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Archive for July 19th, 2012

Texting help and health in disaster response

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2012

 
Getting the message out during disasters

MANILA,  – The Philippines looks set to expand its rapid monitoring system, based on mobile phone text messaging, to lessen the number of deaths and improve emergency response times. With over 7,000 islands and more than 100 million people, the archipelago experiences an average of 20 typhoons a year, with stronger storms in recent years.   
 
Surveillance in Post Extreme Emergencies and Disaster (SPEED), a project supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), uses SMS / text messages on mobile phones or the internet to alert emergency health officials to dangerous situations and send them health information, and receive data on health conditions in communities and reports of disaster damage. 
 
The system was set up in 2009 on a trial basis after the Philippines, one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, was battered by back- to-back typhoons. Ketsana dumped enough rain to flood more than 80 percent of the capital, Manila, when major rivers and waterways burst their banks, swallowing entire urban communities in the worst flooding in recent history. 
 
Exactly a week later, Parma ravaged the northern Philippines, triggering landslides and floods. More than 1,000 people were killed, 600,000 were displaced, and up to 10 million were affected by the storms, which caused an estimated US$43 billion in economic damage, according to the World Bank. 
 
As emergency workers struggled to help people in desperate conditions, an outbreak of deadly waterborne diseases, including Leptospirosis began ravaging survivors, infecting more than 3,380 people and killing 20.
 
“It was a wakeup call for us. It caught many health workers off-guard, because they too were victims of the flood,” said Carmencita Banatin, head of the Emergency Management section of the Health Department. “So we decided to do something and improve monitoring in post-disaster [circumstances] and asked the WHO to help us put in place a surveillance system through text messaging.”

WHO sent its Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network to Manila, which worked with local officials to establish the initial phase of SPEED, covering flood-affected areas. “We realized that in the aftermath [of a disaster]… health managers needed to make quick decisions based on verifiable data on the ground to prevent more death from disease outbreaks,” Banatin said. 
 

 The country averages 20 typhoons a year
 
SPEED can be activated within 24 hours of any disaster, including displacement caused by conflict, and works by tapping into the vast mobile phone network in the Philippines – official statistics say almost everyone has a handset. Where mobile phone systems are down, field reporters can use radios to send in statistics for their area, she said. 
 
Health and emergency “reporters”, usually disaster response or health officers at the barangay (the smallest administrative area) or municipal level, fan out to community health facilities, hospitals and evacuation centres to check on reported cases of the most common post-disaster diseases. 
 
This data and other information is then sent via mobile phone – using codes and formats specially designed for the system – to the central SPEED server based in Manila, where it is collated and analyzed before making the information accessible to emergency officials at all levels of government. 
 
The system also sends immediate “notification alerts” to the mobile phones of designated recipients when the number and distribution of specified health conditions go over a specified threshold, “signifying the potential development of a possible outbreak or epidemic, thereby allowing officials to respond quickly,” Banatin noted.
 
WHO country representative in the Philippines, Soe Nyunt-U, said access to the SPEED website would be restricted to emergency officials who could make vital decisions, including mayors, governors, members of the executive department and emergency relief agencies. They would be able to pull up tables, graphs and maps to help them analyze trends and deploy help where it was most needed. 
 
“The principle is to prevent more deaths and diseases. Disasters do happen, and deaths and injuries at the time of the incident, but through this system we would be able to prevent outbreaks that could lead to more fatalities,” Soe Nyunt-U told IRIN. 
 
He said the nationwide SMS-based surveillance system was unique to the Philippines, but other countries in the region were beginning to study the module. Localized surveillance systems had been put in place after major disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami that struck Aceh in Indonesia, but they were abandoned when the situation normalized.  
 
“This is a very good example of harnessing technology for a noble cause,” said Soe Nyunt-U. “With this tool, we can prevent outbreaks, prioritize movements, and health and emergency officials can pinpoint where to deploy help with immediacy.” 
 
aag/ds/he source www.irinnews.org

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ID, to get government services

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2012

 
Many Bedouin women are not officially registered

CAIRO,  – Most Bedouins from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula never think to register their marriages. A palm leaf from the father of the bride to the groom is enough to mark the union; families and tribal elders stand witness to the ceremony.

But not having a marriage certificate, or ID card, has many disadvantages. Without proper papers you are cut off from government services. Talal Rashid, 42, has no papers and struggles to get health care for his wife, and education for his children.

Bedouin children can only be enrolled in schools if they provide a birth certificate: Neither of Rashid’s two sons (aged 19 and 15) go to school. “My children say education would have given them better opportunities in life,” Rashid said. “I feel sorry for them because they are paying the price of my own mistakes.”

If Rashid wants to take his wife to the clinic 6km away, he asks his brother-in-law to accompany them. “If I do not take him with me, police at a checkpoint on the way to the clinic will stop me and inquire about my wife,” Rashid said. “I have no papers to prove my marriage. My brother-in-law will convince the police that the woman accompanying me is actually wed to me.”

Rashid was not registered at birth by his parents. His father is not registered. His wife’s parents did not register their marriage either, so Rashid’s wife has no ID card. Without an ID, Rashid and his wife do not have access to state medical insurance: They have to go private – and a US$10 medical bill will eat up 10 percent of Rashid’s monthly income.

Free vaccinations are not possible without a birth certificate.

No ration cards

The undocumented miss out on important state subsidies on basic food items. With an ID card you can get a ration card allowing you to buy staples more cheaply, but people like Rashid have to pay the equivalent of $8 for a sack of flour instead of $4 if he had a ration card.

The undocumented are also at a disadvantage when it comes to resolving land disputes. Traditionally there were no written title deeds in Sinai. When Rashid disputed a few square metres of land with a neighbour some time ago, he could not take the matter to court. “I had to fall silent, because I have nothing to prove my right to the land,” Rashid said. “Some of my neighbours knew the land was mine, but the court needs official documents.”

''These people are a nobody for the government''

Bakr Sweilam, head of Sinai-based NGO Al Gora Community Development Association, estimates the number of unregistered Sinai Bedouins at 70,000. He says these people get married and have children, but the government knows nothing about them.

Many Bedouin women give birth far away from government controlled clinics where doctors could register the child directly. And a couple who do not register their marriage cannot get birth certificates for their children.

“These people are not even included in Egypt’s national census,” Sweilam said. “They are there, but still they are a nobody for the government.”

A person who does not have an ID card is exempt from military service, but also has many other doors closed: The Sinai Bedouin have long complained that barring them from jobs in the military or the police deprives them of income-earning opportunities and is discriminatory. They say this policy allowed the former regime to dub them traitors. Sinai residents want the same rights and duties as other Egyptians.

Impediments to registration

Rashid has thought about getting an ID, but it is complicated: Before he can apply, his parents need to register their marriage. Transport to the nearest registration office 50km away costs the equivalent of $66 and then there is a payment to be made for the paperwork. “I cannot afford to pay this money.”

Most Bedouin do not know about registration and its benefits, and their parents never registered themselves. Sinai is a region where governments always had a hard time exerting full control. This applies to both the Israeli military government in the 1970s and to all subsequent Egyptian governments. Neglected by governments, the Bedouin often feel they have been left to their own devices.

Local authorities are aware of the problem. At one point they even started to send registration officers around to visit Bedouin homes and help them to register. But it seems this initiative has stopped and Sweilam is not aware of any government plans to address the issue.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry was not available for a comment when asked by IRIN for a response.

ae/kb/ha/cb source www.irinnews.org

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Unforgiving bandit lands

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2012

Schoolgirls on their way to pan for gold near Ankavandra in western Madagascar in an area plagued by banditry
 
AMBOTRAGANO,  – It took two years for Zakamihaingo Razafindranoivo, 37, to raise US$900 to replace his two stolen zebu (Madagascar’s distinctive and prized hump-backed cattle) by selling vegetables and spices grown on his plot in Ambotragano, a village about 20km north of the capital Antananarivo.

“At 9am I checked them [the zebu] and they were still there, and two hours later they were gone,” he told IRIN. “I need them to do the work in the field, to pull the cart and to produce fertilizer. These animals are important.”

Razafindranoivo and community volunteers tracked the cattle rustlers for three days before giving up the chase. They say the theft of livestock and food have ticked up since 2009 – after Andry Rajoelina seized power with the backing of the military and forced twice elected President Marc Ravalomanana into exile in South Africa.

About a third of Madagascar is locally referred to as “zones rouges” [red zones], nearly 200,000sqkm of territory where the government exerts little or no control and where banditry thrives, according to analysts.

Oliver Jütersonke, co-author with Moncef Kartas of a chapter in the Small Arms Survey (SAS) 2011 Yearbook on the island’s rising insecurity entitled Ethos of Exploitation, Insecurity and Predation in Madagascar, told IRIN: “Zones rouges are characterized by a sparse population and a terrain that makes patrolling or any sort of intervention quite difficult. Security interventions require good equipment and communication facilities, helicopters and 4WDs – all of which are in very short supply.

“What is more, efficient policing in the zones rouges and in many other rural areas would demand disciplined and well-trained security forces; Madagascar hardly has either,” he said.

The `dahalo’

In June 2012 clashes between the `dahalo’ (Malagasy for “bandits”) near Ilambohazo village in the southeastern region of Anosy, and Madagascar’s security forces sent to the area following the theft of about 900 zebu, ended in deadly skirmishes.

“It was initially thought that six security force personnel [five military personnel and one gendarme] were killed in the attacks, but 11 other bodies have recently been discovered. Another seven security force personnel were wounded and four are still missing,” according to a 21 June 2012 UN update

After the clashes `dahalo’ threatened to attack other Anosy villages – Bevoay, Emagnobo, Enagniliha, Enakara Haut, Ampasimena, and Ranomafàna – resulting in about 1,800 people seeking refuge in the region’s capital Taolagnaro (also known as Fort Dauphin).

In response the government said it was planning a “major offensive against the `dahalo’” and a helicopter was dispatched to the city, the update said.

Africa Confidential said the `dahalo’ group responsible – estimated to be 400-strong according to local media reports – was commanded by a former member of Didier Ratsiraka’s presidential guard, Arthur Rabefihavanana and known by the name of Remenablia. The specialist publication quoted a senior military official as comparing the insecurity in the Great South – the island’s arid and drought prone region – as being akin to the conditions of a guerrilla war.

`Dahalo’ activities are not restricted to one particular area, however, and local media reported 160 `dahalo’ attacks between May and July 2010 in the northwestern Mahajanga region, with more than 3,000 cattle rustled, although there were likely to have been more incidents that went unreported.

`Dahalo’ has been a feature of Madagascan society since pre-colonial times and was said to have evolved from ritualized cattle thefts between neighbouring rural communities marking the passage from adolescence to manhood, but in contemporary Madagascar they are synonymous with highly organized criminal gangs.

Well-armed bandits

“The largest and most powerful `dahalo’ groups provide assault rifles (mainly AK-47s) and ammunition to all their members. They escort, in broad daylight, large herds of stolen cattle, carrying their guns openly over several hundred kilometres while crossing entire regions and provinces… They are now conducting veritable raids, taking women and children hostage and burning down houses,” said the SAS 2011 report.

''The largest and most powerful `dahalo’ groups provide assault rifles (mainly AK-47s) and ammunition to all their members. They escort, in broad daylight, large herds of stolen cattle, carrying their guns openly''

In response to rising rural insecurity communities were organizing `andrimasom-pokonolona’ (self-defence units) and in some cases hiring private security companies to protect them from bandits.

“Villagers and these private [security] companies have no interest in arresting these `dahalos’ and instead try to kill them if possible, as if captured they either later escape with the help of their fellow bandits or are freed by a corrupt justice system,” Jütersonke said.

“The `dahalos’ in turn react by increasing their groups and armaments… Similarly, security forces themselves have a tendency to silence their captives rather than arrest them, for fear that the latter [`dahalo’] might talk about their collusion [with security forces].”

Ambotragano has its own self-defence unit and “when there are people that we don’t know, the village watch will go and ask them what they are doing here,” Razafindranoivo said. However, it is a day-time operation as villagers are too scared to patrol after sunset.

Piers Pigou, International Crisis Group (ICG) Southern Africa project director, told IRIN security in Madagascar – which was far from ideal before 2009 – has worsened because of the diminishing legitimacy and capacity of the security sector, which “in turn feeds opportunistic criminal activities, and of course the situation is compounded by deteriorating socio-economic conditions.”

The World Bank says the country’s 20 million people have an annual per capita income of about $400 and estimates more than 75 percent of the population live in poverty. The international donor community froze all but emergency assistance in the wake of the 2009 coup and despite negotiations by the international community and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for a return to democracy, the country’s political future remains unchartered.

`Dahalo’ links to the military

David Zoumenou, a senior conflict analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN: “The links between the military and the `dahalo’ is seen as one of the country’s highest risks,” particularly in the “stateless environments” of the zones rouges, as the resource-rich country provides a host of opportunities for both local and international criminal syndicates – from the rosewood trade through to precious metals and gems, and the smuggling of rare and sought-after wildlife.

In July 2011 the authorities confiscated six containers of rosewood logs worth up to $600,000 from a port in the northwest of the country.

The zones rouges are not a “new problem” and bandits with monikers such as Ratsibahaka (The Bad Lemur) and Zaza Mola (Crazy Baby) have become part of the island’s folklore for their criminal exploits “but since 2002 they [zones rouges] have become very prominent,” Zoumenou said.

Political instability became the handmaiden of small arms proliferation on the island and after Ratsiraka refused to accept electoral defeat to Ravalomanana, the country was pushed to the verge of civil war in 2002 before international intervention averted conflict.

During the stand-off – which saw the capital blockaded for six months – the army split their allegiances and the two presidential contenders enlisted civilians and reservists to form militias to bolster their respective forces, ranging Ravalomanana’s “légitimistes” against Ratsiraka’s “loyalistes”.

“Lots of people were armed from state arsenals and the weapons were never returned. Indeed, there are rumours that many of these armed folks are today’s `dahalo’,” Kartas said.

In the absence of any small arms recovery initiative, firearms are easily sourced through illicit channels, including AK-47 assault rifles, according to analysts, and the lower ranks of the poorly paid security forces are said to rent out their weapons, while the town of Ambatolampy, about 70km south of Antananarivo, is reputedly the island’s main centre for the production of hand-made firearms.

Security sector reform

Increasing rural lawlessness is set against a lack of any effective security sector reform. Madagascar inherited and has maintained, by and large, a three-tier security system: a 12,500 strong army – although the top heavy officer-class structure is sufficient for an army of more than 400,000; a gendarmerie of 8,100 personnel supposed to provide security in rural areas; and a police force of about 20,000, or one officer for every 1,000 citizens. Within the security hierarchy the country’s police chief plays a subordinate role.

“The gendarmerie is characterized by an inflated proportion of high-ranking officers, a meddling in domestic politics, and entrepreneurial enrichment – as is the army… [The gendarmerie] are ultimately an ineffective service on the island’s vast territory,” the SAS report said.

The Malagasy air force – a few hundred personnel – flies an aging fleet of various aircraft, while the 500-strong navy has about six patrol craft, which analysts see as insufficient to patrol the 4,828km coastline of the world’s fourth largest island – one with countless remote natural ports providing anchorage for ocean going vessels – and so providing few barriers for the illegal export of its land and marine resources.

SAS author Kartas says that since the 2009 putsch living conditions in rural areas have not improved and “what is more, with the new regime, the influence of the military in politics has substantially increased. And security has focused on regime security, not on human security.”

Army officers given free hand in rural areas?

Rajoelina has cited the well-equipped military unit, the Forces d’Intervention Spéciales (FIS), as a force suitable to counter the `dahalo’, but in practice it has merely suppressed elements suspected of planning a counter coup against Rajolena’s government in 2010.

Kartas said the unit’s “authority and place within the security apparatus remains unclear”. Some FIS officers were drawn from the Corps d’armée du personnel et des services administrative et technique (CAPSAT) barracks in Antananrivo, which gave considerable support to Rajoelina when he ousted Ravalomanana.

''If they (`dahalo’) become a disciplined force with good equipment, the state’s army and security forces will face a formidable challenge''

Zoumenou of the ISS said Rajoelina had made “concessions” to the army’s officer class to essentially “do what they want” in rural areas, in exchange for their support for him to remain in power and “now everything is possible”.

ICG’s Pigou says: “The military remain kingmakers – although the nature of their relationship with some politicians is symbiotic. Any settlement must somehow co-opt them, or find a way of ensuring they do not interfere. While they may not be able to provide a political solution or alternative by themselves, without their blessing one imagines that any political `solution’ would be on a shaky foundation.”

Jütersonke said cattle rustling was a profitable venture, but the question was: Have the `dahalo’ already ventured into other criminal enterprises and “will they even start to embrace or express political goals? If they (`dahalo’) become a disciplined force with good equipment, the state’s army and security forces will face a formidable challenge.”

ar/go/cb source www.irinnews.org

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