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Sevastopol, Kiev, Moscow and the West

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A soldier atop a Russian armored personnel carriers with a road sign reading 'Sevastopol - 32 kilometers, Yalta - 70 kilometers', near the town of Bakhchisarai, Ukraine, February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AP

A soldier atop a Russian armored personnel carriers with a road sign reading ‘Sevastopol – 32 kilometers, Yalta – 70 kilometers’, near the town of Bakhchisarai, Ukraine, February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AP

The grave and censorious tones being taken by the government of the USA and by the major economic powers of the European Union concerning the crisis in Ukraine ring out with stunning hypocrisy. It is with them – principally the United States of America and Germany – that the responsibility for the current crisis lies.

The governments of these countries and their allies systematically intervened, the object being to redirect popular dissatisfaction with the corrupt regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych so that ultra-right nationalist and fascist forces would be strengthened. The aim all along was regime change – a technique used to vicious efficiency in the Middle East – so that the plans for the isolation of Russia could be furthered.

There is no doubt, as emphasised by the International Committee of the Fourth International, that Russian president Vladimir Putin represents oligarchs who enriched themselves by plundering state industry following the dissolution of the USSR. “His regime is incapable of making any appeal to the Ukrainian working class or to progressive sentiment within the country. Instead, he seeks to whip up chauvinism both in Russia and eastern Ukraine, adding to the dangers of civil and sectarian warfare”.

However, the newest comments by the US Secretary of State John Kerry represent a new low in early 21st century international statecraft, for he possesses none. “What has already happened is a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Ukraine-Russia basing agreement,” Kerry told American television news channels. “Russia has engaged in a military act of aggression against another country and it has huge risks. It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”

USA_John_Kerry_Ukraine

Who does this man think he is fooling? The bloody record of American ‘foreign policy’ speaks for itself. Over the past 25 years alone, the USA has invaded, bombed or overthrown governments in Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. It has carried out assassinations and cyber attacks against Iran and is intervening to overthrow the government of Syria. The USA has ignored all international charters and peace treaties, has ignored the UN and does not accept any nation’s right to sovereignty or territorial integrity.

Unsurprisingly, Kerry was not challenged by his interviewers to comment in terms of that statement on Washington’s own constant threats to use force and military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The RT news network quoted Marcus Papadopoulos, a political commentator, as asking, “Since when does the United States government genuinely subscribe and defend the concept of sovereignty and territorial integrity? They certainly are not doing that at the moment in Syria. They certainly did not do that when they attacked Libya. They certainly didn’t do that when they invaded Iraq. They certainly didn’t do that when they attacked Serbia over Kosovo and then later on recognised Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.”

Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements in Moscow, is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. In 2014 January and February 2014 he wrote two commentaries – before the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime and subsequent events. They are published at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and they offer insights into the Ukraine-Russia-Crimea crisis of 2014 February and March.

“Neither the authorities nor the opposition enjoy the support of the majority of the population, and more important, neither side has a programme that would give it any prospect of winning this support and of constructing a broad social base. The problem lies not only and not so much in the notorious antipathies of east and west in Ukraine, as in the absence even of any attempts to suggest a socio-economic program aimed at integrating society, improving the conditions of life, reducing unemployment and developing the economy,” Kagarlitsky had written.

In his view, on one side was the corrupt, irresponsible administration of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovich. And on the other were the nationalists and ultra-rightists, violent and aggressive, no less corrupt, and who in no way resemble democrats according to any understanding of the word.

Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport, Crimea, on February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AFP

Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport, Crimea, on February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AFP

It is against such a view of the Ukrainian mess (fostered by the European Union in collaboration with the USA) that the mounting alarms of the last few days ought to be seen. Already,there are reports of Russian leader Vladimir Putin having told US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation that Moscow reserved the right to protect its own interests and those of Russian speakers in the event of violence breaking out in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

And moreover that there are an estimated 675,000 Ukrainians who left for Russia in January and February, fearing the “revolutionary chaos” brewing in Ukraine, according to news reports quoting Russia’s Federal Border Guard Service. Russian officials have said they fear a growing humanitarian crisis and the Itar-Tass news agency cited the service as saying: “If ‘revolutionary chaos’ in Ukraine continues, hundreds of thousands of refugees will flow into bordering Russian regions.”

Why it has come to this becomes clearer from two recent interviews (published mid-February 2014) with members of the revolutionary left in Ukraine that shed light on the nature of the movement that overthrew the Viktor Yanukovich regime, and the attitude of the small Ukrainian left towards it. Excerpts of the interview were published by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. The first is with ‘Denis’ from a Kiev branch of a revolutionary syndicalist group, the Autonomous Workers Union (reposted from Pratele Komunizace) and the second is with Ilya Budraitskis, a Moscow-based socialist in Kiev (translated by RS21).

There is also an excellent summary by Suhail Ilyas who has outlined the main actors and possible courses that events in the Ukraine can take over the week to come. This sort of summary id decidedly difficult to provide, given the paucity of credible sources from Kiev and the Crimea, and the confusing nature of the relationships between so many blocs. But it is more valuable by far than the attempts by the major western media networks who proffer this new conflict as a Russia vs the USA plus EU struggle.

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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.

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.

The UNDP’s surprising, alarming, Africa view, lurid with green manipulation

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In mid-May 2012, the United Nations Development Programme (the UNDP) released its Africa Human Development report for 2012. Entitled ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, the report is unremarkable for its assessments and language – these have changed but little where Africa (indeed where the recalcitrant South is concerned) is concerned over the last 30 years – and remarkable for the subtext of the agriculture and food focus to human development.

Houley Dia ran out of food a month ago and is now existing on water. A 60-something-year-old widow, she lives in Houdallah, a village of the Fula ethnic group in southern Mauritania on the border with Senegal. Photo: IRIN / Nils Elzenga

The UNDP today, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (and their cousin multilateral lending agencies, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, all incestuous, all unscrupulous, all functioning as think-sinks for mendacious economists who lie with flash charts and sophisticated ppts), is softly softly peddling an industry line. The industry in this case, in the 2012 for Africa case, is food and agriculture, land and poverty, the provisioning of specials foods and the provisioning of the money with which to purchase this reconstituted manna.

For most of Africa south of the Maghrib (or Maghreb, if you prefer, it is impossible to render adequately the flowing Arabic, the Ar’biyy’a, into l’Anglais, into the stilted Roman alphabet) wherever white settlement occured in quantity, the pattern in land expropriation and the use of labour was set by the Union of South Africa. So said Basil Davidson in ‘Let Freedom Come’ (Little, Brown & Co., 1978). This pattern heralded a long period of rising white prosperity still continuing in the 1970s, if with some checks and hiccups (hiccoughs too, the uprising kind) in the 1920s and 1930s, remarked Davidson. He pointed out that South Africa’s Land Act of 1913 provided a model that abolished all African land ownership (i.e., ownership by ‘native’ Africans). Labour supply was increased and the wage rate was lowered and Davidson went on to say that “the same system of proletarianising self-sufficient peasants and of driving them into a labour market where they could have no bargaining power, was used elsewhere with local variants”.

Now, almost a century after that Land Act come into being (providing the precursor to apartheid) an African Development Report from the UN’s development experts has said that “addressing hunger is a precondition for sustained human development in sub-Saharan Africa” (who writes such sentences, I wonder, for do they truly not see the puppet of hunger in Africa and the South) dancing from the threads in the hands of the grain marketeers of the North and their local agents?). “Food security must be at centre of continent’s development agenda,” the report observes magisterially.

A Malian refugee woman in Mangaize, northern Niger, ponders her future. In January, she and her family fled Menaka, a town in Mali, because of the general insecurity and fighting between the army and Tuareg fighters. Photo: IRIN / UNCHR / H.Caux

Pithy statements of concern are duly provided (and recirculated by the world’s press) by the UNDP public relations robots. Hence UNDP Administrator Helen Clark is quoted: “Impressive GDP growth rates in Africa have not translated into the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. Inclusive growth and people-centred approaches to food security are needed.” Hence Tegegnework Gettu, Director of UNDP’s Africa Bureau is quoted: “It is a harsh paradox that in a world of food surpluses, hunger and malnutrition remain pervasive on a continent with ample agricultural endowments.”

And that is why this report, ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, is replete with paragraphs like the following, appropriating the language of fairness to conceal behind it the naked greed of the globe’s industrial food networks, their agri-biotechnology partners, their unreliable allies the commodity exchanges, and the political brokers who stitch together, for huge commissions, the whole wreck of an exploitative opera: “Breaking with the past, standing up to the vested interests of the privileged few and building institutions that rebalance power relations at all levels of society will require courageous citizens and dedicated leaders. Taking these steps is all the more pressing as new threats to the sustainability of sub-Saharan Africa’s food systems have emerged. Demographic change, environmental pressure, and global and local climate change are profoundly reconfiguring the region’s development options.”

This is the sort of hearkening to ‘green capitalism’, a disgusting notion, that the UNDP is steering dangerously close to. Why must it be so? Why should this UN agency err on the wrong side of propriety? A closer reading of Africa Human Development Report 2012, ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, may answer these questions. Underlying the pregnant concern in the UNDP’s prose is an environmentalism that conforms to “weak sustainability” (as Samir Amin, director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, has called it) and that is the marketing of “rights of access to the planet’s resources.” Great regiments of conventional economists have openly rallied to this position, proposing “the auctioning of world resources” (fisheries, pollution permits, forests, watersheds, and of course land). As Amin has said, this is a proposition which simply supports the oligopolies in their ambition to mortgage the future of the peoples of the South still further.

In villages in Mangalmé District, Guéra Region, central Chad, women have resorted to digging up ant nests in search of the grains of food ants leave behind. Some 3.5 million Chadians are food insecure this year (2012). Photo: IRIN / Oxfam / Stephen Cockburn

As the World Bank knows, the borrowing of an ecological discourse provides a very useful service to Imperialism Version 2.0. I find it impossible to imagine that the phalanx of authors who contributed to the Africa Human Development Report 2012 were all unaware of this capture, this mangling of the ecological discourse, this driving of a weak sustainability doctrine, this marginalising of the development issue and the diminishing, the ruthless diminishing, behind a sequined screen of consensual politics, of the agriculture and food rights of 53 countries that we have come to call Africa.

‘Towards a Food Secure Future’ has said, with the air of heavy pronouncement, with the air a cardinal of the curia adopts perhaps during a papal succession: “With more than one in four of its 856 million people undernourished, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food-insecure region. At the moment, more than 15 million people are at risk in the Sahel alone – across the semi-arid belt from Senegal to Chad; and an equal number in the Horn of Africa remain vulnerable after last year’s food crisis in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.” Is there a hint of opportunism in these words? Is it possible that the Rockefeller of this era – in the form of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – has subtly (or forcefully, for the era of subtle manipulation is as firmly buried as the Bandung cooperation and the Warsaw Pact) influenced the UNDP’s authors? This is, to my mind, a manifesto for the feeding of Africa which extends ambitiously the ecologist discourse in the direction of the merchants of nutrition, the brokers of grain, the doctors of plant DNA.

The UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2012, ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, may prove to be a turning point for the agency, or it may prove, I hope, a bridge too far, too dangerous, and saner counsel will pull it back into the realm of the familiar damnation of the world’s majority that Frantz Fanon spoke about, which ended not with the withdrawal of formal colonial rule, which continues for Africa in the razorwire-bounded transit camps, in rural pauperisation (Asia too, South America too, East and Central Europe too) and in shanty towns where odes to Steve Biko are still sung.

Joining the dots between economics, income, health and poverty

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The concerns about recession and its impacts on poverty are seen commonly as a question mark over household incomes, over food security and often involve debates about social protection. An aspect that all too often gets ignored in this equation – no doubt because of its complexity – is health and in particular the health of women and children.

Changes in neonatal mortality rates between 1990 and 2009. The map illustrates the change in NMR between the years 1990 and 2009 for each of the 193 countries estimated. PLoS Medicine 8(8): e1001080

This is linked very closely to poverty, however we measure it, and the conditions that either cause poverty to persist (leading to chronic poverty) or cause households at risk to lapse into poverty every now and then (shock). The human development index methodolgy, which is from this year using multi-dimensional indices for poverty for the first time, helps us link health, poverty, income and economic growth (or its opposite).

The question is: is this new understanding, which is more in tune with the way households actually carry on with their lives and are actually affected by wider trends concerning economy, helping integrate the connections? If there is one good reason to ask this question, it is the new study on ‘Neonatal Mortality Levels for 193 Countries in 2009 with Trends since 1990: A Systematic Analysis of Progress, Projections, and Priorities’.

[The World Health Organization (WHO) has a report and summary of the study on this page – ‘Newborn deaths decrease but account for higher share of global child deaths’]
[The full study is available on PLoS Medicine, 1 August 2011 (Volume 8, Issue 8)]

This has shown that every year, more than 8 million children die before their fifth birthday. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries and most are caused by preventable or treatable diseases. In 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing child mortality to one-third of its 1990 level by 2015 as Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG4). This goal, together with seven others, is designed to help improve the social, economic, and health conditions in the world’s poorest countries. In recent years, progress towards reducing child mortality has accelerated but remains insufficient to achieve MDG4.

“In particular, progress towards reducing neonatal deaths – deaths during the first 28 days of life – has been slow and neonatal deaths now account for a greater proportion of global child deaths than in 1990. Currently, nearly 41% of all deaths among children under the age of 5 years occur during the neonatal period. The major causes of neonatal deaths are complications of preterm delivery, breathing problems during or after delivery (birth asphyxia), and infections of the blood (sepsis) and lungs (pneumonia). Simple interventions such as improved hygiene at birth and advice on breastfeeding can substantially reduce neonatal deaths.”

Neonatal mortality rates in 2009. The map illustrates the NMR in year 2009 for each of the 193 countries estimated. PLoS Medicine 8(8): e1001080

The researchers used civil registration systems, household surveys, and other sources to compile a database of deaths among neonates and children under 5 years old for 193 countries between 1990 and 2009. They estimated NMRs for 38 countries from reliable vital registration data and developed a statistical model to estimate NMRs for the remaining 155 countries (in which 92% of global live births occurred).

They found that in 2009, 3.3 million babies died during their first month of life compared to 4.6 million in 1990. More than half the neonatal deaths in 2009 occurred in five countries – India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. India had the largest number of neonatal deaths throughout the study. Between 1990 and 2009, although the global NMR decreased from 33.2 to 23.9 deaths per 1,000 live births (a decrease of 28%), NMRs increased in eight countries, five of which were in Africa. Moreover, in Africa as a whole, the NMR only decreased by 17.6%, from 43.6 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 35.9 per 1,000 live births in 2009.

To return to my question concerning the understanding of economics, income, health and poverty, does most current analysis see to integrate these elements, or is it still GDP-income driven? A new (2011 May) paper released by the Brookings Institution indicates that the GDP-income route is still favoured. The paper, ‘Two Trends in Global Poverty’, Geoffrey Gertz and Laurence Chandy, has said that while the overall prevalence of poverty is in retreat, the global poverty landscape is changing. “This transformation is captured by two distinct trends: poor people are increasingly found in middle-income countries and in fragile states. Both trends – and their intersection – present important new questions for how the international community tackles global poverty reduction.”

The two charts show the trajectory of 20 developing countries along three dimensions: number of poor people, degree of fragility and real income per capita. These 20 countries collectively account for 90 percent of the world’s poor in 2005, and thus largely define the evolving state of global poverty. Graphic: Brookings Institution

“The increased prevalence of poverty in middle-income countries is in many ways a trend of success. Over the past decade, the number of countries classified as low-income has fallen by two fifths, from 66 to 40, while the number of middle-income countries has ballooned to over 100. This means 26 poor countries have grown sufficiently rich to surpass the middle-income threshold. Among those countries that have recently made the leap into middle-income status are a group of countries  –  India, Nigeria and Pakistan  – containing large populations of poor people. It  is their “graduation” which has brought about the apparent shift in poverty from the low-income to middle-income country category.”

This categorisation of middle, low and high income was to an extent useful in the 1970s, when the idea of a human development index was being discussed, but we’ve come a long way since. We know that even in smaller countries (rather, countries with populations that are relatively small compared to those whic bear the sort of burdens studied in the PLoS Medicine research) there is a great deal of income disparity. ‘Income’ itself is a condition with a bewildering number of inputs – social science is quite inadequate to the task of being able to recognise all of these, let alone quantify them and rationalise them across countries and regions – which is exactly what studies like this try to do unfortunately.

“In 2005, when more than half the world’s poor lived in such countries, it made some sense to think about fighting poverty in terms of a single developing country paradigm, based on what worked in countries such as Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique or Vietnam,” Gertz and Chandy have said. “This logic was evident in two of the major events of that year which continue to shape today’s development agenda: the G8 meeting at Gleneagles and the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Paris. It was also apparent in Jeffrey Sachs’ influential 2005 best-seller, ‘The End of Poverty’. The legacy of these ideas is scattered throughout the work of the international development community in the design of traditional aid instruments and the standard methods of country engagement.”

The authors of the Brookings paper have said that this approach remains relevant for some countries, but with 90 percent of the world’s poor living in different settings today, its broader application can no longer be justified. Yet they have found that such an admission poses a dilemma. The dilemma exists because one of the reasons the stable low-income paradigm has persisted is because it characterizes an environment in which the international development community feels most comfortable and has the most experience. “The role of external actors in supporting poverty reduction in stable low-income countries is well understood and the standard tools of external assistance – financial and technical assistance – are well suited to them.”

Maplecroft's 2011 food security risk index

What does this mean? Does it give us a hitherto obscured insight into the inner world of aid agencies and international development departments and how they see ‘poor’ countries’ populations? Does it mean that we are burdened with three decades worth of simplistic labelling of populations at risk simply because labelling them any other way makes it difficult to help them? That’s what it looks like to me and I’d like to thank Gertz and Chandy for revealing this. But it’s way past high time this sort of categorisation was ditched, once and for all. It would do us and the battalions of development professionals a huge amount of good to simply be able to say, every so often, “we don’t know enough”.

It is worth being honest about the state of our knowledge concerning the lives of the the majority of households in ‘developing’ countries. Some of the reasons why such honesty will help in the long term are contained in a thoughtful new publication from the World Bank (whose army of development professionals will benefit from its reading). This collection is entitled ‘No Small Matter: The Impact of Poverty, Shocks, and Human Capital Investments in Early Childhood Development’ (The World Bank, 2011) and it has said that, as the 2008 global financial crisis has again demonstrated, economic crises are an unfortunate recurring event in the world and can have severe consequences for household livelihoods.

Progress in key health indicators, UN Human Development Report 2010

‘No Small Matter’ defines economic crises as sharp, negative fluctuations in aggregate income, these being especially common in developing countries, and the frequency with which they occur has been increasing in recent history. We know that declines in household and community resources are not the only risks that arise from an economic crisis because of its aggregate nature. We also know – from fieldwork and by hearing those whom we would wish to help – that at the same time as households cope with the possibility of reduced income from aggregate economic contractions, vital public services may also experience a decline in quality or availability, which in turn may have an additional impact on skill development among children. This is happening now, in more countries than ever before. The economic crisis that hit Latin America in 1982 led to a decrease in public health spending and had a disproportionate effect on the poorest groups. In 2011, the decrease in public health spending exists in many more countries.

A chapter in ‘No Small Matter’, ‘The Influence of Economic Crisis on Early Childhood Development: A Review of Pathways and Measured Impact’, by Jed Friedman and Jennifer Sturdy, is particularly useful.

This has said that “conservative estimates suggest that over 200 million children under five years of age living in developing countries fail to reach their cognitive development potential because of a range of factors, including poverty, poor health and nutrition, and lack of stimulation in home environments”. It is possible, the chapter’s authors have said, that this burden increases during times of crisis as poverty increases and food security is threatened. However, to investigate this claim more carefully it is necessary to understand the pathways through which poverty influences skill acquisition in children.

“The most severe condition affecting ECD (Early Childhood Development) is infant and early child mortality. Sharp economic downturns were associated with increases in infant mortality in Mexico, Peru and India. The mortality of children born to rural and less educated women is more sensitive to economic shocks, which suggests that the poor are disproportionately affected during most economic crises, and perhaps the poor face important credit constraints that bind in tragic ways during large contractions.

Weak relationship between economic growth and changes in health and education, UN Human Development Report 2010

The mortality of girls is also significantly more sensitive to aggregate economic shocks than that of boys. This gender differential exists even in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa that are not particularly known for son preference and indicates a behavioral dimension where households conserve resources to better protect young sons at the expense of daughters.”

Finally, a further note about the extremely valuable PLoS Medicine study ‘Neonatal Mortality Levels for 193 Countries in 2009 with Trends since 1990: A Systematic Analysis of Progress, Projections, and Priorities’. The authors are: Mikkel Zahle Oestergaard1, Mie Inoue1, Sachiyo Yoshida, Wahyu Retno Mahanani, Fiona M. Gore1, Simon Cousens, Joy E. Lawn and Colin Douglas Mathers (on behalf of the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation and the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group – World Health Organization, Department of Health Statistics and Informatics; World Health Organization, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development; London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children).

Children of poor households are more likely to die, UN Human Development Report 2010

The study found that of the 40 countries with the highest NMRs in 2009, only six are from outside the African continent (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Cambodia). Among the 15 countries with the highest NMRs (all above 39), 12 were from the African region (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Central African Republic, Burundi, Angola, Mauritania, Mozambique, Guinea, and Equatorial Guinea), and three were from the Eastern Mediterranean (Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan). Throughout the period 1990–2009, India has been the country with largest number of neonatal deaths. In 2009, the five countries with most deaths accounted for more than half of all neonatal deaths (1.7 million deaths = 52%), and 44% of global livebirths: India (27.8% of deaths, 19.6% of global livebirths), Nigeria (7.2%, 4.5%), Pakistan (6.9%, 4.0%), China (6.4%, 13.4%), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (4.6%, 2.1%). The top five contributors to the 4.6 million neonatal deaths in 1990 were: India (29.5% of deaths, 19.8% of global livebirths), China (12.3%, 18.0%), Pakistan (5.4%, 3.4%), Bangladesh (5.0%, 2.9%), and Nigeria (4.8%, 3.3%).

As the risk of children dying before the age of five has fallen, the proportion of child deaths that occur in the neonatal period has increased. This increase is primarily a consequence of decreasing non-neonatal mortality in children under five from infectious diseases such as measles, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and AIDS. Globally, 41% of under-five deaths now occur in the neonatal period. Over the 20 y between 1990 and 2009, the proportion of global neonatal deaths that occurred in Africa increased. Although Africa is now the region with the highest NMR, the proportion of under-five child deaths that are neonatal remains relatively low in Africa—the fraction increased from 26% to 29% between 1990 and 2009. This apparent anomaly reflects the fact that Africa accounts for approximately 90% of child deaths due to malaria (0.7 million under-five deaths) and HIV/AIDS (0.2 million under-five deaths), resulting in relatively higher post-neonatal child mortality than other regions.

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

State of Food Insecurity 2010 – FAO says too little, too timidly

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Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010The 2010 edition of the State of Food Insecurity says much too little and what it does say is unconvincing. There is a theme for this years edition of one of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) ‘flagship’ reports. The theme is “countries in protracted crisis” by which FAO means conflict and war, internal and external.

FAO doesn’t say so explicitly in the introduction to SOFI 2010 on its website. There’s no excuses for FAO not to when the World Food Programme, Oxfam, ActionAid and a number of international agencies and aid groups have done so, not just this year but for at least a decade.

As the world’s pre-eminent compiler of food and agriculture-related research, data and analysis, FAO ought to see itself as duty-bound to be clear and fair in its reportage but it is not.

SOFI 2010 says that the majority of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries. Two-thirds live in just seven countries (Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and over 40% live in China and India alone.

The report says that “FAO’s projections for 2010 indicate that the number of undernourished people will decline in all developing regions, although with a different pace. The region with most undernourished people continues to be Asia and the Pacific, but with a 12% decline from 658 million in 2009 to 578 million, this region also accounts for most of the global improvement expected in 2010″. Where does FAO think this improvement is going to come from, given the fact that its own food price index shows how cereals have risen at a clip this year to match the rise in 2007?

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010Just as it did a month ago, the FAO is sounding like it is in two minds about what to report. SOFI 2010 says that “developing countries as a group have seen an overall setback in terms of the World Food Summit goal (from 827 million in 1990–92 to 906 million in 2010), while some progress has been made towards MDG 1 (with the prevalence of hunger declining from 20% undernourished in 1990–92 to 16% in 2010)”.

Which are the 22 countries covered by the ‘protracted crisis’ theme? Here they are, the numbers in total population in millions followed by number of undernourished in millions, both for 2005-07. (Why couldn’t these have been for 2009 in a report dated 2010?): Afghanistan (na / na), Angola (17.1 / 7.1), Burundi (7.6 / 4.7), Central African Republic (4.2 / 1.7), Chad (10.3 / 3.8), Congo (3.5 / 0.5), Côte d’Ivoire (19.7 / 2.8), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (23.6 / 7.8), Democratic Republic of the Congo (60.8 / 41.9), Eritrea (4.6 / 3.0), Ethiopia (76.6 / 31.6), Guinea (9.4 / 1.6), Haiti (9.6 / 5.5), Iraq (na / na), Kenya (36.8 / 11.2), Liberia (3.5 / 1.2), Sierra Leone (5.3 / 1.8), Somalia (na / na), Sudan (39.6 / 8.8), Tajikistan (6.6 / 2.0), Uganda (29.7 / 6.1), Zimbabwe (12.5 / 3.7).

SOFI 2010 says: “On average, the proportion of people who are undernourished is almost three times as high in countries in protracted crisis as in other developing countries (if countries in protracted crisis and China and India are excluded). Nonetheless, not all countries in protracted crisis present very high levels of undernourishment as in some of these countries crises are localized to certain areas or regions. There are approximately 166 million undernourished people in countries in protracted crisis – roughly 20% of the world’s undernourished people, or more than a third of the global total if China and India are excluded from the calculation.”

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010The question, what happens when China and India are excluded from calculations? With the exclusions 130.4 million (China) and 237.7 million (India) fall out of the equations? Moreover, SOFI isn’t following it’s own data. The para above says 166 million (approx) undernourished in countries in ‘protracted crisis’ but the table annex shows that the 22 countries together have 146.8 million undernourished. If the larger number for the 22 countries is the 2009 estimate, then FAO could have used the same method to provide estimates for all countries for 2009.

When FAO recalculates its food price index monthly (the current index is up-to-date for September 2010) why are these estimates three years old? Why should China and India be excluded when they account for over a third of the global undernourished population? Last month FAO said that 925 million people in the world live in chronic hunger and explained that “the decline (from 1,020 million in 2009) was primarily attributable to better economic prospects in 2010 and the fall in food prices since mid-2008”. What fall in food prices? What better economic prospects?

The State of Food Insecurity 2010 is a disappointing and pedestrian effort. FAO ought to retract this version and revise it thoroughly without dwelling on themes like ‘protracted crisis’ and instead get to grips with the market- and economics-related reasons for food price spikes and the hunger they bring.