(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • West Africa gears up to contain Ebola spread

    As the Ebola caseload rises to over 5,350, aid agencies and governments in countries not yet affected by the deadly virus are gearing up for its potential spread across new borders by pre-positioning supplies, training health workers, identifying isolation centres, and disseminating prevention campaign messages, among other activities.

    Countries that share a land border with the affected countries, including Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, and Mali, are considered to be most at risk.

    "It is vitally important that, countries - especially surrounding countries that don't have Ebola cases as of yet - are prepared for a worst case scenario," said Pieter Desloovere, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO).

    In August, WHO issued an Ebola Response Roadmap to help countries across the region limit the spread of the virus. One of its three objectives is to strengthen the ability of all countries to detect and deal with any potential cases.

    "The reason that Ebola started in Guinea and has since spread to Liberia and other countries is that no one was paying attention," said Grev Hunt, the UN Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) sub-regional coordinator for the Ebola outbreak. "We were caught unaware. But now, we are paying very close attention to what is going on and making sure the same thing won't happen again."

    Unlike in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where response plans and training materials had to be created from scratch, UNICEF is now replicating those resources and giving them to neighbouring countries, saving time and effort.

    The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says they have put in place Ebola preparedness and response activities in 11 countries across West Africa, and many local and international NGOs have been pre-positioning medical supplies, training health workers and educating the public.

    "Failing to plan is actually planning to fail," said Unni Krishnan, the head of disaster preparedness and response for Plan International. "And we know from previous disasters that a dollar you put towards preparedness... tends to save thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of lives."

    Preparedness funds

    Key to prevention and preparedness in at-risk countries is having access to timely funding, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Senegal currently has US$5.7 million at the ready to use towards Ebola preparation and prevention.

    Mali has around $3.6 million and Côte d'Ivoire $2.9 million. In Guinea Bissau, where the health system is extremely weak, only $800,000 is currently available for Ebola-related activities. "It's quite a fragile situation right now," said Daniel Sanha, a communication officers for the Guinea Bissau Red Cross. "We have a contingency plan in place, but the Red Cross still has no funds to implement any Ebola intervention activities. At the same time, the government doesn't have enough funds or equipment to take all the necessary precautions."

    Mass public education campaigns

    National media campaigns, including radio shows, TV programmes and other on-air broadcasts, are now under way in all sub-regional countries to educate people about Ebola and give them enough information to protect themselves, as well as to prevent rumours and misunderstandings from spreading.

    "This is the first time we have had an Ebola outbreak in West Africa and part of the challenge we are facing is that people have no idea what the disease actually is or how it is spread," Desloovere said.

    Volunteers in Senegal, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau are handing out pamphlets and flyers door to door, as well as posting them in public areas. Social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, along with text messages to mobile phone subscribers, are being used by Health Ministries and aid agencies to transmit information and to remind people to practise safe hygiene measures, and to go to a clinic if they detect symptoms.

    UNICEF says the messages, which have all been approved by the Ministries of Health, are transmitted in local languages and in culturally appropriate ways. Rather than urging families not to bury their dead in the traditional way, for instance, aid agencies work with communities to find a safer burial procedure that both are comfortable with.

    "Our message is very simple," said Buba Darbo, the head of disaster management for the Gambian Red Cross. "Don't touch a sick person, don't touch a dead body. If everyone follows this advice they will prevent themselves from getting Ebola."

    Some messaging specifies that people should avoid shaking hands as a gesture of greeting.

    Aid agencies have also begun working with religious leaders and local community leaders to spread messages about what to do, and not do, in case of possible Ebola infections.

    Health worker training

    Doctors and nurses across the region are being trained to spot possible cases, as well as to follow protocol for reporting suspected cases, how to prevent any further contamination and how to protect themselves.

    "Educating and protecting our health workers is a top priority," said Ibrahima Sy, a grants manager and health expert with the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA). "We need to put at their disposal all the materials they need to avoid contamination, and arm them with the information they need to avoid further spread of this virus."

    In Côte d'Ivoire, for example, the Red Cross has been conducting staged simulations of Ebola cases, so that health workers know exactly what to do if they encounter a suspected case.

    "We hope Ebola never comes here, but if a case were to be declared today, with the emergency health system we have in place, we are ready to take charge of it," said Franck Kodjo, the communications officer for Côte d'Ivoire's Red Cross. "All the actors, from the Ministry of Health to the local volunteers, we are prepared to take it on."

    Other countries, such as The Gambia, have been training healthcare workers on how to handle the dead bodies of suspected cases.

    Thus far over 300 health workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have contracted Ebola, according to WHO.

    Specialized prevention and response teams

    To help coordinate prevention efforts and put such measures in place, many countries have created multi-sectorial committees to implement the measures. Senegal's National Crisis Committee, for example, now has a 10-committee unit dedicated to Ebola prevention and containment. They have been working with the Ministry of Health and other key partners, including the Senegalese Red Cross and WHO, to engage in activities such as resource mobilization, media and communication, surveillance, logistics, security and clinical care. The Gambia has a similar seven-committee Ebola response unit, which works alongside the government and various health partners and NGOs to implement prevention measures.

    Pre-positioning materials

    Items such as soap, chlorine, gloves, disinfectant materials, medicines, medical equipment, and hygiene kits are being stocked in countries across the region. In Mali, protection kits have also been given to some of the volunteers who are involved in contact tracing and mass education campaigns.

    Identifying isolation and treatment centres

    Some treatment centres and isolation units in at-risk countries have been pre-identified, but not in sufficient numbers, say aid agency staff.

    Cameroon now has isolation centres and laboratories in selected hospitals throughout the country, as well as a quarantine zone in the Southwest Region of the country, near the Nigerian border. The Gambia has also established three Ebola treatment centres: one in the greater Banjul area, the second in the country's "middle belt", and the third in the far east. Senegal has established an isolation unit and has testing facilities at its Institute Pasteur, as do the Institute Pasteur in Côte d'Ivoire and laboratories in Mali. Guinea-Bissau has not yet identified isolation units.

    Border closings and surveillance measures

    Despite strong recommendations by WHO not to close borders, or to restrict travel to or from the affected countries, seven African countries have decided not to allow anyone from an Ebola-affected country in or out. Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire, for example, have shut all land, sea and air borders with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Guinea Bissau has closed its land borders with Guinea, and Guinea, in an attempt to contain the outbreak, has shut its land borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. Cameroon has also closed its land and air borders with Nigeria though refugees fleeing Boko Haram attacks have been crossing the border.

    All countries in the sub-region now have health workers posted at all main border crossings and points of entry, including the airports, where incoming travellers are screened for Ebola-like symptoms.

    In Nigeria, where 21 cases have been confirmed, health workers are also going around communities to check people's temperatures and seek out the sick. Many schools, shops and restaurants now have handwashing stations set up outside their doors.

    "It has become an everyday sight to see temperature-taking devices both at major border crossings, as well as hospitals and offices," said O. Nwakpa, of the Nigerian Red Cross. "They take our temperature and give you hand sanitizer each time you enter a building."

    In Mauritania, not only do incoming travellers go through health checks, but outgoing travellers do as well, as the capital, Nouakchott, is considered a "last stop" before Europe.

    Many communities in border areas most at risk have also created neighborhood watch programmes, in which people are encouraged to report anyone who shows Ebola-like symptoms.

    Countries, such as Burkina Faso and Senegal, have set up toll-free numbers for people to call and report suspected cases.

    Restricting public gatherings

    To avoid potential bodily contact, many countries, such as The Gambia, have restricted or prohibited large public gatherings.

    In Burkina Faso, the government has cancelled important high-level meetings, including the African Union Employment and Poverty Reeducation conference, which was scheduled to be held in the first week of September.

    NGOs and health volunteers across the region say they have stopped performing educational theatre sketches on Ebola for fear of encouraging crowds to gather.

    jl/bo/aj/cb

    100645
    West Africa gears up to contain Ebola
  • Côte d'Ivoire refugees stuck in Liberia due to Ebola crisis

    Halted for several months, the voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees in Liberia was to have resumed in July. However, the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Liberia has led the Ivoirian authorities to close the country's borders to prevent the disease from spreading, suspending refugee returns until further notice.

    According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 12,000 refugees have returned to Côte d'Ivoire since the beginning of January 2014 and 38,600 refugees are waiting for the Ivoirian government to reopen the border to allow them to return home.

    On 11 July 2014, some 392 Ivoirian refugees in Liberia who had arrived during the post-election crisis in 2010-2011, were turned back at the border by the Ivoirian authorities, as they prepared to return home in a convoy.

    "Before the repatriation was suspended, UNHCR ensured that every refugee had a medical screening both in the country of asylum [Liberia] and in the receiving country through its various medical partners," said Nora Sturm, a public information officer with UNHCR.

    Unfortunately, she felt this precaution had been unable to gain the confidence of the Côte d'Ivoire authorities - a situation that forced many refugees to return to the camps, while others continued to live in host communities near the border.

    "We left our country because of the war. Now that we want to go home Ebola is stopping us. We just don't know what to do," Alphonse Toé, a refugee originally from Nidrou in western Côte d'Ivoire, said over the phone. "We need our leaders to take up our case quickly," he told IRIN.

    He said refugees were getting more and more worried as the media reported new figures on the spread of the disease. "We are hearing every time that the disease is spreading. This is really scary. UNHCR also informs us of the situation and reassures us, but we are concerned. Our government must not abandon us," Toé told IRIN.

    As of 14 September Liberia has reported 2,710 Ebola cases and 1,459 deaths. Half of the cases were reported in the past three weeks.

    Government spokesperson Bruno Koné said the government was aware of the desire of some refugees to return home but "there are some health and safety issues that have forced us to close the borders. Things will fall into place once the situation improves."

    Awareness-raising among refugees

    Sturm said UNHCR understands the decisions taken by the Ivoirian government and is contributing to its efforts by implementing Ebola prevention and awareness-raising measures. The organization regularly holds meetings with national and local authorities, refugees and partners involved in the protection of refugees.

    "We explain that these measures will help overcome the epidemic in currently affected countries like Liberia, and also strengthen prevention in countries not yet affected but at high risk, such as Côte d'Ivoire," said Sturm.

    She said if these measures were not implemented, the epidemic would probably spread to Ivoirian territory.

    "The borders will be open again as soon as this epidemic is under control. Refugees are also reminded that the border closure is for all entries. and is not aimed only at the refugees," Sturm told IRIN.

    WHO has strongly advised against border closures in at-risk and affected countries as this can cause mounting distrust and fear of authorities which can help further promote the spread of Ebola.

    Cote d'Ivoire "not immune"

    Ivoirian Health Minister Raymonde Goudou said: "Inter-connections and traditional customs shared by the border populations mean that Côte d'Ivoire is not immune.. Everyone is aware that this serious situation requires strong measures. They are not directed against anyone, but are to protect the entire population."

    He revealed that about 100 Liberians had been sent home after they tried to enter Côte d'Ivoire illegally.

    To date, no case of Ebola has been reported in Côte d'Ivoire. The authorities, religious leaders, media and mobile companies are spreading awareness messages through the radio, posters and SMS.

    The Pasteur Institute in the capital, Abidjan, has the capacity to analyse and detect Ebola samples.

    According to the Ministry of Health, several rumours of suspected cases have been reported in Côte d'Ivoire, but only one was isolated - in early September. That was an Ivoirian photographer, aged 43, who was returning from Freetown (Sierra Leone) and had Ebola-type symptoms. He was quarantined in Yamoussoukro general hospital, but the case was negative.

    "It's a miracle to see that Côte d'Ivoire is still untouched. The country shares borders with two centres of Ebola [Liberia and Guinea] and above all it has seen significant migration flows with Liberia, where there are thousands of refugees. This means that the government authorities have taken appropriate action to safeguard the country," said Bernard Malan, an analyst with NGO Rights and Democracy, in Abidjan.

    aa/cb/aj

    100640
    CDI refugees stranded in Liberia
  • How to boost food production in Africa

    Smallholder farmers, who hold over 80 percent of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa, are struggling to adapt to rapidly rising temperature and erratic rains, according to the 2014 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR), released on 3 September in Addis Ababa.

    It says these farmers are now facing the risk of being overwhelmed by the pace and severity of climate change.

    Farmers are already contending with an increase in average temperatures, with further increases of between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees centigrade expected by 2050.

    Despite a decade of pro-growth and food security policies and programmes such as the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), 200 million Africans are chronically malnourished and 5 million die of hunger annually, says report by AGRA.

    “As climate change turns up the heat, the continent’s food security and its ability to generate economic growth that benefits poor Africans - most of whom are farmers - depends on our ability to adapt to more stressful conditions,” said Jane Karuku, president of AGRA.

    The report’s authors also predict severe drying across southern Africa, while other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to become wetter, but with farmers facing more violent storms and frequent flooding

    During the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Addis Ababa last week, participants said countries need to adopt technologies and “climate-smart agriculture” that will help make crops more resilient to future extreme weather events.

    Here is a roundup of some key issues aired at the forum:

    Forget “blanket” advice about soil health

    Erratic farming practices (such as the failure to apply mineral or organic fertilizers), and soil erosion, are depriving croplands across sub-Saharan Africa of 30-80kg per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen.

    Soil Scientist James Mutegi of the International Plant Nutrition Institute said African countries should not only engage to reverse the current trend of low crop productivity and land degradation, but also forget blanket recommendations regarding fertilizer applications to their soils.

    Fertilizer promotion programmes in Africa are often unsuccessful because they are designed with a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy - failing to recognize the diversity of production systems and the range of farmers’ needs, according to the World Bank.

    To keep African soil healthy, Mutegi said farmers “should apply the right fertilizer at the right time, and in the right way at the right time” as the soil types on the continent, or even within a given country, are not the same. “We need to lose the usual blanket recommendations,” he said.

    Africans, he said, need to map their soil and, in the case of some countries, should update their maps. Mapping would be “crucial” to know exactly where fertilizers should be applied or not. “In cases where there is no deficiency of some nutrients, farmers should not end up losing investments in fertilizers,” he said.

    Ethiopia’s recent move to map out its soil and build in-country blended fertilizer production facilities near farmers is seen as a good approach for other Africa countries. Ethiopia’s fertilizer initiative to introduce customized fertilizers would greatly increase crop yields, said Mutegi.

    Ease fertilizer access

    Fertilizer use in Africa remains low compared to other regions, with average use at around 10kg per hectare, while the global average is over 100kg per hectare. According to Namanga Ngongi, chairman of NGO African Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), African countries need to work on two areas to improve the current situation.

    “First [is] to improve the logistics around fertilizer distribution,” said Namanga, adding that about 40 percent of the cost of fertilizer in Africa is due to transport from ports of entry to the farmer.

    “Secondly, we need to have the farmers improve their financial access to fertilizer,” said the Cameroonian agronomist. Namanga said the private sector’s increasing participation in fertilizer programmes in Malawi, from procurement to transportation of fertilizers to various outlets, was a “courageous effort” to change smallholder farming.

    A decade ago Malawi introduced a large-scale national programme to subsidize agricultural inputs (mainly fertilizers for maize production), targeting more than 1.5 million farming families. The result was increased maize production and real incomes.

    Introduce new crop varieties

    The stagnant state of commercial seed production is often cited as a key reason why yields per hectare in Africa for staple crops like maize are up to 80 percent below what farmers outside Africa achieve.

    According to Associate Director of the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) of AGRA, George Bigirwa, more work is needed to improve seed systems in Africa, through encouraging local research institutes and locally-owned African seed companies, and installing mechanisms to reach farmers with the “improved” seeds.

    After attempting to tweak their seed system, nine African countries have seen positive results in identifying and breeding seeds that are suitable for planting in a particular environment. Conducted by AGRA in 2013, a survey, planting the Seeds of a Green Revolution in Africa, found that most farmers who invested in improved crop varieties achieved yields 50 to 100 percent above local varieties.

    The same survey indicates that 69 percent of farmers in Kenya, 74 percent in Nigeria, and 79 percent in Mozambique said improved maize varieties had doubled harvests per hectare.

    Get the youth involved

    The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says agriculture contributes one-quarter to one-third of African GDP but employs 65 to 75 percent of the labour force, according to IFPRI.

    The worrying factor is, according to a new report released last week in Addis Ababa by the Montpellier Panel entitled Small and Growing - Entrepreneurship in African agriculture, African youth see agriculture as an “outdated, unprofitable” profession.

    The report said more investment is needed in rural and food sector entrepreneurship, particularly among Africa’s growing youth population, for the continent to achieve food security.

    The sector may seem more appealing, when one considers the amount of money African countries invest in food imports. “When I hear US$35 billion food [imports to Africa annually], as an entrepreneur I say ‘what an opportunity’,” said Strive Masiyiwa, an African telecoms mogul.

    In the report, the Montpellier Panel, comprising African and European experts, said youth should be informed more about the benefits of this opportunity.

    They said this can be achieved through vocational and business management training for the youth, adequate and affordable financing for starting and growing enterprises, and by creating enabling environments for entrepreneurship on an individual and collective basis.

    Make use of the “brilliance of women”

    Female small scale farmers dominate the agricultural landscape in most production environments in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet they constitute the majority of rural actors locked in socio-cultural structures that limit their agricultural productivity, efficiency and effectiveness at all points across the value chain.

    According to the director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the issues of equity should be embedded in all aspects of agricultural production.

    She said women are too often left out of decision-making processes and that the Green Revolution will not be successful if “we continue to deny ourselves the talent and brilliance of the women who comprise 50 percent of our population.”

    Only 45 percent of women in Africa are literate, compared to 70 percent of men; about 1.5 percent of women achieve higher education.

    “By focusing on building the capacity of young people and women in particular, African governments will be able to increase the productivity of a large proportion of their labour forces,” says the Montpellier Panel report.

    It argues that Africa should encourage initiatives such as AWARD, a career-development programme that equips top women agricultural scientists across sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills through tailored fellowships. To date, 325 scientists from 11 countries have benefited from the programme.

    Manage more water, irrigate more land

    Only 4 percent of African cropland is irrigated, according to AGRA. The rest depends on increasingly erratic rainfall. But water management can mean much more than irrigation.

    According to AASR 2014, water productivity in African agriculture will be affected by climate change as more active storm systems emerge, especially in the tropics.

    Greater variability in rainfall is expected, which will increase the risks of dry-land farming.

    “The demand for irrigation will grow [in terms of area] and irrigation water use on existing crop areas will increase due to greater evaporative demand. The water resources available for irrigation will become more variable, and could decline in areas with low rainfall,” the report says.

    Total agriculture land increased by some 8 percent in the last decade, while the irrigated areas remained stable, after a steady increase from 2 to 5 million hectares from 1960 to 2000.

    The authors of AASR said agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa can be greatly increased through integrated watershed management that takes into account the full water budget for an area, as well as its use, output, and cost/benefit ratio.

    According to AASR, collecting rain in ponds or barrels, and other “rain harvesting” techniques, offers a simple but underused low-technology approach to climate change. The report also said harvesting only 15 percent of the region’s rain would more than meet the water needs of the continent.

    Rainwater harvesting for underground storage in Ethiopia, for instance, the report says, could be “used for supplemental irrigation of high value crops”.

    Follow climate-smart mechanization

    Motorized equipment in Africa contributes only 10 percent of farm energy, said AASR, compared to 50 percent in other regions.

    Mechanization can improve productivity and nutrient use efficiency, reduce waste and add value to food products.

    But progress in this area, scientists note, should be based on energy efficient innovations, including the use of alternative energy like solar-powered irrigation pumps, and supported by better training and repair services and by strong farmers’ organizations.

    Gordon Conway, director of Agriculture for Impact and chair of the Montpellier Panel, said mechanization “isn’t all about great big machines, but small machines that smallholders can use”.

    He highlighted a small company in Kampala, Uganda, that makes maize hulling machines which are sold or rented to farmers’ associations.

    “But the point is that they need to be made, and that often requires young workers; they need to be repaired and that creates jobs; and in this case the machines go from farm to farm, which involves yet another service,” he said.

    Reduce post-harvest losses

    Anne Mbaabu, director of AGRA’s Market Access Program, says post-harvest loss is “the most unanswered and ignored challenge” to food insecurity in Africa, with losses exceeding 30 percent of total crop production and representing more than US$4 billion every year. “That does not include fruits and vegetables, the loss of which is very difficult to track,” said the director.

    According to Mbaabu, simple solutions such as training farmers on post-harvest handling, food management training on appropriate pre-and post-harvest handling operations and improving market access and knowledge of market requirements would significantly reduce losses.

    She said famers need to have “better access to storage facilities” and access to new technologies to reduce losses, which exceed the total amount of international food aid provided to sub-Saharan countries annually.

    AGRA’s initiative and training for 5,610 farmers in post-harvest handling through farmer cooperatives has had “positive results” in reducing losses, says an AGRA official.

    bt/cb

    100612
    Boosting Africa’s food production
  • New thinking needed on food aid for refugees in Africa

    The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched an urgent appeal to address a funding shortfall that has already resulted in food ration cuts for a third of all African refugees. As of mid-June, nearly 800,000 refugees in 22 African countries have seen their monthly food allocations reduced, most of them by more than half. 

    WFP is appealing for US$186 million to maintain its food assistance to refugees in Africa through the end of the year, while UNHCR is asking for $39 million to fund nutritional support and food security activities to refugees in the affected countries. A joint report by WFP and UNHCR released last week warns that failure to prevent continued ration cuts will lead to high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children and the most vulnerable. 

    Worst hit have been refugees in Chad, Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan where a total of nearly half a million refugees are experiencing ration cuts of 50 to 60 percent.

    The funding shortfall is not the result of shrinking budgets for either WFP or UNHCR, but a substantial increase in the need for food assistance generated by an unprecedented number of refugee emergencies in 2014. “The amount of large-scale, simultaneous emergencies has never been so high to the best of my memory,” said Paul Spiegel, UNHCR’s deputy director of programme support and management, speaking to IRIN from Geneva. 

    Out of a global figure of 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s protection at the end of 2013, the highest number since 2001, 3.3 million live in Africa. 

    “There has also been a lot of earmarking [by donors] for certain situations, particularly the Syrian situation,” he added. “Some situations, particularly CAR, have been severely under-funded so there is an equity issue here that needs to be dealt with. Protracted refugee situations have also not had the same level of funding.”

    Only about a quarter of those affected by the ration cuts are new arrivals, according to Spiegel. The rest are long-term refugees who have been unable to wean themselves off food aid, usually because they are confined to remote camps where there are little or no possibilities for them to generate an income. 

    Camps or communities?

    As donors increasingly prioritize funding for the emergency phase of refugee crises over protracted situations, UNHCR has had to shift its approach in the last two years. “The big shift has been that we’re looking at saying `if we can avoid camps, let’s do so’,” explained Spiegel. “Having refugees be amongst local communities is better for so many different reasons: it allows them to be more self-reliant, reduces long-term dependence and UNHCR can use its funding to improve existing communities.”

    But while UNHCR is advocating that refugees be allowed to settle in communities rather than in camps, governments have the final say when it comes to the refugees they host. For now, few are willing to grant refugees even basic economic freedoms such as the right to work and live outside of camps. Overcoming this reluctance will mean convincing host nations that, given the chance, refugees have the capacity to boost rather than burden local economies. 

    "We're now gathering more and more information...to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it's done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities"

    “We’re now gathering more and more information in Africa and the Middle East to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it’s done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities,” Spiegel told IRIN. 

    He admitted that much of the evidence is still anecdotal and that there is a need for more studies demonstrating the potentially positive impacts of integrating refugees into local communities. 

    Where host governments insist on an encampment policy, said Spiegel, “we’re looking more at sustainability from day one, so if we have to have camps, we would look at a development plan in that area.”

    This could include the placement of camps near existing communities, reducing the need for aid agencies to develop parallel services and increasing the likelihood of markets being available should refugees be allowed to trade.

    New livelihoods strategy

    UNHCR is also attempting to reshape its livelihoods strategy to be more responsive to socio-economic realities and more inclusive of host communities. “In the past, livelihoods [interventions have] been a lot of just keeping refugees occupied without a sufficiently market-oriented approach,” Spiegel said.

    Alexander Betts of Oxford University’s Refugee and Forced Migration Studies programme agreed that “too often in the past, [UNHCR’s] livelihoods interventions have been abstracted from the market into which they’re intervening; they haven’t been based on an understanding of what already exists and how you build upon it.”

    Betts is director of the Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) which seeks, in part, to expand the evidence base for giving refugees greater economic freedom. Last month, Betts and his team released research from Uganda, a country that allows the 387,000 refugees it hosts to live and work outside designated refugee settlements. The study found that 78 percent of the urban refugees surveyed in Kampala did not receive any international aid while 17 percent of those living in refugee settlements received no assistance. They instead relied on farming land allocated to them in the refugee settlements or trading with fellow refugees and their Ugandan neighbours.

    “What we’ve tried to do with the research is offer data that can demonstrate that governments prepared to offer basic economic freedoms [to refugees] can in turn reap benefits,” said Betts, who admitted that far more research into the economic lives of displaced populations was needed if a major shift in host nations’ attitudes towards refugees was to occur.

    Difficult choices

    In the meantime, WFP and UNHCR are having to make hard choices about which groups of refugees are more able to withstand ration cuts. Spiegel cited the example of Chad where mainly Sudanese refugees living in the desert-like east of the country have very few possibilities to sustain themselves compared to refugees from CAR living in the south where the availability of arable land for them to farm has made them more resilient. 

    “Also in Chad, we’re doing surveys where we’re trying to look at - even within a camp - who are the most and least vulnerable,” said Spiegel. “We may even consider, based on consultations with communities and leaders, giving full rations to some and smaller rations to others.”

    According to WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs, “in situations of funding constraints, WFP conducts vulnerability assessments to prioritize its assistance to the most vulnerable.”

    Prolonged ration cuts, however, inevitably lead to refugees adopting increasingly drastic coping strategies. “Refugees initially try to make do by skipping meals, taking out loans and pulling their children out of school,” said Byrs. “In the longer-term, ration cuts can lead to more risky behaviour such as crime, sexual exploitation and conflict with host communities.

    “We are urging donors to try to find innovative ways to supply badly needed funding.”

    ks/cb

    100314
    New thinking needed on aid for refugees
  • Genome breakthrough could help fight against sleeping sickness

    Scientists have welcomed the development of genome sequence data on the tsetse fly, the vector responsible for the transmission of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), commonly known as sleeping sickness. They say it could be instrumental in devising strategies to eradicate the fly and reduce deaths and the spread of other diseases associated with it.

    “The genome data could ultimately advance knowledge on the biology of the tsetse fly and the trypanosome parasite it carries. Aspects of its biology may offer some vulnerabilities, such as the rearing of live young inside pregnant females, the dependence of the fly on bacteria that live inside its cells and its unusual prey-finding behavior,” Mathew Berriman, group leader, Parasite Genomics with Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told IRIN by email.

    “The protein involved in sensing light, smell and taste have been found opening the door for refinement of traps. Also in the genome we find evidence of viruses that are associated with parasitic wasps - this highlights the possibility that a natural predator of tsetse exists in the wild; if it could be found, it could be utilized for biological control.”

    Serap Aksoy from the University of Yale who co-authored the study, told IRIN: “The African trypanosomiasis affects thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa. The absence of a genome-wide map of tsetse biology was a major hindrance for identifying vulnerabilities.”

    She added: “This community of researchers across Africa, Europe, North America and Asia has created a valuable research tool for tackling the devastating spread of sleeping sickness.”

    The researchers also found a set of visual and odour proteins that seem to drive the fly’s key behavioural responses, such as in searching for hosts or for mates.

    The analysis of the genome will help in understand the basic biology of the fly.

    ‘‘By identifying the genes that make proteins associated with vision or smell, it allows us to use this information to better understand what sights or smells might attract or repel tsetse flies from traps. We can then use this information to make more efficient ways to control tsetse fly populations,’’ Geoffrey Attardo, the lead researcher with Yale School of Public Health, told IRIN by email.

    Tsetse flies have a highly unusual biology. Unlike other flies which lay eggs, they give birth to a single live larva which is then nursed into a full grown fly by feeding on the mother’s milk glands.

    Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said in a statement: “This disease-spreading fly has developed unique and unusual biological methods to source and infect its prey. Its advanced sensory system allows different tsetse fly species to track down potential hosts either through smell or by sight…

    “This study lays out a list of parts responsible for the key processes and opens new doors to design prevention strategies to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses associated with human African trypanosomiasis and other diseases spread by the tsetse fly.”

    “The genome data could ultimately advance knowledge on the biology of the tsetse fly and the trypanosome parasite it carries.”

    According to the researchers, the genome sequencing has helped to reveal “the fly's special repertoire of proteins for procuring, filtering, and packaging the blood and for viviparity [retention and growth of the fertilized egg within the maternal body until the young animal, as a larva or newborn, is capable of independent existence] and the expression of analogs of mammalian milk proteins.”

    Critical proteins identified

    “Proteins have been identified that are critical for feeding unborn larvae - interfering with this process would break the life cycle,” Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s Berriman told IRIN.

    The study was conducted by a team of 146 scientists from 78 research institutes across 18 countries. They analysed the genome of the tsetse fly and its 12,000 genes.

    Beyond disease control, the genome is an important resource for evolutionary biology.

    ‘‘The evolution of these amazing adaptations can now be examined on a genomic level relative to other related insects (such as the fruit fly Drosophila) for which genomic information is also available. Insights gained from such comparisons allow us to understand how such dramatic changes develop at the genetic level in related organisms,’’ said Attardo. 

    Other than sleeping sickness, the tsetse fly is also responsible for nagana disease (also known as nagana pest or animal African trypanosomiasis) in livestock.

    The UN World Health Organization (WHO) says “sleeping sickness threatens millions of people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

    Many of the affected populations “live in remote areas with limited access to adequate health services, which complicates the surveillance and therefore the diagnosis and treatment of cases. In addition, displacement of populations, war and poverty are important factors that facilitate transmission.”

    The disease attacks the central nervous system, hence causing severe neurological disorders or even death if left untreated.

    The researchers hope the new revelations on the fly’s genome will lead to the development of repellants or insecticides.

    In many parts of Africa including Ethiopia, different strategies are currently being employed to control sleeping sickness.

    ‘‘These include, control of the fly through insecticide-treated blue traps and release of very dominant and competent laboratory-reared sterile males to the tsetse fly habitat,’’ Aysheshm Kassahun, a researcher at Addis Ababa University, told IRIN by email.

    In 2009, WHO set up a specimen bank to help researchers to facilitate the development of new and affordable diagnostic tools. It contains samples of blood, serum, cerebrospinal fluid, saliva and urine from patients infected with both forms of the disease as well as samples from uninfected people from areas where the disease is endemic.

    ho-ko/cb

    100142
    Tsetse fly science could save lives
  • Melding science and tradition to tackle climate change

    In the latest of several partnerships between tradition and modern science aimed at improving resilience to climate change, pastoralists and meteorologists in Tanzania are working together to produce weather forecasts better suited to farmers.

    The hope is that by drawing from both indigenous knowledge and contemporary weather forecasting techniques, crop yields could be increased.

    “We wanted to see if the two can complement or supplement each other,” Isaac Yonah, a senior officer coordinating community meetings employed by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), told IRIN by phone.

    Using traditional indicators such as the movement of red ants, the flowering of mango and other trees, the migration of termites and patterns and colours in the sky, farmers in Sakala village of Ngorongoro District compare their two-weekly forecasts with those released by the TMA.

    “This is done… to validate how accurate their forecast is and to come up with a consensus [forecast]. In the last three seasons, more than 80 percent accuracy in the findings has been witnessed,” said Yonah.

    The project is a partnership between TMA, Hakikazi Catalyst (a non-profit organization), and the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

    “Strengthening such practices could enhance the resilience of communities which are most vulnerable to climate change. Upscaling the projects will see the knowledge gap between traditional and scientific bridged,” said Yonah.

    Research published in Uganda in 2013 detailed 23 different indicators used by traditional forecasters to predict weather.

    “Farmers would profit from weather forecasts provided by governmental institutions. This [marriage of the old and new] will enable farmers to make sound decisions on how to fully exploit the seasonal distribution of rainfall to improve and stabilize crop yields,” said Joshua Okonyo, author of the study Indigenous Knowledge of Seasonal Weather Forecasting.

    The indicators cited included wind direction, cuckoo calls, and the timing of winged termites’ departure from their nests.

    Working with the Nganyi community in Kenya

    For the past five years in Kenya, government meteorologists have worked with the Nganyi community in the west of the country in a project carried out in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC).

    The Nganyi observe bird migrations and other animal behaviour in their forecasts.

    “After thorough research, we have noticed that these traditional indicators have a high scientific value that could be integrated with the local climate information,” said Laban Ogallo, the project’s coordinator.

    “Since predicting weather within the tropics is a challenge to scientists, we wanted to learn how the [Nganyi] community has been doing it over the years. Their knowledge will be helpful,” Abraham Changara, chief meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, told IRIN.

    As meteorologists are waking up to the value of traditional forecasting methods in adapting to climate change, it seems climate change itself poses a threat to the sustainability of these methods.

    ''There is rapid disappearance of plants and animals due to climate variability and human activities,” according to Weather Forecasting and Indigenous Knowledge Systems, published by Great Zimbabwe University.

    “There are few elders aware of traditional methods of weather forecasting. This makes traditional weather forecast less reliable,'' the study added.

    ho/am/cb

    100125
    Climate change, science and tradition
  • Remittance rip-offs

    All over the world migrant workers are sending money home to their families. The money pays hospital bills and school fees, buys land, builds houses and sets up small businesses. The cash goes from the US back to Mexico, from the Gulf back to India, from the UK back to Somalia, and from South Africa back to Malawi, Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa. 

    But what these workers probably do not realize, since they usually only ever send to one country, is that the cost of sending money varies greatly. Now a study of the cost of remittances, carried out by London's Overseas Development Institute with support from the fund-raising charity Comic Relief, has revealed that transfers to African countries cost around half as much again as the global average, and twice as much as transfers to Latin America. 

    The ODI estimates that if remittance charges were brought down to the world average, the money saved could educate an extra 14 million primary school children, half of all those currently out of school on the continent.

    The bulk of this money goes through money transfer companies rather than banks, since the recipients are unlikely to have bank accounts, and transfer companies are quick, efficient and have a wide network of agents. But just two big international players dominate the business in Africa, Moneygram and Western Union, and participants in a meeting to launch the research were highly critical of the way they seemed to be abusing their market dominance.

    Rwanda's High Commissioner in London, Williams Nkurunziza, said he was shocked at what the report revealed. “If you look at the remittances, 30 or 40 percent of the money that goes to Africa goes to rural areas,” he said. “This money goes to the people who are most needy, and you are allowing a multinational corporation to take bread out of the mouth of hungry children. This is not what I would call responsible capitalism!”

    Glenys Kinnock, opposition spokesman on International Development in the upper house of the UK parliament, who chaired the meeting, called on the country's financial regulatory authority to intervene over the issue of excessive charges. “It is not a technocratic issue,” she said, “although it may sound like one. It is also about people's lives and the future of their children... These things have to change. We can't put up any longer with the prospect of its making things so difficult, very often impossible, for people who have such needs.”

    At the end of last year, when the ODI did its research, the fees and charges to send money to most of Africa were around 12 percent - a bit less to Zambia or Tanzania, a bit more to Uganda, Malawi and the Gambia - against a world average of just over 8 percent. Even that is quite expensive; the governments of the G8 and G20 countries have pledged themselves to working towards reducing this to 5 percent.

    It found that in more than 30 countries the two big players had more than 50 percent of the market; and in 10 countries they had more than 90 percent. Sometimes either Moneygram or Western Union had an effective monopoly, but even where both companies were present it did not necessarily mean that customers had much choice; one company could still have a monopoly of outlets in a particular area, and the companies habitually make their paying-out agents sign contracts promising not to also act as agents for their rivals. 

    Somalia different

    Significantly, the one country where the big two are absent - Somalia - has far lower remittance charges; transfers go through a number of smaller, competing companies.

    Competition has been limited by the fallout from the US “war on terror”, with the banks who do bulk international transfers citing money-laundering and anti-terrorism regulations as the reason they are reluctant to extend facilities to smaller companies. Now only the biggest of the Somali companies, Dahabshiil, still has an account with a major British bank (Barclays) and even that concession was forced by a court case and is only until other arrangements can be put in place.

    Inter-Africa transfers cost most

    But if charges to send money to Africa from outside are steep, the cost of sending money from one African country to another can be eye-watering. 

    Dilip Ratha, who works on these issues for the World Bank says exchange controls are one of the reasons the rates are so high; in some places sending money out of the country is illegal. “So if you are sending money,” he says, “let's say from Benin to Ghana, it is actually allowed (in some countries it's not even allowed) but first the CFA has to be passed through into euros or sterling or dollars, and then it has to be transferred back into the local cedi, and in both cases you pay commission. Some sort of regional currency market really needs to be created.” 

    "So if you are sending money, let's say from Benin to Ghana, it is actually allowed (in some countries it's not even allowed) but first the CFA has to be passed through into euros or sterling or dollars, and then it has to be transferred back into the local cedi, and in both cases you pay commission. Some sort of regional currency market really needs to be created"  

    The report found 10 routes with bank transfer charges over 20 percent. Charges from Nigeria to Ghana were 22 percent. To send from Tanzania to the rest of East Africa, or from South Africa to its near neighbours is particularly expensive, peaking at 25 percent for bank transfers between South African and Malawi. Some of the fees charged by money transfer companies are even higher; if you send money that way from Ghana to Nigeria you may have to pay a staggering 39 percent.

    In some places mobile phone based systems like M-Pesa have made in-country transfers much easier and cheaper, but they haven't really taken off internationally, largely because conservative, inflexible regulatory systems insist that all international transfers must go through conventional banks. And African banks tend to have very high charges, often because they are forced by governments to finance government projects or make uncommercial loans. 

    Chukwuemeka Chikezie of the Up Africa consultancy told IRIN a lot of the responsibility lay with African governments. “One of the reasons M-Pesa took off in Kenya was because the authorities nurtured and enabled innovation. If you look at other countries the regulators have tended to stifle innovation. They are very risk-averse and they don't enable even limited experiments to prove that the markets can absorb technical innovation.”

    In addition, money-laundering regulations are putting impossible demands on systems designed to serve the poor, requiring, for instance, “know your customer” procedures like taking copies of ID documents for anyone receiving an international payout. Selma Ribica of M-Pesa points out this is an impossibility for agents in rural areas with no power supply. She told IRIN she would like to see a more realistic, tiered approach with much lighter regulation for small international transfers (under, say, US$200-300) which are most unlikely to have anything to do with money laundering.

    Beware Facebook, Walmart

    M-Pesa depends on moving money between different customers' mobile phone accounts. Now people are beginning to think of other kinds of electronic “purses” which might be linked in the same way. 

    Facebook has just proposed allowing transfers between customers who have accounts with the company which they normally use to make payments for online games. So far this is only proposed for payments within the European Union, but Facebook has a huge geographical spread and has said it is keen to extend its reach in Africa. 

    And the big profits made by the transfer companies are tempting other players into the market. The latest to announce it is starting money transfers is the US supermarket chain Walmart, with recipients being able to pick up their cash from any shop in the chain. To start with this will only work within the United States and Puerto Rico, but Walmart is an international group with nearly 350 stores in South Africa, and it also has a presence in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Mozambique, opening up the tempting prospect of a new, and cheaper way for workers to send money home.

    All these new ways of sending money aim to undercut Moneygram and Western Union. Now Western Union has responded by offering so-called “zero-fee” transfers to Africa if the money is sent from a bank account rather by credit card or cash. This would mean a saving of just under £5 ($8.40) for someone sending $100 from the UK to Liberia. The company would still make money (nearly $4) by using a favourable exchange rate, but it would bring the cost down to just below the G8/G20 target. 

    For African's hard-pressed and hard-working migrants and their families back home, change may - finally - be on the way.

    eb/cb

    99977
    Remittance rip-offs
  • Trading away West Africa’s hunger

    Severe food shortages in the Sahel and West Africa are often the result of droughts and poor harvests. But inefficient intra-regional trade also places significant strain on food availability, exacerbating hunger.

    Poor roads and railways, high transaction costs, lack of sufficient market information, incoherent trade policies by governments and bureaucratic hurdles are among limitations to free trade in West Africa. Import and export procedures are more costly and more time consuming in West Africa than any region of the world, experts say.

    For instance, according to a 2010 study by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), there were 47 checkpoints on the 500km road between Douala and Bertua in Cameroon, 19 on the 910km road between Ouagadougou and Bamako, and 34 on the 1,036km-long Cotonou-Niamey highway, resulting in losses of time and money - in bribes - as well as revenue.

    In addition, lack of reliable bank-based transactions means that trade within West Africa mostly depends on personal relationships that have been built over time. “Such informal networks of traders lack the flexibility to diversify traded commodities [and] do [not] have the flexibility to move larger amounts of commodities to meet changing and evolving market demand and conditions,” said Aziz Elbehri, a senior economist with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    “Consequently, the prevailing informal, relationship-based transactions are inefficient, rigid and ensure that much smaller trade actually takes place than is possible given the trade potential, as reflected indirectly by the often huge price gap between centres of production and large urban centres of consumption,” he told IRIN.

    Elbehri pointed out that the demand for maize in deficit areas, such as Mali and Burkina Faso, is poorly met due to these trade constrains. Sorghum and millet, mainly grown in the Sahel belt countries, are also not efficiently supplied to food processors within the region. Therefore, prices and productivity remain low.

    “Expanding intra-regional trade can have a substantial positive impact on food security for the region given the similarity in the types of food consumed by the population.”

    Hunger and harvest

    This year, some 20 million people in the Sahel face food shortages, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates.

    The region is only emerging from the 2011-2012 food crisis that affected around 18 million people. That drought caused a 26 percent slump in cereal production compared to the preceding season.

    Yields were better in the 2012-2013 season. Maize production in the Sahel and West Africa was 30 percent higher than the average output over the previous five years, and 16 percent above the preceding season. Nonetheless, millions still face food shortages, having depleted their seed stocks. Widespread poverty and the 2012 Mali conflict, which forced millions from their homes, worsened the food crisis. In any case, it will take more than one good harvest to turn around food deficits and cut malnutrition.

    Between 2005 and 2009, only 3 percent of the maize produced in West Africa was traded within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), according to a book by Elbehri and others that assesses West Africa’s staple food systems.

    “Even within a country, despite availability of food, food security remains a problem. Transportation is already difficult from a surplus area to an area of deficit within a country, and much worse on a regional level,” said Al Hassan Cissé of Oxfam’s West African bureau.

    Not only does ample production in one area fail to compensate for underproduction elsewhere, it can also cause problems at home. In 2012, Niger experienced an overproduction of onions, its second highest export earner after uranium, causing prices to slump by 60 to 80 percent. “If intra-regional trade was working well, this surplus could have been sold on other West Africa markets and contributed to food security by raising the revenues of the producers,” Cissé said.

    Trade flows and policy

    ECOWAS exports 68.6 percent of produce outside the economic zone and just 9.2 percent to member states. Imports are equally in favour of external markets.

    “For a customs union that is almost becoming a common market, this volume is still very low to allow member states to withstand external shocks,” said UNECA’s West Africa bureau in an email response to IRIN.

    The ECOWAS free trade policy works on two levels. It enables the free movement of raw and artisanal products and the progressive dismantling of custom duties and taxes for industrial products from within the community.

    The elimination of custom duties for industrial products should go hand-in-hand with the total removal of non-tariff barriers and other administrative hurdles to the free exchange of products manufactured within the economic community, experts say.

    “In reality, however, administrative hurdles to the entry of the agreed products seem to persist. Moreover, lack of clear directives at the national level, in certain member countries, for their customs department to implement free trade remains an obstacle to intra-regional trade,” UNECA said.

    In 2005, ECOWAS members agreed to an agricultural policy to boost investment in agriculture at the national and regional level. But Oxfam’s Cissé said that little progress has been achieved.

    “Agricultural policies are strategic guidelines. They lack legal backing. What needs to be done is that a legal framework that countries must respect should be set up, which they must follow while crafting common agricultural policies,” he told IRIN.

    “We are seeing more and more crises of accessibility than availability because many poor people are depending more and more on markets for food than their own production. This is where trade becomes more important in food security”

    Cissé noted, for instance, that because many West Africa and Sahel countries have between 10,000 and 100,000 tons of food in reserve, they do not have proper policies for the regulation and redistribution of surplus harvests.

    Beyond free trade

    Breaking down trade barriers alone will not open the way for robust economic growth. Countries must also make efforts to diversify and add value to their produce.

    Improving infrastructure and the skills of workers, encouraging entrepreneurship, and boosting industrial output for a larger market are some of the strategies that complement open commerce, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said in a 2013 report.

    But barriers along the value chain widen the gap between producer and consumer prices. In landlocked African countries, transport costs average about 14 percent of the value of exports, compared to 8.6 percent for all developing countries, according to UNECA.

    “We are seeing more and more crises of accessibility than availability because many poor people are depending more and more on markets for food than their own production. This is where trade becomes more important in food security,” said Oxfam’s Cissé.

    “Expanding trade between production-surplus zones and consumer-deficit zones should be a top priority for food policy in the region, as it allows smoothing out of supply-demand balances, evening out prices across regions [therefore lowering price volatility]… [This will] create a much larger demand-pull for stimulating supply, develop agro-processing, and improve the food quality overall,” Elbehri explained.

    ob/rz

    99810
    Trading away West Africa’s hunger
  • Breaking the cycle of youth unemployment, poverty

    Youth unemployment and underemployment are among the main barriers to development in West Africa, say experts. Not only does the exclusion of young people from the labour force perpetuate generational cycles of poverty, it also breaks down social cohesion and can be associated with higher levels of crime and violence among idle youth.

    "A decent and productive job [not only] contributes to attaining fundamental individual and family well-being, but also spills over, contributing to society's broader objectives, such as poverty reduction, economy-wide productivity growth and social cohesion," said Diego Rei, the International Labour Organization's (ILO) senior regional adviser on youth employment in Africa.

    Worldwide, an estimated 73 million youths - defined as those between the ages of 15 and 24 - were unable to secure work in 2013, according to the ILO. The rate of underemployment is difficult to measure, but experts say that it is likely that millions more were either working jobs for which they are overqualified or else receiving below-average wages.

    In sub-Saharan Africa, the youth unemployment rate hovers around 12 percent. While this is slightly lower than the global youth unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, the African region has the world's highest rate of working poverty - people who are employed but earning less than US$2 a day. Despite being Africa's most educated generation to emerge from schools and universities, a youth in Africa is twice as likely to be unemployed when he or she becomes an adult, according to the ILO.

    "Here in Africa, we have this idea that if I'm learning, I'm supposed to work in the future," said 22-year-old Mamadou Diene, an English major at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar who wants to become a translator. "But instead. we only have a very small number of them who are employed. It's a real problem."

    A form of social exclusion

    In a late 2013 report on social inclusion, the World Bank considers youth unemployment to be a form of social exclusion, particularly in developing countries: it hinders and degrades the role of young people in society and the development of their countries, and it reduces their personal well-being and future opportunities.

    Not being able to find good, quality work early on is stressful and discouraging for youths, say the World Bank and ILO. When youths do not find work, their risk of unemployment as an adult increases, as does their chance of receiving low wages later in life, according to a 2014 World Bank report on youth employment.

    There is no specific link between unemployment and violence or crime, note World Bank researchers, but unemployed youth are disproportionately more likely to commit crimes when a number of other factors, such as weak support networks, are also present.

    Young women in sub-Saharan Africa are at a particular disadvantage in finding jobs, as they usually have less access to quality education and healthcare compared to their male peers.

    Millions of productive jobs will need to be created to include the estimated 11 million African youths who are expected to join the labour market each year over the next 10 years, says the World Bank in its report.

    Growth versus jobs

    Many African countries have registered high rates of economic growth in recent years, but this has not translated into new jobs.

    This is partly because much of the growth in sub-Saharan African countries over the past decade has been driven by the extractive industries - oil, gas and minerals - says Deon Filmer, a lead economist in the Research Group of the World Bank and co-author of the organization's report. "While these industries generate output and revenues that are reflected in GDP growth, they're not particularly big job creators."

    The number of jobs created in these sectors, relative to outputs and revenues, is much lower than in export-oriented manufacturing, he added.

    Further, the pace of growth for wage-employment cannot keep up with the growing population: Africa has the largest "youth bulge" in the world, and the number of youths is expected to grow by 42.5 million between 2010 and 2020, says the World Bank. Even in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania, where the number of wage jobs has grown by around 10 percent, the increase is not enough to absorb all the new entrants to the workforce.

    And with nearly half of the current African population under the age of 14, the problem is only expected to get worse.

    Agriculture not international relations

    The director of the Economic Policy Analysis Unit for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Felix Fofana N'Zue, told IRIN one of the reasons so many young people are being excluded from the labour market is a mismatch between their skills and the market's demands.

    "Africa has failed to train people for its needs," he said. "Instead, it has been training young Africans to satisfy or meet the needs of other people."

    In Senegal, for example, he explained that the agricultural sector employs nearly 80 percent of the workforce, but that the majority of university graduates study subjects such as economics, the humanities and international relations.

    N'Zue said that, while these fields are important, such degrees leave young people either living in Africa unemployed or underemployed or migrating to places like the US or Europe.

    "Once we start training people with the skills they need for jobs we need to create and fill, that's when young people will become a valuable asset to the workforce," he said.

    Flaubert Mbiekop, the programme officer for social and economic policy at the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC), agreed.

    "With regards to youth unemployment, one of the issues we have been looking at is the apparent mismatch between the qualifications the youth have and the expectations of the employers in the labour market," he said.

    But it will be difficult to convince the small minority of youth who attend university to forgo study in fields thought to lead to more lucrative professions - such as finance, management, law and medicine - in favour of studying farming and agriculture.

    "We see many young people coming from rural areas, hoping they will enjoy a better life, better work in the city, but that is not necessarily the case," Mbiekop said. "So the question is: how can we make the agricultural sector attractive to the youth? How can we get them interested in a sector that is not yet well developed in many African countries, but has so many opportunities?" he asked.

    Students need credit

    "Youth unemployment isn't a one-dimensional problem.We have to look at both the human capital dimension - what young people bring to their work, their abilities, and so on, as well the business environment that's conducive to productive work or not, conducive to competitive firms starting up or not," said Filmer.

    But it is not enough for governments and the private sector to create more jobs geared towards young people - whether in agriculture, manufacturing or the natural resource industries. Access to quality education also needs to improve, alongside a focus on skills-building with apprenticeships and internship opportunities.

    Youth also need more access to credit, he said.

    "If we look at the issue of financial inclusion, there are many [young] workers operating their own business, but access to credit, to be able to purchase inputs, is lacking," Filmer said. "So we need reforms to enable youth to access financial markets."

    Support could come in many forms, from setting up savings groups at the village level to using new financial technologies, like mobile money. Both approaches have engaged young people, pulling them into financial markets and allowing them to start their own businesses.

    Access to work space and land is also important, especially for women, who are often denied land rights.

    "We see that access to land for youth in rural areas, for example, and space to operate a business in urban areas are real constraints, and youth are really shut out of those markets," Filmer said.

    The ILO's Rei said labour market interventions, such as creating incentives for the private sectors to hire young people, providing youth with information about job vacancies and career prospects, and ensuring that recruitment processes are transparent and non-discriminatory, will also go a long way in helping ensure more young people are included in the labour force.

    jl/aj/rz

    99620
    Breaking the youth unemployment cycle
  • Helping Africa’s urban poor gain from modernization

    Plans to reshape and modernize African cities, in part driven by investment, architecture and construction companies seeking new markets, could deepen existing social inequalities, according to recent research. But these development plans could also benefit the poor if governments are responsive to the needs of their citizens, argue analysts.

    The implementation of these development plans within existing cities is having major exclusionary effects on vulnerable low-income groups through evictions and relocations, states the journal article "African urban fantasies: dreams or nightmares?". This is because some of the informal settlements - where most of Africa’s urban poor live - are on lands attractive to property developers.

    “In the competition for well-located urban land, the poor will inevitably lose out and be pushed to the edge of the cities, far away from jobs and public facilities. Governments will focus public investment on infrastructure for the new projects, and this will drain resources away from providing services to low-income areas,” Vanessa Watson, the author of article, told IRIN.

    “With the majority of urban populations living in deep poverty and with minimal urban services, the most likely outcome of these fantasy plans is a steady worsening of the marginalization and inequalities that already beset these cities,” added Watson, who works with the African Centre for Cities (ACC) programme at the University of Cape Town.

    Indeed, the Humanitarian Policy Group in a recent report cited “development policies and projects and land grabbing as some of the drivers of urban displacement”.

    Pro-poor benefits

    Countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania have partnered with the private sector to develop master plans for their cities.

    In Kenya, there are plans to build Konza and Tatu cities, which will house some 100,000 residents and include business parks and shopping malls. The government is priming the proposed Konza City to be Africa’s Silicon Valley, part of its wider efforts to make Nairobi a regional information technology hub.

    Advocates of Tanzania’s proposed Kigamboni City, near the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, say it will be an ultra-modern urban centre whose facilities will compete with those in Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

    Instead of heightening social inequality, the establishment of alternative cities may offer some pro-poor benefits, argues Albert Nyange, an urban planning lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He noted that in Kenya, such developments have spurred government action in transport infrastructure development.

    “Cities that are planned for the majority of the population directly contribute to improved quality of life of the poor.”

    “Investment in an efficient transport system is in itself pro-poor because it means transport becomes affordable. An efficient railway system will ensure the cost of commodities reduces, and [there are] many other benefits that come in housing development, such as jobs,” said Nyange.

    “What is needed is not bashing of these plans but engagement with city authorities to provide incentives to those who can provide products, such as cheap but decent housing targeting the low-income groups.”

    Optimizing population density

    Nyange added that these new cities could provide a “solution to ease the pressure off the old cities” and could, if done right, “provide a sustainable solution to rapid urbanization”.

    Blaming the chaotic nature of African cities such as Nairobi on rapid urbanization and poor planning, he said, “The new development initiatives provide an opportunity to re-plan and reshape African cities to cope with urbanization in some way and create order that is currently lacking.”

    Most of Nairobi’s population lives in the slums. The Kibera slum, which is located just a few kilometres from the city centre, is home to some 500,000 to 700,000 people living at densities of over 2,000 per hectare, according to UN-HABITAT.

    While reshaping cities will enhance the provision of services such as piped water and electricity, vulnerable slum residents and those with disabilities must be taken into consideration, added Tom Odongo, the head of lands, housing and physical planning at the Nairobi County Government.

    Indeed, if care is taken to avoid exacerbating inequalities, “sustainable forms of urban development can deliver economic growth, environmental protection and social inclusion,” stated Rafael Tuts, the coordinator of the urban planning and design section at UN-HABITAT.

    “Cities that are planned for the majority of the population directly contribute to improved quality of life of the poor.”

    According to Tuts, what is key in planning these cities is “optimizing density - not necessarily maximizing it” to ensure that rapidly urbanizing countries are able to meet the needs of their growing urban populations. “But density alone is not the answer. We also need to minimize zoning, take advantage of mixed-land use and invest in our public space.”

    New planning approaches

    To benefit the majority poor in African cities, ACC’s Watson recommended different approaches in planning.

    “The poor will require a different approach to service provision which does not impose major costs. These may include decentralized and community-based service approaches, different levels of service and some subsidization,” she said.

    But Watson argues that while Africa’s large cities have been labelled as the last frontier for property development and are currently being “revisioned in the image of cities such as Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore, the reality in all of these cities stands in stark contrast to the glass-box towers, manicured lawns and water features on developers’ and architects’ websites”.

    David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow with the human settlements group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), notes, “The plans [Watson talks about] focus government attention and budgets on very expensive high-tech initiatives that, if built, will primarily serve an elite minority”.

    However, some cities have used local political processes to expand the reach of basic services for low-income groups. “These include many city governments that have learnt to work with their local organizations and federations of slum/shack dwellers in Jinja (Uganda), Harare (Zimbabwe) and many urban centres in Namibia and South Africa.”

    What African cities need, said Satterthwaite, are "competent and accountable local governments that respond to the needs and priorities of their citizens.”

    ko-aw/rz

    99590
    Modernization versus Africa’s urban poor

Support our work

Donate now

advertisement

advertisement