Sunday, June 30, 2019

America's Abortion Policy in Africa Fails

Abortions rose by about 40% in aid-reliant African countries when President George W. Bush implemented a global anti-abortion policy, researchers said. The policy, employed by Republican presidents, bans groups such as health clinics and charities from discussing abortion if they want to receive U.S. aid.  Used by U.S. presidents since 1984 to signal their stance on abortion rights, the rule has been backed by Republicans - including Bush from 2001 to 2008 - and revoked by Democrats. Trump reinstated the rule in 2017. Democratic lawmakers voted this month to repeal it in a spending bill that is set to be opposed by Republicans, who control the Senate.

Many clinics been forced to close because they refuse to accept the restriction, according to reproductive rights experts.
"Our analysis is the first to demonstrate that the...policy is followed by increased abortions - likely unsafe abortions," said the study by Stanford University researchers in The Lancet Global Health journal, describing the policy results as "undesirable and unintended."

When the policy was in place in the Bush era, modern contraception use declined by 14% and pregnancy rates rose 12% in Sub-Saharan countries most reliant on U.S. family planning aid, the study found. Looking at 26 African countries, the researchers measured the abortion increase in those getting the most U.S. aid for family planning and reproductive health. When the policy was rescinded by  Obama, the pattern reversed, with higher contraceptive use and fewer abortions, it said.

Previous studies have said the policy forced the closure of health clinics, outreach programs and refugee services by charities, risking the health of millions of women.

A report by the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC) this month said the policy under Trump has led to deaths from botched abortions and cut care to HIV-infected orphans.
"This brings into really sharp focus what we've known for some time, which is the policy has the exact opposite of its stated impact," said Nina Besser Doorley, IWHC senior program officer for U.S. foreign policy. "Efforts to restrict abortion don't decrease the incidence of abortion. They just make it harder, they make it more unsafe, they drive it underground."

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Miners dead in the Congo

At least 36 people have been killed after a copper and cobalt mine collapsed in Lualaba province in south-east DR Congo, authorities say. More bodies could be found as rescue work continues at the mine.
The accident happened on Thursday at the Kamoto Copper Company, a subsidiary of Swiss mining giant Glencore, based near Lualaba's main city of Kolwezi. The provincial governor Richard Muyej blamed the accident on what he called "clandestine artisanal diggers". Unofficial mining is common in the region and people do it as a means to make a living.
Mines in southern DR Congo produce more than half of the world's cobalt - a key component in mobile phone batteries. Prices for it more than doubled last year thanks to increased demand for electric cars, which also use the mineral in their batteries. Reserves of cobalt and other minerals like diamonds, copper and gold, should make DR Congo one of the richest countries in Africa, but its people are among the poorest.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Another African Tragedy

Violence in West Africa's Sahel region has never spread so fast nor affected so many people, the United Nations said, warning of an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis.

The number of people uprooted in Burkina Faso, Mali and western Niger has increased five-fold since last year, said the U.N. humanitarian agency (OCHA).
"We have never seen the levels of violence that we're seeing today," said Sofie Garde Thomle, regional head of OCHA, at a press conference in Senegal's capital Dakar. "The displacement is happening so fast that it makes us all a bit afraid," she said.
The countries of the Sahel, a semi-arid strip below the Sahara desert, have been struggling with rapid population growth, extreme climate shifts and Islamist violence for years. But the fighting has worsened in recent months as jihadists have expanded their reach and stoked inter-communal fighting. At the new nexus of violence, where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet, more than 1,200 civilians have been directly targeted and killed this year through May, OCHA said. Fighting the militants has diverted state funds from services like healthcare and education, said Mads Oyen, regional emergency advisor for the U.N. children's agency. "Funding is very rapidly being transferred from social spending to security spending and this will aggravate the issues we're seeing," Oyen said.
4.2 million people are displaced across the Sahel, a million more than a year ago, according to OCHA, and most are living in communities already stretched for resources.
Donors including the United States and the European Union have funded a joint military operation by five Sahel countries to contain the violence, and thousands of French and U.N. troops have been deployed to the region. But U.N. officials and aid agencies said an overly militarised response to the crisis is only making it worse. Civilians cannot tell the difference between military vehicles and cars bringing food or medicine, so aid workers have increasingly become the target of attacks and struggle to assert their neutrality, representatives of several U.N. agencies said.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ethiopia's IDPs living in "subhuman conditions."

Displaced families are enduring subhuman conditions in Ethiopia without enough food and shelter, Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said on Thursday. Egeland told Reuters he had seen 3,500 people without food in an abandoned factory, sharing 16 overflowing latrines flooded by torrential rains, during a visit to the southern town of Dilla a day earlier.
"These people feel abandoned and I don't blame them," the former Norwegian politician and U.N. official said. "We are all failing. The IDPs (internally displaced people) are living totally in subhuman conditions."
2.3 million citizens are displaced inside the country, 1.7 million of them after fleeing conflict. The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated 3.2 million Ethiopians had fled conflict and drought by April this year. Those - on top of 900,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea - meant the Horn of Africa nation hosted the most displaced people in the world, the centre added. 
The United Nations' Ethiopia appeal for this year is $1.31 billion, but it has only received a third of those funds, Egeland said. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Africa cheated again

African countries with small to medium-sized economies pay far more money for less effective drugs. In countries such as Zambia, Senegal and Tunisia, everyday drugs like paracetamol can cost up to 30 times more than in the UK and USA. 
Drug markets in poorer countries "just don't work", said Kalipso Chalkidou from the Centre for Global Development. She said "competition is broken" due to a "concentrated supply chain". 
Ms Chalkidou, director of global health policy at the organisation, concluded that small to middling economy countries buy a smaller range of medicines, leading to weaker competition, regulation and quality. It says richer countries, thanks to public money and strong processes for buying drugs, are able to procure cheaper medicines. Poorer countries, however, tend to buy the most expensive medicines, rather than cheaper unbranded pharmaceuticals which make up 85% of the market in the UK and US. The very poorest countries are not affected when foreign donors purchase medicine on their behalf, meaning their over-the-counter medicines remain at low cost.
Low- to middle-income countries "have little ability to negotiate prices down and quality assure products" and there are lots of mark-ups, often due to taxes and corruption. She said less stringent regulation meant the quality of the drugs was also not as high. 
"Without regulation, people perceive the products don't work, so pay extra money for things they think will work and won't work either," Ms Chalkidou explained.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Nobody Cares about the Congo

A total of six million people have been killed during six years of war in DR Congo. Most of the deaths were from disease and malnutrition. Several neighbouring countries were involved in the fighting, described by some observers as "Africa's World War".

More than 300,000 people have been displaced this month by ethnic violence in Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN says.

The latest clashes are between Hema cattle-herders and Lendu farmers. 

The two communities have repeatedly fought over land and water in Ituri, a gold-rich region in the north-east. The rivalry left thousands dead between 1997 and 2003, amid a wider conflict.
In 2012, a Hema warlord involved in the conflict, Thomas Lubanga, became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In 2017, a Lendu militia leader, Germain Katanga, became the first convicted war criminal to be ordered to pay damages to his victims by the ICC.

Mining Faults in Tanzania

Electronics companies, including Canon, Apple and Nokia, are re-evaluating their supply chains following reports they may be using gold extracted from a Tanzanian mine that has been criticised for environmental failures. The Tanzanian government has imposed penalties on the mine and ordered the operators to build an alternative to its tailings reservoir, which is used to store the byproducts of mining. Locals claimed there were still accidents and violence as a result of incursions, and toxic wastewater continued to seep from the mine into residential areas and waterways nearby.

Over the past 10 years, at the North Mara goldmine – which is operated by London-listed Acacia Mining – there have been more than a dozen killings of intruding locals by security personnel.
Under Tanzanian law, no mine should operate within 200 metres of a home or 100 metres of a farm, but Acacia has not been able to meet this requirement.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Climate Change - Bad News for Africa

New research says global warming could bring many more bouts of severe drought as well as increased flooding to Africa than previously forecast, scientists have warned.

The continent will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall over the next 80 years. These could trigger devastating floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season and these could also damage crop and food production.

“Essentially we have found that both ends of Africa’s weather extremes will get more severe,” said Elizabeth Kendon of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter. “The wet extreme will get worse but also the appearance of dry spells during the growing season will also get more severe.”

It is blamed on the burning of fossil fuels, which is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and causing it to heat up. Last month levels of carbon dioxide reached 415 parts per million, their highest level since Homo sapiens first appeared on Earth – and scientists warn that they are likely to continue on this upward curve for several decades. Global temperatures will be raised dangerously as a result.

The new meteorology study – carried out by scientists at the Met Office in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University – reports on the likely impact on Africa of these temperature rises and indicates that western and central areas will suffer the worst impacts of weather disruptions. Many countries in these regions – including Niger, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are expected to experience substantial growth in population over that time and will be particularly vulnerable to severe floods. At the other end of the precipitation spectrum, the study also revealed there would an increase in occasions when severe drought would occur for up to 10 days in the midst of the most critical part of a region’s growing season. The result could cause severe disruption to crop production.

An example of such flooding occurred two weeks ago when it was reported that eight people had died south of Kampala in Uganda after torrential rain hit the region. Similarly, at least 15 people were reported to have died during floods in Kenya last year. Thousands lost their homes.

“Our research suggests that extreme bouts of rainfall are likely to be seven or eight times more frequent than they are today,” said Kendon. “Africa is one of parts of the planet that is going to be most vulnerable to climate change,” said Kendon. “Our study of rainfall patterns shows there are going to be some very severe problems to face food security and dealing with droughts.”

South Sudanese hungry for food

A record number of almost seven million people in South Sudan - or more than 60 percent of its population - are facing severe hunger, according to a new report by the government and three United Nations agencies.  The report said close to two million people were near starvation, but stopped short of declaring a famine.

The worsening situation was attributed to food shortages exacerbated by delayed rainfall, an economic crisis and years of strain from a conflict that killed almost 400,000 people. A statement from the agencies said the annual lean season "started early following record low stocks from the poor 2018 harvest and has been further extended by the delayed onset of 2019 seasonal rains."
"Every year, hunger reaches new and unprecedented levels in South Sudan with millions of people unsure where their next meal will come from, particularly at this time of the year when hunger peaks from May to July," Hsiao-Wei Lee, of the World Food Programme (WFP), said in the capital, Juba.
The WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN children's fund (UNICEF) said about 1.8 million people in South Sudan were in an "emergency", or level four, which means large gaps between meals, acute malnutrition and excess deaths.
More than five million others were also having to skip meals. At the beginning of 2019, it was estimated that 6.1 million people were facing hunger. But this figure now stands at 6.9 million people - about 61 percent of the population.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mali's ethnic feuds

The conflict between the Dogon and Fulani ethnic groups over resources in Mali has been exacerbated by climate change, population growth, an absentee state and Islamism. The result is a rapidly rising death toll. 

Violence reached a new height with the massacre on Sunday of over 100 people in the Dogon village of Sobame Da. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but tensions have been high since the slaughter of around 160 Fulani (also known as Peuhl) in the village of Ogossagou last March. That attack was blamed on a Dogon militia group known as Dan Na Ambassagou. Some Fulani leaders had vowed to carry out reprisals.

While the conflict of resources between the agriculture communities of the Dogon and cattle herding Fulani has historical roots, "the situation that we see in central Mali at the moment is much worse than anything we've seen, I guess one could say in living memory," Paul Melly of the London-based think-tank Chatham House told DW.

The region is being hit particularly hard by climate change. Conflicts over resources like water and land are not new. But where there used to be a predictable three-month span of rainfall in a year, precipitation has become erratic and hard to predict, increasing the pressure on the population. "You also have population growth," Melly said, explaining that while resources like water, land and pastures are dwindling, "the number of people who depend on them as farmers or cattle herders is actually rising."

Poverty makes it easy for either side to recruit fighters for the militias. "Especially young men in this region have very little to do and very few perspectives," said DW correspondent Bram Posthumus. The Fulani are seen as being linked to the jihadists of the Islamic State of Greater Sahara, while Dogon militias are said to have the support of the Mali military. The absence of the state in the region is seen as a root cause of the spiraling violence: "If [the state] is present, it is usually in a repressive form, either through the army or other security forces," Posthumus said, which means confidence in state authorities is eroded further.

The conflict took on political and religious overtones after the rebellion of jihadists and ethnic groups like the Touareg just north of this region. The uprising was quelled by the French military in 2013. But political instability spread further south, where suddenly there was an unprecedented availability of weapons.

Measles - the Congo's Killer Disease

While some anti-vaxxers refuse the MMR inoculations to safe-guard their children from measles,  in the Democratic Republic of Congo, its government has declared an epidemic of measles, which the latest health ministry figures show has now killed at least 1,500 people in the first five months of 2019, the highest since 2012, which was the deadliest measles epidemic of the last decade. 

More than 10,000 cases of cholera have been reported in the country since the start of the year, leading to 240 deaths. Meanwhile, 1,384 people have died of the Ebola virus since it was first reported in the east of the country last August, the second deadliest outbreak of the disease in global history. But measles has proved deadlier than either, in part because it is even harder to contain. One of the world’s most contagious diseases, the measles virus can live in the air when’re an infected person has coughed or sneezed for up to two hours.

Although measles kills in only about 2 per cent of cases, the young are most likely to suffer complications from the virus and the vast majority of Congo’s fatalities have been children aged under five, health workers say.
While the world's media focused on the Ebola virus, at least 87,000 suspected measles cases have been reported in 23 of Congo’s 26 provinces since January, a 700 per cent increase compared with the same period last year. 

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called for “a massive mobilization of all relevant national and international organizations in order to vaccinate more children and treat patients affected by the disease.” 

Thankfully, the misinformation campaigns of the anti-vaxxers have so far not taken root and hopefully never will.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Sudan's ‘Revolution of the People”.

The Sudanese democracy demonstrators were the first to protest at Saudi Arabia’s interference in their revolution. We all knew that the Saudis and the Emiratis had been funnelling millions of dollars into the regime of Omar al-Bashir, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court and now chucked out of power by a Sisi-like military cabal. But it was the sit-in protesters who first thought up the slogan: “We do not want Saudi aid even if we have to eat beans and falafel!” (a chickpea-filled patty) 

The protesters want answers about the true nature of the relationship between the Gulf states and two men: the “Rapid Support Forces” commander, the frightening Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo – aka “Hemeti” – and Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, the theoretical head of the military council which took over the country after they overthrew Bashir. Both men recently visited the Gulf states – and the Sudanese who were camped out in their capital want to know why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promised $3bn (£2.7bn) in aid to the transitional government. What was the $3bn for, other than to prop up head of Sudan’s military council Burhan’s own regime – brought to power by national protests over Sudan’s bankrupt economy.

Many Sudanese also realise that their own new and revolutionary experience in demanding Bashir’s overthrow along with civilian rulers who will arrange democratic elections has some remarkable parallels with the experience of Cairo’s demonstrators after 2011. he hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who staged the revolution against Mubarak have either been killed, fled, gone to ground or been arrested by the Egyptian security services. So no wonder would-be Sudanese revolutionaries – even though they would see their role as mere protesters for democracy – are fearful that they will soon suffer the same fate, and that those generous Gulf monarchies are about to strike again with more support for Burhan and his unpleasant companion.

Sudan, specifically militias led by the disreputable and extremely dangerous Dagolo – more than 10,000 men, some of them guilty of war crimes in Darfur – have been fighting for the Saudis against the Houthis in Yemen. And Dagolo, according to Al Jazeera, met the Saudi crown prince early in May and promised to support the kingdom against “all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias”. He would continue, he allegedly promised, to send Sudanese forces to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Burhan recruited many of the Sudanese who went to fight in Yemen – a large number of whom had been under Dagolo’s command. So is it any surprise that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman would want to continue his relationship with Dagolo? Anything would be better than parliamentary democracy in Sudan.

Save for vague suggestions from the Trump administration that it condemns violence in Sudan, there has been no serious policy statement on the massive upheaval in the country. The US wants democracy in Sudan – presumably, because that is what its own government supposedly stands for in all nations – but everyone knows that Trump, in his perverse view of the world, regards the Saudi crown prince as a trusted ally.

The Gulf states and Egypt don’t want democracy in Sudan. Are they so powerful that they can ensure the revolution will fail? Or so frightened of the influence of a Sudanese democracy on their own autocracies that the revolution must fail?

Monday, June 10, 2019

General strike for Sudan Democracy

Millions of people in Sudan have joined a general strike called by ​pro-reform groups, shutting down the centre of cities across the country despite a wave of arrests and intimidation​.

The massive shutdown was called to take place on Sunday, the first day of the working week, and is aimed at relaunching an opposition movement battered by a brutal crackdown and forcing the country’s new military leaders to resign.

Shops were closed and streets were empty throughout the capital, Khartoum, and in the neighbouring Omdurman. Four protesters were killed in sporadic violence in the two cities.
“The peaceful resistance by civil disobedience and the general political strike is the fastest and most effective way to topple the military council … and to hand over power to a transitional civilian authority,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, a leading opposition group, said.