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IRIN - East Africa


EXCLUSIVE: Congo-Brazzaville’s hidden war

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 09:06:50 +0000

The shells of burnt-out vehicles rust in the rain and crumbling houses poke out through the overgrown brush. The village of Soumouna in Congo-Brazzaville’s southern Pool region lies empty and guarded by soldiers, but there’s undeniable evidence of what happened here 20 months ago. Isma Nkodia, 25, said she was passing through the village at four in the afternoon when government helicopters laid it to waste. At first she thought the attack would be over quickly: just as soon as the pilots had found and destroyed the residence of the rebel leader they were hunting. But an hour later Nkodia still lay crouched in the forest fearing death as the bombs kept falling and the village she had known since childhood turned into dust and rubble. “They wanted to destroy everything,” she said. It’s a scene of devastation that can be found in village after village across the Pool region, where a hidden conflict between the government and a previously dormant militia called the Ninjas has left tens of thousands displaced and entire districts deserted. A neglected crisis IRIN was granted rare access to the region, and was able to document the toll of the 20-month conflict. The violence here has played out with little international attention, unlike the humanitarian “mega-crisis” in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. The conflict dates back to March 2016 presidential elections won by Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo-Brazzaville for all but five years since 1979. His victory, which was marred by allegations of fraud, followed a heavily contested constitutional referendum a year earlier that removed term and age constraints that would have prevented the now 74-year-old from standing. On the morning of the 2016 election results, with tensions high, a series of attacks were carried out in the capital, Brazzaville. Government, police, and military buildings were set alight in opposition strongholds and 17 people were killed, including three police officers. The government blamed the attacks on a former militia group called the Ninjas, which had fought against Sassou Nguesso during civil wars in the 1990s and 2000s, but had largely demobilised. The group’s leader, Frédéric Bintsamou, better known as Pastor Ntumi, denied responsibility. But the following day the government began major military operations against Ntumi and remnants of the group, whose fighters had been based in the forests of Pool, to the west of Brazzaville. Sealed off from the press and human rights organisations, the operation in Pool has received little media coverage. But in advance of a ceasefire agreement between Ntumi and the government – signed in December – IRIN spent three weeks in the country.   allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="650" id="media-element file-wysiwyg-large" mozallowfullscreen="" scrolling="no" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="100%">   Scorched-earth tactics The most visible consequence of the crisis in Pool is the complete absence of people, in a region that was regarded as Congo’s breadbasket. On the 60-kilometre highway from Brazzaville to Kinkala, the regional capital, IRIN passed just 10 civilian vehicles. Village after village lay empty, most cordoned off by army checkpoints. While the authorities claim to have conducted a “targeted” offensive against the Ninjas, IRIN found clear evidence of scorched-earth tactics. In Soumouna, the first village to be bombed, back in April 2016, witnesses said government helicopters indiscriminately targeted the civilian population. Jidele Lounguissa, 25, said helicopters rocketed Ntumi’s large compound, before “bombing the entire village”. She said she knew of five civilians killed during the attack, which she escaped from by hiding in the forest with her son, who was born the day before.                                “I was afraid he was goin[...]

Food aid 2018: the never-ending crisis

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 14:49:02 +0000

Panos Moumtzis/UNHCR Dadaab refugee camp in 1992 Swithun Goodbody/FAO A cooperative farm storage filled with corn from an early harvest in Hamhung, North Korea Andrew McConnell/UNHCR Hasina, 35, and her son, Shahid, 5, who is suffering from severe malnutrition, pictured in the Red Crescent Field Hospital in Kutupalong Refugee Camp Mohammed Hamoud/UNHCR Khulood Khaled, 7, sits alone near her family's tent at the Dharawan settlement. A rise in man-made and protracted emergencies over the past decade means millions are at risk of starving around the globe this year Food aid 2018: the never-ending crisis According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), there are 5,000 trucks, 70 aircraft and 20 ships delivering WFP food assistance around the planet at any given time. Samuel Oakford Philip Kleinfeld Robert Kibet Annie Slemrod Nasser Al-Sakkaf Stefanie Glinski Feature Aid and Policy Food Part of an in-depth series looking at the enormous scale and range of food crises around the globe heading into 2018 IRIN Africa East Africa Asia Europe [...]

Ethiopian Oromo refugees face bribes, harassment in Kenya

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 10:41:51 +0000

Ethiopian Oromo refugees fleeing to Kenya to escape persecution say they are finding life on the streets of Nairobi no better than the insecurity they left behind, as they are targeted by bribes and harassment and forced into vast camps with few prospects or protections. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but have long complained of political and economic marginalisation at the hands of the country’s ruling party, which is dominated by a minority ethnic group, the Tigrayans. Following 2016 protests demanding political reform, which resulted in a state of emergency and the deaths of more than 600 in the security crackdown, thousands of Oromo made their way to neighbouring Kenya seeking asylum and refuge. But they did not escape the Ethiopian authorities. Human Rights Watch has reported “numerous cases of harassment and threats” against Oromo asylum seekers in Kenya by Ethiopian government officials. The rights group has also documented “confessions” by Kenyan police officers in which they admit to being offered bribes by the Ethiopian embassy to detain and intimidate Oromo refugees. “When I came to Kenya I thought that I would be protected and would be able to start a new life,” said former Oromo politician “Tolessa”, who requested his identity be protected. “[But] what I’m facing here is no different from what I was facing at home,” he told IRIN. “My future here isn’t very bright.” Full of “spies” Oromo refugees also reported attempts by Ethiopian officials to recruit them as informants in Nairobi’s Oromo community, promising land, protection, money, and even resettlement to the United States or elsewhere, Human Rights Watch noted. “There are a lot of Ethiopian spies here in Nairobi,” one refugee, a former Ethiopian intelligence officer, alias “Demiksa”, told IRIN. Now a senior dissident, “Demiksa” related what had happened to him back in Ethiopia. He said that after refusing orders to torture prisoners held in Addis Ababa’s infamous Maekelawi prison, he was accused of being an opposition collaborator, detained, and then tortured himself. “They tied my hands up and hung me up on the wall with nails and beat me with electric cables around my ankles and on my back,” he told IRIN, fighting tears. “I couldn't walk for three months,” he added. “Demiksa” said he was spared capital punishment on one condition: kill or be killed. Handed photographs of two prominent Oromo activists, he was given a loaded gun and told to get into a car. He accepted the mission – “I had no choice,” he told IRIN – but was able to escape en route to the hit, and then fled Ethiopia. When he arrived in Nairobi, “Demiksa” was told to register at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya like all other Ethiopian exiles. The long arm of Ethiopian security But Oromo who fear being stalked by Ethiopian intelligence believe even Kakuma is not safe. “Threats from Ethiopian security officials – working together with local [Kenyan] police – also extend to the refugee camps [in Kenya],” Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne told IRIN. Horne said Oromo activists who have come from cities in Ethiopia fear camp life because of the lack of employment opportunities, the heat, and Kakuma’s physical proximity to Ethiopia. But they have darker fears too. Oromo refugees have reportedly been kidnapped from Kenya and taken back to Ethiopia, and there have been similar reports from Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, and Somaliland. “This is not unique to Kenya,” Horne said. “The patterns of pervasive Ethiopian security presence utilising local security officials is similar in other countries where Ethiopians flee to.” Tariku Debela, a political refugee living in Kampala who fled Kenya in April 2016, still remains a target for Ethiopian security forces. He told IRIN that his scars bear witness both to the torture he received in Ethiopia and an attempt on his life in Uganda. “Some people came to my hotel room, drugged [...]

The human cost of cuts to the peacekeeping mission in Congo

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:58:51 +0000

Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo took a turn for the worse in 2017 and the New Year is unlikely to bring much relief to Congolese civilians. Political repression in the last two weeks resulted in at least eight civilian deaths and over 100 arrests, while conflict and rights abuses continue across much of the troubled country, especially in the volatile east. With the administration of US President Donald Trump focused on reducing the price tag for both peacekeeping and the United Nations, American and UN officials will need to understand how these budget cuts are affecting the ability of peacekeepers to protect civilians. The peacekeeping operation in Congo, known as MONUSCO, was the first to face cuts in 2017 and provides valuable lessons that should be learned before further cuts are considered. The month of December exemplified the escalating insecurity in the country. It began with the most deadly attack on peacekeepers since the MONUSCO mission was first deployed in 1999. The assault on a base in Beni left 14 UN soldiers dead, one missing, and many more seriously injured. Analysts believe it was perpetrated by the Alliance of Democratic Forces – one of dozens of rebel groups operating in eastern Congo. Find our comprehensive coverage: Crumbling Congo – the making of a humanitarian emergency In the following weeks, Congolese security forces and rebel groups subjected civilians to hundreds of human rights violations. The abuses included killings, abductions, sexual violence, displacement, and extortion. 2017 closed with the Congolese government violently repressing protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down by the end of the year as agreed in negotiations between the government and opposition in December 2016. Despite the growing threats to Congolese civilians throughout 2017, MONUSCO’s troop levels were reduced in March and its budget cut by eight percent in June. These cuts were largely driven by the US administration’s goal of shrinking peacekeeping costs and consequently US financial contributions. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has branded the cuts to MONUSCO and other peacekeeping operations as an attempt to promote efficiency. However, unless the United States and the UN learn lessons from the last round of budget cuts, saved US dollars could mean more civilian lives lost in Congo. Detailing the problems A report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict released today details how the short timeline in which MONUSCO was required to downsize was problematic. In order to reduce troop levels last March, MONUSCO rushed the closure of five bases in North Kivu Province. The condensed timeline resulted in a lack of adequate consultation between MONUSCO’s military leadership and the mission’s civilian personnel, who carry out critical activities to protect civilians, such as monitoring human rights violations, resolving local conflict through dialogue, supporting community self-protection strategies, and convincing armed actors to demobilise. Coordination helps ensure that the UN mission’s military component can provide the security that civilian personnel need to access conflict-affected areas. MONUSCO’s withdrawal from some areas has raised concerns that violence against civilians will increase in the resulting security vacuum. In the time allowed, MONUSCO was unable to put in place many of the mitigating measures they had identified to protect civilians ahead of the closures, such as implementing training to strengthen local security forces and building the capacity of civil society groups to carry out protection activities. The mission is now working to take some of these steps retroactively. With fewer bases and less field presence, MONUSCO adopted a new protection strategy that relies on mobility rather than a static field presence to protect civilians. The strategy, called “protection through projection”, depends on short-term field visits carried out by[...]

Consecutive droughts spell disaster and hunger for Kenya in 2018

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 10:00:48 +0000

Two consecutive years of failed rains have left 3.4 million Kenyans in need of food aid and 480,000 children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. It’s the worst humanitarian crisis the country has faced since a major drought scorched the Horn of African region in 2011, and an emergency likely to persist well into 2018. The government declared a national drought disaster early last year, with 23 out of 47 counties affected. Nutrition surveys showed that perennially dry Turkana North as well as parts of Marsabit and Mandera counties had global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates above 30 percent – double the emergency threshold. Northern Turkana Central, Turkana South, Turkana West, East Pokot, and Isiolo counties – also in Kenya’s so-called Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, known as ASAL – had GAM rates of between 15 and 29 percent.  Three million people lack access to clean water. Livestock, on which households in the underdeveloped ASAL areas depend, have also succumbed to the water shortages – dying in large numbers. There has been a market glut as pastoralists have sold off surviving animals, triggering price crashes of as much as 90 percent in some areas. “Most of the communities we support as an organisation are pastoralists who solely rely on livestock for livelihoods. They lost most of their livestock,” Godfrey Wapangana, a programme officer at the aid agency World Vision, told IRIN. That has reduced the availability of protein and milk, worsening nutritional levels, particularly among children. The drought has also hit food production, with maize output falling by 99 percent compared to the long-term average in coastal areas. That, coupled with an outbreak of the voracious Fall Army Worm pest, has seen wholesale staple food price increases of between eight and 32 percent above average in the urban markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Eldoret. “The last 10 months or so have been one sad moment after another,” said Lojok Lekurug, a 37-year-old mother of six in Nadapal, Turkana County. “With the escalating food prices and the drought, we have been feeding on edible wild fruits, which are scarce. It has not been easy surviving." Drought conditions have also led to declines in school attendance and rising dropout rates, UNICEF has warned. Families are also on the move, “which poses protection risks for women and children,” the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, noted. Needs also extend to the 420,000 refugees living in Daadab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya. Due to a shortfall in funding, the World Food Programme announced in November that it was cutting rations by 30 percent – just six months after it resumed full rations. Bad forecast Some parts of Kenya have faced at least two consecutive years of failed rains leading to the current crisis. And the signs are not good for 2018. The short rains, typically lasting from October to December, came late and finished early. Pasture and water availability are expected to be below average through the dry season, most likely until the end of March, according to the famine early warning service, FEWSNET. It forecasts that the long rains (March to May) are still expected to be below average in the currently drought-affected ASAL – although they are expected to be at least average across the western and central areas of the country. Since November 2016, the government has allocated $124.3 million as part of its response plan. But there are large question marks about the impact of Kenya’s political uncertainty and re-run elections on further government spending. In March 2017, the UN launched a $165.7 million flash appeal, followed by a further appeal in August to help scale up the response in northern Kenya. As of December, out of a total of $205 million requested, donors had provided $86 million – 42 percent of needs. This shortfall is restricting emergency operations. Despite immense needs, in some counties the WFP [...]

The struggle to survive South Sudan’s hunger season

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:26:33 +0000

Abuk Moukiir stands barefoot in a dry field, harvesting a few remaining peanuts with her bare, thorn-cut hands.   With South Sudan’s harvest season coming to an end and the dry season fast approaching, she is exhausted and hungry, taking longer rests in the shade of a nearby tree where she chews on a few raw peanuts to fill her empty stomach.   She earns less than half a dollar for a day’s work labouring for her cousin, who is a local farmer in Aweil, close to the northern border with Sudan.   She has few other options: her village’s harvest was ruined by rains earlier this year and her family crossed the border in search of food.   Weak and sick with a constantly bleeding lump in her breast, she was left behind, so came here – a four-day walk – to try to eke out a living. She hopes that one day her children, who left to find work in neighbouring Sudan, will come back to take care of her.   Moukiir has seen many harvests over the years, but this has been one of the worst, in a region that has historically struggled with food insecurity.   “I either work in the fields or collect garbage in exchange for a piece of bread and some tea,” she told IRIN. “I’m exhausted and hungry and it’s hard to survive, but I can’t give up.” Stefanie Gilinski/IRIN Abuk Moukiir sits in the shade of a tree while harvesting peanuts. She’s sick and weak but survives hunger by finding different day jobs Despite its current harvest, South Sudan is facing an extreme food crisis.   Its four-year civil war, with its mass displacement and terrifying violence, has wrecked food production and undermined rural markets.   Almost half of the population – 4.8 million people – are currently severely food insecure. That’s 1.4 million more than the same time a year ago.   It’s projected to get even worse in 2018, with an estimated 5.1 million people expected to go hungry. Food crisis in South Sudan width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Albert Gonzalez Many of Aweil’s men have left in search of work to try to support their families.   Others have joined President Salva Kiir’s forces in the battle against rebel militia, or have stayed loyal to the previously powerful former army chief Paul Malong, who is from the area but was sacked earlier in 2017.   The hunger season   Climatically, nearly everything went wrong this past year. Floods inundated Aweil’s lowlands while drought afflicted its highlands, spreading desertification further north towards Sudan. Experts are increasingly blaming this deadly combination on the effects of climate change.   Like Moukiir, 1.4 million people in Greater Aweil are trying to cope with failed harvests, crop pests, hunger, disease, and exhaustion.   They have managed to survive the crisis so far, but the hunger gap – the period between when households run out of stored food and the next harvest – is fast approaching, threatening malnutrition and even death.   The lean period usually starts in February in the middle of the dry season and can last until July, when the rains yield a new harvest.   “But even in the current harvest period, millions of people need sustained assistance to survive,” the World Food Programme’s representative in South Sudan, Adnan Khan, told IRIN.   This is a region where it took a massive humanitarian response to avert famine earlier this year. Much of the food currently available in the local market has been smuggled in from Sudan, but few people can afford it.   Nyanciech Hiieu buried her husband last year and is now left with five seemingly relentlessly hungry children. Stefanie Gilinski/IRIN [...]

An Ethiopian thaw, a Syrian flare-up, and an Afghan reprieve: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 15:54:31 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   New year, more war in Syria   The new year has not been kind to civilians in northern Syria, where a spike in fighting between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces in parts of Idlib and Hama provinces has left scores of civilians either dead or injured in airstrikes and shelling, and displaced more than 60,000 people since the start of November. OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, noted this week the “dire” situation of newly displaced people as humanitarian organisations struggle to meet the increasing needs of those fleeing their homes. It’s worth remembering that more than half of the people in Idlib are already displaced from other parts of Syria, and that the uptick in violence comes (at least in part) in areas that are supposed to be “de-escalation zones”. Some Syrians are heading home or considering it, either within the country or across borders, but 2018 is looking like yet another bad year for Syria’s civilians. As the country is poised to enter its seventh year of war, on 15 March, news of the conflict and analysis about its humanitarian implications are beginning to drop off the front pages. They shouldn’t. Look out for IRIN’s upcoming guide on what to look out for regarding Syria over the year ahead.     A ticking clock for Afghans in Pakistan?   Time may be running out for Afghan refugees facing deportation in Pakistan, after Pakistani authorities reportedly extended a deadline to leave the country by only one month. Pakistan’s cabinet was earlier said to be debating extending the reprieve by a full year following the expiration of a previous extension at the end of 2017. The move foists further uncertainty on Afghans living in Pakistan, including more than 1.3 million registered refugees and an estimated 600,000 to one million others who are undocumented. Pakistan has ratcheted up the pressure on Afghans in recent years, with deportation threats and alleged police abuses that Human Rights Watch says amount to “mass forced return”. Over the last two years, more than 770,000 Afghans, both registered refugees and undocumented, crossed the border back to Afghanistan, according to figures from UN agencies. But with instability swirling and conflict-caused civilian casualties hovering near record highs in Afghanistan, critics say Afghans are being forced to return to a war zone. The large numbers of Afghans returning to conflict is a key crisis on our humanitarian radar this year. EU countries have also sought to send rejected Afghan asylum seekers back in droves. But as IRIN reported this week, countrywide bloodshed is continuing to push Afghans abroad even as increasingly hostile foreign governments make moves to send them back. Read more of IRIN’s reporting on this issue: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis.   Comings, goings, and paycuts   UNICEF has a new executive director: Henrietta Holsman Fore, who took over from Anthony Lake on 1 January. Fore, an American citizen whose career spans public service and corporate affairs, had previously worked in senior roles in USAID and the US State Department. Until her appointment she was CEO of a family firm and a director of several large corporations, including US-based Exxon Mobil, General Mills, and Theravance Biopharma. A UN spokesperson told IRIN that she would step down from her directorships to meet ethics rules, and to avoid conflicts of interest. The three positions above alone earned her a cool $851,000 in cash and shares in the most recent year available. Her remuneration at the UN will be a significant pay cut: a base gross salary of $192,000.   Meanwhile, in the NGO world, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, [...]

Ten humanitarian crises to look out for in 2018

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 17:01:28 +0000

From the Rohingya to South Sudan, hurricanes to famine, 2017 was full of disasters and crises. But 2018 is shaping up to be even worse. Here’s why. The UN has appealed for record levels of funding to help those whose lives have been torn apart, but the gap between the funding needs and the funding available continues to grow. And what makes the outlook especially bad for 2018 is that the political will needed to resolve conflicts, welcome refugees, and address climate change also appears to be waning. What a difference a year, a new US president, and a German election make. Here’s our insider take on 10 crises that will shape the humanitarian agenda in 2018 (See 2017’s list here): IRIN’s editors sketch out the gloomy-looking horizon for next year Ten humanitarian crises to look out for in 2018 AFP_Yemeni_air_raid_000_lr1oi1.jpg Feature Migration Conflict Health GENEVA IRIN Africa West Africa Cameroon East Africa DRC Central African Republic South Sudan Americas Venezuela Colombia Asia Bangladesh Afghanistan Myanmar Global Middle East and North Africa Libya Syria Yemen Syria’s sieges and displacement As Syria heads towards seven years of war and Western governments quietly drop their demands for political transition, it has become increasingly clear that President Bashar al-Assad will stay in power, at least in some capacity.   But that doesn’t mean the violence or suffering is over: pockets of resistance are still being starved into submission and being denied aid – nearly three million Syrians still live in areas the UN defines as besieged or “hard to reach” (see: eastern Ghouta right now), while chemical weapons are deployed to horrifying effect.   There’s talk of reconstruction where the fighting has fizzled out, be it in areas brought under the government’s control or in cities like Raqqa, which is now controlled by Kurdish forces but has a mixed population that is beginning to come home, to utter destruction.   Investors are lining up for a slice of the rebuilding pie. But an average of 6,550 Syrians were displaced by violence each day in 2017. So what of the 6.1 million and counting displaced inside Syria – many sheltering in tents or unfinished buildings and facing another long winter – not to mention the 5.5 million refugees abroad? Will they have a say in how Syria is rebuilt? With reconstruction already a major bone of contention in peace talks and the EU planning to get involved in 2018, how this plays out is important and worth watching. Congo unravels You know the situation is bad when people start fleeing their homes, and it doesn’t get much worse than the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, violence in its eastern provinces has triggered the world’s worst displacement crisis – for a second year in a row. More than 1.7 million people abandoned their farms and villages this year, on top of 922,000 in 2016. The provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Kasai, and Tanganyika are the worst affected and the epicentres of unrest in the country.   New alliances of armed groups have emerged to take on a demoralised government army and challenge President Joseph Kabila in distant Kinshasa. He refused to step down and hold elections in 2016 when his constitutionally mandated two-term limit expired – and the political ambition of some of these groups is to topple him. These rebellions are a new addition to the regular lawlessness of armed groups and conflict entrepreneurs that have stalked the region for years. It is a confusing cast of characters, in which the army also plays a freelance role and, as IRIN reported this month, as an instigator of some of the rights abuses that are forcing civilians to flee.   As we enter 2018, more[...]

Kenya’s drought “solution” becomes a major menace once again

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 10:30:10 +0000

In 2006 a toothless goat made legal history in Kenya – and headlines around the world – when it appeared in court as part of a bid to sue the government over a plant deliberately introduced a few decades earlier to help rural communities adapt to drought. That plant became an invasive alien weed, and it is still causing havoc to this day in the country’s drylands. The goat had no teeth because it had fed on the corrosively sweet pods of Prosopis juliflora, a drought-resistant, deep-rooted evergreen shrub of Central American origin also known in parts of Kenya as mathenge and, in the Turkana language, as etirai. Although the judge in the 2006 trial threw out the case – one of several similar lawsuits – prosopis has not gone away and is now making life even harder for livestock herders in Turkana County as they contend with one of the worst droughts in living memory. “When I was growing up, there was no etirai; there was rain and grass,” recalled Ekaru Lopetet at the livestock market in Lodwar, the main town in Turkana County. “It has really invaded our pastureland. There is nothing we can do to get rid of it – you have to uproot it, which is very hard work, because if you just cut it back, it grows stronger, and it absorbs a lot of water… I don’t know how to defeat it.” Johnstone Moru, an advisor on climate change issues to the county government in Turkana, told IRIN the plant “colonises pasture and consumes a lot of water”. “It flourishes even in the dry season, so areas that used to have water are drying up,” he explained. “Elimination is hard because the seeds are spread by wind and animals.” Ewoton Epeot, a Turkana woman in her 70s who still farms a plot of land near the village where she grew up, described how the latter works. “When the pod matures, the animals eat it and the seeds pass through them and are deposited in their droppings,” she told IRIN. “Prosopis then grows in our fields amid our crops.” A paper published this year on the economy of Turkana County described Prosopis juliflora as “one of the most destructive invader plant species in the world”. From solution to invasion Yet just a few decades ago, the plant was seen as more of a solution than a problem. This was chiefly because, being a fast-growing evergreen that produced timber and was a good source of shade and apparently good fodder, it seemed an ideal candidate for the rehabilitation of depleted environments in Kenya’s arid regions. Prosopis juliflora was deliberately introduced to the Turkana and Barongo districts of Kenya in the 1980s and 1990s. But before long many of the plant’s shortcomings became apparent, as a paper published in 2011 in the journal Biodiversity explained. “Once in the soil, seeds can lie dormant for long, till good conditions return. Prosopis is deep-rooted and coppices well when cut above ground. These factors make it highly invasive and hard to control once established,” it noted. By the early 2000s, Prosopis was found in seven of Kenya’s eight provinces. “It was more aggressive in arid lands of the north where it formed thorny impenetrable thickets especially along water courses, flood plains, roadsides and in inhabited areas. It was encroaching upon paths, dwellings, irrigation schemes, crop farms and pastureland, significantly affecting biological diversity and rural livelihoods,” the paper added. A survey of Kenyans in affected areas conducted by the paper’s authors found that while residents mentioned 18 positive attributes of Prosopis, these were outweighed by 24 negative factors, including invasion of pastureland, cropland, and homesteads, and the harmful effects of the plant’s thorns. “It was evident that in areas where Prosopis was well established, it was beyond the community's ability to control its expansion. Prosopis invas[...]

Films from the climate change front line

Sun, 24 Dec 2017 09:15:47 +0000

Seven in 10 of Kenya’s rural population makes a living from agriculture, mostly on small plots. In a good year, subsistence farmers harvest enough to feed themselves and their families, with perhaps a little surplus to sell at market. But like farmers across Africa, those in Kenya are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is largely because almost all of them depend on rainfall to water their crops, and rainy seasons are becoming shorter and less regular. Rains were especially sparse towards the end of 2016 and in early 2017, leading to a prolonged drought this year. The number of people classed as food insecure, meaning they no longer have constant, reliable access to the right kind of food needed to live a healthy life, has doubled. Faced with forces beyond their control, those working the soil to make a living have had no choice but to change the way they farm. These four films show the different ways Kenyan farmers are adapting to the realities of climate change.   Turning the sun from foe to friend One major effect of climate change is rising temperatures. Too much heat can be damaging to crops, especially when water is scarce and rainfall becomes less predictable. And when a harvest is all farmers have to make ends meet, a low yield can spell disaster, literally taking food off the family dinner table. As Lucia Ngao in Machakos County discovered, poor national infrastructure can make the most obvious solutions impracticable. But, with a little ingenuity and a modest investment, fortunes can be turned around by making a friend of what was once a foe: the scorching sun. Turning the sun from foe to friend width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Information to the rescue Unpredictable weather not only makes it harder to know when to sow seeds, but it can also complicate post-harvest processing, particularly when this involves drying crops. When the difference between profit and loss depends on sunshine, an accurate forecast is essential. In Kenya, which boasts one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates on the continent, it is easy as Rahema Madaga explains in this film, to access such valuable information with the touch of a handset. Information to the rescue width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Seeds of success As Frederic Ondayo discovered on his farm in the western county of Siaya, extremely dry weather can wipe out entire crops if one plants seeds that can’t handle the harsh weather. In Ondayo’s case, a whole field of tomatoes wilted under the scorching sun. He has since made a few simple changes to increase his chances of turning a profit, and suggests several ways farmers across the country could be helped to cope with the burdens of climate change. Seeds of success width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> The many blessing of trees Planting trees together with agricultural crops – a practice known as agroforestry ­­– offers many benefits to farmers who adopt it, especially in zones affected by decreasing rainfall. Trees provide shade, improve the water retention of soil, and deliver a range of sellable products such as fruit, nuts, and firewood. What’s more, since trees absorb CO2, they help to mitigate global warming. Despite all these advantages, and the rampant deforestation all around them, farmers on the edge of the Mau Forest in Bomet County took some pe[...]