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Archive for May 13th, 2011

Wood is one of the few resources left for Madagascans to exploit

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2011

MADAGASCAR: New climate change and adaptation films

In a country that relies almost exclusively on charcoal as a cooking fuel, wood is one of the few resources left for Madagascans to exploit

NAIROBI, 10 May 2011 (IRIN) – IRIN Films is pleased to announce the launch of two more chapters of The Gathering Storm , our award-winning series of short films highlighting the human cost of climate change. [In depth: Gathering Storm – the humanitarian impact of climate change].

This series has addressed the impact of climate change in Africa and Asia; now we turn the spotlight on Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world and one of its poorest nations.

In Madagascar, an estimated 65 percent of the population of 19 million live on little more than US$1 a day and the country has long been plagued by political crises. Climate change adds to the burden.

There is clear evidence that temperatures have increased and rainfall patterns have changed in Madagascar in the last four decades, according to a study led by Mark Tadross, a senior research fellow with the Climate Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town.

Tadross, one of the authors of the Fourth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said their study showed maximum temperatures had increased by as much as 1.9 degrees Celsius from 1961 to 2005 and that winter rainfall had decreased in the southeastern regions of the country over the same period.

Recurrent droughts in the south of the country have left people there facing chronic hunger and high rates of malnutrition.

In the first of these films, we look at the charcoal industry in the south of Madagascar, and discover how the prolonged drought has driven farmers – whose barren fields can no longer support them – into the forests in search of a livelihood. In a country that relies almost exclusively on charcoal as a cooking fuel, wood is one of the few resources left for them to exploit.

As a consequence, areas such as the Afaty forest are forests in name only.

Madagascar’s forests also have a greater significance. Madagascar is home to five percent of the world’s plant and animal species, 80 percent of which are found nowhere else on Earth, according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Since the late 1950s more than 80 percent of the forests have been lost, says UNEP leaving the island nations’ ecosystems as one of the most threatened in the world.

Further south, communities are under siege from the relentless march of sand; dunes sweep in on the wind and claim the void left by farmland choked dry by years of drought.

In villages such as Androka, the focus of our second film, the sand and floods have forced hundreds of people to flee. Some have taken refuge in new towns, but remain hostage to the ravages of climate. Just outside New Androka, a farmer sweats over a feeble-looking maize crop that he has managed to coax out of the sand.

“The soil here used to be firm and we could grow crops,” he said. “But these days I’m lucky to get any maize at all. If the rain doesn’t come soon, we will be forced to move again.”

dg/mw/jk/bp source

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Following the start of the long rains, many IDPs urgently need shelter material

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2011

SOMALIA: Rains worsen conditions for IDPs*

Following the start of the long rains, many IDPs urgently need shelter material (file photo)

NAIROBI, 10 May 2011 (IRIN) – The month-late start of Somalia’s long rains may bring respite to the country’s farmers and pastoralists, but for hundreds of thousands of displaced people crowded into an insurgent-controlled area almost entirely bereft of humanitarian assistance, the deluge delivers only more problems.

The “Gu” rains usually start in early April, but this year were late across much of the country. In and around Mogadishu they started only in the second week of May.

Somalia’s greatest concentration of people – some 410,000 – displaced by conflict between the Transitional Federal Government and armed groups such as Al Shabab live in the 30km long Afgoye Corridor, south of the capital. It is under the control of Al Shabab.

“The displaced now have to cope with leaking tarpaulins and tents,” said Jowahir Ilmi, head of the Somali Women’s Concern (SWC), one of very few sources of assistance in the corridor.

So far, she said, the rains had not been very heavy so not much damage had been done to the IDP camps.

“We expect the rains to begin in full force today or tomorrow and if that happens, the situation of the IDPs will be grave,” Ilmi told IRIN on 10 May.

She said there was an urgent need for shelter material. “Food and medicines are in short supply but right now shelter material is the most urgent need.”

Halimo Sheikh Hassan, a mother of seven, told IRIN she had lived in the corridor’s Arbiska camp for the past two years. “I had a small shelter which I shared with my children but now the plastic sheeting that covers my house has become old and has big holes.”

Hassan said she and many other IDPs used to find work in Mogadishu’s Bakara market, “but that is now not possible. Because of the increased incidents of violence, the market is almost closed. Most traders like us have run for their lives.”

In the past, Hassan said, many IDPs depended on aid agencies during tough times but now there were no agencies on the ground since most left over a year ago.

“With rains and very little or no food and this kind of shelter I am not sure how we will survive this year,” she said.

A medical worker told IRIN many of the IDPs were already weak, particularly children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Isho Hassan Osman of SWC said: “We already have many cases of measles and AWD [acute watery diarrhoea] in our clinic. The rains will complicate an already bad situation.”

Khadijo Fidow, another IDP, used to make ends meet by selling grass to pastoralists but that now that the rains had come, the pastoralists would no longer need to buy grass from traders.

“I used to make about 80,000 shillings [about US$2.80] a day from selling grass; that was enough for one meal a day,” Fidow said. “Now that is in jeopardy. I don’t know what will happen next. It seems things go from bad to worse for us. God help us.”

According to UN estimates, at least 2.4 million Somalis need help across the country. These include IDPs in areas controlled by the opposition Al-Shabab group: 410,000 in the Afgoye Corridor, 15,200 in the Balad corridor [30km north of Mogadishu] and 55,000 in Dayniile, northwest of Mogadishu.

ah/mw/am  source

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The International Committee of the Red Cross is particularly effective at promoting local acceptance, says new report

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2011

AID POLICY: Staff security – “bunkerization” versus acceptance

The International Committee of the Red Cross is particularly effective at promoting local acceptance, says new report (file photo)

DAKAR, 13 April 2011 (IRIN) – Hiring taxis instead of 4WDs, signing memos of understanding with local elites, and co-investing programmes with governments and locals, are some of the ways aid agencies have lowered risks to staff in highly insecure aid environments such as Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan. These and other examples are detailed in a 12 April report by the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) entitled To Stay and Deliver: Good practice for humanitarians in complex security environments.

The UN commissioned the report as part of a shift in security policy towards navigating how to continue programming in highly insecure environments, rather than defining aid cut-off thresholds. “The more critical a programme is to people’s survival and well-being, the greater amount of risk may be accepted,” said current Emergency Response Coordinator Valerie Amos, presenting the report’s findings at the Norwegian Institute of Humanitarian Affairs in March 2011.

Jan Egeland, director of the Institute, and coordinator of the report, speaking to IRIN from New York, at its launch, characterized agencies’ approaches to security over the past two decades as “recklessness, followed by a period of bunkerization, [partly linked to the 19 August 2003 attack on UN headquarters in Iraq]; which led to today’s risk management approach.”

The new approach focuses on mitigating risks so programmes can continue, rather than on the operational environment, said Robert Painter, a senior security specialist at the UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS). “This focus is now more goal-oriented, more nimble, and we get more done,” he told IRIN.

Improving staff security is a mounting concern for aid agencies given the increasing dangers aid workers face: One hundred are killed each year, and a further 200 kidnapped or injured in increasingly politically-motivated attacks – significantly up on a decade ago, according to the report. The most dangerous places to work in aid are Afghanistan Sudan and Somalia.

Acceptance, not division

In recent years the tendency among some aid organizations in the face of new threats, had been to “bunkerize” – cloistering offices in walled compounds, using armoured cars and armed guards. But this approach risks promoting division and reinforcing the misperception of humanitarians as harbouring a Western agenda, say the report’s authors, Adele Harmer and Abby Stoddard.

More, rather than less dialogue is needed, they say. Agencies must instead be better at communicating humanitarian principles, and find better ways to foster acceptance among all relevant groups, including parties to conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross is held up as an example of having the “most active, effective and sustained humanitarian negotiation strategies.”

FACT BOX: Examples of good security practice
Working together: In the West Bank in the occupied Palestinian territory, an OCHA “access team” negotiated access on behalf of all registered aid workers.

In Somalia NGOs spelled out collective ground rules on aid delivery, banishing all payments to secure humanitarian access, as well as transfers of humanitarian goods to parties to conflict for distribution.

Creative hiring: NGOs in Somalia have hired staff from the diaspora. The UN Mine Action Center in Afghanistan trained locals to demine.

Remote programme monitoring: The World Food Programme uses local programme monitors in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia to measure quality. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, set up a web-based monitoring system in Iraq, whereby local partners download photographs of house rebuilding schemes onto a collective database for managers to assess.

Identifying who has power and why can help agencies better target their acceptance strategies, say Harmer and Stoddard. In Afghanistan in 2005 NGO Save the Children UK used this to good effect by identifying traditional elders as those who held the reins of power. It drew up memos of understanding, with elders outlining the roles and responsibilities of each party.

To promote acceptance effectively, aid groups must retain their ability to negotiate with all parties to conflict, said Egeland, a practice that some UN member states have increasingly clamped down on. Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and Al Shabab, have been labelled “terrorists” and therefore off-limits for discussion. “Suddenly the age-old criteria which is a precondition for working in conflict areas: `speak to the devil to help victims in hell’, is not allowed any more. We need to go back to the humanitarian principles so that we can access all sides,” he stressed.

Smart protection

If promoting humanitarian principles and building acceptance are central goals, aid groups must think more carefully about the kinds of messages their security protocols send out: armed escorts and fortified cars can communicate division and difference, say Harmer and Stoddard.

Rather than hiring armed guards, aid agencies might consider hiring local plain-clothes police officers; rather than travelling in armoured vehicles, they could hire taxis, or de-brand their vehicles as some have done in Pakistan.

Smart protection also involves protecting areas rather than individuals, says the report, validating a shift in approach taken by the UNDSS. In North Darfur, international NGOs did just that – negotiating with local government and police to install observation points, increasing police patrols, installing more checkpoints, and expanding arms-free areas. “Such smart protection becomes a win-win… when it satisfies both national authorities’ security requirements and aid organizations’ low-visibility objective,” said Amos in her March address.

But sometimes the smartest protection is to withdraw international staff altogether, as many aid agencies have been forced to do in Somalia. Quality of programming and staff security does not need to be compromised if agencies prioritize national staff training and development, and help improve national staff security by helping them to keep a low profile, for instance by working from home.

Despite numerous reports highlighting the problem, national staff security continues to be under-serviced by international NGOs, says the report. Many field operatives still receive less training than managers based in headquarters. “There is often very little investment in national staff, and even less in local NGOs,” said Egeland. “It leads us to an ethical and strategic question: Are humanitarian organizations risk-averse with their own international staff, and risk-happy with local contractors and NGOs?”

To realize these, and other changes, an attitude shift is required among many aid agencies, said Egeland. And security risk management must be part of any and all programme planning and costing, particularly in insecure areas.

aj/cb source

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