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Archive for August 19th, 2013

Whistleblower Mr Philippe Laurent hold up in a oslo hotel since 10-07-2013; says CIA, NSA and French Intelligence out to kill him

Posted by African Press International on August 19, 2013


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Flooding in Chad. Use of technology to warn of disasters is increasing

Posted by African Press International on August 19, 2013

Flooding in Chad. Use of technology to warn of disasters is increasing

DAKAR,  – Mobile phone, geographic information systems (GIS), Twitter and other technologies are increasingly being used to warn communities of potential crises and inform them how to prepare, and to help governments and aid agencies predict how emergencies may unfold.

IRIN looks at some of the ways these innovations are transforming early warning and preparedness.

Market monitoring

Aid agencies are increasingly using mobile phones to monitor and analyse market data in remote areas. Buyers, traders or other informants communicate information about food availability, the functioning of local markets, and food prices to agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) using SMS.

These programmes are used all over the world, including in Kenya, northern Mali, Niger, Somalia and Tanzania. Agencies then use this data to inform programming – cash vouchers may be provided in markets with high availability and high prices, for instance, and food assistance may be provided in areas of low availability.

Health early warning messages

Many organizations now use mobile phones to help prevent health emergencies. For instance, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in West Africa, Oxfam and other agencies say they send out periodic health information related to HIV/AIDS, malaria, reproductive health, hygiene and other issues to raise awareness among phone users.

A recent survey of the impact of these health messages by IFRC in Sierra Leone found that 90 percent of people who received such messages changed their behaviours in a positive way.

“When it comes to mitigating crises, we obviously need to be more proactive, not reactive, and this technology really helps us with that,” said Moustapha Diallo, IFRC spokesperson in Dakar, Senegal.

In April 2013, to pre-empt a cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone during this year’s rainy season (in 2012 the country suffered its worst cholera outbreakin 15 years), IFRC set up an SMS system called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA), which can send vital information to more than 36,000 people in a single area in less than one hour.

“We’ve been able to reach more than a million people this way, which is more than we could have reached using other methods,” Diallo said. “I think that all humanitarian organizations are now aware of the value of using such technology, and that it will really change the direction that we go in the future.”

Community early warning

Advanced notice of an impending natural disaster can give people a valuable, and often life-saving, head start when it comes to reaching safety.

In Malawi, communities living along the banks of the Katchisa-Linthipe River, a high-risk flood zone, worked with Italian NGO COOPI (‘Cooperazione Internazionale’), with funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office’s disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO), to monitor water levels. The measurements were sent to communities downstream via mobile phone. If water levels start to rise, people have time to prepare for possible flooding.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Save the Children and IFRC have also sent out “blast messages” to warn people of impending threats, such as high flood risk, imminent storms or disease outbreaks in Haiti, Kenya Madagascar, Niger, and other countries.

Speeding up delivery

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a pilot programme of Action Aid and infoasaid in Kenya last year showed that sending advance text messages to aid recipients about pending deliveries cut down distribution time from three hours to 30 minutes.

Similarly, IFRC says they were able to reach more people in a shorter amount of time in Nigeria when distributing mosquito nets just by sending out text messages beforehand.

Geo-hazard mapping

WFP has partnered with NGOs, UN agencies and governments around the world to map vegetation, crop coverage, market locations and water sources in areas that are prone to natural disasters, using technologies such as satellite imagery, spatial analysis and GIS.

Many governments have also begun creating geo-hazard maps, which identify areas that are prone to natural disasters, such as flash floods, soil erosion or landslides. When a natural disaster occurs, these same technologies can be used to map out where roads have been destroyed or washed away, and to pinpoint the location of victims.

CRS first started using this system during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to map out destroyed homes, track the construction of 10,500 transitional structures and calculate piles of rubble. It has since expanded the program to Madagascar, the Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and plans to reach 30 other emergency-prone countries over the next 18 months.

In West Africa, IFRC, along with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Change Centre, has been using weather forecasts from the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development to create easy-to-read maps, which allow field offices in risk zones to preposition supplies and quickly deploy teams in the event of a disaster.

Monitoring payments to indicate vulnerability

Mobile cash transfers to vulnerable people are now routinely used by WFP and its partners, both in and before crises. By collecting data on recipients, these cash programmes can also be used to signal impending crises.

For instance, if many recipients are suddenly in need of more cash immediately after a transfer, or if many begin defaulting on micro-loans, aid organizations know to look for underlying causes.

jl/aj/rz source

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Another year of hunger knocking the door

Posted by African Press International on August 19, 2013

Rain-fed maize production is down in the north (file photo)

MZIMBA, – The phrase on the lips of many Malawians these days, particularly in the north of the country is: “There will be hunger this year.”

In Karonga District, prolonged hot, dry spells caused maize crops in the southern part of the district to wilt. The dry spell was followed by heavy rains, which not only knocked down the wilting maize but also brought down several houses, affecting scores of people. In the northern part of the district, flooding filled rice paddies with sand, virtually burying the crop.

Rumphi and Mzimba districts – the hub of maize production in Malawi’s northern region – were also hit by dry spells starting from February.

As a result of the weather conditions, most farmers in the region harvested little maize. In fact, an annual food security forecast by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) – composed of the government, UN agencies and NGOs – predicted that 21 of the country’s 28 districts will face varying degrees of food insecurity until the next harvest in March 2014, with the northern region most severely affected.

Costs to rise

Across the region, residents have started buying and storing bags of maize to prepare for the steep price increases that normally accompany the peak of the lean season.

“Unlike in the past, when vendors were the ones buying the maize, most of those buying the maize this time around are people who say they are just stocking it for domestic use,” said Francis Chirwa, a farmer from Chitipa District, who was selling some of his maize.

Currently maize is selling at between 120 and 130 kwacha (between US$0.36 and $0.39) per kilogramme at points of production in rural areas. The MVAC report projects that prices will increase to 200 kwacha (about $0.60) per kilogramme by the peak lean period, which will fall between December 2013 and January 2014.


The MVAC report projected a slight increase in total maize production compared to last year, with a surplus of 194,000 metric tons beyond the national food requirement. However, the report also estimated that nearly 1.5 million people – representing 9.5 percent of the country’s total population – would need food assistance equivalent to 57,346 metric tons of maize over the coming months.

In its July to December 2013 food security outlook, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) suggested that the maize surplus could be less than projected because of a possible over-estimate of the amount of maize produced from the irrigated farming sector, which failed to take into account the lowered water table resulting from erratic rains.

The FEWSNET report also noted that rain-fed maize production was down by 27 per cent compared to last year in the area covered by the Mzuzu Agricultural Development Division (ADD) in the north and by 19 per cent in the central region areas covered by Kasungu ADD.

Rethinking FISP

Meanwhile, the MVAC report attributes the maize surplus to the government’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), which targets more than a million poor smallholder farmers with subsidised inputs such as fertilizer and seed. However, John Paul, project manager for the Building Resilience to Climate Change project run by the NGO Total Land Care, pointed out that “the success of the FISP lies in favourable weather conditions”.

“Most parts of the country have not received favourable rains over the past two years or so, and this period has exposed how vulnerable the FISP is,” he told IRIN. “There is a need for the implementation of the FISP to incorporate conservation agriculture technologies, such as maximum soil cover and limited tilling, as a way of fighting off the effects of dry spells.”

Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, made similar observations after completing an 11-day mission to Malawi in July. In a strongly worded statement, De Schutter urged the government to rethink its focus on the FISP, which, with its dependence on costly fertilizer imports, was using up more than half of the Ministry of Agriculture’s budget and crowding out spending on other priorities, but failing to rid Malawi of chronic food insecurity and high levels of malnutrition.

“From a purely agronomic point of view, inorganic fertilizers may be masking soil nutrient depletion, rather than correcting it,” said De Schutter, adding that this helped explain why the country had seen an initial increase in yields of maize and other cereals following the introduction of the FISP between 2005 and 2009, which had been followed by a levelling off starting in 2010.

De Schutter recommended promoting the cultivation of other crops besides maize, in particular legumes, as a way of replenishing depleted soils and improving children’s diets. He also proposed a “brown revolution” which would focus on the use of organic fertilizers.

sm/ks/rz source


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Norway is to be at the forefront of the fight for women’s rights

Posted by African Press International on August 19, 2013

Women’s rights are increasingly coming under pressure in many countries. Today the Government launched its new Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy. Norway is, and will continue to be, at the forefront of the fight for women’s rights internationally, and we intend to increase our efforts through our embassies.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide commented, “We are constantly seeing examples of the weak position of women’s rights in the world. In several countries, these rights are coming under pressure. At the same time we see courageous women and men who are standing up and fighting for gender equality and women’s dignity. For example, the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala’s campaign has impressed people all over the world, including in Norway. Norway intends to play its part. That is why we are increasing our engagement all over the world in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality.”

Today the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development presented a joint plan of action for Norway’s efforts to lift the issue of women’s rights and gender equality higher up the international agenda. The plan emphasises the importance of strengthening the Foreign Service’s efforts through concrete guidelines, systematic gender assessment, and enhanced training. The aim is for all employees at Norwegian missions abroad to be ambassadors for gender equality.

Minister of International Development Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås commented, “Gender equality doesn’t happen by itself. We know that from our experience here in Norway. Norway will therefore be a clear and fearless voice for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. We intend to pursue the most effective development policy possible with a view to ensuring that all women have access to contraception and safe abortions.”





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