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Madagascar: Severe drought could spur world’s first climate change famine

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Children under five are among the most affected by malnutrition in southern Madagascar. © WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

More than one million people in southern Madagascar are struggling to get enough to eat, due to what could become the first famine caused by climate change, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). 

The region has been hit hard by successive years of severe drought, forcing families in rural communities to resort to desperate measures just to survive. 

Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, has a unique ecosystem which includes animals and plants found nowhere else on the planet. The country experiences a dry season, usually from May to October, and a rainy season that starts in November.  

Daily life disrupted 

However, climate change has disrupted the cycle, affecting smallholder farmers and their neighbours, said Alice Rahmoun, WFP Communications Officer in the capital, Antananarivo, speaking to UN News on Thursday. 

“There is of course less rain, so when there is the first rain, they can maybe have hope and sow some seeds. But one little rain is not a proper rainy season,” she said.  

“So, what we can say is that the impacts of climate change are really stronger and stronger….so harvests fail constantly, so people don’t have anything to harvest and anything to renew their food stocks.” 

Varying impacts 

Ms. Rahmoun was recently in southern Madagascar, where WFP and partners are supporting hundreds of thousands of people through short and long-term assistance.   

The impact of the drought varies from place to place, she said. While some communities have not had a proper rainy season for three years, the situation might be even worse 100 kilometres away.  

She recalled seeing villages surrounded by dried-out fields, and tomato plants which were “completely yellow, or even brown”, from lack of water.  

Surviving on locusts 

“In some areas they are still able to plant something, but it’s not easy at all, so they are trying to grow sweet potatoes.  But in some other areas, absolutely nothing is growing right now, so people are just surviving only eating locusts, eating fruits and cactus leaves,” said Ms. Rahmoun.   

“And, just as an example, cactus leaves are usually for cattle; it is not for human consumption.”   

The situation is even more dire because, she added, “even the cactus are dying from the drought, from the lack of rain and the lack of water, so it’s really, really worrying”. 

Families barely coping  

The plight of families is also deeply troubling. “People have already started to develop coping mechanisms to survive,” she said.  

“And that means that they are selling cattle, for example, to get money to be able to buy food, when before, they were able to get food and feed themselves from their own field production, so it’s really changing the daily life for people.” 

Valuable assets such as fields, or even houses, are also put up for sale.  Some families have even pulled their children out of school. 

“It’s also a strategy right now to gather the family’s forces on finding income-generating activities involving children, so this has obviously a direct impact on education,” Ms. Rahmoun said. 

Providing life-saving aid 

WFP is collaborating with humanitarian partners, and the Malagasy Government, to provide two types of response to the crisis.  Some 700,000 people are receiving life-saving food aid, including supplementary products to prevent malnutrition. 

“The second one is more long-term response to allow local communities to be able to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate shocks better,” said Ms. Rahmoun. “So, this includes resilience projects such as water projects.  We’re doing irrigation canals, reforestation and even microinsurance to help smallholder farmers to recover from a lost harvest, for example.” 

WFP ultimately aims to support up to one million people between now and April, and is seeking nearly $70 million to fund operations.  “But we are also involving more partners to find and fund climate change solutions for the community to adapt to the impacts of climate change in southern Madagascar.” 

COP26: Prioritize adaptation 

In just over a week, world leaders will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 UN climate change conference, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the last chance to “literally turn the tide” on an ailing planet. 

Ms. Rahmoun said WFP wants to use the conference to shift the focus from crisis response, to risk management.  

Countries must be prepared for climate shocks, and they must act together to reduce severe impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, which includes the villagers of southern Madagascar. 

“COP26 is also an opportunity for us to ask governments and donors to prioritize funding relating to climate adaptation programmes, to help countries to build a better risk management system, and even in Madagascar, because if nothing is done, hunger will increase exponentially in the coming years because of climate change,” she said, adding: “not only in Madagascar, but in other countries.”

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Africa Today

Rights experts call for end to violence against women in Tigray conflict

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photo: © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

Experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have called for urgent action to end violence against women and girls caught in the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia. 

In a statement issued on Friday, they expressed grave concern about the widespread sexual and gender-based violence attributed to Ethiopian, Eritrean, Tigray and Amhara forces, as well as allied militia. 

These incidents constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, according to the experts. 

‘A deliberate strategy’ 

“They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors’ parties to the conflict,” they said. 

“These brutal acts have devastating physical and psychological impacts on the victims, which are exacerbated by the lack of access to assistance, support and redress for survivors.” 

The UN continues to voice alarm over the war in Tigray, which began just over a year ago.  Last month, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, noted that the conflict has been marked by “extreme brutality”

Cases under-reported 

The rights experts said although the exact prevalence of gender-based violence is unknown, estimates are shocking. 

From November 2020 through June of this year, some 2,204 survivors reported sexual violence to health facilities across the Tigray region.

Furthermore, one of the one-stop centres reported that the majority of victims, or 90 per cent, were underage girls, and estimated that visits have quadrupled since the conflict began.  

However, the experts said these figures are an underestimation of the true extent of gender-based violence being committed.  Cases are severely under-reported due to fear, stigma and inability to access health or support centres. 

“Despite the humanitarian situation, proper access to facilities is vital to ensure adequate care, for instance for women and girls at risk of developing life-threatening infections, or to allow for abortion for women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape,” they stressed. 

Displaced women vulnerable 

The experts reported that the violence occurred in both rural and urban areas, in the victims’ homes or in places where they were sheltering.  

In some cases, women and girls were raped because of their perceived or actual political affiliation, to pressure them to reveal the whereabouts of their male relatives, or as acts of revenge. 

“Internally displaced women and girls in Ethiopia, and Eritrean refugee women and girls living in the Tigray region, have been particularly exposed to sexual violence. Eritrean women and girls, specifically, have been seriously affected by the conflict and doubly victimized,” the experts said.  

“In addition to the grave consequences of sexual violence, most victims have also been harmed in other ways by the conflict including by having close relatives killed.” 

Respect and protect 

The UN experts reminded parties to the conflict of their duty to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their control. 

They also urged the sides to implement recommendations contained in a joint report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Office and its UN counterpart. 

Those recommendations include taking immediate measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence, providing redress to victims, facilitating immediate access to health care, and ensuring independent and impartial investigation of all incidences of sexual violence. 

Role of UN experts 

The 14 experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

They monitor specific country situations or thematic issues, such as violence against women, discrimination against women and girls, and the rights of internally displaced persons. 

The experts are independent of the UN and serve in their individual capacity.  As such, they are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization. 

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Africa Today

New Project to Support the Emergence of a Digital Economy in Djibouti

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The World Bank today approved a US$10 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s program for the poorest countries, in support of Djibouti’s efforts to accelerate the digital transformation and build a more inclusive digital economy.

While Djibouti has made significant inroads in becoming a digital hub in regional connectivity and data markets, many Djiboutians do not fully benefit from the country’s connectivity infrastructure. The new Digital Foundations Project aims to ensure that more citizens and businesses have access to quality and affordable internet by developing an enabling environment for the gradual introduction of competition and private-sector investment in information and communication technology (ICT), and by fostering the uptake of digital skills and services. The project is aligned with the new Country Partnership Framework and Djibouti’s Vision 2035, which recognize the role of ICT in economic growth.

Accelerating digital transformation in Djibouti is an urgent necessity for post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, Djibouti’s Minister of Economy and Finance in charge of Industry. “Stimulating economic growth, innovation and job creation through technology is an opportunity that will benefit present and future generations.

The new financing will strengthen the capacity of the public sector, specifically the Ministry of Communication, with responsibility for Posts and Telecommunications, the Delegate Ministry in charge of Digital Economy and Innovation and the Multi-sectoral Regulatory Authority of Djibouti, to promote digital economy and market competition. It will provide support to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), while boosting Djibouti’s resilience to external shocks, including disaster response and climate monitoring.

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digital technologies,” said Boubacar-Sid Barry, World Bank Resident Representative in Djibouti. “With this new project, the Bank supports Djibouti in its efforts to address vulnerabilities and create a favorable environment for the development of an inclusive and safe digital economy.

The project will also support the development of digital skills programs for entrepreneurs and the integration of basic digital skills into school and university curricula. It is anticipated that the project will benefit all segments of Djibouti’s economy and society, including the public and private sectors, women, youth and underserved rural populations. Citizen engagement will be an essential component of the program.

According to Eric Dunand and Tim Kelly, co-Task Team Leaders, “The project will help Djibouti to harness its digital potential. A high-performing digital economy in Djibouti, based on a well-developed ICT sector, will have many benefits. Wider use of digital technologies will help the government improve service delivery, offer youth more job opportunities, and entrepreneurs, more business prospects in diversified economic sectors.

The World Bank’s portfolio in Djibouti consists of 14 projects totaling US$258 million in financing from IDA. The portfolio is focused on education, health, social safety nets, energy, rural community development, urban poverty reduction, the modernization of public administration, governance, and private sector development with an emphasis on women and youth.

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Violence in Cameroon, impacting over 700,000 children shut out of school

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Kidnappings and harassment of students and teachers are forcing schools to close in Cameroon. © Education Cannot Wait/Daniel Beloumou

Over 700,000 children have been impacted by school closures due to often brutal violence in Cameroon, according to an analysis released by the UN humanitarian arm, OCHA, on Thursday. 

Two out of three schools are closed in the North-West and South-West regions of the country. On 24 November, four children and one teacher were killed in an attack in Ekondo Titi, in the South-West. 

Lockdown 

A recent lockdown imposed by a non-State armed group, from 15 September to 2 October, limited access to basic services including health and education. 

During the period, OCHA reported a series of attacks in the North-West. 

Eight students were kidnapped, and a girl’s fingers were chopped off after she tried to attend school. Five public school principals were also kidnapped, including one who was then killed. 

All schools and community learning spaces were closed, except for some schools in a few urban areas which operated at less than 60 per cent capacity. 

The lockdown and insecurity also forced UN agencies and aid organisations to temporarily suspend the delivery of aid. During that time, about 200,000 people did not receive food.  

Multiple crisis 

Nine out of ten regions of the country continue to be impacted by one of three humanitarian crises: the crisis in the North-West and South-West, conflict in the Far North, and a refugee crisis, with people fleeing the Central African Republic.  

Because of these combined crises, over one million children need urgent education support.  

To answer some of these needs, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN global fund for education in emergencies and crises, is working closely with UN agencies, the Norwegian Refugee Council and other civil society partners. 

ECW is contributing $25 million over three years and calling for other donors to fill the gap, which is estimated at $50 million. 

When fully funded, the programme will provide approximately 250,000 children and adolescents with access to safe and protective learning environments in the most-affected areas. 

Visit 

Just this week, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, and the Director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, had a joint visit to the country. 

In a statement, Ms. Sherif said the situation “is among the most complex humanitarian crises in the world today.” 

“Children and youth are having to flee their homes and schools, are threatened with violence and kidnapping, and being forced into early childhood marriage and recruited into armed groups,” Ms. Sherif recalled. 

Jan Egeland argued that “putting a schoolbag on your back shouldn’t make you a target”, but unfortunately children in Cameroon “risk their lives every day just showing up for school.” 

“Cameroon’s education mega-emergency needs international attention, not deadly silence by the outside world,” Mr. Egeland declared.  

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