Saturday, January 18, 2020

Fake medicines

Globally, the trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals is worth up to $200bn (£150bn) annually, with Africa among the regions most affected, according to industry estimates. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 42% of all fake medicines reported to them between 2013 and 2017 were from Africa

  • Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone seized 19 tonnes of counterfeit medicines in 2018
  • Smugglers in Ivory Coast were intercepted trying to bring in 12 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals from Ghana in 2019
  • An Interpol-led operation in seven West African countries seized more than 420 tonnes of illicit pharmaceutical products in 2017
  • Nearly 19.88 tonnes of fake medicines were seized in Mali between 2015-18
The accounting firm PwC says the proportion of fake pharmaceuticals in some countries can be as high as 70%, in developing regions such as Africa. The WHO estimates one out of every 10 medical products in low- and middle-income countries, which includes most of Africa, is sub-standard or fake.
Analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for the WHO estimates substandard and fake anti-malarial drugs could be causing 116,000 extra deaths from the disease every year in sub-Saharan Africa at a cost to patients and health systems of on average $38.5m a year.
And in 2015, a study published in the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated more than 122,000 children under the age of five died each year because of sub-standard anti-malarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.
Scientists say poor quality drugs are important contributors to under-five mortality rates.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Zimbabwe's Corruption

Zimbabwe needs urgent economic and political reforms to transform its economy amidst a growing national crisis, researchers say in a new study that urges swift policy changes and a sound financial framework to attract investment.

The country has been reeling from one of the worst droughts in decades, with the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) identifying Zimbabwe as one of the 15 critical emergencies around the world at risk of crisis without rapid intervention.
More than 7 million Zimbabwean are food insecure owing to a projected 50 percent fall in the 2019 cereal harvest. This month the WFP is doubling its assistance to reach 4.1 million people who are hardest hit in rural areas.
A study  made a note that there is no reform culture among the custodians of reforms in Zimbabwe.

Besides, the country’s multilateral debt, estimated at over $8,2 billion, has prevented any potential inroads with the international organisations involved with the compact.
“Clearance of multilateral debt arrears: the sanctions rhetoric seems to have taken the centre
stage ahead of reform implementation,” noted the study, adding that, “This behaviour has promoted corruption and stands in the way of reforms;
Economic analyst, John Robertson, said nobody agrees with the government on the point of economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries on individuals accused of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
“The sanctions are not applied to the country; the sanctions did not cause the country’s failure. The failure is caused by our decision to close down our biggest industries,” Robertson told IPS, referring to the destruction of the agriculture sector and the collapse of the manufacturing sector.
“The policy choices that we made have caused so much damage to our productive sectors starting with agriculture,” said Robertson, adding, “We imposed upon ourselves a serious handicap when we said the land in the country no longer has market value land so [people with] land can no longer borrow against ownership rights to that land because the land is now the property of the state.”
David Moore, researcher and political economist at the University of Johannesburg, told IPS that if the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) party had maintained its neo-liberal and white-farmer-friendly economic promises it might have kept the “west” on its side.
But cabals and corruption cannot be dismantled – they are the pillars of the party, he said. And so the military-party complex so tight that it cannot be untied: they are integral parts of the country’s political economy.
Academic and social commentator, Rudo Gaidzanwa, concurred saying it will take pushing to get ZANU (PF) ruling party and its military allies to undertake political and social reforms.
“The types of political and economic reforms that the civilians want will undermine the interests of the militarist elements in the state and the security sector,” Gaidzanwa, a Sociology Professor at the University of Zimbabwe, told IPS.
“ZANU won’t stand for anything that undermines their hold over the state and the society. It is not likely that any meaningful reform will occur unless dramatic social and political changes occur in Zimbabwe,” she said, adding that the ZANU PF led-government and elites have used economic sanctions as a convenient excuse to evade responsibility for economic and social crises.
Sanctions have not prevented the president and his cohorts from pillaging mineral resources. The current chaos was ideal for pillaging resources and undermining the rule of law and democracy, she said.
“Rigged elections are an issue because they prevent the will of the people from prevailing,” Gaidzanwa told IPS. “The present situation over contested presidential elections between (Nelson) Chamisa and (Emerson) Mnangagwa is symptomatic of that struggle…These issues have dogged our elections for decades and remain unresolved hence our dire economic and political situation.”
  • After Mugabe was ousted from power Zimbabweans went to the polls in July 2018 to elect a new leader, with Mnangagwa winning 50.8 percent of the voted compared to Chamisa’s 44.3 percent.
  • The results were disputed.

Southern Africa's Food Crisis

The United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday that a record 45 million people in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community faced growing hunger following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries already struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019.

Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.
"This hunger crisis is on a scale we've not seen before and the evidence shows it's going to get worse," the WFP's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, said in a statement. "The annual cyclone season has begun and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year's unprecedented storms."
The agency plans to provide "lean season" assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with "crisis" or "emergency" levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi. To date, WFP has secured just $205 million of the $489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need, it said.
In December, the United Nations said it was procuring food assistance for 4.1 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population of a country where shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.
"Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure," the agency said.
In Zambia and drought-stricken Lesotho, 20% of the population faces a food crisis, as do 10% of Namibians.

2020 - Africa's response to climate change

-United Nations World Food Program recently released 2020 Global Hotspots Report. According to the report, millions of citizens from Sub-Saharan African countries will face hunger in the first half of 2020 for several reasons including conflict, political instability and climate-related events such as below-average rainfall and flooding.

Focusing in on the latter, climate-related extreme events have already caused 52 million people across Africa to go hungry and over 1 million people to be displaced by flooding. 
Of course, African countries are not alone in this challenge and Italy, Southern California, and Southern France have recently been impacted by flooding linked to the changing climate.  Australia has equally suffered from massive bushfires linked to the changing climate.
Many African countries are strengthening their predictive capabilities. For instance, there are several centers that provide climate-hydro-agricultural monitoring and outlooks including AGRHYMET in West Africa, The IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre in Eastern Africa, and SADC drought monitoring center in southern Africa.
Furthermore, in 2019, three Southeast African countries, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, along with four Southwest Indian Ocean countries launched the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Platform, with the goal of sharing disaster prevention information.
In addition, individual countries are doing their best to implement predictive frameworks. Kenya, for example, has a Predictive livestock early warning system to help pastoralist communities. Uganda has a National Climate Change Policy, a supporting political structure for its implementation and has continued to step up its efforts on addressing climate change. Ghana has a national climate change adaptation strategy and in 2018, UNEP worked with Ghana to implement a drought early warning system.
However, even with so many predictive frameworks initiatives, the African continent is yet to protect its citizens from climate-change related disasters. Clearly, disaster predictive frameworks can only go so far.
Thus, African countries must double down and implement many other complementing efforts to mitigate climate change and help farmers and citizens of African countries to stay on top. After all, even if predictive frameworks succeed, farmers must still be able to prevent disastrous climate change impacts such as drought.
Once crops have been planted, for example, farmers are still limited in actions they can take to protect their growing crops from extremities such as drought and flooding.
The foundation of resilient agriculture begins with healthy soil. Healthy soils, that have soil organic matter, improve the activities of microorganisms that live in the soil, which in turn help plants to utilize nutrients and cope with climate-related stresses such as drought and flooding while combatting pests and diseases.
Of course, it matters what crop varieties that farmers plant. As such, there is need for more investment on science that is geared towards developing crop varieties that are resilient to drought and flooding.
More than ever, initiatives such as stress tolerant maize, the Wheat rust resistant seed  and initiatives aimed at breeding disease resistant and improved cassava plants, must be sustained, and the varieties developed from these efforts must be deployed to farmers.  But, only with healthy soils as a base will all the complementing measures fully deliver on their promise.
Climate-smart agriculture success stories coming out from African countries show that indeed, adopting these practices has the potential help African citizens to deal with the new and harsh realities accompanying the changing climate.

Zambia's Food Insecurity

In Zambia the 2018/19 farming season was characterised by drought and prolonged dry spells, which, according to the government Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), left 2.3 million people severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian food assistance.

Planeta Hatuleke, a small scale farmer of Pemba District in Southern Zambia, along with her 8-member family members are part of the hunger stricken population. Last farming season, the family harvested only five 50Kg-bags of maize, 10 short of their annual food requirements. 

Statistics from DMMU show that at least 70,000 metric tonnes of relief food (maize grain and maize meal) has been distributed to the affected people between September 2019 and January 2020. According World Food Programme (WFP) country director for Zambia, Jennifer Bitonde, the United Nations’ food agency “requires $36 million to effectively support the government in responding to the crisis.”

In a statement after receiving a contribution of $3.39 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help meet the immediate food needs of drought-affected people in Zambia, Bitonde added that “USAID’s contribution represents approximately 10 percent of the total needs and will allow WFP to ensure that drought-affected people will not go to bed hungry during this year’s lean season.’’
Other partners who have made a contribution to WFP Zambia include the Swedish government, which has contributed $2 million, and the Italian government with a contribution of $ 610,000.

Last October, the three U.N. food agencies—the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and WFP—called for urgent funding to avert a major hunger crisis and for the international community to step up investment in long-term measures to combat the impact of climate shocks and build the capacity of communities and countries to withstand them.  They warned that a record 45 million people across the 16-nation Southern African Development Community would be severely food insecure in the next six months starting from October 2019. At the time, they reported that there were more than 11 million people experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Phases 3 and 4) in nine countries: Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho. 

“Late rains, extended dry periods, two major cyclones and economic challenges have proved a recipe for disaster for food security and livelihoods across Southern Africa,” said Alain Onibon, FAO’s Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa. “As it could take many farming communities at least two to three growing seasons to return to normal production, immediate support is vital.  Now is the time to scale up agricultural emergency response. We need to ensure farmers and agro-pastoralists take advantage of the forecasted good rains, assuming they happen, as this will be crucial in helping them rebuild their livelihoods.
While Southern Africa has experienced normal rainfall in just one of the last five growing seasons, persistent drought, back-to-back cyclones and flooding have wreaked havoc on harvests in a region overly dependent on rain-fed, smallholder agriculture.
 Zambia is experiencing both climate extremes at the same time. While farmers in the southwestern parts of the country are anxious about the rainfall pattern that has been erratic so far, their counterparts in the northeast are battling flash floods, adding pressure on the already overstretched resource base.
Over 300 families have been reported as being affected by floods in the Mambwe and Lumezi districts of Zambia’s Eastern Province. 
This December, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), Zambia’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Ndashe Yumba highlighted the adverse effects of climate change on his country’s natural resource-sensitive sectors, such as energy and agriculture, and how the country was moving away from a business-as-usual approach.
“There is still increasing evidence that climate change is negatively impacting critical sectors of our country,” said Yumba during a high-level event at COP25. “In the recent past, drastic reduction in precipitation and rising temperatures in Zambia has led to a reduced agricultural productivity by about 16 percent and subsequently slowed down our economic growth. While Zambia is still pursuing her aspirations on socio-economic development, it is mindful of the need to maintain a healthy environment in order to achieve sustainable development…a recipe to a healthy climate is a healthy environment,” he added.
Back in Pemba District in Southern Zambia, Hatuleke is hoping that climate smart agricultural principles which are routed in sustainable environmental management, and which she has recently implemented, will bring her a better harvest this year. 
“I ripped my field and planted early; just after the first rains in mid-November and as you can see, my maize is at tussling stage,” she says. “I am hopeful of a good harvest, provided it consistently rains in the remaining half of the season.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Is Africa still a French colony?

France and five West African states  Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, known as the G5 agreed to combine their military forces under one command structure.

Macron had warned that he could withdraw French troops without a clear political commitment from them. France, the former colonial power, has 4,500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel. Another 220 French troops will be sent to give fresh momentum to the fight with more European special forces expected to join in the coming months

The new structure, named Coalition for the Sahel, brings the G5 states, French forces and any future troops under a single command. It aims to enable joint operations, greater intelligence-sharing and quicker response time in particular for French forces in the border areas linking Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, where violence is at its worst.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Congo War Crimes

Killings, rapes and other violence committed by an ethnic armed group in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo against a rival group may amount to crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide, the United Nations said on Friday.

The attacks in mineral-rich Ituri province have mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation.

Since September 2018, Lendu armed groups have increasingly become more organised in carrying out attacks against the Hema and members of other ethnic groups such as the Alur, the U.N. human rights office said in a report on its investigation.

Army and police forces have failed to stop the violence, it said, calling on Congolese authorities to address the root causes of the conflict.

"The barbarity that characterises these attacks – including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war – reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages," the report said.

"The violence documented … could contain some elements of crimes against humanity through murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillage and persecution," it said.

"Certain elements constituting genocide" - a rare designation under international law - may be present, it said.

At least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu communities in Djugu and Mahagi territories from December 2017 to Sept 2019, the report said. At least 142 people have suffered acts of sexual violence, it added.

Most victims are from the Hema community, but the U.N. investigators said they had also documented acts of reprisals by some members of the Hema communities, including the burning of villages.

Friday, January 10, 2020

A new generation for farming?

  • Africa has 257 million hungry people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
  • While Africa holds 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated, arable land and adequate water resources, the continent spends more than $35 billion annually importing food — a bill projected by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to balloon to $110 billion by 2025.
  • About 237 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from chronic under nutrition, which is derailing past gains in eradicating hunger and poverty, said the FAO in a joint 2019 report, Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition.
  • The report underlines the need to accelerate action to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of achieving zero hunger as well as global nutrition targets amidst challenges of youth unemployment and climate change.
  • “Agriculture and the rural sector must play a key role in creating decent jobs for the 10 to 12 million youths that join the labour market each year,” the FAO said.
  • Young people in Africa will make up 42 percent of the global youth population and account for 75 percent of people under the age of 35 on the continent,
Africa will starve or survive on expensive food imports because it is not growing new farmers, research shows. Agriculture contributes about 30 percent to the continent’s GDP but the sector is hampered by poor productivity and low investment and the average age of a smallholder farmer in Africa is 60. Yet young farmers are not being produced fast enough to close the labour gap in agriculture production. And the challenge remains to get African youth interested in agriculture on a continent where a growing number of people go to bed hungry every night. Agriculture has a negative image of not being attractive enough for the more ambitious, tech-savvy youth who would rather hustle in urban areas than become farmers.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a global research institute that generates agricultural innovations, Director General Nteranya Sanginga told IPS.
“I have wanted the youth to define what agriculture is all about, for them agriculture is pain, penury and poverty,” Sanginga said. “We need to transform that mind-set and get them to understand that agriculture could be a source of wealth, business and pleasure.”
Africa’s food and beverage markets are projected to reach $1 trillion by 2030.

Development researcher Jim Sumberg, from the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom, is not convinced agriculture is the silver bullet.
Sumberg says the idea of agriculture as a vast domain of entrepreneurial opportunity for young people is being grossly over sold, noting there are opportunities for some and for others it is a case of hard work for little reward.
“I believe the idea that a large proportion of young people are leaving rural areas and/or farming is over-played,” Sumberg, told IPS. “There is no real evidence. Further, why would anyone want to “lure” young people into tedious, poorly paid work? It makes no sense! It is true that a modernised agriculture will provide some job opportunities (for youth and others), but I doubt it will be the millions and millions of jobs often promised.”
Sumberg said he had little patience with the idea of changing people’s mind sets so that they see “farming as a business”. It can only be a business if there is the potential for profit, and at the moment is many situations that potential it not there.