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Archive for August 17th, 2013

Dry winter bad news for farmers

Posted by African Press International on August 17, 2013

MASERU,) – On a windy day in Thaba-Bosiu, 40km from Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, Nkoliopa Mosotho is inspecting his parched fields. Like many other rural farmers in Lesotho, he was banking on winter snowfall to soften the iron-hard ground and allow him to plough, but none fell.

“It is a very worrying situation; normally by this time of the year it is good to prepare your soil so that in October, it will be easy to cultivate, but it’s so dry,” he told IRIN. “It will take many days to finish ploughing my fields, and my oxen will tire or even die after that.”

Ntsieng Mafeto, 65, in nearby Qeme, is also struggling. “I should have planted some hay for my sheep, but we last had good rains in March, and I am really concerned because its lambing season now, but the streams are dry and there is no single shoot of green grass on the ground.”

After two disastrous years for Lesotho’s farmers, the 2012/2013 planting season yielded much improved harvests of maize – the staple crop – and sorghum. However, the lack of early rains and snow needed for winter cropping and soil preparation suggests a less promising outlook.

Winter cropping poor

Snow only fell in the mountainous areas of the country and not in the lowlands, which have the most productive land. “It’s true we received some rain, but in general it was below average and generally, the winter was warm,” said Mokoena France, climate statistician with the Lesotho Meteorological Service.

The consequences are far-reaching. Winter cropping is crucial to the livelihoods of many people in rural Lesotho. Wheat, one of the main staple foods, is mostly sown in winter to take advantage of the moisture from snowfall and early spring rains. Thousands of Basotho who live in mountainous areas, where crops such as maize and sorghum do not do well, rely heavily on growing wheat, which can then be exchanged for maize with people in the lowlands. Winter cropping also includes planting peas and hay for animals, but the farmers IRIN spoke to said they have not succeeded in growing either.

Like many farmers in her area of Ha Moruthoane in Maseru District, Maletuka Moroka, 70, relies almost entirely on a nearby spring to water her vegetable garden, but the lack of precipitation has caused the spring to dry up. “I make all my living from the vegetables I plant here, but if there is no water it means I will have to stop and wait for rain. I tried planting some vegetables, especially peas, a few months back, but they have now dried up,” she said.

Sekhonyana Mahase, senior crop production officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, said the lack of moisture this winter was bad news for farmers and for the government’s crop-sharing scheme, which is running in eight of the country’s 10 districts. In return for paying the full costs of seed, fertilizer and tractors for planting wheat, the government takes 70 percent of the harvest, leaving farmers with the remaining 30 percent. But Mahase said yields are expected to be low due to the lack of rain.

Forecasts not promising

“The dry winter has had an impact,” confirmed Victor Ankrah, a child survival and development specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Lesotho.

According to a recent household assessment of nutritional status carried out by UNICEF, 12 percent of the population is currently food insecure. “The reason they’re food insecure is because the winter harvest was not good,” Ankrah told IRIN.

Although the figure is down from the same time last year, Ankrah said the number was likely to increase between January and April – the peak of the lean season before summer crops are harvested.

Ankrah said that the wells and boreholes rural communities rely on for water were not expected to dry up, providing the country received normal rainfall levels between August and December. “However, for quite some time now the rainfall pattern has been very erratic, with very low rainfall levels during those months.”

The Lesotho Meteorological Service has forecast that rain will be average or below average over the next three months, and that many areas will remain dry.

According to Mahase, of the Ministry of Agriculture, this is likely to have a negative impact on summer cropping. “We are really faced with a momentous task. Even if it rains now, it may be a little too late for some farmers who have not prepared their soil,” he told IRIN.

ms/ks/rz source

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Cholera resurgent – The need to conduct a vaccination campaign

Posted by African Press International on August 17, 2013

West African cholera cases highest in Guinea-Bissau

DAKAR,  – More than 700 people have been sickened by cholera in Guinea-Bissau, the highest number of cases so far this year in West Africa, which has nonetheless seen a significant drop in cases this year compared to 2012.

Isolated health centres, insufficient medical personnel and detrimental traditional beliefs have contributed to the prevalence, explained Inàcio Alvarenga, an epidemiologist with World Health Organization (WHO).

Guinea-Bissau’s southern Tombali region is the worst hit, with 225 cases and 21 deaths as of late July, said Nicolau Almeida, a health ministry director.

Tombali is the poorest region [in the country] in terms of human resources. There is only one nurse per health centre. The health system cannot properly cater for patients. This is in addition to superstitions by people who don’t believe the scientific explanation of cholera,” Alvarenga told IRIN.

Continuing epidemic

As of 22 July – when the latest data was available – the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported 742 cases in Guinea-Bissau, 416 in Niger and 368 in Sierra Leone. The outbreak in Guinea-Bissau is a continuation of the 2012 epidemic, when 3,359 people contracted cholera.

“To confirm a new epidemic, the 2012 outbreak should have been declared over” by demonstrating the absence of vibrio cholera in diarrhoea, said Alvarenga.

“For reasons I’m not aware of, the government did not test cases in the first weeks of the year. These cases did not disappear but got spread around,” he continued. “I don’t think we will hit the 2008 level [when 14,204 people were infected and 225 killed], but the disease risks will be lingering for several months like in 1996-1998.”

Most cases have so far been reported in Catungo and Mato Foroba localities in the country’s south. “These are rice-growing areas where vibrio cholera can easily reproduce,” Alvarenga said.

Other cases have been reported in Catio area and in Quinara region – all in the south. Almeida said that the cases in Catio town indicated that the disease was spreading. Two cases have been confirmed in the capital, Bissau, said hospital sources.

“Residents of the city’s old town district are very concerned,” Alvarenga said. The water and electricity company has been unable to supply water to the capital in the past weeks due to financial difficulties, although it recently resumed partial service. “People are seeking all possible means to get water. It’s not rare to see water transporters on the streets.”

Need for medical personnel, drugs

Almeida, from the health ministry, said the government’s priority was to contain the disease in Tombali, where a medical team – comprising an epidemiologist, two doctors, two nurses and a community outreach specialist – has been sent.

“We, however, need to boost the medical team with three more nurses and five doctors to better guide the health sector in the region. We need to set up different teams in the different areas. There is also a huge requirement for medicines,” he said.

In neighbouring Guinea, cholera has infected 146 people and killed 10 since March, according to aid group Action Contre la Faim (ACF). In Sierra Leone, where around 300 died of cholera in 2012, 369 people have been infected so far this year, mainly in Kambia area, near the border with Guinea.

“Fish is often a factor of cholera infection in this region,” said Jérôme Pfaffmann, a health expert with UNICEF; fishermen criss-cross between the islets off the Guinean coast. The movement of people across the borders of Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone are also factors in transmission, said ACF’s Jainil Didaraly.

Guinea is conducting a vaccination campaign targeting 4,679 people.

Africa – and West Africa in particular – is the only part of the world wherecholera cases are steadily increasing.

cr/dab/ob/rz source



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South Sudan is yet to replicate its success in eradicating polio in eliminating other diseases

Posted by African Press International on August 17, 2013

African Press International (API)

South Sudan is yet to replicate its success in eradicating polio in eliminating other diseases

JUBA,  – South Sudan is doing its bit for global polio eradication efforts, but huge gaps in immunization against other diseases remain.

Targeted polio immunization efforts started in the area more than a decade before the country’s independence in 2011 and have remained a top priority. There has not been a single case of polio for more than four years.

Health officials and humanitarian groups are trying to build on this success to improve other immunization efforts, including neonatal tetanus and measles, but more funding and a better health infrastructure are urgently needed.

To combat the re-emergence of polio, Anthony Kirbak, the director of the country’s expanded programme on immunization (EMI), said the Ministry of Health and humanitarian organizations have had to figure out how to circumvent low routine childhood immunization rates.

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