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IRIN - South Africa


Securitising Africa’s borders is bad for migrants, democracy, and development

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 13:30:19 +0000

South Africa’s National Assembly recently passed a bill to set up a new border management agency. The Border Management Authority will fall under Home Affairs, a government department long distinguished by its lack of respect for immigrant and refugee rights. But there are other, deeper causes for concern.   Whereas previously, police and customs officers were under strict (if not always effective) civilian oversight, this new agency will be able to circumvent constitutional constraints. Broader changes to immigration and asylum policies are also in the works, such as a “risk-based” vetting system that could be used to justify barring most people from entering the country overland. Bolstering these efforts are plans to detain asylum seekers at processing centres dotted along the border.    South Africa’s new border management strategy has equivalents across the continent that likely do little to prevent smuggling and human trafficking or to stop terrorism – the justifications often used for such securitisation. Instead, they help reinforce authoritarian leadership and undermine regional governance initiatives. In the longer term, they are likely to impact development.   Free movement – within countries or to neighbouring areas – is central to people finding work and surviving in these precarious times. Constraints on such movement, whatever the source, are fundamentally anti-poor and anti-freedom. They treat migrants as suspected criminals, rather than as people legitimately seeking protection or employment. Many of these policies are being implemented with aid from the European Union and strong domestic support. Countries like Eritrea already maintain a repressive “exit visa” system while Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Niger, and Sudan are all planning enhanced border management strategies, including bio-metric tracking and militarisation.   Containment era   Militarising the margins has become an integral plank in the continent’s new approach to “migration management”. Following the Valletta Summit in late 2015, the EU created a trust fund that is funnelling billions of euros of development aid through bilateral arrangements with African states, including those with appalling human rights records, such as Sudan and Eritrea. Legitimised by a language of sovereignty, greater border controls are part of an emerging containment era in which Africans’ movements – not only towards Europe but even across the continent – are becoming pathologised and criminalised. There are continental variations. Some countries and sub-regions are less committed to control than others, but so-called containment development is undeniably on the rise. In this new developmental mode, success is measured primarily by the ability to keep people at home.    Critics of this approach focus heavily and justifiably on the migrants condemned to camps and detention centres, and the growing numbers who die before reaching their destination. Others note the extraordinary growth in a range of unsavoury professions: smuggling, kidnapping, and trafficking. Although often tinged with an alarmism driven by moral outrage or professional interest, these stories of exploited people and extinguished lives need to be told.   Yet focusing exclusively on the migrant victims of new containment technologies and practices risks overlooking their implications for the continent’s governance and all Africans’ human rights. At the very least, the kind of bilateral arrangements various African countries are signing with the EU will scupper African Union plans to promote easier and safer movement within the continent. They will similarly curtail free movement policy proposals circulating within sub-regional economic communities.   While the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) already has a working protocol, it has been compromised by fears of terrorism and EU-funded programmes to deter migration through the region. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC), pro[...]

How much worse are African droughts because of man-made climate change?

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 10:43:30 +0000

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.  The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon. “This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months. “We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added. Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region. According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll. “We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN. No surprise In South Africa, dams are down to 37 percent capacity, according to the government. Farmers say that actually means 27 percent in practical terms. “The last 10 percent are unusable,” said Harvey. “It´s been lying too long on the bottom.” Researchers associated with the United States Geological Survey found that man-made climate change contributed to the 2015/2016 droughts  and most likely to the reduced “short rains”, a second rainy season that usually occurs at this time of year in southern Africa. SEE: El Niño in Africa in 2016 Their research, published in the American Meteorological Society’s December bulletin, explains how man-made climate change worsened El Niño. The phenomenon occurs naturally every several years as a patch of warm water appears in the Pacific Ocean, which can lead to weather fluctuations including unseasonably dry periods. It is often followed by La Niña, which is associated with below average ocean temperatures and can lead to weather impacts that are opposite to El Niño. Lead researcher Chris Funk, a professor at University of Santa Barbara, described in an interview how the oceans warm due to climate change, and very warm surface temperatures develop in pockets of the sea. These warm patches often increase the impact of natural climate variations that accompany El Niño, which can intensify droughts in food insecure areas. For Africa, increases of about 0.9 degrees in both sea temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and air temperatures in eastern and southern Africa have meant reduced rainfall. “Our research shows that man-made climate change is making the impacts of both El Niño and La Niña climate variations stronger in Africa – meaning what we´ve seen in the last 18 months,” said Funk. Although climate change alone did not cause the drought, it certainly made it stronger, according to Funk. The study has yet to be reviewed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the leading expert body on climate change and does not comment on research until it is reviewed. Richard Washington, a climate science professor at Oxford University, said he agreed with the findings overall, although he cautioned that they were based on “linear” research. “One limitation is for example: how does the Indian Ocean influence climate El Niño?” Peter Lykke Lind/IRIN Chris Harvey says the river came up to the top of the stick only 10 months ago. His irrigation dam now sits six metres below normal level. Worst drought in decades The UN has labelled [...]

Top Picks: Nauru, Lebanon, Haiti, the Hague and Geneva

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:15:19 +0000

Every week, IRIN's editors offer a selection of the most important and interesting resources that came on their radar. Here's this week's humanitarian reading list. ICC – “a bunch of useless people”? Burundi merely threatened, but South Africa has actually delivered the blow against the ICC. On Thursday it lodged an “instrument of withdrawal” at the UN, formally triggering a process that, one year from now, means it will no longer be a party to the Rome Statute. The move is significant. Whereas few African states have seemed willing to back Burundi (the government’s self-interest was just far too evident), South Africa is different – it’s a big hitter in the African Union. There may be domestic politics behind South Africa’s decision, clothed in a mantle of higher purpose. And it comes at a time of improving relations between the court and African countries. But before we get ahead of ourselves in condemning of Pretoria, it’s worth re-reading Oumar Ba’s take on the politics of the ICC, and ponder once more how the court’s reputation can be rescued. Is Australia torturing refugees? If you need more evidence that Australia’s offshore refugee system is, um, problematic, read this new report from Amnesty International. The rights group says conditions in the Australian-run detention centre on the Pacific island nation of Nauru “fit the definition of torture under international law.” Amnesty accuses the government of holding more than 1,000 people “behind a fortress of secrecy” where they face a torrent of harassment and violence. Australia’s Immigration Department quickly released a response accusing Amnesty of using “unsubstantiated claims made by individuals or advocacy groups as fact in the absence of evidence.” However, Amnesty’s researcher is one of the few people that’s been able to visit Nauru to verify such claims. Nauru has refused to grant media visas to organizations willing to pay the exorbitant price of $8,000, which suits Australia just fine. If Australia really believes Amnesty is lying about conditions in Nauru, maybe it should arrange for some journalists to visit and see for themselves. Reaching refugee survivors Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon don’t live in camps, so reaching them can be tough. Even more so for Syrian women and girls in the somewhat isolated border community of Wadi Khaled, the focus of this study from the International Center for Research on Women. The research zooms in on an International Rescue Committee project that aimed to support survivors of gender-based violence, a problem surrounded by stigma. Staff provided psychosocial support and referrals, but they started slow with coffee, tea and conversation. The study examines what worked and what didn’t – it was a challenge to find spaces where women and girls felt safe and get local communities on board, and sometimes they ended up in tents. And there are limits to referrals for those who will have difficulty accessing them. But the participants interviewed overwhelmingly gave the experience a thumbs up, and there’s clearly something to be said for bringing help straight to those who need it in a sensitive, smart manner.    Migration managers Migration is high on the agenda again as European leaders met in Brussels today and yesterday. Satisfied that a controversial agreement reached with Turkey and the border closures in the Balkans have brought boat crossings to Greece down to manageable levels, the EU has turned its attention to achieving similar results on the Central Mediterranean migration route. Agreements similar to the one with Turkey - using aid as leverage to secure countries’ compliance in controlling migration - are in the works with at least five major countries of origin and transit in Africa, including Ethiopia, Nigeria and Mali. But a recent analysis by strategic forecasting company, Stratfor, warns that such deals will only be effective if the North African countries have sufficie[...]

As AIDS money shrinks, who loses?

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 14:59:05 +0000

As the global public health community gathered in the South African city of Durban this week to talk about the end of AIDS, they were greeted with news that annual international support for combatting the epidemic had fallen by more than US$1 billion.   The news added weight to existing calls for middle-income countries to take more responsibility for funding their own responses. As part of a global strategy to end the epidemic by 2030, representatives from many of the world’s middle-income countries say they are willing to take on that challenge, and with it the opportunity to assume more control in guiding their national programmes.   However, there are deep concerns, both among officials and activists.   Governments fret that there is not enough time to plan and guide the rapid pace of the transition, which could cause critical services to be interrupted. And civil society groups are concerned that the move to greater dependence on domestic funding will allow administrations that already criminalise specific groups – including gay men and sex workers – to drop HIV services for them entirely.   Less in the pot, less support?   International donor support for HIV responses in low- and middle-income countries fell from $8.6 billion in 2014 to $7.5 billion last year, according to new figures released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The announcement was timed to coincide with the start of the International AIDS Conference, which returned to sub-Saharan Africa this week for the first time in 16 years.   There had long been concerns that the funding situation was worsening, but there was widespread surprise that the drop in donor support had been so dramatic.   “We came into this conference talking about the risks…from flat funding,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, president of the International AIDS Society, which organises the annual event. “Then we realized we’re not talking about flat funding, we’re talking about declining funding.”   The news was of particular significance for sub-Saharan Africa where more than 70 percent of people with HIV live. Hundreds of thousands of them are dependent on international funding to pay for life-saving treatment. Donor dollars are also being used to avert new infections. The Kaiser analysis underscored a new reality that people living in this region may no longer be able to count on the same level of international support.   Filling the gap and taking back control   In a recent publication detailing the funding necessary to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, UNAIDS underscored the need for increased financial commitments from middle-income countries. The specific funding targets it lays out include a 91 percent increase in commitments from lower-middle-income countries, from $4.3 billion in 2014 to $8.2 billion by 2020. Upper-middle-income countries are expected to jump from $9.4 billion in 2014 to $11.3 billion by 2017 – a 20 percent increase.   Olive Shisana, a public health researcher in Cape Town, and co-chair of the Durban conference, told IRIN the demand was appropriate.   Governments “can reprioritise some of the money that’s going into the military to actually go and save lives,” she said. “I think it’s a realistic call to say, ‘all of us must search deeper in our pockets to get more money to be able to provide HIV services’.”   The shift to more domestic funding is already happening. Such funding made up $10.9 billion – or 57 percent of total HIV resources in 2015, according to the Kaiser report. Shisana’s country is at the forefront of that trend. South Africa’s anti-retroviral therapy (ART) programme, the largest in the world, is largely financed by the government. The South African health ministry recently announced that it would further scale up the programme to make treatment available to all South Africans who tested HIV positive – in line with the latest World Health Organisation recommendations.   This followed an extensive modelling pro[...]

Go South young man: migration in the developing world

Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:00:00 +0000

While the West is fixated with migration to Europe from the developing world, it’s just as common for people looking for fresh opportunities and a better life to journey South-South.   The distances may be shorter - most travel is between regional neighbours – but navigating official restrictions can be just as hard.   This week, more than 40 Ethiopians, believed to be on their way to find work in South Africa, were picked up from two houses in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and charged with being in the country illegally.   Last month, the police had to rescue another 23 Ethiopians from a house in the Kahawa West suburb of the city as angry residents, in a bizarre case of a murdered motorbike taxi driver, surrounded the property.   One of the Ethiopians interviewed said they’d arrived by bus a few days earlier. Their passports had been confiscated by the Kenyan hosting them, on the promise of jobs to come.   These are not one-off cases. “It’s almost on a weekly basis,” said Bram Frouws of the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat. “It shows that Kenya is a hub for people moving to South Africa or as a destination in itself.”   Looking for jobs   Migration in Africa is overwhelmingly about jobs. “It appears to have many economic benefits for the destination countries as well (and for migrants themselves and origin countries),” notes an RMMS report exploring mixed migration and the development debate.   “Measures designed to restrict migration can have negative impacts, since they raise the costs and risks of migration for poor people and lower the benefits by keeping them in informal low-paid job markets,” it adds.   A recent World Bank study finds that South-South migrants “make substantial contributions to remittances”. Based on a hypothetical scenario of severely curtailed migration, it concluded that “the loss of the remittance income leads to substantially lower welfare in developing countries”.   Ethiopia is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. But the size of its population – at close to 100 million – means that even a small percentage of people seeking asylum or moving to greener pastures means large absolute numbers.   Destination countries have traditionally been in Europe and the Gulf states, but there is an under-researched southern route, from Kenya down to South Africa – the continent’s second largest economy.   “Ethiopia is doing quite well economically, but to accommodate such a large population means that the economy has to grow at a much faster rate,” said Frouws. “For a while yet Ethiopians are going to continue to leave the country. There are not many jobs here [in Kenya], so they will move down south.”   In one of the few studies of its kind, the International Organization for Migration estimated in 2009 that between 17,000 and 20,000 male refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa – overwhelmingly from Ethopia and Somalia – try to reach South Africa each year. Frouws said that the regular arrests in Nairobi suggest those figures may still hold good.   Welcome?   Kenya is generally welcoming to its neighbours. A series of regional agreements – poorly implemented by most governments – in theory support free movement. But jobs are a political issue, and governments tend not to want to make the complicated argument of how migration can benefit everyone.   Ethiopia is not part of the East African Community, but its citizens are allowed visa-free travel to Kenya. The confiscation of passports by agents facilitating migrants’ southbound travel makes them vulnerable to arrest by Kenyan police. Passports can be extortionately expensive in Africa and laborious to obtain, in effect another handicap to free movement.   Migration and refugee protection has increasingly become conflated with security concerns in Kenya as a result of a string of high-profile attacks by the Somali jihadist group al-Shabab. The jihadists s[...]

Southern Africa’s food crisis in numbers

Thu, 28 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Southern Africa is facing the threat of extensive crop failures this year as a result of record low rainfall in a region in which 29 million people already don't have reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food.  “With little or no rain falling in many areas and the window for the planting of cereals closing fast or already closed in some countries, the outlook is alarming,” the World Food Programme has warned. “The region is ill prepared for a shock of this magnitude, particularly since the last growing season was also affected by drought. This means depleted regional stocks, high food prices, and substantially increased numbers of food insecure people,” the UN agency said. Southern Africa is feeling the impact of an intense El Niño that began last year. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, continued below-average rainfall and high temperatures are likely to persist in 2016, with the food crisis lasting into 2017. The following are the worst-affected countries: South Africa The biggest victim of the drought. It’s the region’s main maize producer, but last year output fell 30 percent below the bumper 2014 season and it may have to import around 6 million tonnes. Planting of the 2016 cereal crop began later than normal due to delayed rains. Small-scale farmers have been hammered by the drought, with emergencies declared in five out of nine provinces, as well as areas of two other provinces. There have been reports of farmers committing suicide. Malawi The 2014/15 cereal harvest was 24 percent down on the five-year average. Currently, 2.8 million people are "food insecure" (they lack access to food that's sufficient to lead healthy and active lives) out of a population of 16 million as a result of flooding and drought last year. Average maize prices were at a record high in December 2015. The government’s $146-million Food Insecurity Response Plan is so far 48 percent funded. Zimbabwe The 2014/15 cereal harvest was 42 percent down on the five-year average. An estimated 1.5 million people are food insecure, with 600,000 in "crisis" - meaning they are forced to skip meals, there are high rates of malnutrition, or have sold their livestock to make ends meet. A new vulnerability assessment is under way and the figures are likely to be even worse. Zimbabwe’s $132-million drought response plan is 44 percent funded. Angola   A drought that scorched Namibia spread into Angola’s three southern provinces – Cunene, Huila, and Cuando Cubango. Whereas Namibia is on top of its crisis, Angola, even though it is Africa’s second largest oil producer, is not. In Cunene, 800,000 people – 72 percent of the population – have been hit by crop losses and livestock deaths, with child malnutrition rates beyond the emergency threshold of 15 percent. “The situation is worsened by insufficient resources, including human, logistical, critical nutritional and medical supplies, and funding,” according to UN sources. Nationwide 1.25 million are at risk.  Mozambique El Niño's climate impact splits the country in two – in the north there has been flooding, in the south drought. More than 176,000 people are in crisis in the provinces of Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala, and Niassa, until at least the next harvest. A further 575,455 people are food insecure, especially in Zambézia, Maputo, and Niassa provinces. Around 50,300 people are receiving food assistance in Gaza and Sofala. Zambia Zambia has been an exporter of maize to the region, but last year’s production was 21 percent down on 2014. Zambia’s ample stocks enabled it to still export to neighbouring and needy Zimbabwe, but close to 800,000 Zambians are also at risk of food and livelihoods insecurity.   Photo: Data: SADC, WFP And worse may be to come   Lesotho Some 650,000 people – one third of the population – do not have enough food.  Some projections indicate the numbers af[...]

An unwanted guest: El Niño and Africa in 2016

Wed, 23 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

El Niño is the largely unwanted Christmas gift – a warming of the tropical Pacific causing drought and floods that will peak at the end of this month, but will impact weather systems around the globe into 2016. This year’s El Niño has been steadily gaining strength since March. It’s likely to be one of the most extreme events of this nature yet seen, with the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, warning that “millions will be impacted”. El Niño’s links with drought in southern Africa and the Horn, and with heavy rains in East Africa, are well-established. Across the rest of the continent the climate connection is less clear. Other factors come into play, such as temperatures in the North Atlantic for West Africa’s weather, according to Richard Choularton, the World Food Programme’s chief of climate resilience for food. What makes El Niño particularly bad news in 2016 is that it will be a second tough year in a row for farmers and pastoralists in Southern Africa and the Horn – and to a lesser extent East Africa. Eighty percent of their populations are dependent on agriculture. Their ability to cope with adversity has been stretched. Now they will be facing potentially an even sterner test.   So what does that really mean for these vulnerable regions in the coming year? With the perils of weather forecasting acknowledged, here’s a snapshot. Southern Africa: More than 30 million people are already “food insecure” – lacking access to enough food to lead healthy lives as result of a poor harvest earlier this year. South Africa’s maize production has traditionally been the hedge against regional shortfalls. But this year drought was declared in five provinces and output dropped by 30 percent. The fear is that the region will experience another El Niño-induced poor harvest, “possibly a disastrous one”, according to OCHA. Emergency maize stocks are depleted, and maize prices are climbing. Governments hard hit by the global fall in commodity prices, on which their economies depend, will need to find the money to buy maize on the international market. South Africa alone is expecting to import 750,000 tonnes to meet its needs. Despite Southern Africa being a largely middle-income region, its rural populations historically have some of the world’s worst poverty indicators. Even in economic powerhouse South Africa, almost a quarter of all children under five are stunted. That level of deprivation limits people’s ability to bounce back after a shock.  See: Southern Africa’s food crisis – from bad to worse The worst-affected countries in 2016 will be Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. “Everyone is preparing for drought,” said Choularton. WFP, for example, is putting money and programmes in place in Zimbabwe, in anticipation of worse trouble to come, part of its new FoodSECuRE policy approach. Further north, in the Horn and East Africa, which have more complicated climate and agricultural systems, the El Niño picture is less clear. The Horn: Poor rains have hit parts of Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia – but international media coverage has tended to focus on Ethiopia. In part that’s because a lazy connection gets drawn with the 1984 famine, but also because the numbers in need are so large.  See: How bad is the drought in Ethiopia? With the failure of both the Belg rains and the usually reliable Kiremt summer rains, “the worst drought in Ethiopia for 50 years is happening right now,” Save the Children said in a statement. The hardest-hit regions are in the north and east of the country. The UN believes 15 million people will face food shortages in 2016, with the next harvest not expected until June. Ethiopia has a population of close to 100 million.  See: Ready or not – drought tests Ethiopia Nearly eight million people are already under the nat[...]

Counting the money

Mon, 14 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

The rejoicing and back-slapping at the conclusion at the weekend of the Paris climate summit extended even to the African delegations. Historically sidelined, they had come to the UN meeting determined that this time they would make their voices heard. South Africa’s environment minister Edna Molewa, for one, was ecstatic about the deal. “I just wish I could jump high now. South Africa accepts the Paris Agreement as the best agreement at this moment. It is not perfect, but it represents a major leap forward for developing countries,” Molewa said.  Nigeria’s newly-appointed environment minister, Amina Mohammed, noted that “Africa leaves Paris with its head high with adaptation and climate finance for renewable energies.” If it was all about the money, then Africa got what it wanted early on in the conference. In one major success, the European Union, Sweden and G7 jointly pledged $10 billion to the newly-minted African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), whose goal is to supply at least 300GW of power by 2030 through clean energy sources. Pledges secured, African delegations seemed to go quiet at the summit. It was left to civil society to demand more robust positions on compensation for climate damage, and deeper cuts on emissions by industrialized countries. “The agreement will not keep the world to the below 1.5 degrees and this will mean more losses and damages, floods, droughts, sea level rise, and conflicts in Africa", said Sam Ogallah of the PanAfrican Climate Justice Alliance. One-off financial pledges cannot match the possibly trillions of dollars in new and additional money required to combat climate change. Those financial flows need to be predictable, transparent and monitored.  “And how will those funds be managed - how sure are we that they will come?” questioned environmental activist and writer Wanjohi Kabukuri. Given the multiplicity of funding channels “it’s going to be like a maize to trace and keep everyone accountable," he told IRIN. There are currently more than 40 funding mechanisms set up to distribute climate money. They have overlapping remits and different reporting procedures. As funding grows, it’s only going to get more complicated. The following graphic tries to make sense of the existing acronym soup. frameborder="0" height="600" scrolling="no" src="" style="overflow-y: hidden;" width="500"> wk/oa/ag   102292 201404101211370086.jpg News Aid and Policy Environment and Disasters Climate change Counting the money IRIN PARIS Africa South Africa Nigeria France Global Français [...]

Southern Africa's food crisis - from bad to worse

Fri, 04 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Close to 29 million people in southern Africa are already facing food shortages as a result of this season’s poor harvest, but worse could be on the way. “Serious concerns are mounting that Southern Africa will this coming season face another poor harvest, possibly a disastrous one,” the UN’s aid coordinating agency, OCHA, warned in a recent report.  A drought-inducing El Niño – perhaps the strongest ever recorded – is already underway. Floods are expected to hit the region early next year, and there is a 65 percent chance of a cyclone slamming into the island of Madagascar. This year, Southern Africa’s cereal harvest fell by almost a quarter, down to 34 million tonnes. Major food shortages are affecting Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Madagascar. In Lesotho and Namibia, whose populations are tiny, 30 percent of  rural people are classified as “food insecure,” which essentially means they lack access to food that’s sufficient to lead healthy, active lives. After the previous year’s good harvest, “The crisis has been to an extent mitigated by the region’s grain reserves, but they are now largely exhausted,” OCHA humanitarian officer Yolanda Cowan told IRIN. Their own stockpiles finished, many poor households are already having to buy their staple foods, so the current abnormally high maize prices – up between 15 and 40 percent – is causing real hardship.  Less cash in rural areas means markets start to close. “Once traders realize the crop is lost they will pack up and go,” taking with them the lines of credit they extend to poor farmers, said Daniel Sinnathamby, regional humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam. Governments will have to respond this coming year by importing commercial food from outside the region, but are facing tightening budgets. Many have economies dependent on commodity exports, and have felt the pinch of the global downturn in prices. Most countries in the region boast well integrated middle-income economies, and so in theory should not need humanitarian assistance year after year. Yet “Southern Africa suffers from chronic vulnerability. Very small events can send large numbers of people into humanitarian crisis,” said Sinnathamby. Wealth inequality is reflected in appalling rates of malnutrition-related child stunting. In Malawi and Zambia, stunting is above 47 percent – among the highest in the world. Even in economic powerhouse South Africa more than one in five children show stunting. Despite the key role agriculture plays in people’s livelihoods, government investment has been limited.  Farm plots are typically small, barely generating subsistence incomes. Farmers are dependent on rain-fed crops rather than irrigation; extension and development services are generally weak; and even in years of good rainfall, millions of people continue to require emergency aid. Resilience Southern Africa is expected to be hit hard by global warming, with extreme rainfall variability forecast. But the innovation and adaptation needed to contend with a changing climate is only slowly emerging. “I suspect governments across the region have not made the necessary infrastructural investments,” said World Food Programme spokesman David Orr. “There needs to be greater investment in all sorts of agricultural schemes, from water harvesting to conservation farming.” Building resilience – the ability of communities to cope with adversity - is increasingly seen as a key strategy. “What we have learnt is just responding to the immediate crisis is not effective,” said Maxwell Sibhensana, World Vision technical director. “Every time there is a crisis we are just alleviating the impacts. There is not enough investment in recovery, and bringing people back into robust livelihoods,” said Sinnathamby. There is a “regional resilience framework” [...]

Need asylum in South Africa? Pay a bribe

Tue, 21 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

In South Africa, asylum seekers and refugees in need of documentation often have no choice but to pay for it. So says a new report exposing how corruption and bribery have permeated nearly every level of the country’s asylum system: from border crossings, to queues outside refugee reception offices, to what takes place inside those offices. The report, carried out by the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, together with Lawyers for Human Rights, surveyed more than 900 respondents, the majority of them asylum seekers, and found that nearly a third had experienced corruption at some stage in the process. “It is corruption everywhere,” said one respondent interviewed outside Marabastad Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Pretoria, which according to the report is the most corrupt of the country’s five RROs. “They ask for money. You pay, but they don’t help you. If you can give R2,000 to R5,000 (US$162 to $404) you can get [refugee] status.” South Africa is a major destination for migrants and asylum seekers from all over the continent. In 2014, it received over 86,000 asylum applications, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, more than twice the number received in the UK. But just under one in 10 of those applications were approved – the lowest approval rate in the world.  Previous studies have documented the many inefficiencies of a system that has struggled to cope with the sheer volume of applications, but until now reports of corruption were mainly anecdotal. Speaking to IRIN in 2013, an interpreter employed by the Department of Home Affairs at Marabastad said that asylum seekers were routinely asked for money in exchange for a positive outcome on their applications.  “No one gets a permit without money,” said a refugee IRIN interviewed queuing outside Marabastad in 2012. The ACMS report, entitled Queue Here for Corruption: Measuring Irregularities in South Africa’s Asylum System, suggests that corruption sometimes begins at border crossings – 13 percent of respondents said that border officials asked them for money – but that it is more prevalent during asylum application and renewal processes that usually require multiple visits to an RRO.   Report findings  30% - experienced corruption at some stage in the asylum process 13% - asked for money by a border official 22% - experienced corruption queuing outside a refugee reception office 13% - experienced corruption inside the office 13% - denied access to office because they didn't pay a bribe Source: Queue Here for Corruption Report Twenty-two percent of respondents said they were asked for money while queuing outside an RRO, usually by security guards or brokers claiming to have connections with staff inside. At Marabastad, more than half of the respondents experienced corruption in the queue, and 31 percent reported being asked for money in exchange for being assisted once inside the office. Not everyone can afford to pay bribes. Some respondents, particularly those trying to access services at Marabastad, failed to even get inside and had to return several times. Asylum seekers unable to renew their permits before they expire are liable for fines, a system that opens up another opportunity for corruption, with fines often being paid directly to RRO staff, according to the report. “The multiple entry points of corruption increase the risk that asylum seekers will remain undocumented and at risk of arrest and detention… processes [that] themselves create multiple opportunities for corruption,” notes the report, which asserts that corruption has flourished in South Africa’s asylum system partly as a result of the government’s decision to close down several RROs in recent years despite continued demand for their [...]