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Archive for August 12th, 2013

Devastating floods have become common in recent years

Posted by African Press International on August 12, 2013

Devastating floods have become common in recent years

SIALKOT,  – Monsoon rain, which started at the end of June in Pakistan, has already killed 80 people and left over 81,000 displaced, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), despite improved preparedness plans being in place.

Sialkot District, about 120km northeast of Lahore, saw torrential rain on 6 August: Drains almost immediately overflowed, villages were inundated, agricultural land damaged and residents left stranded as water surrounded homes.

“People are being rescued in all the affected areas,” District Officer (coordination) Malik Abid Hussain Awan told IRIN, saying that 47 villages in the district had been affected.

The government and relief agencies are on high alert this year after serious flooding in the last three years. Flooding in 2010 killed around 2,000 people.

There has been some more rain over the past few days and the fear is that, with more rain forecast for later this month, tributaries of the rivers Ravi and Chenab in Punjab could burst their banks.

However, the authorities say they are well prepared. “We have held meetings including those with the chief ministers, chief secretaries, and major humanitarian agencies well ahead of the monsoon,” NDMA spokesman Brig Kamran Zia told IRIN.

Fifty-one districts (out of more than 100) have been identified as at risk from floods. Primary responsibility for managing flooding was allocated to district-level disaster management authorities following devolution in 2010.

NDMA’s plan, Zia said, included the securing of protective walls along water channels, the provision of boats to rescue marooned people and the readiness of armed forces to intervene where required. Training has also been given to district teams.

“Though a shortage of resources is a problem, we have a plan in place to meet the food and non-food needs of eight million people,” Zia said.

This year there is better tracking of meteorological information than before, the government says. Risks are being assessed based on data from the country’s Metrological Department, regional weather monitoring bodies, and Pakistan’s Satellite Research and Development Centre.

“We have lost our homes and lands in many cases, and are living with very little shelter of any kind”

In terms of stocks, NDMA has decided that food rations for affected and displaced people will be bought as required. “We naturally didn’t want to waste money on buying things that would not be needed, and of course food items such as wheat flour, and so on, are perishable and cannot be stored indefinitely in warehouses,” said Zia, adding that any items required could be bought with a “two-day lead time”.

“The provincial and federal governments already finalized contingency plans well in time, and have started responding to the affected people. But we still need to strengthen the DDMA [District Disaster Management Authorities] and local administrations as they are the first responders,” Arif Jabbar Khan, international country director for Oxfam, told IRIN.

So far, according to Oxfam, the government has provided 15,330 tents, 3,996 food packs, 500 blankets, 13,000 mosquito nets and 12 de-watering pumps, and miscellaneous food and non-food items are also reaching affected communities.

Flash floods

The heaviest rain in the past few days has been in Jacobabad and Karachi in Sindh Province, Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, in the Kalat region of Balochistan as well as in parts of Punjab, according to Kamran Shariff, a humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Pakistan.

“It was unusually strong spells of rain in a relatively short spell of time in vulnerable areas which instigated flash floods across the country,” Shariff told IRIN.

He said there was urban flooding mainly in Karachi, and to a lesser extent in Hyderabad and Sukkur. “As always, we are poorly prepared for such hazards mainly due to inadequate drainage capacity and choked water outflow channels.”

Snow and glacier melt are contributing to water flows in the north of the country.

NGO Support to Deprived People, headquartered in Shikarpur in Sindh Province, has made an appeal for more funding and spoken of the plight of affected people.

“We have not really received any assistance at all apart from a few food parcels handed out by some NGO. We have lost our homes and lands in many cases, and are living with very little shelter of any kind,” said Farid Ahmed who, with his family, moved away from his home in the Jhal Magsi District of Balochistan to higher ground near his village.

kh/jj/cb  source


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Mali’s herders fear the rebels may strike again

Posted by African Press International on August 12, 2013

Herders in Gao region must walk a long distance to find pasture for their animals

GAO,  – Despite the victory of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali’s peaceful presidential elections at the weekend, sporadic violence continues in the north, where for months herders have been cut off from accessing traditional routes in search of pasture for fear of attacks by bandits and rebels.

Sporadic attacks continue in Gao, Timbuktu and parts of Kidal, pastoralists told IRIN.

Many are also too scared to enter towns which have seen clashes between locals and displaced people who have settled in their outskirts; or they fear rebels might steal their cattle and sheep on market days if they do enter town.

The rebels include National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) members, mainly in Kidal, but also in some villages north of Menaka in Gao Region. Elsewhere, locals joined one of several Islamist groups or the separatist Tuareg rebels.

“Some Islamists stayed behind in villages and rural areas following the French-led military intervention, hiding in and among the local populations when they were driven out of major towns,” said Capt Traoré with the Malian army in Bamako.

Keita will have his work cut out to end the insurgency and bring lasting peace to the north.

Herders in Forgho, 25km north of Gao city, and Bourem in Gao Region on the road to Kidal, told IRIN they had been attacked when they left the market on their way back into the desert with their animals. “They [the rebels] would threaten herders in the bush and stop stockbreeders on their way to the market and steal their cattle,” said Aklini Moliomone, a Songhai pastoralist from Forgho.

Robberies along the road from Gao to Tessalit in Kidal Region have also risen, according to French army communications officer Cyrille Zimmer.

Violence has also broken out between herders in Mali and displaced people or refugees returning from Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, all of whom are also vying for access to scarce grazing land, according to Malian NGO Tassaght, based in Gao.

Northern Malian refugees have started to return to Mali from Mbera camp in Mauritania, travelling via Niafunké in Timbuktu Region, to Timbuktu town.

Market day in Forgho, 25km north of Gao

“The pastoralists from Burkina Faso who used to cross the border into Mali with their animals were not ready to share the limited resources with the displaced,” explained Wanalher Ag Alwaly with Tassaght in Gao.

Last year’s rains meant good pasture throughout much of the north, but many of these herders said they were unable to fully take advantage of it. This year rains arrived late in most of the north – coming two weeks ago – and have so far been weak, thus pasture is minimal, say pastoralists.

Competition for grazing land

“There is almost no grass and no water, because there are so many herders in this area and only limited grazing land. We have to walk far to find food for our animals,” said Moliomone.

On market day in Forgho, where thousands of herders congregate, 60-year-old herder Moussa Ag Bilal hoped to get a good price for his animals – mostly goats, plus one cow that is so thin that it has stopped producing milk. When a potential buyer approached to inspect the animals, Ag Bilal gently turned it to hide its sticking-out ribs. Afraid of rebels, he told IRIN he is too scared to move his animals to the grazing areas north of Gao.

While UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) forces and Malian soldiers are posted in most major towns, rural areas are sometimes left unmonitored.

According to MINUSMA, in some areas of the region around Menaka, MNLA are still in control, while suspected members of Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have been spotted in parts of Kidal Region. The road from Gao to Kidal – especially north of Tessalit – has seen an increase in bandit attacks; improvised explosive devices are occasionally used. “Last week a food truck was stopped and the cargo was taken away by rebels,” said MINUSMA spokesperson Michel Bonnardeux in the capital Bamako.

Undetonated explosives and arms left behind by the armed groups, and hidden in the terrain, pose another threat to herders and their animals.

Herders lift their goats onto a truck going to Gao

The tensions just reinforce pastoralists’ plight – many had most of their herd of confiscated by rebels or Islamists, or have had to eat their animals to survive, given the high prices and low availability of food across most of the north since the Islamist occupation. “Many [herders] fled without their animals. Others lost their herds when the rebels attacked their villages. They returned with nothing having lost their only source of income”, said Tassaght’s Ag Alwaly.

“The months of May, June and July are always hard for Mali’s herders,” he continued.

Animals weaker than last year

“The cattle are starving. This year the Islamist occupation, the following conflict and continued rebel attacks made life extra difficult,” Ahmed Ag Algarbi, a Tuareg pastoralist from Teshak, a Tuareg village in Timbuktu Region, told IRIN: “For two years we have had nothing to eat. We were forced to kill our goats to feed our families. Life in the desert is hard. Before, we at least had our animals, now we have nothing.”

Most of the animals IRIN came across were frail and very weak, even more so than the same time last year, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Since January ICRC and the Malian Red Cross distributed roughly 400 tons of animal feed hoping to reach 30,000 herders during the lean season. Tassaght buys meat at above-market value to distribute among families in Gao and nearby villages to boost both livelihoods and food security. According to Gao-based herder Atarouna Abdoulaye, prices for goats and sheep went from US$30 to $6-8 in some markets.

The Red Cross also vaccinated two million cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys to help restore their health as the rains approached. Often thin and weakened animals succumb to illness or drowning when the rains arrive, according to Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières in Bamako. But between January and July insecurity hampered the ability of NGOs and ICRC to distribute food, seeds, fertilizers and tools in some areas, according to Jean Cimangay, ICRC’s project officer.

Tassaght plans to give returning herders small stocks of around 10 animals each, to help them build anew. “Some pastoralists had herds with over 100 animals. Ten goats is not much but at least it’s a start,” said Ag Alwaly.

aj/cb  source



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The Congolese army continue to commit atrocities, including against civilians

Posted by African Press International on August 12, 2013

Analysts have called for ambitious reforms to instill discipline within the Congolese army

KAMPALA,  – Stamping out human rights abuses by the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entails more than classroom training sessions, according to analysts, who recommend a wide range of ambitious reforms.

These include better discipline, an efficient payroll system, the development of security policies, the prosecution of offenders, and better education and training to reform and professionalize the army, also known as FARDC.

Soldiers, including those of 391 Commando Battalion, which was trained by the US army, have been accused of many abuses, most recently the desecration of corpses of M23 rebels, mistreatment of M23 detainees, mass rape, the killing of civilians, sexual violence, torture and the burning of villages, according to the UN and rights groups.

The causes of the violations are many, Timo Mueller, Goma-based field researcher for the Enough Project, told IRIN.

“Throughout the years, tens of thousands of former rebels from a wide range of ethnic groups have been reintegrated into the army without any vetting or human rights training… In eastern Congo, elements of the armed forces often engage in abuses similar to those of militias, exposing the population to grave risks. The frequency, nature and scale of the human rights violations are worrisome and mandate renewed attention and structural reform initiatives…

“With little to no payment, often frustrated by a lack of adequate equipment, housing and general ill-management, and in an environment where the threshold for violence has dropped dramatically, soldiers often use their own weapon to make ends meet,” he said, adding that the absence of any real military justice, civilian oversight or accountability, meant that abuses often went unpunished.

“You can train troops as much as you can with the most efficient team. In the end, if you don’t pay them on a regular basis and provide them with social benefits, it will be very hard to keep a solid discipline among your ranks,” Marc-Andre Lagrange, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN.

“Despite the introduction of banking system payment, FARDC soldiers still do not get all of their salaries and do not benefit from any social benefits,” he added.

“Moreover, lack of command and control have been noticed many times on the field during conflicts, leaving the troops with little discipline and very little cohesion.”

UN report details atrocities

In a May report the UN Joint Human Rights Office accused members of 391 Commando Battalion (which in 2010 received US Africa Command training on respect for human rights, the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and the relationship between civilian and military authorities in a democratic society) of engaging in atrocities, including the mass rape of women and young girls in November 2012 in Minova, eastern DRC, as they fled Goma for M23-held areas.

The Congolese army continue to commit atrocities, including against civilians

The abuses by the soldiers were committed “in a systematic manner and with extreme violence”, according to the report. At least 102 women and 33 girls, reportedly as young as six, were victims of rape or other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by government soldiers.

The soldiers were also responsible for the arbitrary execution of at least two people and the widespread looting of villages. The report contained details of victims, and eyewitness accounts of mass rape, killings, arbitrary executions and other gross violations of human rights.

The US State Department said it suspended logistical support and contact with the 391 Commando Battalion from 8 March, following UN reports about the Minova abuses.

Will Stevens, a spokesperson of the Bureau of African Affairs in the US Department of State, told IRIN via email that the USA condemned these crimes and called for a “full and credible investigation”. He said the USA could not provide security assistance to military units “credibly accused of human rights violations until the allegations are resolved”.

He said the suspension of 12 senior FARDC army officers was a positive step towards ensuring that those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.

“Holding perpetrators to account is essential to ending the cycle of impunity and we urge President Kabila and all Congolese authorities to actively and robustly enforce his zero tolerance policy for human rights violations by the DRC armed forces.”

The US military is to continue providing training to its DRC counterparts.

“The events executed and planned so far this year include training in medical readiness, military justice, logistics, civil-military operations, rule-of-law, ethics, and others,” Maj. Fred Harrel, a press officer with US Africa Command told IRIN.

“This training, requested by the host nation, is designed to be sustainable and build the professionalism of the Armed Forces of the DRC,” he added.

Reforms needed

“Security sector reform is a long and daunting challenge but one that must be taken to address a root cause of the prevailing insecurity,” Enough Project’s Mueller, told IRIN.

“Units of the army have undergone numerous but patchy and uncoordinated human rights trainings. An army-wide, gender mainstreamed education campaign on human rights, humanitarian law and military justice must be embedded into a wider security sector reform,” he said.

He said that ensuring discipline within FARDC required “a multidimensional and holistic institutional overhaul, spanning the military, police and judiciary as well as other agencies”.

Meanwhile, donors should harmonize their efforts and mobilize greater resources, he said.

“Over the years, the government and international donors have initiated several reform packages but they have largely failed because of lack of political will, donor coordination and funds,” said Mueller.

so/cb  source



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