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Archive for April 8th, 2013

Post-coup Central African Republic – urgent aid needed

Posted by African Press International on April 8, 2013

NAIROBI,  – Less than two weeks after the overthrow of Central African Republic (CAR) President François Bozizé in a rebel coup, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, leaving civilians in the capital, Bangui, in critical need of aid, said a senior humanitarian official. 

“The main humanitarian needs in Bangui are access to health and nutrition and clean water [and] security and protection of civilians,” Amy Martin, who heads the Bangui branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN.

Bozizé was ousted on 24 March after the rebel Séléka coalition overran Bangui, exacerbating the country’s already precarious humanitarian situation. Insecurity had already been rife before the coup, especially in the northeast, and access to basic services was inadequate.

Now, only two hospitals are functioning in Bangui, schools are closed nationwide and civil servants are not yet back to work. Water and electricity services have been interrupted, and insecurity has worsened.

Insecurity

“Insecurity is persistent, with the circulation of arms and poor discipline by the Séléka elements,” said Martin.

Following the coup, there were reports of widespread looting and violence in Bangui. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 10 metric tons of emergency supplies were stolen from its main warehouse.

“The looting continues in Bangui as well as in towns where Séléka are expanding their presence, notably to the west and northwest of Bangui,” Martin continued.

Regarding the number of people affected by the crisis, she said: “We are using the population figure of the entire country, 4.5 million people, [as the number of people] affected. The most vulnerable people – women, children, elderly, [people living with HIV/AIDS] – are most at risk.”

The insecurity has led to population movements.

“In the northwest, people are fleeing to the bush; in Bangui, a few thousand crossed the River [Oubangui] to Zongo [in DRC], but as the situation calms down they are returning,” said Martin.

Insecurity could also worsen in southeastern CAR, an area affected by activities of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Following the Séléka takeover, Ugandan troops and US military advisers in CAR suspended their search for LRA leader Joseph Kony.

President François Bozizé was ousted in a 24 March rebel coup

“It is unclear whether the Ugandans and the Americans will leave, but if they do, there will be no security forces left in the southeast of CAR to offer any sort of civilian protection,” Ledio Cakaj, an independent researcher focusing on the LRA, told IRIN.

“It is unlikely that the new CAR regime has the capacity to provide security for an area close to 1,000km away from Bangui, same as was the case under the previous government.”

Cakaj added: “It is not clear yet how Kony will respond to the recent developments, but given the history of attacks in CAR it is likely that LRA attacks against civilians will intensify given the lack of protection of civilians [should the Ugandan and American forces depart].”

Food insecurity

The insecurity, which has intensified since December, has affected farming and commercial activities raising food security fears.

“In the interior of the country, people need seeds and agricultural inputs for this agricultural season… Commerce needs to restart to allow people to access goods in markets,” said OCHA’s Martin.

According to a 28 March OCHA update, “The border with all neighbouring countries is closed, which directly affects movement of commercial [goods] and fuel from Douala, which is Bangui’s main commercial and supply line from Cameroon.”

“Land preparation, which should have started in January, is behind schedule in parts,” stated a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) March update.

“The food security situation, which was already alarming… has deteriorated from December 2012 onwards, when the civil conflict escalated,” added the update, warning that the “situation is projected to further deteriorate until the next harvest, in July 2013, especially in the north of Nana-Grebizi, in Ouham and Vakaga regions.”

“It is worth noting that before the crisis erupted, floods in Nana-Gribizi, Ouham and Vakaga prefectures had already affected agricultural activities,” Alessandro Costantino, an economist with FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System on Food, told IRIN.

And more flooding could become a problem: “Every year, flooding occurs in CAR in the middle and towards the end of the rainy season, which spans from April until October in the South, from July to October in the rest of the country,” he said.

Rebels from the northeast

The Séléka rebels mainly come from the restive northeast of CAR, a region that is “geographically isolated, historically marginalized and almost stateless,” according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Circumstances leading to the coup included the “absence of [a] solution to the problem of the armed groups of northeastern CAR; the lack of a programme of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) for these fighters; and a crippled security system,” said a 27 March ICG blog post.

“The time has come for the Séléka coalition, which took power last weekend, to really demonstrate how committed it is to humanitarian principles and human rights for all Central Africans.”

“The disarmament of the fighters has been planned since the agreements of Libreville in 2008, but it has never taken place due to the lack of political will of the Bozizé regime,” it said.

Séléka leader Michel Djotodjia named himself president after the coup, and “if he remains in power, he will be the first CAR president from the remote, neglected and largely Muslim northeast”, said a blog post in African Arguments.

Djotodjia was the leader of the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR) rebels, who merged with rebels from the Convention Patriotique pour le Salut Wa Kodro (CSPK) and Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) to form the Séléka coalition.

Djotodjia’s government plans to hand over power to an elected president after a three-year transition period. But challenges are already emerging, with opposition critical of the composition of the new cabinet named by Séléka on 31 March, days after the suspension of the constitution and the dissolution of CAR’s National Assembly.

Access problems

At present, hundreds of thousands of people remain cut off from aid and essential services.

According to UNICEF, children are among the worst affected, with some two million lacking access to basic social services and exposed to violence.

“Children in the Central African Republic were some of the most vulnerable in Africa even before the recent upsurge in fighting,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, in a 29 March statement.

“It is imperative to have full and secure access to communities affected by the conflict. With every lost day, every thwarted delivery and every stolen supply, more children may die.”

Fontaine added, “The time has come for the Séléka coalition, which took power last weekend, to really demonstrate how committed it is to humanitarian principles and human rights for all Central Africans.”

aw/rz

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Security and aid work in militia-controlled areas

Posted by African Press International on April 8, 2013

KUNDUZ, – Hamidullah, the headmaster of Haji Mir Alam girls’ school in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz Province, was sitting at his desk in the summer of 2011 when members of a local militia entered the school. 

“I said to myself, ‘You’re a teacher; what will they do?’” he told IRIN.

The armed men escorted Hamidullah outside the school gate where their commander, Qadirak, was waiting. Then they beat him unconscious with their rifles.

“I still don’t know the reason they beat me. If people beat me, it’s like beating all the villagers. To show their power, they beat the father of education.”

Such abuses are a regular part of life, especially in the north and northeast, particularly in the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Faryab and Balkh, where militias are commonplace.

These groups complicate the delivery of aid and create insecurity for ordinary people, who are frequently confused by the assortment of armed ethnic gangs, village protection forces and semi-official militia, according to half a dozen aid organizations in Kunduz interviewed by IRIN.

“There are irresponsible groups in the area. When they come to an area, they cause problems and hinder some work,” said Hayatullah Amiri, director of the Human Rights Commission, which works in Kunduz.

Militia power

These groups include village militias known as ‘arbaki’, which typically lack uniforms and training, and the Afghan Local Police (ALP), locally based militia groups that have received some training from US Special Forces and which are officially under the control of the Ministry of Interior.

The war in Afghanistan is often seen as a fight between Taliban insurgent groups and government and international forces, but in reality, local armed groups frequently operate between and among these sides in a kind of grey area. Militias, often tied to local strongmen, provide security against Taliban insurgents in areas without a government presence, and many have, at different times, been in partnership with government and international forces. Individual members have often switched sides and allegiance between the different groups involved in the conflict.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, international troops began hiring some of the militias – which had helped drive out the Taliban – as temporary security forces.

The government initiated a disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) programme in early 2003,
to disband militia groups and help members reintegrate into society, but progress was slow, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

As the security situation deteriorated, the international forces began to sponsor many of these militias to extend their reach. Such semi-unofficial forces played an important role in providing security for the 2009 elections.

Things took a more formal turn in 2010 when the ALP was officially recognized as the primary local defence force to help keep remote communities free from Taliban insurgents.

Abuses

The UN Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) 2012 report highlighted an increasing number of abuses blamed on the various independent militia groups.

For ordinary people, the official Afghan National Police force is just one of a large number of armed groups

Ordinary Afghans also report acts of intimidation by militia members.

“We have to pay the local government, the ALP and other commanders. Sometimes they ask for motorbikes for their fighters. Other times they ask for money, food and medicine,” said Haji Mir Jan, a trader from Khanabad District.

“I have to keep all sides happy, including the Taliban. This is the only way for me and many other locals. A commander often comes and says, ‘Please cook for 30 of our guests’, or, ‘We have fighters who need to be fed.’”

Though some communities and aid workers told IRIN that they have seen security gains in areas with an ALP presence, Human Rights Watch has reported rights abuses by ALP forces.

Some militia groups were previously hired by international forces but have since been disbanded – though not disarmed. These groups operate at a more informal level, but many hope to be incorporated into the ALP.

“My 224 men at 21 posts around Qaliazal District haven’t been paid for the last six months. I want the government to either disarm my men and take charge of security, or start giving us money,” Nibikichi, the commander of the officially disbanded CIP Qaliazal militia, told IRIN.

His group had previously been hired and paid by US Special Forces.

“If we hand over weapons now, the Taliban will come and kill us all, and the area will be insecure again very quickly. For now, locals here pay for food to feed my men. You can ask them. We don’t force anyone to feed us.”

But critical local residents say Nibikichi’s militia has a reputation for frequently using torture, unlawful imprisonment and imposing illegal taxes.

People told IRIN they felt they had no choice but to obey for fear of reprisals.

Uncertainty for aid workers

The presence of such armed groups increases uncertainty for aid workers, as well.

“In areas where there are Afghan Local Police and national police, work is getting done. Of course NGOs have to take security into consideration, and when they do projects they have to contact these officials. But where other [armed] groups operate and exist, there are problems,” said Amiri of the Human Right Commission.

But “many Afghan civilians as well as aid actors had difficulty distinguishing between militia, criminal groups, Taliban and ostensibly government-controlled security forces,” said Ashley Jackson and Antonio Giustozzi, authors of a recent working paper on aid work in the country.

“While some aid workers felt that arbaki enhanced their security, others complained that militias or local strongmen attempted to interfere with their programming,” Jackson and Giustozzi wrote.

Still, most NGOs in Kunduz told IRIN that humanitarian work was still possible in areas with a strong militia presence.

“We have been here for 30 years, so we know what works,” said Zabihullah Aziz, director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. “We hire people from the area where the project is being implemented, so they know the sensitivities of the community, but we also provide further training.

“The impunity is growing; the cycle of violence is perpetuating”

“We provide services that meet the community’s needs. This helps build trust. If you don’t assess the community’s needs first or train people on [how to deal with] militia or Taliban, you will face trouble.”

Razmal Sardar, who worked on a UN World Food Programme (WFP) project, says using local staff is key: “We are locals from Kunduz, so people know us and our families. Because of this we can work in areas with militia. They often looked after our security.”

Echoing Aziz, Sardar says community support is essential. “If they agreed on the project, then we would start. If the people did not want the project or weren’t sure, we did not go ahead. If locals agree and are involved in development then militia won’t bother with you.”

But Zalmai Alokzai, manager of a new project, Stability In Key Areas, which helps programmes identify sources of instability before implementing projects, anticipates challenges ahead: “Because of the nature of our work, I am sure we will face problems.”

District officials are outnumbered and lack power to arrest or detain militia when they commit abuses, and officials say they are beyond government control.

“The impunity is growing; the cycle of violence is perpetuating,” said a UN human rights official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Thomas Ruttig of Afghanistan Analysts Network says the most basic problem with these militias is the economy: “There is not enough money to employ these people. There is a surplus in the gun business, so the gun industry is more lucrative than, say, agriculture.

“If growing sugar beets were more profitable, then the militia would grow sugar beets. The whole intervention post-2001 has still not changed this. We need to look at the intervention and question its effectiveness.”

bm/jj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Turning to renewable energy

Posted by African Press International on April 8, 2013

KATHMANDU,  – Nepal’s recently adopted policy of subsidizing renewable energy is the latest of many attempts to electrify long-deprived areas, but much more is needed, say ex perts. 

More than half of the country’s households – almost all in urban and semi-urban areas – are connected to the national electricity grid. But 80 percent of the population is rural, and in these areas, less than one-third have electricity. With grid extension to the country’s hilly and mountainous areas prohibitively expensive, officials are looking to off-grid renewable alternatives.

“Renewable, off-grid energy solutions [are] the only realistic way to provide energy in parts of the country,” according to the government’s National Rural and Renewable Energy Programme (NRREP), a five-year framework launched in 2012.

The new policy funds technologies sourced from hydropower, solar, biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by fermenting organic matter) and – for the first time – wind. The policy also seeks to use biomass, a traditional energy source, more efficiently.

Untapped energy

Despite Nepal’s potential wealth in solar energy and hydropower (the highest after Brazil) and three decades of research, development of these energies has not kept pace with population growth.

The little renewable energy that has been harnessed is poorly distributed due to crumbling infrastructure incapable of delivering, for example, parts for wind turbines.

Such technology is almost entirely absent in the most inaccessible and deprived regions, like the country’s western Karnali Zone,where over 80 percent of the 400,000 residents have moderate or serious problems getting enough food. More than 42 percent of people there live below the poverty line, and more than 60 percent of under-five children are too short for their age, a measure of chronic under-nutrition.

A 2011 study described how renewable energy can improve education by extending study hours; enable life-saving communication; facilitate delivery of chilled medication and vaccines; boost yields in agriculture-dependent economies where farmers still largely rely on manual tilling; and even boost rural incomes through cottage industries like poultry farms.

Slow uptake

Most of the country’s current energy needs are met with inefficiently used biomass, including firewood (75 percent), agricultural residues (4 percent) and animal waste (6 percent). The rest is met by commercial sources, including petroleum, coal and electricity.

Only about 12 percent of the country’s population uses electricity derived from water, wind or sun.

Initial costs to harness such energy are high, even with the government’s subsidies. Unlike with the electrical grid, in which consumers pay only for operational costs, communities must contribute to renewable technologies’ capital costs in addition to operations and maintenance.

Even so, renewable energy can electrify remote areas faster and more cheaply than extending the national grid, according to a soon-to-be published study from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. The study concluded “micro-hydro-based mini-grid technology” – a local grid that uses hydropower – is the cheapest alternative, costing 35 US cents per kilowatt versus US$1.34 to extend the national grid.

New subsidy

The new policy emphasizes reaching women and the “socially excluded” with targeted subsidies.

These subsidies replace old ones that were not as specific about distinguishing where users lived, did not factor in the difficulty or cost of developing renewable energy, and did not give special concessions to women and other vulnerable groups. The new subsidies will no longer be flat-rate and will take into account the actual cost of tapping alternative energies for communities.

Solar and micro-hydro energy subsidies will now be higher for areas less accessible by road, and subsidies for biogas will be higher for communities in mountainous areas. The average subsidy for renewable energy technology will increase from 25 to 40 percent.

Single women, the poor, those affected by disaster or conflict, and marginalized and indigenous groups now qualify for an additional one-time $29 grant.

The policy also promotes micro-financing through private financial institutions (backed by a central government fund), which will grant loans of up to 40 percent of the technology cost.

More to go

But subsidies are only part of the solution, insisted Bajracharya, an energy analyst, who said legislation is also needed to support renewable energy, guarantee financing and create mechanisms to sell surplus energy to the national grid.

Saroj Rai, senior renewable energy advisor at the SNV Netherlands Development Office for Nepal, added that capacity development, awareness and quality management are also required.

The World Energy Outlook’s Energy Development Index, which measures household electricity provision, ranked Nepal near the bottom of countries evaluated in 2012.

sm/pt/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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