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Killing us softly

Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

A recent public outcry in China, sparked by a damning documentary about air pollution, was based on well-founded fear: Of the 100 million people who viewed the film on the first day of its online release, 172,000 are likely to die each year from air pollution-related diseases, according to regional trends.*  Worldwide, pollution kills twice as many people each year as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,** but aid policy has consistently neglected it as a health risk, donors and experts say.  Air pollution alone killed seven million people in 2012, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures released last year, most of them in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the Asia Pacific region.***  In a self-critical report released late last month the World Bank acknowledged that it had treated air pollution as an afterthought, resulting in a dearth of analysis of the problem and spending on solutions.  “We now need to step up our game and adopt a more comprehensive approach to fixing air quality,” the authors wrote in Clean Air and Healthy Lungs. “If left unaddressed, these problems are expected to grow worse over time, as the world continues to urbanise at an unprecedented and challenging speed.” A second report released last month by several organisations – including the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an international consortium of UN organisations, governments, development banks, NGOs and academics – also called for more funding towards reducing pollution.  “Rich countries, multilateral agencies and organisations have forgotten the crippling impacts of pollution and fail to make it a priority in their foreign assistance,” the authors wrote.  Housebound in China  A dense haze obstructs visibility more often than not across China’s northern Hua Bei plain and two of its major river deltas. Less than one percent of the 500 largest cities in China meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Anger over air pollution is a hot topic among China’s increasingly outspoken citizenry.   “Half of the days in 2014, I had to confine my daughter to my home like a prisoner because the air quality in Beijing was so poor,” China’s well-known journalist Chai Jing said in Under the Dome, the independent documentary she released last month, which investigated the causes of China’s air pollution. The film was shared on the Chinese social media portal Weibo more than 580,000 times before officials ordered websites to delete it.  Beyond the silo Traditionally left to environmental experts to tackle, the fight against pollution is increasingly recognised as requiring attention from health and development specialists too.  “Air pollution is the top environmental health risk and among the top modifiable health risks in the world,” said Professor Michael Brauer, a public health expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada and a member of the scientific advisory panel for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a consortium of governments and the UN Environment Programme. “Air pollution has been under-funded and its health impacts under-appreciated.” Pollution – especially outdoor or “ambient” air pollution – is also a major drag on economic performance and limits the opportunities of the poor, according to Ilmi Granoff, an environmental policy expert at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. It causes premature death, illness, lost earnings and medical costs – all of which take their toll on both individual and national productivity. “Donors need to get out of the siloed thinking of pollution as an environmental problem distinct from economic development and poverty reduction,” Granoff said.  Pollution cleanup is indeed underfunded, he added, but pollution prevention is even more poorly prioritised: “It’s underfunded in much of the developed world, in aid, and in developing country priorities, so this isn’t just an aid problem.” Mounting evidence  Pollution kills in a variety of ways, according to relativel[...]



Three words of advice for WHO Africa's new chief

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

The World Health Organization says the number of new Ebola cases per week rose twice this month for the first time since December. This rise in incidence of new cases - if proven to be a trend - will be just one of the challenges facing WHO’s new regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, as she attempts to overcome the multitude of criticism launched against WHO in recent months for its failure to act earlier and more competently during West Africa’s ongoing Ebola outbreak. “This is a critical moment for the WHO,” said Michael Merson, director of Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “It’s a real crossroads as to whether or not they’ll be able to reform and become an effective and efficient organization, particularly at the regional level.” Moeti, who officially took office 1 February, has vowed to make fighting Ebola WHO’s “highest priority,” while supporting countries to develop strategies to build up their health care systems, and reduce maternal and child mortality, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases. Many international observers say they have high hopes for Moeti, a medical doctor who has more than 35 years of experience working in the national and global public health sector. But she has a tough road ahead – particularly as the number of Ebola cases continues to rise, nearly a year after the outbreak was first declared. Here’s some advice from a few experts as Moeti begins her five-year term: 1. Think Local Having competent and qualified staff on the ground, whose skills and expertise are matched to the needs of the country, is key to effectively implementing WHO policies and recommendations. “Everyone tends to discuss WHO at the global level and the regional level, but I don’t think this is where the problem lies,” said Fatou Francesca Mbow, an independent health consultant in West Africa. “It really lies in what the WHO is meant to be doing at country level. It is of no use to have very technical people sitting in Washington [D.C.] or Geneva, and then, where things are actually happening, [they become] politicians.” Mbow said that despite a wealth of technical documents being produced at headquarters, very often the staff from the field offices are appointed based on political motives. Country and field-level office meetings are often dominated by talk that, while politically correct, says “nothing of real meaning”. Staff reform at the local level will require both investing in employee development, including recruiting new and existing talent to the field offices, as well as making posts in “hardship” countries more attractive to the most qualified experts. “What often happens is that when people in-country are seen as being quite effective, they tend to get headhunted by the headquarters of the institutions that represent them,” said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary University of London. “So we see a type of brain-drain among people working in these sectors.” She said that improving salaries and offering more benefits, as well as taking into account what these people have to offer, could go a long way in incentivising them to stay at their field-level posts. “Good documents are interesting,” Mbow said. “But unless you have people at country level who understand them, who participate in writing them, who are able to implement them, who are passionate and committed to doing so, they’re just going to be reports.” 2. Strengthen health systems There were many factors that contributed to the unprecedented spread of the Ebola outbreak, but inherently weak local health systems in the three most-affected countries meant that local clinics did not have the capacity, resources or expertise to handle even the smallest of caseloads. WHO must now work with local governments, partners and other on-the-ground agencies in all African countries to train and employ more doctors and nurses, implement universal health care coverage, and invest in bett[...]



Who celebrity advocates are really targeting. And it’s not you.

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

This week was a fanfare for celebrity humanitarians: Forest Whitaker appealed for peace in South Sudan alongside UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; Angelina Jolie opened an academic centre on sexual violence in conflict with British Member of Parliament William Hague; and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham launched an initiative for children.  In recent years, aid agencies have increasingly used celebrity advocates to raise awareness and money for their causes. There’s just one snag:  It doesn’t actually work. At least not as much or in the ways we think.  According to research by Dan Brockington, a professor at the University of Manchester, public responses to celebrity activism are surprisingly muted. His work is the first quantitative research on the subject.  “Using celebrities for broader outreach, for reaching mass publics and attracting media attention is absolutely not the silver bullet it appears to be,” he told IRIN on the sidelines of a 6-8 February conference at the University of Sussex, where he presented research recently published in the book Celebrity Advocacy and International Development.   Photo: A. McConnell/UNHCR Refugee Rockstar: UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie meets displaced Iraqis   In a survey he conducted with 2,000 British people, 95 percent of respondents recognized five or more of 12 charities listed to them, including the British Red Cross, Save the Children UK and Oxfam UK. But two-thirds of the respondents did not know a single “high-profile” advocate of any of the NGOs (In this case, music executive Simon Cowell and singers Victoria Beckham and Elton John respectively, among many others).  The realpolitik might not be that pleasant. But you'll achieve your goals.  Focus groups and interviews with more than 100 “celebrity liaison officers” and other media staff at NGOs further reinforced his findings.  What’s more, Brockington says, those who pay attention to celebrities do not necessarily know which causes they support.  “People who follow celebrities often do so because they are not political,” he said during the interview. “They are fun, light. You want to live their lives…[People] don’t engage with [celebrities] for the more worthy things.”   Celebrity stardom flat-lining  Despite the rise in the use of celebrity advocates (which, by the way, dates back to at least Victorian times), the mention of charities in broadsheet and tabloid articles about celebrities only increased ever so slightly between 1985 and 2010, according to a separate study by Brockington. “There has also been a decline in the proportion of newspaper articles mentioning development and humanitarian NGOs at all,” the study found.  The perception that celebrities engage the public in the first place may itself be overstated.  After a steady rise in coverage of celebrities in the British press over two decades, the percentage of articles mentioning the word celebrity (only a fraction of total articles about celebrities) stopped increasing around 2006 and is now hovering at about four percent of all articles studied, the research found, validating the findings of earlier studies on the same subject (The study looked at The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun).  The magazine industry’s own statistics show a tapering off of readership in recent years after steady growth.                 Photo: Northern & Shell Media Group Statistics from Northern & Shell Media Group show a steady rise in celebrity magazine readership until about 2006 Celebrities can be successful in engaging the public – Miley Cyrus made waves last year when she sent a homeless man to pick up her MTV Video Music Awards; Bob Geldof’s charity single on Ebola quickly rose to the top of the charts; and celebrity-driven telethons like the UK’s Comic Relief are generally quite successful. Leonardo DiCaprio’s spe[...]



Nice and dirty – the importance of soil

Fri, 16 Jan 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Be it laterite, loam, peat or clay, soil is life. It's the foundation of food security, and so the UN has declared 2015 as the year to draw attention to the stuff. As much as 95 percent of our food comes from the soil, but 33 percent of global soils are degraded, and experts say we may only have 60 years of nutrient-rich top soil left - it is not a renewable resource.  Africa is especially hard hit. Land degradation denudes the top soil, shrinking yields and the ability of the earth to absorb harmful greenhouse gases. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 65 percent of agricultural land is degraded. That costs the continent US$68 billion a year, and affects 180 million people - mainly the rural poor, already struggling to eke out a living.  But better land management practices could deliver up to $1.4 trillion globally in increased crop production.  So how to implement sustainable policies that protect the food security of future generations? The uptake of sound soil management approaches is currently low. Farmers are under pressure to abandon effective traditional methods in favour of practices that deliver quicker, short-term, returns.  Further reading on the issue  2015 – International Year of Soils  FAO Soils Portal  Agriculture for Impact  The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme  AGRA  United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification  Africa Soil Information Service But a report - No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, Restoring, and Enhancing Africa’s Soils - released in December 2014, points to potential pathways. These include combining targeted and selected use of fertilisers alongside traditional methods such as application of livestock manure, intercropping with nitrogen-fixing legumes or covering farmland with crop residues. The goal is an ambitious - if contradictory sounding - “Sustainable Intensification” of agriculture. oa/rh   101019 201008251121470984.jpg Feature Food Health Nice and dirty – the importance of soil IRIN NAIROBI Angola Burkina Faso Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Colombia Cape Verde Djibouti Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Kenya Liberia Lesotho Madagascar Mali Mauritania Mauritius Malawi Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda Seychelles Sudan Sierra Leone Senegal Somalia Sao Tome and Principe Swaziland Chad Togo Tanzania Uganda Samoa South Africa Zambia Zimbabwe Français العربية [...]



PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:00:00 +0000

    A NEW START FOR CRISIS REPORTING     IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN. Jynwel Foundation invests $25 million to create global non-profit media venture     (GENEVA, November 20, 2014) - After nearly 20 years as part of the United Nations, the humanitarian news service IRIN is spinning off to become an independent non-profit media venture, with the support of a major private donor.     IRIN is an award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service covering the parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. It delivers unique reporting from the frontlines of conflicts and natural disasters to 280,000 web visitors a month and more than 50,000 subscribers in almost every country. Its readership includes UN decision-makers, donor governments, academics, media and aid workers in the field. Its work is syndicated, republished and cited by news outlets and journals from around the world.     A new beginning starting January 1, 2015 will be made possible with an initial commitment of US $25 million, to be disbursed over several years, from the Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation. The new IRIN will be based in Switzerland, with support from the UK- based Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group.     The UN Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, said: "IRIN is an important resource for humanitarian workers around the world. This is the right time for the service to branch out and we welcome the generous commitment from Jynwel Charitable Foundation which has helped to secure its future as an independent news service."     Jho Low, Director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation, added: "IRIN’s transition presents a great opportunity for growth and revitalization. IRIN has done fantastic work for nearly 20 years. It's time to give it the place on the world stage that it deserves. I believe in the vision and am excited by the potential."     Since 2012, Jynwel Charitable Foundation has supported a range of causes in global health, conservation and education. Major gifts of the Foundation include a 15-year commitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center to democratize access to cancer care, a 10-year commitment to Panthera, the leading wild cat conservation organization, and a 5-year commitment to National Geographic’s Pristine Seas to identify and preserve the last pristine areas in our oceans. The multi-year commitment to IRIN is the Foundation’s first investment in the humanitarian sector.     Ben Parker, co-founder of IRIN and its interim director, said: "So many people - from those hit by crises to donors - tell us they rely on our insight and analysis. This breakthrough will make all the difference and allow us to take the service to a whole new level of impact and relevance."ODI’s Executive Director, Kevin Watkins, said: “We are delighted to support this transition for IRIN, and are excited at the prospect of an independent IRIN playing a leading role in providing up-to-date and on-the-ground analysis of humanitarian crises to inform policy and practice in the sector, in particular through our Humanitarian Policy Group.” ODI is the UK's leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.     For further information and interview requests:     IRIN, Jynwel Foundation, and ODI: Heba Aly, heba@irinnews.org, Cell: +41 76 643 4151     OCHA: Jens Laerke, laerke@un.org, Cell: +41 79 472 9750     About IRIN:     IRIN, originally the "Integrated Regional Information Networks", started distributing humanitarian news about Central Africa by fax from a small office in Nairobi in 1995. Over the years, its award-winning coverage expanded to the rest of Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. IRIN publishes reports in English, French and Arabic and has a monthly online audience of 280,000 website visitors. It has around 100,000 articles and 30,000 photos in its archive. Its audience is drawn [...]



An ambitious plan to end statelessness

Fri, 07 Nov 2014 00:00:00 +0000

It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality. “It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.”  Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years.  The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it's because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided.  In some of the world's major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n'est pas Maure; alors tu n'est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian). Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years' residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is 'presumed' - they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.”  “Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It's the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course - but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one 'm' instead of Mohammed with two 'm's, and then it's in French and not in Arabic - there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.” Laws discriminating against women In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father - a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family.  “It's not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It's the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it's the young men who are perhaps the worst affected. This is seen as a women's rights issue, but if y[...]



How to boost food production in Africa

Sun, 14 Sep 2014 23:00:00 +0000

Smallholder farmers, who hold over 80 percent of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa, are struggling to adapt to rapidly rising temperature and erratic rains, according to the 2014 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR), released on 3 September in Addis Ababa. It says these farmers are now facing the risk of being overwhelmed by the pace and severity of climate change. Farmers are already contending with an increase in average temperatures, with further increases of between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees centigrade expected by 2050. Despite a decade of pro-growth and food security policies and programmes such as the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), 200 million Africans are chronically malnourished and 5 million die of hunger annually, says report by AGRA. “As climate change turns up the heat, the continent’s food security and its ability to generate economic growth that benefits poor Africans - most of whom are farmers - depends on our ability to adapt to more stressful conditions,” said Jane Karuku, president of AGRA. The report’s authors also predict severe drying across southern Africa, while other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to become wetter, but with farmers facing more violent storms and frequent flooding During the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Addis Ababa last week, participants said countries need to adopt technologies and “climate-smart agriculture” that will help make crops more resilient to future extreme weather events. Here is a roundup of some key issues aired at the forum: Forget “blanket” advice about soil health Erratic farming practices (such as the failure to apply mineral or organic fertilizers), and soil erosion, are depriving croplands across sub-Saharan Africa of 30-80kg per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen. Soil Scientist James Mutegi of the International Plant Nutrition Institute said African countries should not only engage to reverse the current trend of low crop productivity and land degradation, but also forget blanket recommendations regarding fertilizer applications to their soils. Fertilizer promotion programmes in Africa are often unsuccessful because they are designed with a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy - failing to recognize the diversity of production systems and the range of farmers’ needs, according to the World Bank. To keep African soil healthy, Mutegi said farmers “should apply the right fertilizer at the right time, and in the right way at the right time” as the soil types on the continent, or even within a given country, are not the same. “We need to lose the usual blanket recommendations,” he said. Africans, he said, need to map their soil and, in the case of some countries, should update their maps. Mapping would be “crucial” to know exactly where fertilizers should be applied or not. “In cases where there is no deficiency of some nutrients, farmers should not end up losing investments in fertilizers,” he said. Ethiopia’s recent move to map out its soil and build in-country blended fertilizer production facilities near farmers is seen as a good approach for other Africa countries. Ethiopia’s fertilizer initiative to introduce customized fertilizers would greatly increase crop yields, said Mutegi. Ease fertilizer access Fertilizer use in Africa remains low compared to other regions, with average use at around 10kg per hectare, while the global average is over 100kg per hectare. According to Namanga Ngongi, chairman of NGO African Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), African countries need to work on two areas to improve the current situation. “First [is] to improve the logistics around fertilizer distribution,” said Namanga, adding that about 40 percent of the cost of fertilizer in Africa is due to transport from ports of entry to the farmer. “Secondly, we need to [...]



New thinking needed on food aid for refugees in Africa

Sun, 06 Jul 2014 23:00:00 +0000

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched an urgent appeal to address a funding shortfall that has already resulted in food ration cuts for a third of all African refugees. As of mid-June, nearly 800,000 refugees in 22 African countries have seen their monthly food allocations reduced, most of them by more than half.  WFP is appealing for US$186 million to maintain its food assistance to refugees in Africa through the end of the year, while UNHCR is asking for $39 million to fund nutritional support and food security activities to refugees in the affected countries. A joint report by WFP and UNHCR released last week warns that failure to prevent continued ration cuts will lead to high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children and the most vulnerable.  Worst hit have been refugees in Chad, Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan where a total of nearly half a million refugees are experiencing ration cuts of 50 to 60 percent. The funding shortfall is not the result of shrinking budgets for either WFP or UNHCR, but a substantial increase in the need for food assistance generated by an unprecedented number of refugee emergencies in 2014. “The amount of large-scale, simultaneous emergencies has never been so high to the best of my memory,” said Paul Spiegel, UNHCR’s deputy director of programme support and management, speaking to IRIN from Geneva.  Out of a global figure of 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s protection at the end of 2013, the highest number since 2001, 3.3 million live in Africa.  “There has also been a lot of earmarking [by donors] for certain situations, particularly the Syrian situation,” he added. “Some situations, particularly CAR, have been severely under-funded so there is an equity issue here that needs to be dealt with. Protracted refugee situations have also not had the same level of funding.” Only about a quarter of those affected by the ration cuts are new arrivals, according to Spiegel. The rest are long-term refugees who have been unable to wean themselves off food aid, usually because they are confined to remote camps where there are little or no possibilities for them to generate an income.  Camps or communities? As donors increasingly prioritize funding for the emergency phase of refugee crises over protracted situations, UNHCR has had to shift its approach in the last two years. “The big shift has been that we’re looking at saying `if we can avoid camps, let’s do so’,” explained Spiegel. “Having refugees be amongst local communities is better for so many different reasons: it allows them to be more self-reliant, reduces long-term dependence and UNHCR can use its funding to improve existing communities.” But while UNHCR is advocating that refugees be allowed to settle in communities rather than in camps, governments have the final say when it comes to the refugees they host. For now, few are willing to grant refugees even basic economic freedoms such as the right to work and live outside of camps. Overcoming this reluctance will mean convincing host nations that, given the chance, refugees have the capacity to boost rather than burden local economies.  "We're now gathering more and more information...to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it's done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities" “We’re now gathering more and more information in Africa and the Middle East to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it’s done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities,” Spiegel told IRIN.  He admitted that much of the evidence is still anecdotal and that there is a need for more studies demonstrating the potentially positive impacts of integrating refugees into local communities.  Where host governments insist on an encampment policy, said Spiegel, “we[...]



Genome breakthrough could help fight against sleeping sickness

Tue, 27 May 2014 23:00:00 +0000

Scientists have welcomed the development of genome sequence data on the tsetse fly, the vector responsible for the transmission of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), commonly known as sleeping sickness. They say it could be instrumental in devising strategies to eradicate the fly and reduce deaths and the spread of other diseases associated with it. “The genome data could ultimately advance knowledge on the biology of the tsetse fly and the trypanosome parasite it carries. Aspects of its biology may offer some vulnerabilities, such as the rearing of live young inside pregnant females, the dependence of the fly on bacteria that live inside its cells and its unusual prey-finding behavior,” Mathew Berriman, group leader, Parasite Genomics with Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told IRIN by email. “The protein involved in sensing light, smell and taste have been found opening the door for refinement of traps. Also in the genome we find evidence of viruses that are associated with parasitic wasps - this highlights the possibility that a natural predator of tsetse exists in the wild; if it could be found, it could be utilized for biological control.” Serap Aksoy from the University of Yale who co-authored the study, told IRIN: “The African trypanosomiasis affects thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa. The absence of a genome-wide map of tsetse biology was a major hindrance for identifying vulnerabilities.” She added: “This community of researchers across Africa, Europe, North America and Asia has created a valuable research tool for tackling the devastating spread of sleeping sickness.” The researchers also found a set of visual and odour proteins that seem to drive the fly’s key behavioural responses, such as in searching for hosts or for mates. The analysis of the genome will help in understand the basic biology of the fly. ‘‘By identifying the genes that make proteins associated with vision or smell, it allows us to use this information to better understand what sights or smells might attract or repel tsetse flies from traps. We can then use this information to make more efficient ways to control tsetse fly populations,’’ Geoffrey Attardo, the lead researcher with Yale School of Public Health, told IRIN by email. Tsetse flies have a highly unusual biology. Unlike other flies which lay eggs, they give birth to a single live larva which is then nursed into a full grown fly by feeding on the mother’s milk glands. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said in a statement: “This disease-spreading fly has developed unique and unusual biological methods to source and infect its prey. Its advanced sensory system allows different tsetse fly species to track down potential hosts either through smell or by sight… “This study lays out a list of parts responsible for the key processes and opens new doors to design prevention strategies to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses associated with human African trypanosomiasis and other diseases spread by the tsetse fly.” “The genome data could ultimately advance knowledge on the biology of the tsetse fly and the trypanosome parasite it carries.” According to the researchers, the genome sequencing has helped to reveal “the fly's special repertoire of proteins for procuring, filtering, and packaging the blood and for viviparity [retention and growth of the fertilized egg within the maternal body until the young animal, as a larva or newborn, is capable of independent existence] and the expression of analogs of mammalian milk proteins.” Critical proteins identified “Proteins have been identified that are critical for feeding unborn larvae - interfering with this process would break the life cycle,” Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s Berriman told IRIN. The study was conducted by a team of 146 scientists from 78[...]



Melding science and tradition to tackle climate change

Thu, 22 May 2014 23:00:00 +0000

In the latest of several partnerships between tradition and modern science aimed at improving resilience to climate change, pastoralists and meteorologists in Tanzania are working together to produce weather forecasts better suited to farmers. The hope is that by drawing from both indigenous knowledge and contemporary weather forecasting techniques, crop yields could be increased. “We wanted to see if the two can complement or supplement each other,” Isaac Yonah, a senior officer coordinating community meetings employed by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), told IRIN by phone. Using traditional indicators such as the movement of red ants, the flowering of mango and other trees, the migration of termites and patterns and colours in the sky, farmers in Sakala village of Ngorongoro District compare their two-weekly forecasts with those released by the TMA. “This is done… to validate how accurate their forecast is and to come up with a consensus [forecast]. In the last three seasons, more than 80 percent accuracy in the findings has been witnessed,” said Yonah. The project is a partnership between TMA, Hakikazi Catalyst (a non-profit organization), and the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). “Strengthening such practices could enhance the resilience of communities which are most vulnerable to climate change. Upscaling the projects will see the knowledge gap between traditional and scientific bridged,” said Yonah. Research published in Uganda in 2013 detailed 23 different indicators used by traditional forecasters to predict weather. “Farmers would profit from weather forecasts provided by governmental institutions. This [marriage of the old and new] will enable farmers to make sound decisions on how to fully exploit the seasonal distribution of rainfall to improve and stabilize crop yields,” said Joshua Okonyo, author of the study Indigenous Knowledge of Seasonal Weather Forecasting. The indicators cited included wind direction, cuckoo calls, and the timing of winged termites’ departure from their nests. Working with the Nganyi community in Kenya For the past five years in Kenya, government meteorologists have worked with the Nganyi community in the west of the country in a project carried out in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC). The Nganyi observe bird migrations and other animal behaviour in their forecasts. “After thorough research, we have noticed that these traditional indicators have a high scientific value that could be integrated with the local climate information,” said Laban Ogallo, the project’s coordinator. “Since predicting weather within the tropics is a challenge to scientists, we wanted to learn how the [Nganyi] community has been doing it over the years. Their knowledge will be helpful,” Abraham Changara, chief meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, told IRIN. As meteorologists are waking up to the value of traditional forecasting methods in adapting to climate change, it seems climate change itself poses a threat to the sustainability of these methods. ''There is rapid disappearance of plants and animals due to climate variability and human activities,” according to Weather Forecasting and Indigenous Knowledge Systems, published by Great Zimbabwe University. “There are few elders aware of traditional methods of weather forecasting. This makes traditional weather forecast less reliable,'' the study added. ho/am/cb 100125 201405231354240096.jpg Analysis Food Climate change Environment and Disasters Climate change, science and tradition IRIN KISUMU Angola Burkina Faso Burundi Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire [...]