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Damned if you fish, damned if you don’t: No good choices on Lake Victoria

Tue, 04 Jul 2017 11:27:02 +0000

Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, has been affected by years of mismanagement, environmental changes, and a burgeoning population. Desperate families use illegal nets and poison to catch fish, piracy is on the rise, and alcoholism is rife. As fish stocks dwindle, more and more families struggle to make ends meet.

Some fishermen still venture out onto the overfished waters. Among them is Juma Otieno, a Kenyan with no land to farm. In order to make a living, he travels in search of Nile perch to the island of Migingo, ownership of which is contested by Kenya and Uganda. Over the seven years he’s been working there, he’s become increasingly worried he’ll soon have no means of making an income.

On the other side of the lake, on Uganda’s Ssese Island, Joseph Kibelu has long given up fishing and is now producing palm oil. His trees produce good fruit, he harvests and sells regularly, and he’s now able to educate his children. However, the destruction of the island’s natural forests to make way for palms has altered weather patterns and the seasons have become less predictable. Compounding this is the poor soil that demands a lot of fertiliser; something he knows can have a direct and fatal effect on the fish-breeding grounds that surround the islands.

Threats to communities that traditionally depend on fishing are also explored in this multimedia story about Kenya's Lake Turkana. 

No good choices on Lake Victoria

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Benj Binks
Fishing on Lake Victoria
No good choices on Lake Victoria (image) lake_victoria.jpg Benj Binks Video Climate change Food Lake Victoria IRIN Africa East Africa Kenya Tanzania



Magic and murder: albinism in Malawi

Wed, 11 May 2016 16:17:49 +0000

Mbango Chipungu has a good job and lives in an upmarket suburb of the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, but he can't remember the last time he went out at night.   Certainly not since early 2015, and the start of a wave of "ritual killings" of people born with albinism: an inherited genetic condition in which the body fails to produce enough pigment, or melanin.   Since January last year, there have been 17 recorded murders of people with albinism in Malawi, and 66 cases of abductions and other related crimes.   "Anyone born with albinism in this country is living in fear of attack, no matter how socially connected one is," said Chipungu, a 32-year-old graduate and civil servant.   Albinism affects roughly one in 17,000 people globally, but in sub-Saharan Africa the incidence is higher, typically as common as one in 5,000. In Tanzania, it is one in 1,400.   People with the genetic trait often experience taunting and discrimination. They can be accused of being "ghosts" or “witches” or derided in other ways for somehow being less than human.   There is also a belief in the magical properties of their bodies. Their "difference" supposedly boosts the efficacy of potions or amulets made from their hair, eyes, skin, limbs and organs. People born with albinism are hunted, killed and dismembered, or their graves dug up by criminal syndicates in search of their bones.   The belief – common in so many religions – is that literal or symbolic cannibalism allows communication with spirits and deities, and is used by those wishing for power and money.   These "occult economies" – the use of magical means for imagined material ends – mirror the mysteries of the 21st century market, where money flows seemingly abundantly and effortlessly. In the almost literal worshipping of wealth, people turn to familiar arcane forces for a helping hand.   Transnational trade   This ultimate commodification of the human body is big business. According to the police in Dedza, central Malawi, two "albino hunters", arrested for the kidnapping and murder of 17-year-old Davis Machinjiri, had smuggled the body across the border to Angonia in Mozambique, where they had been promised $66,000 by "witch doctors".   Jeremiah Banda, a Malawian traditional doctor, believes the wave of killings has spread from Tanzania. "The use of albino body parts in magical medicine is common among East African traditional doctors, mostly those from Tanzania, where there is a belief that albinos possess special powers and their parts can bring good luck when used in magic concoctions," he told IRIN.   Malawian police also seem eager to externalise the problem. Following the arrest of 10 men in connection with the abduction and killing of a 25-year-old woman with albinism in Lilongwe, police spokesman Kondwani Kandiado said "our current information indicates that there is a Tanzanian link in the recent wave of albino abductions and killings in the country".   Body parts are bagged, transported and sold in "underground markets", he told IRIN.   According to a 2009 report by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, an intact body of someone with albinism in Tanzania is worth around $75,000 – suggestive of a trade only affordable for the already rich and powerful, whose wealth is probably not based on productive labour.   Signs of success   The Tanzanian government's response was initially slow in having an impact, but it has included a ban on "witch doctors" and a crackdown on unlicensed traditional healers, with more than 200 arrested in the first three months of 2015. It has also, in some cases, placed children with albinism in protected homes.   Malawi is now the centre of international attention on the issue. Amnesty International said in a statement earlier this year that "it is deeply worrying that there’s poor security for people with albinism in Malawi despite an increasing number of attacks against them”.   Speaking at the end of a week-long, fact-finding mission last month, [...]



How a city in Tanzania holds the key to peace in Burundi

Wed, 13 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

At some stage, both sides in Burundi’s increasingly bloody political crisis are likely to be sitting across the table from one another in Arusha, Tanzania, looking to agree a political settlement. Arusha, a laidback cosmopolitan city in northern Tanzania, has been the traditional venue for negotiating some of East Africa’s most intractable conflicts. It was where the Burundian government and the opposition CNARED were supposed to be heading last week for talks mediated by the African Union and the East African Community, until the government pulled out its representatives on the grounds that they couldn’t meet with “criminals” and “terrorists”. See: Briefing: What next for the Burundi peace process? Such contretemps are nothing new. After all the purpose of mediation is to put together people who don’t like each other, sometimes with murderous intensity. The Arusha Accords, aimed at resolving Rwanda’s civil war, took a year to hash out: the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi (the document CNARED accuses the current government of trashing) took two years.  In the case of South Sudan, where a peace agreement was signed in Arusha last year and then promptly torn up by both sides, who knows? Why Arusha? It’s ever so slightly schizophrenic. It draws legions of tourists visiting the Serengeti national park, Ngorongoro conservation area, and Mount Kilimanjaro. But alongside the backpackers in sandals and bush camouflage – though rarely literally – are the men and women in power suits representing the other face of Arusha, that of a regional diplomatic hub.  It’s the headquarters of the EAC, hosts the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and until two years ago, was home to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, trying those implicated in the 1994 genocide. Arusha is bucolic enough to avoid distractions, but with the infrastructure necessary for high-level summitry – an East African Sharm el-Sheikh. Why Tanzania? “Tanzania is often perceived as a relatively neutral zone, a relatively positive force in the region,” explained Yolande Bouka of the Institute for Security Studies. Wrapped up in that perception is the still towering figure of Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president.  The guiding principle of his rule – that of independence and African Socialism - was enshrined in the Arusha Declaration, which led to a long dalliance with Scandinavian social democrats. But it was his role in African liberation – particularly in southern Africa – for which he is rightly lionized. That also led to a partnership with Nelson Mandela over Burundi that was key to ending the 12-year civil war, in which Mandela domestically took a unilateral decision to send South African troops to protect returning political leaders. What was the Burundi agreement? Its aim was to end the conflict and cycles of massacres, including genocide, dating back to Burundi’s independence in 1962. Central to the agreement was trust. In broad terms, what was required was for the Tutsi minority to give up the army they dominated as a guarantee of their physical survival, and for the Hutu majority to see the democratic process as a way to win representation without resorting to arms.  According to Paul Nantulya of the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the mediation “sought to balance two extremely complex questions. The first was how to guarantee full political participation by the minority Tutsi population even when its prospects for winning competitive elections would remain slim in the foreseeable future? The second was how to alleviate the deep mistrust of the Hutu majority in the armed forces?”  Resolving that conundrum rested on a power-sharing formula based on minority over-representation and coalition-building; protocols providing for the equitable participation of all parties in the three branches of government and all nationa[...]



Southern Africa's food crisis - from bad to worse

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

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



Burundi crisis gets serious for regional leaders

Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Burundi’s political crisis is centred on a leader who is refusing to leave office after almost 10 years. The man sent in to mediate has been in power for almost 30. Apart from that irony, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s arrival in Bujumbura underlines just how high the stakes are for regional leaders. As the increasingly violent events in Burundi continue to unfold, its neighbours are watching ever more closely. Since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in April, protests have killed dozens and displaced more than 145,000. In addition to confrontations between security forces and demonstrators, clashes between the military and armed groups have reached a new peak with a report from the army spokesperson on Monday claiming that 31 rebels had been killed in northern Kayanza province, close to the Rwandan border. Concern goes further than refugees spilling across borders. Several heads of state in the Great Lakes region are seeking third terms or have been in power for more than 10 years. What happens in Burundi, a member of the East African Community (EAC) since 2007, could have serious ripple effects. The presidential election has been postponed until 21 July, after African leaders called for a two-week delay to the original 15 July poll date. Local and parliamentary elections were held on 5 July. Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party overwhelmingly won, taking 77 out of a possible 100 seats. The elections were boycotted by the opposition, and the European Union and the African Union withdrew their election monitors, claiming the election could not be free or fair. See: Journalism in Burundi is a high-risk job As tensions build ahead of the presidential poll, IRIN looks at the positions of the key regional and international actors:  Uganda On 6 July, President Museveni was appointed lead mediator by EAC heads of state. He arrived in the Burundian capital Bujumbura on Tuesday to begin mediating a new round of talks. While he has the blessing of the president, the opposition has so far rejected his nomination as mediator. Museveni, who has now been president of Uganda for 29 years, is a problematic choice. In 2005, he eliminated term limits through a constitutional amendment. In 2016, he will seek his seventh term in office. At home, the Ugandan leader also frequently clamps down harshly on opposition groups and those opposed to his rule. Even since assuming his role as Burundi mediator, he has arrested two prominent opposition leaders in Uganda. “Domestically, Museveni does not have a track record of being conciliatory to his own opposition. And so the Burundian opposition is looking at his track record in Uganda when they think of his role as mediator,” Yolande Bouka, researcher in conflict analysis and risk prevention at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN. “I’m not quite sure that the process will go further with him at the helm.” However, Bouka noted that the opposition is unlikely to be able to persuade the Burundian government and the EAC to change mediator, partly because of disunity in its own ranks but also because Museveni is unlikely to be moved by their demands. “I would be very surprised if Museveni recused himself because of opposition pressure,” Bouka said. “I don’t think the EAC is as responsive to this kind of pressure as the United Nations.” Two UN-appointed mediators to the Burundi crisis have already stepped down following government pressure. Tanzania Tanzania has historically played a large role in peace negotiations in Burundi and the country has seen an influx of nearly 77,000 refugees since the crisis in its much smaller northeastern neighbour began. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete hosted the latest EAC peace talks, and Nkurunziza was in the Tanzanian city of Dar-es-Salaam for a heads of state summit on the Burundi crisis in May when army leaders staged their abortive coup. Analysts suggest that Tanzania cr[...]



Forgive and forget? Amnesty dilemma haunts Uganda

Thu, 11 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Should rebels who turn themselves in be allowed to escape justice for potentially heinous crimes if it might foster peace, or must they be prosecuted even at the risk of discouraging reconciliation? The renewal of Uganda’s amnesty law has reopened old wounds and highlighted this enduring dilemma. The worst ravages of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels between 1987 and 2006 may be a distant memory for some, but they remain raw in northern Uganda, where massacres and mutilations became so common they were routine and tens of thousands of children were conscripted as soldiers and sex slaves. Despite the atrocities, more than 27,000 Ugandans who have taken up arms against the state have received amnesty over the past 15 years. Last week, the government extended the deal for a further two years in a bid to encourage several hundred remaining rebels to give themselves up and cement a lasting peace. The latest extension to Uganda’s amnesty law is particularly controversial as although it extends the existing immunity and resettlement programme, it contains a new provision exempting those who willingly return to an armed group having earlier abandoned it. Does the change go too far? The renewal of the amnesty is important for “the demobilisation of combatants and peace and stability across the region,” and will help “undermine the strength of the LRA and other rebel movements,” Phil Clark, an expert on international justice and the Great Lakes region from SOAS, University of London, told IRIN. “However, the changes to the Amnesty Act may dissuade middle- and high-ranking rebel leaders from returning. They may believe they fall within the new exceptions to the amnesty and may believe it is preferable to continue fighting rather than surrendering and risking prosecution in Uganda,” he said. “This sends completely the wrong message to rebel leaders in the bush and risks perpetuating conflict.” The Amnesty Act of 2000 offered blanket immunity to any LRA rebel combatant who abandoned the group and renounced involvement in the war. Kony and four senior commanders – two of whom have since died – were indicted in 2005 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. See: From jungle to justice – LRA at the Hague There was no specific exemption for the LRA leadership in Uganda’s original amnesty law, but it was amended the year after the ICC indictments, in 2006, to allow the interior minister to seek parliamentary approval to exclude certain individuals. The last LRA attacks in Uganda were in 2006, but Kony and other senior figures remain at large. One, Dominic Ongwen, was apprehended earlier this year and is now awaiting trial at the ICC in the Hague. Thought to now number no more than 200 to 300 fighters, the group has still carried out attacks in recent years in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The amnesty law applies equally to Ugandan nationals in other rebel groups, of which the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is the most prominent. The ADF was largely driven out of Ugandan territory a decade ago but still has camps in eastern DRC where it is accused of massacring hundreds of people both this year and last near the town of Beni. The ADF, which has been linked to Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, suffered a major blow at the end of April when its leader, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in Tanzania. At least 13,000 members of the LRA and 2,200 former ADF fighters have been granted amnesty, according to official figures. Contradictions and double-standards? The seemingly incoherent decisions to proceed with the prosecution of mid-level LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo but grant amnesties to higher-ranking figures like Caesar Acellam have fuelled old accusations that the law is being applied unevenly. Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer, said extending [...]



Photo Feature: Burundi's Endless Exodus

Thu, 21 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Of the thousands who have fled in recent weeks amid protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to run for a third term and a related attempted coup, more than half have arrived in neighbouring Tanzania.

Many of the refugees have made the same hasty journey before. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled their homeland during the country's 12-year civil war, only to return after the 2005 peace agreement. One woman waiting at Kagunga to catch a boat to Kigoma in Tanzania said she plied this exact route in 1993 and along with other refugees spoke warmly of their earlier years there. 

Click here to see IRIN's photo feature on the issue.

101534 (image) A Burundian woman suffering from suspected cholera lies in the health clinic at Lake Tanganyika Stadium in Kigoma, Tanzania, on 19th May 2015. Feature Human Rights Conflict Migration Health Photo Feature: Burundi's Endless Exodus IRIN KIGOMA Burundi Tanzania



Many fleeing Burundi have no wish to return

Wed, 20 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

If you ask a Burundian refugee who has recently arrived in Tanzania when they plan to return home, there’s a good chance that the answer will be, “I don’t.” Now a cholera outbreak on the border has made the journey all the more dangerous. Many of the 65,000 who fled there in recent days amid protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to run for a third term and a related attempted coup d’etat have made the same hasty journey before. Tumultuous events in Burundi have prompted several huge waves of refugees: in 1972 mass killings of Hutus led 150,000 people to flee the country; 20 years later the assassination of Burundi’s first Hutu president sparked an exodus of half a million people and ignited a civil war that lasted until 2005; and amid the current political crisis, marked by a harsh police crackdown, more than 105,000 have left to neighbouring states, including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many of those now leaving were born and grew up in refugee camps. “I’ve been running my whole life,” said Moise Ntiranyibagira, one of 60 passengers on a bus heading to a transit centre in the Tanzanian lake port of Kigoma. He has lived in Burundi for less than half of his 35 years. “There are a lot of us who want to stop running. We want to settle somewhere else – not in Burundi,” he told IRIN, explaining there was more to his problems than the current political unrest. “I’m a farmer. Yet I can’t farm. The land is small and the people are many.”  As well as people, the bus is packed with luggage a kind that shows people are planning to be away for a while: solar panels, mattresses, bicycles, stoves. Cholera deaths The current exodus has prompted a major public health crisis because of the cholera outbreak which has claimed 27 lives, according to UNICEF. Some 50,000 people are crowded into Kagunga, a Tanzanian village bordered by mountains on one side and Lake Tanganyika on the other. “Overcrowding and poor sanitation have resulted in a surge of confirmed or suspected cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea among the refugees…without a cholera treatment centre on site in Kagunga, mortality rates may become extremely high,” UNICEF warned in a statement.  Photo: Jessica Hatcher/IRIN The only easy way out of Kagunga is by boat. Around 1,500 a day are being ferried to the lakeside port of Kigoma Refugees line the beach scores deep, sheltering under shade cloth and palm trees. From Kagunga they are transferred by boat, at a rate of 1,500 a day to the port-town of Kigoma, where the Tanzanian government has made the Lake Tanganyika Stadium available as a transit centre. Inside the stadium, makeshift clinics are treating rows and rows of patients with acute watery diarrhoea. Kahindo Maina, a senior public health officer with the UN’s refugee agancy, says, “hundreds of cases are here – we think all the cases are cholera.”  The World Health Organization has warned of a “severe humanitarian crisis” in Tanzania as a result of the exodus.  On one of the boats ferrying refugees, Emablis Nyirogira from Lake Nyanza watches over his five year old son who is attached to an IV drip as his breathing becoming increasingly laboured. On the bunk next to his son is the shrouded body of a young girl who didn’t survive the journey.  “I have seven children – and fifteen square metres of land. How can I live like this?” he shrugs. “I will not return to Burundi.” Land––or lack of it––is a core problem for Burundi. The vast majority of the population are small-scale farmers, but yields from tiny parcels are barely enough to live off, let alone turn a profit from. High population growth and the return since the end of the war of half a million refugees have made the issue, which is directly related to food security all the more pressing. Returning refugee[...]



Ugandan rebel leader’s arrest a shot in the arm for justice

Wed, 29 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

The announced arrest in Tanzania of the leader of one of the longest-standing insurgencies in Africa’s Great Lakes region marks a step forward for justice and accountability but is unlikely to bring an end to the transnational network he leads. Jamil Mukulu, 51, who heads the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a partly Islamist grouping of Ugandan origin formed in 1989 and now based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was arrested in Tanzania earlier this month. Uganda is seeking his extradition in order to prosecute him in the International War Crimes Division of its High Court. A senior Ugandan army official who asked not to be named because of protocol considerations confirmed to IRIN that the detained man was Mukulu, who has been subject to an international arrest warrant since February 2011. “We hope the extradition modalities will be completed soon. He committed various atrocities in Uganda and DRC. He has to face justice,” Henry Okello, Uganda’s state minister for international affairs, told IRIN. Interpol’s Uganda director Asan Kasingye said DNA tests would be conducted to make certain the arrested man was Mukulu. Interpol issued a red notice for Mukulu in connection with the June 1998 Kichwamba Technical Institute massacre in the western Ugandan district of Kabarole, in which about 80 students were killed. He also faces charges of human rights abuses, kidnapping and recruitment of minors in both Uganda and DRC. In January 2014, the DRC army began operations aimed at neutralizing the ADF, whose local and regional business interests include motorcycle taxis, logging and gold mining. In late 2014, the ADF was blamed for a spate of killing sprees in Beni Territory of eastern DRC’s North Kivu province that claimed the lives of some 250 men women and children.  Mukulu’s arrest has been welcomed in Uganda, but with caveats. Here’s a sample of reactions. Stephen Oola, programme manager, conflict, transitional justice and governance at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project “The arrest of Jamil Mukulu is a welcome development to the people of Uganda and in particular the population in western part of the country and the greater Rwenzori sub-region who bore the brunt of the ADF insurrections.” The arrest “opens a new chapter for accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity given [a] recent decision of the Supreme Court …which implies that an insurgent like Jamil who has been arrested can no longer benefit from amnesty.” “Our hope is that his arrest translates into meaningful justice for the multitude of victims and survivors of this atrocious war.” Fidel Bafilemba, field research consultant, eastern DRC for the Enough Project "The arrest of Jamil Mukulu is definitely not the end of ordeal of people in Beni. Nor does the killing of his third deputy [Kalume Kasdha, by the DRC army in late April]. However, both actions mean less evil for unarmed civilians who nonetheless remain prey of rogue officers within the Congolese army. "Jamil Mukulu deserves a fair trial to shine a light on his criminal network in the region." Jason Stearns, Congo Research Group at Center on International Cooperation, New York University “If it is true that Mukulu has been arrested, this will be a huge blow to the ADF. Mukulu has been at the head of the organization for two decades and is its uncontested figurehead. “This [arrest], along with a strong military offensive by the Congolese army will reduce the group to a shadow of itself. However, I doubt that this is the end of the ADF. “Over its history, with Mukulu at its helm, the ADF has engaged in crimes against humanity, including burning dozens of students to death in Kabarole district in 1998. His group is also the main suspect for the massacre of over 300 people around Beni since Oct[...]



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 m[...]