(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

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  • As AIDS money shrinks, who loses?

    As the global public health community gathered in the South African city of Durban this week to talk about the end of AIDS, they were greeted with news that annual international support for combatting the epidemic had fallen by more than US$1 billion.

     

    The news added weight to existing calls for middle-income countries to take more responsibility for funding their own responses. As part of a global strategy to end the epidemic by 2030, representatives from many of the world’s middle-income countries say they are willing to take on that challenge, and with it the opportunity to assume more control in guiding their national programmes.

     

    However, there are deep concerns, both among officials and activists.

     

    Governments fret that there is not enough time to plan and guide the rapid pace of the transition, which could cause critical services to be interrupted. And civil society groups are concerned that the move to greater dependence on domestic funding will allow administrations that already criminalise specific groups – including gay men and sex workers – to drop HIV services for them entirely.

     

    Less in the pot, less support?

     

    International donor support for HIV responses in low- and middle-income countries fell from $8.6 billion in 2014 to $7.5 billion last year, according to new figures released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The announcement was timed to coincide with the start of the International AIDS Conference, which returned to sub-Saharan Africa this week for the first time in 16 years.

     

    There had long been concerns that the funding situation was worsening, but there was widespread surprise that the drop in donor support had been so dramatic.

     

    “We came into this conference talking about the risks…from flat funding,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, president of the International AIDS Society, which organises the annual event. “Then we realized we’re not talking about flat funding, we’re talking about declining funding.”

     

    The news was of particular significance for sub-Saharan Africa where more than 70 percent of people with HIV live. Hundreds of thousands of them are dependent on international funding to pay for life-saving treatment. Donor dollars are also being used to avert new infections. The Kaiser analysis underscored a new reality that people living in this region may no longer be able to count on the same level of international support.

     

    Filling the gap and taking back control

     

    In a recent publication detailing the funding necessary to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, UNAIDS underscored the need for increased financial commitments from middle-income countries. The specific funding targets it lays out include a 91 percent increase in commitments from lower-middle-income countries, from $4.3 billion in 2014 to $8.2 billion by 2020. Upper-middle-income countries are expected to jump from $9.4 billion in 2014 to $11.3 billion by 2017 – a 20 percent increase.

     

    Olive Shisana, a public health researcher in Cape Town, and co-chair of the Durban conference, told IRIN the demand was appropriate.

     

    Governments “can reprioritise some of the money that’s going into the military to actually go and save lives,” she said. “I think it’s a realistic call to say, ‘all of us must search deeper in our pockets to get more money to be able to provide HIV services’.”

     

    The shift to more domestic funding is already happening. Such funding made up $10.9 billion – or 57 percent of total HIV resources in 2015, according to the Kaiser report. Shisana’s country is at the forefront of that trend. South Africa’s anti-retroviral therapy (ART) programme, the largest in the world, is largely financed by the government. The South African health ministry recently announced that it would further scale up the programme to make treatment available to all South Africans who tested HIV positive – in line with the latest World Health Organisation recommendations.

     

    This followed an extensive modelling process to determine what interventions would save the most lives while also being the most cost effective. Mark Blecher, chief director for health and social development at South Africa’s finance ministry, said the decision was also rooted in a perspective of seeing “access to [anti-retroviral medication] almost as a right. We feel so strongly about it that even in a time of economic slowdown, when we have a budget cap, even then, we reprioritise money from other areas”.

     

    South Africa’s investment in its treatment programme has given the government control – in collaboration with partners – over how it will achieve its end goal of universal access to ART. And that’s something health officials in other middle-income countries, tired of donors setting priorities, point to as one of the key advantages of increasing domestic financing.

     

    Groups at risk

     

    It also has some experts and activists worried – especially about countries that criminalise some of the groups most in need of HIV services, such as men who have sex with men and sex workers.

     

    “In a lot of countries, including South Africa, donors bear a disproportionate financial responsibility for delivering services to key populations, as well as [for] prevention in general,” explained Michael Chaitkin, a programme officer with Results for Development, a non-profit focused on development challenges in low- and middle-income countries.

     

    As funding in many of those nations shifts from international to domestic, so will the responsibility for providing services to those populations. If countries choose to deny services, it would raise issues about their basic human rights obligations, while also undermining the broader global effort to end the epidemic.

     

    Adding to this concern is that civil society organisations charged with monitoring government responses are also largely dependent on shrinking international donations. It’s unlikely that governments will step in to supplement funding to such groups.

     

    “Who wants to pay for the dogs who bite and bark?” pointed out Javier Hourcade Bellocq, an advocate with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance from Argentina.

     

    What to cut, and when?

     

    The funding transition has country officials worried for different reasons. Nduku Kilonzo is the director of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council. Last year the World Bank re-categorised her country from low income to lower-middle income and she is worried about what that means for the HIV response.

     

    Kilonzo told IRIN there has been increasing pressure for the government to up its HIV financing – something she said Nairobi have expressed a willingness to do, but that they need more time.

     

    “What would be useful is if we had a plan around how that investment happened, instead of simply: ‘Invest more, invest more,’” she said.

     

    Donors’ lack of timelines for withdrawing funding made it difficult for her to approach the finance ministry with a plan for when new funding would be needed. It also increases the risk that, as international donors retreat, programmes could fall through the cracks resulting in treatment disruptions for patients as well as stalled prevention efforts.

     

    Knock-on effects

     

    Despite the concerns about interrupted services, there is a recognition that more domestic financing may not be the only answer. That is the lesson of Botswana – one of the countries to most aggressively pump national resources into its HIV response. It was the first sub-Saharan African country to introduce a national ART programme in 2002.

     

    But health ministry official Lesego Mokganya told IRIN the government had committed funds at the expense of other aspects of the health system. “We lost the women we had saved from HIV to abortion when they had unplanned pregnancies because family planning was neglected,” she said. “Or we lost them to cervical cancer because that aspect was neglected.”

     

    Now Botswana is turning to foreign donors to help shore up those missing components of the health system, even as the government continues to focus on HIV.

     

    Mokganya warned it was a lesson international donors should keep in mind as they push middle-income countries to take financial control of their epidemics.

     

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    (TOP PHOTO: A community care-giver passes a long line of patients at a rural clinic in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province to pick up anti-retrovrial medication for members of her community treatment group, Greg Lomas/MSF)

    Andrew Green reported from Durban on a fellowship with the International Reporting Fellowship (IRP).

    As AIDS money shrinks, who loses?
  • South Sudan food crisis deepens amid tanking economy

    Through 17 months of conflict, tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan and two million more displaced. Schools, health centres and markets have been looted and destroyed. It took a $1.8 billion humanitarian response last year for the country to avoid a famine.

    And it’s about to get even worse.

    At least 40 percent of the country’s population – 4.6 million people – faces acute food insecurity within the next three months, according to a new analysis. While the most severe shortages are predicted for the country’s northeast where the fighting has centred, the hunger belt now spreads across much of the country’s northern half.

    At the same time, economists are warning that the combination of conflict and a global downturn in oil prices – the country’s main source of revenue – has brought South Sudan’s economy to the brink of collapse. Skyrocketing costs and a tanking currency are especially threatening to urban communities where people must buy most of their food. Some can already not afford to eat.

    “All of this means a crisis is arriving very, very quickly,” said Shaun Hughes, the head of programme for the World Food Programme in South Sudan – and on a scale the already suffering country has not yet seen.

    On the move

    Ramsey Bol Lang is twice displaced. In December 2013, the 20-year-old was going to secondary school in Juba when fighting broke out. His neighborhood, on the capital’s outskirts, was the scene of door-to-door killings allegedly perpetrated by troops loyal to President Salva Kiir.

    Three days later, Lang took advantage of a lull in the shooting to flee across the city. Though the fighting in the capital ended as rebel soldiers backing former vice president Riek Machar retreated into the country’s northeast, Lang decided it wasn’t safe to return to his home and rented a new place.

    Months later, his mother, seven siblings and two cousins arrived in Juba to live with him. There had been protracted fighting near their home in northern Unity state and a brother and an uncle had been killed. Lang’s father had decided it was best to send the rest of the family to Juba.

    Except now, a steep rise in prices means they can longer afford to live in the capital. “Everything has become expensive there,” Lang said. “If you want to rent a home, even, it’s too expensive.” Which is why, in late April, they gathered their belongings and hired a minibus for the hour-and-a-half drive to the Ugandan border. They were met by officials from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), who then took them on to a transit camp. Within a few weeks, they will be permanently resettled in Uganda.

    Lang did not want to see his family become refugees. “That is our homeland,” he said, pointing to South Sudan, its border with Uganda visible from the Nyumanzi Transit Camp. “I don’t have a home here.” But at least he will have something to eat.

    To stay in Juba was financially impossible. And to move back to the family’s village in Unity state’s Pariang County meant dealing with food shortages, in addition to the threat of violence. In the newly released Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which measures food security and nutrition, Pariang is predicted to reach “crisis” level as early as this month. And a cluster of counties to its south will likely hit the “emergency” threshold before the end of July – one level below famine. “The situation of Juba right now, all over South Sudan, even, it is not good for us,” Lang said.

    Draku Godfrey Uhuru is the centre supervisor at Nyumanzi. Over the past few weeks, officials have been registering an average of 70 new arrivals to the camp each day. A month ago it was only 30 or 40.

    Uhuru said most of the new refugees have fled from fighting in Unity and Upper Nile states. But for the first time, a noticeable number are not on the run from recent battles. Instead, they tell Uhuru, “It is hunger that is now attacking them.” 

    A predictable crisis

    The figures in the new IPC report are jarring. Nearly 70 percent of the country will not get enough to eat through July. At least 80 percent of the counties across the country’s north are at a critical level of malnutrition, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children. And the report does not even fully account for the people who might be in the worst position of all – stuck in the midst of ongoing fighting in Unity and Upper Nile states. Until the clashes stop, it is impossible for humanitarians to reach them – or even gauge the extent of their need. 

    A steep rise in prices means many can no longer afford to live in the capital.

    WFP’s Hughes said the current situation was sadly predictable. In the early days of the conflict, if South Sudanese did not have enough to eat, they could sell livestock or barter supplies for food. “As the crisis goes on, those coping strategies become increasingly depleted,” he said. “They have nothing left to rely on, no assets left to sell.”

    With the arrival of the lean season – the months when people are planting for August and September harvests – South Sudanese would usually supplement what food they were able to store from the previous year with goods from the markets. Except tens of thousands of people were unable to plant last year because of the fighting. And prices in the market – where markets even still exist – have shot up.

    Barack Kinanga, the International Rescue Committee’s economic recovery and development coordinator, has seen the price for maize in some parts of the country surge 70 percent higher than it was at the same time last year. And he warns, “The prices are likely to rise further and even peak at unprecedented levels.”

    The search for food is driving people across borders, he said. UNHCR has recorded more than 9,000  new arrivals in both Sudan and Ethiopia over the past month. Uganda received around 7,000 South Sudanese in May – the most of any month this year.

    Nyankuch Akuma is one of them. Her husband, a soldier, was shot and killed and she was left on her own outside Bentiu, the capital of Unity state. “It was so bad. Up to now there was no planting,” which is why she decided to leave and travel to Uganda. Even before she was placed in a permanent settlement, Akuma had decided, “I will stay here forever.”

    Economic collapse


    South Sudan’s unprecedented level of hunger is the most alarming signal of the country’s larger economic collapse. South Sudan’s currency, the pound, is trading in Juba’s black markets at nine and a half to every dollar – less than half of its value a year ago. Fuel is scarce. And the casual jobs that many people rely on for income are disappearing as the currency depreciates.

    It is against that backdrop that the food insecurity has spread beyond the country’s northeast. The rest of the country also depends on markets during the lean season, Kinanga said, and “steepening commodity prices are having a far-reaching effect for the communities not directly affected by the conflict.”

    This includes as many as 600,000 people living in urban areas. And a sudden rise in food insecurity in towns will force overstretched humanitarian agencies – now largely focused on rural communities – to recalibrate their response.

    The fighting is the obvious culprit for the country’s economic spiral, said Dr. Kenyi Spencer, a South Sudanese economist. The government is spending much-needed reserves on “the war, hardware, this and that. It has displaced the local economy.” And with long-term consequences.

    “There is a real risk the economic choices the government is making now will destabilize the country for generations to come,” said Emma Vickers, a campaigner with the corruption watchdog group, Global Witness. “If, when the conflict ends, there is no money left for infrastructure projects, education or job creation, South Sudan faces a future where the only choice for its youth is to pick up arms again.”

    At the same time, the country’s oil fields have suffered repeated attacks, forcing production cuts that the country – which is almost completely dependent on revenue from oil sales – can ill afford. And international conditions – including a strengthening dollar and a global drop in oil prices – are hastening South Sudan’s economic collapse, Spencer said. “All these have really arrived to put the economy in a bad place right now. In the next two to three weeks, if nothing happens to change the situation, it could be catastrophic.”

    It already is for the hundreds of thousands of people who are now all but guaranteed to face some level of food insecurity in the coming months. The IPC projection that 4.6 million people will see severe food shortages takes into account the ongoing humanitarian response.

    And if the warring parties continue to limit access, as they currently are in parts of Unity and Upper Nile states, or if requested funding doesn’t come through, then “the number of people we’ll be able to assist will be vastly diminished,” Hughes said. WFP, alone, is currently looking at a $230 million funding shortfall. Unless the money comes through, “we simply won’t have the resources to be able to provide assistance on the scale that’s required.”

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    South Sudan food crisis deepens
  • South Sudan's delayed peace means no justice for war crime victims

    Regional negotiators had warned that yesterday was the "last chance" for South Sudan's warring parties to reach a resolution, but even a renewed threat of sanctions from the international community was not enough to bring the two sides to an agreement.

    The talks are scheduled to resume today in Addis Ababa, though participants are cautioning that there is little common ground. This round of negotiations has taken on heightened significance and if it ends in failure it will be a significant blow - not just to hopes that an end to the fighting is near, but to efforts at seeking justice for victims of the horrific human rights abuses that have taken place over the past 15 months.

    Peace, civil society activists said, is necessary to fully pursue accountability for these crimes, which include ethnically targeted killings, torture and rape. And accountability is critical if the country hopes to break what some activists describe as a cycle, not just of impunity, but of rewarding violence with political power.

    But faced with the reality of the faltering talks, local and international human rights groups are suggesting that justice need not be held hostage to the negotiations in the Ethiopian capital. Instead, they are pushing for the United Nations and the African Union to at least begin assembling a mechanism for accountability so that perpetrators know that when the fighting finally ends, there will be a reckoning.

    A May United Nations report is the closest thing to a comprehensive investigation of the crimes against humanity that have occurred in South Sudan - and it is nearly a year out of date. Still, it offers a window into the scale of the abuses citizens have suffered.

    It documents an incident at the outset of the fighting when government soldiers are accused of having rounded up and killed more than 300 civilians who shared the same ethnicity as former vice president Riek Machar, now the leader of the rebellion. In another instance in April, after overrunning Unity state capital, Bentiu, forces loyal to Machar allegedly massacred hundreds of civilians hiding in hospitals, mosques and churches.

    The killings and rapes have continued alongside other horrors. In February, hundreds of children were forcibly conscripted in the northeastern town of Malakal by a government-aligned militia. There is still no official number of dead since the fighting started, but officials estimate in the tens of thousands, while an additional 1.5 million people have been internally displaced and 500,000 have fled abroad.

    Burying the crimes 

    South Sudan has a record of burying these types of crimes. In its short history, the government has offered blanket amnesties to rebel leaders "who are responsible for some of the worst acts that humans can do to one another", said David Deng, the director of the South Sudan Law Society - part of a pattern established even before South Sudan's 2011 independence from Khartoum.

    The Sudan People's Liberation Army's (SPLA) decades-long rebellion against the north was marred by internal conflicts. The most infamous episode came when Machar, a senior commander, defected from the SPLA in 1991. The troops who left with him went on to slaughter thousands of civilians in the Jonglei state capital in an episode known as the Bor massacre. It did not prevent Machar from rejoining the SPLA more than a decade later and rising to vice president in the country's first government.

    In sidestepping atrocities like this, the leadership hoped "to keep the region rallied together for the big cause, the liberation effort", Jok Madut Jok, the founder of the Juba-based think tank The Sudd Institute, wrote in a recent paper. But it also entrenched grievances and, in the current conflict, fueled many opposition fighters' decision to take up arms against the government.

    Machar's rise and the amnesty of the rebel leaders also contributed to a perception in South Sudan that "unless you're killing people, you don't matter, you don't get a seat at the table", said Niccolò A. Figà-Talamanca, the secretary-general of the Rome-based group No Peace Without Justice. "Breaking the cycle of impunity is about breaking that dynamic" and setting South Sudan on a different course.

    From the outset of the fighting in December, a group of South Sudanese religious and political leaders was determined this time there would be no impunity. Alongside international human rights groups, they called early and often for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity to be investigated and perpetrators to be held accountable.

    That reflects the will of many South Sudanese, said William Ongoro Peter. He is the coordinator of the National Platform for Peace and Reconciliation, an independent body charged by religious and political leaders with bringing South Sudan back together. In his time canvassing the country, he has heard calls for peace, but rarely at the expense of accountability. People want to discuss "what could be the way forward for those who might have committed crimes against their fellow brothers and sisters", he said.

    A hybrid court or the ICC

    Civil society has ultimately hit on a hybrid-court model -- a combination of international and South Sudanese staff and judges assembled to investigate and try the most serious cases. The court could be based in South Sudan or shifted to a neighboring country if there were concerns about objectivity or security. In an SSLS working paper, Deng argued the hybrid model would "help South Sudan to overcome capacity constraints" -- including an underdeveloped judiciary -- while conducting trials "that meet international standards."

    For a while, it even appeared their proposal was going to get a vote of confidence from the African Union. In March 2013, the AU created an unprecedented commission of inquiry led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and tasked with investigating human rights violations in the conflict.

    Obasanjo acknowledged he was leaning toward recommending the creation of a hybrid court. Civil society groups anticipated the committee's final report in January would help them galvanize support around their preferred justice model. But the AU Peace and Security Council opted, instead, to delay the report's release indefinitely so it would not disrupt the talks.

    "That sucked a lot of air out of the room for these efforts," Deng said.

    The lack of peace is made all the more devastating because, until the fighting stops, there are few options for moving forward with accountability. "To get the evidence that would be required and to carry out investigations can't really be done in the middle of the conflict," Deng said.

    Elise Keppler, an associate director in Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, said there is still an opening to push for a hybrid court. In a February agreement, both sides actually signed on to the creation of an "independent hybrid judicial body" that would investigate and try the gravest human rights violations. "This is an excellent signal to the AU and the UN to begin to work with them on it," Keppler said. "They've put it out there and now it's time for the other players to move," beginning with what promises to be a lengthy process of drafting a possible mandate for the tribunal and agreeing on a structure.

    And if peace is indefinitely delayed? Keppler said maybe it then becomes time to start looking at referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. That move comes with its own complications, not least of which that South Sudan is not a signatory to the Rome Convention establishing the ICC. But after 15 months of atrocities without justice, Keppler said, "there's got to be some real moves for criminal accountability."

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    South Sudan - account for the war crimes
  • Cows and conflict: South Sudan's “slow motion” livestock crisis

    At 11 million head, cattle outnumber people in South Sudan and are central to the country’s economy and society. Now, 13 months of civil war have disrupted traditional migration routes and disease patterns in a way that has sparked fresh cycles of violence and jeopardized the country's broader social cohesion.

    South Sudan’s cattle are in danger of becoming “no longer resilient, no longer economically viable, not a viable way of life,” Sue Lautze, country head of the Food and Agriculture Organization, told IRIN.

    According to FAO, as a result of widespread displacement of livestock, “tribal conflicts, cattle raids, and disease outbreaks have all intensified on an unprecedented scale, threatening the national herd and tearing at the social, political, and economic fabric of South Sudan.”

    Twenty-five-year-old pastoralist John Mabil, who also works as a teacher, is already bearing the impact.

    “Right now, I am doomed,” he said from Juba.

    His journey began from his home in Bor, capital of Jonglei state. Conflict forced him to flee first to neigbouring Lakes State, then to Juba, and then to Kakuma, a refugee camp in northern Kenya.

    In the camp, he hatched a plan: he would sell a handful of his 25 cattle to pay for a university education in Uganda. Armed with the degree, he would return to a better job in a peaceful South Sudan and use his remaining cows as a down payment on a dowry. He would marry, start a family and, in time, forget the war.

    Infection risks

    Back in Juba in January, Mabil got a call from his father, who tends his cattle. Eleven were dead. Several more have since fallen sick and will likely die. There will be no university education, Mabil said. All his plans were shot.

    From the symptoms he described – bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite – the cattle probably succumbed to the tick-borne East Coast Fever. The disease is prevalent in the area of southeastern South Sudan where Mabil’s father had taken the animals to graze. He knew the risk of infection and would normally never have driven the animals that far south, but it was the only place he felt they were safe from the war.

    He is among the thousands of pastoralists who have been forced to abandon traditional migration patterns in a desperate search for security, according to an FAO report, which warned of a “new crisis unfolding in slow motion.”

    FAO estimates that at least 80 percent of South Sudan’s population relies on cattle to some degree. For many groups – adolescents, lactating mothers, herders – it is their main source of nutrition.

    Cattle represent much more than food, though. “If you want to get married, there’s livestock involved,” Lautze said. “If you want to resolve a dispute without getting killed, there’s livestock involved. If you want to celebrate, to atone, there’s livestock involved… Livestock are an amazing livelihood resource.”

    Bankable assets

    They are also “the primary bankable asset for most South Sudanese people,” said Lindsay Hamsik, a spokesperson for the non-profit group Mercy Corps, which specializes in long-term recovery. That means that if a family member falls ill or food runs short, a cow is sold off to buy medicine or new supplies.

    Though the UN and NGOs assist, South Sudan’s government – well aware of the social and economic primacy of cattle – has traditionally taken the lead on animal health and protection. The army and police are deployed during the country’s dry season to deter cattle raids and community-based animal health workers assist with vaccinations.

    But now conflict has taken precedence over the animals. The government has shifted resources from caring for livestock to the war effort, according to Lautze. The current national budget allocates around $130 million to be split between all natural resources activities – livestock projects, but also emergency food security and the salaries of Wildlife Service officers. In comparison, the security budget is more than $1.3 billion. Lautze said the Ministry of Animal Resources, home to her main government partners, has not had electricity since well before Christmas. Meanwhile, humanitarians lack the resources to offset all of the cutbacks.

    The effects are already evident. There is an immediate risk of violence, both from cattle raiding and between farmers and herders competing for the same land.

    According to FAO, “there has been large-scale and long-distance displacement of livestock from the conflict-affected states into agricultural zones outside their traditional pastoral domains.”

    Moreover, “the areas where these herds have relocated have witnessed intensive and continuous movements of livestock concentrated in small areas. The arrival of large numbers of livestock … has challenged the local power structures, squeezed natural resource availability, and altered disease patterns.” That in turn is leading to confrontation.

    Mabil’s father, for instance, faced threats as he drove cows through farming land in the country’s southeast. Agriculturalists “are becoming unfriendly,” Mabil said, angered by the destruction the cattle are wreaking on their crops.

    “They killed some cows and when we asked them why, they started to fight,” he said. There are few officials available to mediate these conflicts or security officers to offer protection.

    And then there are the diseases. East Coast Fever, but also Foot and Mouth Disease, which can spoil milk production, and trypanosomiasis, which is transmitted by tsetse flies and can cause wasting and ultimately death. In the midst of the fighting, it is impossible to keep statistics on livestock morbidity and mortality, Lautze said, but the anecdotal reports are enough to raise an alarm. Earlier this month, one community lost 8,000 cattle to liver flukes – a parasite that is easily treatable in normal circumstances. “This isn’t a problem we should have,” she said.

    As with most crises, South Sudan’s poorest families are being hit hardest, Mercy Corps’ Hamsik said.

    “Shocks are going to have larger affects on smaller herds. Smaller herds are typically carried by more food-insecure households,” she said. A shock isn’t even necessarily a death. An individual cow’s illness is enough to spell economic ruin for some families. There is the immediate loss of milk as a source of nutrition for the household, but it also becomes less likely the cow will reproduce and its trade value wanes.

    The scale of the current crisis is now well beyond the individual household level, though, with the potential to sink entire communities.

    Threats to markets

    Shrinking collateral is making it more difficult for traders to secure goods, especially where fighting has disrupted normal trade routes and sent prices skyrocketing. There is a risk that markets, which would normally subsidize a community’s harvest and get people – including farmers or merchants – through the lean season, could dry up. Many markets in the areas most affected by the conflict are already struggling. That could be catastrophic, especially to the 2.5 million people international experts predict will be suffering from severe food insecurity by March of this year. 

    And then there are the long-term implications. “Any kind of crisis with cattle isn’t merely a crisis that will have an effect on food security,” Hamsik said. It has put marriages and educations on hold and will make it more difficult for people to emerge from poverty.

    The FAO is already hurriedly trying to patch together an immunization system to combat some of the emerging diseases, beginning with the delivery of solar-powered refrigerators to store vaccines until they can be injected. But the organization is starting virtually from scratch.

    Peace is really the only viable solution, Lautze said, to allow herders to reestablish their traditional routes, return their cattle to health and rebuild markets and communities. But if fighting continues – and it has flared again this month – the country’s pastoralists “are going to lose the herd they need to resiliently recover.”

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    South Sudan’s livestock crisis
  • Women fearful in South Sudan camps

    Julie Francis's self-imposed curfew starts when the sun sets. The widowed mother of four has been living at the UN base outside Malakal since December, one of more than 17,000 people who have fled there to escape episodic fighting in South Sudan's Upper Nile State capital. But the overcrowded camp is not without its own dangers, especially for women and girls.
     
    Francis can hear drunken teenagers hound women as they make their way around the site's darkened paths. She has seen the holes men have cut through the tarpaulin walls of the showers so they can peep and leer at women. She has comforted rape survivors.
     
    "It is too much," she said. "They attack us at the place of the toilets or at night where we collect water." There were 28 reported cases of sexual assault in the Malakal camp between January and June of this year, according to an assessment released by the inter-agency Global Protection Cluster late last month. But aid workers acknowledge the vast majority of attacks probably go unreported.
     
    So Francis has decided it is best to push a bedframe in front of the entrance to her tent as soon as it gets dark. If she or her daughters need to go to the bathroom, they just use a bag.
     
    But she doesn't think it is fair. "People should take this seriously," she said. "They should be serious to help. There are still people who need to know that it is not right to rape."
     
    Where, she wants to know, are the floodlights that could roust deter men hiding near the latrines, or the regular UN Police (UNPOL) patrols to protect women who want to visit their friends at night or go to the bathroom? Why, she asked, does it seem like she is the only one taking steps to make sure she does not get raped?
     
    The problem is not in Malakal alone. Since fighting broke out in South Sudan in mid-December, nearly 100,000 people have crowded into 10 UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases across the eastern half of the country. They have been dubbed "Protection of Civilian" or PoC, sites. Though there are no official statistics, humanitarian groups say sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) - including rape, but also beating, harassment and domestic violence - exists in varying degrees at all of the larger camps, as does a growing resentment among women and girls that more is not being done to protect them.
     
    "Increasing frustration"

     
    "Of course there's increasing frustration," said Nana Ndeda, the advocacy and policy manager for Care International. She has been talking to women living in the camps about their experiences since the conflict started. "They're getting very frustrated by the fact that UNMISS is not able to provide the kind of security that they would want provided."
     
    What is most galling, she said, is that the strategies for what should be done already exist. The 87-page Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, compiled by a committee of UN agencies and humanitarian groups, offers detailed recommendations, including lighting communal areas, creating safe spaces where women can confidentially seek help and consistently soliciting the input of women and girls on how to improve the situation.
     
    But in the early days of the conflict, with unprecedented numbers of civilians seeking shelter at the UN bases and scores of humanitarian workers evacuating, UNMISS employees were scrambling just to provide basic services.
     
    "We had many more people than we could house and we needed to find a way to still be able to operate the base, as well," said Derk Segaar, who heads UNMISS's protection team. In the early days of the conflict, as people flooded into bases across the country, "it was a matter of trying to get them in a sustainable space that would allow just enough space for them to be there."
     
    Thousands of people are still living in shelters hastily constructed in the early days of the fighting, when issues like SGBV took a backseat to rescuing as many people as possible.
     
    Tidial Chany is a community leader elected to represent one of the original parts of the Malakal camp, known as PoC 2. He works closely with UNPOL on security concerns in his area, but said it is nearly impossible to monitor all of the boggy, unlit alleys and has ultimately concluded, "It's no good for security within the PoC."
     
    Aware of the problems, UNMISS started working to secure additional land and to construct more strategically planned sites almost from the beginning of the conflict, Segaar said, but their efforts were slowed by both bureaucracy and continued fighting.
     
    New camps finally opened in Juba and Malakal in June. Within the new spaces, attention has been paid to the guidelines: women's latrines are stationed near well-lit arteries and are separated from the men's, for instance. Another site is slated to open in the Jonglei State capital, Bor, later this month.
     
    "It's not a matter of a few weeks or a few months and people will all be happy to go home," Segaar said. "That's why we built these bases. We need to be able to keep people safe and healthy for potentially a much longer period of time."
     

    Space constraints

     
    But, at least in Malakal, there is still not enough space in the new site for all of the displaced. When more people surged into the base on rumours of another attack last month, they had to take refuge in the same shelters people had recently left. In Bentiu, currently the largest displacement site with more than 47,000 people, ongoing rains have made it impossible to start work on a new PoC.
     
    That has shifted the focus back to implementing other, more basic interventions to stop SGBV. And while the Mission works closely with aid groups, issues including lighting and latrine location are "a very clear humanitarian responsibility", Segaar said.
     

    Ndeda said aid groups are constrained by the space issues - especially in Bentiu, where "really you cannot fit in one more tent." That means they cannot create permanent safe spaces for women. Instead, they have turned to temporary options, taking advantage of empty rooms in health clinics to hold temporary counselling sessions.
     
    But she also acknowledged that, in her experience, it has been difficult to find the funds needed for interventions like improving latrines and shower blocks. "Very few people were coming out saying they want to provide lighting facilities," she said.
     
    That is starting to change as more people become aware of the gaps. Oxfam, for instance, is providing 6,400 solar lamps to people in Malakal, which will make it safer for women to go to the bathroom at night.
     
    After nearly nine months, Ndeda said it is past time for UNMISS, aid agencies and camp leaders to figure out how to shore up their protection efforts. As peace talks between the government and rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar continue to sputter in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, she warned, "there's no end in sight to the PoC world." And even if all of the camps are overhauled, security is going to remain a problem.
     

    Not enough police

     
    UNMISS has roughly 1,300 police officers - including Formed Police Units, who are specially trained to deal with crowd control - deployed across all of the sites. That is up from the 900 UNPOL originally assigned to the mission three years ago. But Segaar said by the time they assign officers across all of the camps and then further split them into three different shifts, only a handful are actually patrolling at any given time.
     
    "I would say that's the biggest constraint we have," he said.
     
    At the same time, the social structures that could have offered women some protection have broken down. "Many of the protective mechanisms that might have been in place before are not in place now," said Lea Krivchenia, a senior programme manager with Nonviolent Peaceforce, a non-profit helping protect and engage women in some of the camps, as well as rural areas. That includes community meetings and traditional justice systems, which have been difficult to re-establish in the crowded camp environment.
     
    Rachel Nayik, has lived at the Malakal base since February. The former secondary school teacher now organizes weekly women's meetings in the camp. She blames most of the SGBV on young men who have been traumatized by the violence that started in mid-December. She said their experiences have made them aggressive, which is then fuelled by the alcohol they turn to to relieve the enforced idleness of camp life. "The traditions here don't allow rape," she said. "It is only because of the war that it is becoming rampant."
     
    As SGBV continues, she told IRIN that women are worried that the attacks have become part of the fabric of camp life. So in the absence of more UNPOL patrols or redesigned camps, she said women living in the camp are willing to take on the task of protecting themselves.
     
    But they want better options than shoving a bedframe in front of their doors or going to the bathroom in a bag.
     
    Surendra Kumar Sharma heard the same thing during assessment he helped organize in one of the Juba camps a few months ago. Sharma, the chief technical adviser for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), had some money available for a pilot project to improve conditions in the camp. So he asked the communities how UNDP could help.
     
    "Security was absolutely one of the major issues which was of concern to everybody, especially for the women and children," he said. Community within the base had already organized themselves into community watch groups, but were looking for assistance to more effectively canvass the camp and prevent crime - especially SGBV.
     
    Together with UNPOL, UNDP put together a week-long training on the basics of how to effectively monitor the camp and deal with SGBV. They have been on the beat for nearly a month now. Sharma said it is too early to tell if crime has come down, but he is hopeful.
     
    The community watch groups fit the need to "find a solution to this problem within the existing parameters," Sharma said. He said they would happily export the training to other camps if they can get funding for it. "If a solution comes from within, if they want to do something themselves, and we support them in that, I think it's more likely to be sustainable."
     
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    Women fearful in South Sudan camps

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