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Archive for July 14th, 2013

SMS or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages give Afghan farmers and traders information on crop and livestock prices in specific locations

Posted by African Press International on July 14, 2013

Afghan farmers can access the latest prices from 15 provincial markets on their mobile phones

KABUL,  – As Asia’s poorest country and the deadliest foraid workers, rugged Afghanistan offers a considerable challenge to humanitarian work.

But just as in parts of Africa, the only other area in the world with similarly poor infrastructure, rapid advances in information and communications technology (ICT) have had a profound impact on humanitarian activities over the past decade.

To make a phone call in 2001, the only option for many Afghans was a trip to neighbouring Pakistan. Now 85 percent of the population enjoys mobile phone coverage, and aid agencies are taking full advantage.

Despite the remoteness of many regions (with three-quarters of the population living in rural areas), the mobile phone network has expanded rapidly and by 2010 a USAID survey estimated that 61 percent of the population owned or had access to a mobile phone.

The country’s four major operators (Roshan, AWCC, Etisalat and MTN) share 18 million subscribers, according to a 2012 report by Research and Markets.

Five Afghan tech initiatives

Mobile Money, one of the most commonly used ICT services, allows Afghans to safely and securely transfer money, in some cases internationally, using mobile phones. Currently all four of Afghanistan’s major telecommunications operators provide money transfers. In March, USAIDpartnered with other agencies to promote a new electronic salary payment programme. The project aims to disperse salaries to more than 30,000 teachers in about 200 schools across Afghanistan by 2014.

SMS or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages give Afghan farmers and traders information on crop and livestock prices in specific locations. In partnership with USAID and Mercy Corps, Roshan launched the Malomat service in 2010 – currently nearly 600 farmers and 19 traders are participating in 15 provincial markets. Malomat provides farmers and traders with wholesale prices for agricultural commodities – aiming to improve farmers’ livelihoods and thus providing a disincentive to farmers to engage in opium production.

Telemedicine: Afghan doctors are starting to use a new ICT service to access e-learning, training, management tips and tele-radiology (the electronic sharing of patient scans). Hospitals can have real-time access to medical experts outside the country. “In many areas, people cannot reach hospitals or clinics safely. And the end of winter is likely to bring renewed fighting, making the problem worse,” said Gherardo Pontrandolfi, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation at a press conference in Kabul last week. “Fighting, roadblocks, roadside bombs and a general lack of security prevent medics and humanitarian aid from reaching the sick and wounded, just when they need it most,” he said.

At WFP’s call centre operators can speak directly with Afghans in the remotest parts of the country

Emergency hotline services: WFP’s Beneficiary Feedback Desk is an example of how such a service can improve the distribution of aid. The hotline was launched through a series of radio adverts in three provinces last year. The mobile phone hotline operators told IRIN they quickly started getting calls from all over the country. Operators call back those who hang-up after a couple of rings, in case they lack phone credit. They say they receive complaints and suggestions on aid delivery. One young Afghan woman used the phone line to expose a man in her village who had set up fake literacy classes to benefit from WFP aid. In another case, in an insecure and impoverished part of Ghor Province, students were able to use the hotline to negotiate the safe delivery of WFP aid – something that had not been possible for eight years.

Mobile teacher software: Ustad Mobil was designed to help tackle the country’s illiteracy problem. A UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)project aims to improve literacy among the police force, an estimated 70-80 percent of whom are illiterate. The app adapts the national literacy curriculum so it can be taught on camera mobile phones, with slides, videos and quizzes. “The feedback has been positive,” said Mike Dawson, CEO of Paiwastoon Networking Service, the designers of Ustad Mobile software. “We expect students will reach level three, which means they will be able to read and write.”

Advantages and challenges

Though many of these new technologies lack integration and are generally stand-alone operations, ICT has helped aid organizations improve monitoring, transparency and accountability, and provided greater access to vulnerable populations.

“Access is one of the biggest issues in a country like Afghanistan. We can only help those who we can access. There is always conflict in this country so we can’t visit every part of the country to see who is vulnerable and who needs assistance,” said WFP information officer Wahidullah Amani.

“We have also been able to prevent food diversion and better monitor our food distributions, which in turn gives us opportunities to be more transparent and accountable to the people.”

But such developments in Afghanistan have not been entirely benign.

Mobile phones are frequently scrutinized at Taliban checkpoints to see if people have links with government officials or Western organizations. Being caught with a suspicious phone number or contact can lead to the loss of the phone, and in some cases a beating.

bm/jj/cb source


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Worsening violence against children in

Posted by African Press International on July 14, 2013

Child workers at a brick kiln in Kabulnal 

KABUL,  – One of the victims of  attack in May this year on the InternatioOrganization for Migration (IOM) compound in the Afghan capital is still to be identified – a six year old boy.

The child’s body, found near the attack site, has not been claimed and the police have not been able to find the boy’s parents.

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the number of child casualties in the first four months of 2013 was 414 – a 27 percent jump from the 327 last year, according to a press release from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Of the 414 child casualties, 121 were killed and 293 injured.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” UNICEF spokesman Alistair Gretarsson told IRIN.

From 2010 to 2012, 4,025 children were killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan, according to the UN Secretary-General’sAnnual Reports on Children and Armed Conflict.

Child casualties for the country totalled 1,304 for 2012. However, the reported 27 percent increase in child casualties in the first four months of this year is fuelling concern that 2013 could be one of the deadliest years yet for children in Afghanistan.

“Every day when I leave the house, my Mum worries about us,” said Mohammad Qayum, a 14-year-old boy selling gum on the streets of Kabul. “There are more attacks in Kabul and my friends working on the streets are also scared. We are a lot more scared than we used to be.”

Continuing a trend from recent years, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are still the leading killer, contributing to 37 percent of the 414 conflict-related child casualties.

Children caught in crossfire made up 20 percent of the child-casualties; “explosive remnants of war” – 18 percent; with the remainder attributed to other causes.

According to UNICEF, the armed opposition accounted for most of the attacks. However, the Taliban, just one of many armed opposition groups in the country, deny the claim.

Indirect victims

Aside from being physically caught up in the violence, children suffer in a variety of ways from the conflict – from disrupted education, to forced recruitment as child soldiers, to the loss of family members.

Qayum’s father died in a suicide attack six years ago. He has three sisters and one older brother; so the US$4 he earns a day selling gum and flowers on the street is essential.

While the government and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban, have laws and regulations prohibiting the recruitment of children as fighters and suicide bombers, both continue to do so.

Ali Ahmad, 12 at the time, was searching for a job at the Spin Boldak border when he was abducted.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” Alistair Gretarsson, Unicef

“They took me to a training centre and trained me for 20 days. They taught me how to use guns and weapons and also taught me how to do a suicide attack by pressing some button and telling me that I will be given a lot of money,” Ali told IRIN.

Findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2013torture report show of the 105 child detainees interviewed, 80 (76 percent) experienced torture or abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces – a 14 percent increase compared to previous findings.

Sexual abuse

Children described being beaten with cables or pipes, being forced to make confessions, being hanged, having genitals twisted, death threats, rape and sexual abuse. Of all the violations against children in Afghanistan, sexual violence remains one of the most under-reported abuses.

“Although sexual abuse of both boys and girls is a crime under Afghan law, the sexual abuse of boys continues to be tolerated far too often, especially when it takes place in association with armed groups where families of the children involved have no real recourse,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.

Bacha-bazi – the practice of “owning” a boy for sexual purposes, usually by people with money and power such as government officials and militia commanders – rarely receives attention.

“The reality is that it is very widespread and it’s very prevalent in the Afghan society. It’s something that Afghanistan as a society is not able to discuss openly. The society is not ready to face that this problem exists and something has to be done,” said one analyst who asked not to be named.

Last year in southern Helmand Province several cases of rape and abuse were exposed. A district governor was found keeping a 15-year-old “boy”, whose identity was only highlighted after he killed an international soldier.

Conflict-related violence continues to hinder children’s access to education. Most violations such as the burning of schools, intimidation and threats against staff are reportedly the result of armed groups. However, schools are also used by pro-government forces to carry out operations.

As a result of the growing violence across the country, more and more youth are seeking a way out.

“Unfortunately the number of young people leaving the country today is increasing,” Gen Aminullah Amarkhel, head of Interpol, told IRIN in a recent interview.

According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released this week, Afghanistan is one of five countries that make up 55 percent of the world’s 45.2 million displaced people. One in every four refugees is from Afghanistan, making it the world’s largest contributor.

Children under 18 make up 46 percent of refugees worldwide. A record number of asylum seekers submitting applications in 2012 came from children, either unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Conflict is the main cause, said the report.

“As the Qatar office opens and formal negotiations between the government and the Taliban perhaps finally start,” said Barr, “issues like protection of civilians and protection of children should be the first thing on the agenda”.

bm/jj/cb  source


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