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Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

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Syria in 2013 and the opposition to war

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The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

A newly elected government in the USA is as intent as its predecessors were on deepening war and conflict where it already exists, and on embarking on new campaigns of state aggression and violence. The conflict in Syria has been converted by the United States of America and its partner western aggressors from a civil movement for democratic rights into a bitter and bloody civil war that has killed more than 20,000 and has made refugees of more than half a million people.

Unnoticed almost in the clamour for war that resounds in the capitals of USA and its western allies is new evidence from a United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry which has stated, finally and plainly, that a sectarian civil war is raging in Syria. Its findings are based upon extensive investigations and interviews between September 28 to December 16, 2012. The Commission has detailed massacres and gross violations of human rights that have polarised Syria.

Investigators, headed by Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, have interviewed more than 1,200 victims and refugees. The report produced is a devastating indictment of the United States and other western powers – said International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) – who have worked with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to depose of Bashar al-Assad by recruiting and aiding a Sunni insurgency overwhelmingly made up of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Salafist and Al Qaeda-style groups.

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

“The UN independent panel finds more breaches of human rights law by parties to Syrian conflict,” said the UN news service. The Commission has been mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The conflict is now in its 22nd month and apart from the enormous number of refugees has left an estimated 4 million people inside Syria needing urgent humanitarian assistance. “The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country,” said the UN news report.

That lack of access may change in early 2013 if the movement Peace In Syria is successful. This initiative consists in calling a delegation of high-ranking personalities of the international public to go to Syria with the aim of opening a national dialogue between the main political and social forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict to pave a way for a political solution.

As highlighted by Monthly Review’s MRZine, the peace initiative has said: “We are highly concerned not only because the conflict has been acquiring a dangerous geo-political dimension. The legitimate and at the beginning also peaceful movement of the Syrian people – along with their Arab brothers – for democratic rights is also in danger of being converted into a sectarian civil war with massive regional and international involvement.”

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Utterly unmindful of the calls for peace within the Middle East and outside, the government of the USA is just as brazenly ignoring the anti-war movement at home. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey whose finding is that the American public continues to say that the USA does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there.

“And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria,” said the survey report. “Only about quarter of Americans (27%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; more than twice as many (63%) say it does not. These views are virtually unchanged from March. Similarly, just 24% favor the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, while 65% are opposed.”

Far more bluntly, Veterans For Peace has urgently called on the United States and NATO “to cease all military activity in Syria, halt all U.S. and NATO shipments of weapons, and abandon all threats to further escalate the violence under which the people of Syria are suffering. NATO troops and missiles should be withdrawn from Turkey and other surrounding nations. U.S. ships should exit the Mediterranean”.

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

The organisation draws upon the experiences of military veterans in working for the abolition of war. “We have not entered into this work without consideration of many situations similar to the current one in Syria,” said the organisation, and added, “No good can come from U.S. military intervention in Syria. The people of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and dozens of other nations in Latin America and around the world have not been made better off by U.S. military intervention.”

But the USA, its aggressor western allies and NATO are intent on prosecuting war in Syria and gathering for greater, bloodier conflict. On December 17, Israel’s Haaretz reported that US cargo airplanes carrying military equipment landed in Jordanian airports over several days and that US military forces in the country have been significantly built up. The USA, Germany and the Netherlands have dispatched Patriot anti-missile systems and hundreds of troops to Turkey’s border and are seeking a pretext to use them. Hence last week, US officials accused the Syrian government of firing Scud missiles against opposition groups near Maara, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, a claim Syria denied as “untrue rumours”. [See Al Jazeera’s live diary of events in Syria for more.]

It is now left to the citizens of the USA and its western allies – citizens who are no less bludgeoned daily by the austerity measures imposed by their governments while their criminally-minded banking and corporate elite frame and set policy both national and international – to derail the war machine. A number of good reasons for doing so can be found in the work of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry, whose new 10-page update – the latest in a series of reports and updates produced by the Commission since it began its work in August 2011 – paints a bleak picture of the devastating conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria.

The full 10-page update can be viewed here – it describes the unrelenting violence resulting in many thousands of dead and wounded, and also focuses on arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria. It describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. Civilians continue to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition have moved deeper into urban areas. The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.

Emergency meeting to aid Horn of Africa

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A meeting was organised on 25 July 2011 by the Food and Agriculture Organisatioon (FAO) to finalise an immediate twin-track programme designed to avert an imminent humanitarian catastrophe and build long-term food security in the Horn of Africa. The number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 to 3.7 million in the last six months.

The meeting was attended by Ministers and senior representatives from FAO’s 191 Member Countries, other UN agencies and international and non-governmental organizations. The food crisis in the Horn of Africa, triggered by drought, conflict and high food prices, is affecting more than 12 million people, with two regions of southern Somalia suffering from famine.

The emergency meeting recognized that “if this crisis is not quickly contained and reversed, it could grow rapidly into a humanitarian disaster affecting many parts of the greater Horn of Africa region and that it is of paramount importance that we address the needs of the people affected and the livelihood systems upon which they depend for survival”.

Emergency meeting agenda and background information
Overview of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa
More stories on the Horn of Africa

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa is escalating, with 12 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda requiring emergency assistance. Photo: FAO

Famine in Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people in recent months and could grow even worse unless urgent action is taken, the FAO warned on Wednesday. FAO has appealed for $120 million for response to the drought in the Horn of Africa to provide agricultural emergency assistance.

“We must avert a human tragedy of vast proportions. And much as food assistance is needed now, we also have to scale up investments in sustainable immediate and medium-term interventions that help farmers and their families to protect their assets and continue to produce food,” said the FAO. In a special report the FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network officially declared a state of famine in two regions of southern Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle. The report warns that in the next one or two months famine will become widespread throughout southern Somalia.

Together with ongoing crises in the rest of the country, the number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 million to 3.7 million in the last 6 months.  Altogether, around 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are currently in need of emergency assistance.

The number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 to 3.7 million in the last six months. Photo: FAO/Ami Vital

Related Links:

Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit – Somalia
Famine Early Warning System Network
East and Central Africa – Disaster reduction
FAO Somalia
FAO and emergencies
Global Information and Early Warning System

Contacts:

Erwin Northoff, Media Relations (Rome)
(+39) 06 570 53105
(+39) 348 25 23 616
erwin.northoff@fao.org

Frank Nyakairu, Somalia Communications Consultant
(+254) 20 400000
(+254) 729 867 698 (cell)
frank.nyakairu@fao.org

Shannon Miskelly, Regional Communications (FAO Nairobi)
(+254) 733 400 022 (cell)
shannon.miskelly@fao.org

Written by makanaka

July 26, 2011 at 18:30

Food, climate, conflict – all that caused the Horn of Africa refugee crisis

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New arrivals from Somalia waiting to be registered at Dagehaley camp, in Dadaab. Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN

IRIN News has reported that about 1,300 Somalis are arriving at the Dadaab refugee camps in northeast Kenya every day. The help they are seeking – refuge from a severe drought and the effects of years of conflict – is being handed out as fast as possible. But in a camp complex that has already been stretched well beyond its limits, the new arrivals need more assistance than can be provided. The nutritional state of older children, as well as under fives, is of concern, but the local Kenyan population is faring little better.

“The number has skyrocketed,” a registration expert with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told IRIN. The official said UNHCR had had to hire more employees, who now work in shifts, to accommodate the rush. The three Dadaab refugee camps – Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera – were originally meant to cater for 90,000 refugees, but housed at least 380,000 people, according to UNHCR. Despite the overcrowding, the government of Kenya has yet to allow people to move into a fourth camp, known as Ifo II, which stands empty.

“Water systems, latrines and healthcare facilities are ready to use but are standing idle,” Oxfam said in a statement. Oxfam reported that 60,000 new arrivals were living in basic tents outside the camp boundaries, with limited access to clean water or latrines, risking an outbreak of disease. Those living in these informal settlements are some of the worst-off. In the settlements on the outskirts of Dagahaley camp, 17.5 percent of children between six months and almost five years old are severely malnourished, three times the emergency level, according to Caroline Abu-Sada, a research unit coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Newly arrived Somali refugees waiting to be registered at Dagahaley camp, Dadaab in Kenya. Photo: Al Jazeera/EPA

The lack of water in the outskirts was a real concern. Refugees are only able to obtain up to three litres of water a day, 80 percent less than they need according to the Sphere Standards, which are already based on emergency situations. Some are only receiving 500ml for drinking, bathing, washing clothes, and everything else. By comparison, in North America and Japan most people use 350l a day, according to the World Water Council. Water is now being trucked to the camp outskirts by MSF and CARE, but there were previously only 48 taps for 20,000 people. Abu-Sada said diarrhoea was already rampant, along with skin rashes and respiratory infections.

More than 11 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid across the region, a UN News report has said. Almost 500,000 children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are suffering from imminent, life-threatening severe malnutrition. In addition, over 1.6 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF.

In addition to the thousands of people from Somalia seeking refuge in Ethiopia and Kenya, millions more are living on the brink of extreme poverty and hunger, suffering the consequences of failed rains and the impact of climate change, said the agency. UNICEF has appealed for $31.8 million to ramp up assistance to the Horn of Africa over the next three months, especially for children, who are suffering the brunt of the crisis. It says the most urgent needs include therapeutic feeding, vitamin supplementation, water and sanitation services, child protection measures and immunization.

In Geneva, two UN human rights experts appealed to the global community to take “concerted and urgent” measures to assist the millions who are suffering in the region, warning of large-scale starvation if international intervention is not forthcoming. Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, noted that drastically increasing food prices and continuing conflict and insecurity have caused a huge displacement of the population, with thousands of Somalis fleeing to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti every day. Bari, who last week visited Somalia and Kenya, said the situation was markedly worse than in March, when he had expressed concerns over the slow response of the humanitarian community to the situation.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said the international community should be prepared for more such droughts. “This crisis looks like a natural calamity, but it is in part manufactured,” De Schutter said, adding that climate change will result in such events being more frequent. He called for, among other measures, emergency food reserves in strategic positions, and better preparedness for drought, for which Governments must be held to account.

“With a rate of child malnutrition above 30 per cent in many regions of these countries, the failure of the international community to act would result in major violations of the right to food,” De Schutter said. “International law imposes on States in a position to help that they do so immediately, where lives are at stake.”

Shokuri Abdullai like most mothers in Bisle feeds her family boiled maize in the Somali region's Shinile zone (Ethiopia). Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

Al Jazeera has reported that Kenya has agreed to open a new camp near its Somalia border to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing the region’s worst drought in 60 years. The lfo II camp in Dabaab will open its doors to 80,000 refugees within 10 days, the Kenyan government said. Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to the opening to the new camp, after visiting Dadaab’s three existing camps where an estimated 380,000 refugees are now living at facilities intended to cope with a population of 90,000 people.

A spokesman for the charity Save the Children, said “more children have died in Dadaab in the first four months of the year than all of last year”. Many Somali refugees at the camp have travelled through harsh conditions with little food or water, and no humanitarian assistance, often abandoning members of their family who have died or are so weak to travel. Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, who reported from the Dabaab camp, said, “Over the past month, around 20,000 have made their way to Dadaab, many of them through similar means”.

Dadaab’s existing camps were set up in 1991 to host refugees fleeing war in Somalia. Between 40,000 and 60,000 are thought to be living outside the boundaries of the complex – existing as refugees beyond the current scope and control of the UN. Somalis have been fleeing from war for years now, but the drought, affecting 12 million people across the Horn of Africa, has brought the threat of a new humanitarian catastrophe to the region, with many people also seeking refuge in Ethiopia. Al Jazeera has more on the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa here.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs  (OCHA) has provided a ‘snapshot’ of the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa country:
* 2.85 million Somalis require urgent aid – that’s one in three people
* At least one in three children are malnourished in parts of southern Somalia
* More than 460 Somali children have died in nutrition centres in Somalia between January and May this year
* Malnutrition rates among new arrivals in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya range between 30 and 40 percent
* As of late June, 60,200 Somalis were registered in Kenya this year — a more than 100 percent increase compared with the same period last year
* Life expectancy is 50.4 years, according to the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)
* Women dying in childbirth: 1,000 per 100,000 live births reported, according to UNICEF
* One in 10 Somali children dies before their first birthday
* Primary school enrolment rate is 23 percent
* Average HIV prevalence level estimated at 0.5 percent of the population aged 15 to 49
* Percentage of people with access to safe, clean water: 29 percent

(Sources: OCHA, UNICEF, UNDP)

It is not just Somalis who are suffering, Euronews has reported. Famine is affecting all countries in the Horn of Africa. Now 11 million people need help to survive the food shortages. In Habaswein in the far north of Kenya there has been no rain for a year. Many animals have died. Others have been taken further north in search of water. Only women, children and the elderly remain in the village.

Like many others, Fatuma Ahmed depends on rations of maize, beans and oil provided by aid agencies and the government. She said: “I have no husband. I’m raising my children alone. We had some animals but they’ve all died. Now we’re depending on aid from charities. What I’m cooking now is the only meal my family will eat today.” In the village of Fini, farmers try to move a dying cow into the shade. The animal will only last a few days. This is not the first time this area has been hit by drought, but according to villagers like Mori Omar, it has never been this bad.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’m 56 years old, but I look more like 80 because of many years of not having enough food. During the droughts, there’s no meat or milk,” she said. There is a growing consensus that climate change is to blame for the driest period in 60 years. The UN says droughts are becoming more frequent – before they used to be every five or 10 years, now it is every two.

IRIN News has a report, ‘Somalis living from drought to drought’, on the perilous state of food availability in Bisle, the Somali region. Every day, 500g of boiled wheat is divided up between two adults, four children, a calf, a goat and a donkey in the Farah household. It is the only food they have had after rains failed for the past two seasons. The 15kg sack of wheat is provided to about 1,200 people in the Bisle area, which has four settlements, under the government-run Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) as payment for work, such as digging water holes.

“It is boiled wheat for breakfast and for the main meal – we don’t have anything else – no milk, no meat, no vegetables, no oil,” says Maria Farah, the mother. Not surprisingly, two of her children are severely malnourished. The calf and goat that share their “ari” – a collapsible egg-shaped hut made of sticks and covered with sheeting – are emaciated. It is too hot for them outside, in temperatures that soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius. There is no water in their settlement, about 54km north of Dire Dawa town in the Somali region, one of the worst hit by drought in Ethiopia. More than a million people have been affected.

The world’s biggest refugee camp has no more room

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Residents of the Dadaab camps collect clothes to donate to newly arrived refugees, most of whom have left all their possessions behind in Somalia, February 2011. Photo: The Guardian/Hamza Mohamed

Stranded in the desert of Kenya’s northeastern province, surrounded by mile upon mile of sand and scrubby bushes, 30,000 people are living in makeshift shelters under a burning sun. The families – having crossed the border from neighbouring Somalia, 80 km away – are headed for the refugee camps of Dadaab. But the three camps in the Dadaab area are already full, and there is nowhere for them to stay.

This is the story of the world’s biggest refugee camp, told by Medecines Sans Frontieres. On arrival, the refugees – most of whom are women and children – have no money, no food, no water and no shelter. It takes 12 days, on average, to receive a first ration of food1, and 34 days to receive cooking utensils and blankets from the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, which runs the camps. Until then they have to fend for themselves in a hostile environment.

A woman displays her UN food assistance card in Dadaab, August 2009. Photo: The Guardian/Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In temperatures of 50 degrees, and fearful of attack by hyenas, the families are building fragile shelters in the desert on the camps’ fringes. They use whatever materials they can find: mostly branches and brushwood, tied together to form domed structures, which they cover with cardboard, polythene or torn fabric – anything to provide some shelter from the unrelenting sun and the choking dust.

The camps of Dadaab are surrounded by barren desert. The three camps – Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo – known collectively as the ‘biggest refugee camp in the world’ – were established 20 years ago to house up to 90,000 people escaping violence and civil war in Somalia. With no end to the conflict in sight, there are now more than 350,000 people2 crowded into the camps’ perimeters, while the number of new arrivals is surging. This year, 44,000 new refugees have already been registered, and by the end of 2011 the camps are likely to be home to 450,000 people3, twice the population of Geneva.

As more and more people crowd the camps and the surrounding desert, the availability of essential services – such as water, sanitation and education – is shrinking, and living conditions are getting rapidly worse. An extension to one of the camps, known as Ifo Extension, which has space for 40,000 refugees and could provide a temporary solution to providing shelter for new arrivals, lies half-built and empty due to a breakdown in negotiations between the Kenyan authorities and the UNHCR.

Somali children attend an outdoor class in Dagahaley camp, June 2009. Photo: The Guardian/Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

In a report on the camps The Guardian said that 20 years after the first Somali refugees fled the crisis that ousted President Siad Barre, thousands of people continue to pour across the border from Somalia into north-eastern Kenya into the largest refugee complex in the world. Today, the three refugee camps – Dagahale, Ifo and Hagadera – that make up the overcrowded and chronically underfunded Dadaab complex are home to more than 300,000 people and three generations of refugees.

Mohamad Ali was one of the first to arrive from Somalia when civil war broke out in 1991. He didn’t expect to stay long, but in 20 years he hasn’t set foot outside the complex. Refugees aren’t allowed to leave the camps unless they receive special movement passes. If caught without a pass, they risk arrest, detention or expulsion. Special buses can be taken between each of the complex’s three camps, which are separated from one another by a few kilometres of dust and dry heat.

This is the second time Ali has been made a refugee. Ethnically Somali, he was driven out of his home in Ethiopia to Somalia by the war between the two countries in 1977. He is now 79 years old, and calls Dadaab his home. It’s Kenya’s fourth-largest city, although no Kenyan lives there, he says. The camps were originally designed to house 90,000 people, but with the ongoing crisis in Somalia, official estimates suggest that around 5,000 new refugees arrive each month. Richard Floyer-Acland, the UNHCR representative in Dadaab, put the number closer to 9,000.

Ifo camp in May 1992. Photo: The Guardian/P Moumtzis/UNHCR

Written by makanaka

June 11, 2011 at 19:53

International Women’s Day 2011

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The day was commemorated for the first time on 19 March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, following its establishment during the Socialist International meeting the prior year.

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The UN system in general and UN Women in particular have planned events and campaigns for this 100th year of International Women’s Day, and the news and events page is a good way to follow these.

There are also – a Facebook page, a Twitter broadcast and YouTube video streams for UN Women.

Unesco has lined up events and programmes to celebrate International Women’s Day. The 2011 edition of Women Make the News, which is designed to promote gender equality in the media, will also start on 2001 March 08, International Women’s Day. The theme for this year, Media and Information Literacy and Gender, aims to improve understanding about gender perspectives in the media and information systems.

A special issue of UNESCO’s Courier magazine will also be published to mark the occasion. Speaking for the Voiceless: Five Women in Action features interviews with Michaelle Jean (Haiti), Sana Ben Achour (Tunisia), Aminetou Mint El Moctar (Mauritania), Sultana Kamal (Bangladesh) and Monica Gonzalez Mujica (Chile).

The development news agency, IPS, has a number of reports and features focusing on gender.

Patricia Guerrero, founder of a human rights group in Colombia

Patricia Guerrero, founder of a human rights group in Colombia

In ‘We Denounce the Militarisation of Our Lives’, Patricia Guerrero, founder of a leading human rights group, is interviewed about paramilitary cadres in Colombia which continue to threaten, harass and violently attack women’s rights activists. Guerrero helped found the ‘City of Women’ outside Cartagena in 2003, a space where women displaced by the fighting could evolve from victims to agents of change. Altogether, some 5.2 million people were forced to flee rural areas of this South American country between 1985 and 2010, according to a report released in February by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement.

In ‘No Quiet Old Age for South Africa’s Grannies’, IPS reports on how grandmothers are indispensable in South Africa. They may have been hoping for a restful old age, but the AIDS epidemic has seen them taking on motherhood for a second time, caring for grandchildren whose parents have died of the disease. The 76-year-old Thandiwe Matzinga raised nine kids of her own, three of whom have died of AIDS. She’s one of South Africa’s many grannies who care for their grandchildren.

Thousands of women farmers in Brazil have demonstrated against the use of toxic weedkillers and pesticides on crops and in favour of agricultural techniques that protect their families’ health. According to the Brazilian Crop Protection Association (AENDA), which represents producers of farm chemicals, Brazil uses more than one billion litres of agricultural chemicals a year, making it the top consumer country since 2009 of weedkillers and insecticides. Amanda Matheus, a national coordinator for the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), told IPS that the use of agrochemicals “is driven by an alliance between large landowners and transnational corporations that gain control of the land and invest in monoculture plantations, such as sugarcane and eucalyptus”.