Archive for October, 2008

Disaster as Kenya is Rejected by Global Fund on AIDS, TB & Malaria

Posted on 29 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Public Health |


Photo: Global Fund
The country has lost out on US$130 million for HIV programmes

NAIROBI, 29 October 2008 (PlusNews) – Kenya will have to find new sources of funding to keep more than 200,000 people on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment after the country’s latest bid for support from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was rejected, a senior government official said.

“We are too dependent on donor funding for programmes like these [related to HIV, malaria and tuberculosis], which are vital to the health of our people – we must start becoming more self-reliant,” Danson Mungatana, Assistant Minister for Medical services, said on 27 October.

Although the Global Fund’s Technical Review Panel recommended that Kenya’s proposal be rejected, the final decision lies with the Fund’s board of directors, due to meet in India in November; however, the board has never disagreed with the review panel.

Mungatana noted that the rejection in the Fund’s eighth round of funding was unlikely to have an immediate effect, as the money from the previous round of funding would last until 2010. Kenya had applied for US$130 million for HIV programmes, $100 million for malaria and $70 million for tuberculosis.

An estimated 98 percent of Kenya’s AIDS programmes are donor funded; no funds were set aside for HIV and AIDS in the country’s national budget announced in July.

“For us as a country, we need to ask ourselves, is this sustainable? It is not,” Mungatana said. “We are making a direct appeal that the treasury now must start to prioritise our issues.”

Stop-gap

As a stop-gap measure, the minister announced that 500 million shillings ($6.25 million) of government money had been set aside to buy ARVs through the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency. “But this is still a small amount compared with what will be needed after 2010. We must do whatever it takes to make sure that no one is taken off ARVs.”

The Global Fund is one of the largest supporters of Kenya’s AIDS programmes, providing an estimated $100 million every year; the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, provides about $200 million annually.

“The government of Kenya has never bought a single ARV, it’s the government’s responsibility and not the donors’ to keep the population alive and well”

James Kamau, head of Kenya Treatment Access Movement, a national advocacy group, said it was time the government took up its obligation to provide health services to all Kenyan citizens.

“The government of Kenya has never bought a single ARV,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. “But it is the government’s responsibility and not the donors’ to keep the population alive and well.

“The Global Fund’s decisions to provide support are performance-based, and we need to ensure that we improve our management and meet their standards, so that we do not run into the same problems again,” Mungatana said.

As the government attempts to address the reasons for the eighth round rejection, Kenya’s Minister for Medical Services, Anyang’ Nyong’o, has called for the immediate suspension of proposals for the ninth round of funding due to be submitted by 21 January 2009.

The government has experienced difficulties with its Global Fund proposals in the past; in 2003, $37 million was delayed after claims of corruption in the National AIDS Control Council.

Kenya has approximately 220,000 people on ARVs, just under half the number thought to need the life-prolonging medication. The country’s HIV prevalence recently took an upturn, going up from 5.1 percent in 2006 to 7.8 percent in 2008.

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Kenyan Pubs: Its a Thin Line Between Sex Work and Bar Work

Posted on 29 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Public Health |


Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Sexual violence against bar hostesses is widespread and accepted

NAIROBI, 29 October 2008 (PlusNews) – A man in a bar gets progressively more drunk and disorderly, his speech growing more slurred and his sexual advances to a waitress becoming more aggressive as he tries to get her to go home with him.

The scene is from a sketch at the second national bar hostesses’ conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where bar staff told the gathering they often had to deal with sexual violence and harassment.

“People don’t respect you as a bar worker; they treat you badly and expect that you are an easy target for sex because of your job,” Catherine Wacira, a bar hostess in Nairobi, told the conference on 27 October.

“Our managers rarely take our side when we are being harassed because the customers are paying a lot of money; they prefer to keep them happy rather than defend us.”

Participants at the conference on preventing HIV and sexual violence among bar hostesses said their working conditions sometimes made it difficult for them to refuse punters’ sexual advances.

“We work up to 10 hours a night and get paid only 4,000 shillings [US$50] per month, and sometimes that is reduced because the owner docks your pay for flat beers and broken bottles,” Wacira said. “So sometimes you need to respond positively to the customers’ sex requests so you can make ends meet.”

A study by the Bar Hostesses Empowerment and Support Programmes (BHESP), which organised the meeting, noted that 90 percent of Nairobi’s bar hostesses were sexually active, many of them with multiple partners.

Although there are no statistics on HIV prevalence among bar workers, the BHESP estimated that prevalence in this group was higher than the national level of 7.8 percent. Kenya has more than 40,000 nationally registered bars, each with an average of four bar workers.

Low self-esteem

“These women are relegated to subservient status and, as such, they find it difficult to negotiate for safe sex or good terms of employment,” said Peninah Mwangi, head of the BHESP.

''You wouldn’t start asking a nurse or a teacher for sex while she is at work, so why do it to a bar hostess? It is a job just like any other''

“Violence against them is widespread and accepted; the main perpetrators are patrons, management and even law enforcement officers. They face sexual harassment at work and are often raped, as they leave work in the middle of the night with no protection.”

Mwangi said the constant threat of violence was linked to low self-esteem and depression, both of which were common among waitresses. Substance abuse was another related problem.

“We need the government to be on our side,” Wacira said. “Every labour day they announce a minimum wage for workers in different sectors, but never for ours. If we had good wages, our chances of getting HIV would be reduced; we would not be forced to sleep with customers.”

The BHESP, which has a national membership of 5,000, is in the process of forming a union to strengthen the bargaining position of women who work in bars.

“You wouldn’t start asking a nurse or a teacher for sex while she is at work, so why do it to a bar hostess? It is a job just like any other,” the assistant minister for medical services, Danson Mungatana, commented in his opening address.

“There is a need to promote behaviour change communication so that they understand their rights and members of the public also give them due respect,” He told the delegates.

“We all know our sisters are in this business not because they have chosen to do so in most cases, but because fate has landed them there. They must put food on the table, clothe their children [and] take them to school.”

Mungatana said the government would provide support to initiatives aimed at giving bar workers better survival skills, empowering them with female condoms and strengthening general legal and policy frameworks to support women’s rights to economic independence, such as the right to own and inherit land and property.

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Post Poll Skirmishes : UN Honours Kenya GSU Police Officer

Posted on 24 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Insecurity |

Joseph Musyoka Nthenge employed negotiating skills to avert post presidential election violence

The United Nations in Kenya, on the occasion of UN Day on Oct. 24, has decided to award the 2008 “UN in Kenya Person of the Year” to Acting Senior Superintendent of Police, Joseph Musyoka Nthenge.

Speaking for the UN, the Acting Director General, Inga Klevby said: “Today the United Nations family in Kenya recognizes Supt. Nthenge for his contribution to peace through dialogue [after demonstrators took to the streets following the December 2007 presidential election]. He is indeed worthy of the title ‘Kenyan hero.'”

Klevby added that, “Within a 48 hour period, Nthenge employed dialogue and negotiations four times to extinguish possible violent flare-ups. In addition to being seen on TV persuading a mob away from their destructive behaviour, he convinced two other mobs in the city as well as dissuading a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) to call off a march to challenge the banning of public gathering inside the city’s largest park (Uhuru Park) by the police.”

Amidst the scenes of bloodshed and mayhem that marked Kenya’s dark days following presidential election, the image of peace and judiciousness practiced by Nthenge stands out. The policeman was seen reasoning with an angry mob of demonstrators, and successfully convincing them to stop the destruction and turn back. “Mnataka kuharibu Kenya kwa siku moja, nchi ambayo imetuchukuwa miaka arubaini kujenga” (Kiswahili, meaning ‘You want to destroy Kenya in a day, a country that has taken us 40 years to build?’), the officer asked the young men. This was a rare feat for paramilitary officers mostly known for violently dispersing demonstrators.

Seventeen years earlier, in 1991, Nthenge had used reason and words to effectively quell inter-communal violence in a part of the Rift Valley Province. But it happened away from the glare of TV cameras and lights. Fortunately, the 2007/8 encounter was captured by a TV crew recording the violence sweeping the city, and splashed on the television screens across the country. He became an instant national hero.

Nthenge was in charge of a unit of the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) assigned to patrol a part of the city which was smoldering with tension and violence. On December 29, 2007, the unit encountered a mob of angry young men marching towards the city centre, protesting the delay in announcing the presidential results. They had already burnt some vehicles and were poised to burn down a petrol station when they encountered Nthenge.

Given the GSU’s reputation for ruthlessness in quelling riots and demonstrations, and the violent manner in which security forces had dispersed demonstrators in other parts of the city and country, what followed was totally unexpected — and now part of the folklore surrounding the Kenyan crisis.

After he was notified of the award by the UN, Nthenge said: “I am indeed honoured to be selected for this auspicious commendation on behalf of thousands of dedicated and selfless policemen and women who daily put their lives on the line for other Kenyans.”

He added that his guiding principal as a law enforcement officer is “to see the public as our customers and our role is to offer them service. People know their rights and we must respect these rights.”

Nthenge will be honoured at a special ceremony at 1 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the United Nations Complex, Gigiri.

This is the seventh time the UN Family in Kenya has collectively honoured an individual as part of its celebrations of UN Day, which is held every year on Oct. 24. “The United Nations in Kenya Person of the Year” is chosen based on their personal commitment towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This year’s runner-up is Mary Makokha, the driving force behind the Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Program (REEP) in Butula, western Kenya. Beginning without any money or access to donors in 1997, REEP operated under a tree for two years. She also suffered threats of court action for acknowledging that AIDS was prevalent in Butula. Later, she was also excommunicated from the Catholic Church for encouraging the use of condoms. Many people in the community also took offence when she spoke out against widow/widower disinheritance.

Today REEP has 44 support groups of people living with HIV with nearly 5,500 members. REEP has grown from its modest beginning, to a beautiful complex called Firelight House, sponsored by the Firelight Foundation of the US, who recognised Makokha’s inspiring work. The organization has 15 staff in addition to over 1,000 community volunteers.

In a world affected by a complex web of issues — HIV/AIDS, poverty, negative cultural practices and beliefs — the commitment of people, like Makokha, are an example of how communities can change from the inside. Without developing home-grown solutions, the Millennium Development Goals will be much harder to achieve.

Commenting on Mary Makokha, Ms. Klevby said that the UN was also paying tribute to “the many men and women who work tirelessly in their various fields towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in the country. We need role models such as Mary Makokha to help us focus on why achieving the MDGs is so important: it is because it will mean improvements in the daily lives of millions on Kenyans and people around the globe.

The MDGs are a set of achievable development targets, which all Member States of the United Nations have pledged to meet by 2015. Last year, the UN in Kenya honoured Abbas Gullet of the Kenya Red Cross Society as the 2007 “UN in Kenya Person of the Year.”

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Kenya Pays the Cost of Bad Farming Policy

Posted on 24 October 2008. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security |

Anthony Kimani Muhia is as ambitious as he is entrepreneurial. The 32-year-old farmer from central Kenya has figured out much of what’s wrong with the country’s farming system, and he’s determined to change it, starting with himself.

His plot of land feels not much bigger than a handkerchief – about ¾ of an acre – but he’s been using it to find new ways of farming that might help him, his family and his community escape the poverty trap.

For all its tiny size, the farm is impressive.

There is the traditional stand of bananas surrounding an 8th of an acre of maize shoots, but the other half of the land has been turned over to horticulture, with rows of spinach, Chinese cabbage, and tomatoes.

All of them are radical departures from the usual subsistence crops that the community has depended on for generations.

Photo gallery: Maize – from harvest to market

“The biggest problem we have is inheritance,” he said.

“Every father divides his land amongst his sons, and now plots are so small that it’s almost impossible to survive, let alone make a living.

“We’ve got to come up with a way of combining and consolidating farms into communal plots so we can benefit from economies of scale.”

And for Anthony, the issue of land reform lies at the heart of Kenya’s food crisis.

Small farm headaches

“The problem for small farmers like myself is that we have to buy our inputs in very small quantities. That means we get no bulk discount for seed or fertiliser.

“We can’t afford to improve our infrastructure with things like irrigation systems, so we’re dependent on rain, and there’s no way we could ever think big machines like tractors.”

Anthony showed me his meagre maize harvest: about half a bag of dried white maize – the staple that keeps most of Africa’s poor alive.

He shook his head in frustration: “The agronomists tell us we should be getting about three bags of maize for a plot my size. That’s what they harvest in the US or Europe. But here, we get one sixth of that.”

About half the maize that ends up in Kenya’s markets comes from small farmers like Anthony Muhia. Ironically, that tends to inflate the impact of rising prices for inputs like seed and fertiliser.

“Because subsistence farmers pay a premium for buying small quantities of their inputs, any rise in costs has a disproportionate impact on the price of their produce in markets,” said agricultural economist Dr Julius Okello.

“Ultimately it’s the consumers who pay, but it also makes it impossible for small farmers to improve themselves or their farms.”

Even getting produce to market is a problem.

Because small farmers can’t afford to hire a truck, brokers come by every week or so to buy from the farm gate and move the goods to town, adding their own premium in the process.

Self-inflicted inflation

Dr Okello acknowledges that the global rise in food prices has had its impact in Africa, but he also argues that most of the problem is self-inflicted; that Africa’s own unique circumstances have added to the crisis and pushed domestic prices far higher than they should be.

“The continuous subdivision of land is the starting point. We’ve never had a proper land policy in Kenya, so the farms are chopped into smaller and smaller pieces that are impossible to survive on.

“But the food distribution system – the infrastructure – is very poor, so it is very expensive to move things like maize from where there’s a surplus, to where it’s needed. Why would you organise a truck to get your maize to Nairobi, when it’ll probably break down on the bad roads along the way?”

“And on top of it all, we’ve got retrogressive trade policies. The (Kenyan) government has just announced a ban on maize exports, but all that will do is create a black market for smuggled grain that will drive prices up even higher. Either way, the consumer pays.”

Election violence

And in Nairobi the problems have been compounded by a drought, and the post election violence of early this year.

The trouble erupted after disputed elections, and tens of thousands of farmers were forced from their properties and had their crops destroyed in the process. Many still haven’t gone back to their land.

In Nairobi, trader after trader in the grain market shook their head when I asked for maize.

“It’s impossible,” said one stall-holder who gave her name as Margaret. “We haven’t had maize for ages. You just can’t find it. Of course, the season is over, but we’ve always been able to get hold of some for our customers in past years. And the price is just too high… It was about 15 shillings (20 US cents) a kilo last year. Now it is about 25 shillings – almost double.”

Margaret pulled out a small bag of “mixed grains” – maize and beans together, selling now for about 50 shillings a kilo.

“That’s it. That’s all I have,” she said. “But people here – they want pure maize. And we have nothing to sell.”

Source: BBC Radio World Service
First broadcast on 16th October

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Interview: President Kibaki Talks About MDG Progress in Kenya

Posted on 22 October 2008. Filed under: MDGs |

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki addresses the 63rd annual United Nations General Assembly meeting at UN headquarters in New York City.

NEW YORK: Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki addresses the 63rd annual United Nations General Assembly meeting at UN headquarters in New York City.

In September 2000, 189 world leaders attended the Millennium Summit at the United Nations and made a commitment to address the world’s most pressing development needs by 2015. Leaders pledged to eliminate gender inequality, environmental degradation and HIV/Aids, and to improve access to education, healthcare and clean water.

Last month the world’s leaders gathered again at the UN to assess midway progress towards achieving these targets — known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Mail & Guardian, in collaboration with the UN Millennium Campaign, is running a series of exclusive interviews with African presidents about the progress their countries have made towards achieving the MDGs. M&G spoke to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

How do you assess the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in your country and is your government on track to delivering them by 2015?
Kenya is on track to achieving some of the MDGs by 2015. We are, however, aware that we need to do more to make sure we achieve all of them by 2015.

MDGs in Kenya are being addressed in their respective sectors through different interventions such as formulation of policies and strategies to address the goals.

Under goal one the government has formulated a strategy for revitalising agriculture (SRA), which is being implemented through the ministry of agriculture. SRA aims to achieve food security for all, increase employment, generate income and reduce poverty.

More importantly, the government has provided free primary schooleducation and increased resource allocation to enhance its delivery. This has increased enrolment rates in primary schools, translating into high transition rates to secondary schools. Currently the gross enrolment rate is 107,6 for primary schools. This is one of the MDGs that Kenya is proud to have already achieved.

The government has ring-fenced budgetary allocations to core poverty programmes intended to accelerate the attainment of the MDGs. Additional resources have been allocated to core poverty programmes.

These include programmes that will create employment, provide access to basic education, increase agricultural productivity, ensure access to health and family planning, reduce gender disparity, provide decent shelter, expand the supply of clean water and sanitation to the needy, manage disaster and emergencies and meet environmental protection demands.

One of your government’s biggest achievements is increased primary school enrolment. However, citizens have raised the issue of unsatisfactory quality as a result of increased enrolment. How does your government intend to address this challenge?
Since the introduction of free primary education in Kenya, we have reached a gross enrolment rate of 107%. This has put pressure on the existing physical infrastructure such as classrooms.

We have also faced the challenge of inadequate numbers of teachers. As a result of this some schools will require additional resources to meet these needs.In line with that the government has increased its budget allocation to free primary education.

The percentage of total government spending on education has ranged between 24% and 30% — or about 6,5 % of the country’s GDP — in the past five years.

In the 2007/08 budget primary education development expenditure increased by 63% from 6,4-billion Kenyan shillings in the 2006/07 budget to 10,4-billion Kenyan shillings.

The government has also put in place mechanisms to ensure that the transition rates are high from primary schools to secondary schools by introducing free secondary education and paying tuition fees in all public secondary schools.

Our transition rate from primary to secondary education has risen from 47% in 2003 to 60% in 2007.

We are also constructing more physical infrastructure in primary schools. In 2007 there were 26 104 primary schools compared with 25 929 in 2006.

The government is also in the process of recruiting more primary school teachers to fill the existing gap. A total of 6 500 primary school teachers were recruited by the Teachers Service Commission in 2007.

Despite scientific and technological advances, children still die due to preventable diseases. What has your government done to address this?
To ensure that Kenyan children don’t die due to preventable diseases, the government has established an immunisation programme which is free to all children under five years.
This has led to an increase in immunisation coverage to 72% by 2007.

When combined with the measures that have been taken to control malaria, whereby 68% of children under five are receiving bed nets, child health is expected to improve further.

What measures has your government taken to ensure that no woman dies in childbirth?
My government realised very early that a high maternal mortality rate was a major problem facing Kenyan families and expectant mothers. To ensure all expectant mothers are safe and that they get quality health services, the government has abolished user fees in all public maternity hospitals and clinics.

It is also encouraging mothers to deliver in the nearest maternity facility under the supervision of a skilled health worker.

The government is committed to shifting budgetary resources from curative health to preventive health services. This will help us to deal with childbirth problems before they become serious. We are also decentralising our healthcare system to the districts to ensure local needs are met better.

The general call from HIV and Aids activists is to treat those infected with HIV/Aids for free. How has your government responded to this demand?
The government is providing free antiretroviral drugs to patients and, with its development partners, it has established a large number of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centres throughout the country to provide free services.

HIV-positive patients are also given necessary advice and enrolled in antiretroviral therapy (ART) programmes. The government is also supporting these patients with food supplements and other mitigation programmes such as income-generating activities.

What measures is your government taking to address climate change?
The government passed the Environment Management Coordination Act (EMCA) in 1999 to provide the country with the legal and institutional framework for the management of all our environmental problems.

The Kenyan government established the National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) to coordinate implementation of the strategies recommended in the Act. Nema has now developed regulations to control environmental degradation, enhance water quality, manage waste disposal, ozone-depleting substances and fossils fuels.

The government has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is in the process of implementing it through the establishment of a centre to deal with issues related to climate change.

Kenya is also collaborating with other countries internationally to prepare for the 2012 Post-Kyoto protocol.

Has your government considered collective debt repudiation?
The Kenyan government has a long record of honouring its debt obligations and does not, at the moment, subscribe to blanket repudiation of debt.

The government has been negotiating for debt relief on a bilateral basis given that it does not qualify for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

Given the need for additional resources to implement the MDGs, and Kenya Vision 2030, there may be a need to consider debt relief or cancellation in future.

What is the government doing to reduce dependency on international donors?
Official Development Assistance (ODA) is crucial in filling the gap created to fund government investment. In the short and medium term Kenya still requires ODA to meet the investment requirement to implement Kenya Vision 2030.

The government receives only concessional loans and grants for funding development projects and programmes, while only 5% to 6% of recurrent expenditure is funded by ODA.

For Kenya to reduce dependency on international donors, the government needs to continue with broad tax reforms and ensuring high rates of compliance. This will result in increased revenue to fund investments.

Has your government domesticated international instruments to promote gender equality and empower women?
The Kenyan government strongly believes in promoting gender equality and women’s rights. It supports the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw).

Some of the measures the government has taken to implement Cedaw include the following:

  • Implementing free and compulsory primary education since 2003.
  • Passing of the Children’s Act in 2001 which prohibits female genital mutilation and marriages of minors.
  • The enactment of the Public Officers Ethics Act 2003 which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Creation of the ministry of gender, children and social services to coordinate the mainstreaming of gender in the development process.
  • Appointment of gender officers in all line ministries to facilitate gender mainstreaming.
  • Affirmative action for university entrance for women.

The UN Millennium Campaign supports citizens’ efforts to hold their governments and the international community to account in achieving the MDGs

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Poverty-Africa: Leaders Cannot Close Their Ears

Posted on 22 October 2008. Filed under: MDGs |

CAPE TOWN, – Eight years ago, the leaders of 189 countries pledged to work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, eliminating extreme poverty by 2015. The Stand Up, Take Action Campaign mobilises millions of people around the world to press for action to make this a reality.

The campaign is organised by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a world-wide coalition of NGOs, trade unionists, faith groups, women and youth organisations, and others.

In Africa, Oct. 17 to 19 will see coalitions of civil society groups stage events including conferences, concerts, and caravans; marches, tree-planting, the launching of credit schemes and prayers in 20 countries.

“Halfway to 2015, none of the African (coalition countries) is going to achieve all of the MDGs. It’s a big concern for us,” said GCAP’s Africa coordinator Christophe Zoungrana.

“At the recent high level event on MDGs in New York in September, we did not hear any new commitments, but rather (developed countries) said they are re-committing which means we are not really hopeful that much will be achieved.”

Zoungrana stressed that any decline in development assistance is worrying; GCAP is calling for more resources and greater trade justice to improve Africa’s access to global markets. He added that there is much work to be done within the continent as well.

“We believe African countries must work to mobilise internal resources to support development activities.”

On corruption, he said, Africans need to take leadership in making sure money is invested where it should be.

“Before GCAP was launched, very few people were aware of the MDGs. By mobilising people to stand up, we are contributing to more and more Africans being aware that leaders have committed themselves to eradicate poverty in the world.”

Mobilising across the continent

In Mauritius, IPS correspondent Nasseem Ackbarally reports that the Stand Up campaign involves a wide range of people and social classes — albeit separately.

An official function organised by the Trust Fund for the Social Integration of Vulnerable groups on Saturday invited politicians and government officials in large numbers to speak of poverty to the well-off.

Elsewhere, the Mauritius Trade Union Congress (MTUC) is putting on an event featuring a drama sketch about the effects of poverty. MTUC chair, Pradeo Buldee told IPS that poverty is affecting more and more Mauritians as oil and food prices remain high.

Buldee cited the example of the island nation’s farmers, who are struggling to make a living in the face of the high cost of farm inputs, particularly fertilisers. “A 50 kg bag of fertilisers that was sold at 300 rupees two years back now costs 1500 rupees (close to $50). Just imagine. How can farmers cope with such a situation?”

He called for subsidies to support farmers, while laying part of the blame for Mauritius’s levels of poverty on “the neo-liberal economic policy of the government, dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We are the very good students of these two international financial institutions that are forcing us into poverty,” he said.

Just outside the capital of Port-Louis, a local NGO called SOS Poverty went beyond standing up, and took action by launching cooperative credit union for poor women in Vallée Pitot on Oct. 17. According to SOS Poverty coordinator Yousouf Dauhoo, a hundred women received seed money — from funds raised within the area — to participate in the project that will provide low or interest-free loans to its members.

“Once they become members of the union, we’ll encourage them to save whatever sum they can so as to be able to benefit from the fund later on. They’ll be able to borrow small amounts to fund the education of their children or to start a small business at home.”

In South Africa, organisational difficulties led to a limited turnout for the presentation of a memorandum to the new administration of Kgalema Motlanthe at the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria.

Caitlin Blaser of GCAP South Africa told IPS’s Zahira Kharsany that even though the South African economy had seen substanial economic growth, the poor in the country have not benefited.

A coalition including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the South African Non-Governmental Organisation Coalition (SANGOCO) urged government to guarantee child support grants and ensure all children under 18 were supported. The coalition also called on the state to eliminate value-added tax on a wider range of food items, and to abolish user fees on water.

Marches and other events took place around the country, including in Durban, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein.

In Zimbabwe, IPS reporter Ephraim Nsingo said that the main campaign event on Oct. 17, a gathering in Chitungwiza, near the capital Harare, was postponed when organisers apparently left it too late to apply for police clearance. The signing of a power-sharing agreement Sep. 15, has not yet led to the relaxation of restrictive laws on public gatherings, presenting challenges to popular mobilisation.

However marches involving residents and school children were reported in other parts of the capital Harare. A massive open-air concert is also expected to draw thousands in the capital.

Mwaura Kaara, with the United Nations Millennium Campaign in Kenya told IPS, “We need to take urgent and inspired action now, to remind our governments we expect them to deliver. That’s why this year we’re focusing on country-specific actions in support of the achievement of the Millennium Goals. Millions will be Standing Up and Taking Action, locally, nationally and globally.”

GCAP Africa coordinator Zoungrana said 7.5 million Africans took part in the Stand Up campaign last year; he hoped three or four times as many would participate in this year’s edition. Large numbers of people are expected to attend marches and concerts in Cairo, Lagos, Harare and elsewhere.

Assessing the impact the campaign has had to date, he said, “You only can advocate for something when you aware of it. Last year in Africa, we mobilised 7.5 million. This year, we are aiming to make this number three or four times higher. The campaign also gives opportunities to marginalised group such as women and young people to express themselves.

“We believe numbers are important. If many people stand up, leaders will not close their ears. They are elected to fulfill what people ask them to do.”

*Source IPS

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Millions Take Action Against Poverty Worldwide

Posted on 17 October 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Poverty |

Over the next three days, more than 1 percent of the global population — 67 million people — will participate in mass rallies, sports events, concerts, and other actions around the world to promote the poverty eradication Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

To browse events worldwide and get involved in your part of the globe, visit the Stand Up and Take Action Web site.

More than one percent of global population to stand up and take action for MDGs

From: UN Millennium Campaign

Halfway to the deadline in 2015, the UN Millennium Campaign and Global Call to Action Against Poverty have planned diverse events on October 17-19 across the globe to spearhead action on MDGs. Mass rallies, sports events, concerts would be held urging nations to put in place pro-poor development policies.

New York: The United Nations Millennium Campaign and Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) have announced details of some of coming week’s events aimed at mobilising more than one percent of the world’s population – over 67 million people – on October 17-19 to demand that world leaders deliver on their promises to eradicate extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

“The global movement in support of the Millennium Development Goals is growing, and on October 17-19 more than one percent of the people on earth will send a clear message to their leaders that they will no longer stay seated while promises to end extreme poverty remain unfulfilled,” said Salil Shetty, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign.

“It’s incredible to see that in times of economic instability people are even more motivated to show their leaders that they want poverty eradication to remain at the top of the agenda. From the smallest villages to city streets, sports events and political lobbies, the sheer diversity of actions is staggering. We are showing the power of our growing movement in an unprecedented way this year,” said Kumi Naidoo, Co-Chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Amongst the tens of millions of people standing against poverty are individuals with compelling stories to tell, such as activist and journalist Jenerali Ulimwengu, who has dedicated his life to exposing and fighting bad governance in Tanzania.  As the result of his hard-hitting reporting, his citizenship in Tanzania was temporarily revoked.

During Stand Up and Take Action this year, Ulimwengu will spearhead demands for the government to fulfill the MDGs by ensuring that poor people have access to clean portable water, improving access to healthcare (particularly for women and children), putting in place pro-poor development policies and improving service delivery in all key sectors.

James Njoroge Gitau, who lives in the Kariobangi slums in Kenya, surviving on less than one dollar a day has mobilised more than 100 schools and churches to Stand Against Poverty and is organising a medical camp to care for sick people in his community. Gitau is calling on his government to put in place pro-poor policies, stop corruption and allocate resources for programs for the poor.

In Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, India, Yogesh Jain will once again Stand Against Poverty. Last year, Jain mobilised more than 200,000 people to Stand Up in protest of the districts’ lack of healthcare, clean drinking water and resources for education.

As a result of the massive mobilisation, government officials conducted surprise inspections which resulted in the allocation of funding for infrastructure repairs and the allotment of government land for school construction.

In Badarpur Khadar, a village 15 km from Delhi with no electricity, water, sanitation or health facilities, members of the National Conference of Dalit Organisations will open a school in a tent on October 18, providing local children with the opportunity to attend school in their village for the first time.

“Stand Up and Take Action” events include:

Africa

In Lagos, Nigeria, 100,000 people are expected to gather on October 17-19 for a concert by Femi Kuti to commemorate the life of renowned Nigerian Musician Fela Kuti and demand that the government pay closer attention to the country’s pro-poor development programs.

In Pretoria, South Africa on October 17, an expected 5,000 campaigners led by the workers’ trade union COSATU and the South Africa Council of Churches will march to Union Buildings, the official seat of government in South Africa, to demand guaranteed state social security schemes covering all children under eighteen. They will also call for the abolition of the value added tax on basic foodstuffs, the abolition of user fees on water, and the ratification of the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In Harare, Zimbabwe, 5,000 people are expected to gather when Pastor G and Victor Kunonga perform at “Do the Right Thing” on October 18 to call on the government to improve service delivery in health, water and sanitation.

In Togo, caravans will travel around the country to towns and villages, with each visit focusing on a specific MDG. The tour will culminate at a beach where 5,000 people are expected to gather to Stand Up together on October 19.

In Nairobi, Kenya on October 18, several top artists including Sarah Mitaru, Jua Kali and Jaky Malley Ringtone will join hands to host a concert aimed at protesting rising costs and reminding world leaders that Africans will not accept a new slavery through retrogressive trade policies such as the Economic Partnership Agreements.

Asia

In Delhi, India, members of the National Conference of Dalit Organisations and Amnesty International, India will meet with Parliamentarians on October 17 to demand resources for the most vulnerable and socially excluded groups. Also in Delhi, celebrities and more than 10,000 people are expected to gather for a mass mobilisation on Parliament Street.

In Daltonganj, Jharkhand, India more than 30,000 people from 600 villages and 18 districts are expected to gather on October 17 and 18 to demand poverty alleviation measures from the government and the achievement of the MDGs. The gathering, called Mahapanchayat, will be addressed by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand.

In Indonesia on October 17, Muslims will Stand Against Poverty at more than 400 mosques in a statement of solidarity to encourage the government to commit to more pro-poor policies.

In the Philippines, the National Anti-Poverty Commission and other civil society actors are expected to mobilize more than 10 million people at events including a National People’s Day on October 18, which will offer medical services and a job fair.  Also in the Philippines there will be a “Stand Up and Take Action” Rap Contest for community youth groups in metro Manila on October 17 and a bike run on October 19.

In Thailand, at least 180,000 people living below the national poverty line are expected to participate in poverty reduction clinics organised by the Ministry of Interior, which will encourage domestic and individual savings, health promotion, and empowerment of the poor.

In China, a Poverty and Migration Forum hosted in Beijing will include large numbers of people Standing Up.

In Singapore, bands including Vertical Rush and Jack and Rai will play at Youth Park on October 18 to express their demands to end world poverty and a new 2015 Countdown Clock will be launched to show leaders how much time – person by person, second by second – is left to achieve the MDGs.

Europe

In Italy, 80,000 people are expected to take part in 10 simultaneous Stand Up events in 9 cities including Venice, Bologna, Florence, Milan and Rome on October 18. Nine huge chairs without seats will be installed simultaneously in 9 squares to signify that people will not remain seated until their government delivers more and better aid. On October 19, 300,000 supporters are expected to Stand Up at the Italian Premier League football match. Also on October 19, sea dolphins will Stand Against Poverty at the Oltremare Park in Riccione.

In Portugal, members of the Star Trackers group will parachute over Évora, a UNESCO World heritage site, on October 17 to raise awareness of the MDGs and demand more and better aid.

In Scotland, UK, the Glasgow City Council has passed a motion to recognise the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and will call on all Glaswegians to “Stand Up and Take Action” against child poverty in Scotland.  A march from Glasgow Cathedral to Glasgow’s George Square aims to mobilise 3,000 people.

In Spain, thousands of people are expected to gather to march against poverty in Madrid on October 17 under the “Rebélate contra la Pobreza” initiative. Simultaneous anti-poverty mobilizations will occur on October 17 and 18 in more than 20 cities, including Palma de Mallorca, Sevilla, Zaragoza, Donosti, Bilbao, A Coruña, Badajoz, Cuenca and Valencia.

In Germany, video messages from members of the World Future Council who received alternative Nobel prizes will be shown at the Sony Center in Berlin on October 17 to demand more and better aid.  At the end, the pop group Culcha Candela will lead the Stand Up moment.

In Belgium, at the beginning of nine football matches on October 18-19, tens of thousands of fans will be asked to recite a pledge and Stand Against Poverty.

North America

In the United States and Canada, students will join campus programs and challenges to build political will to end extreme poverty by hosting teach-ins, Stand Up rallies, and other campus events.

Faith groups across these two countries are organising Sabbaths, Sevas, and Sadaqas to rally believers of all faiths – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others – to learn about and take action on behalf of people living in extreme poverty and dying from preventable diseases.

Middle East

In Palestine, 500,000 pupils are expected to Stand Up in schools. Students in 15 university branches will organize media debates to demand a lending fund for poor students.

Latin America and Caribbean

In Santiago, Chile there will be a walk between Arms Square and Constitution Square on October 17 featuring a moving wall on which people can take action by writing messages. At the event, citizens will ask municipal candidates to sign a commitment against poverty.

In El Salvador, citizens will Stand Up at a Presidential Candidates Forum on October 17.

Global

Members of the Art of Living Foundation, one of the largest spiritual movements in the world, will mobilise to plant more than 100 million trees around the world.

Screenings of the independent film “The End of Poverty?” by Cinema Libre Productions will take place in about 15 locations worldwide including the Sao Paulo Film Festival, London, Sydney, Washington DC,  and Brussels.

For more information about events planned to celebrate and promote the Millennium Development Goals, visit the UN Millennium Campaign.

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Kenya Govt Violated Guiding Principles in IDP Resettlement

Posted on 16 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Refugees/ IDPs |


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
An IDP puts up a shelter in a camp near the town of Eldoret in Rift Valley province: Human rights activists say the Kenya government has no specific law on internal displacement

NAIROBI, 16 October 2008 (IRIN) – Kenyan officials “violated with impunity” the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement during an operation to resettle people displaced by post-election violence early this year, human rights activists have said.

“Kenya has no specific policy on internal displacement; it has no domestic law on protection and resettlement of IDPs [internally displaced persons],” Ndungu Wainaina, executive director for the International Centre for Conflict and Policy, a Kenyan non-governmental think-tank “committed to transitional justice”, told IRIN.

He said the Guiding Principles were mostly applied ad-hoc during Operation Rudi Nyumbani [Return Home], launched by the government in May to resettle hundreds of thousands of IDPs mainly in the Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces.

Wainaina said Kenya was yet to apply the protocols it signed under the Great Lakes Process – a set of 10 agreed upon by countries in the Horn, East and Central Africa which, among other issues, provide for the protection and assistance to IDPs as well as the property rights of returning persons.

Rebuttal

''We want to celebrate Christmas this year with all the displaced having left the camps''

However, Ali Mohamed, permanent secretary in the ministry charged with handling of IDP affairs, the Ministry of State for Special Programmes, said on 15 October that the government “applied every letter and spirit” of the Guiding Principles during the recent resettlement of IDPs in the country.

“The rights of the displaced are provided for in other laws in place, such as those on human rights,” Mohamed said. “The Guiding Principles have been crucial in our activities; we have been practising and using them in areas such as the rights of IDPs to their property, to safe and voluntary return.”

Contrary to claims by human rights activists that some IDPs were forced out of camps, Mohamed said the government ensured that the displaced left the camps voluntarily.

“The Guiding Principles emphasise the right to protection and shelter and this has been our stand; we want to celebrate Christmas this year with all the displaced having left the camps,” he said.

“Up until now, the government has been fully cognisant of the UN’s Guiding Principles and has circulated them among its human rights agencies, law enforcement agencies as well as other partners involved in the resettlement of IDPs… For instance, a copy of the Guiding Principles is available in every district commissioner’s office in Rift Valley Province.”

Mohamed added that all district commissioners as well as senior government officials in the provincial authority had undergone training on the application of the Guiding Principles.

Swahili version

The government and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Kenya) launched on 15 October the Swahili version of the Guiding Principles.

The principles – first set out in 1998 – underscore the rights of IDPs as they are not protected under the Refugee Convention. Since their launch, several governments have developed laws and policies on internal displacement based on the Guiding Principles.

In 2007, the UN estimated the number of people displaced within their countries by armed conflicts and violence to be more than 26 million, with Africa hosting almost half of them – 12.7 million – and generating nearly half of the world’s newly displaced (1.6 million).

Mohamed said: “There are attempts, at the regional level, to domesticate the protocols of the Great Lakes Process. Once this is done, then Kenya will domesticate these protocols,” Mohamed said.

Human rights commission

Fatma Ibrahim, a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said although the government had greatly helped the IDPs who fled their homes in January and February, “Operation Rudi Nyumbani” left a lot to be desired.

“In our own assessment, we do agree that, yes, the government has done some good work in providing food, medical aid and financial assistance to some of the displaced, but in terms of their resettlement, we feel that the poor involvement of the IDPs in a substantive way weakens the application of the UN’s Guiding Principles.”

She said gaps remained in the dissemination of information to IDPs on their rights, which the Guiding Principles specify.

“They IDPs feel they were not adequately consulted on the resettlement process; those remaining in camps are not clear about their entitlement; there seems to be insufficient information to the IDPs on what is available and what they are entitled to; our assessment found that there was little information-sharing in this regard.”

Ibrahim said the government had used only public rallies, known as `barazas’, to inform the IDPs of their rights.

“This way of disseminating information is weak, the heavy-handedness from the provincial authorities in some instances, such as giving deadlines for the displaced to leave camps, and the lack of substantive participation of the IDPs in the process, were in violation of the Guiding Principles,” she said.

She said the government should adhere to the standards provided for in the Guiding Principles and in international humanitarian law in the resettlement of IDPs.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator shakes hands with an IDP during a tour of Rift Valley

“When the government closes a camp yet some IDPs remain at the camp or gives a three-day deadline for the IDPs to leave the camp, the question is, why close the camps? Doesn’t this mean the displaced are being forced out of these camps?” Ibrahim said.

UN humanitarian coordinator

Aeneas Chuma, the Kenya UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said on 15 October that displacement does not end with the return home of the displaced. It ends “when particular needs and vulnerabilities linked to the displacement are resolved, and not always with return”.

Chuma said: “For these people [IDPs] and for those who have not yet returned, continued assistance and support is required to find durable solutions.”

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Floods Displace thousands in Mandera NEP

Posted on 16 October 2008. Filed under: Refugees/ IDPs |


Photo: Richard Lough/IRIN
Thousands of people displaced by flash floods following heavy rains in Mandera are in need of medical assistance to prevent an outbreak of water-borne disease, an official of the Kenya Red Cross Society said

MANDERA, 16 October 2008 (IRIN) – More than 10,000 people have been displaced by flash floods following heavy rains that pounded Mandera in north-eastern Kenya and southern parts of Somalia this week, aid agencies said.

Kenya Red Cross Communications Officer Titus Mung’ou said that food and non-food items had been provided to families from an estimated 1,500 households that were displaced by the water that has been flowing across Mandera district in the past two days.

“We have a team on the ground; they have assessed the situation and established that at least 10,000 [people] have been uprooted from their homes, 426 toilets destroyed, and three schools are not accessible; they are flooded,” Mung’ou said in an interview with IRIN.

He added that the affected families are in need of urgent medical assistance to prevent an outbreak of water-borne disease, and that food supplies are running short.

“We require at least 10,000 tonnes of food, but at the moment only 1,300 tonnes of rice are available for those who are homeless and are camping some four kilometres away from the town,” Mung’ou appealed.

Heavy rains pounded Mandera district late on 14 October after months of severe drought causing heavy floods that displaced dozens of families and massive destruction of houses and business premises. It is feared that two people drowned.

Local residents and leaders said that more than 200 families from Bulla Mpya, Jamhuri and Boys Town villages were displaced overnight. The government has deployed a team of army personnel to help assist those displaced.

The floods have forced more than 300 students at Mandera secondary school to leave the premises. They have been relocated to a nearby primary school; some are thought to have lost their belongings.

Abdullahi Hussein, an elder who spoke to IRIN, said that more than 100 small kiosks – largely operated by women – were swept away by the floods taking with them vital stocks and cooking utensils.

“Owners of small kiosks that are lined across the stream are the hardest hit. They have all lost their goods, personal items, and are all out of business.”

Hussein added that most of the families have now gone to stay with relatives, but that they now urgently need water, shelter and food, and require help to be resettled and to restart their businesses.

He condemned the government for reacting too slowly to the disaster.


Photo: Melvin Chibole/ActionAid
After a long period of drought in Mandera, thousands of people were displaced by flash floods following heavy rains in the region this week

“These people were displaced last night and this morning. They are yet to be assisted and only a few have [received] food. They need more assistance,” he stressed.

Dahabo Daud, from Mandera Women for Peace, said many families have been deprived a source of income, and added that it was painful that the tragedy has hit the district after months of severe drought.

Ismail Adam, a local farmers’ representative in Mandera, said that all farms in Lamagala and Sufti areas were destroyed, and expressed fears that residents will be unable to harvest essential crops that support almost half the local population.

“We were very happy when it started to rain last night, but our joy has now become a moment of mourning; we have lost two people, all [farm] houses have been damaged, and we need food relief.”

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Kenya Government Launches Anti-malaria Campaign

Posted on 10 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Public Health |


Photo: Zofeen Ebrahim/IRIN
The Ministry of Health has launched a nationwide campaign to retreat at least 1.8 million bed nets with long-lasting insecticide to control the spread of malaria as the rainy season sets in

NAIROBI, 10 October 2008 (IRIN) – Kenya’s Ministry of Health has launched a four-day nationwide campaign to retreat at least 1.8 million bed nets with long-lasting insecticide to control the spread of malaria as the rainy season sets in, a senior health official said.

“The nets will be retreated in all the eight provinces in the country,” Shahnaz Sharif, the senior deputy director of medical services in Kenya’s health ministry said. “400,000 torn and worn out nets will be replaced with long-lasting nets.”

Most of the bed nets in use are not long lasting and require constant insecticide re-treatment, Sharif said.

“Those in use in most homesteads were introduced in the market in 2002, they only last 6 months,” he said.

The long lasting insecticide treated nets (LLINs) are more effective in providing protection from the bites of malaria causing mosquitoes.

Sharif said the use of treated nets has reduced malaria prevalence. “In 2004 some areas had a prevalence of 30 percent, now it’s down to six percent,” he said, adding that the ministry of health would soon be launching the malaria indicator survey for the whole country.

''Those in use in most homesteads were introduced in the market in 2002, they only last 6 months''

“Despite big increases in the supply of mosquito nets, especially of LLINs in Africa, the number available in 2006 was still far below need in almost all countries,” said a UN World Health Organization (WHO) malaria report for 2008. Only 125 million people in Africa used bed nets in 2007, while a further 650 million were still at risk of malaria.

“There were an estimated 247 million malaria cases among 3.3 billion people at risk worldwide in 2006, causing nearly a million deaths, mostly of children under five years,” the WHO report said.

Eighty percent of the cases in Africa were in 13 countries, and over half were in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, said the report.

The net re-treatment campaign will cost at least US$4.6 million and is supported by the UN Children’s Fund and WHO.

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Rising Demand for Male Circumcision

Posted on 10 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Public Health |


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Boys wait to be circumcised at Migosi health centre in Kisumu

KISUMU, 9 October 2008 (PlusNews) – Health facilities in Nyanza Province in western Kenya are struggling to meet the demand for medical male circumcisions since politicians threw their weight behind efforts to promote the procedure as a way of reducing HIV infections.

The campaign initially faced opposition by community elders of the ethnic Luo community that makes up the bulk of the province’s inhabitants and does not traditionally practice circumcision. But local leaders, swayed by calls from Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, and research demonstrating the HIV prevention benefits of being circumcised, have since said they would set an example by undergoing the procedure themselves.

“I think it is a good thing that people are now seeing the benefits that will come along with male circumcision. After all, this has nothing to do with culture because it is a medical procedure,” said Oburu Odinga, a local legislator who is among those who have volunteered to be circumcised. “The day I go for it, I will let all know that I have done it.”

The sudden increase in demand for medical male circumcision in the province has forced health officials to rapidly roll out a programme to train health workers in the procedure.

“We have so far trained over 100 trainers of trainees, who will in turn train health workers,” said Wycliffe Omondi, a clinical instructor at the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society, part of a joint project by UNIM – the Universities of Nairobi in Kenya, Illinois in the US, and Manitoba in Canada – in Kisumu, provincial capital of Nyanza.

Trainers receive two weeks of training; health workers – clinical officers, nurses, counsellors and infection prevention assistants – receive five days, which includes counselling and the detection of dangerous conditions that might arise during surgery, such as excessive bleeding.

“Research assistants are also trained to follow up on clients after circumcision to monitor the healing process,” Omondi told IRIN/PlusNews.

Fred Oduor, another instructor with the UNIM project, noted that “We will not turn away those seeking circumcision services even though they are already infected [with HIV],” he said. “The only difference is that they will be required to come along with their partners. This also applies to those with sexually transmitted infections.”

Awareness campaigns have also been launched to address the misconception that male circumcision provides complete protection against HIV infection, and to encourage married men to attend counselling sessions with their spouses before the procedure.

''The moment I mentioned to her that I wanted to get circumcised, she went mad at me and insisted that I have been unfaithful to her all along''

“We insist on spousal involvement for married men because that is very critical in the success of the whole process,” said Omondi. “This is important for the man because the wife needs to understand that there is post-circumcision abstinence.”

One issue that may lessen the success of the circumcision drive is the perception among wives that their husbands intend to be unfaithful. “The moment I mentioned to her that I wanted to be circumcised, she went mad at me and insisted that I have been unfaithful to her all along,” Erick Otieno*, 35, told IRIN/PlusNews.

“You know it is difficult to convince her that you want to reduce your chances of contracting HIV without making her feel cheated on. I think it is important to create awareness among women that seeking male circumcision is not a sign of infidelity.”

Irene Aluoch*, 28, said her husband was not circumcised but she would support him if he wanted it. “I know it is a difficult thing to think that your husband might be going for circumcision because he sleeps with other women, but you would rather be safe than to regret,” she said. “Maybe he wants to do it just for reasons that are purely hygiene related.”

The provincial AIDS coordinator, Dr Charles Okal, said such matters should be properly dealt with during counselling before surgery. “Issues of infidelity among

Read more:
Government to roll out male circumcision
Male circumcision – a gamble for women?
Male circumcision sparks controversy
The cutting edge (multimedia)

married couples are very serious and the concerns being raised by women about them cannot be wished away. We are working very closely with the providers to try to pacify such feelings in a genuine way,” he said.

“If you talk about circumcising large numbers of people, but in the process have equally large numbers of broken marriages, then there is no success to write home about.”

*Not their real names

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UNEP Earmarks Mau Forest and Nairobi Dam For Recovery

Posted on 6 October 2008. Filed under: Environment |

Ecosystem renovation – bring it on back

A ‘lost’ lake in Mali and a Kenyan forest that is the water tower for key rivers and lakes in East Africa are among two country projects aimed at bringing significant degraded and denuded ecosystems back from the brink. The projects are among several being drawn up and spearheaded by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in cooperation with governments, to demonstrate that re-investing in damaged ecosystems can generate significant economic, environmental and social returns.

A further project proposal is being drawn up and staff being hired to restore soils, wetlands, forests and other key ecosystem on the hurricane-vulnerable island of Haiti where environmental degradation has been linked to social unrest.

In total UNEP wants to launch pilot large-scale and nationally significant rehabilitation of nature-based assets in five countries during the run up to the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said the projects would also serve as key adaptation measures for communities and countries facing ever more severe impacts from climate change.

“In a climate constrained world, these nature-based assets and the services they provide will become ever more central to an economy’s ability to thrive and to survive. Investments are urgently needed in hard infrastructure, from cleaner and greener energy to more intelligent and sustainable transport networks and urban planning,” he said.

“But we also need to invest and re-invest in the ‘soft’ infrastructure too – from forests and fisheries to wetlands and soils -if we are to ensure water and food supplies in a world with climate change and in a world with nine billion mouths to feed in just four decades,” said Mr Steiner, who spotlighted the initiative’s at the 5th IUCN Congress taking place in Barcelona, Spain.

Earlier this year the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that conflicts, climate change and rising food prices were among the factors that had led to over 11 million people being classed as refugees in 2008.

The United Nations University estimates that there are now about 19.2 million people officially recognized as ‘persons of concern’ – that is, people likely to be displaced because of environmental disasters. This figure is predicted to grow to about 50 million by the end of the year 2010.

The new projects aims to counter these trends by demonstrating that large-scale interventions in lost and fading ecosystems are cost effective ways of boosting livelihoods, economic prospects and social stability for communities, countries and even regions.

The pilots will in part build on a wealth of skills and experience acquired in both developed and developed countries in recent years on successful often small to medium scale ecosystem restoration.

Skills and expertise also gleaned by UNEP from a four year, $14 million programme to assist Iraq restore the Marshlands of Mesopotamia – an area some experts proposed was the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.

The project, funded by the Government of Japan, has restored clean drinking water for well over 20,000 Marsh Arabs as well as boosting habitats for a wide range of species including the spawning grounds for the Gulf fisheries.

The success of the project has prompted the Iraqi government to press ahead with a push to have the marshlands listed as a World Heritage Site with support from UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Lake Faguibine – Bring It On back

The lake, a spearhead-shaped water body which at its maximum can cover close to 600 square km, has been almost totally dry since the 1970s.

The lake, linked with seasonal flooding of the third largest river in Africa: the Niger, once provided a variety of services and livelihoods to local people.

These included agriculture; dry season grazing for livestock and a fishery with a catch of some 5,000 tons of fish.

Lake Faguibine also once provided a resting and feeding site for hundreds of thousands of mainly overwintering water-birds from Europe.

In June 2008, the government of Mali requested assistance from the United Nations to support the rehabilitation of the Lake Faguibine System and UNEP dispatched a team in August.

The team have now completed their preliminary assessment of some of factors behind the loss of the lake and the benefits that are likely to accrue to close to some 200,000 mainly nomadic people living in and around the area.

These range from declining rainfall in the region, increased evaporation rates and land use changes alongside blockages and other impediments to flood waters from the Niger reaching the lake.

Indeed water levels at Dire, a town on the flooding path to Lake Faguibine, have declined by somewhere around a half since the 1960s.

The plan calls for a two phase programme. The first, two year phase involves building alliances with local stakeholders and groups and boosting the science and in-country capacity needed to take the project forward.

The second phase will include management of land and the hydrological cycle in order to bring the seasonal lake back to health. Measures may include clearing of some two million cubic metres of sand blocking the channels feeding the lake; less intensive land use regimes and more sensitive management of discharges from dams on the Niger.

Lessons from other countries and not just Iraq could be applied here.

A new management plan for the Itezhi-tezhi dam in Zambia has helped to restore the natural seasonal flooding of the Kafue flats, as shown in 2007 satellite images published in UNEP’s recently published Atlas of Our Changing Environment.

Meanwhile the expansion of wetlands resulting from a restoration project in and around Diawling National Park is helping to control flooding and improve livelihoods in Mauritania.

The total scheme for Lake Faguibine is expected to cost upwards of $12 million and several donor countries have signalled interest in taking the work forward in cooperation with the Government of Mali, UNEP and other partners.

It is expected that sources of financial support will be announced soon.

The Mau Complex – Bring It On Back

The Mau is the largest closed-canopy forest in Kenya generating goods and services worth in excess of 20 billion Kenyan shillings (or over $320 million) annually for the country’s tea, tourism and hydro-power sectors. It is located on the western side of the Rift Valley.

The ecosystems not only provide essential water to rivers and lakes in Kenya but also feed Lake Victoria, which is shared with Uganda and Tanzania and is part of the River Nile Basin, and Lake Natron, shared with Tanzania.

Water provided by the Mau feeds rivers that nourish major tourist destinations including the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park – part of a sector that employs a million people in the formal and informal sectors.

Over recent years the forest has been impacted by “extensive illegal, irregular and ill-planned settlements as well as illegal forest resources extraction,” according to a UNEP assessment.

In total over 100,000 hectares or close to a quarter of the Mau Complex has been destroyed in the past decade putting at risk livelihoods, businesses and existing and planned hydropower schemes.

The new coalition government in Kenya have, based on UNEP and partners’ aerial surveys and recommendations, decided to act to reverse the rate of loss and restore the productivity of the Mau ecosystem.

The Prime Minister of Kenya formed a Task Force in July this year which is being supported by UNEP which is currently assessing the measures needed to restore the forest ecosystems back to health.

Areas of initial action have included establishing effective enforcement and management structure; identifying the legal boundaries and assessing land ownership in the entire forests ecosystems towards resettling / relocating people alongside with resource mobilization for the strategy.

Further degradation from logging and encroaching settlements has been contained by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and forest guards acting with the local authority and administrative police force.

A strategic management plan is being prepared along with mapping of biodiversity hot spots and critical water catchment areas.

Restoration, including re-establishment of forest plantations; the promotion of natural regeneration and “forest enrichment planting to support natural regeneration”, is expected to commence early in 2009.

Nairobi River Basin – Bring It On Back

The initiative dovetails with one to restore the health of rivers running through the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

In cooperation with the government and city council, UNEP is assisting on a ten-point plan to rehabilitate these freshwaters which have become virtually open clogged sewers; a source of disease; a blight on the landscape and an impediment to urban renewal and economic development.

The plan aims to restore the rivers back to health so they can again provide drinking water and recreation facilities while acting as ‘arteries’ for an urban renaissance..

A wide range of actions, funded by the government and the United Nations, are already underway and in the pipeline with a key source of pollution: namely a slaughterhouse, recently shut down.

Studies on illegal discharges and solid waste disposal sites are being done; measures to relocate small businesses are under discussion and a wide variety of landscaping, dredging and other projects being taken forward.

A notorious rubbish dumping site is to be moved to a safer and less sensitive location and rehabilitation proposals for sewage and drinking water treatment are being evaluated.

The Nairobi Dam, once a source of drinking water and venue for sailing, is to be a centre-piece with urban renewal designs already drawn up including the development of riverfront commercial developments and leisure facilities.

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Published Oct. 6, 2008

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Today is World Habitat Day

Posted on 6 October 2008. Filed under: Environment |

The United Nations has designated the first Monday in October each year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

From Africa through Asia to Europe and the Americas, governments, civic bodies as well as NGOs are laying out elaborate plans to mark this year’s event whose theme is ‘Harmoniuos Cities’ to be celebrated on October 6.Global observance of the occasion this year will be led from the Angolan capital, Luanda. The celebrations in Angola will show the world, how the country, after years of conflict, is progressing in the establishment of harmonious cities through urban development, poverty alleviation, improved land and housing rights, and providing access to basic urban services.

World Habitat Day this year comes on the eve of the fourth session of the World Urban Forum in Nanjing, China 3-6 November. The Forum, the world’s premier conference on managing our growing towns and cities, will also be the occasion of the launch of UN-HABITAT’s flagship biennial publication, the State of the World’s Cities.

The United Nations chose the theme of Harmonious Cities for the Forum and World Habitat Day to raise awareness about the problems of rapid urbanization, its impact on the environment, the growth of slums, and the urbanisation of poverty as more and more people teem into towns and cities looking for a better life.

Last week, a high-level delegation led by Angola’s Deputy Minister of Urban Affairs and the Environment visited UN-HABITAT headquarters in Nairobi to finalise plans for World Habitat Day.

Back home in Kenya, we publish some images showing the status of our rivers in Nairobi.

Nairobi River Basin - Major Pollutants

Nairobi River Basin - Major Pollutants

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobis Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobi's Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobis Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobi's Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobis Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobi's Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobis Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

A heavily-polluted Ngong River courses through Nairobis Eastlands region from its industrial zone on October 1, 2008. The urbanisation of African countries puts increasingly scarce water resources under great pressure from both industrial and domestic use, fast overwhelming ageing water management techniques and infrastructure. Kenya, like many developing economies, faces chronic water shortage as a result of which there is an increase of water-borne diseases and poisoning among urban dwellers who have been pushed to depend on alternative water sources that are unhealthy.

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Kenya Internally Displaced Struggle to Rebuild Their Lives

Posted on 2 October 2008. Filed under: Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Children carry firewood at the Nakuru IDP camp in April: Camp closure has left thousands stranded at transit camps or yet to fully resettle on their farms

NAKURU, 30 September 2008 (IRIN) – The decision to close camps for Kenyans displaced by post-election violence was hasty and has left thousands in Rift Valley Province stranded at transit camps or yet to fully resettle on their farms, according to activists.

“Despite most of the displaced leaving the camps to go to their farms or to transit camps, we haven’t achieved the peace we wanted,” Mark Mwithaga, a member of the Nakuru District peace committee, said.

Nakuru, the Rift Valley provincial headquarters, is one area that bore the brunt of the violence.

“Hate, bitterness and disgruntlement have set in,” he told a UN delegation on 25 September.

In May, the government ordered the IDP camps closed upon the conclusion of Operation “Rudi Nyumbani” (Return Home) that targeted hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Rift Valley.

Two other operations, “Ujirani Mwema” (Good neighbourliness) and “Tujenge Pamoja” (Let’s Build Together) were subsequently started in an effort to reintegrate the displaced to their original homesteads or in new areas of resettlement.

At least 200,000 people in the province were affected by the violence, according to Hassan Noor Hassan, the Provincial Commissioner.

“We started ‘Ujirani Mwema’ after the displaced returned to their homes and this has, to some extent, gone well to cement and bond different communities together,” Hassan said.

“We are now in the reconstruction phase, which we are calling ‘Tujenge Pamoja’ under which we are encouraging the communities to rebuild their lives together; we want all the displaced to move out of camps into their homes.”

However, he acknowledged that many IDPs had remained in camps and some may possibly not be able to return to their homes or farms.

“Most of the IDPs remaining in camps do not own land,” Hassan explained. “The majority lived in urban areas where they rented houses. The situation has been compounded by the urban poor, some of whom have moved to camps in order to get help.”

Some of the IDPs, who received the government’s Ksh10,000 (US$150) resettlement aid, have pooled together to purchase land in areas other than their place of origin.

“We are encouraging those who can pool together to buy land and urging the UN and other charitable groups to help such people in putting up the infrastructure required – sanitation facilities, health services, education and other social needs,” Hassan said.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
IDPs dig a latrine in Nakuru

“The government is also looking at the issue of the displaced who had bank loans and could not service them during their displacement; we are looking at how to assist these people,” he added.

“Negative peace”

Peace activists say many of the IDPs were still traumatised and without assistance – a situation described by Samson Ndungu, a member of the Nakuru peace committee, as “negative peace”.

“As we walk around encouraging the communities to reconcile, we find that people are still traumatised; our task is like that of someone consoling the bereaved yet the body of their loved one is still in the morgue and the family is looking for means and ways of giving the dead a decent burial,” Ndungu told IRIN.

“This is because there has not been any serious follow-up by the government of those who left the camps.”

Many of the displaced and non-displaced communities also lacked civic education and were “not well informed about political issues or things like governance and land policy”.

Ndungu warned that unless the issues of land and political governance were addressed, the prevailing calm was deceptive. “All it needs is a spark and chaos will erupt, this time more explosive than what was experienced earlier in the year,” Ndungu said.

Political will

Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator, called for political will to resolve the challenge of resettling the IDPs.

“Although peace and reconciliation are possible, there has to be political will and an inclusive approach in this process,” he said in Eldoret, another Rift Valley town adversely affected by the violence.

“Everybody has a role to play,” he added. “We also need to recognise efforts by the communities themselves to foster peace and healing; these traditional and local solutions to conflict resolution need to be recognised and to complement other efforts already in use.”

Wesley Chebii, the Uasin Gishu district coordinator of UN peace-building volunteers, said communities were warming to one another in areas like Burnt Forest and Sugoi, where volunteers were engaged in reconciliation activities.

“We have opted for on-the-ground coverage in Burnt Forest area and we are making inroads; the two main communities there are now willing to sit down and discuss what happened to chart the way forward.”

Camps

Humanitarian workers in the North Rift region, however, said thousands of the displaced were still housed in at least 140 transit camps.

“Although there has been a marked improvement in security in the areas of return, those in transit camps still require support,” an official of an NGO, who requested anonymity, said.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
The UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator, Aeneas Chuma, shakes hands with an IDP woman Nakuru

“We can say that return in safety and dignity [has been] partly achieved, but a lot still needs to be done to ensure that these people rebuild their lives.”

Peace and reconciliation efforts at community level were being hampered by a lack of willingness by displaced and non-displaced communities “to come to the dialogue table”, the official added.

“The main challenge for the government and UN agencies is that the IDP issue is still with us – their security, provision of social services in the transit camps [and] in areas of return, peace-building and helping people recover livelihoods,” Chuma said.

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Circumcision Booms in Kenya

Posted on 2 October 2008. Filed under: Governance, Public Health |

Kenya government hopes to circumcise two million people in the Luo province where the practice is abhorred. Top politicians from the area confessed they have gone to have the foreskin of their male organs removed as part of an awareness to curb HIV/AIDS. They spoke to spur people on to go and circumcise. Standing before an audience of 500 in the western city of Kisumu, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga, three government ministers and an MP said they had secretly undergone the operation, the BBC reported.

Medical researchers contend that it reduces the risk of HIV infection among men, but have maintained that using condoms is far more effective. It is reported that five other MPs of Kenya have pledged their intention to have a circumcision – after seeking medical advice – as part of a push to promote the culturally taboo practice. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is high in the Luo community and the government has recently introduced a programme to promote the practice to curb the spread of AIDS.

Unlike the nearby Luhya community, who last month turned out in large numbers to undergo circumcision in an annual festival, removing the foreskin is not performed as rite of passage amongst the Luo. The politicians said they feared losing their post, but have received an unflinching support from their colleagues – including Odinga’s brother, an assistant minister who agreed to undergo the procedure. It is seen as a boost for the Luos to support circumcision.

Support

Hundreds of young men have begun to turn up for circumcision at public and private hospitals. Robert Ogol, a youth counsellor, is one who has snubbed the advice. He accused the community’s elders of being afraid of change and said young men should be allowed to make their own decision about the practice. “I got circumcised while I was already married. Since I got circumcised, even my wife can tell you that she is very comfortable,” he said. At the Lumumba Health Centre in Kisumu, more than 80 medical practitioners have already received training. “We are teaching young men and older people about circumcision. They usually come for circumcision of their own free will,” says Wycliffe Omondi, one of the doctors providing training at the centre.

Statistics

Nearly 1,000 men have been circumcised since March and medical workers receive two days of training, he said. However, the Luo Council of Elders is not convinced that circumcision lowers the risk of infection. “I don’t think it will be a solution to fight the spread of AIDS,” said Joe Asila, a pastor and Luo elder. “Other communities practise circumcision, but there is still a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS,” he said. Meanwhile, the practice is catching up well in Malawi where hundreds of men are reported queuing at medical centres to be circumcised.

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals

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