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Posts Tagged ‘Guinea-Bissau’

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 http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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Criminal groups have benefited from globalization – Embedding crime experts into UN field operations?

Posted by African Press International on August 14, 2013

Nigerian police in the UN mission to Haiti assist in quelling a student protest in Port au Prince in 2009

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Criminal groups have benefited from globalization
  • Overlap of UN peace operations and crime-affected regions
  • Organized crime can corrupt governments
  • Difficult for UNPOL to recruit effective crime-fighters

NEW YORK,  – The globalization of organized crime poses a growing threat to fragile states that lack the ability to resist it, putting pressure on the UN to find solutions.

A recently-released report entitled The Elephant in the Room, part of the New York-based International Peace Institute’s Peace Without Crime series, argues that “crime has become a serious threat in almost every theater where the UN has peace operations.” The authors of the report (Walter Kemp, Mark Shaw and Arthur Boutellis) argue that organized crime is eroding the UN’s attempts to bring about peace and stability in the many countries in which it has missions and yet these missions contain very few references to crime.

Criminal groups are one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, says Kemp, director for Europe and Central Asia at the IPI. “Over the last 20 years organized crime has gone global. It has reached macro-economic proportions.” Globalization has seen the growth in traffic around the world of just about everything – including contraband, says Kemp. Whereas organized crime was once regarded as a problem pertaining to the developed world, and confined mostly to cities, it has in the last few years rapidly spread its tentacles across the globe, finding new routes and penetrating vulnerable West African states like Guinea Bissau and Mali. “Much of the instability in West Africa is due to the impact of drug-trafficking from Latin America to Europe,” argue the authors.

As contraband is trafficked from one corner of the globe to the other, often moving through several transit countries, national – and even regional – crackdowns may simply shift the problem onto adjacent, potentially more vulnerable countries. Yet should the UN’s peacekeeping forces be tasked with fighting organized crime?

The authors concede that other parts of the UN may be better suited to dealing with the challenge but argue that given that “organized crime is threatening the stability, development and justice that peacekeepers are trying to establish,” peacekeeping forces cannot turn a blind eye.

While organized crime and peace operations “had almost nothing to do with each other” 50 years ago, “at the beginning of the 21st century the trajectories have converged,” they say. As peacekeeping has seen a greater integration between civilian and military aspects, and is as much about building up institutions and states as restoring the rule of law, organized crime has evolved too, “from a localized problem into a pervasive, strategic threat to governments, societies and economies”.

The authors show an overlap of UN peace operations and major crime-affected regions – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Iraq, Kosovo and Timor-Leste to name a few – and conclude this is because “conflict affected and fragile regions – precisely the places where the UN is most needed – are especially vulnerable to transnational organized crime and provide favorable conditions for its development.”

In the first report in the series, Identifying the Spoilers, they spell out how peacekeepers and other players can identify signs of organized crime in the countries in which they operate. Elephant in the Room, the second report, shows how organized crime has had a destabilizing impact on the political economy of three nations – Guinea-Bissau, Haiti and Kosovo – and finds a “mismatch between the seriousness of the threat posed by organized crime and the UN’s ability to tackle it”.

They argue the limitations of a purely militarist approach – as when the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) countered the gang violence in Haiti. Despite their successes, they have not been able to halt the organized crime networks that still operate in and beyond Haiti’s borders. The third report, due out soon, looks at what the UN and international players can do at a systemic level to address the problem. Up to now, say the authors, “there is not much enthusiasm for the UN to tackle organized crime.”

Crime-and-instability nexus

Crucial to their argument is the notion that there is a “nexus between crime and instability” and that when transnational organized crime funds the activities and thus furthers the political aims of insurgents or rebels or corrupts governments at the highest level, the fall-out can be huge. This occurred in Guinea Bissau, for example, when the president, João Bernardo Vieira, was assassinated in 2009 in alleged drug-related rivalry between political and military officials.

“Good police work is of little use when the courts do not convict or where prisoners are released, and building capacity among corrupt officials can have unintended consequences.”

While the quantities of cocaine being trafficked through Guinea-Bissau are relatively small (an estimated 25 tons per year), at around 25 percent of the country’s GNP this is still high enough to corrupt high-level officials and undermine the tiny economy. Other contraband passing through other West African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, DRC, and Cote d’Ivoire – and possibility posing a bigger problem in future – include fuel, timber, people, minerals, diamonds and ivory.

Terrorism versus crime

Shaw, director of Communities, Crime and Conflicts at STATT Consulting, says the focus on the threat posed by terrorism over the past decade has overshadowed the growth of crime networks. “The attention has been on the war in Iran and Afghanistan,” he says. Even the problem of opium-trafficking in the latter country has been viewed through the prism of the war. But the alarming nexus of organized crime, insurgency and terrorism in Mali has alerted the world to the fact that organized crime can step into the political vacuum in societies in upheaval.

Libya, warns Shaw, may become a haven for organized crime. “There are lots of unemployed young men, established militia and weapons, and the country is at the crossroads of a number of trafficking routes,” he says.

Crime-instability link overstated?

Ted Leggett, a research officer with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, acknowledges a frequent overlap between organized crime and political instability but believes the connection can be overstated at times. It is important, he says, to make the distinction between the problem of local strongmen and the problem of transnational trafficking. Insurgents or rebels may profit from transnational trafficking – for example the Taliban’s taxing of opium production and trafficking in Afghanistan (earning them US$125 million annually), or militias’ involvement in trafficking minerals in DRC, to advance their wars – but they rarely take charge of the trafficking themselves. “Rather, they provide protection to transnational traffickers, specialists who pay them to operate in the areas that they control. It’s like the relationship between a state and the corporations headquartered within it. The US government does not export Ford autos, but it does tax Ford,” he says.

On the Elephant in the Room’s broader argument, Leggett says: “The idea that peacekeeping missions should help the host states build their capacity to deal with transnational organized crime is a good one but any such intervention would face serious challenges.” It is difficult, he says, for UN Police to recruit the kind of specialized staff required. “Most police peacekeepers are patrol officers from other developing countries” with limited skills and resources. Often, they can’t speak the local language. Given that “dealing with transnational organized crime requires a sophisticated understanding of the local context”, this is highly problematic. Another problem, says Leggett, and as the authors of the report note, is that the security forces are themselves often implicated in trafficking.

He adds: “Good police work is of little use when the courts do not convict or where prisoners are released, and building capacity among corrupt officials can have unintended consequences.”

Embedding crime experts into UN field operations?

The IPI report authors conclude with recommendations on how peace operations can tackle organized crime more effectively. As Shaw notes, “the complexities of illicit trafficking require much more than a law enforcement response.” Pooling information and utilizing regional offices, for example the UN Office for West Africa in Dakar, is key, as is embedding crime experts into UN field operations. Peacekeepers are well-placed to collect information, which must be managed and analysed at a higher level. They may baulk at the notion of intelligence gathering, “(but) as the UN increasingly becomes a target for terrorist attacks, and as UN operations become more exposed to complex situations involving armed groups and criminal networks, there is a growing realization and acceptance that peace operations need to have access to intelligence,” they say.

The development approach

Meanwhile, some argue that the best way vulnerable states – particularly those in conflict and post-conflict situations – can be protected from transnational organized crime is by taking a development approach: in other words, strengthening their economic, civic and government structures.

Graeme Simpson, director of Interpeace USA, which seeks to build social and political cohesion in post-conflict societies, argues that neither law enforcement approaches, nor the peacekeepers, can effectively combat transnational organized crime. “These approaches are addressing the symptoms but not the underlying deficiencies that make countries vulnerable to organized crime,” he says. “Drug cartels and drug-based economies are vibrant and they hold and employ huge numbers of people. Unless we create alternative sustainable economies and legitimate polities in these communities we won’t be able to offer alternative and viable ways for people to survive,” he adds.

pg/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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On guard: Cholera down but officials vigilant

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2013

DAKAR,  – Some 1,700 people in West Africa have contracted cholera since mid-June, a significant decline compared to the same seven-week period in 2012 when 11,834 were affected.

Overall, 50,439 people contracted cholera in West and Central Africa in 2012, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Sierra Leone and Guinea saw 30,000 people infected and 400 deaths.

This year, most of the cases are in Guinea Bissau (652), Sierra Leone (367) and Niger (354).

“It seems we are winning the fight thus far, but we must strictly monitor the West African coastal countries [Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone] since they were so affected by cholera last year,” said François Bellet, West Africa cholera focal point for UNICEF.

Cholera often follows two-year cycles, with immunity building following an epidemic.

In Guinea-Bissau between 11 March and 8 July, 158 cases were confirmed and 18 people died of cholera. Despite fatality rates of 11 percent, Guinea’s health minister declared on 11 July “there is no scientific evidence about a cholera outbreak.”

In Mali, where no new cases have been reported in the past five weeks, the government and aid agencies launched aggressive prevention actions when cholera broke out across the border in Niger.

Guinean health officials have worked with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and UNICEF to vaccinate 3,740 people in the Mènyingbé Islands, near Conakry, to prevent cholera from spreading. Last year MSF launched the vaccine in Guinea for the first time. Guinea has registered 115 cases and seven deaths since 19 March.

The cholera caseload may be higher than reported, said Bellet. “Some deaths are not reported in order to avoid high fatality rates or for political reasons. But if they’re not identified, we can’t provide adequate response,” he told IRIN.

Further, the caseload usually peaks towards the end of the rainy season (in September) so health workers must remain alert, said Bruno Ngandu Kazadi, information focal point for cholera for the West Africa office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “If rains are as strong as in 2012, we risk similar outbreak spikes,” he said.

Correctly diagnosing transmission contexts, reinforcing risk reduction strategies in the most affected zones, national planning, and promoting an intersectoral approach are also essential for prevention and treatment, say aid agencies and health officials.

cr/aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Cashew price dips

Posted by African Press International on July 20, 2013

Around 40 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s cashews remain unsold due to poor prices this year

DAKAR,  – A slump in cashew nut prices in Guinea-Bissau has left nearly half of the population eking out food, with families skipping meals or selling livestock to survive until the next harvest in September, aid groups say.

The average price per kg of cashews is 112 CFA francs (two US cents) – the lowest yet – down from an average of 300 CFA in 2012. The 63 percent drop is due to plummeting international prices, reduced demand from Guinea-Bissau’s main cashew importer (India), the April 2012 coup, disagreements between the government and traders on benchmark price as well as banks’ decision to reduce loans to traders.

“The result is a significant decrease of [people’s] food security which obliges them to revert to coping mechanisms such as skipping meals, reducing food intake, selling animals and so on,” Ussama Osman, the World Food Programme (WFP) country director in Guinea-Bissau, told IRIN.

This year marks a second consecutive year of falling cashew nut prices. InJuly 2012 the country exported 60,000 tons of cashew nuts compared to more than 100,000 tons by the same time in 2011.

Eighty percent of Guinea-Bissau’s 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production. Farmers sell their produce basically to buy food, or they barter cashew nuts for food. The terms of exchange have also worsened. One kilo of rice now “costs” 3kg of cashew nuts, up from an exchange rate of 1:1, Osman explained.

“People’s diet is becoming very poor. They stick to the basic food [rice] but the terms of exchange affect the quality and quantity of their food intake,” he said. “Forty-eight percent of the entire population faces a huge food gap during this lean period that requires an emergency intervention.”

A June rapid food security assessment conducted by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Agriculture, the National Cashew Nut Agency and the National Institute of Statistics in seven of the country’s nine regions found that only 8 percent of those interviewed had cereal stocks to last one and a half months.

Some 38 percent of this year’s harvest has not been sold due to the poor prices. Rice imports, which depend on cashew revenue, are expected to be low, “thus combining lack of access and availability of the main source of food during the lean season,” said Patrick David, FAO’s regional food security analyst based in Dakar.

Over-reliance on cashews

Cashews account for 90 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s exports and 45 percent of its GDP. With the withdrawal of budgetary support by key lenders following the 2012 coup, the government will face difficulty in paying public service salaries after the cashew harvesting season ends in September, theInternational Monetary Fund foresees.

Over the years, farmers have converted swathes of forest into cashew orchards and increasingly rely on the land-extensive and low-labour- intensive crop, thus drastically reducing cereal production. Cashew revenue funds tin roofing for houses, marriages, feasts, funerals, bicycles and buying rice among other things, explained Marina Temudo, an agronomist at the Portugal-based Tropical Research Institute (IICT).

“The country has been transformed into a huge cashew tree plantation. This has both economic and environmental hazards. While farmers are now aware of the economic perils of being exclusively dependent upon one cash crop whose market is highly unstable, they have still no idea of the risks of mono-cropping in terms of pests and diseases,” Temudo told IRIN.

“The change from a relatively broad-based food provisioning to almost full dependence on one cash crop is not without shortcomings for farmers’ livelihoods. Food insecurity and indebtedness are growing as a result of the combined effects of a reorientation of the farming systems towards cashew production and dependence upon the market for food supply, as well as the consequences of climate change and the increased use of credit to solve pre-harvest food shortages.”

Farmers should diversify, said Temudo, noting that some farmers have begun switching to food production. “This process should be supported by external agents and donors with incentives for food production and processing facilities,” she said.

The current crisis is forcing some farmers to sell their yet-to-be-harvested food crops at half price in order to buy staples, WFP’s Osman explained. The organization has seen funding for basic nutrition and food security programmes frozen since the coup.

“There is need for immediate financial support from the donors. They have to realize that political pressure, sanctions and boycott are punishing the most vulnerable. A gesture to these people is needed immediately,” he said.

ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Who is undermining Guinea-Bissau’s stability?

Posted by African Press International on June 8, 2013

Photo: Wikimedia
Guinea-Bissau is struggling to rise from yet another coup

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Attractive conditions for drug traffickers
  • Pressure on government finances
  • Political patronage rife

BISSAU, – The small West African country of Guinea-Bissau is slated to hold fresh polls later this year after yet another coup, but opposition to security sector reform (SSR) by some in the army, the manipulation of the armed forces by politicians, as well as the military’s interference in politics could jeopardize a return to stability, analysts say.

“There is an old guard within the military that does not wish to lose control of the armed forces. From their point of view, SSR is a serious threat to their power and therefore their sources of income. So whenever we are moving forward in the SSR process, sooner or later a military coup takes place,” said Paulo Gorjao, director of the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS).

Just days before the 29 April 2012 presidential run-off, the army arrested and detained Prime Minister and poll front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior and the interim president. Coup leaders accused Gomes of undermining the military. Analysts say veteran army generals are loath to reform and come under civilian control.

The army is dominated by the Balanta, the largest ethnic group. Balanta officers occupy most of the top military ranks. Gomes, of Portuguese-African descent, had defeated Kumba Yala, a Balanta, in the first round of the 2012 polls.

“The army does not [meddle in politics] on its own. It [meddles] because some sections of the political elite manipulate it as they cannot get to power through peaceful democratic elections,” UN Special Representative José Ramos-Horta, the former Timor-Leste president, told IRIN.

“But it works both ways, particularly in a society with ethnic loyalties. If you have a politician who belongs to a particular ethnic group and that ethnic group has a strong influence in the army, it’s not so difficult to anticipate where that army’s allegiance lies…

“SSR will take time. It is a sine qua non for peace and stability in the country,” said Ramos-Horta.

Drugs trade

Guinea-Bissau’s political instability has also created attractive conditions for drug traffickers over the past decade. The country is one of the key transhipment points in West Africa for drugs heading to Europe from South America.

Politicians and the military are involved in the cocaine trade and those who have dared challenge the traffickers have been killed or kidnapped, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a February report.

While the country’s instability predates the drug trade, analysts say trafficking has had an influence on the political crisis.

Cost of instability
69.3 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s 1.6 million people live in poverty.
Just over half of the population has access to clean water.
Life expectancy is 48 years.
Although child mortality has declined to 161 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011 from 210 in 1990, the death rate is among the highest in the world.
Primary and secondary school net attendance rate increased from 54 to 67 percent between 2006 and 2010, but education quality remains low.
IMF predicts a 3.5 percent GDP growth in 2013 assuming increased cashew harvests and prices and a resumption of public investment, but recovery dependents on political stability, it says.
Sources: World Bank, UNICEF

“I believe that military instability and the coups are mainly explained by drug-trafficking since the control of the armed forces is crucial to control of the sources of income related to drug-trafficking. Moreover, drug-trafficking also explains why SSR is so difficult to implement,” Gorjao explained.

“So as long as we don’t act to curb drug-trafficking, Guinea-Bissau will be condemned to regular power plays within the armed forces, with the spillover effects that result from it.”

Donors stay away

Guinea-Bissau donors withdrew budgetary aid following the 2012 coup. The European Union (EU), Bissau’s main donor, has held back 60 million euros since 2010 due to the recurrent instability and has bypassed the government in supporting water, health, human rights and other projects.

“We cannot continue to give institutional assistance, more so budgetary aid, to people who are not [legitimately elected], who cannot manage the state budget and who are infiltrated by drug traffickers,” EU delegation chief in Guinea-Bissau Joaquin Gonzalez-Ducay told IRIN.

“The country continues to be governed by an army involved in drug-trafficking and a puppet government incapable of advancing a political agenda,” he said.

Pressure on government finances has been added to by pay rise demands from the civil service and the military, the World Bank said in an April report. Budget support provided by the Economic Community for West African States and Nigeria is key to preventing possible unrest due to salary delays, it said.

“The regional support has been enough to support the functioning of the government apparatus but not for investment. If there is no investment there is no employment, no growth, just current expenditure,” said Alfredo Torrez, the International Monetary Fund representative in Guinea-Bissau.

He called for the development of the private sector once the political crisis is resolved. “Everybody is waiting for a very clear message, a [political] road map. Once everything is in place, the opportunity for recovery is very high.”

Political impasse

The Party of Social Renewal (PRS) of former president Kumba Yala, the Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) of ousted candidate Gomes, and other smaller parties, have held difficult negotiations on an inclusive government ahead of elections planned for November.

In May they agreed on the government’s composition, but it has not yet been formed and the parties have not yet agreed on the electoral commission chief or the election date. Some smaller parties have rejected the unity government framework.

“It marks progress definitely, but months of work should have been invested to conclude an agreement. There’s neither a new government nor an electoral commission. This is not a good sign,” said Vincent Foucher of the International Crisis Group.

“Nothing is being done to tackle the root causes of the [2012] coup…”

He argued that Guinea-Bissau’s political and economic system of patronage – amid meagre resources – is one of the fundamental problems that have caused the country’s protracted crisis.

He also bemoaned regional inequalities: “There is a serious problem of economic development that is worsened by wide inequalities between the capital city and the rural areas over access to resources and public services,” he said.

“The other problem is that political life is defined by the Balanta-backed PRS on one side and PAIGC – a machine to win elections despite deep internal divisions – on the other. This is an explosive combination.”

These fault lines are not currently being addressed, said IPRIS’s Gorjao. “Nothing is being done to tackle the root causes of the [2012] coup because nothing is being done at this stage regarding SSR and little is being done concerning drug-trafficking.”

The international community is looking to assist deeper reforms when a legitimate government is in power. But Guinea-Bissau analyst Seco Cassama warned: “We have never had problems during elections. It is after the elections that we have problems.”

ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Guinea-Bissau is very much behind on education

Posted by African Press International on June 5, 2013

Ministry of Education building in Guinea-Bissau capital, Bissau. Prolonged instability is lowering education standards

BISSAU,  – Guinea-Bissau’s chronic political turmoil is depriving children of quality education. Access to education remains low, learning is often disrupted by teachers’ strikes and the country spends the lowest portion of its budget on education in West Africa.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, the small West African country has been jolted by a string of military coups and a deadly civil war (1998-99) which have undermined social and infrastructural development and made it one of the world’s poorest states.

The current interim government came into being after a coup in April 2012. In the three months after the military takeover, more than 90 percent of state primary and secondary schools were closed due to the absence of effective government, said Tomoko Shibuya, head of education programmes at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Guinea-Bissau.

“Schools are in a deplorable state; there are no desks; roofs are in disrepair and children cannot learn during the rainy season,” said Armando Correia Landim, head of the country’s 10,000-strong parents’ association.

UNICEF Guinea-Bissau spends US$3.5-4 million annually supporting primary education with textbooks, teacher training and curriculum revision, among others. By contrast, the government spent roughly US$11 million on education in 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available).

In that year the government spent 11 percent of the budget on education – the lowest proportion in West Africa. At 30 percent Ghana allocates the highest amount to education in the region. More than 90 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s education budget pays salaries, leaving little or nothing for teacher training, buildings and equipping schools, according to the UNICEF.

Many Guinea-Bissau donors also withdrew budgetary aid after the latest coup; some had done so earlier owing to perennial instability.

Teachers only recently called off a strike they began in early May – the third strike this school year, resulting in the loss of about a third of annual tuition time. The teachers’ union said some of the dues owed to their members date back to 2003.

Teachers’ union leader Luis Nancassa blamed the government: “An empty sack cannot stand upright. It’s inhuman to employ someone for 4-5 months without a salary,” he said, referring to newly recruited staff. “We decided to paralyse learning because the teachers no longer have the energy or the will to continue working without pay.”

Audit required

Education Minister Vicente Poungoura admitted that the “education system is poorly organized” and that an extensive audit was required to determine the exact number of schools and teachers in order to better manage the education sector.

The government must first have a clear idea of what problems it faces in the education system. Only then can it ask for help from other partners,” said Poungoura who took up office as part of the interim government.

“An evaluation will help us understand what should be done. That is why I have insisted that a census must be done in the education sector.”

He explained that lack of a clear policy to manage free primary learning had also contributed to the country’s education crisis.

“We embarked on free education without regard to financial implications. There is also the problem of staff. We had poorly trained teachers under the free education system. In a poor country like Guinea-Bissau [free education] is sometimes utopian,” Poungoura told IRIN.

Quality poor

While the net attendance rate for primary and secondary schools rose to 67 percent in 2010, up from 54 percent in 2006, the quality of education has been poor. Only about 60 percent of children complete primary school, and the same goes for secondary school. Overall, only 22 percent of children who enter the school system complete secondary school, according to UNICEF.

The primary school completion rate is among the lowest in West Africa.

Shibuya also noted there were few female teachers. “This discourages girls from continuing with studies because they don’t have role models.”

Widespread poverty, insufficient learning materials and teachers, inadequate teacher training, early marriage for girls, the seasonal use of child labour, and long distances that some students have to cover to get to school, are some of the other barriers to education in Guinea-Bissau.

Self-help

Meanwhile, some parents have been taking matters into their own hands.

“As parents, we cannot just sit back and do nothing,” said Landim. He explained that a scheme set up by the parents’ association in 2010 had ensured that the main state schools in the northeastern Gabu and Bafata regions as well as in Tombali and Quinara in the east were functional during the teachers’ strike.

Parents make a monthly contribution of 700-2,000 CFA francs (US$1.3-4) depending on the region, to pay teachers up to 30,000 CFA francs ($60). The scheme is meant to complement their pay (they get an average of $140 per month from the government) during lengthy salary delays.

ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Some Donors stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état

Posted by African Press International on May 15, 2013

BISSAU/DAKAR,  – The World Food Programme (WFP) has not received the money it needs to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau, leaving projects in jeopardy or at a standstill. 

The organization needs US$7 million immediately to cover its food security and nutrition programme targeting 278,000 people for 2013; and a further $8 million to extend the project through 2014. The project involves school-feeding, preventing moderate and acute malnutrition, and boosting rice production, and was supposed to start in February this year.

WFP head of programmes Fatimata Sow-Sidibé told IRIN the money is lacking because traditional donors suspended all development cooperation following the April 2012 coup.

“We have some promises [from donors],” said Sow-Sidibé, “but the programme was supposed to start in February and we have no resources to buy the food we need.”

Traditional donors more or less stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leaving infrastructure projects and basic services at a standstill across the country, but humanitarian funding was supposedly untouched. LINK The problem for WFP is that their project spans development and emergency activities and thus is not just eligible for humanitarian funding.

The African Development Bank also suspended its funding for rural agricultural development projects, following the coup. The cuts “are having a direct impact on food security in Guinea-Bissau, where we already have severe cereal deficits due to inadequate local production,” said a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.

Food insecurity in Guinea-Bissau is driven mainly by an inability of people to access food because prices are beyond their reach. Most Bissau Guineans rely on imported rice as they grow mainly cash crops (cashews) and not grains.

Food prices have risen year on year since 2008 (imported rice is currently U$1.20 per kg), and the most recent countryside hunger assessment (2011) cited high prices as the biggest barrier for vulnerable households to access food.

The coup put off a planned countrywide food security assessment in 2012 but a rapid assessment in the regions of Biombo, Oio and Quinara in June 2012 revealed one in five people were food insecure (regions in the east were not included in the survey). Some 65 percent of households at the time had under one month’s supply of food stocks and more people were resigned to further indebtedness, selling animals and producing wine from the cashew fruit, to get by.

Cashew crisis

People’s ability to buy food has been severely hampered by a crisis in the cashew industry: 80-95 percent of Bissau-Guineans depend on cashew sales to purchase food as well as meet other household expenses. Terms of trade for cashews have been deteriorating since 2011: In a good year 1kg of rice can be roughly exchanged for 1kg of cashews; this shifted to 1.5kg of cashews to buy 1kg of rice in 2012, and to 2kgs of cashews for 1kg of rice in 2013, according to Ministry of Agriculture and WFP research. “Everything here is linked to cashews,” said Sow-Sidibé.

The poor terms of trade are linked to a poor 2012 cashew crop, and plummeting cashew prices following the coup (from 80 US cents per kg in May 2012 to 50 US cents one month later), and also linked to low fixed prices on international markets.

Cashew farmers are further stymied by exorbitant petrol prices (US$1.50 per litre) which makes it increasingly expensive for them to get their crop to market.

Ongoing projects

WFP continues to run food assistance programmes where it can. In two districts in Gabu, eastern Guinea-Bissau (Mancadndje Dara, Madina Madinga), and in two districts of Bafata (Djabicunda and Sare Biro), the organization helps villagers improve their farming techniques to boost rice production, including giving them improved seeds and helping them rent animals to get their crops to market. It also helps villagers grow market gardens to improve their food diversity and boost household income.

Mutaro Indjai, head of the village committee of rice producers in Saucunda village in Gabu, told IRIN: “This project helped us improve our production to last through four months, whereas before we only produced enough for one month.”

If the project comes to an end, they will continue to use improved techniques of production, but they would lack the seeds needed to plant next year. “We won’t have access to improved seeds, nor to the animals we need to speed up planting and to help us transport our harvest to nearby villages,” he told IRIN.

Nutrition

Nutrition programmes have also been affected. WFP pushes food diversity, given that feeding practices are a key component of high chronic malnutrition levels in Guinea-Bissau.

The organization tries to push a more varied diet (than the starch-dominated fare given to most infants) including fish soup, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and millet-based cereal. They also support local NGOs to make regular visits to health centres and villages on vaccination days to talk about how to prepare nutrient-rich meals for infants made out of corn flour, peanut powder, bean powder, oil and sugar, among others. Programmes target children in their first 1,000 days of life.

Some 17 percent of children under-five are underweight, and 27 percent are stunted due to inadequate nutrition, according to a December 2012 UNICEF-Ministry of Health nutrition survey.

Hunger specialists fear chronic malnutrition levels will rise if prevention is not stepped up.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health to set up nutrition treatment centres; provides therapeutic food for severely malnourished children; and helped update the government’s strategy to manage acute malnutrition, in February 2013. “Lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition, and limited human resources trained in nutrition” are the major challenges facing UNICEF, said Victor Suhfube Ngongalah, head of child survival there. UNICEF needs US$750,000 to implement its projects in 2013 and 2014.

Guinea Bissau is ranked 176 out of 187 countries assessed in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Political instability has also marred development. Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.

aj/dab/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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WFP needs money to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau

Posted by African Press International on May 14, 2013

Farmers in Bafata preparing the land to plant rice seedlings (file photo)

BISSAU/DAKAR,  – The World Food Programme (WFP) has not received the money it needs to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau, leaving projects in jeopardy or at a standstill.

The organization needs US$7 million immediately to cover its food security and nutrition programme targeting 278,000 people for 2013; and a further $8 million to extend the project through 2014. The project involves school-feeding, preventing moderate and acute malnutrition, and boosting rice production, and was supposed to start in February this year.

WFP head of programmes Fatimata Sow-Sidibé told IRIN the money is lacking because traditional donors suspended all development cooperation following the April 2012 coup.

“We have some promises [from donors],” said Sow-Sidibé, “but the programme was supposed to start in February and we have no resources to buy the food we need.”

Traditional donors more or less stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leaving infrastructure projects and basic services at a standstill across the country, but humanitarian funding was supposedly untouched. LINK The problem for WFP is that their project spans development and emergency activities and thus is not just eligible for humanitarian funding.

The African Development Bank also suspended its funding for rural agricultural development projects, following the coup. The cuts “are having a direct impact on food security in Guinea-Bissau, where we already have severe cereal deficits due to inadequate local production,” said a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.

Food insecurity in Guinea-Bissau is driven mainly by an inability of people to access food because prices are beyond their reach. Most Bissau Guineans rely on imported rice as they grow mainly cash crops (cashews) and not grains.

Food prices have risen year on year since 2008 (imported rice is currently U$1.20 per kg), and the most recent countryside hunger assessment (2011) cited high prices as the biggest barrier for vulnerable households to access food.

The coup put off a planned countrywide food security assessment in 2012 but a rapid assessment in the regions of Biombo, Oio and Quinara in June 2012 revealed one in five people were food insecure (regions in the east were not included in the survey). Some 65 percent of households at the time had under one month’s supply of food stocks and more people were resigned to further indebtedness, selling animals and producing wine from the cashew fruit, to get by.

Cashew crisis

People’s ability to buy food has been severely hampered by a crisis in the cashew industry: 80-95 percent of Bissau-Guineans depend on cashew sales to purchase food as well as meet other household expenses. Terms of trade for cashews have been deteriorating since 2011: In a good year 1kg of rice can be roughly exchanged for 1kg of cashews; this shifted to 1.5kg of cashews to buy 1kg of rice in 2012, and to 2kgs of cashews for 1kg of rice in 2013, according to Ministry of Agriculture and WFP research. “Everything here is linked to cashews,” said Sow-Sidibé.

The poor terms of trade are linked to a poor 2012 cashew crop, and plummeting cashew prices following the coup (from 80 US cents per kg in May 2012 to 50 US cents one month later), and also linked to low fixed prices on international markets.

Cashew farmers are further stymied by exorbitant petrol prices (US$1.50 per litre) which makes it increasingly expensive for them to get their crop to market.

Ongoing projects

WFP continues to run food assistance programmes where it can. In two districts in Gabu, eastern Guinea-Bissau (Mancadndje Dara, Madina Madinga), and in two districts of Bafata (Djabicunda and Sare Biro), the organization helps villagers improve their farming techniques to boost rice production, including giving them improved seeds and helping them rent animals to get their crops to market. It also helps villagers grow market gardens to improve their food diversity and boost household income.

Mutaro Indjai, head of the village committee of rice producers in Saucunda village in Gabu, told IRIN: “This project helped us improve our production to last through four months, whereas before we only produced enough for one month.”

If the project comes to an end, they will continue to use improved techniques of production, but they would lack the seeds needed to plant next year. “We won’t have access to improved seeds, nor to the animals we need to speed up planting and to help us transport our harvest to nearby villages,” he told IRIN.

Nutrition

Nutrition programmes have also been affected. WFP pushes food diversity, given that feeding practices are a key component of high chronic malnutrition levels in Guinea-Bissau.

The organization tries to push a more varied diet (than the starch-dominated fare given to most infants) including fish soup, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and millet-based cereal. They also support local NGOs to make regular visits to health centres and villages on vaccination days to talk about how to prepare nutrient-rich meals for infants made out of corn flour, peanut powder, bean powder, oil and sugar, among others. Programmes target children in their first 1,000 days of life.

Some 17 percent of children under-five are underweight, and 27 percent are stunted due to inadequate nutrition, according to a December 2012 UNICEF-Ministry of Health nutrition survey.

Hunger specialists fear chronic malnutrition levels will rise if prevention is not stepped up.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health to set up nutrition treatment centres; provides therapeutic food for severely malnourished children; and helped update the government’s strategy to manage acute malnutrition, in February 2013. “Lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition, and limited human resources trained in nutrition” are the major challenges facing UNICEF, said Victor Suhfube Ngongalah, head of child survival there. UNICEF needs US$750,000 to implement its projects in 2013 and 2014.

Guinea Bissau is ranked 176 out of 187 countries assessed in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Political instability has also marred development. Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.

aj/dab/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Fear amid human rights abuses

Posted by African Press International on November 13, 2012

Photo: Wikimedia
Another blow to democracy in Guinea-Bissau

BISSAU,  – A 21 October attack in Guinea-Bissau – when soldiers stormed barracks near Bissau’s main airport, targeting military figures and leaving six people dead – has provoked more fear than the numerous coups and counter-coups of recent years.
The transitional government branded the attack a coup attempt, and accused former colonial power Portugal of backing it in an attempt to propel former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who is in exile there, back into power. Within days, alleged coup leader Captain Pansau N’Tchama was arrested on the island of Bolama, in the Bijagos archipelago. He is expected to face a military court later in the year.
Although Guinea-Bissau’s history is littered with coups, counter-coups and attempted coups, most ordinary Bissau-Guineans have not been involved or directly affected.
However, October’s attack has ramped up tensions, largely because it took place during a dedicated transition period backed by regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and designed to lead Guinea-Bissau towards fresh elections in April 2013.
The attack also raised fears of rising human rights abuses: Two politicians, Yancuba Djola Indjai and Silvestre Alves, were badly beaten by soldiers the day after the coup attempt and a Portuguese journalist was expelled from the country.
On 6 November Luis Ocante da Silva, who was an ally of the ex-army head José Zamora Induta, was abducted from his home by a group of uniformed men, and was today reported to have died from his wounds.
“The last time I saw this level of fear among activists and commentators was in the build-up to the civil war in the late 1990s,” a former diplomat told IRIN on condition of anonymity. “People are really afraid to talk in public about politics or even initiatives,” he said. “It has also raised tensions between ethnicities as so many difficult questions rear their heads regarding Bissau’s future.”
Some Bissau-Guineans say they had been expecting an attack. “If it wasn’t last month, it might have been this month,” said Alfonso Gomes Vieira, who works as an upholsterer in Bissau. “The transitional period is seen as a cover-up… How could we gloss over all of Guinea-Bissau’s problems and pretend things are fine?
Since the April coup several sources say drug trafficking has mounted in Guinea-Bissau. Two planes full of cocaine have allegedly landed on the mainland over the past two weeks: in Gabu, southeast of the capital Bissau on 5 November, and in Catio, southwestern Bissau, the week before.
Ongoing crisis
“This is another sad episode in Guinea-Bissau’s ongoing crisis,” said Lorenso, an administrative officer at a radio station in Bissau who gave his first name only. “The path to new elections has been littered. I didn’t expect things to run smoothly, but there is an underlying sense that things are getting worse, that this was not an isolated incident… Maybe we’ll never be free from this insecurity.”
In January, President Malam Bacai Sanha, who was elected in 2009, died of illness in a Paris hospital. His death created a void that was set to be filled during elections scheduled for March and April 2012. But between the first and second rounds, soldiers staged a coup, ousting acting President Raimundo Pereira and his prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, the frontrunner in the second round of the vote.
The coup came as security sector reforms were under way, approved by parliament, backed by the European Union (EU) and the UN, and designed to revamp the armed forces, initiate pension plans for military members of retirement age, and create a force that would work in cooperation with civilian leaders.
Reforms stalled
“Security sector reform is a difficult task,” a member of the UN team charged with instigating reforms, told IRIN on condition of anonymity. “There are dozens of army members who are 70 years old or upwards, some of whom are in their nineties. They don’t want to change. Their tensions with the government date back to the independence war against Portugal in some cases, and they aren’t about to be resolved just because we tell them it’s a good idea.”
Although the EU has withdrawn programmes and financial backing from Guinea-Bissau in the wake of April’s coup, the UN-backed security sector reform programme is ongoing. But those involved say it may as well have ground to a halt.
“We had high hopes,” a UN trainer told IRIN in November. “But we’re working with people who don’t want to change. No matter how strong the reasons for change, it has to come from them and we are seeing a lot of resistance. They do not want to cooperate with whoever is in charge at a civilian level; they want the civilian leaders to cooperate with them.”
Trust levels low
October’s events were a setback for human rights in Guinea-Bissau, say rights groups. Several arrests have been made since N’Tchama was caught in late October. At least two journalists have gone into hiding, and – as yet unfounded – rumours of assassinations are circulating.
“Having human rights is one thing, but applying them is something else entirely, Fernando Texeira, coordinator of human rights group Casa dos Direitos in Bissau, told IRIN.
“We’re working on outreach projects to inform people that they have human rights, but what kind of rights do they really have right now? We have to ask ourselves whether the future will bring true justice and liberty to Bissau,” said Texeira.
The Casa dos Direitos building, which was once Bissau’s main jail, includes a room that is equipped with seats and a projector for talks and debates, he said. “We planned to invite people to come and speak about human rights and politics, but people are afraid… Nobody feels comfortable discussing their political views with people they don’t know or trust at the moment.”
“Guinea-Bissau is in a state of siege. That’s why people don’t dare speak out,” said Néné da Costa , a housekeeper in Bissau.
“When I first heard about the transitional government’s mandate, I thought, this seems like lending someone a smart jacket to wear for a while. You become warm on the surface, but underneath the same health problems are there,” said law student Justino Nhaga. “We need real solutions, not ones that simply look and sound good,” he added. Guinea Bissau ranks 176 out of 187 countries on the UN human development index; just over half of the adult population is literate; life expectancy at birth is 48 years.
After months of on-off striking by teachers, schools remain closed despite an agreement having been signed between teachers and the transition government.
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source http://www.irinnews.org

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