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Archive for January 11th, 2013

Floods in Kenya could disrupt schooling

Posted by African Press International on January 11, 2013

NAIROBI,  – The Kenyan school term began on 7 January, but flash floods and landslides could disrupt education for as many as 2,500 pupils . Many schools in affected regions have been damaged or are being used as makeshift shelters for those displaced, education officials say.
“In many of the areas where flooding occurred, families are living in school compounds, and yet schools will open in just a few days. We fear, and rightly so, that this might affect learning in the affected areas,” George Godia, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, told IRIN.

In Nyando District, 400 people were displaced after River Nyando burst its banks and inundated homes. Displaced people are now sheltering in Magina and Apondo primary schools, which together have 1,000 pupils.

In the districts of Elgeyo and Marakwet, landslides left 13 dead and affected 500 families. There are now fears that some 13 damaged schools, with over 1,000 students cumulatively, might not reopen.

“We will look for means and ways of helping those children who might have lost their school property due to the floods,” Godia said.

The Meteorological Department says heavy rains could continue until the end of January. It has appealed to those living in flood- and landslide-prone areas to move to safer ground.

ko/rz source

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Fear keeps Abyei residents from returning home

Posted by African Press International on January 11, 2013

ABYEI,  – Only a frac tion of the 120,000 people who fled the Abyei Area following an invasion by Sudanese troops in May 2011 have returned to their homes, amid fears of repeat military action and uncertainty over the area’s political future.

The Abyei Area sits on the border between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan, but which of the two countries Abyei is part of has yet to be determined. In 2005, a peace deal ending decades of civil war called for a referendum to settle the matter, but that vote has been repeatedly delayed by disagreements over who will be allowed to participate. The referendum is currently scheduled to take place in October.

The indigenous population is dominated by the Ngok Dinka community, many of whom sided with southern rebels during the civil war. But every year, northern Misseriya pastoralists – who are generally aligned with Khartoum – bring their cattle through Abyei in search of pasture. With this annual migration now imminent, there are fears of renewed conflict.

Wandering around the ruins of a home destroyed in last year’s invasion, former resident Longo Mangom said that people fled with nothing and have nothing to come back to.

“We didn’t expect it the day it happened. [Sudanese troops] came in the evening when people were resting, and people were running without taking any luggage or assets,” he said.

Mangom, who has a job with a UN agency, also fled. “We were running just for our lives,” he said.

Services trickling in

Most of the returnees remain near Agok, a town about an hour’s drive from Abyei Town, which is the base for aid agencies shuttling in food, water and healthcare.

Charities are reluctant to be based in Abyei Town or to rebuild more than light infrastructure, lest it stoke tensions between rival communities or be seen as a political move.

Returnees are caught in similar limbo.

“The returnees are coming, and they want to rebuild, but when there is still so much anger and no sufficient agreement. People are fearing,” said Mangom.

“If the two parties do not agree on who should vote, I feel that we will face another conflict,” he said.

Achuil Deng, a tea seller, says there are some basic amenities in Abyei Town. But her hut was one of many razed, and she has resorted to squatting in an abandoned government building. She must trek to Agok for food stocks.

“There’s no problem with water. There’s a hospital here, so that’s okay, as long as there are staff in it – which is not always the case,” she said.

JANUARY 2013 – Following an invasion by Sudanese troops in May 2011, only a fraction of the 120,000 people who fled the Abyei have returned to their homes, amid fears of repeat military action and uncertainty over the area’s political future.

While her husband has stayed in Agok to farm, she has brought their children home. But the schools – once filled with children from both the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities – are crumbling.

“There are two things I hope for my kids: They should have a country they know and that belongs to them, and they can continue to go to school so that they can have a future,” she said.

Mounting war rhetoric

Achuil Akol Miyan, minister of finance and acting chief of the Abyei Administration, based in Agok, says the Misseriya have already broadcast threats.

“It is they who said on TV Omdurman [a television station], through their chief, that they would attack us and do a lot of things to stop a referendum,” Miyan said.

The African Union (AU) indicated it would pass the matter to the UN Security Council if the two parties failed to sign on to its latest proposed agreement by 5 December. The deadline has since passed with no agreement, but Sudan’s foreign minister, Ali Karti, warned of more violence if the issue is brought to the Security Council.

His southern counterpart Nhial Deng Nhial has promised that, if people are attacked again, South Sudan’s government will not stand back and watch.

South Sudan has been courting Russia’s vote on the Security Council, with the head of South Sudan’s negotiating team, Pagan Amum, and co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, Luka Biong Deng, recently visiting Moscow. But these overtures suffered a blow when South Sudan’s army shot down a UN helicopter on 21 December in Jonglei State, killing four Russian crewmembers. The helicopter had been suspected of being an enemy craft dropping guns to nearby rebels.

Cattle take centre stage

There are also fears that cattle-keeping communities could clash over scarce resources in the first few months of 2013, before a referendum even takes place.

“This year, I can see a number of water points drying up quickly. And, especially this year, we are expecting a large number of nomads to come with a large amount of cattle,” said Biong Deng. “The level of water is becoming low, and they are coming early. Sharing the water and grazing [land] is going to be difficult.”

“Cows are at the centre of our lives… When they are stolen, it brings a lot of anger and disputes,” said Miyan, who claims the Misseriya have stolen 3 million cows in recent years.

“These Misseriya are still doing some battles, like cattle raiding. We are having to live like this, but we hope someone comes and changes the situation,” said 15-year-old Ajak Lot Nadija.

After losing cattle in raids in 2011 and in the conflict, Najida says his family has around 60 cows left. Some stolen cattle were brought back with the help of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNIFSA), but “31 cows are still missing, and there can be no peace until they are returned”.

During a dispute with Sudan, South Sudan stopped pumping crude oil in January 2012, sending both economies into free fall. Meanwhile, UN Food and Agriculture Organization experts say that livestock trade to Egypt and the Middle East is rising. The numbers of exports are unclear, but with Sudan’s oil revenues plummeting, the Misseriya are seen as an increasingly important government partner.

Miyan claims the Misseriya have been passing through Abyei for 250 years, but now their role has been “politicized” and they have been sent to secure oil production in Abyei.

“Khartoum is giving them a deal, okay. Let them claim the land so that they can walk away with the land for grazing, and the government of Sudan will take the oil.”

“The right of grazing and water access is something we are willing to do,” he said. “But we don’t want them to block our rights” to the land.

“The Sudan government, for them the best decision is if there is a partition so that they can accommodate the Arab Misseriya,” said Biong Deng.

He says the AU proposal was more than generous when it comes to grazing rights for the Misseriya as well as a 20 percent share for Sudan in oil production, which could be as low as 3,000 barrels per day.

Rebuilding an uncertain future

Abyei’s few residents say that they expect their families and friends to come back in the coming weeks and months to plant before the rains start, around May, but that they won’t be rebuilding their lives there.

“I wish… there was no insecurity. We could have the cows and goats and rebuild our house. But the situation now is so insecure,” said Deng, the tea seller.

Tensions remain acute. People near a mosque frequented by Misseriya claim the pastoralists come to plot rather than pray. In November, a UNIFSA peacekeeper was killed at the mosque during protests by the Dinka Ngok against the Misseriya.

Attempts to interview Misseriya traders in the Abyei market ended in around two dozen people demanding to know why northerners were being spoken to and insisting that permission first be sought from a local chief.

One Misseriya businessman said that he had no problem with the Dinka, but feared his business would be finished if Abyei went to South Sudan.

“People remain displaced everywhere. We hope that people can come back one day and live in peace,” said Mangom. “In case the situation is settled I’ll come back, but it’s a matter of time and resolutions.”

“I hope to have a chance to go to school. I used to go in the village [school] up to the second class, and after that, we saw that the cattle were being killed and stolen, and I went to help with the cows,” said Najida.

“I want to be teaching people. I’d like to teach them, even the elders, to keep the peace.”

hm/rz source


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Urban violence – new territory for aid workers

Posted by African Press International on January 11, 2013

DAKAR,  – The gradual expansion by a small number of humanitarian agencies beyond their traditional remits of war and natural disaster towards tackling the consequences of large-scale criminal violence in urban settings raises questions about the legal framework and working methods of such interventions.

The tricky question for humanitarian NGOs is whether or how to intervene – for how long, on what legal basis and under what strategy. While drug cartels and other criminals often claim lives, the theatres of violence they generate are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, which have for more than 60 years guided humanitarian interventions in wars.

“If there is no declared conflict but there are all the hallmarks of warfare in terms of the intensity of violence and the organization of armed groups, there are questions about what norms and rules apply,” said Robert Muggah, professor at the Institute of International Relations at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and research director at Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank focusing on violence prevention and reduction.

“What laws apply when an international organization negotiates access to civilian populations with the dons of drug cartels or illegal self-defence units? What kinds of immunity are personnel granted? What are the expected procedures for dealing with militaries and police? In most cases, humanitarian agencies simply get on with the difficult work of providing assistance and minimizing harm with little time to reflect on these and other tricky questions,” he told IRIN.

Negotiating access

In 2008 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) launched a five-year pilot project to negotiate access for humanitarians in some of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro slums, while MSF has sent mobile clinics throughout some of the most violent neighbourhoods in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, where drug and gang-related violence have rendered emergency medical care almost non-existent.

“Organizations such as ICRC and MSF have made clear policy statements about their intention to engage [in] urban centres that are in conflict or so-called `other situations of violence’. They are only relatively recently starting to reckon with what this might mean in practical terms,” said Muggah, who is also coordinating HASOW, Humanitarian Action in Situations Other Than War.

Created in 2011 as a two-year international initiative, HASOW probes the legal implications of humanitarian action in such settings, the changes they are spurring in international agencies, and the impact of intervention.

He and other analysts say dealing with violence in urban centres is forcing humanitarians to re-examine their “in-and-out” modus operandi, given the intricacies – and time – demanded by conflict meditation and prevention.

So-called “grey zone” conflicts pitting the state against, for example, urban drug gangs exacts a growing humanitarian cost. The death toll since 2006 in Mexico’s war against the cartels is estimated to stand at between 50,000 to 110,000 – many of them ordinary people, unrelated to the gangs or the security forces.

While cities are not necessarily more deadly than the countryside, noted the World Bank in 2010, “many of today’s cities – especially those that are growing very quickly – experience a convergence of factors that increase the risk for destabilizing levels of violence if they are not appropriately addressed.”

“It shouldn’t matter whether an IHL [international humanitarian law] framework is applicable or not; it’s the consequences of this violence that aid groups are responding to, regardless of the nature of violence,” said Elena Lucchi, humanitarian consultant and a former Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operational adviser on urban issues. “Decisions should not derive from dilemmas over legal frameworks.”

The risk is that governments may spurn humanitarians’ involvement in order to protect their reputation and sovereignty in these so called “situations other than war”, Lucchi added.

“Situations other than war”

There are different sources of urban violence (chronic or short-term) – political violence, organized crime, drug wars – and only some scenarios lend themselves easily to humanitarian intervention, said François Grünewald, executive director of the France-based research, training and evaluation group, Urgence, Réhabilitation et Développement (Groupe URD).

In gang violence driven by organized crime, humanitarian agencies are quite limited, Grünewald told IRIN. For one, humanitarian principles (neutrality, doing no harm, etc.) – even if they applied – do not cut much ice with gangs.

“The actors in that kind of urban violence don’t care at all about humanitarian issues,” he said. “In most war settings groups have a goal – to control territory or to gain political recognition and political power. And if you have that goal you can’t do just anything. Those actors have political motivation, they look for recognition; they might be inclined to enter into a dialogue with humanitarian actors. The drug cartels in Mexico – they just don’t care. They just kill.”

The few organizations with an “entry point” into the second scenario, Grünewald said, include MSF with its medical mandate and ICRC because of its special engagement with authorities and “non-state” actors, like gangs.

In addition, Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) has sent exploratory missions to Bolivia and Mexico to examine the impact of urban violence on health.

Violence is just one aspect of a broader challenge – how to operate effectively in urban settings – said Nicolas Moyer, executive director of the Canada-based Humanitarian Coalition. Aid experts say humanitarians’ response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 220,000 and left more than 350,000 people still displaced three years later, exposed the aid community’s shortcomings in urban areas.

Seeking new tools

Largely missing from the aid workers’ toolbox is how to measure progress and needs in urban areas.

MSF recently conducted assessments of health care access and availability in parts of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, and found that violence in some urban areas has disrupted essential services to the point that for much of the population acute needs go unmet.

“In the most violent areas – such as on the outskirts of big cities in Mexico and Honduras – health professionals are not keen to work there because they fear for their own security,” said Gustavo Fernandez, MSF programme manager for Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and South Sudan. “This creates a vacuum; the existing health structures just cannot absorb the demand.”

In addition to running mobile clinics in Honduras, MSF partnered with the Health Ministry to work alongside health centre staff – at times very few of them – providing medical care, medicines and staff training. “We are always working with [Health Ministry] staff so when MSF leaves, they can continue primary care at the health centres,” said MSF’s head of mission in Honduras, Laurence Gaubert.

MSF also works closely with local firefighters as they are the ones capable of responding to medical emergencies in urban conflict zones.

Humanitarian agencies must adjust how they measure progress in such settings, said consultant Lucchi.

“For medical aid organizations, which commonly have worked in closed environments like refugee settings, one of the indicators of success would be a reduction of mortality,” she said. “In protracted situations in [sprawling urban] settings… this sort of emergency threshold is not really appropriate. So it’s essential to look for alternative ways of measuring and monitoring.”

Needs assessments capable of separating acute needs from chronic ones in urban areas where there is extreme poverty, weak health systems and poor governance are still rudimentary, making it difficult for humanitarians to measure impact in a context of widespread, longstanding need.

Development disconnect

Aid experts say urban violence exposes the gradually narrowing disconnect between humanitarian and development operations.

While in “traditional” conflict settings, the two are starting to coordinate better, Muggah said, urban violence poses new dilemmas.

In an urban environment, a humanitarian agency cannot use the same modus operandi as during, for example, inter-communal fighting, said MSF’s programme coordinator, Fernandez. “In [urban] settings, the [existing local infrastructure] – though disrupted and though unable to address some critical needs – still exists; the actors are still there. For the sake of continuity and a comprehensive approach, humanitarian agencies must coordinate with all other actors.”

In rural refugee camps aid groups contend with few authorities or agencies; in cities their legitimacy depends largely on being able to work long-term with multiple levels of authority (city, municipal, district, local) as well as NGOs and public workers, said Muggah.

“For some development agencies reinforcing community structures comes naturally. But for many humanitarian organizations this is rather more difficult – there tends to be inclination towards substitution as opposed to reinforcing and capacity-building, and the latter is a real need in these urban settings.”

Humanitarian Coalition’s Moyer said urban interventions have sparked, and will continue to spark, debate over fundamental principles. “A pure humanitarian mandate is in-and-out lifesaving, while responding to urban violence requires more integrated approaches, longer-term approaches… I don’t think there’s resistance to it; I think there’s curiosity about what’s involved and what the possible outcomes might be.”

np/pt/am/oa/cb source


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