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Archive for October 20th, 2013

Our world: Climate shocks will hurt poverty targets

Posted by African Press International on October 20, 2013

JOHANNESBURG,  – As climatic shocks worsen, disaster-affected populations will be driven deeper into poverty, exacerbating their vulnerability, in as soon as two decades – unless policymakers start to address the issue now, according to a new study from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). 

India did a “remarkable job” limiting the number of casualties from Cyclone Phailin, which slammed into the country’s eastern coast on 12 October, notes Tom Mitchell, who heads the climate change programme at ODI. The death toll currently stands at 38, compared to the 10,000 killed when the last cyclone hit Odisha State in 1999.

But Cyclone Phailin still affected at least 12 million people in India’s poorest states – Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar – and it devastated livelihoods, leaving residents even more vulnerable to natural shocks and pushing them into deeper poverty, Mitchell said. It is too early for official estimates, as some of the affected areas are still under water, but the government has acknowledged “extensive damage” to property, crops and livestock.

“If the international community is serious about eradicating poverty by 2030, it must put DRM [disaster risk management] at the heart of poverty eradication efforts”

Mitchell used the impact of Phailin to illustrate the findings of ODI’s new study, which examines the overlap between future concentrations of poverty and the areas likely to be most exposed to natural hazards like drought and flooding. According to the study, which Mitchell co-authored, in another two decades, India will have the highest number of people in the world “who are still likely to be living in poverty in 2030 and some of the highest exposure to hazards”.

Sandeep Chachra, executive director of ActionAid India, notes that “the scale of destruction, combined with the growing frequency of such extreme weather incidents, does indeed set back the years of development work that the governments and civil society organizations engage in.”

For these reasons, climate change- and disaster-related interventions must be closely tied to poverty reduction efforts in the post-2015 development agenda, experts say.

Linking disasters to poverty

The ODI study, The geography of poverty, disasters and climate extremes in 2030, questions the reasonableness of a UN high-level panel’s recommendation that 2030 be the deadline for the eradication of all poverty. The UN high-level panel- which is co-chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron – has been tasked with advising on a global development framework for after 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“If the international community is serious about eradicating poverty by 2030, it must put DRM [disaster risk management] at the heart of poverty eradication efforts,” the report says. “Without this, the target of ending poverty may not be within reach.”

In examining the relationship between disasters and poverty, the ODI report finds “that without any concerted action, up to 325 million extremely poor people could be living in the 49 countries most exposed to the full range of natural hazards and climate extremes in 2030”.

“We are suggesting a target to be added to the first proposed post-2015 development goal on ending poverty: to ‘build resilience and reduce the number of deaths caused by disasters’,” Mitchell said.

Neha Rai, a researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), concurs with the findings of the report: “The post-2015 agenda must definitely integrate targets on disasters and climate change. We can see this happening if post-2015 goals put sustainable development goals within the centre of a global and national agendas [a suggested outcome of Rio+20]. On the ground, this would mean joint planning on development and climate change issues.”

She explained that this is already happening in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, which “see direct linkages between reduction in vulnerability and investments in comprehensive disaster management and adaptation actions.”

The ministries in these countries are “therefore also integrating climate resilience within development planning,” she said in an email to IRIN.

Fundamental changes needed

But this was clearly not the case in Odisha. Disaster “preparedness does not begin or end with merely rushing people to shelters,” noted journalist Jay Mazoomdar in an article for the investigative Indian news channel Tehelka.

He wrote that if the Odisha state disaster authorities had conducted a study to identify areas and communities vulnerable to disasters, it would have reduced the impact of the disaster. For example, a study would have enabled a “targeted evacuation”, which “would have allowed people time and space to minimize other losses as well. Their livestock could have been protected better. Evacuated families could have carried more assets to safety. The relief and rehab work to follow would have been less difficult, faster and more effective.”

IIED’s Rai says changes are needed to government planning to improve resilience in the face of climatic shocks and poverty reduction.

“At the conceptual level, this would also mean removing contradictions between growth-centred MDGs and sustainable development. This would mean redefining development – currently understood as economic growth – to attain MDGs,” she said.

“The present growth-centred model aggravates climate-induced problems (by emitting more warming gases), thereby further increasing our vulnerabilities in the long run. Expecting modest and green development from all rungs of the global community (developed, developing) may help us to achieve post-2015 goals in a collaborative manner,” Rai explained.

She echoes what a group of eminent scientists said in a comment piece earlier in this year: “It is not enough simply to extend MDGs, as some are suggesting, because humans are transforming the planet in ways that could undermine development gains.”People are also increasingly exposed to growing levels of climatic shocks.

Mitchell says the development goal should ensure disaster risk management not only focuses on saving lives but protecting livelihoods as well.

The ODI study is in line with calls from the global community to consider the relationships between climatic shocks, disaster risk management and development goals, not only in terms of the MDGs, but in the new proposed climate treaty and a new plan to make the world safer from natural hazards to replace the Hyogo treaty – all of which happen in 2015.


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Is there a sectarian dimension? Terror grips Central African Republic

Posted by African Press International on October 20, 2013

NAIROBI,  – The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) is deepening more than six months after a coup by the Séléka rebel coalition. 

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in violence since the March coup, thousands have fled their homes, basic services have been adversely affected and senior humanitarian figures have warned of a possible spillover of violence into neighbouring countries.

Séléka, which propelled the current CAR interim President Michel Djotodia into power, “has since become the main perpetrator of violence against civilians”, says Oxford Analytica in a recent CAR brief.

What kind of rights violations are taking place?

The Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de I’Homme (FIDH), has described human rights violations by Séléka as “international crimes”.

“In the absence of the army, the police and [a] justice [system], these youths who include children, terrorize an unprotected population. Heavily armed, with their pick-up [trucks] and motor bikes, they kill, kidnap, [and] torture for money or to stifle all protest. They burn entire villages and rape the women. These human rights violations qualify as international crimes,” it stated in a report.

The FIDH report highlights human rights abuses by Séléka including: a massacre in the area of Gobongo, in Bangui in June, where rebels shot at a protesting crowd leaving several dead; an upsurge in rape cases since the rebel takeover of Bangui; and the looting and burning down of houses in the provinces.

FIDH calls on the international community to place sanctions on Séléka leaders and warlords, including the freezing of their financial assets and urges International Criminal Court action to address impunity.

In a September report Human Rights Watch (HRW) also highlighted serious human rights abuses by Séléka, including murder and rape. According to HRW, President Djotodia denied that Séléka fighters had committed abuses, and continued to shift blame for the violence onto loyalists of deposed President François Bozizé, “false Séléka,” and bandits – even though at least one Séléka official in the field admitted to HRW responsibility for some attacks.

On 13 September, President Djotodia announced the dissolution of Séléka and allied groups, but some senior Séléka figures are pursuing vendettas against perceived Bozizé supporters, according to Oxford Analytica. “In rural areas, fighters lived off their respective areas of control through looting and violence against local residents…

“With bands of rebel fighters ultimately loyal to their individual commanders, the president’s official dissolution of Séléka provides little incentives for compliance; there is almost no prospect of purely local action controlling armed groups.”

Where is the violence concentrated?

Ouham Province in the northwest is among those worst affected by violence.

“In the last month, we have treated more than 60 people in Bossangoa [Ouham’s capital] for injuries that are the result of violence, largely gunshot and machete wounds, including women and children,” said Erna Rijinierse, a surgeon with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). “More than 80 percent of surgeries have been for wounds that are conflict-related. MSF is horrified by what we are seeing, including burnt villages and appalling scenes of murder.”

“When such aggressions occur, the population traditionally flee to their fields located anywhere from one to 30km in the bush surrounding their village or city. There, they spend days, weeks and even months without proper shelter, no safe drinking water, limited food supply and no access to the most basic of healthcare.”

Her remarks were carried in an MSF statement on 16 October calling for urgent humanitarian assistance amid “unprecedented levels of violence”. MSF said it had directly witnessed the execution of one healthcare worker, as well as multiple violent attacks on humanitarian staff.

What are the main humanitarian issues?

The violence in Ouham has pushed at least 170,000 people into the forest or into Bossangoa. In Bossangoa, about 36,000 people are seeking refuge at a church, a provincial administration office, and at a local school, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They are living in precarious conditions with limited or no access to shelter, clean water, food and sanitation, according to MSF.

Health care has been adversely affected. “Health structures have been looted, the few qualified personnel have fled, drug supply and logistic means are non-existent or paralysed and even worse is the population which flees violence by seeking refuge in the bush [and] does not have any access to the most basic of health care,” Albert Caramés, an MSF humanitarian affairs officer in Bangui, told IRIN.

Some schools which had reopened have been closed, especially in the provinces of Ouham, Ouham-Pendé and Ouaka due to the insecurity, according to OCHA.

The International Medical Corps (IMC), in a 15 October statement, said the conflict was disrupting agricultural livelihoods in CAR. The looting of cattle, seeds, tools and already-meagre food reserves has compounded the situation.

IMC has recorded global acute malnutrition rates of 15.8 percent (above the UN World Health Organization emergency threshold of 15 percent) in parts of Haute-Kotto District in eastern CAR. Treatment services for malnourished children have been adversely affected with insecurity hindering humanitarian access and the transportation of vital food supplies, added IMC.

“More than 390,000 people in CAR are currently internally displaced; almost twice the numbers reported during the height of previous CAR instability between 2006-2008,” notes Melanie Wissing, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (IDMC) assistant country analyst for CAR. “Today, estimates suggest that a staggering 10 percent of the population of CAR has been forced to flee since the Séléka movement overthrew the former President Bozizé and his regime in March.”

Is there a risk of regional spillover?

In mid-August, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, in a briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC) following a CAR visit, noted that the government is fragile and fraught with challenges “including divisions within Séléka, the proliferation of weapons in Bangui and beyond, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts and the absence of state administration outside of Bangui.”

Vulnerable (file photo)

Amos further warned that the CAR crisis, which has affected the entire population of 4.6 million, threatened to spill across the border.

In her blog, Wissing amplifies Amos’s concern, noting that there has been increasing cross-border criminal activity and the presence of fighters from neighbouring countries in CAR.

“Recent reports that both Chadian and Sudanese nationals are found fighting in CAR, along with current reports of refugees arriving in CAR from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, suggest there is a risk that armed groups on either side of the border might take advantage of the current situation to further fuel conflict,” she stated.

“With bands of rebel fighters ultimately loyal to their individual commanders, the president’s official dissolution of Séléka provides little incentives for compliance; there is almost no prospect of purely local action controlling armed groups.”

The northeastern CAR region is characterized by lawlessness and banditry. It is also a livestock migratory route for pastoralists from and to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. Inter-communal tension is common there too.

“Recent reports claim that such pastoralist groups have sided with Séléka and attacked civilians. This raises concerns that armed groups could exploit these inter-communal tensions to further fuel instability for their own benefit, in a way that would mirror conflict and displacement dynamics in Darfur,” warned Wissing.

However, “a truly ‘regional crisis’ appears unlikely, according to Oxford Analytica. “The norm will more likely prevail: that is, state collapse in mineral-rich peripheries, providing havens for various armed groups.”

Is there a sectarian dimension?

There have also been rising religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in CAR.

Explaining the emergence of religious identity as a driver or perceived driver of tension, Oxford Analytica noted that Séléka originated and recruited in the far north which is predominantly Muslim; Djotodia is CAR’s first Muslim head of state; opportunities for looting and theft in rural areas of CAR have also attracted many foreign fighters, often from countries with larger Muslim communities, particularly Chad; and in reprisal for Séléka activity, Muslims around Bossangoa (in Ouham) have been attacked and killed, with subsequent revenge attacks against non-Muslims.

“Sectarian factors were also at play in August, when elements of Séléka cracked down on supposed Bozizé sympathizers in the Boy Rabe District of Bangui,” it adds. 

Since early September, the nature of the CAR conflict has changed with the proliferation of local self-defence groups in various parts of the country, MSF’s Caramés told IRIN.

“As they [the self-defence groups] target government forces and Muslim populations, whom they accuse of collusion with the ex-Séléka, this drives these new government forces to reply aggressively against the self-defence groups and civilian population who are overwhelmingly Christian,” he said.

“This circle of violence is fuelling this latest conflict… When such aggressions occur, the population traditionally flee to their fields located anywhere from one to 30km in the bush surrounding their village or city. There, they spend days, weeks and even months without proper shelter, no safe drinking water, limited food supply and no access to the most basic of healthcare.”

With the present violence in CAR concentrated in the northwest, as it was during the 2006-2008 instability, IDMC’s Wissing added that: “If history were to repeat itself, criminal gangs coming from as far as Niger and Nigeria would take advantage of both the instability and the porous borders to target civilians in CAR, potentially causing massive displacement.”

What is the UN doing?

On 10 October, the UN Security Council (UNSC)  unanimously adopted a resolution seeking to update the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA). This will enable BINUCA to support the implementation of CAR’s transition process over the next 18 months – after which presidential and legislative elections are expected.

UNSC also demanded that Séléka and other armed groups participate in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes and called on African countries to speed up the transition of the Mission of the Economic Community of Central African States for the Consolidation of Peace in CAR into the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR.

UNSC has also noted the UN Secretary-General’s recommendation that BINUCA strengthen its field presence by establishing a guard unit to protect UN personnel and installations in CAR.

aw/cb source


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