Nov 112014
 

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, leaving more than 4000 people dead, the region is now on the brink of a major food crisis, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, has warned today.

“While the countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis struggle to contain the devastating virus, they now face a new challenge with experts predicting that over a million people in the region need food aid to allay shortages,” Ms. Elver said.

“Farmers in West Africa have been severely affected by this crisis, with fear and panic resulting in many having abandoned their farms, this in turn has led to a disruption in food production and a soaring rise in food prices,” she noted. “Staple crops such as rice and maize will reportedly be scaled back due to shortages in farm labour with potential catastrophic effect on food security.”

Agriculture is the main economic activity in West Africa with two thirds of the population dependent on farming. “The closure of border and sea crossings, a reduction in regional trade, along with a decline in foreign investment, and diminished purchasing power of tens of thousands of already vulnerable households, leaves these countries in a precarious situation in relation to food security and access to an adequate and nutritional diet,” the expert explained.

Ms. Elver also expressed her deep concern at reports suggesting that, in some cases, communities are facing food shortages due to poor road accessibility, while others have been threatening to evade quarantine because of lack of food supplies.

“In situations where Governments have imposed quarantine on communities or requested for self-quarantine, access to food should be strictly ensured,” urged the human rights expert.

The Special Rapporteur called on the international community to do everything in its power to ensure that the already existing food shortages in these countries, are mitigated, adding that measures must be taken, with immediate effect, to restore infrastructure and ensure food security to stricken communities.

Nov 112014
 

PARIS, France, November 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — On 7 November, a transport truck with medical supplies and clearly identified as operating for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was stopped and held captive by an armed group on the route linking Paoua in the North to the capital Bangui, between the towns of Yaloké and Bossembélé. A sum of money was demanded for the vehicle and its crew to be freed. Twenty four hours later, on the same road, a second MSF truck was held up by the same armed group. The team leader was taken away and forced to negotiate a payment.

“These two events are extremely serious. On each occasion, the attackers proved to be highly aggressive, insulting, threatening, pointing their guns at our staff members and shooting in the air. What proved to be actual confinement of teams in both cases resulted in the extortion of substantial amounts of cash. Fortunately, no one was injured, but these types of attacks and threats against humanitarian aid workers are unacceptable,” stated Delphine Chedorge, MSF’s head of mission in CAR. These events are indeed proof that, despite the optimistic ambient discourse dispensed primarily by international forces, the situation in CAR is far from peaceful. Insecurity still represents a major roadblock to the provision of aid in this crisis-rocked country, where the humanitarian needs are enormous.

”Difficulties in supplying the approximately fifteen projects MSF runs in the provinces, coupled with the intense danger that its teams are exposed to, could force MSF to cut back assistance, upon which hundreds of thousands of persons depend—assistance which is vital to those living in areas where MSF is the only medical player.

These recent events are part of a regular increase in the number of attacks and attempts at extortion carried out against humanitarian aid workers and vehicles over the past several months and especially since October. Despite repeated contacts with the authorities, international forces and local armed groups, the guarantees of security given by them are not actually being followed up by actions.

“The current government is completely absent and silent. Impunity is widespread. MINUSCA is a failure when it comes to protecting ordinary citizens. Sangaris and Eufor are unable to secure the country or the main highways. Like the populations of CAR, the NGOs, victims of this security void, are easy targets for the violence and greed carried out by armed groups that no one claims to control,” said Laurent SURY, who manages MSF’s programs in CAR, from Paris.

MSF’s involvement in CAR began in 1997, and in 2013, we doubled the number of projects we run in order to respond to the crisis in the country.

Nov 112014
 

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — IOM, Uganda’s Ministry of Health, UNAIDS and the Uganda AIDS Commission last week organized a national consultative meeting on HIV/AIDS response in the country’s fishing communities.

Among the 7.3 per cent of Ugandans between 15 and 49 who are HIV positive, fishing communities have the highest HIV rates at three to five times above the national average. HIV rates among fishermen, 90 per cent of whom are migrants, according to a 2013 IOM study, range from 22 to 40 per cent.

The IOM study interviewed nearly 2,000 respondents in 42 inland fishing communities in six districts, including six different lakes. High risk behaviours identified included multiple sexual partners, low uptake of condom use and low rates of health service care.

The Kampala meeting aimed to identify the special challenges faced by fishing communities and to prioritize HIV prevention, treatment and mitigation programmes. These include a lack of health services facilities in remote areas and inconsistent HIV outreach services.

Participants agreed to improve service delivery, to adopt a national roadmap and to establish a task force including IOM, UN and government agencies. The roadmap highlights the gaps, provides goals, objectives, strategies and guidance to policymakers and stakeholders responsible for ensuring access to the HIV response in fishing communities.

“HIV has affected our production in Uganda. We are dealing with fishing communities whose behaviour needs our attention,” said Uganda’s Minister of State for Animal Industries, Bright K. Rwamirama, highlighting the need for the government to move forward, integrate and expand HIV programming in fishing communities.

“As the fishing communities are mainly composed of migrants, we need to provide services on HIV/AIDS that move with this extremely mobile population,” said IOM Migration and Health specialist Michaela Martini.

Since the first AIDS cases were identified in a Lake Victoria fishing community in 1982, there have been increasing efforts to provide accessible HIV services. But the mobility of the fishermen and the remoteness of the areas in which they work represent serious obstacles.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on fishing communities goes beyond public health. It has a deep negative impact on the communities, on the fisheries sector, on the rural economy and on the overall development of the country. The labour force is depleted, production decreases, the level of poverty increases and individuals and families face difficulties coping with economic shocks.

Uganda’s fisheries sector employs some 2.5 million people, contributes over 2.8 per cent of GDP and represents 8 per cent of export earnings.

Nov 112014
 

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Amid reports today from Obock, Djibouti, that at least 30 more people have died attempting to cross the Gulf of Aden, IOM has dispatched a team to investigate and aid survivors, if any.

Following the biggest loss of life since March in a deadly shipwreck in the Gulf of Aden on 20 October, when 26 migrants drowned, IOM Djibouti has been sheltering eight survivors and providing them with necessary psychological and medical assistance.

Five of them have now decided to voluntarily return to Ethiopia, their country of origin, while the remaining three have decided to continue their hazardous journey to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, despite the risks and IOM recommendations not to do so.

The October tragedy occurred when an overloaded boat carrying 34 people left Djibouti for Yemen in high winds. When it capsized, the migrants drowned less than two km from the beach of Guehery, 39 km north of Obock. All of the migrants came from Ethiopia’s Kamisseh region, which is desperately poor and suffers from high unemployment.

The shipwreck involved the biggest loss of life in the Gulf of Aden since March 2014, when seven migrants drowned trying to reach Yemen and 35 survived. Since the beginning of the year, at least 241 people have perished at sea trying to reach Yemen from Djibouti.

Explaining the survivors’ decisions to either return home or again risk their lives at sea, IOM Djibouti acting Chief of Mission Romaric N’Guessan said that tens of thousands of migrants continue to make the journey out of desperation and ignorance of what awaits them. “An increasing number of them are also victims of human trafficking and other human rights abuses at the hands of smugglers,” he added.

“We warned this group of the dangers and offered to provide them with transport home and even a reintegration grant to start a small business. Some accepted, but the others decided to keep trying to reach the Gulf, despite seeing what happened to their compatriots,” he said.

To raise migrants’ awareness of the risks of irregular migration and human trafficking, three years ago IOM Djibouti opened a Migrant Response Center in Obock, the closest Djibouti town to Yemen.

“Despite advocacy and outreach efforts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, migrants – mainly Ethiopians – often continue to be unaware of the extreme dangers they face, until they have crossed the border into Djibouti and are faced with life-threatening difficulties. Smugglers are increasingly taking advantage of this,” said N’Guessan.

“At least 50 migrants were abandoned in the desert in September and died of exhaustion and dehydration. Another 15 migrants were found dead in the lake Assal area in August. These are desperate people and we are faced with a huge challenge,” he noted.

Story of a migrant survivor:

‘‘I was in a group of more than one hundred people. We left Dire Dawa (Ethiopia) for Djibouti. The trip from Ethiopia to Djibouti border was done by vehicle. I stayed one week in Djibouti then I moved to Tadjourah then to Obock. Most of the trip from Djibouti to Tadjourah and to Obock was done on foot.

I left my country because I heard that there were many jobs and a lot of money in Saudi Arabia. On departure, I paid some money to the traffickers in Ethiopia and the rest of the money was used to pay for the boat from Obock to Yemen and to Saudi Arabia. In total I spent 7,500 birr (USD 380).

Now I have lost all my money, but I’m still alive. I knew that I could have died in the desert or at sea, and because I didn’t have documents, could have been arrested by the police in Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But I did not have any hope in my village, so I decided to continue my trip anyway.

But then I saw what happened with the boat. I saw my friends dying as most of them did not know how to swim. I can still hear their cries. I was lucky because it could have been me and now I want IOM to help me to go back to my country.

I have learned that irregular migration is too dangerous. I have a nice country – Ethiopia. I have to go back and work hard to have a better life. I don’t want to risk my life again. IOM also told me also that there are regular migration channels and I will try to look into that if I decide to migrate again.”

Nov 112014
 

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai yesterday (10/11) inaugurated the first of three planned IOM-managed Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) in Liberia. The new unit, in Tubmanburg, was constructed by the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), with the support and oversight of the US Department of Defense.

It will be run by 24 internationally recruited IOM health professionals from countries including Russia, the US, New Zealand, UK, Kenya, Eritrea, Romania and Ireland. Some 100 Liberians have also been recruited to work at the ETU, which is in Bomi County, northwest of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

Speaking at the inauguration, Vice President Boakai thanked Liberia’s international partners for their efforts and said that he believed that Ebola will eventually be driven out of his country.

The three US government-funded ETUs will be operated by IOM in close partnership and under the supervision of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW). USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance is supporting IOM’s efforts to manage the ETU and provide clinical care.

US Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac said: “This is an emblem of a long and deep partnership the US and Liberia have experienced for many years. We have got good news, but we should not let down our guard. We must renew our commitment to continue (correct) practices to protect our families, communities and Liberia.”

The ETU in Tubmanburg will open with 10 beds and has a capacity to scale up to 100. It is set to offer full clinical care to Ebola patients in Bomi County as part of Liberia’s wider Ebola response system.

In total, Liberia expects to eventually have 17 new ETUs as part of the government’s national Ebola response strategy, led by the MOHSW.

There have been 6,525 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of Ebola in Liberia since late March. Through the end of October, 2,697 deaths have been attributed to the disease. Health care workers in the country have been particularly affected, with 315 reported cases and 157 deaths since the start of the crisis.

To minimize the risk of infection, all the health workers at the Tubmanburg ETU have undergone intensive training. This included a week of classroom training in the capital, Monrovia and on-the-job training in one of two existing ETUs – either in Foja in the north of the country, in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières, or in Bong in Central-South Liberia with the International Medical Corps.

A team of 24, mostly American, health workers have also completed their first phase of training for deployment in the next ETU, which will open in the city of Buchanan later this month. The third facility is expected to open in the city of Sinje in early December.

Besides staff recruitment, training and operating the ETUs, IOM will also handle logistics, including the supply of fuel, drinking water and security.

“IOM is proud to support the Government of Liberia in this critical response to Ebola. We look forward to working with the affected communities and are confident that these facilities will contribute to defeating Ebola,” said IOM Liberia Chief of Mission Salvatore Sortino.

SPREAD THE WORD, NOT THE VIRUS

To help West African communities fight the Ebola virus, IOM is producing a set of comics in local languages. The first in Liberian pidgin dialect explains in easy-to-understand panels how communities should react if faced with an Ebola infection. The comics are downloadable and can be printed and used freely. For downloads go to: http://ebolaresponse.iom.int/