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IRIN - Environment and Disasters


School for Syrians, France’s Indian Ocean border and British NGOs say sorry: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 19:46:50 +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:   This just in   Whatever the Security Council decides, this is everything you need to know about Syria’s Eastern Ghouta: a new briefing from contributor Aron Lund.   Syria and Turkey   The vast majority of Turkey’s 3.7 million refugees do not live in camps, and as a report from the International Crisis Group points out, hostility towards Syrians in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir is growing. At least 35 people died in violence between refugees and locals last year. One tried and tested (elsewhere, at least) avenue towards coexistence is education. Turkey plans to phase out refugee-only schools where students study in Arabic by the end of 2018 and shift them  to the Turkish curriculum in the Turkish language. How and if this will work is not yet clear – watch this space for an update soon.   Meanwhile, Turkish troops and their Syrian allies are working together in a very different sort of way, fighting US-backed Kurdish troops in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin. So far this has meant loss of life and mass displacement, but this week a key advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added a new dimension, saying he expects tens of thousands of Syrians to return to Afrin after the military operation is complete. Given current violence (not to mention the sentiments of the Kurdish residents of Afrin) this does seem a stretch, but might it provide a window into Turkish strategic thinking?   America’s endless war   The death of four US special forces soldiers in Niger last year continues to resonate in the US media. In a reconstruction of the soldiers’ final hours, The New York Times this week also told a broader story of the sprawl of US military intervention around the globe. Initially based on a narrow mandate after 9/11, US special forces are now engaged in an almost unlimited war. Previously unremarkable Niger is now the Department of Defence’s second largest deployment in Africa outside Djibouti. And that footprint will be larger still once a giant drone base in Agadez is completed. Joe Penny of the Intercept does a comprehensive dive into the issues, from the constitutional legality of the base, to the political economy of Agadez and, vividly, local opposition to the US presence. Also noting the potential for destabilisation, War on the Rocks warns that “terrorism is not a useful lens for understanding violence in the Sahel, nor is counterterrorism a proper policy response”. Indeed. And a new Rand report  sifts through historical data from around the world and concludes that US military assistance is “associated with increased state repression and incidence of civil war” rather than stability. If you need to know where to avoid, see IRIN’s map on foreign military bases in Africa.   Disaster insurance: dull but fast   Days after powerful Cyclone Gita barged across Tonga’s main island last week, a new disaster insurance scheme paid out more than $3.5 million to help the Pacific Island country’s recovery. The World Bank says it’s the first payment made by the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Company, which was set up in 2016 to support select countries in the disaster-prone Pacific Islands. Proponents say disaster insurance is an innovative solution for quickly dispatching funding where it’s needed, even if the concept itself may sound rather dull — as an IRIN op-ed pointed out during last year’s destructive Caribbean hurricane season.   Funding for disaster preparedness and response is a big issue in many Pacific Island countries, where resources are scarce and aid is often slowly filtered through the labyrinthine international system. But while disaster insurance may act fast, it’s still just one part of the overall funding picture. After Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu in 2015, the pilot predecessor of the Pacific insurance scheme released $1.9 million directly to the country within two weeks. [...]

High heels, skis, woollen blankets: what not to send to a tropical island when disaster strikes

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 04:04:10 +0000

A warehouse in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, holds 10 huge shipping containers filled to the brim with discarded goods and rotting food. This is what’s left of the massive piles of donations sent to the South Pacific nation in the aftermath of the most powerful storm to strike the remote island group, nearly three years ago. In total, Vanuatu received donations that filled 77 large containers after Cyclone Pam ripped through the country in March 2015. Heartfelt offerings perhaps, but unfortunately much of it was unusable. Anthony Baddley Tarry, who manages border operations for Vanuatu’s government, remembers opening containers to find stacks of rice, flour, milk, canned goods. Half the food had already expired. “They’re trying to get rid of their stuff so they just pack them in containers and send them away to Vanuatu,” Tarry said. “Most of this has been disposed of now. But it’s a waste of all this assistance coming in.” It’s also time-consuming and costly: these unsolicited donations can clog distribution channels and eat up valuable time when local responders are rushing to help people uprooted by a disaster. Aid groups say donating cash is faster and more flexible, letting local authorities and disaster responders decide what’s actually needed on the ground while pumping money into the economy at a critical time. It’s a message the aid sector in the Pacific Islands is trying to reinforce this year during the region’s ongoing cyclone season. The season’s first big storm tore through parts of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji this week. Cyclone Gita made a direct strike on Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, home to more than 70 percent of the country’s population. Authorities there are still tallying the damage, meaning that disaster responders need time to figure out what is needed – and what is not. Vanuatu NDMO After Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu in March 2015, the country received more than 77 large shipping containers filled with donations. Good intentions The problem of unsolicited donations often flies under the radar, but it’s a crucial issue for disaster responders throughout the globe. Florent Chané, the logistics coordinator for the World Food Programme based in Suva, Fiji, understands the urge to help when disasters strike. “It’s just human nature,” Chané told IRIN. “You see people who are in need, so you do everything you can to help.” Chané has seen all manner of unusable donations sent in the wake of disasters. Sometimes, they border on the ridiculous: crates of high-heeled shoes, ski equipment, or heavy woollen blankets sent to subtropical countries. But even seemingly usable items can cause problems.  Unsolicited donations arrive unannounced, often with zero paperwork, meaning no one is expecting the shipment and no one is there to claim responsibility. Local authorities have to manually sort, classify, and repackage usable aid items, while disposing of the rest. After Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in 2016, workers there spent thousands of hours sifting through more than 130 shipping containers, according to a 2017 Australian Red Cross report. “When you don’t have enough warehouses for what is needed, and you fill the warehouses to receive all the things that are not needed, not requested, or expired or damaged, you just make the response more complicated,” Chané said. Instead, aid groups are urging the public to donate cash to their chosen charities. Giving money, they say, lets disaster responders assess the damage and spend it quickly where it’s actually needed. Sending cash is also far more efficient. Chané says the price of shipping three litres of water to Fiji from Australia, for example, would equal the cost of sourcing 9,100 litres of water on the ground – enough to meet the daily needs of 600 people. Cash is best, but trust is key This cyclone season, humanitarian groups across the Pacific Islands have launched a region-wide campaign to get the mes[...]

Mapped: How monsoon rains could submerge Rohingya refugee camps

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 13:26:47 +0000

Tens of thousands of vulnerable people living in rickety homes in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps will be threatened by landslides and floods as the monsoon season nears, according to officials in the densely packed settlements. Data released by aid groups shows that floods could submerge one third of the land in the cramped Kutupalong-Balukhali mega-camp, which is now home to more than half a million Rohingya refugees. Using drone images, historical rainfall data and interviews with local residents, researchers have estimated the risks of floods and sudden “landslide failure” throughout the complex warren of interconnected streams and sloping hills. The risk analysis, released in late January, estimates that more than 86,000 people live in high-danger flood areas, while more than 23,000 live along steep, unstable hillsides that could crumble with continuous heavy rainfall. Aid groups and Bangladeshi authorities say stabilising the most at-risk homes in the camps is a top priority ahead of the monsoon season, which typically begins in late May. The current dry season offers only a small window of opportunity before the rains set in – and some fear time is running out. frameborder="0" height="600" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%"> More than 688,000 Rohingya surged into Bangladesh after a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in August 2017. Overwhelmed by the influx, Bangladeshi authorities ushered most of the new arrivals to a giant mega-camp sprawled between existing refugee settlements, then home to roughly 100,000 people. At the time, local NGOs and aid groups warned of the risks of amassing large numbers of people on unstable land. But, over the ensuing weeks, the camp exploded in size as Rohingya settled in, carving homes into the surrounding hillsides or digging in to low-lying land near rivers and streams. Many Rohingya arriving in the camps pieced together their makeshift homes from tarpaulin sheets and scraps of bamboo. In December, IRIN reported on early plans to prepare for the looming cyclone and rainy seasons. Aid workers warned that much of the infrastructure built over the past weeks could be swept away by a powerful storm or the monsoon rains. ”It's going to be a disaster within a disaster; we're going to have to restart," said Graham Eastmond, who coordinates aid groups working on organising shelter in the camps. "The monsoons themselves are going to create a whole different landscape to what exists now." See: A disaster within a disaster: cyclone fears in fragile Rohingya camps The new risk analysis estimates that floods and landslides could damage one quarter of washrooms and latrines in the main mega-camp and nearly half of the current sources of tube-well water. Other essential services hastily put in place during the influx are also at risk: makeshift classrooms for children, nutrition centres, and almost one third of health clinics – a particular concern given the already high risk of disease outbreaks in the cramped settlements. Aid groups also warn that heavy floods and landslides could wash away roads and pathways, cutting off large parts of the camp not submerged by the rainfall. The priority now, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is to upgrade as many of the Rohingya homes as possible with stronger bamboo and better building techniques. Authorities are also looking into the logistics of moving the most at-risk homes. But this involves major work to level off steep hillsides and find useable new land – extremely difficult when space is at such a high premium. Already, aid groups working in education say the threat of monsoon season could see the permanent closure of dozens of learning centres in flood-prone areas, shrinking classroom space for 10,000 children. With the monsoon season fast approaching, aid officials are stepping up warnings that the window of opportunity to prepare is rapidly closing. [...]

Afghan attack, Congo killings, and crisis debate at Davos: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 18:46:02 +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:   Congo’s deepening crisis   UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for "credible investigations" after at least six people were killed in Kinshasa on Sunday during a crackdown on demonstrations against President Joseph Kabila. Whether he will get it is a different matter. Guterres said the government should "hold those responsible accountable", just as the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO reported a surge in extrajudicial executions by “state agents”, notably in the southern region of Kasai. According to MONUSCO’s annual human rights report, there were 1,176 recorded summary killings, "including at least 89 women and 213 children” in 2017 – mostly committed by the armed forces – a 25 percent increase on 2016. Sunday’s protests followed the killing of nine people by the police during similar demonstrations organised by the Catholic Church on 31 December. Kabila is facing mounting unrest over his postponement of elections last year. They are now scheduled to take place at the end of 2018 – although few Congolese believe that date will hold either. Meanwhile, militia groups in the south and east are unifying to force Kabila from power, with increasing numbers of refugees fleeing to Zambia, Uganda, and Angola to escape the widening conflict. Look out for IRIN’s latest “who’s who” on the violence, and visit our in-depth page here.   Afghan attack fallout   Ripples from Wednesday’s attack on Save the Children’s office in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad are being felt far and wide. At least six civilians were killed, including four Save the Children staff, when gunmen, apparently acting in the name of so-called Islamic State, stormed the office after one of the attackers blew himself up in front of the building. The charity, which runs education projects for some 700,000 children across almost half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, immediately suspended those operations, but the wider fallout could be far greater. It has become impossible to ignore the growing trend of civilian targeting in Afghanistan, in particular of aid organisations and places of worship. More than 60 local and international NGOs put out a joint statement, railing against this “normalisation” of attacks on civilians and calling for greater protections for aid workers operating in dangerous frontline environments. “Over the last year, there have been 156 attacks on aid workers committed by actors involved in the current conflict,” the statement said. “This includes 17 aid workers who have been killed as they attempted to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance including food, safe drinking water and healthcare to those most in need.” It wasn’t immediately clear if this latest attack would be the tipping point for some aid organisations to further scale back operations in Afghanistan, as the International Committee of the Red Cross has already done, but the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said his organisation was reassessing and that aid groups in Afghanistan were “hanging on by our fingernails”. We reported in October on how this spreading insecurity is cutting off medical care for many vulnerable Afghans. We’ll now have to look in greater depth at aid access more generally.   What’s really behind Saudi aid to Yemen?   Given the “dire, unrelenting” humanitarian crisis in Yemen – to use the recent words of Guterres, you would think the announcement of any new aid is welcome. So when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition this week announced the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO), a new plan it said commits over $3.5 billion to “relieve suffering in Yemen”, including $1.5 billion in “new humanitarian aid funding for distribution across UN agencies and international o[...]

Crises on the horizon in 2018: the view from Davos

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 11:47:49 +0000

Political violence, increased weather threats, and the rise of strongmen will be key drivers of crises in 2018, experts told IRIN at the World Economic Forum this week.   The Global Humanitarian Outlook, convened by IRIN News and the Overseas Development Institute in Davos, Switzerland, brought together UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, professor and former Mauritanian foreign minister Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, and ODI’s Managing Director Sara Pantuliano. Watch the full discussion here. Here are key highlights of their conversation with IRIN Director Heba Aly:   End of so-called Islamic State? Not so fast   The Iraqi and Syrian governments have both proclaimed victory over the militant group IS in recent months as it has lost swathes of territory in the region and seen its leadership decimated. But in the wake of a deadly, IS-claimed attack this week on aid agency Save the Children’s compound in Afghanistan, Mohamedou, author of ‘A Theory of ISIS’, warned of prematurely claiming victory.    “It’s a misleading narrative… This is the evil genius of [former US president] George W. Bush – to have couched the ‘war on terror’ in those terms – that there’s a sense, fundamentally, of closure that would come with bringing down physically, quantitatively what is a societal, what is a social, what is a political problem, what is a historical issue…” He recalled similar perceptions a decade ago when the Islamic State of Iraq, the successor to al-Qaeda, appeared “defeated” after a US military surge, “and then we came back to see that another much more powerful entity came behind, which was [IS].” Professor Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou on ISIS width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> While the IS of the last few years is “for all practical purposes gone”, the group is mutating, repositioning, and regrouping into “an entity that has become much more transnational, much more global,” Mohamedou added, pointing to specific risks in Libya and the Sinai region of Egypt.   Read more: Radio Wars: Islamic State takes over the Afghan airwaves Libya’s downward spiral to shortages, militia power, and migrant abuse Secrecy in Sinai – an unknown human toll     What about Syria? Any progress?   Lowcock, the UN’s relief chief, described a very mixed picture after a recent trip to Syria, which, in March, will enter its eighth year of war.   “There are certainly parts of the country where things are calmer than they were two or three years ago… Equally, the situation has gotten a lot more complex and there’s obviously been a very unsettling spike in the violence over the last three months or so.”   In particular, he pointed to the sieges of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb outside the capital, Damascus, as well as in the towns of Fua and Kefraya; the “extraordinary” amount of exploded ordnance in Raqqa; the 50,000 people stuck on the “berm” between the Jordanian and Syrian borders; the Turkish  advance into Afrin; and the Syria government and Russian-backed operations in Idlib.   Lowcock was most concerned by the limited aid access to alleviate the “very, very bad” situations in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. “For example, we haven’t been able to get a single convoy into Eastern Ghouta since November,” he said. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock on Syria width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> And he was pessimistic about ongoing peace negotiations, saying: “it’s n[...]

EVENT: Humanitarian crises in the spotlight at Davos

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 23:12:02 +0000

While 2017 was tough, the humanitarian horizon suggests 2018 will be even worse. This week, IRIN is at the World Economic Forum in Davos where we will be discussing crises to look out for in 2018, sharing our unique perspective from the front lines to help policy makers take decisions that save lives. Tuesday 23 January, 15:00 GMT+1: Watch the live press conference with IRIN Director Heba Aly, alongside Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Sara Pantuliano, Managing Director of the Overseas Development Institute, and moderated by Georg Schmitt, Head of Corporate Affairs at the World Economic Forum. Wednesday 24 January, 21:00 - 23:00 GMT+1: Watch the Global Humanitarian Outlook, an IRIN-ODI event where we will be in conversation about the crises on the horizon in 2018 with UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth, Managing Director of the Overseas Development Institute Sara Pantuliano, and Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, author of 'A Theory of ISIS'. Global Humanitarian Outlook: Fireside Chat at the Tradeshift Sanctuary, Davos 24 January 2018 21:00 - 23:00 GMT+1 | Public event | Streamed live online Film Library twitter facebook whatsapp email Film Library Photo Library Back to film list width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Global Humanitarian Outlook at the World Economic Forum Share this film twitter facebook whatsapp email Chair: Heba Aly @HebaJournalist - Director, IRIN News Speakers: Mark Lowcock @UNReliefChief - Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, UN Kenneth Roth @KenRoth - Executive Director, Human Rights Watch Sara Pantuliano @SaraPantuliano - Managing Director, Overseas Development Institute  Professor Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou @IHEID - The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Biographies Heba Aly is the Director of IRIN, one of the world's leading sources of original, field-based journalism about humanitarian crises. A Canadian-Egyptian multimedia journalist, Heba spent one decade reporting from conflict zones in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia before becoming part of the team that successfully led IRIN's transition from the United Nations to a non-profit media organization. Her work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg News and IRIN, among others, took her to places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad and Libya; and she received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for her work in northern Sudan. Mark Lowcock is the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Emergency Relief Coordinator, and former Permanent Secretary to the UK Department for International Development. Mr Lowcock began his career at DFID (formerly the Overseas Development Administration) in 1985, and he served in a diverse range of roles - including overseas postings in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Kenya - in addition to holding leadership positions at headquarters. Mr Lowcock was appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Emergency Relief C[...]

Bread protests, coconut coding, and a volcanic tsunami: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 18:05:41 +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:   Sudan’s widening bread price protests   Despite a government crackdown, Sudan’s cost-of-living protests are unlikely to end soon. Hundreds of people came out on the streets of Khartoum and Omdurman on Tuesday and Wednesday in growing unrest after bread prices more than doubled earlier this month following a jump in the cost of flour. Riot police fired teargas and made a number of arrests, including the detention of opposition politicians. One eyewitness in Khartoum told IRIN he believes “the government is in trouble” as there is real anger on the streets towards an administration viewed as abusive and corrupt. “People are sick of the violence of the authorities; [the protesters] have been non-violent, but I see them taking a different step and starting to defend themselves,” he said. The government has done away with subsidies on bread and fuel and devalued the currency to close a yawning budget gap. But Sudan’s economy could be in worse shape than the authorities are admitting, with a real inflation rate potentially as high as 50 percent. In 2013 the security forces killed dozens of people in similar cost-of-living protests. Look out for IRIN’s exclusive report next week on the corruption and abuse at the heart of the EU migration policy as implemented by Khartoum.   Coconuts, bananas, and AI   We've heard a lot about Artificial Intelligence recently. Or is it Machine Learning? Anyway, humans are evidently getting better at training computers. The World Bank has teamed up with drone and photography NGOs WeRobotics and OpenAerialMap to see if computers can automatically identify tree species (taking jobs, again?). Geeks can compete to make the best code to automatically distinguish trees from overhead photographs. Imagery can then be compared before and after disasters to see how much local agriculture might be affected. The test is tuned for Pacific islands set with aerial photos of Tonga. To win, the AI code should know the difference between coconut, banana, papaya, and mango trees 80 percent of the time, and not mix them up with electricity poles or random objects. Human collaborators have classified 13,000 objects by eye, and the computers have to figure out how to do it themselves. May the best bot win. (In the photo below, red dots indicate coconut trees while yellow means banana trees) Yemen in economic freefall   We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: while the violence of Yemen’s war has been deadly, the economic collapse it has caused has also had disastrous consequences for civilians. In the past week or so, Yemen’s currency, the rial, sunk to new lows, further damaging the purchasing power of Yemenis already struggling to buy food. Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, allied with internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, appealed for help from his allies in Saudi Arabia, saying “saving the riyal means saving Yemenis from inevitable hunger”. The Saudis stepped in fairly quickly, saying they would deposit $2 billion in Yemen’s central bank. Hadi’s government officially moved the central bank to Aden in 2016, but a branch still operates in Houthi rebel-controlled Sana’a. So while this move will hopefully give the currency the boost it needs (to some extent it already has), some worry that the infusion will merely allow Hadi’s allies to pay civil servants who have long gone without their salaries, while workers in Houthi-controlled territories are ignored. Others have warned that the injection of funds is a short-term fix and say the central bank needs to follow up with responsible fiscal practice. Money for food, fuel for conflict, or a strategic deposit? This one might just be all three.   Tsunami [...]

Inside Kenya's Turkana region: cattle, climate change, and oil

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 11:26:46 +0000

The county of Turkana, in northwest Kenya, is among the poorest, most marginalised, and most malnourished in the country. Its arid climate and soil conditions render most of its terrain unsuitable for growing crops, so almost all of the county’s 1.3 million inhabitants raise livestock. And although pastoralism accounts for an estimated 12 percent of Kenya’s GDP, successive governments have long neglected the sector as backward, and denied it adequate investment in key areas such as animal health, market access, and water management. As a result, the people of Turkana and, to an even greater extent, their livestock, are particularly vulnerable when drought strikes – as it did during much of 2017.   Your browser does not support the video tag. “Turkana is the epicentre of the drought,” a senior official in the Turkana County government told IRIN, referring to the natural disaster that gripped much of East Africa last year. While conditions have improved significantly since the reporting for this collection of stories was conducted, about half a million goats, sheep, cows, and camels perished in 2017, leaving many households destitute. If recent years are anything to go by, droughts are likely to continue being frequent. They used to happen about once a decade, but, thanks to the effects of climate change, are now happening more regularly and with greater impact. What follows is a selection of IRIN’s recent multimedia coverage of Turkana County, based on several field reporting trips. As well as giving voice to livestock herders and fishermen, who provide a ground-level account of their challenges and hopes, the series also provides detailed analysis of the impact of climate change and of recent economic developments, notably in the petroleum sector.   Film Library twitter facebook whatsapp email Film Library Photo Library Back to film list width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Drought in Turkana Share this film twitter facebook whatsapp email   Click on the titles below to read each story.     Oil-rich yet on edge in Turkana Vast oil deposits in Kenya’s poorest county could prove a blessing or a curse. Pastoralism and its future There’s much more to herding livestock than meets the eye. In their own words: How drought is bringing despair to Kenyan herders IRIN spoke to several Turkana residents about the impact the drought was having on their lives. Drought pushes Kenya’s pastoralists to the brink People have raised livestock in Kenya’s drylands for centuries. Will climate change soon change that? A way of life under threat in Kenya as Lake Turkana shrinks Some 300,000 people depend on Lake Turkana. Drought and a dam in neighbouring Ethiopia have put their livelihoods at risk. Turkana fishermen want better roads, storage facilities Kalokol fish-landing bay in Kenya's northwestern Turkana region is a hive of activity when the fish come in: Women fishmongers jostle for bargains as they seek to buy smaller fish to sell at the local market, while waiting middlemen rush to load the best fish into their vehicles. Tur[...]

The 10 most popular IRIN stories of 2017

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 08:15:39 +0000

While Brexit and a certain Donald J. Trump featured high on our round-up of most-read articles last year, the list for 2017 is a little more eclectic. Alongside early warning on South Sudan, deep analysis on Syria, and investigative pieces from Iraq and Myanmar, there is space too for UN funding, for cash transfers, for hurricanes, and for famine. See also: IRIN's top 2017 photos Here’s the rundown: Trending articles over the year The 10 most popular IRIN stories of 2017 tenmostpopnowordsshorter.jpg Andrew Gully Feature Solutions and Innovations Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Food IRIN Africa Americas Asia Europe Global Middle East and North Africa A country called Kurdistan? This special report from Erbil by regular contributor Tom Westcott was part of an extensive package exploring the challenges facing Kurdish people throughout the Middle East as Iraqi Kurds voted on independence. Early, in-depth reporting on a complex story pays dividends, and IRIN was out in front of the pack on this important event. Backed up by stunning photos, brought alive in wonderful cinemagraphs by Tim Webster, Westcott expertly unpicks the tangled mess of ardent nationalism, local politicking, and regional interfering, giving voice as well to ordinary Kurds, some of whom didn’t even realise a referendum was about to happen. A country called Kurdistan? This special report from Erbil by regular contributor Tom Westcott was part of an extensive package exploring the challenges facing Kurdish people throughout the Middle East as Iraqi Kurds voted on independence. Early, in-depth reporting on a complex story pays dividends, and IRIN was out in front of the pack on this important event. Backed up by stunning photos, brought alive in wonderful cinemagraphs by Tim Webster, Westcott expertly unpicks the tangled mess of ardent nationalism, local politicking, and regional interfering, giving voice as well to ordinary Kurds, some of whom didn’t even realise a referendum was about to happen.   Unconventional cash project challenges aid status quo in Lebanon Since the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, IRIN has been keeping an especially close eye on the major promises made on aid reform. Chief among those is the use of cash-based assistance, which the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, pledged to double by 2020. After reporting on a pioneering project in Lebanon, Senior Editor Ben Parker uncovered some serious squabbling over a new cash-based system being proposed there by the EU and Britain. Some UN agencies and NGOs saw it as a major threat. With insider sources on the aid policy beat, Parker deftly weighs the pros and the cons of a potentially game-changing approach, but one that was (and still is) meeting predictable resistance from the aid establishment. US funding for the UN – in charts If one fear resonated along the corridors of UN agencies (and certain US government departments for that matter) in 2017, it was that Trump might take a mighty US axe to their budgets. But even if he could get Congress to approve his plans, what power did the populist US president actually have – how vulnerable was each individual organisation? Senior Editor Ben Parker doesn’t like leaving such a conundrum unanswered. He conducted a line-by-line review of US spending on intern[...]

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 it[...]