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IRIN - West Africa


The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:32:49 +0000

My brother is a Zimbabwean farmer who has done pretty well for himself, but is now a worried man.   Last season he lost a significant amount of his maize crop to a single, voracious pest, and he fears for the worst when the new growing season begins in November.   Fall armyworm, or FAW, is new to Africa but has made an immediate impact. The caterpillar, originally from Latin America, was first detected in Nigeria in January 2016. By January 2017 it had reached South Africa – spreading officially to 24 countries within a year on a lightening journey down the continent.   It’s a ravenous feeder, with an appetite for more than 80 plant species – including maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, millet, and cotton. If left untreated, it can cause crop losses of up to 50 percent, munching its way through a hectare within 72 hours.   A foreign invader   My brother, Sipho Mpofu, like virtually all farmers in southwestern Zimbabwe, grows maize, and in the last few years has added drought-tolerant sorghum and millet in response to the country’s drying climate.   He received his land from the government under its land reform programme that subdivided and redistributed fertile commercial farms to landless subsistence producers. He has seen his yields steadily improve and has been able to expand his farm, investing in new buildings and equipment.   Over the years, like other farmers in Mashonaland West Province, Mpofu would get occasional outbreaks of African armyworm, which marched over from East Africa several decades ago.   It’s a cousin to the FAW, almost as rapacious, with a particular fondness for maize. But having been around for many years, farmers now know how to deal with it.   Last year Mpofu encountered FAW for the first time. He assumed it was the usual armyworm (the difference is in the markings) and tackled them with the recommended tried-and-tested pesticides. To his dismay, they didn’t work.   Fortunately, the government was quick to recognise the new threat and recommended alternative pesticides. “That saved many farmers from certain ruin,” said Mpofu.   But he still lost about 20 percent of his maize crop. “There was a significant percentage [of armyworm] which was not affected by the pesticides,” he said, possibly because heavy rains prevented follow-up applications, or the caterpillars had burrowed deep into the plant. Foster Dongozi/IRIN Sipho Mpofu (foreground) inspects his maize Impact on Africa   According to a the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, Africa stands to lose $3 billion worth of maize this coming year as a result of FAW.   This will be a dramatic setback for small-scale family farmers who grow the bulk of Africa’s maize. With limited access to inputs and services, they also receive low prices for the maize they do sell – and need all the support they can get to combat FAW.   David Phiri, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's coordinator for southern Africa, expressed his deep concern over “the emergence, intensity, and spread of the pest”.   As a moth, they are good flyers – averaging about 100 kilometres a night. They also multiply at a prodigious rate, with a female laying around 2,000 eggs in her 10-day caterpillar lifespan.   Climate change may also be an ally. Drought, followed by lots of rain – as southern Africa experienced last year after an especially strong string of El Niño seasons – seems to give them a boost.   “FAW has come to stay and it must be managed,” said Phiri. But farmers and agricultural extension officers in Africa are still learning how to identify the pest and understand its biology and ecology in order to manage it.   Mpofu has done his own research and is not optimistic. “I am worried by several issues,” he said. “The first one is that it is difficult to eliminate FAW, even using the recommended pesticides.”   Response   The best chance to destroy the caterpillars with regular contact insecticide is when they are y[...]

Success against salt: Senegalese farmers battle a major climate change threat

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:19:37 +0000

Climate change makes life harder for Senegalese farmers in many different ways: shorter rainy seasons, more frequent and longer dry spells and droughts, a lower water table, floods, coastal erosion, destruction of mangroves, and disruption of fish stocks. But most pernicious of all is the salinization of soil across large tracts of coastal and riverine farmland. In the village of Dioffior, some 150 kilometres southeast of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, residents have mounted a protracted battle against salt: an enemy that contaminates their land, decimates their crops and, as agriculture is the mainstay of the region’s economy, drives up poverty and food insecurity. Rising sea levels brought about by climate change have greatly increased the salt content of the nearby Sine River. In the vast Sine-Saloum delta, between 700,000 and one million hectares of land have been affected over the last 30 years. The Fatick region, where Dioffior is located, and which is the birthplace of President Macky Sall, has suffered more than most. “For decades in Sine-Saloum, the soil, which used to be known for its quality and productivity, has been badly damaged by climate change, which has led to the salinization of the waterways of the delta,” explained Seydou Cissé, who works at Senegal’s National Institute of Pedology (the study of soils). Other problems Unfortunately, soil salinization is just one of several harmful effects of climate change in Senegal. In a thesis for his master’s degree in climate change and sustainable development, Charles Pierre Sarr, who now works for Senegal’s environment ministry, noted reduced rainfall and rising temperatures around Dioffior and predicted further decreases of rainfall of 5.4 percent and 12 percent by 2025 and 2050 respectively. Senegal is “perpetually confronted with the adverse effects of climate change because of its 700-kilometre coastline which is impacted by the rising level of the sea, with the corollary of coastal erosion, the saline intrusion on farmland, the salinization of water resources and the destruction of infrastructure,” Sarr wrote. “Because agriculture is primarily rain-fed, climate change risks compromising efforts to fight poverty and efforts to reach food self-sufficiency.” Dioffior residents say the rice fields around the village were abandoned some 30 years ago. Since then, locals have worked tirelessly, carrying endless baskets of sand and rock to build dykes that turn lost fields into arable land again. The dykes keep the salty river water at bay and protect bodies of fresh water. Among those involved are some 200 women, members of an association called Sakh Diam, (“sow peace” in the Wolof language) who have recovered more than 100 hectares of land. They have their eyes set on a much larger area: in 2015 the local authorities allocated them 1,000 salty hectares of farmland. Sakh Diam has won financial support for its endeavours not only from the government of Senegal but also from those of Belgium and Japan. “These rice paddies used to be tans,” Marie Sega Sarr, the group’s president, told IRIN as she worked away in her paddy, using the Wolof word for salty land. “Nothing grew here until the Support Project for Small Local Irrigation (PAPIL) started. The anti-salt dyke you can see over there is Baboulaye 1. Where we are now is Baboulaye 2. There is another one at [the nearby commune of] Djawanda. In all, there are nine dykes around Dioffior built to combat the salinization of our agricultural land.” PAPIL was set up in the early 2000s by Senegal’s government, with help from partners such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Islamic Development Bank. PAPIL ran until 2015 and has been replaced by the Multinational Programme for Resilience to Food and Nutritional Insecurity in the Sahel region. The many objectives of the programme include reclaiming thousands more hectares of salinised land in the Fatick region by 2020. “Our grandparents used to cultivate here and fed themselves from their cro[...]

Development deficit feeds Boko Haram in northern Cameroon

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 12:48:20 +0000

One of the main reasons Boko Haram has been able to gain a foothold and recruit thousands of young people in the Far North Region of Cameroon is its relative lack of development and employment opportunities. Since Boko Haram began to launch attacks in northern Cameroon in 2014, more than 2,000 people have been killed and at least 155,000 forced to flee their homes. While the Far North Region has always been poorer than most of the rest of the country, it until recently boasted a vibrant cross-border livestock trade and a burgeoning tourism industry. The onset of conflict led to the closure of the Nigerian border, slashed the price of cattle in half, scared tourists off, and, because of large-scale displacement, badly affected agricultural productivity. The government’s failure to make good on promises to boost development as a way to deter people from joining the insurgency risks perpetuating instability in the north, experts say. “People are disappointed,” a researcher at the University of Maroua, the main town in the Far North Region, told IRIN, referring to the glacial pace of change. He asked not to be identified by name for fear of repercussions resulting from criticising the government. Projects supposedly underway include: a 78.9 billion CFA franc ($143 million) territorial development programme announced in 2014 for the three regions in the north of the country; a three-year national emergency plan unveiled in 2015 with a budget of 925 billion CFA francs of which just 42 billion francs was earmarked for the Far North Region; a 5.3 billion CFA franc plan to rebuild schools and hospitals in the region, also unveiled in 2015; and a 102 billion CFA franc project targeting young people across the country, announced by President Paul Biya in December 2016. Aside from a few new classrooms, feasibility studies, surveys and some construction material for road projects, and the arrival in Maroua of several contractors, there’s little evidence of progress. “Sometimes people just say things to calm things down,” the researcher said. “In the long term, this can only radicalise people – as they understand that the promises were just tricks – not necessarily to [join] Boko Haram but to oppose the government.” Boko Haram had already established logistics bases and begun recruiting in the Far North Region in 2011, gathering “support among disaffected youth… through the use of ideological indoctrination, socio-economic incentives and coercion,” the International Crisis Group said in a report published last November. While the government has enjoyed significant military successes against Boko Haram, “the weak point of Cameroon’s response remains the lack of commitment to development initiatives” as well as a lack of counter- and de-radicalisation programmes, the report said. “Poverty, low levels of literacy and school attendance pushed people to join Boko Haram. They became easy prey. It was just a like a job for them,” Ariel Ngnitedem, an economist and lecturer at the University of Yaounde II Soa, told IRIN, adding that young will remain vulnerable to recruitment if the government fails to deliver. “[The] government has been promising to offer more than Boko Haram,” Ngnitedem said. “If it fails, the youth will likely join any other radical groups that may emerge after Boko Haram is conquered. The youth fighting for Boko Haram have no political agenda.” Stalled projects According to a recent evaluation conducted by a monitoring committee, local contractors in the Far North Region failed to deliver 50 construction projects awarded to them in 2016 and in the first quarter of 2017. “Projects are awarded through tenders,” explained the university researcher. But “the bidding process is not often transparent and projects are awarded to companies that lack the capabilities to execute them.” The follow-up committee, headed by a local MP, Zondol Hersesse, met in July and found that 80 percent of the projects scheduled for completi[...]

Why I’m proud to be African today

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 21:34:06 +0000

It’s not easy to get a sitting president to leave office. In some cases, corruption, violence, and institutional inertia have conspired to keep some African presidents in office for decades.   In other cases, the sheer weight of going up against a person who knows the system, has the theoretically unlimited resources of the state at their disposal, and to whom political appointees owe their allegiance is often too much for opposition parties.   So, elections are held, but there is rarely a surprise. Hence why today’s annulment of the election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta by Kenya’s supreme court is such a landmark moment.   Change certainly can happen at the end of a constitutional term in office. But the power of incumbency means that it is rare for a sitting president to be turfed out if he or she is not ready to retire.   But in the last three years some significant shifts seem to be occurring. A quick survey of the status of incumbency across the continent suggests a growing political maturity – not in African voters, who have always turned out in big numbers to make their voices heard – but in African politicians who are increasingly willing to accept defeat.   In a world where generalisations and trends about Africa tend to be negative, this resurgence of democratic spirit is an important one to note.   Steps forward   It began in Nigeria in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari beat then-president Goodluck Jonathan in a hotly contested poll. Given Nigeria’s chequered political history there was real apprehension over whether Jonathan would concede. But he not only conceded, but congratulated Buhari for his win.   Then John Dramini Mahama became Ghana’s first one-term president. He happily handed over to Nana Akufo-Addo in 2017, that man he defeated in the 2012 vote.   A slightly different set of circumstances led to an unexpected transition in the Gambia. Self-proclaimed ruler-for-life Yahya Jammeh surprisingly accepted electoral defeat after 22 years in office.   Granted Jammeh did try and walk back his concession after the opposition threatened to prosecute him for crimes committed in office, but in the end he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea.   And then in Somalia, Mohamed Farmaajo took over from Hassan Sheikh Mahmood in February this year in a peaceful transition that defied the logic of the country’s ongoing civil war.   Status quo   Of course, it’s not all been smooth sailing. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza’s tampering with the constitution to stay in office has thrown that country into chaos. In Gabon, Omar Ali Bongo needed one of those last-minute 99 percent turnouts in his home constituencies in order to secure his stay in power.   Elections in Chad and in Guinea led to violent boycotts that did nothing to shift the status quo, while in Angola, although Jose dos Santos is nominally stepping aside, his hand-picked successor is about to slip into his shoes.   And while the victories of perennial presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) were never in doubt, there was still a measure of disappointment that neither made any serious effort to at least sustain the illusion of democracy.   In Uganda, perpetual oppositionist Kizza Bessigye has been repeatedly detained and harassed, while Diane Rwigara, one of Kagame’s challengers, has lately gone missing.   Asante Kenya!   That’s what makes the news from Kenya so astonishing, and the court’s judges such unlikely heroes.   The commission that runs the elections had declared incumbent Kenyatta the winner of the 8 August election – despite loud protest by the opposition party, NASA. The opposition insisted that though the vote had been free and fair, the tallying of the results had been fiddled with.   So certain was NASA that it would not get a fair court hearing that it initially refused to lodge a petition and present its evidence of electoral fraud.   The decision by the supreme court, by a 4-2 majority, that th[...]

Boko Haram – the fear, the conspiracy theories, and the deepening crisis

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 15:04:59 +0000

The fear is palpable in northeast Nigeria as Boko Haram intensifies its war on civilians. The military’s regular claim that the jihadists are on the run is patently false, and provides no comfort to anyone.   Instead, this is the reality.   – Since January, there have been at least 83 suicide bombings by children – a figure four times higher than last year.     – Of the four roads leading out of Maiduguri, the main city in the northeast, only the Maiduguri-Damaturu-Kano road is adjudged safe.   – In rural areas, people are not able to venture more than four kilometres out of the main towns in each local government area because of insecurity.   – In Maiduguri’s mosques, people now pray in relay. As one group prays, another keeps watch to guard against suicide bombers.   The death tolls are startling. In the last two months, high-profile Boko Haram raids have included:   – An attack on oil workers and soldiers prospecting in the Lake Chad Basin in which more than 50 reportedly died.   – The shooting and hacking to death of 31 fishermen on two islands in the Lake Chad Basin.   In response to the rising tempo of attacks, acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the deployment of all his military chiefs to Maiduguri in July. It hasn’t stopped the violence.   The insecurity has undermined farming in the northeast, resulting in serious food shortages in pockets of the region. Boko Haram has taken to seizing food and goods from communities in Damboa, Azir, Mungale, ForFor, Multe, Gumsiri – to mention just a few.   The military are also accused of threatening communities that do not vacate their villages and move to the poorly serviced internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.   Those that stay behind risk not only being plundered by Boko Haram, but also the confiscation of their goods and produce by the army, on the grounds that they are in league with the insurgents.   In the Lake Chad Basin in particular, Boko Haram is moving into the traditional fish and bell pepper trade. It not only helps finance their insurgency, but muddies the identification of who is a combatant.   Nowhere seems safe – even Maiduguri. In recent months there have been bomb blasts at the Dalori IDP camp, Maiduguri university, a general hospital, and a major coordinated gun attack on the city itself.   Know your enemy   The military not only appears powerless, but lacks the operational intelligence to thwart the attacks. That lack of awareness – over both the nature of the threat and how to deal with it – led the army’s head of public relations, Brigadier General Sani Usman, to accuse parents of “donating” their children to Boko haram as suicide bombers.   The raid by the military on the UN’s headquarters in Maiduguri in August was another example of woeful intelligence. The army said it was conducting a cordon and search operation for high-value Boko Haram suspects, and did not know it was entering a UN building because there was no insignia.   But the incident does point to the level of distrust over the work of humanitarian agencies. The word on the street in Maiduguri the morning of the raid was that the leader of one Boko Haram faction, Abubakar Shekau, was in UN House - along with a secret store of ammunition. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="600" id="datawrapper-chart-7fxsy" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> Conspiracy theories abound and aid workers are implicated. A common allegation is that they provide food, fuel, and drugs to Boko Haram under the guise of delivering humanitarian aid.   An additional gripe is that what aid is being delivered to the needy is not enough. The World Food Programme suspended food handouts in Borno this week afte[...]

Fighting violent extremism – humanitarians beware

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 14:31:19 +0000

Communities in some of the most dangerous corners of the world will be left without lifesaving aid because of countering violent extremism agendas. Millions of people living in countries facing famine may be hardest hit.   “Countering violent extremism” is a popular concept doing the rounds in today’s humanitarian circles. It is a strategy that states are increasingly using to combat terrorism. Approaches include domestic surveillance, policing, counter-extremist messaging, and education. In more repressive countries, extreme methods include mass arrests, detention without trial, torture, disappearances, and executions. These actions target people who are considered at risk of joining extremist groups.   Sound familiar? That is because they have much in common with counter-insurgency and anti-communist strategies dating back to the Cold War. Let’s not forget that winning hearts and minds has a poor track record. The US strategy to defeat the Taliban insurgency by providing development aid in Afghanistan is a classic example.   But governments are keen to embrace the countering violence extremism concept to convince voters they are working to keep terrorists at bay. Some aid organisations are also stepping in line, especially when donors are allocating their money. But this is a dangerous road to take, and many humanitarians are reluctant to follow suit.   Aid organisations are often seen as well placed to implement strategies of countering violent extremism as many of our organisations work in some of the harshest corners of the globe where radicalised young people live. For example, extremist groups are active in three of the four countries currently on the brink of a famine – Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.   Some states see aid as a means of killing two birds with one stone; injecting money into relief programmes in areas where radical extremists are likely located, in an effort to deter them from picking up arms.   Sound too good to be true? It is, and here are four reasons why:   First, the cornerstone of humanitarian action is delivering aid based on needs alone – giving to the most vulnerable communities whose lives often depend on it. Does this mean families in radicalised areas of Iraq deserve food more than families on the brink of famine in South Sudan, or those displaced by political violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where radicalisation is not considered a threat?   The head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, recently remarked that his organisation “is the first line of offence and defence against extremism and terrorism.” But to what cost? The lives of millions of families on the brink of famine depend on Beasley’s food aid.   We must not view human suffering through this lens.   Second, humanitarian principles by which aid workers operate keep us impartial and independent. The countering violent extremism agenda asks us to abandon our humanitarian constitution in favour of a political agenda.   Consider young men who have fled conflict. They are seen as particularly vulnerable to violent extremism. Does this mean they should get special treatment in refugee camps over the needs of young women or even children? In conflict situations, women and children are statistically more vulnerable – women to rape and abuse, children to malnutrition. Funding often goes to ensure the particular needs of these vulnerable groups are addressed and that they are protected.   Third, aid workers abide by the concept of neutrality. Not taking sides in a conflict enables us to deliver aid to communities on all sides based on their vulnerability, not political criteria.   Negotiating access in many parts of the world is a carefully planned and managed process, whereby trust is built between the aid organisation and the groups controlling an area with acute humanitarian needs. Successful access negotiation is often premised on humanitari[...]

Sporadic violence and presidential tussle put Côte d'Ivoire’s hard-won security at risk

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 15:05:00 +0000

Just as it seemed to be turning the page after a decade-long crisis marked by two civil wars, violence has again become worryingly routine in Côte d'Ivoire. Since the beginning of the year, barely a month has gone by without the sound of military gunfire erupting somewhere. On Thursday morning, Mi-24 attack helicopters, newly acquired by the government, flew over Yopougon, the largest district of the economic capital, Abidjan. The previous night, a policeman was killed in an attack on a police training school. The assailants have not been identified. A few days earlier, three people were killed when disgruntled soldiers attacked a barracks in the northern town of Korhogo. These were just the latest in a spate of violent incidents that began with a series of mutinies within the army. Since January, there have been eight episodes of military uprisings and outbreaks of gunfire. Most of them involved some of the 8,400 troops of the Forces Nouvelles, a former rebel movement that, since being integrated into the regular army, has been demanding payment of up to $24,000 apiece (more than $200 million in total) in war bonuses for their role in bringing Alassane Ouattara, the declared winner of the 2010 election, to power. They took on forces loyal to then-president Laurent Gbagbo in a conflict that led to the deaths of 3,000 people and saw a defeated Gbagbo brought up on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court. “Now we are worried,” said Pierre Kouamé Adjoumani, the president of the Ivorian Human Rights League. “We thought Côte d’Ivoire was gradually emerging from its crisis, but we are increasingly witnessing the old demons awaken,” he told IRIN. “The army, which should be giving people confidence, is unfortunately the one rising up because of unkept promises. If it’s not [serving] soldiers, it’s those who have been demobilised who are demonstrating,” he said, referring to thousands of former combatants who were not integrated into the army. “Who can we count on?” he asked, adding that security was no longer a certainty amid the growing mistrust between the army and the general population. Those non-integrated former fighters “pose the biggest long-term threat to the stability of the country,” Tarila Marclint Ebiede, an expert on militancy and a PhD researcher at the Center for Research on Peace and Development at Belgium’s University of Leuven, wrote last month in The Conversation. Ebiede pointed to some “serious flaws” in the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programmes for the former fighters. “Many of them face an uncertain future with dim job prospects. And their situation seems much worse than their compatriots who have been integrated in the military, securing jobs and financial rewards. “This issue needs to be addressed to reduce the risks of conflict recurrence and instability in Côte d’Ivoire,” he wrote. Blue helmets bow out On 30 June, the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire shut up shop for good, after being in the country for 13 years. Before leaving, UNOCI said it was confident that Ivorian authorities were in a position to protect the country’s citizens, even if army reforms had yet to be completed. “Remaking this army is a major challenge and something all Ivorians expect to happen,” newly appointed Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko told journalists recently. “I will work on this with determination, so that the army and the population are reconciled. The final objective is to have a strong and disciplined army.” Bakayoko, who previously served for six years as internal security minister and who is a government stalwart and close ally of President Ouattara, has recently been in open conflict with National Assembly Speaker and former Forces Nouvelles leader Guillaume Soro. Both men hope to succeed Ouattara in elections slated for 2020. Bakayoko’s appointment beefed up his[...]

In Nigeria, healing the scars of war might curtail its spread

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 13:32:21 +0000

It’s often said that prevention is better than cure. But when it comes to the devastation wreaked upon civilians by armed groups, can cure serve as a form of prevention? For Imrana Alhaji Buba, a policy specialist at the Global Alliance of Youths Countering Violent Extremism, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. “Providing trauma healing for victims of terrorism is an integral part of countering violent extremism,” he told IRIN. “Many of the victims of terrorism are likely to suffer severe emotional trauma that may affect their ability to develop emotional awareness, empathy, self-esteem, and basic problem-solving skills,” he added. “Left unchecked, many of these victims will grow up believing that violence is the only solution to coping, and, as a result, many of them become vulnerable to extremist viewpoints. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to defeat terrorism is to promote effective trauma counselling.” When Nigeria's militant Islamist group Boko Haram attacked the large town of Damboa in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State three years ago, Hajiya Wuliya and her family took refuge in their tiny room for nearly two weeks, scraping by on water and few food supplies. “Boko Haram militants overran the town and seized the military barracks and killed dozens of people,” Wuliya, 35, told IRIN. “We trekked for five days until we got to Biu, and I couldn’t think clearly again – I just lost my mind and became unconscious.” Though the 35-year-old mother of three yearns to return to her normal life after reuniting with her family in the state capital, Maiduguri – where displaced civilians have doubled the population from one to two million – Wuliya has struggled to overcome mental health problems. “Sometimes I stayed awake all night thinking, and I kept having nightmares,” she said. “My husband left me because he couldn’t stand the suffering here.” Healthcare vacuum Most survivors like Wuliya are in dire need of mental health assistance, but Boko Haram's brutal insurgency has left most healthcare facilities in ruins, as well as destroying entire villages and crops. READ: Our in-depth package of articles on Boko Haram The Neem Foundation, a non-profit led by psychologist Fatima Akilu, is doing what it can to bridge the gap in Borno State. “There is a misconception that psychological trauma is a secondary need that does not qualify as part of an emergency response,” Akilu said. Such trauma is caused by the region’s recurrent violence, arbitrary detention, disappearances, forced displacement, forced recruitment, and abuses such as sexual and gender-based violence. Yet there are fewer than 150 psychiatrists in Nigeria, a country of 182 million inhabitants, according to the Ministry of Health. In Borno, there are just eight: half of them state employees, half working with the foundation. Linus Unah/IRIN This the sole mental health hospital in northeast Nigeria “Though the Nigerian army recently deployed a psychologist to Maiduguri, the dearth of available practitioners still mean that people rely on religious institutions for relief,” explained Akilu. Barely three percent of the national health budget is spent on mental health, according to the UN’s World Health Organization. In the entire northeast of Nigeria there is just only one mental health hospital: the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri. “Boko Haram attacks are either a direct or indirect factor in the growing trauma in this region,” said Sadiq Pindar, a consultant psychiatrist at the hospital. “Most IDPs [internally displaced people] need mental health assistance but they are poor and we lack adequate funding to tackle these needs.” Trauma symptoms Common symptoms of the effects of violence in the area include social withdrawal, loss[...]

Boko Haram ups its pressure on Niger

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 12:55:14 +0000

There has been a worrying upsurge in Boko Haram violence in Niger’s southeastern Diffa region, adding to the caseload of an already underfunded humanitarian crisis. In the latest attack on 2 July, the jihadists raided the village of Ngalewa, near Kablewa, killing nine and abducting 37 – all of them young girls and adolescent boys. The gunmen, arriving at night, looted food supplies and rustled cattle, before escaping. On 29 June, two female suicide bombers attacked an internally displaced persons camp in Kablewa run by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, close to the main town of Diffa. Four people were killed, including the two bombers, and 11 others were injured in the twin blasts. Diffa Governor Dan Dano Mahamadou Lawaly has ordered the transfer of the 16,500 IDPs in Kablewa to a new camp a few kilometres north of Route National 1, the road running to the Chadian border in the east. South of the highway is seen as vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, an insurgency originating in Nigeria but believed to be operating in Niger from largely abandoned islands in Lake Chad. Boko Haram’s strategy appears to be to grab what supplies it can ahead of the rainy season, when rising water levels will make crossing the Komadugu River – which flows along the southern border with Nigeria – all the harder. Bamouni Dieudonné, the Niger head of the UN’s emergency aid coordination agency, OCHA, explained how the rising threat would mean storing less food and medicines in frontline warehouses and having to restock more often. “We will have to rethink our approach of provisioning warehouses in the region with three month’s worth of supplies. They are now vulnerable,” he told IRIN. “It will increase costs as we’ll have to warehouse less.” A disturbing precedent While the increased tempo of attacks may have been predictable, the bombing of the Kablewa IDP camp was a surprise, said Dieudonné. Boko Haram attacks on IDP camps have been fairly common in northeastern Nigeria but not so in Niger, where the extremist group’s attention has tended to focus on military targets. The Kablewa attack has generated tensions with the host community, underlined by clashes this week when IDPs leaving the camp strayed onto farmland, threatening crops growing in the field. The clashes may prove to be an isolated incident, but there are fears they also represent the beginning of a new intolerance of IDPs, seen now as a potential security threat. “That would be a new and disturbing trend in a region that has shown a remarkable degree of hospitality towards IDPs and refugees,” said Dieudonné. The 16,500 displaced in Kablewa were among 33,000 people from 100 villages spread over 74 islands in Lake Chad who were given a 48-hour deadline to leave their homes in May 2015 ahead of a government offensive in the area. They were originally moved to the mainland towns of N’Guigmi and Diffa, before being settled in Kablewa. This is now the third time they are being forced to relocate. That is not so unusual in this conflict. According to a survey in April by the International Organization for Migration, more than 70 percent of people in the displacement site of N’guel Madou Maï had been uprooted at least once, 42 percent “three or more times”. The Nigerien government’s counter-insurgency strategy has been blunt. After Boko Haram’s first attack in 2015, it cleared communities from the lake area and along the Komadugu River, destroying a local economy based on fishing and red pepper cultivation. It also ended the motorbike taxi business in Diffa, one of the few employment options for young men. “The Diffa region has always struggled economically, and the strict security measures stopping economic activity haven’t helped,” said Peter Kioy, IOM's project manager there. “Everybody is in the same basket [IDPs and h[...]

Climate change? What climate change? Nigerian farmers not being reached on awareness

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 12:28:53 +0000

Everyone’s heard of climate change, right? Global warming, stranded polar bears, droughts, floods, and pestilence – a terrifying prospect imprinted on all our minds. Actually, no. In some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, many communities on the front lines of climate change may well not be aware of how their environments are being altered, and the threat that poses to future livelihoods. That lack of awareness makes adapting to the risks by switching to new, climate-smart agricultural methods all the harder. Godai village in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Kaduna is already witnessing reduced rains, with the farmers lamenting poorer rice, maize, and vegetable harvests. The long-term forecast is for still dryer conditions across the north, with the potential decline in yields for rain-fed agriculture as high as 50 percent. Nigeria as a whole is classified as one of the 10 most vulnerable countries in the world, according to a 2015 climate change index by the global risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft. Climate what? But despite the looming threat, six out of 10 farmers interviewed in Godai by IRIN said they “knew nothing” about climate change. They all noted that the rains had reduced; half said there had been an increase in pests; and an equal number mentioned a problem of soil degradation. But deforestation rather than climate change was the most commonly mentioned culprit. Maharazu Ibrahim, who grows maize and vegetables on a five-hectare plot, offered a typical comment: “I know nothing about [climate change], but we are witnessing strange weather.” Most of the farmers were figuring out their own coping strategies. Ahmed Isa, like several of his colleagues, has planted mango and cashew nut trees on his land “to save the soil”. Others were using more animal dung on their fields, or digging water channels. There was little expectation of government aid, but “we do need enlightenment,” said Nasiru Adamu, who farms an eight-hectare plot. In theory, the government provides an agricultural advice service, staffed by a network of trained officers. But the farmers told IRIN that, in reality, it is badly underfunded and there is little support for rural communities. “The few extension workers that are available we understand lack full knowledge about climate change,” said Yahaya Ahmed of the Developmental Association for Renewable Energy, a Kaduna-based NGO. A lack of transport, even simple motorbikes, also limits their effectiveness. But as is the case in much of rural Nigeria, each of Godai’s farmers owns a radio. They told IRIN that radio broadcasts and traditional leaders were their main sources of information. Getting the message out The farmers had clearly received the message on deforestation, so why had so few of them heard about climate change? “When I was working with Radio France International, we introduced a magazine programme in Hausa [the language of the north] on climate change and it went a long way to educate local farmers on climate change adaptation,” said Atayi Babs of the Climate and Sustainable Development Network of Nigeria. “But there are millions of Hausa-speaking people that are not listening to RFI, so we [must] use local radio and television stations, and even pidgin-English [Nigeria’s unofficial lingua franca] to educate farmers.” According to Ahmed: “Radio journalists don't visit remote communities to interview [farmers] directly. Mostly, the information aired about climate change on radio is from written articles, which are translated, and the people don't understand a bit of it.” Effective advocacy campaigns need to be designed with the input of the communities they are trying to influence, said Sam Ogallah of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, a regional lobby group. If “[campaigns] a[...]