Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Amelioration is no cure

About 2.8 billion people - between a third and a half of the world's population - burn solid fuel such as wood, crop waste, charcoal, coal and dung to cook their food in open fires and leaky stoves. Inside those homes, cooking smoke is eye-stingingly visible, and it blackens the walls. But the invisible effect it has on the tiniest, branching airways of the lungs is what makes this a global crisis. Those smoke particles are taken up by cells that form part of the natural defences of the lungs. In doing that, they diminish the function of these cells, increasing the risk of infections and chronic illness. Crucially, smoke is a key driver of child pneumonia - a leading cause of death in children under five in many countries across the developing world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that four million premature deaths every year - in children and adults - can be attributed to indoor air pollution. That is why in 2010, the United Nations Foundation and the US State Department launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), with a mission to "foster the adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million households by 2020".

Cleaner cookstoves, the alliance says "save lives and reduce illness". There is, however, a problem. A study run by Kevin Mortimer in Malawi over the last two years, and written up in the Lancet, shows that the cookstove alone does neither. A big clinical trial in Malawi was expected to show children are less likely to die of pneumonia if they live in a home where food is cooked on a smoke-free stove rather than an open fire. Instead it suggests the stove makes no difference. "We followed up and monitored the health of 10,000 children for this study, and our results basically show that there is no difference in cases of pneumonia between the intervention and the control group," he says. "The hard science - certainly from our study - is perhaps at odds with the claim that stoves along the lines of the ones we've used here save lives and reduce illness."

Where does this leave a huge UN-backed project to get 100 million clean cookstoves into homes in the developing world by 2020?

"Exposure to household air pollution is a problem of poverty," says Kevin Mortimer, a medical doctor and a respiratory health researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. "If you're not poor, you're not exposed."


Namibian 2.1 million population is multicultural multiracial and multilingual.

The San were the earliest inhabitants of Namibia, followed by the Damara and Nama people. Bantu groups, known collectively as the Ovambo people, began immigrating to Namibia around the 14th century and became a majority in the late 19th century. The OtjiHerero, Caprivian, Kavango, Baster, Afrikaans, German, Himba, and English people round out the population of today’s Namibia.

During European colonization in the late 19th century, the German Empire established rule over most of the territory as a protectorate in 1884. It began to develop infrastructure and farming, and maintained the land as a German colony until 1915, when South African forces defeated its military. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations mandated the country to the United Kingdom, which delegated the administration of the country to South Africa. The South African leaders imposed their own laws, including racial classifications and rules. In 1948, with the National Party elected to power, South Africa applied the apartheid regime to Namibia, known at the time as South West Africa.

In the later 20th century, uprisings and demands for political representation by native African political activists seeking independence resulted in the U.N. assuming direct responsibility over the territory in 1966, though South Africa maintained de facto rule. In 1973, the U.N. recognized the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people; the party was and continues to be dominated by the majority Ovambo ethnic group. In response to continued guerrilla warfare, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990, though Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands remained under South African control until 1994.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Dirty fuels - dirty air

In September, the blog reported how many Africans were being poisoned by the air they breathed in the name of profit. 

Five West African nations are banning ‘dirty’ European fuels – exported fuels with higher sulphur levels – in response to concerns over vehicle emissions and in an effort to bring safer, cleaner air to more than 250 million people, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said

Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire introduced strict standards that will ensure cleaner, low sulphur diesel fuels, and better emissions standards, thus effectively cutting off Europe’s West African market.

Not before time. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Burundi's descent into hell

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said Burundi's brutal regime has set the small central African country on a "descent into hell", warning of the risk of genocide.

In a 200-page report, the FIDH documented how state-sponsored violence and opposing rebel groups have perpetuated a cycle of violence. More than 1,000 people have died and up to 800 are missing. Some 8,000 are being held for political reasons and more than 300,000 people have fled the country
"The crackdown by the security services and the (ruling party's youth wing) Imbonerakure... aims primarily at retaining power through any and all means," the report said. "All the criteria and conditions for the perpetrating of genocide are in place," the report said, listing "ideology, intent, security institutions... identifying populations to be eliminated, and the using of historical justifications."

Anschaire Nikoyagize, of the rights group, ITEKA League,said in a statement: "The crimes of the regime have become systematic... Crimes against humanity are occurring and there is a risk of genocide."

Burundi suffered a brutal civil war from 1993 until 2006 between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, which claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.

A failed coup in May 2015 was the "breaking point" after which the authorities adopted a "logic of systematic repression", the report said. After Nkurunziza's re-election in July 2015, the repression deepened, it said, citing targeted killings and massive arbitrary detentions. In addition, ethnic Hutus in power "have sought to turn a political crisis into an ethnic one, equating 'opponents' and 'rebels' with Tutsis," the report warned.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The girl-soldiers of the DRC

Eastern Congo is plagued by dozens of armed groups that prey on locals and exploit mineral reserves. Millions died between 1996 and 2003 as a regional conflict caused hunger and disease.

Girls in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are joining armed groups because they cannot afford to go to school, while former girl soldiers struggle to return to class amid stigma from their communities, a charity said. Around a third of all children in armed groups in the country are estimated to be girls, who are often married off to militants and are vulnerable to abuse and rape, activists say. While civil society groups have had some success in getting boys out of armed groups and into re-integration programmes, this shame and fear of rejection back home has kept many girls in the bush.
"If we leave the group, we're going to be targeted ... so many girls accept and continue to live with their bush husband," said one of the 150 former girl soldiers interviewed.

Many girls in the region join militia groups to obtain food and money, to seek protection against violence, or because their families cannot afford to pay their school fees, according to a report by Child Soldiers International.

"It is deeply shocking that, because their families cannot afford to pay school fees, some girls see joining an armed group as their only option, and decide to throw themselves in harm's way," said Isabelle Guitard, director of programmes at Child Soldiers International. While primary education is free and compulsory by law, most schools in Congo charge fees for books and uniforms.

Senegal's Islamic Schools

Many are sent by parents in Senegal to Islamic schools, called daaras, where they are expected to receive food, shelter and teachings from the Koran. But tens of thousands of children in daaras across the West African nation are forced to beg in the streets to make money for their teachers, called marabouts, said rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Anti-Slavery International.

President Macky Sall in June ordered the removal of children from the streets and said those who force them to beg would be imprisoned in a drive to end a practice estimated by the United Nations to generate $8 million a year for Koranic teachers in the capital.

Yet fewer than 1,000 talibe [street-kids] of more than 30,000 in Dakar have been swept off the streets to date, with marabouts hiding them away or dressing them smartly to evade detection, said the state's national director of child protection Niokhobaye Diouf. "Many disappeared after Sall's announcement ... hidden by the crooked people who profit from their begging," Diouf said.

Sall vowed to close unsafe daaras after nine children died in 2013 in a fire, yet few have been shut down, while an anti-trafficking law passed in 2005 to stop the abuse of talibe has since led to only a dozen prosecutions of marabouts, HRW said. A draft law to regulate and modernise the daaras has stalled amid concerns from marabouts about the integration of the schools into Senegal's education system, activists said.

Many activists said prosecuting marabouts is key to ending abuses. "With the regulatory law in limbo and daaras not part of the education system, how else can Senegal ensure talibe are not subjected to begging and abuse?" said Lauren Seibert of HRW.

Yet few prosecutors choose to take on cases against marabouts, according to a spokesman for the justice ministry's anti-trafficking task force (CNLTP). Only a handful of marabouts have been jailed in cases of extreme abuse and deaths of talibe in recent years, activists said, while Senegal has only made two convictions for forced begging since 2014, found the U.S. TIP report.

"It may be harder to change the mindset of prosecutors than that of marabouts," said Laetitia Bazzi of the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Low wage South Africa

In South Africa people earning from R12,500 monthly ($860 or £700) are being classified in the group of the country’s wealthiest for government policy purposes It certainly isn’t enough for a life of luxury. You’d be hard-pressed to do much saving and investing on that income or even afford a comfortable home with a home loan.

More than 16m South Africans are desperately poor, while 6.5m with monthly salaries from R12,500 and up are among the country’s richest, according to the research presented to the government. Imraan Valodia and David Francis of the University of the Witwatersrand were part of a team that suggested the country’s minimum wage should be a monthly R3 500 ($250; £200) on the basis of these figures.

6.2 million or 47% of working people in South Africa earn less than R3,500, while 4.6 million (35%) earn less than R2,000 per month.  1.1 million domestic workers – 887 000 of them women – earning less than R3,500 per month. In community services, 1.2 million workers earn less than R3,500 per month. Approximately 800,000 of them are women. The median wage for employed women in 2015 was only 77.1% of the wage for employed men. This means that a woman in the middle of the wage distribution earns only 77 cents for every R1 her male counterpart earns.

What is clear from this research is that the yawning gap between rich and poor is a problem that won’t be solved by playing around with the minimum wage level.

Austerity in Sudan

A dramatic increase in the price of medication, fuel and electricity in Sudan has spurred discontent across the country. Over the past two weeks, protests and strikes have been calling for the government to reinstate subsidies, which were removed earlier this month. The cuts are reportedly part of wider austerity measures that have been implemented to address the country's foreign currency crisis and fiscal deficit. The Central Bank of Sudan (CBOS) stopped providing foreign currency for the import of medicine. Medication prices increased between 150 and 300 percent

"The new decision, which caused the increase, is a huge disaster," local pharmacist Hatim Aldaak told Al Jazeera. "This will affect many citizens, especially the poor, because, as you know, the percentage of the poor in Sudan is very large. You cannot imagine the reaction and emotional effect it has on us, when someone comes into the pharmacy to buy medicine and asks for the price and tells us they can't afford it and they then leave with the medicine still on the shelves," said Aldaak.

The end of subsidies was also implemented on fuel and electricity.

Amna Sayed, a 42-year-old mother and tea lady says she is struggling in every way. "It is not just the medications; I can barely send my two children to school. Transport alone is too expensive now and so is food. I sell tea, and even before these increases I hardly managed to get by."

Shop owners, such as Mohammed al-Amin, are similarly struggling. "A 50kg of sugar went up from 510 Sudanese pounds [$78] to 580 [$89], and a 10kg packet of flour went up from 65 Sudanese pounds [$10] to 85 [$13]. Most notably, 100kg of beans went up from 1700 Sudanese pounds [$262] to 2100 [$324], beans – which is the most consumed meal,"

Sudanese citizens responded to a call for three-days of civil disobedience. Some neighbourhoods in the capital saw limited movement of vehicles and pedestrians. Universities and schools were largely effected by the strike, as the majority of students stayed home, forcing some schools to cancel the school day.

Since 2011, following the split of South Sudan, Sudan has been struggling to recover from the loss of three-quarters of the country's oil exports. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommended that the Sudanese government gradually introduce such measures to address its crippling economy.  Prior to the split, Sudan experienced substantial economic growth driven by oil exports and foreign direct investment, with nominal gross domestic product (GDP) per capita more than quadrupling between 1999 and 2010. But Sudan's growth was too heavily reliant on oil. When oil export revenues dropped and austerity measures introduced, the country entered a depression, losing more than 15 percent of its GDP in 18 months.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Black is Beautiful

A multibillion-dollar industry of skin-whitening products dominates the West African beauty market. Some estimates putting the number of women in West Africa using lightening cream at 70 percent in some places.

Women are now being told that it is wrong, and even illegal, to bleach their skin. Officials say they are worried there could be a sharp uptick in skin cancer because these products attack the skin’s natural protective melanin. When you bleach, it takes off the outer layers of your skin and this part of the world, the sun is always on. So there’s more skin cancer.

At the same time, they are flooded with messages — and not even subliminal ones — that tell them that white is beautiful.

Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority began a ban on certain skin-whitening products that include hydroquinone, a topical ingredient that disrupts the synthesis and production of the melanin that can protect skin in the intense West African sunshine. But the ban in Ghana hasn’t extended to removing the countless billboard advertisements on how to get “perfect white” skin. Nor have the creams and lotions disappeared from stores. In Accra’s Makola Market, endless shops and stalls had walls filled with potions dedicated to the lightening of skin. The Ghanaian government’s chief officer in charge of putting the ban in place, during an interview at his office, expressed relief that his 3-year-old daughter’s skin is not as dark as his own. “Luckily,” said Emmanuel Nkrumah, “she’s lighter than me.” They are banning the products that give women lighter skin (although no one believes the ban will work) without banning the social messaging that tells women they should have lighter skin.

The “why” goes back centuries, and says much about the searing effects of colonization that lingers today. When the Europeans colonized Africa, they brought with them centuries of belief that they were racially superior, and established a class structure that exists today, 50 years after African countries regained their independence. In many West African countries, at the top of that class structure, sit white expats, whether they are European diplomats in affluent neighborhoods, the United States Embassy staff members in their walled compounds or Lebanese merchants in electronic shops. Next in the hierarchy are the mixed-race people. The European colonists who came to Africa mated with Africans and produced mixed-race offspring, who were then deemed to be of a superior class to the full-blooded Africans. South Africa’s apartheid system went so far as to legally enshrine mixed-race people, called “coloureds.”

In many African countries, the word “mulatto” does not have the negative connotation that it has in the United States. The view that the lighter your skin, the “better” you are did not leave the continent with the Europeans, and eventually, science caught up, as skin-lightening products became available throughout the continent. “Anyone in this country could see that the mulattos were given precedence everywhere,” explained Dr. Edmund Nminyem Delle, a dermatologist who for three decades has campaigned against skin bleaching.

“It breaks my heart,” said Ama K. Abebrese, an actress. “There’s not a day I don’t drive into town and see a billboard that tells me I need perfect white skin. We are here in an African country, and it’s like someone just hit you in your gut.”