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Archive for August 31st, 2009

Who’s Minding The Store? US politics – is Obama on the driving seat really?

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Nancy Morgan
August 28, 2009

Its impossible to turn on the television these days without being subjected to President Obama pitching one thing or another. In addition to the obsessive 24/7 media coverage of his dog, his wife and his latest sound bite, we also have our President appearing several times a day to lecture the American people on the virtues of being a good father and the virtues of volunteering. (Through a government agency, that is.)
Inquiring minds want to know: While Obama spends the majority of his time doing press conferences, town hall meetings and government service announcements, in between vacations and highly publicized jaunts to foreign countries, who’s actually running the store?
Who is writing the speeches that Obama is so skilled in delivering? Who is formulating the policy Obama is so masterfully promoting? Who is handling the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Who is handling the economy? And when, exactly, does our President find the time to run the affairs of state when it appears the majority of his time is spent in front of cameras?
Glenn Beck of Fox News is the only journalist asking these questions. And the answers he is finding are alarming. “All this week”, Beck is investigating the unelected, unaccountable ‘czars’- the ultra-radical individuals Obama has placed in every segment of the federal government.
These czars have carte blanche to implement policy. They have the enforcement power of the federal government but none of the oversight or accountability. And, unreported by the old media, these ‘czars’ are pushing America down a path towards one world government and outright socialism. (Or fascism, since fascism includes a charismatic leader.)

Van Jones – Green Jobs Czar:
Van Jones has admitted a “commitment to Marxist policies”. He is a self-proclaimed revolutionary communist and, in his words, he is dedicated to “mobilizing young people into militant action.” Van Jones is a board member of the Apollo Alliance which helped write the stimulus bill. Now he has the power to determine where $500 million of our tax dollars he ‘smuggled’ into the stimulus bill will go.

John Holdren – Science Czar:
Holdren looks on forced abortions and sterilization as “legitimate population control measures”. He points out that there is no mention in the Constitution of the right to have any number of children. As in – no right to reproduce, ostensibly without the approval of the federal government.

Cass Sunstein – Regulatory Czar:
This loon actually proposed a ban on hunting and eating meat. Sunstein is in favor of dogs being allowed attorneys. Oh, and he is an ardent believer in taxes, saying, “without taxes there would be no liberty”. He also believes that there is “no liberty without dependency.”  Huh?

Ezekiel Emanuel – Health Care Advisor:
Ezekial quantifies life depending on age. In other words, a baby isn’t a baby until it has received two years of care and feeding. Emanuel thinks we need to ration basic, guaranteed care to only those who can fully participate in society. According to him, a teenager has the same value as 17 elderly people. This guy actually believes the ‘the greater good’ should trump the Hippocratic Oath.

Carol Browner – Global Warming Czar:
Carol has her work cut out for her. Her job is to achieve her stated goal of global governance, using the non-crisis of ‘global warming’. And she has the vast power and influence of the EPA to do it.

Mark Lloyd – FCC Diversity Czar:
In Mr. Lloyd’s own words: “It should be clear my focus is not on freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a distraction.” Under the rubric of diversity, this czar proposes t o do away with private ownership of media. Oh, and he is also a big fan of left-wing thug dictator, Hugo Chavez.
These are just a few of the guys whispering into Obama’s ears. These radicals are the ones in charge of formulating policy, regulations and dictates. And they all have several things in common. They share our President’s view of America as an evil oppressor, they are all anti-capitalist and they are all determined to seize power through unconstitutional means. By fiat, instead of by votes. 

The policies they are proposing to Obama are all uniformly designed to shift power away from the individual and to the federal government. Despite the fact that our founding fathers voted down (several times) a strong and all powerful federal government. This is the ‘change’ Obama is dedicated to implementing. Scared yet? 

Nancy Morgan is a columnist and news editor for RighsBias.
She lives in South Carolina

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PAKISTAN: HIV-positive cricket team bowls them over

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Paddynapper/Flickr
“Cricket is what unifies all Pakistanis”

HYDERABAD, – Cricket is more than just a game in Pakistan; it’s an obsession. So when a team of HIV-positive players stepped onto the wicket recently for their first match, the stakes were even higher.

“For me, cricket has always been a passion and today, after winning this match, I feel good. It is my bid [to be] accepted in society,” said Abdul Latif, the team captain.

HIV-positive people still find it hard to live openly in Pakistan, as widespread misconceptions about AIDS and high levels of stigma and discrimination persist.

Latif was working as a professional cook in Dubai when he found out about his HIV status in 2004 during a routine medical check-up and was deported. After returning to Pakistan he struggled to find a job because of his status, but is now a chef at a hospital for HIV-positive people.

The First Positive Cricket Club team will be competing with other cricket teams at city and district level. Their first match in Hyderabad, in the southern province of Sindh, was against a local youth club.

The stands were not as full as they are for some of the major matches, but the estimated 200 supporters cheered loudly for the rookie team. However, no family members came to watch, as some of the players had not disclosed their status, while others have been shunned by their relatives.

''For me, cricket has always been a passion and today, after winning this match, I feel good.''

The club was formed under the aegis of the Pakistan Society, an NGO working for the rights of people living with the virus and injecting drug users in Sindh Province.

“Cricket is what unifies all Pakistanis, and we wanted to get our message across in the best possible manner. The rationale behind the formation of the HIV-positive cricket team and cricket club is to give the general population an idea that being HIV positive is not a reason why some should be treated like an outcast,” the head of the Pakistan Society, Dr Saleem Azam, told IRIN/PlusNews.

The team practiced every day after work for their first match. “We had all been playing it in our youth and continued watching it. However, after getting HIV, we started becoming withdrawn and even energy levels went down,” said Saqib Khan (not his real name).

“Yet whenever a cricket match was on, we felt like watching it and would even ask our employer if we could stay at the office and watch it together. For us, it’s about being together and playing together.”

After a nail-biting innings, the team won handsomely, leaving their opponents and the fans amazed that HIV-positive players could be so active – one of the team members was asked whether antiretroviral medication was also a form of performance-enhancing drugs.

“We are thankful that the authorities were so cooperative with us, and provided us with the space that was needed for the match without any discriminatory attitude. Rather, their attitude was positive and encouraging,” said Azhar Hussain Magsi, a manager at the Pakistan Society.

“More matches are scheduled to take place all over Pakistan in the coming weeks … We are also having talks with other NGOs in India, and look forward to having an international HIV-positive cricket match.”


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ZAMBIA: NGOs in uproar after president signs new law

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
NGOs unhappy with new law

LUSAKA , – Zambian president Rupiah Banda has signed legislation regulating the operations of civil society, sending shock waves through the sector, which fears its independence will be severely compromised.

Presidential assent means the 2009 NGO Bill, withdrawn in 2007 after widespread protests by civil society and opposition parties, now only needs gazetting to become legislation that will require “the registration and co-ordination of NGOs” and can “regulate the work, and the area of work, of NGOs operating in Zambia”.

Dickson Jere, a special assistant to the president for press and public relations, confirmed in a statement: “His Excellency the President Mr Rupiah Banda has assented to 13 Bills, which were recently passed by the National Assembly, including … the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill.”

The new stipulations will compel NGOs to re-register every five years and submit annual information on their activities, funders, accounts, and the personal wealth of their officials; failure to comply could result in the suspension or cancellation of registration.

On 28 August civil society organizations held an emergency meeting in the capital, Lusaka, to plan a response to the looming regulations, which the NGOs have termed “unconstitutional”.

“We have already resolved to carry out a peaceful demonstration next week on Friday [4 September 2009] in Lusaka, and there are arrangements going on so that people in the provinces also carry out the protests. I think the court action [a proposed injunction] is a definite intervention as well, but we are still talking,” an NGO worker, who declined to be identified, told IRIN.


Engwase Mwale, executive director of the NGO Co-ordinating Committee [NGOCC], an umbrella body for civic organizations promoting gender issues, told IRIN after the emergency meeting: “We wish to register our dismay and shock at President Rupiah Banda’s assent to the NGO Bill.

''We still find it upsetting and retrogressive that in a democratic society such as Zambia, the president could see it fit to assent to a proposed law that has brought constitutional encroachments on our well-entrenched constitutional rights of freedom of association and expression''

“Although we appreciate the constitutional obligation that he has to assent to any proposed bill that he wishes, we still find it upsetting and retrogressive that in a democratic society such as Zambia, the president could see it fit to assent to a proposed law that has brought constitutional encroachments on our well-entrenched constitutional rights of freedom of association and expression,” she said.

Mwale said the law was conceived without consultation with civil society, and government’s “micro-management” of the sector would impact negatively on Zambia’s social development.

“As NGOs, we recognize the legality of our existence and therefore we are resolved not to allow any unconstitutional means, let alone illegal legislation, to regulate the existence of NGOs … and have requested an audience with the president so that we can put before him some of the development challenges as well as constitutional deviations of the NGO law that he has just assented to,” Mwale said.

“As president, he’s still got an opportunity to reconsider his decision … before it finds its way into the gazette,” she said. A bill can take from a few days to a few weeks to come into effect after the president has signed it.


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SOUTH AFRICA: Treatment crisis in Free State, again

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/PlusNews
Too few health workers are struggling to cope with high patient numbers

JOHANNESBURG, – South Africa’s Free State Province is again experiencing a crisis in the delivery of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, with understaffed clinics, erratic drug supplies and long waiting lists preventing many dangerously ill patients from accessing the life-prolonging drugs, according to AIDS activists.

Runaway overspending by the provincial health department in 2008 led to a moratorium on new patients starting ARV treatment that lasted from November until February 2009. The Southern African HIV Clinicians Society estimated that 30 people a day died during this three-month period because they could not access treatment.

Local newspapers reported that national health minister Aaron Motsoaledi told a meeting of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) in July: “What happened in the Free State last year should never be allowed to happen again in any province.”

Now, several reports from the Free State suggest that many of the factors leading to last year’s moratorium have not been addressed, and patients are again suffering the consequences.

“There’s definitely a crisis with ARV stocks again,” said Trudie Harrison, director of the Anglican Church’s Mosamaria AIDS Ministry. “They’re not able to initiate new clients at the rate they should be, there are long waiting lists, and one of the clinic staff members told me that people coming now will only be able to start [treatment] next year [2010].”

Harrison told IRIN/PlusNews that the crisis was the result of drug shortages and a dearth of health workers. At one ARV site she recently visited, normally staffed by three doctors, about 200 patients were waiting to see just one doctor. “They can only see so many, and they send the rest home,” she said.

Sello Mokhalipi, of Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an AIDS lobby group, confirmed that a critical staff shortage was compounding the drug supply problem. He told IRIN/PlusNews that a number of HIV-positive people could get only one of the three ARVs they needed from their local ARV clinic.

Harrison and Mokhalipi cited mismanagement as the main reason for the renewed crisis, but Jabu Mbalula, a spokesperson for the provincial health department, said in an emailed response to questions from IRIN/PlusNews: “The allocated funds for ARVs for this financial year will most certainly not be enough” to keep pace with the number of new patients needing ARVs. A request for additional funding has been lodged with the national health department.

Mbalula said the waiting list for treatment had been reduced to 705 patients, and waiting times differed “in terms of site, patient load and availability of HR [human resources]“.

“Shortage of HR is a challenge,” he admitted, but denied that there had been any drug stock-outs. “Low levels of certain drugs were reported, but the province was able to address this.”

''I see it getting worse before it gets better, unless we can have massive intervention from the [national health] minister himself''

However, Harrison said a young man had recently died in the back of her car while she was trying to get him medical help, after several months waiting to start ARV treatment, and “We’ve had reports from all over the province of similar things happening.”

Donor-funded NGO programmes that used to assist patients who could not obtain ARVs from the public health sector had reached their limit, she added, and very few patients could afford to buy the drugs from the private sector at a cost of about US$100 a month.

Various NGOs, trade unions and church groups formed the Free State HIV/AIDS Coalition in March to lobby for better services for people living with HIV, but despite numerous requests the group had failed to secure a meeting with the provincial health minister.

The coalition is collecting affidavits from HIV-positive patients who have struggled to get treatment. Coalition chairperson Kabelo Makhetha interviewed three HIV-positive women who recently gave birth at public health facilities.

Only one was offered nevirapine, an ARV that reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby, and none were offered formula milk as an alternative to exclusive breastfeeding, which carries a small HIV transmission risk. One baby who tested positive for HIV had since died.

Harrison had little confidence in the provincial health department’s capacity to deal with the crisis. “I see it getting worse before it gets better, unless we can have massive intervention from the [national health] minister himself,” she said.

The TAC’s Mokhalipi was doubtful. “If the national department of health was really willing to intervene, we wouldn’t be experiencing the shortage of staff right now; they should have fixed it right after the moratorium.”


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Analysis: Humanitarian action under siege

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: USAF/Wikimedia
A US soldier gives a young Pakistani girl a drink of water in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake

DAKAR, – On the first-ever World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, when the UN spotlights fallen aid workers and growing humanitarian needs, experts say a trend toward integrating aid goals into broader social and security agendas has contributed to an erosion of humanitarian space. IRIN looks at why, and at how donors, UN agencies and NGOs might ensure that it does not shrink for good.

Lacking any formal definition, the term humanitarian space has been taken to encompass any or all of the following: physical locations safe from attack in a conflict; respect for core humanitarian principles, independence, impartiality and neutrality; and the ability of aid agencies to access and help civilians affected by conflict.

By any of these definitions, observers say, humanitarian space is shrinking, with decreasing access to beneficiaries and increasing attacks on beneficiaries and aid staff.

Factors squeezing humanitarian space, according to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), include a trend toward coherence between political and humanitarian agendas; blurred distinctions between the roles of military and humanitarian organizations; political manipulation of humanitarian assistance; perceived lack of independence of humanitarian actors from donors or from host governments; a perceived social, cultural or religious agenda by humanitarian workers; and a breakdown of law and order.

Coherence and integration riskier?

Donor governments started to move towards coherence of humanitarian and political agendas in the early 1990s based on the growing recognition that complex emergencies were in essence politically driven and aid alone could not solve them.

Further, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency efforts have contributed to a shift in military policy towards integration of security, political, humanitarian, reconstruction and economic activities. There has also been an expansion in the number of UN peacekeeping missions with a focus on civilian protection.

In 2000 the UN system officially endorsed integrated missions to channel UN forces and agencies towards a common political, military and humanitarian goal, putting at their head a single Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) and placing a humanitarian coordinator under the SRSGs management.

And over the past decade some humanitarian agencies have expanded their assistance beyond life-saving activities to embrace advocacy, peace-building and human rights promotion among other goals, said Overseas Development Institute (ODI) researcher Samir Elhawary.

More and more [aid] agencies feel they have to go beyond life-savingPeace-building, and conflict resolution have been applied to humanitarian relief, which has made relief seem more political. It is not just about saving lives but also about social transformation and tackling the root causes of conflict.

In this mix humanitarian objectives can be subsumed by wider political and military goals, say humanitarian experts. In Sudan the international community is running one of the worlds biggest humanitarian operations, facilitating a peace process, pushing human rights and justice through the International Criminal Court, and promoting the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south Sudan.

Some might say these roles are complementary but the expulsion of aid agencies in Sudan is an indication that these objectives might not be so compatible, Elhawary told IRIN.


Insecurity linked to coherence policies has diminished aid agencies ability to access beneficiaries, experts say. In the case of Iraq many international NGOs have left; about 60 remain, many of them managed remotely and with uneven geographical distribution, according to a March 2009 ODI report, Providing Aid in Insecure Environments.

More aid workers died in 2008 than in any other year, the report says, arguing that the increase was partly a result of this coherence push. Some 75 percent of attacks which the ODI says were increasingly politically motivated occurred in Afghanistan, Chad, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, where aid agencies are often funded by governments humanitarian actors are now not only perceived to be cooperating with Western political actors, butas wholly a part of the western agenda, the ODI notes in its report.

However, attacks decreased for the International Red Cross Movement, which has pushed its purely humanitarian, neutral line.

Taking responsibility

But there was no golden age in which humanitarian space was always protected, ODIs Elhawary told IRIN. Aid agencies were manipulated by Biafran secessionists in the Nigerian civil war and the International Committee of the Red Cross was attacked in Ethiopia as early as 1935-36.

And ODI says responsibility for securing humanitarian space lies partly with aid agencies themselves.

It is not right to blame reduced access to beneficiaries solely on the coherence agenda, according to Ross Mountain, deputy SRSG and humanitarian coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Warfare trends have a more significant role in access than do coherence policies, he said, pointing out that in parts of DRC aid agencies have recently had a tougher time reaching some vulnerable populations mainly because of an upsurge in conflict with militia groups targeting civilians.

Some agencies have adjusted to those realities by reducing their visibility on the ground, working through local NGOs, or improving their risk assessment and analysis capacity and sharing information; but sector-wide progress has been slow.

Further, many agencies still do not anticipate potential consequences of decisions taken in complex environments such as Afghanistan, where there is no humanitarian consensus and very little humanitarian space, according to Antonio Donini in a Feinstein Center report.

For Howard Mollett, conflict advisor at the NGO CARE International, in settings like Afghanistan agencies must work harder to manage the tensions among competing imperatives.

Most agencies involved in humanitarian response are multi-mandate, he said. And that partly reflects the messy field realities in which we work. In one country acute humanitarian needs, chronic poverty and opportunities to promote recovery typically coexist.

Photo: WFP/Ebadullah Ebadi
Large parts of Afghanistan are off-limits to aid agencies


Experts say the aid community appears to recognize a shift in approach is needed to ensure humanitarian space does not disappear.

The UN has adjusted the aid element of some integrated missions, Mollett said. In Afghanistan, where humanitarian expertise within the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) had been reduced to a few people, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was re-established in 2009; while in Somalia the UN has called for extensive consultation with humanitarians before developing any integrated mission plan.

Mountain said in DRC different actors are tackling the complexity of working within an integrated mission with more mutual respect, helped by a clear civilian protection mandate. It is not the military doing humanitarian action rather military and political become strong allies in promoting humanitarian objectives by providing physical protection.

The coherence approach appears to be here to stay; but some 35 major donors have signed up to the good humanitarian donorship principles, which stress the need to promote humanitarian space.

A December 2009 UN meeting of OCHA, theDepartment for Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Political Affairs and IASC will provide an opportunity for the concerned actors to air their views.

This is a sign of a progress, said Mollett.

“For too long the erosion of humanitarian space was put in the ‘too difficult’ box, but the severity of the situation in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan has brought us to a decisive momentPerhaps the time has come to recognize the limitations of ‘integrated approaches’ and set some red lines in policy and practice.”


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DRC: Mutinous soldiers add to civilian fear in east

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Eddy Isango/IRIN
Congolese army soldiers (file photo): A mutiny over pay, by a section of the army is restricting population movement in parts of Uvira, South Kivu

KINSHASA, – A mutiny over pay, by a section of the army in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Uvira territory, is restricting population movement and heightening fear, say officials.

Meanwhile, farther north, an escalation in attacks by Ugandan Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels has prompted large-scale displacement.

The Congolese army (FARDC) is in Uvira, South Kivu Province, in an operation to oust Rwandan Hutu FDLR [Forces dmocratiques pour la libration du Rwanda] militia there.

“It [the mutiny] was [caused by] some FARDC soldiers who were demanding their four-month salary arrears,” Victor Chomachoma, the Uvira territory administrator, said.

“[They] were firing into the air the whole day [and] barricaded roads, preventing all [pedestrian and vehicle] movement on the Uvira-Kamanyola axis.” The road goes to Bukavu, the main town in the province.

Chomachoma said the mutiny had forced the population to stay in their homes on 26 August.

Confirming the mutiny, the spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Lt. Col Jean-Paul Dietrich, said about 50 FARDC soldiers were involved.

The two said military authorities had convinced the mutineers to remove the blockades even if they had not been paid.

The mutiny has led to an increase in fear among residents already affected by ongoing anti-FDLR military operations.

Residents had to endure artillery fire on the night of 26 August following an FDLR attack on the village of Sange, 15km north of Uvira, he said.

The village of Nyakabere was also under fire on 25 August in an attack lasting 30 minutes, said Dietrich, adding that “two FARDC soldiers were injured and three FDLR militia killed. [The dead] were carried away by their fleeing colleagues.”

“Three civilians, among them two girls, suffered bullet injuries. [Some] 53 houses were burnt by the FDLR, who also took away goats, sheep and cows, Chomachoma said.

Photo: Voxcom/IRIN
Lords Resistance Army, LRA, members (file photo): At least 125,000 people have been displaced in the past three weeks alone by LRA attacks in Haut Uele, Orientale Province

Farther north in Orientale Province, at least 125,000 people have been displaced in the past three weeks alone by LRA attacks in the district of Haut Uele, says the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“A staggering 540,000 Congolese have been uprooted in Orientale by deadly LRA assaults since September 2008,” UNHCR said in a 28 August statement.

During the same period, the rebels have reportedly killed some 1,270 people and abducted 655 children.

The attacks have caused about 8,000 Congolese to flee to neighbouring Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic. Of these, 6,500 are in the Western Equatoria region of Southern Sudan, where recent LRA attacks in the area of Ezo forced UN staff to evacuate.

Humanitarian agencies estimate that at least two million people have been displaced by anti-FDLR operations and FDLR counter-attacks since January in eastern DRC. This figure surpasses that during the 2006 civil war.

Recently, the DRC government said it would continue military operations against Rwandan militias in the eastern provinces until they were dislodged from Congolese soil.


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In Brief: Oil wealth and instability in Chad

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Jo Foster
Chadians demonstrate for greater local benefits from oil (file photo)

DAKAR, – In Chad oil wealth poorly managed has stoked conflict and corruption rather than boost the economy and living conditions, says a newbriefing paper by International Crisis Group.

Oil exploitation has contributed to the deterioration of governance in Chad, and the government has progressively cut civil society out of the management of petrodollars,thepaper says.The government must work to establish a national consensus on the management of oil revenues, ICG says, calling on Chads principal external partners China, France and the United States to condition their support for the regime on such a consensus.

Chad must reform its management of oil revenues now used largelyfor paying cronies and building up the military if it is to avoid further impoverishment and destabilization, ICG says.

The 1,070-kilometre Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which yielded its first oil in 2003, was hailed as a unique effort to make large-scale oil production a driver of sustainable development. Integral to the World Banks support of the project was a revenue management scheme that would provide social and economic benefits for the poor including future generations. Chad eventually scrapped the provisions and the World Bank pulled its supportfor the pipeline.


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SYRIA: Cleansing the olive oil business

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Sarah Birke/IRIN
Olive trees in Dara’a

DAMASCUS, – Syrias huge olive oil industry is leaving its mark on the environment. Waste products from olive oil processing mills which are not properly disposed of are causing soil and water pollution, and killing plant and animal life.

During the processing of olive oil, olives are crushed and mixed with water. The oil is then separated out from the dirty water and solid residue.

The water used in the process and then discarded is often just pumped out onto surrounding land, environment expert Marwan Dimashki told IRIN.

This waste water contains polythenols which provide the natural green and black colouring of olives. However, they are chemicals which, when spread in large quantities, change environmental conditions and cause a reduction in soil fertility.

Impact on human health

He said human health could be at risk. “Contaminated water becomes undrinkable. It goes brown and smelly and contains chemicals bad for human consumption, such as some of the polythenols.”

Where processing plants are close to rivers, the waste water can run off into the rivers, harming aquatic life (with toxic chemicals or through compounds in the waste using up supplies of oxygen) and contaminating human drinking water.

Photo: Sarah Birke/IRIN
Olive oil pomace sat outside a mill in Dara’a

If pomace – the solid residue left over from the processing of olive oil – is not properly dried out and disposed of, it too can seep into the soil, changing the acidity and nutrient make-up.

The impact on human health of consuming the chemicals in olive waste water is still unknown. Catechol, one of the chemicals in the waste water thought by some experts to be harmful, is not considered a threat by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Catechol is not considered by WHO in its guidelines for drinking-water quality and thus there is no proposed drinking-water recommended maximum limit,” said Bruce Gordon, head of the drinking water safety and quality team at WHO.

However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists catechol as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

The problem is not a small-scale one. Syria is the worlds fifth largest olive oil producer, contributing 4.6 percent of the worlds supply each year from its 920 mills.

The total waste water from Syrias olive oil production amounts to 700,000 cubic metres a year, along with 280,000 tonnes of pomace.

Lack of awareness

The reasons for the contamination include dated technology and a lack of awareness by mill owners.

The majority of the mills are family-run businesses which still use traditional presses rather than [modern] machinery, Dimashki said. They do not have the equipment to clean the waste water and often cannot afford to buy it.

Apart from lacking the financial resources, many mill owners are unaware of the environmental damage they are causing. There is a lack of education as to why and how waste products need to be dealt with, so mill owners release the waste water not realizing it will harm their land as well as the wider environment, Dimashki said.

Photo: Sarah Birke/IRIN
Olive oil flows out of the tap following processing

Regional project

However, the importance of the olive oil industry means the problem is receiving attention. A 1.7 million euro three-year regional project to tackle the industrys pollution across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, funded by the UN Development Programme and the European Commission, concludes at the end of this year.

During the initial stages of the project, every olive mill was registered. Mill owners were given information on the negative effects of discharging waste water and on how they should treat it.

The owners were informed of the uses to which pomace could be put so they would not need to throw it away: It can be sold to factories which could extract the remaining oil for use in the manufacture of other products.

One of the mills to have benefited from the project is the Massalme Brothers Mill in Dara, southern Syria. The mills owners have learnt how to treat waste water and store it for collection, rather than discharging it onto surrounding land. Their mills pomace is dried and sold to factories in Aleppo where it is used to make the citys famous olive oil soap.

The final stage of the project, due to begin in September, is the trial use of a mobile waste water treatment plant.

Education is not enough, Dimashki, who heads the project, said. Not all the mill owners can afford modern machinery to treat their waste water so the plant will move around the country cleaning the water.

Demonstrations will start in Tartous on the Syrian coast, at one of the most polluting mills in the country.

Central treatment plants?

Given the huge demand for waste water treatment, experts say large central treatment plants will be needed in the future.

Without this technology, the pollution from olive oil processing will lead to greater ecological problems, said Roland Damann, head of Enviplan, the German environmental planning firm which supplied the mobile treatment plant.

The environmental balance is getting more and more fragile over time so there is a long-term obligation to move the olive oil industry towards good ecological standards. Syria has started this and so must other countries, he said.


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YEMEN: Government battles to regulate small arms

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
Shayef Taher’s children with guns

SANAA, – The Yemeni government is struggling to control the spread of small arms in major cities, despite the two-year-old ban on firearms.

The Interior Ministry’s July 2007 ban “somewhat resulted in the disappearance of guns in the capital [Sanaa] and other main cities like Taiz, Ibb and Dhamar only”, Khalid al-Ansi, a lawyer at the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, told IRIN in Sanaa. The move, however, does not help in disarming people as they mostly keep guns at home or hide them when passing through security checkpoints, Al-Ansi said.

“The availability of small arms among citizens exacerbated the issue of revenge killings, and lack of public awareness hinders government and civil society efforts to control the spread of arms,” Al-Ansi said.

Some, like Shayef Taher, a resident of a Sanaa suburb called Qaa al-Qaidhi, about 25km out of town, are reluctant to give up their guns due to personal safety concerns.

“I am against the government’s anti-arms law… I train my children and wife in how to use guns to protect our home from thieves in my absence,” Taher said.

Mohammed Ahmad, a garment seller in Sanaa’s Shumaila market, said there were some shopkeepers in the market selling pistols and other small guns. “They sell daggers, belts and silver jewellery at their shops to mislead any security patrols in the area. They contact gun buyers by phone,” he said.

According to Abdul-Rahman al-Marwani, chairman of Dar Al-Salam Organization, a local NGO tackling the culture of violence, gun shops in the outskirts of Sanaa resumed selling arms to citizens just a few months after the ban was enforced. Many of those shops are in Jehan, 30km southeast of Sanaa, and Arhab, 40km north of Sanaa, he said. “There are 13 weapon markets with hundreds of shops nationwide.”

The Yemeni parliament on 27 July traded accusations with the cabinet over the worsening security situation as kidnappings and armed conflicts were increasing, despite heightened security measures to limit the spread of weapons. The cabinet lashed out at MPs from tribal areas opposing the enforcement of the arms ban.

Bearing firearms is part of the tribal culture and “a tribesman can give up everything except his gun”, according to some community leaders.

At least 1,200 individuals are either killed or injured by arms misuse annually, said Al-Marwani.

He maintained that citizens did not trust the judiciary and security authorities in settling their disputes, pointing out that some citizens took the law into their own hands because of the ineffectual judiciary system and security apparatus.

A recent survey by the Dar Al-Salam Organization indicates there are more than nine million small arms in Yemen owned by state personnel, tribesmen and vendors.

“We face difficulties disarming people due to complicated revenge killing issues, some of which date back more than 50 years, particularly in the provinces of Mareb, Shabwa and Al-Jawf,” Lutf Nisari, an official at the Interior Ministry’s Investigation Bureau, conceded. “Recent anti-arm campaigns [were] effective and reduced crime rates in the capital city only.”


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MIDDLE EAST: Swine flu keeps Muslim pilgrims at home

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Health authorities are introducing measures to reduce the spread of pandemic H1N1 in during Ramadan and for the annual Hajj pilgrimage

DUBAI, – Far fewer Muslims than normal are undertaking the lesser pilgrimage known as ‘Umrah’ because of coordinated efforts by health ministers in the Gulf and beyond to counter the spread of H1N1 2009.

The numbers are some 30 percent down on normal levels and a variety of precautions are in place.

According to a 23 August World Health Organization update, there were 3,128 laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1 reported in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

Saudi Arabia had the highest number of cases with 595 and four deaths, followed by Kuwait with 560 cases and no deaths, and Egypt with 509 cases and one death.

However, WHO figures are far more conservative than those of local governments. Earlier this week, the Saudi Health Ministry reported that its H1N1 cases had reached 2,000, with 14 deaths, and the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported 1,072 cases and two fatalities in Kuwait.

WHO has expressed concern that there may be a second wave of the virus because of the approaching cooler season.

Eastern Mediterranean Region


Total laboratory-confirmed cases reported by the state parties

Total deaths reported by the state parties

Afghanistan 32 0
Bahrain 83 0


509 1


238 0
Iraq 96 1
Jordan 138 0


560 0


352 1
Libya 18 0


109 0
Oman 123 0
Pakistan 2 0


116 1
Qatar 23 1

Saudi Arabia

595 4
Sudan 2 0
Syria 17 0
Tunisia 19 0
UAE 79 0
Yemen 17 1
TOTAL 3,128 10

Source: WHO (as of 23 August)


The authorities in the Middle East have urged Muslims to avoid the ‘Hajj’ in late November and ‘Umrah’, if possible, and have banned travel there for those below 12 or over 65, as well as for pregnant women and those suffering from chronic diseases such as uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, bronchial diseases and obesity.

Iran has banned all its citizens from making the ‘Umrah’ pilgrimage this year and has cancelled all flights to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, which ends around 19 September.

Airports and border crossings in the region have installed flu surveillance equipment and quarantine procedures, and pandemic H1N1 awareness campaigns are widespread. Health ministries have advised people to avoid large gatherings, whether religious or not, and to avoid the social custom of kissing and shaking hands at gatherings.

The United Arab Emirates, which recorded its first H1N1 death on 21 August, is considering reducing the duration of Friday sermons in mosques and the daily ‘Tarawih’ prayers that occur only in Ramadan.

Mecca and Medina

‘Hajj’ and ‘Umrah’ tour operators are worried about the impact on their businesses. Some have said governments have over-reacted to what is, so far, not a particularly lethal virus. Tour operators across the region have complained of mass cancellations of ‘Hajj’ and ‘Umrah’ trips and have said they stand to lose millions of dollars because of commitments already made to Mecca hotels.

In Mecca, business could fall by 40 percent during Ramadan, according to the Mecca Chamber of Commerce, and in neighbouring Medina, officials said they expected business to be down by 70 percent.

A panel of experts is being set up in Mecca specifically to deal with the H1N1 virus for ‘Hajj’ and ‘Umrah’ pilgrims. Saad Al-Qurashi, chairman of the National Hajj & Umrah Committee, told Arab News that the panel would be distributing surgical masks to ‘Umrah’ pilgrims and would hold workshops to spread awareness of the necessary precautions to be taken.


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YEMEN: Worsening drought threatens herders

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
Children driving with their goats through a parched area in search of pasture

SANAA, – Severe drought in Khawlan District, 70km east of the capital Sanaa, since mid-2007 has forced local herders to sell some of their sheep to buy fodder for the rest.

Now we use grain as animal fodder to complement grazing but fodder prices have increased threefold over the past two years, said Ali al-Qanis, aged 74, a local herder with 50 sheep. These steep price hikes mean a sheep or goat is becoming a financial liability.

To make matters worse, the selling price for a breeding ewe had dropped from around YR18,000 (US$89) in early 2008 to YR11,000 ($54) in 2009, he said.

While livestock farming constituted only 2.5 percent of Yemens GDP in 2008, according to Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation Mohammed Al-Ghashm, it is an important source of revenue in several parts of southeastern Yemen, which has been hit by frequent droughts.

Livestock is the main income source for over three million people in the southeast, according to Mansoor al-Qadasi, director-general of animal health and veterinary quarantine, based in Sanaa.

Al-Qadasi said malnutrition was to blame for a drop in dairy production, high abortion rates and the spread of blood parasites and epidemics among ruminants. Thousands of sheep and goats die of malnutrition… We have no accurate data on animal mortality as it is difficult to get from herders, most of whom are illiterate or lack awareness, he told IRIN.

How donors can help

Al-Qadasi urged donor countries to help Yemen by providing capacity building training for herders, and training on how to cope with drought through pasture management and efficient fodder storage. They can support epidemic surveillance programmes at the Agriculture Ministry to expand field activities, he said.

Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
Hardly any herding communities have water networks, relying only on underground cisterns filled by rainwater

Abdullah Al-Numan, an environment specialist at Sanaa University, said the Agriculture Ministry should train herders on grass management, random grazing prevention and provide them with tanks to harvest rainwater for use during dry seasons.

Families who are entirely dependent on herding for their livelihoods are the most affected by drought, as they have no alternative sources of income. These families lack the skills to take up alternative crafts or jobs, according to Ahmad Tallan al-Harithi, chairman of the Brotherhood Society for Social Development (BSSD) in Shabwa, about 400km east of Sanaa.

Shabwa, where 65 percent of its 466,000 population are in rural areas raising cattle and growing crops, hasnt seen any good rainfall for the past 12 years, al-Harithi told IRIN. Over 300,000 herders and farmers in Shabwa and roughly the same number in the nearby provinces of al-Beidha, Marib and Lahj are affected by drought.

In times gone by, when rainfall was more abundant and predictable, herders could expect to triple the number of their livestock within two or three years. But these days, sheep and goats die of malnutrition tens of thousands of herders have drifted from cattle-raising as a result, Mohammed al-Aidarous, a local councillor from al-Beidha, some 160km southeast of Sanaa, told IRIN.

Families in these communities, particularly herders, face extreme poverty and life-threatening food insecurity They are under growing pressure to sell their livestock at lower prices, he said. Thousands of herders are moving with their livestock to faraway areas in search of pasture.

Hardly any herding communities have water networks. They rely only on underground cisterns filled by rainwater – if there is any – or trucked-in water, al-Aidarous said, adding that trucked water was sold at a higher price in remote villages.

In al-Qabbaita District of Lahj Province, 300km south of Sanaa, more than 40,000 pastoralists face difficulties accessing drinking water for themselves and their livestock, he said.

Plea for subsidized feed, water

Photo: Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Some 35 percent of Yemen’spopulation of 21 million live beneath the poverty line

Hani Merai, a veterinarian working for the Ministry of Agriculture, said prices for good quality barley fodder are at record highs – increasing from YR500 ($2.5) to YR950 ($4.75) per 12-kg sack – while cheaper alternatives can cause malnutrition resulting in a variety of health problems including high abortion and young lamb mortality rates.

Fodder increases an animals need for water and as the drought continues, extra water must be bought, he said. Making a livelihood from livestock is not that easy.

Herders are in urgent need of government support to help their flocks survive. Unless there is immediate support to herders with subsidized feed and water, many of them will be forced out of herding and the livelihood that has supported them for decades will be lost, al-Harithi said.


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SOUTH AFRICA: Tackling HIV and TB – where there’s a will, there’s a way

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/PlusNews
A shortage of health workers has further undermined efforts to contain HIV and TB

JOHANNESBURG, – One in six HIV-positive people in the world live in South Africa, which is also experiencing a parallel tuberculosis (TB) epidemic, but years of weak leadership, poor policy implementation and inadequate resources have undermined efforts to control the twin health emergencies.

These are the findings of several leading local researchers and epidemiologists, who chronicle the history of the HIV and TB epidemics in “Health in South Africa”, a new series published in the UK-based medical journal, The Lancet.

The evolution of South Africa’s HIV epidemic began with a concentration of cases mainly among gay men in the 1980s, spread rapidly via heterosexual transmission spurred by the migrant labour system in the 1990s, and peaked with a prevalence rate of 30.2 percent among pregnant women in 2005.

Since then the level of new HIV infections has remained high, but prevalence has stabilized or even declined in some age groups, largely as a result of HIV-related mortality.

Despite the belated roll-out of an antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programme, which started in 2004 and is now the largest in the world, average life expectancy has declined to 48.4 years for men and 51.6 years for women.

Starting in the late 1990s, the HIV epidemic has fuelled a sharp rise in TB incidence: 50 percent of new TB cases occur in patients co-infected with HIV, making TB the most common natural cause of death in the country.

The poor performance of TB control programmes and many years of low cure rates have seen the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the disease that are more difficult and costly to diagnose and treat – the caseload of drug-resistant TB now puts South Africa among the world’s top 10 countries.

Strong leadership needed

These are grim statistics, yet The Lancet authors describe the government’s response to the two epidemics in the past decade as marked by “denialism, ineptitude, obtuseness and deliberate efforts to undermine scientific evidence as the basis for action.”

Important achievements, such as a vastly increased distribution of male condoms, the scale up of the ARV programme, and the development of well-formulated national strategic plans for HIV/AIDS and TB have not been enough to overcome a lack of high-level political commitment to controlling the health crises.

An international HIV/AIDS scorecard various elements in country-level programmes found South Africa’s performance worse than many of its lower-income neighbours.

The authors note that the change of administration in 2008 has provided a potential “window of opportunity” to tackle HIV and TB, and suggest a number of priority actions. In the area of TB control, they recommend improving case detection and cure rates, and integrating HIV and TB services.

The first step in strengthening HIV prevention efforts should be using all available data to generate a clearer picture of the demographic features and key drivers of the epidemic, followed by scaling up prevention of mother-to-child transmission, targeted behaviour-change programmes, and making male circumcision widely available.

HIV treatment efforts could be boosted by routinely offering testing at all health care facilities, and raising the threshold for starting ARV treatment to a CD4 cell count of 350.

Treatment programmes play an important part in prevention: studies show that patients who start ARV treatment early are less likely to transmit the virus, and more likely to access sexual and reproductive health services.

However, the authors note that successful implementation of these approaches will require “strong leadership, political will, social mobilisation, adequate human and financial resources, and sustainable development of health care services.”


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AFGHANISTAN: Kabul drug addicts running out of hope

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
Drug addicts impatiently wait at the treatment centre for admission

KABUL, – Ehsanullah, aged 28, has been on a waiting list for nearly three months to be admitted to an NGO-run drug addicts rehabilitation centre in Kabul. He cannot get in because there are too many people ahead of him on the list.

About 200 drug users, mainly heroin addicts, have been hanging around for months in rooms and tents on the premises of the centre, where free treatment is provided by a couple of NGOs.

Tariq Sulaiman, director of the Nejat Centre (one of the NGOs), regretted that the rehabilitation centre only had 100 beds.

Most of those hanging around are addicts from the provinces and rural areas who have no accommodation in Kabul.

I have been waiting here for over two months, said an addict from the northern province of Faryab.

We are often starving, said another man seeking treatment.

When we go outside people make fun of us and sarcastically call us `podary [heroin addict], said Shir Agha, another addict.

Risk of closure

Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
Ehsanullah, a drug addict, says he has waited for three months to be admitted for treatment

The centre was set up in May 2009 with funding from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and help from the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Since May we have treated and rehabilitated about 400 addicts, said Sulaiman of the Nejat NGO, adding that the four-month project was due to close at the end of August.

So far no donor has assured us of funding after August but we are optimistic the Ministry of Health will help us, he said.

MoPH officials said they were encouraging donors to provide funding but no firm commitment had been received by 26 August. It had, however, invited the country director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to attend a food aid event at the centre on 25 August.

Two million drug users

According to a UNODC survey, about 920,000 Afghans used drugs such as heroin, hashish and opium in 2005.

An updated drug addiction report, due in 2009, is expected to show a significant increase in the number of drug users. A US Department of State report 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report says there are an estimated two million drug users in Afghanistan.

At least 50,000-60,000 drug addicts are in Kabul alone, said Sulaiman, adding that further efforts were needed to treat and rehabilitate the countrys increasing number of drug users.


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CAMEROON: “Inhuman” conditions, denial of justice for detainees

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2009

Photo: Reinnier Kaz/IRIN
The central prison in Cameroon’s commercial capital Douala (file photo) Human rights groups have long criticized authorities for overcrowding and poor conditions in this and other prisons

YAOUNDE, – In a prison in northern Cameroon an average of five prisoners die per month due to lack of medical attention. That is one of the conclusions of a government human rights commission, which says rights violations in prisons persist in the face of authorities “indifference”.

Prison conditions are “draconian, inhuman and degrading”, according to a report released 12 August by the national commission on human rights and freedoms (CNDHL), which condemns both the physical conditions and the slowness of the judicial system.

For years human rights watchdogs in and outside Cameroon have decried prison conditions in Cameroon. While there have been isolated cases when authorities tended to grave cases of illness or excessive pre-trial detention flagged by rights groups, much remains to be done, CNDHL member Eva Elangue told IRIN.

“Genuine, perceptible progress will take more funding and more political engagement,” she said.

Elangue said it is important to continue putting the problem before the international community and the Cameroonian authorities.

Decay, delays

In Cameroon as of end of 2008, more than 23,000 detainees were being held in facilities with a capacity for 16,000 people, according to CNHDL.

In addition to overcrowding, the organization cited the following as the most serious problems it found in visits to five of the countrys prisons: high death rate among detainees, absence of hygiene and medical care, shortage of toilet and washing facilities, failure to separate minors from the rest of the prison population and overall dilapidation of detention areas.

Lack of food is also a problem, CNHDL says. The food ration comes to less than 100 CFA francs (21 US cents) per prisoner per day.

Beyond physical conditions, the slowness of the legal system violates peoples rights, the group says.

Some 62 percent of those in prison are detained pending trial, with some waiting for nine years, according to the report.

The average period of time for obtaining a decision is abnormally long and in the end the delays constitute a veritable denial of justice, CNDHL says.

The rights organization also condemned arbitrary arrests and detentions by gendarmes, police and an elite army unit.

Officials with the Ministry of Justice were not available for comment on the report. In a June 2009 government publication Justice Minister Amadou Ali said that studies have shown a number of challenges including overpopulation, lack of hygiene and poor conditions in some prisons, and said the government is rehabilitating some facilities.

In its 2008 annual human rights report, the US State Department said the high number of pre-trial detainees was due in part to the complexity of cases, staff shortages and corruption. The report called prison conditions in Cameroon harsh and life threatening.


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