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Rebuilding relationships over natural resources in Darfur

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Over 2,000 people from the local community attended the launch of the second phase of the Wadi El Ku project in Darfur. Photo: UNEP

Every year on 19 August, World Humanitarian Day offers the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations an opportunity to celebrate the daily work of humanitarian responders worldwide and recognize their dedication to helping others. World Humanitarian Day also gives us pause to reflect on how to continue improving the humanitarian response to climate change and complex emergencies.

Here we report on how a flagship United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-led project in Darfur has improved the livelihoods of over 100,000 people and brought communities together to better manage limited natural resources.

Across Sudan’s arid Darfur region, water has always been one of the most precious commodities. Without it, life literally trickles to an end.

With climate change, the availability of water for farming and living has become more unpredictable. Rainfall has been erratic, and temperatures are rising higher, leading to food shortages and conflict as farmers and herders compete for scarce natural resources.

“Water is a priority anywhere in north Darfur. We sometimes have only one shower per year, and often, as little as between 150–200 mm of rain a year,” said Mohamed Siddig Lazim Suliman, who works on a UNEP project on water resource management in Darfur.

Drought is not always the problem. Heavy rains can also bring misery – and death. When the ground has been baked dry over long hot months, it cannot absorb sudden downpours. When the water comes, it runs off in flash floods, barreling down dry riverbeds, sweeping all before them. In North Darfur alone, more than 40 people have drowned since last year in such incidents.

The damage caused by climate change is compounded by the region’s troubled history. Conflict between communities tore Darfur apart in the early 2000s, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Many never dared to return to their home villages.  This put great strain on local environments where they chopped down trees for firewood, reducing forest and plant cover.

Solutions that hold water

But there are innovative, nature-based solutions to tackle Darfur’s environmental issues. These are being put in place by UNEP and partners in Wadi El Ku near El Fasher – the capital of North Darfur state – where Mohamed Siddig works.

This initiative has constructed weirs to conserve rainwater and regulate it when the floods come. It has been in place for seven years and has won plaudits for making residents’ lives more sustainable and reducing conflict between the nomadic herders of camels, cattle and goats and farmers.

From the beginning, UNEP and project partners worked closely with the local communities, encouraging parties to come together to build the weirs, which allow constant flow of water, while increasing soil moisture for a variety of crops. About 100,000 people in the 35,000 sq km catchment area benefit.

“This initiative has led to very big changes in the area. All stakeholders are involved and come together to seek consensus. It can take a long time, but it works,” explained Mohamed Siddig.

“The Wadi el Ku project demonstrates why it is critical for UN agencies, donors and the government to work hand-in-hand with local communities on restoring the environment. Ensuring that the region’s residents, especially women, manage natural resources in an inclusive way is helping end mistrust between farming and nomadic communities,” said Gary Lewis, UNEP’s Director for Disasters and Conflict.

Leading by Example

The Wadi El Ku project is now in a second phase, which began in 2018. Ultimately, this will see the construction of several weirs, irrigation channels, community forests, shelter belts and other interventions that will improve the livelihood for 100,000 people while restoring the natural resources.

Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to adapt project activities to minimize health risks. Radio programs are now used to reach large areas with simple extension messages. Hands-on training takes place outdoors, and communication with government officials relies more on WhatsApp and SMS than in the past. Through many small adaptations like these, the project continues to deliver efficiently while minimizing the risk of infections.

In consultation with the Ministry of Health, messages about COVID-19 preventive measures have also been incorporated in all outreach activities.

The project has paid special attention to involving women in the decision-making processes. They are members of water management committees along with other village representatives. Some have benefited from micro-financing schemes enabling them to buy seeds and equipment.

Fawzia Abdelhamid, Head of Women Development Association Network, one of the project’s partners, said the weirs have led to huge improvements in land irrigation, which means that women no longer having to spend hours every day walking long and dangerous journeys to fetch water.

“Girls used to help their mothers and could not go to school, it affected their health and added to high illiteracy rates. That has ended and women grow so many more vegetables than before,” she said.

Adam Ali Mohamed, 42, has seen a 10-fold increase in his production of watermelons, cucumbers and lentils which he now has to ferry to market by car rather than the occasional donkey trip. It has also seen his income go from around 20,000 Sudanese pounds a month to some 300,000.

“I have opened a shop in El Fasher and bought a house too. One of my sons is studying law at university there too,” he said. “I thank God for bringing this project into my life.”

Below are details on the structure of the project:

Donor: EU, 10 million EUR

Project holder: UNEP

Implementing partner: Practical Action

Practical Action rely on “the networks” for much of the implementation. There are three local networks consisting of 260 community-based organisations:

  • Women Development Association NetWork (WDAN)
  • El-Fashir Rural Development Network (ERDN)
  • Voluntary Network for Rural Help Development (VNRHD)

The project is implemented in close collaboration with the North Darfur state government. The following entities are directly involved in implementing WEK II:

  • Ministry of Production and Economic Resources (MOPER) which is a “super” ministry that includes the previous Ministry of Agriculture
  • Department for Agricultural Extension
  • Department for Environment
  • Department Range and Pasture
  • Department for Animal Resources
  • Natural Resources Directorate
  • Ground Water and Wadi Department (GWWD)
  • State Water Corporation (SWC)
  • Forests National Corporation (FNC)
  • Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC)
  • University of El Fasher
  • University of Khartoum

UN Environment

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Africa Today

Africa faces 470 million COVID-19 vaccine shortfall this year

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The Republic of Congo received just over 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccines through the COVAX Facility in August 2021. © UNICEF/Aimable Twiringiyima

Africa needs around 470 million doses to accomplish the global of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of its population by the end of the year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.  

The international COVAX initiative aimed at guaranteeing global access to the vaccines, recently announced that it was being forced to slash planned deliveries to Africa, by around 150 million doses this year.  

The scheme is now expected to deliver 470 million doses through the end of December. These will be enough to protect just 17 per cent of the continent, far below the 40 per cent target. 

To reach the end-year target, that 470 million figure needs to double, even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union are delivered. 

Export bans, vaccine hoarding 

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that “export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa.” 

“As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals. The huge gap in vaccine equity is not closing anywhere near fast enough. It is time for vaccine manufacturing countries to open the gates and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” Ms. Moeti said.  

Besides export bans, challenges in boosting production and delays in approvals have constrained deliveries. COVAX has called for donor countries to share their supply schedules to give more clarity on deliveries. 

The initiative has also called for countries with enough doses, to give up their place in the queue. Manufacturers must deliver in line with their prior commitments, and countries that are well-advanced must expand and accelerate donations. 

About 95 million more doses are set to arrive in Africa via COVAX throughout September, which will be the largest shipment the continent has taken on board for any month so far. Just 50 million people, or 3.6 per cent of its population, has been inoculated to date. 

Only around 2 per cent of the nearly 6 billion doses administered globally have gone to Africans. The European Union and the United Kingdom have vaccinated over 60 per cent of their populations and high-income countries have administered 48 times more doses per person, than low-income nations.  

Variants risk 

“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa with low vaccination rates into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. This could end up sending the whole world back to square one,” warned Ms. Moeti. 

WHO is ramping up support to African countries to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. 

The agency has assisted 15 countries in conducting intra-action reviews and offered recommendations for improvements. The reviews have shown that vaccine supply security and uncertainty around deliveries has been a major impediment.  

With over 300 staff in place across Africa supporting the COVID-19 response, WHO is deploying experts and producing support plans in specific areas, including securing staff, financing, strengthening supply chains and logistics and boosting demand for vaccines.  

Case summary 

As of 14 September, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125,000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September. 

This represents a 27 per cent drop from the previous week, but weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave, and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers. 

Deaths fell by 19 per cent across Africa, to 2,531 reported in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries. 

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Africa Today

Eritrea: Release journalists and politicians arrested 20 years ago

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The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release 21 journalists and politicians who were arrested in a sweeping crackdown on dissent 20 years ago, said Amnesty International as it launched a new campaign #WhereAreEritreasDissidents

The arrests of the journalists between 21 and 23 September 2001 followed the arrest on 18 September 2001 of politicians popularly known as G-15 and the banning of independent media after they had published an open letter urging reforms.

“It is unconscionable that these brave prisoners of conscience are still languishing in jail 20 years since they were arrested for exercising their human rights, with no word from the authorities on their current circumstances, and that the ban on independent media remains in place,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.  

“Days have turned into months, months into years and now years have turned into decades of unending anguish for these detainees, their families and loved ones. We call on President Isaias Afewerki to take meaningful steps to bring an end to this travesty of justice.”

The journalists arrested between 21 and 23 September 2001 are Dawit Isaak, Seyoum Tsehaye, Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab, Fesseaye “Joshua” Yohannes, Amanuel Asrat and Temesegn Gebreyesus, Said Abdelkader, Yosuf Muhamed Ali and Medhanie Haile. The politicians – all members of Isaias’ ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) – include former Vice-President Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo and his wife and independence war heroine Aster Fissehatsion, and former foreign ministers Haile Woldetensae and Petros Solomon. Nine of the politicians and journalists have previously been reported to have died in detention, a claim the Eritrean authorities refuse to confirm.

“There are also many other politicians, journalists and activists that were arrested and detained without charge before September 2001 and since then and they must be released too,” said Deprose Muchena

Some of the high-profile detainees in Eritrea include former Finance Minister Berhane Abraha, who was arrested in September 2018 following his publication of a book considered critical of President Isaias, and Ciham Ali,  the daughter of the defected former Minister of Information Ali Abdu, who was arrested in 2012 aged 15, as she tried to flee the country.

Amnesty International has documented extremely poor prison conditions in Eritrea, in some cases amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prisons in Eritrea are generally overcrowded, with inadequate water and sanitation facilities and providing poor-quality food and drinking water.

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Africa Today

Multiple reports of alleged human rights violations in Tigray

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photo © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Monday deplored “multiple and severe reports of alleged gross violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law” committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray. 

In an update to the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) on the situation in the northernmost regional state in Ethiopia, Ms. Bachelet said the conflict has “continued unabated,” and “risks spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa”. 

In the last few months, “mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence” have created “an atmosphere of fear and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian population. Civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive, she said. 

Joint investigation 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also informed the Council on progress made in the joint investigation by the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following the conclusion of the fieldwork phase of the report. 

The full range of information collected is currently being analysed, but Ms. Bachelet said it was already clear that cases documented comprise multiple allegations of human rights violations. 

These included attacks on civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. Sexual and gender-based violence has also included gang rapes, sexualised torture and ethnically targeted sexual violence. 

Violations by all parties 

According to Ms. Bachelet, Government forces and their allies continue to be implicated in allegations of human rights violations

Reports also suggest that people of Tigrayan ethnicity have been detained by law enforcement officials on ethnic grounds, mostly in Addis Ababa. 

She noted that incitement to hatred and discrimination were also documented targeting people of Tigrayan ethnicity, as well as attacks on journalists and the suspension of media outlets’ licenses and shutdowns of Internet and telecommunications in Tigray. 

Ms. Bachelet added that Tigrayan forces have also allegedly been responsible for attacks on civilians, including indiscriminate killings resulting in nearly 76,500 people displaced in Afar and an estimated 200,000 in Amhara. 

More than 200 individuals have reportedly been killed in the most recent clashes in these regions, and 88 individuals, including children, have been injured, she said. 

There have also been reports of the recruitment of children into the conflict by Tigrayan forces, which is prohibited under international law. 

Avoid national division 

Ms Bachelet urged the Government of Ethiopia to accept the recommendations of the joint investigation report that will be issued on 1 November 2021 and to give human rights and humanitarian actors unhindered access. She called for all parties to immediately end hostilities and negotiate a lasting ceasefire to “avoid the risk that Ethiopia will be torn apart”. 

WHO airlift 

 The largest single shipment of humanitarian cargo to date has been airlifted to Ethiopia by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN agency said on Monday. 

85 metric tons of life-saving medical supplies were flown by a charter flight from WHO’s Logistics Hub based in Dubai to in Addis Ababa on Friday. The supplies, including essential medicines, trauma and emergency surgery kits, infusions, consumables, equipment, and cholera kits, are enough to address the urgent needs of more than 150 000 people. 

“This delivery will help bolster our efforts to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of families who are grappling with a difficult humanitarian situation,” said Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, WHO Representative in Ethiopia. 

Currently, nearly 2.5 million people are in need of health assistance from WHO and partners. The shipment to Ethiopia wrapped up a historic week for the WHO Dubai Logistics Hub. Four times the weekly average has been dispatched with over 450 metric tons of medical supplies valued at more than $ 4.3 million in support of cholera outbreak response in Nigeria, critical shortages of medicines in Afghanistan, and trauma and surgical supplies to Syria and Yemen.  

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