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Conflict, floods and COVID-19 push South Sudanese into extreme hunger

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Children eat porridge their mother cooked with the food she received at a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution site in Pibor, South Sudan. WFP/Marwa Awad

Driven by insecurity, the effects of COVID-19, an on-going economic crisis, and the impact of flooding on livelihoods, three UN agencies called on Friday for immediate humanitarian access to eastern South Sudan’s Pibor county, where people are facing catastrophic levels of hunger. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian aid organizations, are scaling up their responses to save lives and avert a total collapse of livelihoods in hard-to-reach areas. 

“We call on all parties to stop the violence and to ensure safe humanitarian access in order to prevent an already dire situation from turning into a full-blown catastrophe”, said South Sudan’s FAO Representative Meshack Malo.  

A grim forecast 

A new UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report projects that from April to July 2021, an estimated 7.24 million people, or 60 per cent of the country’s population, face either a state of official food crisis, or worsening acute food insecurity. 

“The coming year will be extremely tough, but we are determined to do all we can to reach more people for longer periods of time”, said Makena Walker, WFP’s Deputy Country Director.  

IPC figures – which estimate that between October and November, 6.5 million people in South Sudan faced severe acute food insecurity – follow two independent reports published by the IPC Global Support Unit last week, indicated that tens of thousands are likely to face famine conditions in Jonglei state’s Pibor county, where many families are experiencing high levels of acute malnutrition and even death.  

The independent analysis also found that some communities in Akobo, Aweil South, Tonj East, Tonj North and Tonj South counties, are confronting catastrophic conditions. 

“WFP is extremely worried about the rising numbers of people suffering because of the lack of sufficient food and nutrition, intensified conflict, unprecedented flooding and high food prices”, said Ms. Walker. 

Children at risk 

Meanwhile, in Pibor, some 1.4 million children between six months and five years old are expected to be acutely malnourished in 2021, according to the IPC report.  

This includes 313,000 children experiencing severe acute malnutrition and more than a million moderate-to-acute malnutrition.  

“These children need urgent treatment to prevent them from dying”, said UNICEF’s South Sudan Representative, Mohamed Ayoya.  

“The data leave us with no doubt about the sense of urgency for all of us – Government, donor community and humanitarian actors – to join hands and ensure all these children get the treatment they need”, she added.  

Moreover, 483,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished and in need of treatment. 

This year, UNICEF has treated 170,000 children affected by severe acute malnutrition, with a 94 per cent recovery rate and will further scale up its interventions supporting therapeutic treatment and stabilization centres in the most affected counties to protect and save children’s lives. 

“At the same time, we need to invest more in actions to prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place”, the UN official underscored. 

Upping assistance 

Over the past two months, WFP has extended food assistance to nearly 80,000 people in Pibor and has begun scaling up aid to critically food insecure areas there and other at-risk areas. 

FAO has prioritized farming and agro-pastoral communities to assist in increasing their production and preserve their livelihood. 

Among other things, this year it has supported over 100,000 farming families to grow their own food from seeds, and vaccinated and treated more than five million animals, which has benefitted 164,000 households.

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Africa Today

‘No end’ to conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

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A girl stands outside her home in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

Disturbing reports have continued to emerge of widespread abuse of civilians in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, nearly six months since conflict erupted, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

“There is no clear end in sight” to the conflict, said agency spokesperson James Elder, after returning from a visit the northern Ethiopian region.

Worst fears

He said more than a million people were displaced, noting that fighting was continuing, and security remained a major issue. UNICEF had been “concerned from the onset about the harm that this is going to cause children, and unfortunately such fears are being realized.”

The conflict is the result of months of escalating tensions between the Ethiopian Government and the dominant regional force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which culminated in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordering a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base. 

Within days, militias from the neighbouring Amhara region had joined the fray, reportedly followed by some troops from neighbouring Eritrea – a long-time rival of Tigray.

According to the Government, the region had been secured by the end of November, however TPLF resistance has continued, amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses on all sides. 

Child victims

Mr. Elder underscored the impact on women and girls, characterising it as a “protection crisis”.

He added: “What is really emerging now is a disturbing picture of severe and ongoing child violations, there is also unfortunately an education and nutrition emergency and I saw extensive destruction to systems on essential services that children rely on.”

Among the estimated one million displaced by the violence are children who have suffered terribly, the UNICEF official explained.

300 km march in flip-flops

“The many children I spoke with, there was one, a girl who is 16, Merhawit, she had walked 300 kilometres with her baby brother on her back from the west of country, amid pretty intense fighting…300 kilometres and in broken flip-flops”, he said.

“Those stories abound. She was a star in physics, and now she is searching for food and hasn’t seen a classroom in a year.”

Apart from the education crisis, the Tigray region is also in the grip of a nutrition emergency, linked to pillaging and the destruction of medical centres and costly irrigation systems which farming communities cannot do without.

“We had a recent assessment in 13 towns and more than half of boreholes are non-functional,” said Mr. Elder. “It’s important to remember that these were really advanced systems, supporting hundreds of thousands of people with generators and electrical circuitry, all looted or destroyed.”

Vandalizing and looting

Health centres have not been spared either, with the majority now out of action.

This includes a new maternal health clinic specialising in emergency surgery for mothers that opened 100 kilometres from Mekelle which has been ransacked.

“Everything – X-ray machines, oxygen, and mattresses for patients – are gone,” said Mr. Elder. A doctor there told me, “It had all the services a mother and baby needed. It was a life-saving place. There was no reason for forces to come here. They came here for vandalizing and looting.”

The UNICEF spokesperson also urged all those with influence on the military actors involved in the conflict to condemn rights abuses against civilians. “Severe and ongoing child rights violations” have been reported by victims, he said.

“We have an average of three cases of reported, reported gender-based violence, remembering of course that this is probably the tip of the iceberg because reporting is very, very difficult both for…security and cultural elements of shame, and so on. I heard traumatic stories of children as young as 14, I heard reports of gang-rapes.”

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Thousands flee fresh clashes in Central African Republic

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UN peacekeepers patrol the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic. (file) MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio

Recent fighting between government forces and rebels in northern Central African Republic (CAR) has forced more than 2,000 refugees into neighboring Chad over the past week, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday. 

According to the agency, new arrivals in Chad reported having fled clashes, as well as pillaging, extortion and other acts of violence at the hands of rebel groups. Most of the displaced were from CAR’s Kaga-Bandoro, Batangafo and Kabo regions.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said that to reach Chad, people had to wade shoulder-deep through the Grande Sido river, which flows along the Chad-CAR border, with the some carrying their few belongings on their heads.

“The refugees are now settled in Gandaza village and the bordering town of Sido, although some are having to resort to crossing back into CAR to find food or salvage what little is left from their properties”, he added.

Violence flared across CAR following last December’s contested elections, with armed elements allied with former president François Bozizé attacking several towns and villages. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced within the country as well as into neighbouring ones.

Chad currently hosts close to 11,000 of the total 117,000 Central African refugees who also fled to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of the Congo (ROC) in the wake of the post-electoral violence.

Longstanding humanitarian crisis

The influx slowed considerably since mid-March after government forces and their allies reclaimed most of the rebel strongholds, UNHCR said. The lull allowed some 37,000 formerly internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their areas of origin, who now need help to rebuild their lives, it added.

Roughly the size of France, CAR has been plagued by conflict and insecurity for years. 

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) about 2.8 million people in CAR – 57 per cent of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. The situation has been further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, with rising hunger, loss of livelihoods, closure of schools, and a reported increase in violence against women and children. 

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The Gambia Secures More Funds for COVID-19 Vaccines

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World Bank Board approved $8 million additional financing from the International Development Association (IDA) to provide The Gambia with safe and effective vaccine purchase and deployment.

“With this additional financing, the World Bank is helping The Gambia strengthen their pandemic response and health care systems, as well as scale up its vaccination campaign, with a total contribution of $19 million towards the implementation of the Government’s National COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan,” said Feyi Boroffice, World Bank Resident Representative for The Gambia.

The additional financing for Gambia COVID-19 Vaccine Preparedness and Response Project will strengthen immunization systems and service delivery capacity to support the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. It will expand The Gambia’s access to vaccines, through direct purchases from manufacturers and other arrangements through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust convened by the African Union.

“The COVAX Facility will provide vaccine doses to cover 480,000 people and this additional financing from the World Bank will make it possible to have sufficient vaccine doses to cover 980,000 more people, with nearly all adults in the Gambia having access,” said Samuel Mills, World Bank Task Team Leader for the project. “It is now important for people to be adequately informed that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the risk of not getting the vaccine.”

To help prepare the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 vaccines, the government conducted a vaccine readiness assessment with support from the World Bank, the World Health Organizations (WHO), the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI). The assessment showed that the country has trained medical staff, a monitoring system in place, as well as adequate storage capacity to handle both routine vaccines and COVID-19 vaccine at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C. This additional financing will also support the procurement of ultracold freezers to augment the cold chain to store vaccines such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which require sub-zero storage, and the freezers will subsequently be used by the National Blood Transfusion Center for storing blood plasma.

In addition, the World Bank has supported the Ministry of Health in procuring innovative and environment friendly health care waste treatment technology to allow safe decontamination in hospitals. The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony will be held tomorrow for the construction of clinical waste treatment centers at Farato and at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. The project contributed to the renovation of the Ndemban Clinic, which operates as a COVID-19 treatment center, and procured 10 ambulances for intensive care, critical life-saving medical equipment and supplies, as well as six pickup trucks and 18 motorcycles to facilitate contact tracing and response.

This $8 million funding package for The Gambia is one of several projects in support for the COVID-19 vaccination effort across Africa and other regions. Today, the World Bank Board also approved additional financing for Côte d’Ivoire ($100 million), Eswatini ($5 million), Rwanda ($30 million), El Salvador ($50 million) and Honduras ($20 million).

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