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Archive for October 21st, 2012

Experts say the proliferation of small arms exacerbates cattle rustling in Karamoja sub-region

Posted by African Press International on October 21, 2012

UGANDA: Military deployed to Kenyan border to curb cattle rustling

Experts say the proliferation of small arms exacerbates cattle rustling in Karamoja sub-region

KAMPALA,  – The government of Uganda has deployed military personnel to its border with Kenya in a bid to stamp out cross-border cattle rustling.

“We have made deployments at the borders. We are now patrolling along the border lines. These are blocking forces to ensure they [Kenyan rustlers] don’t cross into our side. Some of these troops are for pursuance,” Capt Deo Akiiki, the military spokesperson for eastern Uganda, told IRIN.

Akiiki said the deployment was significant, but he was unwilling to divulge the exact number of soldiers dispatched.

Ugandan authorities told IRIN that there had been an upsurge of cross-border cattle rustling involving Kenya’s Pokot community. Rustlers are crossing into the Karamoja sub-region region of Uganda, home to an estimated 1.2 million people, many of them pastoralists. On 3 October, suspected Pokot raiders attacked Karamoja’s Nakapiriprit and Amudat districts and made away with an unknown number of cattle. Two Ugandan soldiers were killed during the raid.

“Cross-border cattle rustling has not been a bigger issue for some time, but [it has recently gone] up,” Akiiki said. He noted that Kenyan authorities were being consulted and were involved in the exercise.

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces have dismissed claims by Pokot herdsmen that the military presence along the border was impeding access to pasture for their livestock.

Role of small arms

In 2010, Uganda and Kenya deployed their militaries along the border to rid the Karamojong and Pokot communities of illegal arms that were suspected to be fuelling cattle rustling, but the exercise was not successful.

State Minister for Karamoja Affairs Barbara Nekesa Oundo said there is a need for neighbouring Kenya and Sudan to be as energetic as Uganda in their disarmament exercises: “We encourage our partners to enforce the disarmament exercise in their countries. We want them to go into full swing, as we have done, to end the problem of illicit firearms and end cattle rustling in the region.”

In a recent analysis, Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, through its Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity Project, identified porous borders and small arms proliferation along the South Sudan, Ethiopian and Kenyan borders as key drivers of conflict in Karamoja.

According to military officials, some 30,000 out of an estimated 50,000 illegal guns in Karamoja have been recovered since the government launched a disarmament program there 11 years ago. However, there are concerns about the security of disarmed communities.

“Groups outside Uganda and those along the borderline remain with guns and continue to terrorize disarmed communities. Some people are being forced to re-arm,” Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at the Refugee Law Project, told IRIN. “It is clear that some guns have been removed, although the exact number and whereabouts remain uncertain. The fears of insecurity and the vulnerability of the disarmed communities remains a growing concern.

“My recommendation to stop the cycle of disarmament and rearmament in Karamoja – there is need for a regional, comprehensive but peaceful disarmament programme, backed and supported by the United Nations and the African Union, if the region is to enjoy sustainable peace and stability,” he said.

Uganda has an estimated 200,000 illegal guns, according to the GunPolicy.Org, a gun violence monitoring organization.




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Shack living goes green in South Africa

Posted by African Press International on October 21, 2012

The iShack has used green technology to improve the living standards of informal settlement residents

ENKANINI,  – The Plaatjie family – like more than a million households in South Africa – lives in an informal settlement. But unlike most such households, the Plaatjies’ shack is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and it has an independent electricity supply as well as an alarm system.

It is the iShack – or improved shack – and it is envisaged as a stepping stone that will raise living standards in informal settlements while residents wait to move into brick-and-mortar government housing. A 2009 government report estimated about 2.3 million households lived in inadequate housing; of these, some 1.2 million were living in shacks in more than 2,500 informal settlements across the country.

About a year ago, Nosango Plaatjie, her husband Ntoya and their three children became the first family to occupy one of three prototype iShacks in Enkanini, an informal settlement near Stellenbosch, about 40km from Cape Town. While they still want to live in “a real house,” they say their lives have improved significantly.

“My old shack was made from wood, and it was also very cold and flooded often. My children were constantly sick, but life is very different now. We have lights, and it is no longer cold at night. The children are feeling better, which makes me happy,” Plaatjie told IRIN.


The three iShacks in Enkanini cost $870 each, and are equipped with a solar panel, distribution box and battery – which can power three lights, a cell phone charger and an outdoor motion detector spotlight, a consequence of technological advances in lower wattage lighting systems. Each also has a rainwater harvesting system.

Temperature control was a major consideration. The iShack is oriented in a north-northeast direction to take advantage of the morning sun during the southern hemisphere’s winter.

Its back wall is constructed from straw and clay, which absorbs the sun’s heat during the day, and at night, it radiates the heat for warmth. There is a roof overhang at the front of the shack to provide shade during the summer months. Windows can be opened and closed, or the curtains drawn, to help regulate temperature.

''We got together with shack dwellers and brainstormed about what they needed to make their lives more comfortable, and then set about designing solutions''

Because most shacks are constructed with combustible materials and many residents rely on flammable paraffin for cooking and candles for lighting, fires are one of the greatest hazards in informal settlements. The iShack addresses this; its interior is insulated with discarded drinks cartons and coated with a fire-retardant paint.

Filling a gap

The iShack was developed in a master’s degree programme at the Sustainability Institute of Stellenbosch University; it was the brainchild of Andreas Keller and his professor Mark Swilling.

Berry Wessels of the iShack programme said that although the government is committed to upgrading informal settlements, communities generally wait at least eight years for basic services and even longer for low-cost housing.

Since 1994, the government has delivered about 2.8 million subsidized houses, but residents can spend decades on the waiting list. The average cost of building and installing services for each low-cost house is about US$12,500.

The Western Cape Minister of Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela said in his 2012 budget speech that there is a backlog about 500,000 housing units required to accommodate the number of people on the province’s low-cost housing waiting lists.

“The iShack is the result of our research into how the lives of these people can be improved in a cost-effective way while they wait. We got together with shack dwellers and brainstormed about what they needed to make their lives more comfortable, and then set about designing solutions,” Wessels told IRIN.


In January, the Sustainability Institute was asked by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to apply for a grant to develop and broaden their ideas. They received an initial instalment of $250,000 to scale-up the project.

“We have 18 months from that date to prove a viable business model to the Gates Foundation,” Wessels said. “New stakeholders have come on board, and we are looking at building another 100 iShacks in Enkanini by the middle of next year that will have new elements in its design.”

Among the improvements under consideration are greater use of recycled products and ways to counter dampness within the structure.

Because construction costs remained prohibitive for most shack dwellers, the Sustainability Institute and its stakeholders are consulting banks to see if loans could be made available to potential owners.

The Sustainability Institute is also exploring whether the solar power units can be used as a basic infrastructure delivery system for informal settlements, given it is much cheaper to set up and operate than traditional energy infrastructure.

“People will not have to buy a solar power system as it will be infrastructure owned by the municipality. Instead, they will pay a service fee to use it that will cost about 80 rand ($9.27) per month,” Wessels said.




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Serving food to customers as they wave away flies, is common in slums around the world

Posted by African Press International on October 21, 2012

HEALTH: Urban poor missing out on vital nutrients

Initiatives such as urban agriculture and bag farms, experts say, will enable slum dwellers to grow more nutritious foods

NAIROBI,  – In slums around the world, the sight of food vendors along dusty alleys, serving customers as they wave away flies, is common. Many of these consumers do not consider themselves undernourished, but experts say consuming cheap food, cooked and sold under unhygienic conditions, could be affecting the nutrition and health of many urban poor.

“Many of the people living in informal settlements are poor and rely on street food vendors for their consumption… The food is, in most instances, very unhygienic,” Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, the International Food Policy and Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Eastern and Southern Africa director, told IRIN. “When you get little money in the slums, you either prioritize to buy food or paraffin, and they tend to decide on buying already cooked food.”

Eating cheap, cooked foods is one of the many strategies employed by the urban poor to cope with rising global food prices. Experts say there is a need to create policies to ensure that this segment of the world’s population can access a proper diet.

“Their vulnerability to food price increases means there should be ways to ensure they can access a balanced diet, like promoting urban agriculture and providing them with social protection,” Anne O’Mahoney, the Kenya country director for the global NGO Concern Worldwide, told IRIN.

In Kenya, a recent assessment carried out by the government, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), and the UN’s World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that more than a quarter of the country’s urban children are stunted – a symptom of chronic malnutrition – while 13 percent of high-density urban households have unacceptably low levels of food consumption.

2010 study by the University of Colombo, in Sri Lanka, found that just 38.4 percent of children had at least one fruit portion a day, while legume and nut consumption was seen in only 34.4 percent. “Inadequate dietary diversity in urban slums is a concern,” the authors concluded.

Improving diets

A variety of factors are known to improve nutrition among the poor.

Educating women, for example, has been shown to benefit their families’ diets. “When women are educated, they have a better view of nutrition, and this translates into better outcomes for their families,” O’Mahoney said.

IFPRI’s Asenso-Okyere points out that, because urban populations rely solely on the market for their meals, linking rural producers to markets will ensure the urban poor can access affordable food.

Clean water is also critical, O’Mahoney said. “Good diet will be important, but ability to ward off waterborne disease and ensure urban households can make their environment hygienic will depend on their ability to access clean water.”

2012 study of living conditions in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, by research group Unnayan Onneshan, found almost half of 856 children studied were suffering from different types of waterborne diseases. Sixty-seven percent also suffered from diarrhoea, a major cause of malnutrition. The study found that, even though the children regularly ate three meals a day, inadequate quality and lack of dietary diversity were problems.

The seventh Global Hunger Index, which uses data from 79 countries, shows that 20 countries – many in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – have hunger levels considered either “alarming” or “extremely alarming”. Unsustainable use of land, water and energy are, according to the report, the biggest threats to food security among the world’s poor and vulnerable.

In addition to population growth, the authors noted that “migration from rural to urban areas in developing countries will have significant effects on food consumption patterns… When people move to urban areas, they tend to eat fewer basic staples and more fruits, livestock products, and cereals requiring less preparation.”

Experts recommend promoting initiatives such as urban agriculture and bag farms to enable slum dwellers to grow more nutritious foods. But broader reforms are also required, “like ensuring the urban poor have leases or titles to the land they live on,” Concern’s O’Mahoney said.




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