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Archive for June 27th, 2012


Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

By Stan Luchebeleli

Important questions that require answers:
1. When did the two Iranian nationals – Ahmed Abolfathi Mohammed and Sayed Mansour Mousav who appeared in court on Monday facing charges of being in possession of 15 kg bomb making material enter the country?

2. Who had the duo come to visit in Kenya and where did they come from when they entered the country? For how long had they been in the country before they were apprehended?

3. When did police get the bomb-making material in their possession and in whose company were they? Did they enter into the country with the stuff, and if so, where was our security agents? Or was the material locally obtained?

4. From which entry point did they manage to get into the country and did they have any valid travel documents by the time they were being arrested?

5. Since their arrest on June 20, 2012, did the security agents make any frantic efforts to establish their contacts in Mombasa that may have led to the recent blast in which one person was killed at Mishomoroni ?

6. Are there any connections between the two and any Kenyans who may be their contact persons before they duo entered the country? And whose visitors were they?

7. Has there been any prior contact between them with any locals? Who was there to welcome them to Kenya when they first arrived?

8. Can the security agents get details and the exact date they arrived from the surveillance cameras to ascertain who was there to welcome them into the country to unearth the mystery behind these two men?

9. Do their plea for release on bail citing medical problems a ploy to destroy police evidence in their investigations?

10.  Where exactly do they come from in Iran and was this their first visit to Kenya? Are they Kenyan nationals and if so, who gave them permits?




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Desert locust could spread in northern Mali due to insecurity

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

Desert locust could spread in northern Mali due to insecurity

BAMAKO, –  Clouds of desert locusts have arrived in rebel-held northern Mali, where insecurity has hampered pest control, bringing fears that the insects may devastate a country already struck by drought, conflict, and the displacement of more than 360,000 people.

Swarms of immature locusts have invaded Kidal and Aguelhok in northern Mali, which was taken over by Islamist fighters and other armed rebels after a military coup in the capital, Bamako, ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure in March.

“It is difficult to know exactly how the situation is, as it is not safe to send scientific teams there. We cannot assess and fight locusts anymore,” said Manda Sadio Keita, a programme officer of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Mali.

Controlling desert locusts, one of about a dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers, is extremely difficult because they exist in an enormous area of up to 30 million square kilometres, sometimes characterized by insecurity, poor roads and the remoteness of some parts, among other factors, according to the FAO.

The locusts often fly with the wind, travelling at 16km to 19km per hour, and can cover distances of up to 130km per day. “Mali is the most important country in the Sahel in terms of protection [against the spread of locusts, but] it is the weakest link,” Keita added.

The insects have spread south from outbreak areas along the Algeria-Libya border, where swarms are declining after control measures, but in early June FAO said northern Niger had also been infested.

In 2004 swarms of locusts up to 20km long and 5km wide devastated pastures, crops and vegetation across the Sahel from Dakar, the capital of Senegal on the Atlantic coast, to Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, half a continent away.

There is no evidence that locust plagues occur at regular intervals. “We need more research. We scarcely understand why there are locusts in one year and not in another,” said Dr Amadou Diarra, a specialist in insect control at the Institut du Sahel, a regional research body.

“After 2004, we organized regional seminars, mobilized ourselves and ordered a lot of insecticides – something that we didn’t do during the last invasion. The country learnt its lesson,” Diarra said.

Recent downpours in Mali have brought fresh vegetation that is likely to trigger the growth and spread of the voracious insects. Before the rebels overran northern Mali, the authorities had made preparations for a possible locust invasion.

But the rebels have ransacked and looted warehouses where the chemicals were stored in the northern town of Gao, seized around 30 small delivery trucks used for distribution and other equipment, and occupied the buildings at a centre for locust control. “Mali could have effectively controlled the insects if the base had not been destroyed,” Keita told IRIN.

It is not clear where the millions of litres of the toxic chemicals are now, and there are worries over the effects they could have on humans and the environment if they are mishandled or disposed of carelessly.

“If they were dumped in the bushes there would be a serious environmental crisis. People living near rivers would have serious health problems,” Keita warned. Only one small pest control centre now remains, located outside Bamako, in the south.

Photo: Niv Singer/Flickr
Desert locusts over Eilat, Israel

Action Plan

The first direct control measure to halt the spread of the locusts is to set up operations in the north and spray the insects with pesticides before they grow wings. But in a vast rebel-controlled territory, the obstacles of insecurity and logistics, in a country struggling to resolve a post-coup political crisis, make this unlikely.

The option being studied by the agriculture ministry is to mount locust control operations in northern Mali and down along the border with Niger, its eastern neighbour, to Burkina Faso in the south. Under the circumstances this could be feasible, but could cost 780 million CFA francs (around UC$1.5 million), according to FAO.

In June, the Malian government discussed the possibility of carrying out the operation with the FAO, the Permanent Inter-State Committee against Drought in the Sahel (CILSS) and other actors. “It is becoming more and more important to set up a line of defence as soon as possible,” said Modibo Traoré, another FAO programme officer.

Countries in the Sahel face serious food shortages that have affected more than 18 million people, but in Mali, with its political divisions and unresolved conflicts, a locust invasion would be calamitous.

Aid operations were disrupted after rebels looted the vehicles and equipment of several relief organizations as they swept across northern Mali after the coup, leaving the drought-stricken residents without assistance. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that more than 3.5 million Malians are hungry.

“If there is an invasion, like in 2004, it will be a catastrophe,” said the FAO’s Keita. Crops and pasture will be destroyed and nomadic cattle keepers would lose their herds.


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Food security goes from bad to worse

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

Moorosi Nchejana is harvesting rain water to irrigate his vegetable plot

MOHALE’S HOEK,  – Initial estimates of the damage to Lesotho’s already ailing agricultural sector – caused by a year of too much rain followed by a year of too little – suggest that an unprecedented number of small-scale farmers harvested nothing this year.

Heavy rains and flooding cut Lesotho’s maize production by nearly half during the 2010-11 farming season, causing the price of maize meal to increase by 24 percent between March 2011 and March 2012 and putting a heavy strain on the 40 percent of the population already living in extreme poverty.

The 2011-12 season began with a prolonged period of drought which caused many small-scale farmers not to plant at all rather than gamble scarce resources on crops that would be vulnerable to frost.

As a result, what should be a time of plenty has become an extension of the pre-harvest lean season for many. The precise number in need of humanitarian assistance will only become clear when the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) completes its annual food security and vulnerability assessment at the end of June, but a crop forecast by the Bureau of Statistics has already estimated major declines in both total area planted and yields.

“It’s actually worse than last year, and we thought last year was the worst,” said Matseliso Mojaki, the DMA’s acting chief executive. “Maybe those heavy rains washed away some of the soil nutrients so even those who managed to plant didn’t get a good yield.”

According to the crop forecast, the overall area planted in the 2011-2012 agricultural year decreased by nearly 40 percent from the previous year and the total expected production of maize, the staple crop, fell by 77 percent. Yields of sorghum and wheat have also declined significantly.

Survival for many of Lesotho’s subsistence farmers has been precarious for years as soil erosion resulting from poor farming practices, HIV/AIDS and increasingly unpredictable weather have all taken their toll. Although 82 percent of Lesotho’s population of 1.8 million engage in some form of agriculture, the amount this contributes to the country’s GDP has declined from 25 percent in the 1980s to 10 percent in the last decade and 7.7 percent following last year’s floods, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

''It’s actually worse than last year, and we thought last year was the worst''

The cumulative effect of two poor or non-existent harvests on top of years of slowly declining productivity has pushed more and more Basotho to start employing what Hassan Abdi, a programme officer with the World Food Programme (WFP) describes as “negative coping mechanisms” such as selling off assets, taking children out of school and reducing meals.

Makhahliso Chabeli, a subsistence farmer from the country’s southeastern Mohale’s Hoek District, has sold off one cow a year over the past four years to pay for her childrens’ schooling. But following a particularly disastrous farming season and left with just three cattle, she doubts her three younger children will complete secondary school.

No equipment for ploughing

Others in Chabeli’s community have already sold all their livestock and some have started selling their furniture and even their land, while many of those that still have land cannot afford to farm it.

“We have two fields, but we haven’t farmed for three years now,” said Thato Hatsi, 19. “We don’t have the equipment to plough.”

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/IRIN
Participants in a Food for Work programme survey fields of failed maize 

In a normal year, Hatsi’s mother labours in her neighbours’ fields for an income, but in a year in which so few planted, even this work has dried up.

Abdi of WFP noted that many rural dwellers have resorted to moving into the country’s urban areas. “You’re seeing abnormal numbers of people in town with nothing to sell, just begging,” he told IRIN.

For Chabeli and Hatsi there is some temporary relief in the form of emergency food assistance through WFP which is reaching 40,000 people in the two districts of Mohale’s Hoek and neighbouring Quthing.

About half the beneficiaries, including 64 households in Chabeli’s community, are earning their monthly rations of maize, pulses and vegetable oil through a Food for Work programme that encourages participants to work on projects that will benefit the entire community. Chabeli’s community elected to work on shoring up a `donga’ (ravine caused by soil erosion) that contributes to recurrent flooding in the area.

“There’s a lot of hunger,” said Kelebone Sephelane, who along with Chabeli was chosen by the community to help supervise the four-month project. “We’re thankful for this project, but there’s nothing to do after July [when it ends]. We’re pleading for it to be extended.”

However, Abdi said an extension would depend on WFP finding additional funding which was likely to take several months.

Climatic shocks

In the long term, addressing Lesotho’s chronic and increasing food security will mean helping subsistence and smallholder farmers prepare and adapt to increasing variability in rainfall linked to climate change.

In a paper released last year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted that climate-related stresses have long been prevalent in Lesotho, but “What has changed in recent times… is the apparent increasing frequency, magnitude and duration of climatic shocks, leaving little or no time to recover from the last event.”

Mojaki of the DMA admitted that the country was still in the process of developing strategies to deal with climate change and associated natural disasters. “Most of the time we’re reacting to shocks as they come,” she told IRIN. “I think we do need a long-term strategy, but at the moment implementation due to lack of resources is the problem.”

She noted that the national disaster management fund had been empty for several years and that her department’s budget was a mere US$106,000 in 2011, rising to $710,000 this year.

Pilot programme

FAO together with the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation recently completed a two-year pilot programme to strengthen farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change in three areas of the country. In Mabalane village in Mohale’s Hoek, which is one of the driest parts of the country, Moorosi Nchejana was one of 40 local farmers selected by the community to participate in the project. His experiences with poultry farming, growing fruit trees and collecting rain water to irrigate a vegetable plot are being closely watched by the rest of the community.

So far, the installation of a rain water tank and drip irrigation system at Nchejana’s homestead has been the difference between growing just enough vegetables to feed his family and having a surplus to sell and pay for other necessities. At a cost of just under $200, the system is relatively cheap, but still beyond the means of most of Nchejana’s neighbours.

“Most people would want it, but most wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he commented.

The extent to which such projects can be scaled up to other parts of the country and prove sustainable will depend on government buy-in and long-term budget allocations, notes the FAO paper.




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Cyclones, reduced aid compound malnutrition

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

Edwige Solo and her seven month old child at a nutritional centre in the east coast Madagascan town of Brickaville

BRICKAVILLE,  – The eastern Madagascan coastal town of Brickaville in Atsinanana region – ravaged by Cyclone Giovanna earlier this year – provided a refuge of sorts for Edwige Solo and her emaciated children fleeing the aftermath of rural devastation caused by the same storm.

Solo and two of her four children were ferried to the town by her former brother-in-law after seasonal agricultural work in the orchards and rice paddies became virtually non-existent – her only means of survival after her husband had abandoned the family.

May and June in the region are usually bountiful with the harvest of rice and fruit, but the impact of Giovanna and the effects of tropical storm Irina during the January-to-March cyclone season destroyed many fruit trees and swamped about 90 percent of rice fields late in the crop’s growing cycle.

Solo’s youngest child is about seven months old and weighs about 5kg. Both her and her other child, aged about five, were admitted to the Centre de Récupération et Education Nutritionnelle Intensif (CRENI) after the children displayed signs of severe acute malnutrition – badly swollen feet.

The hospital was badly damaged by Cyclone Giovanna and all medical patients are now treated in the maternity ward. While the harvest season has brought some respite to the region’s 49 nutritional centres it has far from ended it.

Heriniaina Rakotoarisoa, a doctor at CRENI hospital in Toamasina, the provincial capital of Atsinanana region, told IRIN that during the lean season (from January to March) he treated three cases of severe child malnutrition with medical complications daily. This has since dropped to about the same number weekly.

''Many times, parents don’t see that their children are suffering from malnutrition. They only start to take the children to hospital when they develop other problems, like oedema or skin rashes''

“Many times, parents don’t see that their children are suffering from malnutrition. They only start to take the children to hospital when they develop other problems, like oedema or skin rashes. And often, it’s not the parents who bring the children. When there are problems in the family, children often end up living with grandparents or uncles, and these people don’t have the means to feed them,” he said.

About 8 percent of all children under the age of five in the most vulnerable zones (the arid south and the east, west and north coasts) are severely malnourished, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Madagascar Demographic Health Survey 2008-09 found that stunting – a consequence of poor childhood nutrition – affects half of all Malagasy children under five, the sixth highest rate of stunting in the world. 

Breastfeeding not a panacea

Children aged 6-23 months are the most vulnerable, as breastmilk alone does not meet their required nutrient needs. But this is not the whole picture: Nationally it is estimated by donor agencies that about 4 percent of children under six months of age and exclusively breastfed are severely malnourished. In the case of Solo and her children, it is easy to see why, Virginie Razanantsoa, a UNICEF nutritional specialist based in the capital Antananarivo, told IRIN.

“These people are already vulnerable, and then when there is a shock like a cyclone, they don’t know what to do any more,” she said.

The average stay for treating malnourished children in CRENI is 4-6 weeks. Whereas before the centres used to cater only for children aged 6-59 months, an open door policy has recently been adopted.

“We have children who come in who are two months old and are suffering from severe malnutrition, or those who are 8-13 years old. They all need treatment,” Rakotoarisoa said, adding that some families may come back to the centre three to four times in a year. “We have this one mother with four children who can’t feed them. We try to give them specialized nutritional supplements that they can take at home, so that the children don’t always end up underfed and sick.”

According to Rakotoarisoa, food shortages in the Atsinanana region are a recurrent problem, despite the region’s reputation for cash crops. “Farmers here still plant on the ancestors’ land, but this land has been divided up many times among the children and the grandchildren. So now the plots of land are not big enough any more to feed the family,” Rakotoarisoa said.

The Southern Africa Regional Food Security Update for February 2012 notes that 80 percent of Madagascar’s 20 million people live on less than US$1 a day and poor households spend 74 percent of their income on food.

UNICEF’s dual track approach

UNICEF has a dual track approach towards treating child malnutrition to reduce mortality and morbidity among children under five. A home-based treatment plan provides recipients with ready to use therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut, coupled with a weekly visit to a CRENAS (Centre de récupération et Education nutritionnelle ambulatoire pour les Sévères) centre to monitor progress.

Children with medical complications are admitted to CRENI, where they are treated with therapeutic milk Formula 100 and Formula 75. Through this system, UNICEF and its partners are currently treating about 16,000 under fives nationally for severe malnutrition.

“Before, mothers used to come here to the hospital when the children were already severely underfed. The treatment would at least take a month. Now we have the outpatient centres in the communities, so children can receive early [preventative] treatment at home,” UNICEF’s Razanantsoa told IRIN.

In 2007 the Malagasy government of President Marc Ravalomanana decided to increase the number of nutritional centres from 73 to 488. However, this network has come under increasing financial pressure since 2009 when the international donor community froze all but emergency assistance after branding Andry Rajoelina’s ousting of Ravalomanana a coup.

The sharp drop in donor funding has spared few social services, including the Health Ministry and its National Nutrition Organization (ONN) whose budget has been depleted to such an extent that it can no longer pay salaries and provide free meals for families of patients.

Charlotine Marie Louise, an ONN assistant in Brickaville, told IRIN she had not been paid for the past two months and UNICEF has since assumed responsibility for her salary costs.




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