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Archive for September 19th, 2012

Zimbabwe – crisis over?

Posted by African Press International on September 19, 2012

Donors moving away from humanitarian aid
EU scales down humanitarian aid
Zimbabwe on the road to recovery and development
Paradigm shift in EU’s relations with Zimbabwe
But political situation remains a concern

JOHANNESBURG/HARARE,  – At the height of Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis in 2002/2003, more than seven million people were in need of food aid. A decade later, the number of people in need has declined to a million, though it could go up by another 600,000 in 2013.

Still, two of the country’s biggest donors, the European Union and the US, and their implementing partner, the UN, say Zimbabwe is on its way to recovery and development. The EU has announced that it is scaling down its humanitarian assistance.

The decision should come as no surprise, reckoned the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). The department “has progressively decreased” the funds allocated to Zimbabwe, from about US$18.9 million in 2010 to around $12.6 million in 2011, then to approximately $6.3 million in 2012, said David Sharrock, the European Commission’s spokesperson on International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

Needs remain

Yet the decision comes amid a drought that the World Food Programme (WFP) says will leave one in every five rural households in need of food assistance next year.

NGOs also warn that a tense stand-off between government coalition partners ZANU-PF and factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on a new constitution – critical for holding free and fair elections – could lead to violence.

Meanwhile, the coalition government, formed in 2009, is cash-strapped. Newspapers reported last week that the government had turned to South Africa and Angola for help with a $400 million shortfall in its budget. Finance Minister Tendai Biti was quoted saying the country needed the money to fund the 2012-2013 agricultural season, annual bonuses and a possible referendum on the new constitution.

“Unexpected events will continue to require intermittent and targeted humanitarian assistance until the country’s economy more fully recovers,” Hillary Renner, a US government spokesperson told IRIN. But the US government is “optimistic that the large-scale ‘humanitarian emergency phase’ of Zimbabwe’s history has passed”.

Donors switching tracks

The latest data from the UN Financial Tracking Service (FTS) shows that the December 2011 consolidated appeal for more than $268 million for Zimbabwe has received little more than half that amount.

Donors, cash-strapped themselves, have begun to examine the effectiveness of continuous, large-scale aid interventions, said an aid worker. “With the incessant crises [like the Horn of Africa last year and Sahel this year], they have to now look at interventions relatively. Then Zimbabwe does not seem like such a major crisis.”

An early warning official pointed out that even the food crisis in Zimbabwe is “not really that serious” compared to the several millions in need in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

Sharrock explained that the EU’s funding has gradually evolved from large-scale emergency response to “smaller and more targeted assistance focusing on the most vulnerable groups and aiming at improving the population’s resilience.” Or as one aid worker put it, seeing “how much value you can get for a stretched dollar.”

The EU has moved from funding only emergency food aid to funding nutrition, health, water and sanitation, and protection programmes. FTS data show that the health and education sectors are better funded than last year, but agriculture programmes are worse off.

Sharrock hastened to add that the EU was not aware of the emerging food crisis when the funding allocation was made last year. “However, the situation is linked to chronic food insecurity and is not likely to result in a severe food emergency characterized by high acute malnutrition rates and above-average mortality rates,” he said, adding that the EU is assessing the possibility of providing assistance.

NGOs like World Vision say it is difficult to categorize the situation in Zimbabwe. “In a complex context like Zimbabwe, it is not either ‘emergency’ or ‘development,’” wrote Edward Brown, World Vision’s national director in Zimbabwe, in an email to IRIN. “In fact, it can be both at the same time. Disasters can be highly localized, and economic growth may only happen in specific areas.” The NGO is focusing on both short and long-term solutions.

Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwean academic at the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, echoed this idea, saying, “You cannot say that Zimbabwe is in an emergency or development phase – it is not one or the other.”

Aid in Zimbabwe is about maintaining a balance between “continuing to scale-up service delivery, particularly in the social sectors, while enhancing national systems in these sectors”, said Alain Noudehou, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Zimbabwe. The focus is on “sustainable recovery”, while the “general humanitarian situation in the country had remained stable”.

Political developments

Although the EU is reducing its humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe, its development aid policies to the country are being reconsidered as long-imposed sanctions are suspended.

European governments placed targeted sanctions on the leadership of ZANU-PF, then Zimbabwe’s ruling party, after flawed presidential elections in 2002. Two kinds of sanctions were used, “restrictive measures” and “appropriate measures”, said Piers Pigiou, the project director of Southern Africa for the International Crisis Group. Restrictive measures included a travel ban and asset freeze on President Robert Mugabe and over 100 senior party officials, while appropriate measures suspended EU aid to the Zimbabwe government under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement.

Since 2009, the EU and its member states have provided Zimbabwe with $1 billion in development assistance, though none directly to the government.

But since the beginning of this year, “there has been a paradigm shift” in the EU’s relationship with Zimbabwe and ZANU-PF, said Pigou. In July, the EU suspended the appropriate measures, sending the message, “let’s try and breathe some life” into this stand-off, as the sanctions had not been effective in making ZANU-PF reform, Pigou explained. Rather, they had been used as “propaganda” by the ZANU-PF, which portrayed the sanctions as an effort to cripple the country. “[The EU] can no longer allow ZANU-PF to win this propaganda war.”

The EU was also responding to repeated calls from the Southern African Development Community – which has been trying to normalize relations between ZANU-PF and the opposition – to remove all sanctions. “With the suspension of the appropriate measures, the EU is also now telling SADC, ‘We trust you with the process.’ So the ball is now in SADC’s court,” Pigou said. In July, the EU also indicated it was willing to remove most sanctions targeting ZANU-PF members and allies should they hold a credible referendum on the constitution.

Still, the EU has not yet reinstated development aid to the government, taking a wait-and-see approach to the recent developments.

Pigou pointed out, “Should the country slip back into a crisis, in the absence of a free and fair elections, [with] violence next year, the EU can easily revoke the suspension.”

Catherine Ray, the EU’s development spokesperson, said the EU suspended the appropriate measures after being “encouraged by the steps taken by the Inclusive Government to improve the freedom and prosperity of the Zimbabwean people.”

Photo: Paul Garwood/WHO
Thousands of people died in a cholera outbreak in 2009

The move will hopefully “add to the positive momentum and encourage further reforms in the preparations for credible and peaceful elections,” she added.

Although the coalition government does seem to be making progress, many fear that the ZANU-PF has not really reformed. The US government has begun to laud the recent progress, but it has not revoked its own sanctions on direct support to the government or travel restrictions on ZANU-PF officials.

In its World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch acknowledged that Zimbabwe had made “significant progress in improving the country’s economic situation and reversing the decline of the past decade”, but also said human rights activists and journalists continue to be intimidated and that laws are being used selectively to restrict and harass them.

Reactions in Zimbabwe

The political situation – combined with the scale-down in humanitarian aid – has caused concerns.

Should humanitarian aid actors withdraw, food aid could be used as a “political weapon” by ZANU-PF, especially during elections, which will likely be held next year, Abel Chikomo, executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said.

The same concern was reiterated by Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the labour federation Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. He said that with no support systems in place, the elderly, unemployed and others could fall victim to the use of food as a political weapon.

“The government is bankrupt as it cannot support the welfare system, which is why we find the decision [by the EU] very puzzling indeed,” said Moyo.

Meanwhile, the food crisis in Zimbabwe is deepening. Last week, the country’s National Early Warning office said parts of the country could be affected by yet another dry spell during the coming planting season, and urged farmers to sow varieties of maize that take longer to mature.

Alfred George Bango, a retired civil servant from Sontala Village in Matabeleland South Province, reported, “There are no pastures for our livestock to graze. We are receiving a 50kg bag of maize from government once every four months, which is not adequate, but other villagers are surviving by borrowing food from neighbours. A large number of people eat only one meal a day.”

EU’s Sharrock said the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, “though still fragile, has stabilized considerably since the political crisis and socio-economic breakdown of 2008-2009 – which resulted in widespread violence, a major food crisis and a large-scale uncontrolled cholera outbreak with many deaths.”

jk-dd/rz  source


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Aid access challenges for Indonesia’s Papua region

Posted by African Press International on September 19, 2012


Many indigenous Papuans feel marginalized
Aid agencies scrutinized
Simmering separatist movement
Tension fuelled by migration
Tortuous NGO registration process


JAKARTA,  – Aid agencies in Indonesia’s Papua region say their work is coming under increased government scrutiny due to Jakarta’s concern over a secessionist movement on the island.

“So many international aid groups working in Papua have been pushed out by the government,” Andreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) who has been covering Indonesia for years, told IRIN, citing a string of NGOs and charity groups, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), that have had to leave.

“They can maintain a presence if they work with the government, but if they give aid directly to Papuans or Papuan organizations, aid groups will be heavily scrutinized by the government and suspected of aiding the independence movement.”

The resource-rich Papua region (2,000km east of Jakarta and comprising the provinces of Papua and West Papua) has the lowest levels of human development of Indonesia’s 33 provinces, with about 34 percent of Papuans living on less than US$1 per day, according to government statistics. The region has a land area nearly twice that of the UK but a population of only 3.5 million.

“There are multiple issues facing West Papua and Papua today,” said Dini Sari Djalal, head of communications at the World Bank’s Jakarta office. “Among the most vital are poverty, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS. The two provinces rank worst in these indicators in all of Indonesia.”

At the same time, the region is prone to a host of natural disasters, one of the most recent being a 6.1 magnitude quake on 8 September recorded off the coast of Nabire, Papua.

“In the West Papuan cities of Manokwari and Sorong, earthquakes are recorded on a fairly regular basis as is flooding,” said Phillip Charlesworth, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies head of delegation for Indonesia.

But it is Papua’s decades-long simmering separatist movement that has often dominated international media attention.

Although the government granted the region Special Autonomy status in 2001, activists continue to voice their discontent, calling for greater autonomy to help improve the region’s socioeconomic problems.

Native Papuans are benefiting neither from the land and forests exploited by outside timber and palm oil companies, nor the region’s immense mineral wealth, including gold, copper and other metals, they say.

This summer, the International Crisis Group reported at least 15 violent incidents in the provincial capital Jayapura in May and June, and others in the central highlands.

Since the former Dutch colony was annexed in 1969, a small armed group known as the Free Papua Organization (OPM) has been fighting for Papuan independence.

Human rights groups estimate some 100,000 Papuans have died in the conflict since the 1960s, while local media regularly report on clashes between the OPM and security forces.

Economic marginalization, coupled with an ongoing influx of labour migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia continues to fuel tension, particularly over the issue of jobs.

In many of the region’s cities and towns, non-native Papuans are now in a majority, and tensions between the two groups are not uncommon, as are reports of the government’s often heavy-handed response towards the indigenous population.

“We continue to receive credible reports that Indonesian security forces are committing unlawful killings, and torture [in the Papua region]. They’re using excessive force when carrying out arrests or during public policing, and are criminalizing peaceful political activism,” said Josef Roy Benedict, Amnesty International’s Indonesia campaigner, based in London.

These actions violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Indonesia is a state party of the former and has ratified the latter convention, Benedict added.

Some aid groups not welcome

“We’d welcome the help of more international organizations, but there’s a need for the government to open up the space for them to see the reality here,” said Julianus Septer Manufandu, executive secretary of the Papua NGO Forum, a network of 118 local NGOs assisting Papuans in human rights, land disputes, natural resources and emergency response.

Photo: Jefri Aries/IRIN
Papua is Indonesia’s most under-developed region

Currently, five UN agencies are working in the region.

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is also on the ground, assisting with blood donations, cataract operations and disaster management.

“We’re neutral, so we give victims of the [low-level] conflict humanitarian assistance and the government has no problem with that,” said PMI Secretary-General Budi Atmadi Adiputro.

However, others have been less successful.

“One reason why our MoU [memorandum of understanding] was not renewed was because we supported local partners who were involved in human rights work,” said Ernest Schoffelen, a programme officer with the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development (Cordaid), a Dutch development agency working in the area of health, peace-building, inter-religious dialogue and human rights in the region for over 50 years.

“Papuans were very welcoming of the aid we provided,” Schoffelen said. “The resistance to our presence came more from central government. They didn’t want us to be there.”

Tortuous NGO registration process

“Everything goes through the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and BIN [the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency],” said one international aid worker who asked not be named, adding it could take 1-3 years for an international NGO to be registered. “All INGOs [international NGOs] proposing to work in Indonesia must appear before an interdepartmental panel, in which the specific ministry or department under which the INGO would work argues the case for the INGO to be allowed.”

Those involved in peace-building activities face an even tougher time, he added.

“The level of scrutiny on the part of BIN is extremely high,” the aid worker said. “For groups working in peace-building advocacy or legal affairs – which are considered political activities rather than technical development – there’s virtually no chance.”

ICRC first opened an office in Jayapura (Papuan capital) in 1989. The office was closed in 2009 following an instruction from the Indonesian government, also addressed to a number of other organizations.

Prior to 2009, ICRC delivered water access and sustainable living environment programmes; international humanitarian law (IHL) dissemination work with the military, police and journalists; and detention visits to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners.

The government reportedly raised objections to the ICRC’s presence in Papua for not reporting prison visits to the authorities.

Today the ICRC’s presence in the two provinces is limited to ad hoc missions from the head office in Jakarta.

“We still play a supporting role to the work of the Indonesian Red Cross there, and we organize punctual activities, such as IHL dissemination sessions for the Air Force in Biak [a small island to the north],” said Patrick Megevand, the ICRC’s Jakarta Regional Delegation communication coordinator.

“We hope to go back there on a more sustainable basis. For now, everything depends upon the renewal of an agreement with the government, which we’ve been negotiating since the closure of the office in 2009.”

Security, political considerations

Others cite security concerns and restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly in the interior.

“The work we did there was valuable and there is a need for an international presence,” one former aid worker with an INGO that closed down its Papua operation in 2011 claimed, adding however: “Our international staff received threats, and then national staff started to receive threats from the government.”

Oxfam’s country director Richard Mawer, said security was not affecting their work on the ground there, but added that all INGOs were finding it increasingly difficult to be given approval to work there, and now required special permission to implement any new initiatives.

Government response

The Indonesian government, meanwhile, says it is just operating standard procedures.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene told IRIN there were no special requirements for INGOs to work in Papua, noting that there were already at least 14 working in the region on health, economic development and natural disaster issues. He added that all must abide by a set of general requirements, which included not engaging in profit-orientated activities or fundraising.

For international NGOs wanting to work in the area of human rights in Papua and West Papua, Tene said:

“Human rights is an important issue in Papua and all of Indonesia, but INGOs must not engage in political activities and must convince the government they do not intend to do this. Their work has to benefit the people [of Papua and West Papua].”

mw/ds/cb source


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Uganda: The deluge has destroyed houses, crops, roads and bridges

Posted by African Press International on September 19, 2012

Floods displace 15,000 in north

The deluge has destroyed houses, crops, roads and bridges

KAMPALA,  – Floods have forced at least 15,000 people to leave their homes in northern Uganda, where the deluge has destroyed houses, crops, roads and bridges.

The Acholi districts of Agago, Kitgum, Lamwo and Pader are the most affected, with Agago alone having a total of 3,492 households affected, almost 13,000 hectares of crops inundated and some 2,000 latrines destroyed, according to a report by its district disaster management office.

“The situation is certainly bad. It’s worrying. There is fear of an outbreak of certain diseases and food insecurity as a result of the heightened rains and flooding,” Ugandan State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Ecweru told IRIN.

“Several areas have been cut off. People are uprooting their food crops from the gardens due to fear of them getting rotten. This is going to cause food insecurity and starvation in a few months.”

Ecweru said that the impassable roads have hindered access to some of the treatment centres for patients suffering fromnodding disease in the region.

In 1996, as the Ugandan government fought the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion, almost the entire population of the Acholi region was compelled to move into overcrowded and poorly serviced “protected villages”.

They only began to return to their homes in significant numbers 6 years ago. Since then, many international aid agencies have left or scaled down their presence in the region as the level of emergency humanitarian need declined.

“We are working with the ministries of health, works, education, agriculture, water and environment to respond to the situation,” said Ecweru, adding that the government was going to dispatch immediate relief items such as medicines and disinfectant to prevent disease outbreaks.

Neighbouring regions such as Karamoja, Lango and Teso have similarly been affected by the rains, which started in early July and increased in intensity in late August.

“The situation [in Acholi region] is marked by increasing desperation while more suffering is anticipated,” said Jackson Odong, a research and advocacy officer at the Makerere University, who is based in Acholi.

“The families whose shelters were destroyed currently live in debilitating conditions. Shelter kits containing tarpaulins, buckets, mosquito nets, blankets and tents are a necessity,” he told IRIN.

The floods have also affected the reopening of several schools.

Augustine Asiire, the Agago resident district commissioner, said other urgent needs included food, utensils, safe water and portable latrines. She named the worst affected areas in her district as Adilang, Kalongo, Lamio, Omot, Paimol, Parabongo and Wol.

The floods are likely to negatively affect several reconstruction programmes in the region such as the National Agricultural Advisory Services, the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund and other projects under northern Uganda’s Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, according to a late August rapid assessment by Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project.

This assessment warned that perennial flooding in the region could precipitate further conflict.

“Affected communities have to cope with neighbouring households displaced and searching for shelter, grazing land, food items, land for cultivation and source [s] of livelihood generally,” it said.

“Returning to camps could instigate an increase in land disputes, as vacant land invites encroachment and illegal land grabbing,” the assessment added.

An estimated 50,000 households, comprising about 300,000 people, were affected by flooding in 2007 in northern Uganda.

so/aw/am/rz source


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