the Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction in this instance and to reverse the Pre-Trial Chamber’s confirmation of charges against the accused.

In its decisions, today, the Appeals Chamber indicated that the interpretation and existence of an ‘organizational policy’ relate to the substantive merits of this case as opposed to the issue of whether the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to consider such questions. These issues relate to whether the Pre-Trial Chamber erred when it confirmed the charges in respect of the accused. As the Prosecutor has expressly alleged crimes against humanity, including the existence of an ‘organizational policy’, the Appeals Chamber found that the ICC has subject-matter jurisdiction over the alleged crimes.

The Appeals Chamber noted that whether the Prosecutor can establish, in law and on the evidence, the existence of such a policy is not a question of jurisdiction, but rather a question to be determined on the merits. The Appeals Chamber concluded that the issues raised on appeal are therefore not properly before the Appeals Chamber. The Appeals Chamber decisions relate only to the issues raised by the accused and are with no prejudice to the merits of the cases.

The cases The Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang and The Prosecutor v. Francis Kirimi Muthaura and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta are currently before Trial Chamber V. Status Conferences are scheduled, respectively, on 11 and 12 June 2012.



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A recognition for lighting up the rural Kenya

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

  • Thomas Ochieng reporting from Kenya                                 

The Kenya rural Electrification Authority awarded ISO Certification for its effort in connecting t the rural areas in Kenya to the national electricity grid.

In 1973 the Kenyan government a young nation having attained its self-rule from the British, embarked on a massive infrastructural undertakings, one being the development of energy infrastructure particularly in the rural areas to match the growing demand buoyed by a growing population. The project was known as the Rural Electrification programme. Although a noble project the rural electrification recorded very little gain for decades until the year 2006 when the Rural Electrification Authority was established by an Act of parliament with the express mandate of acceleration of both the access and penetration of electricity in the rural areas.

The Authority has lightened a big part of rural Kenya which has superseded expectations This achievement by this body led to its attainment of the ISO 90001:2008 certification from the country’s official testing body the Kenya Bureau of Standards KEBS.

Speaking during the official launch of the certification in Nairobi the Assistant minister for energy Amb.Mahmud Mohamed commended the REA board, management and staff for the energy passion and drive they have pushed the agenda of lighting up rural areas in Kenya “The attainment of the certification is the culmination of a long and rigorous process that has taken many years of hard work and commitment to the laid down goal and objectives of your institution” Said Amb. Mahmud. Adding that the government was looking forward to the institution to carry out its full mandate of lighting up the rural areas  in the shortest time possible.

From the year 2003 to date Rural Electrification Authority has connected 15,000 public facilities down from 1729,this accounting for 72% of the 25,427 public facilities targeted in the rural areas in Kenya, with the remaining 7,173 to be connected to the national grid  in the next two years.

 Prior to the establishment of the Rural Electrification Authority the Kenyan new government had put funds in the monopolistic parastatal the Kenya Power and Lighting company but the realized that the said institution could not adequately cater for the huge demand of electricity in the rural areas hence the formation of  the utility company.

The chief executive of the Rural Electrification Authority Mr.Zachary Ayieko laid down a road map of achieving 100% connectivity in the rural eras in three faces by the year 2030 “firstly we intend to achieve a 100% access of electricity by connecting all public institution by the year 2013, thereby providing connection to house holds by the year 2030”Said Mr. Ayieko, adding that access to electricity is the overall short-term goal that will be achieved in a year time.

Since 1973 the rural electrification programme has spent Ksh.48 billion of which a whooping Ksh.41 billion being spent from 2003 to date. This huge spending underscores the priority the current administration resolve to light up the rural areas to spur economic activities in the rural settings in Kenya. 



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Mbarushimana case: ICC Appeals Chamber rejects the Prosecution’s appeal

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

Situation: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Case: The Prosecutor v. Callixte Mbarushimana

Today, 30 May 2012, the Appeals Chamber decided unanimously to dismiss the Prosecution’s appeal against the decision issued by Pre-Trial Chamber I <> , declining to confirm the charges against Mr Callixte Mbarushimana.

Judge Erkki Kourula, presiding judge in this appeal, delivered a summary of the judgment in open session. He explained that the Appeals Chamber rejected the first two grounds of appeal, related to the Pre-Trial Chamber’s power to evaluate the evidence at the confirmation of the charges stage. The Appeals Chamber found that in determining whether to confirm charges under article 61 of the Rome Statute, the Pre-Trial Chamber may evaluate ambiguities, inconsistencies, contradictions or credibility doubts in the evidence.

Judge Kourula stressed that “the confirmation of charges hearing exists to ensure that cases and charges go to trial only when justified by sufficient evidence” and that article 61(7) of the Rome Statute requires the Pre-Trial Chamber to evaluate whether the evidence is sufficient to establish substantial grounds to believe the person committed each of the crimes charged.

The Appeals Chamber also rejected the third and last ground of appeal, related to whether, under article 25(3)(d) of the Rome Statute, the contribution of the person must be “significant”, because the alleged error did not materially affect the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber.

Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi appended a separate opinion under this ground of appeal, as she would have found it necessary to hold that the Pre-Trial Chamber erred in finding that the contribution to the crimes must be significant under article 25(3)(d) of the Rome Statute.

Judge Kourula highlighted that the Appeals Chamber’s judgment relates only to the issues submitted in appeal and should therefore not be seen as endorsing the Pre-Trial Chamber’s factual findings.

Background information

On 16 December 2011, Pre-Trial Chamber I decided by Majority to decline to confirm the charges in the case The Prosecutor v. Callixte Mbarushimana and ordered that the warrant of arrest issued against him cease to have effect. Mr Mbarushimana was released from the ICC’s custody on 23 December 2011, upon the completion of the necessary arrangements, as ordered by Pre-Trial Chamber I.

Callixte Mbarushimana was surrendered to the custody of the ICC by the French authorities on 25 January 2011, in accordance with the warrant of arrest delivered against him on 28 September 2010 by Pre-Trial Chamber I. In the document containing the charges, the Prosecutor charged Mr Mbarushimana with five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, inhumane acts, rape, torture and persecution) and eight counts of war crimes (attacking civilians, murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property and pillaging). The Confirmation of Charges hearing was held from 16 to 21 September 2011. The Majority of the Chamber, comprising Judge Sylvia Steiner and Judge Cuno Tarfusser, found that there was not sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Callixte Mbarushimana could be held criminally responsible, under article 25(3)(d) of the Rome Statute, for these counts. Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng, presiding judge, filed a dissenting opinion. The Prosecutor is not precluded from subsequently requesting the confirmation of charges on the basis of additional evidence.




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To the Editor API – On President Barack Obama’s eligibilty to the Presidency

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

It would help the people of America if you would send a real copy of his real birth certificate.
In this country our constitution demands all who hold the office of President, and Vice President must be natural-born citizens. In other words, his mother, and his father, Obama sr.  would both have to be American citizens, born in America.

This issue creates a huge problem for our troops serving in various foreign countries. A president not qualified to hold the office of President thereby
makes our troops criminal’s of war.

Sir, I beg you to put an end to this now. We have already buried enough of our children. My beautiful daughter served 4 years in the Marine core.

May God bless you, and keep you well.

Carol Hicks, USA

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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor Sentenced to 50 years by International Court

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

He will serve his sentence in Britain. This will be so, after a deal was struck between the UK and the International Court. There is fear that if he serves his sentence in Africa that may create new problems in his country by his supporters.

It is also due to the fact that many countries in Africa do not trust the International court and may help Taylor escape from an African jail.

He was accused of crimes against humanity.


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The British courts has now given a go ahead to Assanges extradition to Sweden

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

He is accused of rape in Sweden. He fought a fierce battle against extradition to Sweden where he is expected to face rape charges

While in Britain, he was placed in house arrest where he has been for over 540 days.

His fate is now sealed. He may end up being extradited from Sweden to the USA due to his Wikileaks activities that revealed a lot of top-secret information on what the US does round the world.


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Damage-strewn landscape years after fighting ended in Sri Lanka’s north

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

Damage-strewn landscape years after fighting ended in Sri Lanka’s north

COLOMBO,  – Life is slowly returning to normal in northern Sri Lanka, but three years after a decades-long conflict was officially declared over, jobs and housing are the prevailing concerns of returnees.

Most of the estimated 448,000 people displaced before or during 2008 by fighting between government forces and rebels wanting an independent Tamil state have returned to the Northern Province, according to the latest figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Some 13,000 are still living in temporary camps – mostly from areas infested with land mines, which may take a decade or more to clear due to lack of funding. 

Nevertheless, the worst seems to be over. “It is hard to believe it has been three years, life has changed so much. During the war, our sole focus was how we were going to survive the next day or the next hour,” said Nishanthan, an orphan in the town of Kilinochchi, which was once an LTTE base.

Nishanthan, who goes by one name – a common practice in parts of the island – grew up in a foster-care home and was forced to postpone his university entrance exam in August 2009 by heavy fighting. At the age of 19 he fled to his home village, returning to Kilinochchi in 2010 where he has since resumed his studies.

“Things have improved, but there is still a lot more to do,” said Saroja Sivachandran, director of the Centre for Women’s Development (CWD), an NGO  in the northern district of Jaffna.


There are no official unemployment figures for the region but experts say joblessness, especially among returnees, is likely to be widespread because work is scarce. 

Anushka Wijesingha, an economist at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, a national think-tank, [ ] told IRIN there were two factors hampering job creation in the north: lack of capital investment and residents’ inadequate skills. As a result, whatever jobs have been created are often filled by more qualified southerners.

An estimated 40,000 war widows are particularly hard hit and need more targeted programmes, Sivachandran said.

Despite pockets of positive news in the north, like the booming district of Vavuniya and the fledgling cottage industries launched by returnees with government grants, the overall needs are still “overwhelming”, Sivachandran noted.

While Vavuniya District has an average household income comparable to more developed districts untouched by war, such as Colombo, where the capital is located, Vavuniya’s boom may be fuelled by post-conflict reconstruction, said Muttukrishna Sarvananthan at the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Jaffna.

But such affluence escapes the tens of thousands waiting for permanent shelter. As of early March, less than 17,000 of the more than 100,000 homes required were under construction, OCHA said.

The Indian government has pledged to build over 40,000 houses, with construction expected to begin by mid-2012, according to diplomats. 


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Protestors have different ideas as to how the country should be set up

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

Protestors have different ideas as to how the country should be set up

KATHMANDU,  – Just days before Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) reaches its fifth deadline to agree on a new constitution on 27 May, the country remains divided over the issue of federalism.

“Debates over federalism and identity threaten to polarize Nepali society,” Anagha Neelakantan, South Asia senior analyst for the conflict resolution NGO, International Crisis Group, told IRIN in the capital, Kathmandu. “At the same time, politics and the constitution-writing process are at an impasse, and a constitutional crisis is possible.”

The 600-member CA, which also acts as the country’s interim legislature, was tasked in 2008 with drafting the next constitution after a decade-long civil war between Maoist forces and the government ended in 2006. Over 13,000 people lost their lives in the conflict and the nation of 30 million has been without an effective government since then.

On 15 May, the CA leaders made a hurried decision to restructure the former Hindu monarchy into 11 federal states, based on “multi-ethnic federalism”, meaning all ethnic groups, not just one ethnic group, would live in a single undivided state.

This rather than “identity and capacity based federalism”, in which a single ethnic group and its ability to be self-sustaining, along with geographical and economic considerations, would be the model used.

Unable to reach an agreement, the CA requested another three-month extension, but this was rejected by the Supreme Court on 24 May, which directed the government to promulgate a new constitution by the 27 May deadline.

“The proposal for 11 federal provinces was done haphazardly, with no names and without any principles,” said Prof Krishna Hachhethu, a prominent expert on federalism at Tribhuvan University, the country’s largest tertiary institution.

The issue has fuelled anger amongst Nepal’s indigenous ethnic groups, known as ‘Janjatis’, who have been staging protests and strikes throughout the country since mid-May in a bid to pressure the CA and the main political parties to restructure the state along the lines of identity-based federalism.

There are more than 100 ethnic and caste groups in Nepal, and according to the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), the Janjatis represent 37.2 percent of the population.

“Most Janjatis have been exploited and still remain underprivileged and neglected by the government,” said Laxman Tharu, the leader of the Joint Tharu Struggle Committee.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Tharus spread across Nepal’s southern Terai Region and the Far West. They are considered one of the most impoverished and exploited indigenous ethnic groups, most of whom who have suffered bonded slavery, indentured servitude and landlessness, according to NEFIN, a non-profit organization formed by the Janjatis.

Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
Tight security security ahead of this weekend’s constitutional deadline

Since 2007, the Tharus have been demanding self-government in a Tharuwat federal province in the Far West region of the country, over 700km southwest of the capital. But high-caste groups like the Brahmins and Chettris, who live in the same region, have protested against their demands, fearing ethnic division and a loss of influence.

On 24 May, thousands of high-cast groups took to the streets in the Far West, demanding an “undivided nation” – ethnic-based federalism – which Janjati activists say is misinterpreted by protestors.

“For the first time, the Brahmins and Chettris are protesting against ethnic federalism with the slogan of an “undivided Nepal”, which is now a “major national issue”, said federalism expert Mohan Manandhar, director of the Niti Foundation, a policy research NGO.

“We all know that there can be no constitution without federalism based on ethnicity,” said Hachhethu. “The debate has started, and this is a good start, but we should not be too speculative, which has spread lot of fear among people about the country being divided.”

The issue has become deeply entrenched in Nepal’s mainstream society and politics. Much of one of Asia’s poorest nations has been at a standstill, with strikes in cities and towns harming an already fragile economy.

“Federalism is key to unite our multi-ethnic populations and provide hope for the marginalized to finally get a better political space and confidence,” said Raj Kumar Lekhi, chairman of NEFIN, which organized an “indefinite strike” last week before calling it off when the government agreed to meet with Janjati leaders.

“Now, politicians and other leaders need to urgently convene discussions with a wide range of groups to resolve their competing claims and enshrine commitments on federalism in the new constitution,” said ICG’s Neelakantan.

On 24 May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Nepal’s political parties and other groups to ensure that its constitution-making process was concluded successfully.

“The Secretary-General is concerned about the prospect of the term of the Constituent Assembly expiring without the adoption of a constitution that meets the expectations and aspirations of the people of Nepal,” Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement that also called for calm and restraint. 


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Many health care workers have moved to cities and better paying jobs

Posted by African Press International on May 31, 2012

Many health care workers have moved to cities and better paying jobs

ANTSOHIHY,  – The Basic Health Centre or Centre de Santé de Base (CSB) II in Anjalajala, near Antsohihy, the capital of Madagascar’s northern Sofia Region, is housed in a recently renovated building and its status as a CSB II promises the availability of a trained doctor. But the doctor left for Antananarivo, the capital, in 2002 and has not been replaced, and whenever the remaining nurse is absent, services stop.

A guard sweeping the courtyard explains that currently the health worker is away visiting his mother and will only return in a week.

The situation at this clinic is not unique in Madagascar, where an already weak healthcare system has been in a state of decline since 2009 when the international community branded Andry Rajoelina’s ousting of President Marc Ravalomanana a coup, and donors halted all but emergency aid.

In the absence of donor support, the Malagasy government made dramatic cuts to its budget for social services. In 2010, expenditure on health care fell by 30 percent compared to the year before, while the health budget for 2012 is half what it was in 2011.

One of the consequences of these cuts has been the closing down of many community health centres. According to figures from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 214 health centres had closed by January 2011, in most cases due to a lack of health workers.

In the provinces, health workers often do not receive their salaries, and many have migrated to the cities where they get better paying jobs in the private sector.

The community health centres were part of a national health programme started in the 1980s which dispatched health workers to remote areas of the country with the goal of achieving universal health care by the year 2000. By 2004, the Health Ministry listed almost 3,000 such centres, known as CSBs, on its web site.

These centres were supposed to be staffed by a qualified nurse and, in some cases, a midwife and all staff were to receive a higher level of training via the Health Ministry than in the past.

The goal of health for all was never met, but in the years before the crisis, there was progress. Following findings in 2006 that many of the CSBs were understaffed and insufficiently equipped, 197 of them were renovated and re-equipped.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), average life expectancy went up, polio was on the verge of being eradicated, and infant mortality decreased from 98 deaths per 1,000 in 1993, to 58 in 2006.

Pre-2009 gains lost

However, even before the crisis, the health system only reached an estimated 60 to 70 percent of the population – those living in regions served by roads – while many people still had to travel 10km or more to get treatment. As health centres close down, people have to travel even further and many of the gains made before 2009 have been lost.

''We often hear that patients tried to see a doctor at a public health post first, but there was no one there''

“We often hear that patients tried to see a doctor at a public health post first, but there was no one there,” said hospital director and surgeon Adrien Ralimiarison of the Baptist Good Hope Hospital in Mandritsara, also in Sofia Region. “On the other hand, because of the crisis, people wait until they’re really sick before they go to see a doctor.”

According to Achu Lordfred, a technical adviser on reproductive health with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), many health centres function poorly due to a combination of systemic issues, including lack of training. “Health workers do not have adequate training in community health, so they will just sit there and wait for patients to come to the health facilities,” he said. “If the health centre has no supplies or medicine, and the only thing the health worker can do is refer patients to the hospital in town, people will stop visiting the CSB.”

Footing the bill

Although treatment is free for the poor, reaching a distant hospital costs money and once a patient arrives, there are other costs. As hospitals struggle to function with insufficient funding, patients and their families must foot the bill for basics like bed sheets, bandages and food, and there is also a social expectation that the treating doctor be rewarded with a gift.

Despite its status as the main referral facility for a region of one million inhabitants, the hospital in Antsohihy lacks the most basic supplies, like food and mattresses for patients, and its maternity ward relies on supplies donated by UNFPA.

Director of the hospital Briand Zafinandriamanalina said the government had also recently stopped sending money for a social equity fund used to provide free health care to the poor. “We now have US$3,000 left [in the fund] for this year,” he told IRIN. “Normally, this could last us for a few months when we count the usual amount of emergencies and the accidents on the road here, but in case of a big accident, the fund could be used up in days.”

Zafinandriamanalina added that hospitals also lacked specialists, with many regional hospitals having only one surgeon to handle all operations. “Specialist doctors are in the capital, and they don’t want to come to the provinces and regions to work,” he said.

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Lordfred of UNFPA noted that Madagascar’s general practitioners were not trained to perform lifesaving procedures like Caesarean sections. “This makes them much less effective in the provinces,” he said.

Health Ministry lacks funds

With no end to the political crisis and the lifting of sanctions in sight, international NGOs have taken on the task of keeping Madagascar’s health system going, with mixed results. UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA are all involved in training health workers and supplying health centres with essential drugs so that they can stay open. According to the World Bank, external financing of the health sector went up from US$92 million to US$160 million between 2008 and 2010.

However, without a national policy to set priorities, coordinate efforts and drive initiatives, aid efforts have been fragmented and the health system has continued its decline. As a result of the sanctions, aid has had to go directly to individual health centres and hospitals or to local NGOs rather than to the Health Ministry.

UNFPA set out to recruit 50 midwives last year to send into the provinces, but ended up finding only 28, as trained midwives also prefer to work in the cities and the government agencies that used to regulate their training and postings no longer function. “There are many ways to encourage and retain doctors to work in remote areas,” said Lordfred, “but it needs appropriate training and improved working conditions.”

ar/ks/cb source

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Millet prices suffered further hikes

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2012

Millet prices suffered further hikes (file photo)

DAKAR/OUAGADOUGOU,  – Unexpectedly sharp price rises in April for local cereals like millet, rice and maize in parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad mean many vulnerable people in the drought-hit Sahel could find it even harder to get enough to eat.

The high prices of basic foods are the most alarming feature of the current Sahel crisis, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Prices are expected to keep rising until the end of August – during the lean season – but the size of recent hikes has surprised food price analysts and humanitarian aid personnel.

In Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, local millet is 85 percent above the five-year average, and in Mali’s capital, Bamako, it is more than double, said Jean-Martin Bauer, the Food Security Monitoring Systems leader at the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

In Ouagadougou a 100kg bag of millet cost 26,000 cfa (US$49) in May 2012, compared to 15,000 cfa ($28) in May 2011, while in Bamako a 100kg bag of millet cost 28,500 cfa ($53) this year but only 14,000 cfa ($26) a year ago, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) monthly reports.

This volatility – when prices move outside of historical minimum or maximum increases, as they did in April – is as important to watch as steadily rising levels, said Gary Eilerts, Programme Manager at FEWS NET. Aid agencies say the very poor, who own no land or animals of their own and must buy most of their food, are worst affected.

Why are local grains so expensive?

The price of key foods is still very high across the globe. In February 2011 they reached a historic peak, partly linked to the rise in bio-fuel costs, the impact of speculation, and high oil prices, dropping by six percent in March 2012.

Analysts have questioned why these global price trends have also touched millet and sorghum – grains that are consumed in the Sahel but not globally.

While each Sahelian country has its own specific price dynamic – markets are disrupted in Mali partly because of conflict and displacement for instance – many of the answers can be found in Nigeria, which supplies half of West Africa’s cereal needs, Bauer noted.

Economic growth in Nigeria has boosted domestic grain demand for human consumption, as animal feed, to produce beer, and for other uses, yet even steeply rising production – Mali and Niger produced 5 million mt of these grains plus other cereals in 2010 – cannot keep up with demand.

Ghana, too, has mounting consumption rates of these and other grains in its booming, oil-fuelled economy; and it has also been pushing agro-industrial development, including large poultry farms, which require grain as feed.

The Niger-Nigeria price differential for grains “is still what it should be”, Bauer said. One kg of millet costs 222 cfa (45 US cents) in Maradi, a trading hub in southern Niger, and 200 cfa (40 US cents) across the border in Nigeria, which means exports are flowing normally. But Nigeria’s capacity to respond to demands in the Sahel has weakened.

50 percent fuel price rise in January 2012 has increased food transport costs. Boko Haram – a jihadist group using violent means to establish Sharia law in northern Nigeria – caused the government to close the eastern border, bringing slowdowns in trade in western Chad and Niger. However, Chad, northern Cameroon and Niger are all still tapping into the same supply pool.

Sahel grain price trends
Prices started unseasonably high in October 2011 due to late harvests and unusually high demand, with traders – anticipating a problem – buying up large quantities of grains to sell on to governments and aid agencies, according to FEWS NET.

In much of Mali and Burkina Faso, prices have risen every month since October 2011, aside from a brief dip in January 2012, says Jean-Martin Bauer, Food Security Monitoring Systems Team Leader at the World Food Programme.

In Niger the trend was different, with sharp increases in November and December 2011 followed by a slight dip in January 2012, and slight increases in February and March. Chad experienced relatively stable prices in early 2012 after sharp increases in 2011.


“Demand is getting stronger by the day, while supplies across the Sahel are approaching their seasonal low,” said Bauer.

Narrowing gap

The dynamic is unusual. The price of imported grains is traditionally much higher than local grains, but this gap is “seriously narrowing”, said Bauer. For instance, imported rice usually costs roughly twice as much as local millet – as it did in May 2011 – but now a 50kg bag of millet in Bamako sells for 28,500 cfa ($54), while a bag of imported rice costs 35,000 cfa ($66), and 50kg of locally grown rice is priced at 42,500 ($81).

FEWS NET’s Eilerts said other reasons for the sharp price rise in April may be because traders think institutions (governments, aid agencies) are still interested in buying large quantities of food, but “it might start raining, which means prices will drop,” he said.

Buy cautiously

FEWS NET warns that in this context, “local and regional procurement [by aid agencies] should proceed cautiously”. Governments are by far the biggest grain buyers in West Africa, but WFP, a significant purchaser, is careful to buy only off-market grains from long-term national stocks in Nigeria so as to limit the risks to local markets.

Rather than only buying grain to distribute, WFP is also boosting its cash voucher distributions in Niger, Mali, Senegal, northern Cameroon and Burkina Faso. The amounts given will not be able to keep up with rising prices, but a small buffer is built in to absorb some of the anticipated monthly price increases during the lean season, said Margie Rehm, WFP’s cash-for-change programme officer. WFP has calculated that a household in Niger would receive vouchers worth 32,500 cfa ($62) per month, and one in Mali would get 25,000-36,000 cfa ($47-68), depending on where it is located.

Market interventions

Many agencies, including the international NGO, Oxfam, say that given the right market conditions, cash vouchers can be an important social protection mechanism for poor households. Several other interviewees said less targeted measures – such as subsidies or reduced taxes on cereals, which the government is taking to try to control prices – are expensive and inefficient because the rich also benefit.

Mali has lowered taxes on imported rice. Niger, Chad and Mauritania have made subsidized grains available. The new government in Senegal is attempting to bring down cereal prices through consultations with importers, distributors and consumer groups. Burkina Faso has tried to fund selected traders to sell staple grains at reduced prices, but they did not respect the contract and the government now aims to open shops in 182 communes, selling rice at $14 per 25kg bag.

Such temporary measures to control costs “do have a role”, but historically they have been “very difficult to implement – subsidies generally don’t work well in West Africa – they can end up making problems worse”, said one food price specialist.

The Mali and Burkina Faso governments also banned grain exports, but blocking borders usually doesn’t work, said Eilerts. “People just try harder and pay more to get around them, and farmers, seeing a blocked market, may be disincentivized to produce, pushing down production,” which can have the opposite effect, he told IRIN.

Given chronic food deficiencies and malnutrition in the Sahel, governments need to set up safety nets that work in the long term, and can also be ratcheted up in an emergency, several interviewees told IRIN. “If measures are already in place, when the drought comes, governments should be able to shift gears,” said Bauer.

Aid efforts across the Sahel are currently keeping millions of people alive, but the aid “remains insufficient to fully mitigate food insecurity in northern Mali, parts of Burkina Faso, and western Niger”, FEWS NET said in its May briefing.

“We can do more to avoid catastrophe,” the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said at a press conference on 24 May in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. “We need good leadership, strong coordination; each country needs a comprehensive response plan and funding from the humanitarian community.”

Some $715 million of the $1 billion required for food and nutrition aid across the Sahel has been committed, according to the 18 May snapshot from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which estimates that non-food sectors like health, clean water, education and protection bring the needs to at least $1.5 billion.

Agriculture, livestock and non-food sectors are severely underfunded. In the emergency appeal for Chad, funding for education is at only 6 percent of the requested amount, and for water and sanitation just 8 percent, while in Niger’s appeal, education is 0 percent funded, with water and sanitation at 18 percent, according to OCHA.

“An integrated response is needed,” Amos told IRIN. ”Healthcare is particularly important, clean water and sanitation are critical, and we need to go beyond immediate relief efforts to support people’s livelihoods in the long term.”


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Thousands of babies are missing out on TB immunization

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2012

Thousands of babies are missing out on TB immunization (file photo)

ISIOLO,  – Thousands of infants born in remote northern parts of Kenya in the past six weeks risk contracting tuberculosis (TB) due to a vaccine shortage, with medics warning that the effects could be severe in areas where there is already little access to maternity and vaccination services.

In the north-central Isiolo region, for example, stocks of the TB Bacillus Camille Guérin (BCG) vaccine ran out at the main Isiolo District Hospital in early April, leaving hundreds of babies unimmunized. The hospital also serves residents from the northern districts of Garissa, Marsabit, Samburu and Wajir. 

A nurse working at the hospital said so far three deaths of infants under one month old had been reported.

“I know and can only confirm the deaths of three children – one from Isiolo and two others from [neighbouring] Meru [County]. The latter two, who were HIV positive, died at our ward while being treated for tuberculosis and the other had serious respiratory complications. These deaths could have been prevented if they had been immunized,” said the nurse. IRIN was unable to confirm the deaths from other sources.

Parents of newborn babies in Isiolo are being urged to travel to towns such as Nanyuki and Meru, further south, for the vaccine. 

“I hired a taxi to Meru, it’s very expensive. I was concerned [by the] many visitors, some of whom might be having TB [who] were visiting to see the baby. They were many because he is a boy,” said Aadan Malicha, whose son was born two weeks ago.

The birth of boy children is marked by celebrations in some northern Kenyan communities.

The Ministry of Health confirmed the BCG vaccine shortage, saying this was due to manufacturing delays but fresh stocks were expected.

TB, a bacterial disease which most commonly affects the lungs and is transmitted from person to person via droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the active respiratory disease, remains one of the world’s top infectious killers and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that new-born babies are immunized against it within two weeks of birth.

Poor maternity services

In Isiolo, only 23 percent of women access maternity services, according to the Ministry of Medical Services. Women avoid public maternity health services there partly due to ignorance, traditional beliefs and the absence of female doctors, and they miss out on vaccination for their children in the process.

“We all know that immunization against all diseases is very poor [here]. The few parents who have understood the importance of these vaccines are now very disappointed. This adds to the high number of children who miss immunizations. It will lead to more deaths, more health complications,” Jirma Duba, an official with the Marsabit Community Health Support Initiative, told IRIN.

Duba urged the government to declare the vaccine shortage a disaster, to allow for urgent intervention by aid agencies.

According to the North-eastern Provincial Director of Medical Services, Mohamed Abdikadir Sheikh, contingency plans are in place to ensure that all children under four are protected against TB.

“We have scaled up vaccination awareness campaigns targeting families displaced by drought [and] insecurity in areas close to the border. Our mobile teams are more active in the field now than before,” said Sheikh.

“All our health workers serving different facilities and mobile units are observing a new set of vaccination rules. They only conduct the exercise one day in a week. This is to make sure that the 20 units in one vial [of the BCG vaccine] are utilized well. The moment you open it and fail to use it on 20 children then it’s wasted.” 

Handwritten note

Meanwhile, at health facilities in Isiolo, mothers are continuing to be discharged after delivery without having their children vaccinated against TB. A handwritten note on the children’s antenatal cards indicates that the children are expected back for vaccination but a date is not given, meaning that mothers have to keep visiting the health facilities daily until successful.

“I delivered twins two weeks ago. It was not my first delivery. I know from previous experience that I was only allowed to leave the maternity ward after all my three children got the [BCG] injection on the arm and swallowed a liquid,” said a mother.

In interviews with some parents, IRIN noted that most were not aware of the risk of missing the vaccine, while for the rest the long and expensive journey to neighbouring districts in search of the vaccine is a problem.

According to WHO, about half a million children under 14 contracted TB in 2010, with 58,000-71 000 of them dying; no country has ever eliminated TB.

Kenya is one of 22 countries which collectively account for about 80 percent of the world’s TB cases


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The number of food-insecure people could increase

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2012

The number of food-insecure people could increase (file photo)

ADDIS ABABA,  – Aid agencies are calling for more food assistance for areas in southern and northeastern Ethiopia where erratic rains have adversely affected the mid-February to May `Belg’ crop.

“We have a very significant shortage of food in much of [the] `Belg’ season dependent areas of the country particularly in SNNPR, [Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region]” Mike McDonagh, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ethiopia, told IRIN.

Other affected areas include parts of the northeast in the Amhara, Oromia and Tigray regions.

The `Belg’ harvest, which accounts for up to 40 percent of annual food production in some areas, is expected to reduce in 2012 due to the late onset and below-average performance of the mid-February to May rains, which were 2-8 weeks late.

“The situation is of concern and is being monitored closely,” said Judith Schuler, spokesperson of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Ethiopia, adding that the number of food-insecure people could increase.

At present, an estimated 3.2 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, down from a peak of 4.5 million during the 2011 Horn of Africa drought. Revised figures are expected in mid-July.

WFP requires US$183 million by the end of 2012, to support 2.5 million of the 3.2 million people in need of emergency food assistance.

The situation in SNNPR, which borders Kenya and South Sudan, is of particular concern.

The `Belg’ crop harvest there accounts for 35-40 percent of production, with root crops, mainly sweet potatoes, contributing 50 percent of the harvest in some districts. But the extended dry period had resulted in an almost total failure of the crop – and others such as haricot beans, potatoes and maize, which were expected to fill the food gap between March and June – according to the government’s latest (May) Early Warning and Response analysis.

Aid agencies say a lack of sufficient recovery time after the 2011 drought could aggravate the situation for vulnerable households whose assets and other coping mechanisms were depleted.

Malnutrition rising

Already, the number of malnourished people is rising, said OCHA’s McDonagh.

According to OCHA, close to 90,000 children, pregnant women and nursing mothers in SNNPR alone are moderately malnourished at present, and the number is increasing.

“March was worse than February, April was worse than March and we expect May to be worse than April,” said McDonagh. “So it gets worse for a period and then maybe around July and August… it could reduce again.”

“We need general rations, what we call relief food. We need more supplementary food. We need therapeutic foods and we need also inputs such as seeds.” 

The number of severely malnourished children in therapeutic feeding programmes is increasing, with earlier and greater increases than in 2011, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s Emergency Nutrition Coordination Unit.

For example, from January to February, admissions to the programmes increased by 15.3 percent and went up a further 27 percent from February to March. The March to April figures are not available.

According to Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s minister of agriculture, the agriculture and health ministries are monitoring the food insecurity situation.

“Irregularity in rainfall seasons resulting [in] problems of such [a] kind is not a new thing to us,” Mitiku said. “We faced it last year and a year before that and we are managing it so far… The country has enough resources and mechanisms in place to deal with it this time, though.”


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Important talks on Iran’s nuclear programme

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2012

“I am pleased to note that the parties have shown a willingness to negotiate at this week’s talks in Baghdad. Although the talks have been challenging and intense, the negotiating teams are making an important diplomatic contribution,” said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

Following preliminary talks in Istanbul on 14 April, the parties met again in Baghdad  on 23–24 May. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton chaired the talks on behalf of France, China, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany.The talks focused primarily on the degree of enrichment of uranium in Iran’s nuclear programme. The next round of talks is expected to be held in Moscow on 18–19 June. Parallel to the EU-led process, the IAEA is continuing talks with Iran on greater transparency with regard to the possible military dimension of its nuclear programme.

“Norway supports the international effort to find a peaceful political solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme. I hope that further talks will foster confidence and lead to concrete results that reduce the uncertainty surrounding the aim of the nuclear programme,” said Mr Støre.


source mfa.norway

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Infection control at home

Posted by African Press International on May 29, 2012

Infection control at home

KISUMU,  – Elsie, Bernard and their five children share a tiny tin-walled single room in Nyalenda, an informal settlement in Kisumu, in Kenya’s Nyanza Province. They are both infected with HIV and TB.

“We can’t infect them [children] with HIV that easily unless something bad happens, but we know if we don’t take care, we could give all of them TB,” Elsie, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Studies show that children are likely to acquire TB infection from adults living in the household as well as those having a relationship with them or the family but living away.

Good hygiene practices are an important component of TB infection control and prevention, but maintaining them is not easy in an informal settlement, where houses are crammed together and sanitation facilities hard to come by.

Regular hand-washing, good ventilation, and coughing and sneezing away from other people are all useful tools in TB prevention. Through a community-based organization, Hygiene at Home, Elsie and her family have been receiving lessons on how to have good hygiene in their household.

“When the house is this small, even if you sneeze or cough away from the rest, that ‘far away’ is still close – you can’t help it. We have no proper toilets, and water is scarce and you can’t use the little available to wash your hands all the time,” Elsie said.

“Now I make sure I have some water in my house just for hand-washing, and I have a tin where my husband and I can spit sputum and close it again tightly… the children are a little safer,” she said.

Peninah Sewe, the coordinator of the Hygiene at Home initiative, told IRIN/PlusNews that if TB infections in informal settlements were to be contained, proper hygiene was vital.

“Hygiene in health facilities is emphasized, but little is done to promote hygiene amongst TB-infected households, which is important. People living in poor conditions must be helped to keep good hygiene within their homes,” she said. “Providing people with handkerchiefs, giving them antiseptics or soap to take home might appear small-time gestures, but are very important in keeping infections under control.”

Through a network of volunteers, Hygiene at Home contacts households in informal settlements in Kisumu and educates them about how to prevent the infection from spreading.

“We teach them how to sneeze and cough in a way that protects the person closest to them. We also teach them how to use small amounts of water to ensure good hand hygiene,” Sewe told IRIN/PlusNews.

Kenya is ranked at 13 on a list of 22 countries with the highest TB burdens in the world, and has the fifth highest burden in Africa.

Senior government officials say they recognize the need to improve prevention methods in tandem with treatment programmes.

“As we step up treatment programmes, we might hit a brick wall when we don’t promote measures that help in curtailing new infections or re-infections, because… our treatment programmes are strained,” Joseph Sitenei, director of the National Leprosy and TB Control Programme, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Door-to-door initiatives could have more impact than big campaigns. “There are campaigns on prevention covering even issues like hygiene, but many people cannot conceptualize them,” Victor Amata, a clinical officer, told IRN/PlusNews. “With face-to-face initiatives, where households are visited, it easy for them to understand.”


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Donors worried

Posted by African Press International on May 29, 2012

One of 2,600 South African women who participated in a clinical trial of a gel scientists hoped could help prevent HIV infections

LONDON,  – The more medical successes there are, the more it costs to find the next one, prompting donors to demand more from researchers carrying out large-scale trials of drugs, vaccines and global health impacts.

“As a funder, I hate clinical trial applications,” said Jimmy Whitworth, head of international activities at the science funding division of UK-based Wellcome Trust, which finances health research.

Clinical trial costs have spiralled in recent years – one recent report estimated a 70 percent cost rise per patient between 2008 and 2011 – but without sound evidence of beneficial medicinal effect, regulatory agencies will not approve.

A clinical drug trial can take up to 12 years, enrol thousands of participants across continents, and cost from as much as US$1.3 billion to nearly $12 billion for each new drug before it is approved for public use.

And the costs keep climbing. “We need other ways of funding that are more flexible, quicker,” said Geoff Garnett, deputy director of the HIV Department at the US-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I think a lot of what we should be doing is public health trials rather than clinical trials,” Garnett commented. “If we bog down our public health trials with clinical trial requirements, then we miss out on some of the important behavioural and organizational interventions that make clinical care and prevention work much better.”

Why so costly?

A greater number of participants must be tested in more settings, including those living where reports of a particular disease are falling, to determine whether improvements are the result of the proposed intervention or are being produced by existing ones.

Bloated trials mean more researchers, institutes and funders, which in turn increases regulatory requirements.

“The reality is, trials are getting steadily larger and more expensive… regulation is becoming ever more complicated,” said Chris Witty, research director at the UK Department for International Development (DFID). “We’re paying more and more for less and less.”

Too ambitious

As researchers compete for dwindling research and development dollars, donors criticize overly ambitious proposals.

“The timetables are often extremely optimistic, so there is a real problem in that funding may run out before the research question is actually answered, said the Wellcome Trust’s Whitworth. “Frankly, very often clinical trials don’t look great value for money.”

HIV research has tended to carry out trials in the most expensive way, Witty said, noting that researchers often make poor correlations between cost and the potential impact of a study.

Donors and researchers are looking at partnerships and other ways to bring down costs, including “adaptive testing”, which uses real-time data to modify an ongoing trial.

New funding

In 2010, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $10 billion to research and develop vaccines for some of the world’s poorest countries and its grants database shows more than $70 million going to clinical trials since 2004.

In the UK, the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and DFID have committed $57 million to fund late-stage trials of interventions in cash-strapped countries.

“Give us the evidence,” said Wendy Ewart, deputy chief executive and director of strategy at MRC. “Make the case for future funding.”


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