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Nearly two-thirds of the population in South Sudan at risk of rising hunger

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More than 7 million people in South Sudan – almost two-thirds of the population – could become severely food insecure in the coming months without sustained humanitarian assistance and access, three United Nations agencies warned today.

If this happens, this will be the highest ever number of food insecure people in South Sudan. The period of greatest risk will be the lean season, between May and July. Particularly at risk are 155,000 people, including 29,000 children, who could suffer from the most extreme levels of hunger.

In January, 5.3 million people, or nearly half of the population, were already struggling to find enough food each day and were in “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4), according to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released today.

This represents a 40 percent increase in the number of severely food insecure people compared to January 2017.

The report comes one year after famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in February 2017.

Improved access and a massive humanitarian response succeeded in containing and averting famine later last year. Despite this, the food insecurity outlook has never been so dire as it is now.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that progress made to prevent people from dying of hunger could be undone, and more people than ever could be pushed into severe hunger and famine-like conditions during May-July unless assistance and access are maintained.

“The situation is extremely fragile, and we are close to seeing another famine. The projections are stark. If we ignore them, we’ll be faced with a growing tragedy. If farmers receive support to resume their livelihoods, we will see a rapid improvement in the country’s food security situation due to increased local production,” said Serge Tissot, FAO Representative in South Sudan.

A growing tragedy that must not be ignored

Overall hunger levels have risen due to protracted conflict that led to reduced food production and constantly disrupted livelihoods. This was further exacerbated by economic collapse, which impacted markets and trade, making them unable to compensate for the decrease in local food production.

Prolonged dry spells, flooding and continued pest infestation, such as Fall Armyworm, have also had a damaging impact.

“The situation is deteriorating with each year of conflict as more people lose the little they had. We are alarmed as the lean season when the harvest runs out is expected to start this year much earlier than usual,” said Adnan Khan, WFP Representative and Country Director. “Unless we can pre-position assistance rather than mount a more costly response during the rains, more families will struggle to survive.”

In areas like Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Central Equatoria, riddled by reoccurring outbreaks of violent conflict and displacement, the proportion of people suffering from extreme food insecurity ranges from 52 to 62 percent – more than half the states’ combined population. The number is expected to keep increasing unless people find the means to receive, produce or buy their own food.

Mapping hunger – projections for the first half of 2018

  • February-April 2018:  6.3 million people in IPC Phases 3 (“Crisis”), 4 (“Emergency”) and 5 (Catastrophe). This includes 50,000 people in IPC Phase 5.
  • May-July 2018: 7.1 million people in IPC Phases 3, 4 and 5. This includes 155,000 people in IPC Phase 5.

1.3 million children under five at risk of acute malnutrition

Conflict and worsening hunger have led to already soaring rates of malnutrition. Without assistance, as of May, more than 1.3 million children under five will be at risk of acute malnutrition.

Malnutrition rates are set to rise once the rainy season starts in April. Once this happens, many communities will become isolated and unable to reach medical services. The rains will make the country’s dirt roads unusable, and it will become more and more difficult to deliver supplies to medical centres.

“We are preparing for rates of severe malnutrition among children never before seen in this country,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan. “Without an urgent response and access to those most in need, many children will die. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Of particular concern are the areas around Leer, Mayendit, Longochuk and Renk where children under five face extremely critical levels of malnutrition.

Response to date

Last year, FAO, WFP, UNICEF and their partners rolled out their largest ever aid campaign, saving lives and containing famine. In 2017, agency partners conducted more than 135 rapid humanitarian missions to the most hard-to-reach areas, providing life-saving assistance to over 1.8 million people.

FAO provided 5 million people – many in difficult-to-reach or conflict-affected areas – with seeds and tools for planting, and fishing kits in 2017. FAO has also vaccinated more than 6.1 million livestock to keep animals alive and healthy. This has been vital as most of the population rely on livestock for their survival.

UNICEF and partners admitted some 208,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in 2017 and plan to reach 215,000 this year. Together with WFP, UNICEF took part in 51 rapid response missions in 2017 to reach communities cut off from regular aid assistance. The Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) will remain a key means of accessing conflict-affected communities in the coming months.

At the peak of its response this year, WFP aims to reach 4.4 million people with life-saving food and nutrition assistance. WFP is pre-positioning food in areas likely to be cut off during the rainy season, so people will not go hungry. WFP plans to pre-position 140,000 metric tons of food and nutrition supplies – 20 percent more than in 2017 – in more than 50 locations across the country.

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Africa

Reducing industrial pollution in the Niger River Basin

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The Niger River is the third-longest river in Africa, running for 4,180 km (2,600 miles) from its source in south-eastern Guinea, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria, before discharging via the Niger Delta into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Tributaries that run through a further five countries feed into the mighty Niger.

Hundreds of millions of people in West Africa depend on the river and its tributaries, for drinking water, for fish to eat, for irrigation to grow crops, for use in productive processes, and for hydroelectric power.

The health of the Niger River Basin is vitally important for the people and for the environment of West Africa. But this health is endangered by land degradation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, invading aquatic vegetal species and climate change.

To both assess and address these environmental issues, a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project has brought together international, regional and national entities to work on integrated water resources management for the benefit of communities and the resilience of ecosystems. (Project details can be found here.)

One part of the early project research found that as the Niger River passes through Tembakounda, Bamako, Gao, Niamey, Lokoja and Onithsa – major trading, agro-processing and industrial cities – wastewater and other polluting substances are discharged directly into the river, often without consideration for the environment. National governments of the countries which the river runs through are either unable to deal with the accumulated environmental problems and/or are ineffective at preventing, regulating, reducing and managing pollution from industrial activities.

For this reason, one component of the GEF project, implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), will facilitate the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) to reduce wastewater discharges and pollution loads into the Niger River.

Despite the limitations on travel resulting from measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, in August this year, UNIDO successfully identified and engaged with 19 pilot enterprises in various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, mining and agribusiness, operating in ‘pollution hotspots’ in the countries of the Niger River Basin. This number exceeds the original target of one enterprise per country. 

UNIDO experts are now introducing and sharing the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) methodology with the pilot enterprises. In essence, this will mean the application of a set of tools including Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production, Environmental Management Systems, and Environmental Management Accounting, which will lead to the adoption of best practices, new skills and a new management culture.

Armed with these tools, the enterprises will be able to reduce product costs and increase productivity, while reducing the adverse environmental consequences of their operations. An awareness-raising campaign will be carried out so that the demonstration effect resonates across the Niger River Basin, prompting other enterprises to follow suit.

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Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?

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Soldiers from the Wagner Group (source: middleeastmonitor.com)

France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking a way out of an unwinnable conflict.

On September 13, a Reuters news agency article citing unnamed sources and reporting advanced negotiations between Mali and the Russian mercenary company Wagner sparked a firestorm of reactions. The United States, Germany, and the United Nations have all warned Bamako’s military against such collaboration. According to them, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – a thousand have been estimated – would jeopardize the West’s commitment to fighting the jihadists who control a large portion of Malian territory.

But France, understandably, is the most vocal against such a move. The former colonial power has maintained a military presence in the country since 2013, when it halted the jihadists’ advance on the capital. Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, visited Bamako on September 20th to warn Malian colonels in power following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021. Wagner’s choice, she said, would be that of “isolation” at a time when “the international community has never been so numerous in fighting jihadists in the Sahel”.

What the minister does not mention is that France’s commitment to Mali is waning. Emmanuel Macron used the second Malian coup d’état last June, less than a year before the French presidential election, to announce a “redeployment” of French forces in Mali. Although Paris refuses to discuss a de facto withdrawal, even if it is partial, the truth is that the tricolored soldiers will abandon the isolated bases of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit in the country’s north by next year, concentrating on the area further south of the three borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.

Europeans, who are expected to be more supportive of France, are also perplexed. The humiliation of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has served as a wake-up call. The Afghan government’s sudden collapse in the face of the Taliban has demonstrated how difficult it is to build a strong army and institutions. This scenario appears to be repeating itself in Mali.

The possibility of a rapprochement between Bamako and Moscow is taken seriously because Putschists in Mali have always been sensitive to Russian offerings. Colonel Sadio Camara, Mali’s Defense Minister, visited Russia on September 4. Disagreements over a reversal of Mali’s alliances are said to have been one of the causes of the Malian colonels’ second coup, which ousted the civilian transitional government last May.

Russia also acts as a boogeyman for the Malian military. According to a Daily Beast investigation, the Malian army organized a supposedly spontaneous demonstration last May demanding Russian intervention. This was also a warning to the international community, which is growing weary of the country’s poor governance and repeated coups.

Is Mali transitioning from the French to the Russian spheres of influence? Since Moscow gained a foothold in the Central African Republic, the scenario is not a figment of the imagination. Russian instructors and Wagner’s mercenaries have proven their worth in this former French backyard. Even though the UN condemns Russia’s atrocities in this conflict, the Russians were able to push back the rebels who were threatening the capital Bangui last December with the help of UN peacekeepers and Rwandan reinforcements.

The Kremlin denies any involvement with the Wagner group. However, the company is actually run by a close associate of Vladimir Putin. The use of private mercenaries allows Moscow to avoid military commitments abroad, as it did previously in Ukraine and Libya. “Russia is not negotiating a military presence in Mali,” said a Kremlin spokesman in mid-September. When questioned by the magazine Jeune Afrique on September 20th, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra swore that he had “not signed anything with Wagner.” “In the Central African Republic, we have companies that were established in accordance with the law and operate on liberalized markets,” he explained.

Nothing has been decided on Wagner, it is repeated in Bamako. According to the military, the selection of foreign “partners” is a matter of Mali’s “sovereignty.” They regard these “rumors” as an attempt to “discredit the country.” The Malian junta is under siege, not only from jihadists but also from the international community. The latter is calling for elections to be held in February to return power to civilians, as stipulated in the military-agreed transition charter. Electoral reform must come before the election. However, Colonel Assimi Gota, the transitional president, has shown little interest in preparing for these elections. The Malian junta may also be hoping that Russia’s partners will be less stringent on democratic requirements.

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Africa

Google Drives Deeper into Africa

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As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the new initiative that places emphasis on intra-African trade – including free movement of goods, capital  and people – foreign players have accordingly raising eyes on using the new opportunity to expand their operations in Africa.

Foreign enterprises are gearing up to localize production in industrial hubs and distribute their products across the borderless territory considered as a single market in Africa. Thus, by its description, Africa’s estimated population of 1.3 billion presents itself a huge market – from baby products through automobiles and to anything consumable.

Google LLC, the U.S. Global Technology Gaint, has primarily set its eyes on business, with a comprehensive plan to expand its operations into Africa. Google made known its plans to commit US$1 billion over the next five years in tech-led initiatives in Africa. It is investing this US$ 1 billion in Nigeria and African countries to support and transform the digital market over the next five years.

In its media release, it said the investment would include landing a subsea cable into the continent to enable faster internet speeds, low-interest loans for small businesses, equity investments into African startups, skills training and many more directions determined in future.

This is in a bid to enable fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, noted that the company was building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. Through the Black Founders Fund, Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support.

The developing world represents the best chance of growth for large internet companies, and today, one of the very biggest set out its strategy for how it plans to tackle that.

“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade – but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of US$1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation, to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups,” said Pichai.

According to him, this is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. The subsea cable is set to cut across South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena, connecting Africa and Europe.

According to Managing Director for Google in Africa, Nitin Gajria, it will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve Africa. It is projected to create about 1.7 million jobs in Nigeria and South Africa by 2025 as the digital economy grows.

Google further announced the launch of the Africa Investment Fund, where it will invest US$50 million in start-ups across the continent providing them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.

It will additionally disburse US$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in order to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid pandemic.

Google is bringing venture capital into the continent. The fund might work in a similar fashion as the Google for Startups Accelerator programme.

Although Africa has a Big Four (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt) in terms of startup and venture capital activity on the continent, the accelerator has made sure to accept applications from startups in less-funded and overlooked regions. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is considered as one of the Big Five information technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Google specializes in internet cloud services, software and hardware as well as online advertising technologies.

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