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Don’t ignore the one group that can make climate action happen

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 07:25:27 +0000

Last year, the planet suffered the terrible impacts of one of the worst drought and hunger crises seen for decades. At the end of 2015, 30 percent of the global land area was in drought conditions, one of the highest figures since modern record keeping began.   As many in the humanitarian sector will already be aware, this deep and extended crisis was brought on by a disastrous combination of climate change and the 2015 to 2016 El Niño cycle.    In Southern Africa, which was one of the hardest hit regions, countries faced their worst drought in 35 years. National emergencies were declared in Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, eight out of nine of the country’s provinces, which collectively produce 90 percent of the country’s maize, were affected.   This time last year, 18 million people in Southern Africa were estimated to be food insecure.   While El Niño is a naturally occurring global weather cycle that takes place every three to seven years, many scientists conclude that it and climate change combined last year to create new and extreme impacts.   This was the year in which the Earth’s atmosphere experienced its highest ever level of greenhouse gases. It was also the hottest year on record, the third record year in a row. Last year’s El Niño was also one of the strongest events on record, as well as one of the longest lasting.   And as anyone working in the humanitarian sector will know, the effects of this drought have been devastating. The impacts of El Niño went beyond causing immediate hunger, jeopardising the longer-term prospects for farming and often wiping out livelihoods in the process. These long-term impacts of the crisis continue to affect many people today.   The most vulnerable   The drought felt across Southern Africa has had particularly damaging outcomes for women smallholder farmers, who make up 43 percent of developing countries’ agricultural labour force.   As with any kind of disaster, women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts. Being a woman will often mean additional work and social burdens, but lower status and fewer privileges when disaster strikes.   Negative “coping mechanisms” commonly employed by women and girls became much more widespread as a result of the El Niño drought. For example, women frequently put their children and husband’s nutrition first during disasters, and were often the last to eat, if there was any food left for them.   Women and girls reported needing to walk for several hours longer each day to find scarce water, thus missing out on education, income and rest opportunities.   In Malawi and Lesotho, reports from communities working with ActionAid, the anti-poverty NGO, indicated that some women were resorting to sex work to make ends meet, putting them at higher risk of violence and HIV & AIDS. Child marriages were also reported to be on the increase.   These trends threaten women and younger girls' well-being, and can further hold them back from taking part in activities that could improve their own status and human rights, their resilience – and that of their family and community – in the longer term.   Fortunately, Southern Africa is now in a recovery phase. This is a long and slow process, because the extended drought has taken a severe toll on communities’ incomes, livestock, land, savings, education, health, and more.   But with climate change worsening, we know that extreme weather events are becoming increasingly frequent and severe. Any recovery and rebuilding efforts must have an eye on the future, and the climate change impacts that will likely continue to affect the region.    Recovery efforts as well as ongoing programmes in development and agriculture in the region must therefore prioritise adaptation, disaster prevention, and preparedness. Amid the crisis last year, a number of key initiatives can teach us important lessons on effective strategies to scale up resilience.   Women’s leadership   The critical importance of working with women in development as[...]



Sans elles, pas d’action climatique possible

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:00:00 +0000

L’année dernière, la planète a connu l’un des pires épisodes de sécheresse de ces dernières décennies et une crise alimentaire particulièrement grave qui ont eu de terribles répercussions. Fin 2015, la sécheresse touchait 30 pour cent des terres, chiffre parmi les plus élevés jamais enregistré. Les professionnels du secteur de l’humanitaire ne l’ignorent pas : cette crise profonde et prolongée est due aux effets conjugués du changement climatique et du phénomène El Niño de 2015-2016. Les pays d’Afrique australe, l’une des régions les plus touchées, n’avaient pas connu une sécheresse aussi sévère depuis 35 ans. Le Lesotho, le Malawi, la Namibie, le Swaziland et le Zimbabwe se sont déclarés en situation d’urgence nationale. En Afrique du Sud, la sécheresse a frappé huit provinces sur neuf, qui fournissent 90 pour cent de la production de maïs du pays. L’année dernière à cette même époque, on estimait à 18 millions le nombre d’habitants d’Afrique australe en situation d’insécurité alimentaire. El Niño est un phénomène météorologique cyclique mondial d’origine naturelle qui se produit tous les trois à sept ans. Mais l’année dernière, d’après les scientifiques, le changement climatique en a modifié et aggravé les conséquences. L’atmosphère terrestre enregistrait alors un taux de gaz à effets de serre sans précédent. C’était en outre l’année la plus chaude jamais répertoriée, et ce, pour la troisième année consécutive. Parallèlement, El Niño avait rarement été aussi violent et aussi long. Les humanitaires l’ont bien vu : les conséquences de cette sécheresse ont été dramatiques. El Niño n’a pas seulement entraîné une crise alimentaire immédiate, mais il a aussi mis durablement en péril les perspectives agricoles de la région, anéantissant de nombreux moyens de subsistance. Ces conséquences à long terme continuent d’affecter un grand nombre de personnes encore aujourd’hui. Les plus vulnérables Cette sécheresse a eu des répercussions particulièrement dommageables pour les petites agricultrices, qui constituent 43 pour cent de la main-d’œuvre agricole dans les pays en développement. Les femmes sont spécialement vulnérables face aux catastrophes. Elles supportent souvent une charge de travail et des responsabilités sociales supérieures, mais sont moins bien considérées et souvent défavorisées lorsque des désastres surviennent. La sécheresse a généralisé les mécanismes d’adaptation négatifs employés par les femmes et les filles. Par exemple, lors de catastrophes, les femmes nourrissent d’abord leurs enfants et leur mari et se servent souvent en dernier, s’il reste de quoi manger. Des femmes et des filles ont signalé devoir marcher de plus longues heures chaque jour pour trouver de l’eau, devenue rare. Elles perdaient ainsi l’occasion de s’instruire, de gagner de l’argent et de se reposer. Au Malawi et au Lesotho, des rapports de l’organisation non gouvernementale (ONG) de lutte contre la pauvreté ActionAid, ont indiqué que certaines femmes se prostituaient pour survivre, ce qui augmentait pour elles le risque d’attraper le VIH/SIDA. Les mariages précoces seraient également en hausse. Ces tendances menacent le bien-être des femmes et des filles et risque de les empêcher de participer à des activités qui pourraient améliorer à long terme leur condition sociale, leurs droits et leur résilience ainsi que celle de leur entourage. Heureusement, l’Afrique australe est maintenant en phase de relèvement, un processus qui prendra cependant du temps, car la sécheresse a profondément affecté les sources de revenu des populations, leur bétail, leurs terres, leurs économies, leur éducation, leur santé, etc. Or, le changement climatique s’aggrave, et nous savons que les phénomènes météorologiques extrêmes deviennent de plus en plus fréquents et violents. Les initiatives de relèvement et de reconstruction ne doivent [...]



The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion

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

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



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

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

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



No food, #NotATarget, and what next in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:07:51 +0000

Which humanitarian topics are on IRIN’s radar and should be on yours? Check out our curation of upcoming events, topical reports, opinion, and quality journalism:   The “depressing equilibrium” of aid worker attacks   We mark World Humanitarian Day (#NotATarget) with a selection of articles about the risks aid workers face, and share some highlights from publications and data released to for the day – click here for more. Statistics on aid worker safety show a stable but depressing equilibrium: 288 aid workers were victims of incidents tracked by the Aid Worker Security Database in 2016, just one more than the year before. There has been one telling change however: most aid worker fatalities in 2016 were caused by states, not rebels or other armed groups (mainly due to airstrikes and killings by the state in South Sudan). The annual report from the database's keeper, Humanitarian Outcomes, covers more than just the numbers (a book from the MSF think-tank CRASH last year warned against a purely quantitative approach). It looks, for example, at the motivations and attitudes towards aid groups of the Taliban and al-Shabab. The fraught relationship between aid agencies and armed groups is explored: "We also want resources and they are among the few available resources," says an al-Shabab interviewee. As well as looking at violent incidents, Insecurity Insight, a Geneva-based NGO, monitors legal and administrative curbs on development, human rights, and humanitarian work. It has published a list of 77 restriction-related events in 2016, available as a download on the Humanitarian Data Exchange site.    Zimbabwe – No country for old men   At some stage, an ever-frailer President Robert Mugabe, 93, is going to die. That’s not a wish, just a pretty certain prediction. What happens next is setting nerves jangling. Mugabe is not universally loved, but he commands respect. The fear is that with his passing, not only will the edifice of the ruling party come crashing down, but the country may burn as well. That’s because he’s lining up his wife, Grace, to succeed him. She commands neither love nor respect. Her behaviour in South Africa at the weekend, where she allegedly assaulted a young woman, is seen as personifying her character. Standing in the way of Grace is Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a feared former spy chief. But his influence is on the wane. He was taken ill and rushed to South Africa last week, in what was reported to have been a poisoning attempt. Despite Grace enlisting the support of former defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, the army is badly split. The senior generals fear for their jobs. And that is the direction from where the real trouble is likely to spring from. In the meantime, ordinary Zimbabweans are voting with their feet. According to a new Afrobarometer survey, almost half of the population has considered emigrating. Look out for an upcoming IRIN report on the succession issue.   Shame falls both ways in Yemen   The UN’s annual “list of shame” of governments and armed groups that commit grave violations against children in armed conflicts is back, and Saudi Arabia is once again in the spotlight. A leaked draft of the report says the Saudi-led coalition is on the hook for an “unacceptably high” 51 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, plus three quarters of attacks on schools and hospitals. Saudi Arabia was removed from the 2016 list days after it was published, after the kingdom reportedly threatened to withdraw financial support from the UN and its aid agencies. It remains to be seen if the Saudis will make it to this year’s final draft – it is subject to approval by UN Secretary-General Antiono Gutteres – but it’s worth nothing that Houthi rebels and affiliated forces are also named as responsible for a third of child casualties verified by the UN in the country. And just this week, Houthi-Saleh forces detained activist[...]



A war without end: Neighbours carry the burden of South Sudan’s fleeing millions

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 15:15:44 +0000

More than a million South Sudanese refugees have now crossed the border into Uganda in what is the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. Analysts say the chances of forging peace are becoming slimmer and so the war and the flow of desperate people is set to continue, further straining an already struggling aid operation. An average of 1,800 South Sudanese have been arriving every day in northern Uganda for the past 12 months, fleeing “barbaric violence”, the refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement today. But there are an additional “million or even more” South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. The aid operation does not have the funding in place to cope with this scale of need, “significantly impacting the ability to deliver life-saving aid and key basic services” – from food to health care. Only 21 percent of the $674 million required to care for the refugees in Uganda has been received, and UNHCR has called for greater commitment from donors. UNHCR/Peter Caton The millionth South Sudanese refugee to arrive in Uganda South Sudan has effectively been at war since December 2013, when political tensions within the newly independent government triggered fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, who heads the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) Regional governments tried to paper over the cracks and imposed a power-sharing settlement, known as the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, or ARCSS. But it lasted only a few months before government forces attacked Machar (who had finally returned to Juba) in July 2016. The regional eight-country Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, is looking to revive ARCSS but is finding little enthusiasm, including among Western powers that had helped bankroll the process. In a communique in June, IGAD argued that “full implementation of ARCSS remains the only viable way forward to bring about peace and stability and create the basis for a democratic political system in South Sudan.” But the first stumbling block is agreement on whether Machar, in exile in South Africa, should be part of the process. The government is championing Taban Deng Gai, who was sworn in as vice president last year, as the rightful leader of SPLA-IO. “We are for peace,” said Paul Gabriel Lam, deputy spokesman for Machar’s SPLA-IO faction. “But as long as Riek Machar is in South Africa, we will continue having problems in South Sudan,” he told IRIN. “Bad joke” For most analysts, the problems surrounding a revamped ARCSS go deeper than whether Machar, a veteran warlord, has a seat at the table.  “This ‘revitalisation process’ is a bad joke,” Mike Brand, a genocide prevention expert at Jewish World Watch, told IRIN. “I don't think there is any hope the ARCSS can be revitalised as it is structurally inadequate to address the current drivers of conflict.” South Sudan is an unfinished state that needs both reconciliation and true nation-building. There are no stable institutions. Basic social services are provided by foreign aid workers, and since independence in 2011, the security sector has never been professionalised, nor properly integrated. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="300" id="datawrapper-chart-gORCA" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/gORCA/4/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%">Meanwhile aid groups, want to double down, not reverse, the reforms of recent years. “We support amendments that allow the most efficient and flexible methods of providing food assistanc[...]



Mind the gap: Why Zimbabwean researchers need to work with farmers

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 07:26:53 +0000

Maize seed in drought-prone regions of Zimbabwe should by now come with a government health warning: “Planting can seriously damage your well-being”. That’s because although maize delivers like a champion under the right conditions, it’s highly vulnerable to water stress. If the rains come too late, or even too early, the crop is a write-off. Tariro Moyo knows this from bitter experience. A communal farmer in Gwanda, in southern Zimbabwe, she has continued to plant maize despite her yields decreasing with each bad season. “Last year, I watched all my maize crop wilting and dying due to drought,” she told IRIN. “I [had] used all my money to buy maize seed and fertiliser in anticipation of a good harvest.” Gwanda is in Matabeleland, a region hit by successive poor harvests linked to one of the strongest El Niño events on record. Deep rural poverty and a lack of access to financing means farmers here are forced to rely on rain-fed production and cannot afford irrigation systems. Climate change will mean still dryer conditions for Zimbabwe. Given that scenario, the challenge for the government and research bodies is how to develop and promote alternative crops that offer farmers some resilience. Resistance to change Drought-tolerant small grains such as finger millet, pearl, and sorghum were the traditional foods in Zimbabwe long before maize became the dominant crop across southern Africa more than a century ago. But reviving them means overcoming significant challenges. The reason maize won out is because it is much higher yielding, requires less labour, and its outer husk provides good protection from birds and other pests. A powerful agro-industry markets maize meal as the cornerstone of Zimbabwe’s food culture and family life. Millet and sorghum are available on supermarket shelves, but they represent much more of a niche market. “Very few people buy small grains as compared to maize,” said Moyo, explaining the major production downside: “The amount of time spent and labour needed to prepare these small grains is too much for me. Besides my husband, I have no one to help with farming work as all my children are away.” Kizito Mazvimavi, the executive director for the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, countered: “There is need for labour in any farming activity.” But even though his organisation promotes small grains, he acknowledged that the technology for processing them “is limited and not readily available in many rural areas” – an additional problem that makes uptake harder still. Moyo said she was not opposed to small grains if they made economic sense, especially given the lottery that maize production has become. “If they improve my livelihood and, with the necessary tools and equipment, can be the best for me, I cannot continue to put money into waste,” she concluded. Research to the rescue? This is the gap that researchers and the government need to fill, argues Shepherd Siziba, chair of the Agricultural Economics and Extension Department at the University of Zimbabwe. Not enough is being done to ensure the relevant research is being understood and acted upon by farmers in the field like Moyo, Siziba told IRIN. “Theses are being done at universities and literature on climate change generated, but what is missing is the intensive interaction between policy, research, and farmers,” he added. Noah Kutukwa of Oxfam Zimbabwe believes the government needs to play a more active role. “Farmers continue to grow maize where it’s not working,” he said. “Though the adoption of small grains has improved, uptake has been slow.” Even though small grains are seen as a critical component of adaptation to climate change, there is no effective support to champion production. One simple example: The government continues to distribute maize seed as a drought recovery measure in arid regi[...]