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Archive for September 27th, 2012

Ten things to watch out for in the Syrian crisis

Posted by African Press International on September 27, 2012

Displaced people are living in schools and public buildings, like this training institute in Homs

DUBAI,  – As the world focuses on daily fighting in Syria and the flight of refugees to neighbouring countries, the humanitarian situation inside Syria continues to be under-reported. Here are 10 pressing issues you may have missed:

School year at risk

About one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in public buildings, mostly schools, meaning that thousands of children could be denied access to education when the school year starts. (Classes were scheduled to start next week, but are likely to be delayed). An alternative solution for these IDPs has yet to be formalized, but options include moving the displaced to other public facilities such as sports venues or youth camps, or adopting double-shifts in schools such that some schools can continue to serve as shelters. A ministerial committee has recently been formed to follow up and relocate displaced families. Aid workers stress the relocations should be voluntary.

Shortage of medicines

Syria is experiencing severe shortages of medicines and pharmaceutical products. It used to be nearly self-sufficient in medicine production, but the destruction of pharmaceutical plants and storage facilities, particularly in Aleppo, has left gaps. Patients with hepatitis, diabetes and cancer who need drugs on a daily basis are in particular need. Meanwhile, the number of people severely injured and in need of medical care is increasing as the death toll mounts. Access to health facilities has become difficult or impossible in some areas due to violence, checkpoints and fuel shortages. Opposition supporters often do not trust government hospitals for fear of being picked up by police; and many health staff are not reporting for work.


Photo: George Kurian/IRIN
People queue to buy bread in Aleppo

Bread lines targeted

Amid rising food insecurity, bread queues are being targeted, according to rights groups. An early September bulletin by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says civilians appear to have been targeted while seeking food and other essentials or trying to evacuate the wounded. Human Rights Watch reports that Syrian jets and artillery killed scores after targeting at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo in recent weeks. Overall, food insecurity in Syria has worsened to the extent that three million people need food assistance, according to the UN and the Syrian government.

Winter approaching

A further deterioration of the humanitarian situation is looming as winter approaches. Syrian winters can bring near-zero temperatures and cold winds, and aid workers are concerned the displaced will not be able to cope without adequate preparations. But with few resources and constant new waves of violence, many aid agencies cannot afford to think that far ahead. “Winter could be quite severe in Syria,” UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Radhouane Nouicer told IRIN. “With the crisis in terms of fuel, and the lack of sanitation and water and heating systems, the winter might become a bit of a tragedy for many Syrians, unfortunately.”

Unemployment skyrocketing

In some parts of the country, unemployment has more than quadrupled, according to government statistics from last December. The national unemployment rate rose from 9 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011. Hardest hit was the northeast of the country: in Ar-Raqqah Governorate, unemployment rose from 7 to 22 percent, an increase of 222 percent; in Hassakah, from 15 to 39 percent; in Deir-ez-Zor from 13 to 24 percent; and in Homs from 7 to 17 percent. Aid workers say the numbers are likely to increase further as economic sanctions bite and violence disrupts normal life.

Funding neglects key sectors

While funding for the humanitarian response in Syria is low overall, certain sectors have been almost entirely neglected. For example, while coordination costs are more than 100 percent funded, and food costs are nearly half funded; water and sanitation costs have received only 12 percent of requested funding. “There’s a big concern [within the UN] about the problems that might come from lack of clean or adequate water,” Paul Stromberg, deputy representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Syria, told IRIN in July. “[In summer], in many areas, it is 37-40 degrees. If people aren’t able to wash and there isn’t adequate sanitation, that’s an issue that will create a number of knock-on problems in the heat.” Already, Aleppo has seen cases of scabies and lice; while cases of diarrhoea have been reported in Homs and Rural Damascus.

Criminality rising

As violence and chaos spread, extortionist kidnappings are on the rise. Sectarian and politically motivated kidnappings have been well-documented, but according to residents of different Syrian cities, kidnappings increasingly appear to be carried out solely for the purpose of extorting ransom or settling personal scores, with for-profit criminal behaviour becoming pervasive in some badly policed areas. Often, financial, political and private motivations for kidnapping intersect. “These days, everybody is at the risk of being kidnapped on the streets,” Rami, a resident of Damascus, told IRIN.

Non-Arab refugees

Syria has long hosted more than one million Iraqi refugees and half a millionPalestinian refugees. Lesser known are thousands of non-Arab refugees who have sought refuge there. In Damascus, refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia who were hosted in schools had been requested to leave for other locations by the end of August, according to UNHCR. These refugees have limited resources to find alternative shelter, and are particularly vulnerable, although UNHCR has distributed some grants for rental accommodation.

Fewer places of refuge

The worsening conditions and deepening violence in Syria are making it increasingly difficult for displaced civilians to find refuge. More and more villages are empty or destroyed; space in public buildings is becoming limited; and host communities have less capacity to take in guests. Syrian activists also accuse the government of punitive house demolitions or arson. As frontlines multiply, displacement has become more chaotic: families often have to flee violence for the second or the third time, and compete for shelter.

Kidnappings of Iraqi refugees

Instability in Syria has allowed Iraqis to try to settle old scores with fellow nationals that had taken refuge next door in Syria, with a series of kidnappings occurring in recent months, according to a UNHCR official, particularly in Sayeda Zeinab District of Rural Damascus, an area of Iraqi refugee concentrations.

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source http://www.irinnews.org

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Child mortality slashed – exceeding the fourth Millennium Development Goal

Posted by African Press International on September 27, 2012

Niger has cut child mortality, exceeding the fourth Millennium Development Goal

DAKAR,  – Niger has nearly halved the death rate of children below five years old since 1998, a significant drop highlighting the benefits of free universal health care for children and pregnant women as well as increased donor funding for health, The Lancet said in a study released on 20 September.

The mortality rate reduced from 226 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 128 deaths in 2009, an annual rate of decline of 5.1 percent, said the study, noting that the slump bettered the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to cut the child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Niger’s achievement was also far better than its neighbours in West Africa.

The prevalence of stunting in children aged 24-35 months slowed slightly. Wasting reduced by about 50 percent, with the largest decrease recorded among children under two. Provision of insecticide-treated bednets, improved nutrition, giving vitamin A supplements, treatment of diarrhoea, fevers, malaria, childhood pneumonia, and vaccinations also boosted child survival, the study found.

“The research demonstrates the success of the strategy implemented by the government and its partners, an important step toward the well-being of the Niger population,” Agbessi Amouzou, one of the study’s authors, told IRIN.

However, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a recent statement that Niger had the greatest number of malnourished children in the Sahel region in 2012 and high levels of food insecurity. More than 330,000 children under the age of five were at risk of malnutrition, it noted. A harsh drought and high food prices have left more than 18 million people in the Sahel facing starvation.

The Lancet released a series of reports in the run-up to the 2015 MDG deadline to assess progress towards attaining those targets as part of its collaboration with Countdown to 2015, an initiative monitoring maternal, newborn and child survival progress. Only 23 of the 74 Countdown countries are on track to achieve the MDG-4.

Government efforts

From the mid-1990s, the government embarked on efforts to attain universal access to primary health care for women and children, with the focus on expanding measures to reduce deaths from malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles. It also built more health centres in remote regions and trained staff. Between 1998 and 2010, official development assistance increased by 77 percent to US$744.5 million, said the study, entitled Reduction in child mortality in Niger: A Countdown to 2015 country case study.

Maternal and child health aid trends
Official development aid to maternal, newborn and child health increased by 2.5 times between 2003 and 2009 to reach US$6.511 billion, according to the Lancet. But following year-on-year rises, aid to these sectors in 75 priority MDG countries dipped to $6.48 billion in 2010, concurrent with overall drops in development aid growth, said the report’s author, Justine Hsu of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

A large share of aid to maternal, newborn and child health tends to be allocated to the same countries year-on-year, with India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Nigeria consistently in the top 10.

These aid flows are increasingly needs-based – that is, they correspond with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates per country.

Estimates of how much is needed to reach maternal and child health MDGs range from US$10 billion to $33.9 billion per year (World Health Organization and The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, 2010).

Pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea accounted for almost 60 percent of deaths among children under five before Niger took measures to reverse the trend, said Amouzou of the Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Many unnecessary deaths from these causes are now being prevented. But that means that higher proportions of deaths will occur for causes that are not yet being addressed – notably deaths in the neonatal period. We know how to prevent deaths in the first month of life, and the Niger government and partners are planning to translate their success to date into even more effective programmes for newborns,” Amouzou explained.

Rheal Drisdelle, the director of Plan International in Niger, told IRIN that while the study’s findings were “extremely consoling” given the Sahel food crisis, malnutrition among children remained high.

“The malnutrition figures continue to be extremely high, but what we have noticed is that the figures of severely malnourished children have gone down. But it is good news that mortality rates due to malnutrition have gone down,” he said, adding that malaria and malnutrition were the main threats to child survival in Niger.

“There has been a lot of progress in getting health care closer to people in need. It is not where it should be, but there has been some progress and there has been progress on how people view health care.”

Free medical care for children under five

Isselmou Boukhary, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Niger, said more health centres had been built across the country, slashing the population-to-health centre ratio from 30,000: 1 to 5,000: 1.

“There is free medical care for children under five. This is something we are witnessing,” Boukhary said. “Sub-Saharan Africa is often associated with the images of malnourished children. But in Niger the [health improvement] programme has been a success story.”

The study said Niger has “achieved great reductions in child mortality by responding forcefully to opportunities and constraints in their context.”

“The basic principles, that is, reaching high proportions of mothers and children with the interventions that can save their lives, using strategies that provide services at community level, can and should be applied in other countries,” said Amouzou.

ob/aj/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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It was really a shock that my dad was killed the way he was.

Posted by African Press International on September 27, 2012

The broken windscreen of a gendarme vehicle on patrol in the Madagascan south east port town of Taolagnaro

TAOLAGNARO, – Yvan Razafimandimby, 22, was working at the family store in the Taolagnaro neighbourhood of Anbounato, Madagascar, when two soldiers arrived to inform him that his 50-year-old father was killed by bandits.

“It was really a shock that my dad was killed the way he was. If he had died of some disease, I would not have felt so much pain,” Razafimandimby told IRIN. “I miss my father. I have lost a shoulder that I could rely on.”

Fenandson Razafimandimby, a staff sergeant and career soldier, spent three weeks of every month for nearly a decade on operations against the bandits, who are known as the ‘dahalo’. The primary breadwinner for his family of five, his US$400 salary was supplemented by the family shop, which has a daily turnover of $6 to $10.

Razafimandimby said soldiers told him how his father was killed. The security force, comprised of soldiers and the paramilitary gendarmes, were rounding up stolen zebu – Madagascar’s humped cattle – near Lambohazo Village, in the south-eastern Anosy Region, in June.

“As he was checking the zebu certificate of a villager, a dahalo came up and shot him in the back,” Razafimandimby said. “I don’t think his killers will ever face justice. I can do nothing, and I know the government will do nothing.” Two soldiers and eight gendarmes were killed in the clash.

Lt Col Mbina Mamelison, gendarme commander for the Anosy Region, told IRIN, “Unknown to the security forces, Remenabila and his dahalo were in the village organizing a burial for a dahalo killed a few days earlier, and they did not know there was a large number of dahalo in the village.”

Remenabila, 54, has become the most wanted man in the country. A reward of $10,000 for information leading to his capture and $50,000 for his apprehension – dead or alive – has been posted by the government.

“The gendarmes are very angry about the killings, and we are ready to fight, but there is a huge lack of resources,” Mamelison said.

Dahalo with military training

A serving soldier, who declined to be named, told IRIN, “I was sad and ashamed after the killings – sad and ashamed because the army is very weak and can do nothing to fight the dahalo.”

''I was sad and ashamed after the killings – sad and ashamed because the army is very weak and can do nothing to fight the dahalo''

He said many dahalo had received military training, having joined the army – one of the few sources of formal employment – as young men. After two years, young soldiers must pay a bribe of about $500 to continue their army careers, which most cannot afford to do. Instead, many return to their villages and earn a living as dahalo.

About 85 percent of the rural population lives on $1 or less a day. The only tradable commodity of value in poor rural communities is zebu, which are used for draught power and fertilizer; the size of the country’s zebu population is estimated in the millions.

In the past three months, the theft of 2,000 zebu, valued at about $1 million, has been attributed to Remenabila. His wealth – in a place where bribes can secure one’s release – and the terrain in which he operates make many doubt he will ever be detained.

After the killings of the gendarmes and soldiers, 250 troops, among them members of the elite Special Intervention Force, were deployed to the area in a month-long operation, but failed to make any arrests.

The dahalo are armed with an assortment of weapons, from those dating back to World War I to modern AK-47 assault rifles. When cattle rustling, they wear distinctive red headbands, but otherwise they appear “like peasant farmers, growing rice and beans. It is difficult to identify them… Catching [Remenabila] will not end the problem of the dahalo, I don’t think,” Mamelison said.

Red with a swagger

Remenabila, whose name, loosely translated from Malagasy, means ‘red with a swagger’, roams across 5,000sqkm of mountainous territory known as a ‘zone rouge’, where the government exerts little or no control. “Lambohaza is not accessible by road, and you first have to drive to Esira, and then it is a two-day hike on foot without helicopters or radio support. You have to carry all the necessary equipment, including food and ammunition,” Mamelison said.

Insecurity in south Madagascar
 View slideshow

There are plans to launch another operation to capture Remenabila, but without troop-carrying helicopters or radio communications to coordinate forces in the field, “the gendarmes are easily spotted and [Remenabila] has ample time to flee”, he said.

A woman alleged to be Remenabila’s sangoma, or spiritual advisor, was arrested on 15 September in Analabinda by security forces and was paraded before the local media on her knees in front of senior military personnel. According to local reports, she refused to disclose any information about Remenabila’s whereabouts.

Mamelison said communities protect the dahalo out of fear or loyalty, and “the solution is to strengthen the system of zebu papers needed to sell zebu,” to take away the market from the dahalo. Gendarmes are increasing scrutiny of zebu certificates at the main cattle markets in south-central Madagascar, but the dahalo are also becoming more sophisticated, with some specializing in the forgery of zebu-ownership certificates.

Little is known of Remenabila. He spent about two years in jail for cattle theft in Farafangana when he was younger and is said to have four or five wives and an unknown number of children. He belongs to the Bara ethnic group, in which zebu rustling was traditionally viewed as a passage to manhood, a custom some still adhere to.

Armed forces minister Lucien Rakotoarimasy told IRIN, “The dahalo issue has existed for a long time. It was a kind of sport before. If you don’t steal the cattle or are not sent to prison, then you are not a man. Nowadays, it has changed and has become a source of earning money, and it has become worse and worse… The army’s responsibility is to maintain order, but now there is a lot of disorder, so now the army are trying to restore order and security.”

Spreading insecurity

“The threat is that it will be spread throughout the region, so we have to identify what is behind the acts of the dahalo – is it political?” he said. In early September 2012, about 300 dahalo attacked Belo Tsiribihina in south-western Madagascar, killing the commander of the national gendarmerie and the area’s army commander, according to local reports.

Rakotoarimasy conceded the security services were ill-equipped to contain the dahalo, and although they had reconnaissance helicopters, purchasing troop-carrying helicopters would be “very expensive”. The army is to upgrade its field communications as “at the moment we are using satellite phones, and it’s expensive”.

Part of the problem, he said, was the impunity that the dahalo enjoyed from the courts. Witnesses are afraid to testify for fear of retribution, he said, so more guarantees for people’s safety are needed. “The army catches the dahalo, but they are released [by the courts]… Those who are caught should be kept in prison – but it does not really happen.”

In the interim, the government is encouraging communities to protect themselves against the dahalo, as the security apparatus – which comprises an army of about 15,000, a gendarme force of about 11,000 and a police force of about 20,000 – does not have the capacity.

“I agree with self-defence by the villagers against the dahalo. People should protect their goods. So it is not the case that the government is teaching people to defend themselves – the idea is to make people aware that they have to defend themselves,” he said.

In Betroka in early September, about 100 alleged dahalo were killed by thousands of villagers.

go/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Common responsibility for achieving a two-state solution

Posted by African Press International on September 27, 2012

Israel/Palestine

“We share a common responsibility to promote the realisation of a two-state solution. That is why it is essential to safeguard the institutions that will form the foundation for a future Palestinian state,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide, who chaired the meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) for assistance to the Palestinians in New York on Sunday.

The AHCL meeting discussed the issue of how to continue the Palestinian state-building project at a time when the Palestinian economy is facing considerable challenges.

After three years spent strengthening Palestinian institutions and with strong economic growth, the Palestinians are now facing a severe economic crisis. This is largely due to a combination of the effects of the occupation, a reduction in donor contributions and the fact that Palestinian revenues have been lower than anticipated.

“At the meeting the donors confirmed that they would continue to promote financial stability during this difficult period. At the same time there was agreement that sustainable development can only be achieved if Israel eases restrictions on access to land. It is crucial to ensure access to land, water and other resources in Israeli controlled areas of the West Bank,” said Mr Eide.

In the reports from the IMF, the World Bank and the UN that were presented at the meeting, it was emphasised that the Israeli authorities must improve the overall framework for Palestinian business activities on the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and in Gaza.

“The Palestinians must continue their economic reforms, but these reforms alone cannot be expected to improve the economic situation,” said Mr Eide.
The AHLC reaffirmed its conclusion that the Palestinian Authority has the necessary institutions in place to form a Palestinian state.

The UN, represented by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, hosted the AHLC meeting, which was attended by Palestinian Finance Minister Nabil Kassis, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, Quartet Representative Tony Blair, and representatives of key donor countries.

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