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Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Relief Services’

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.

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DRC: Conflict for Coffee?

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

GOMA,  – Entrepreneur Gilbert Makelele wants armed groups in his part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to wake up and smell the coffee.

“You should tell the population to grow coffee, as it’s the best way for them to make money,” he told a militia member during a recent visit to the town of Kalonge, where he and his fellow cooperative members have planted a nursery for coffee seedlings.The Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders (CPNCK), which Makelele founded five years ago, has planted six of these nurseries in the Kalonge-Pinga-Mweso triangle, a hotbed of militia activity.

“If the young men in this area knew how much they could earn with coffee, they would not be interested in joining militias,” Makelele told IRIN.

“A paradise for coffee”

Coffee, a traditional export crop, was virtually abandoned across much of North Kivu in the past 30 years. DRC’s production shrank from 110,000 metric tons in the late 1980s to about 50,000 metric tons in 2009, according to the DRC’s national coffee office.

CPNCK says it is giving away half a million arabica seedlings to help relaunch coffee’s cultivation.

Many people in the Kalonge area, including members of armed groups, appear to be interested in planting coffee. The militiaman told IRIN he would like to plant the crop on his ancestral land of more than 100 hectares, but that he would first have to raise US$1,000 to pay the land registry for title deeds.

Uncertainty about land titles and the involvement of Congolese and foreign armed groups are just some of the problems local farmers will face if they decide to take Makelele’s advice. Planting coffee is a long-term investment, prices have been volatile and the market is not as reliable as that for food crops.

Nevertheless, the crop has paid off for neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, which have increased their production in recent years. The crop is Uganda’s single most important export, and coffee and tea together account for nearly half of Rwanda’s exports.

The recent history of coffee prices could also deter would-be planters: The New York market price for mild arabica, currently slightly above the inflation-adjusted average for the past decade, has fluctuated by more than 300 percent since 2003, and has trended downwards since the late 1970s.

But coffee’s promoters argue that increasing demand in middle-income countries, plus the possibility that climate change could lead to the spread of diseases in coffee plants, point to higher prices in future – and bright prospects for Kivu coffee.

Additionally, the temperate climate in the Kivu region’s hills is thought to be protection against coffee rust, the most devastating disease affecting arabica. Partly for this reason, World Coffee Research describes the area as “a paradise for coffee”.

This optimism has helped to persuade several NGOs – including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Oxfam, the Eastern Congo Initiative and the Fairtrade organization Twin – to launch coffee projects in the Kivu provinces.

Twin has helped a South Kivu co-operative, Sopacdi, replant coffee and improve yields, quality and post-harvest processing, enabling its 3,500 members to become the first producers in Kivu to achieve organic and Fairtrade certification.

Income potential

Sopacdi has publicized the job opportunities it has provided to ex-combatants. A number of them work at a mechanized washing centre – paid for by Twin and employing 161 people – where the coffee berries are depulped and dried.

One of the staff at the washing centre, former rebel Habamungu Engavashapa, told IRIN he was happy with civilian life because he was able to spend nights in a house rather than in the forest.

Another ex-combatant, Abdul Mahagi, said Sopacdi had trained him as a machinist and given him a contract; he said he was beginning to see a way to organize his life.

Other workers at the washing centre, however, complained that their salaries, about $60 a month, were barely enough to live on.

The main opportunities that coffee co-operatives are likely to provide for ex-combatants in the short term would be to clear land and plant seedlings.

CPNCK has been employing 50 ex-combatants on these tasks at a rate of $1 a day, much less than they would earn in artisanal mining, but not insignificant in most of the villages, says Jean-Baptiste Musbyimana, an agricultural journalist based in Goma.

The returns could be more enticing for ex-combatants and smallholder farmers who are able to grow coffee for themselves.

For information on the profitability of coffee versus that of alternative crops, IRIN consulted Franck Muke, an agronomist who has studied coffee production in DRC and in Brazil; Xavier Phemba, CRS’s agricultural project co-ordinator in Goma; and Sandra Kavira, an agronomist working for the International Fertilizer Development Centre.

Their data suggest returns from a hectare of 2,500 coffee trees could be two to three times as high as the returns from a hectare of maize or beans, assuming an absence of mineral fertilizers and only limited use of organic fertilizers.

Jean-Baptiste Musabyimana, of the Federation of Agricultural Producer Organizations of Congo (FOPAC), which does not promote coffee, said coffee is regarded as having several advantages over other crops, including the potential for intercropping with bananas, beans or legumes, which provide organic waste and additional profits from the same acreage.

Once the trees have been planted, coffee also requires less labour than annual crops and is less likely to be stolen.

“Armed groups won’t cut off the berries and eat them,” coffee plantation owner Eric Kulage told IRIN. “And the workers don’t want the berries either, whereas when they are harvesting maize they always solicit some bags.”

Coffee’s major disadvantage is the cost of planting and the fact that the trees cannot be harvested for the first three years and do not reach their full potential for five to eight years. Muke estimated costs of planting 2,500 trees per hectare, and pruning for three non-productive years, at $850 to $950. These costs, and the risks involved, limit the acreage farmers will be willing to devote to the crop.

Helping DRC compete

A significant limitation to DRC’s coffee industry is the lack of mechanized washing stations, which cut down on waste and help maintain product consistency. Washing stations are the norm in Uganda and Rwanda, but there are hardly any in Kivu, where producers depulp the berries by hand or sell the wet berries to merchants from Uganda and Rwanda.

Aid agencies are planning to install several washing stations at sites close to large population centres and to Lake Kivu. But Muke says this could be a mistake, as the lakeside areas have higher humidity, which is thought to promote coffee rust.

There could be social advantages to promoting a perennial crop in areas further from Lake Kivu, like Kalonge Pinga and Mweso, where many young men see joining an armed group as their most viable livelihood option.

“If they have a perennial crop to look after, they will want to settle down,” suggested CPNCK’s Makelele.

But a major obstacle to promoting agriculture in areas where militias recruit is, of course, insecurity. Although armed groups are unlikely to steal coffee berries, they might try to steal bulk loads of dried coffee from washing stations.

Plantation owner Kulage commented that, in his experience, armed groups had not succeeded in stealing and marketing large coffee harvests in recent years. He suggested that security forces might be deployed to protect washing stations during the limited periods when bulk loads of dried coffee are left there.

Oxfam’s co-ordinator for North Kivu, Tariq Riebl, doubted whether any donor would accept the risk of building a washing station in a place like Kalonge. He noted that 90,000 seedlings had recently been stolen from a CPNCK nursery near Kalonge.

“If you mention that to donors, they won’t want to hear anything more,” he said.

But Makelele argues that the theft was not a problem because the co-op was going to give the seedlings away anyway.

“I am very happy about it,” he told IRIN. “It shows that people want to plant coffee.”

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