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South Sudan in crisis

Sarah John walked hundreds of miles with her four children to reach the MSF camps on the South Sudanese border with Kenya. Photo: Wairimu Gitau, MSF.Sarah John walked hundreds of miles with her four children (pictured) to reach the Medicins Sans Frontier camps on the South Sudanese border with Kenya. Aged between two and seven, the children are among almost one million refugees fleeing conflict in the world’s newest nation.

Almost three years ago the world looked on as South Sudan celebrated independence, and looked to the future. But in December agreement between the main ethnic groups came to a violent end.

An uneasy alliance between the President and Vice-President broke in July when the VP was dismissed. Violence broke out in mid-December, and reports of armed soldiers on the streets signaled an end to peace. A ceasefire declared on January 23rd has not lessened the violence.

UNHCR estimated this month there are “over 739,000 people … internally displaced and a further 196,921 sheltering in neighbouring countries” because of the escalating conflict.

A senior MSF medic told an audience in Dublin earlier this month that the situation can now be described as a crisis.

Retired British surgeon Professor Paul McMaster worked in South Sudan for a month from Christmas, joining over 3,000 local and international staff on the ground.

‘It was just after midnight when they called me to see a young girl of about 12 who had collapsed. Sitting on the floor next to her, was her seven or eight year old brother.

‘She had walked three or four days from the North, without food or water, her father had stayed behind and they had been separated from their mother. Her only carer was her brother. It was Christmas morning,’ he said.

DRC: Analysts cautious about significance of M23 peace delcaration

Congolese refugees board a truck at Bunagana on the Uganda-DRC border. Over 800,000 may been displaced by conflict since it began March 2012. Government forces captured the M23 rebels main base in Bunagana on October 30, 2013. The sides declared an end to hostilities on December 12. Photo:  Samuel Okiror/IRIN, May 2012.The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the former rebel group known as the M23 Movement signed declarations on 12 December formalizing agreements to end hostilities in eastern DRC.

The declarations, together with a Final Communique on the Kampala Dialogue, were released by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community - which together sponsored almost a year of fitful peace talks in the Ugandan capital. The documents articulated each sides’ commitments on a range of issues, including M23’s renunciation of rebellion and transformation into a political party; the government’s limited offer of amnesty to combatants; the release of prisoners; the demobilization and reintegration of former rebels; national reconciliation and justice; and social security and economic reforms.

Kinshasa also committed itself to quickly moving ahead to facilitate the return of refugees, in line with tripartite agreements signed with neighbouring states, and to help internally displaced civilians, who number more than two million in eastern DRC, go back home.

Through his spokesman, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the declarations constituted a “positive step towards ending cycles of deadly conflicts that have caused immense suffering to the Congolese people.”

Yet analysts remain divided on whether political dialogue or military means is best to address the problem of armed rebellion in eastern DRC, even as focus now shifts to the northeastern Orientale Province, after relative success in North Kivu. Some argue for a mix of both: “neutralizing” armed groups while engaging in security sector and institutional reforms.

Irish Aid programme cuts Malaria death rate in Malawi by 95%

Launch of Reducing Hunger, Strengthening Resilience: Irish Aid Annual Report 2012, 12 September 2013. Photo: Irish Aid.Last month, World and Media reported that an Irish Aid supported hospital partnership was associated with an 86 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a 50 percent drop in stillbirths and early neonatal deaths in the Omdurman Maternity Hospital in Sudan. Today (September 12), the Government’s programme for overseas development, Irish Aid, published its annual report with some even more striking evidence for its effectiveness:

  • Ethiopia: Almost 7 million people protected from hunger in 2012 through an Irish Aid supported programme, which provides cash or food in exchange for work to improve agriculture and protect the environment.
  • Malawi: In Malawi, following the distribution of 263,000 bednets, suspected deaths from malaria among children under 5 have reduced by 95% since 2010.
  • Mozambique: 71% of girls aged 6 in Mozambique are now enrolled in school. This is up from 58% in 2005.
  • Tanzania: Since 2001, the area of agricultural land under irrigation has almost doubled (up from 200,000 hectares to 399,000 hectares), contributing to reduced hunger and increased economic opportunity for families.
  • Vietnam: Two-thirds reduction in rates of mothers dying in childbirth between 1990 and 2009.
  • Zambia: 400,000 people have access to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation facilities thanks to Irish Aid’s programme in Northern Province.
  • Ethiopia: The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 56% in 2000 to 39% in 2012.

Northern Namibia: where there used to be grass, there is now little more than dust

Riondjovi Mupia and her three children moved to an informal settlement on the outskirts of Opuwo in north-western Namibia four months ago after the drought dried up the vegetable patch she relied on for an income. Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN.[OPUWO] The arid hills of Namibia’s northwestern Kunene Region make for a harsh environment at the best of times. With agriculture limited by the region’s dry, sandy soil, most of the local population rely on livestock farming, leading a semi-nomadic existence dictated by the search for fresh pasture for their cattle and goats. But following two years of failed rains, pasture is almost non-existent; where there used to be grass, there is now little more than dust.

“The drought is killing everything,” said Teemuime Mbendura, who lives in a Himba homestead, about one hour’s drive north of the regional capital, Opuwo. 

The Ovahimba have largely managed to maintain their traditional way of life in northern Namibia, including the women’s practice of applying a mixture of animal fat and ochre to their skin and hair to achieve a distinctive reddish hue. But increasingly erratic rains - which are expected to grow even more variable in the future, according to climate change predictions - are threatening the sustainability of their pastoral existence. 

Mbendura does not know her age - “Maybe a thousand years,” she says - but she is certain this is the first time in her life that the rains have failed for two consecutive years. “The old men used to consult the ancestors to ask for rain, but now there are no old men left at the homestead, and the younger ones don’t do this,” she told IRIN. 

The younger men are noticeably absent from the homestead, which consists of huts encircled by a makeshift fence. Most have taken their cattle to distant patches of pasture in an effort to keep them alive.

Opinion: A little aid can provide a massive return

Participants from a Community Conversation group in Mukuru during a resource mapping process, the process helps the community identify how best they can address their issue. Photo: Concern Worldwide.In these times of financial turmoil, it is natural to question government spending and examine how our limited resources can be best put to use. Overseas aid budgets have come under intense scrutiny from citizens of countries the world over, with some people preferring that we cease all aid in favor of spending on domestic projects during this cash-strapped and difficult period – the “charity begins at home” outlook.

Many others recognize the importance of aid to the world’s poorest, whether for reasons of social justice, compassion, or diplomacy. Amidst all the voices and opinions, I have noted the growing unease and, at times, cynicism people have about aid and its efficacy. “We give and give, but nothing ever changes” is a phrase I have often heard.

Implicit in this unease is the notion that the world’s poor are simply recipients, simply needy, waiting to be led out of poverty. What we do not see represented as often is the tireless commitment and dogged determination of communities and of average community members to improve their lives, to increase their opportunities, their access to jobs, health care, and education.

On a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya, I was fortunate to see the very real and powerful will of local people to solve problems and escape poverty. The Mukuru slum in the eastern part of Nairobi is home to over 100,000 people. Off several roads, row after row of corrugated iron and wooden shacks are crisscrossed with winding dirt lanes no more than a few feet wide. My colleagues from Concern Worldwide and our local partner organization, the Mukuru Slum Development Project, and I walked through the maze of paths, hopping over open, murky trenches filled with waste water and sewage until we reached a shed about the size of a classroom.

We were going to meet a group of residents from the Hazina and Kisii neighborhoods of Mukuru who had gathered to form the Haki Community Conversation. Inside the muggy, dimly-lit room squeezed 40 men and women, old and young, many with young children sitting on their laps. Everyone was meeting for one reason: to address local issues with local ingenuity. Used in many countries and contexts, Community Conversations are just that–meetings where people can talk about, and work to solve, the immediate challenges in their community.

The meeting started with announcements from various attendees, addressing issues that had come to light since the last meeting, such as fire safety and domestic violence. The floor then opened for anyone to raise topics that were of interest to them. One woman stood, swaddling a child in a brightly colored shawl, and asked where she could access maternity services. Thankfully, the Haki Community Conversation already has a working solution in place. It identifies pregnant women and informs them of where and how to get maternity treatment vouchers, enabling them to access free medical care during their pregnancy.

'We have to stay, to die. We remain there, we knew they are coming.'

Road to South Sudan outside Lacor Hospital, Gulu in Northern Uganda, where Fr Peter Okello is now based. He dreams of visiting newly independent South Sudan but struggles to forget his experience of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. Photo: Niamh Griffin.Many Irish families have a missionary relative, a visitor who shivers by the fire once a year or less. Ruán Magan spoke to some of these extraordinary ‘Lifers’ for RTÉ last night. However, they are not alone in having sacrificied a family life and put their own lives at risk to bring hope to others.

Travelling in Uganda last year I met an elderly Sudanese missionary who dreams of sniffing the air in newly independent South Sudan. And wishes he could leave his memories of warlord Joseph Kony behind.

Now 83, Fr Peter Okello spends his days on his veranda at the missionary-run Lacor Hospital in Gulu. Still tall and broad-shouldered, he walks slowly but with so many visitors, he hardly needs to move. As we talk mechanics, nurses and other priests drop by to talk or just sit nearby.

In 2008 Fr Peter was one of three missionaries at Duru Mission in the Congo. The Lord’s Resistance Army under Kony was fading then*, but still strong in pockets along the borderlands.

‘The last mission I left, we were forced to leave. We escaped death, we were at their mercy. They took everything away, the rebels, the people of Kony,’ he says.

“The people around the mission did not run away, so according to our rules, if even one person does not run away, then we have to stay, to die. We remain there, we knew they are coming.”

Cheating? Use a condom - new campaign takes blunt approach to Uganda's AIDS ABC

AIDS Healthcare Foundation 'Uganda cares' campaign poster with the image of a broken heart and the messages 'Cheating? Use a condom' and 'Cheated on? Get tested'. Photo: Samuel Okiror/IRIN.Getting your AIDS message right is not always easy as US NGO, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has been discovering. On Friday, 18 January, Mrs. Janet Kataha Museveni, First Lady of Uganda was the Guest of Honour at the opening of its newest "Uganda cares" health care centre in Lukaya. The new centre is unusual in having an attached commercial and residential complex which is intended to finance the centre as well and to support the local economy. Supporters of the complex held posters which focused primarily on using condoms and getting tested. Using condoms is the "C" in Uganda's ABC campaign. Abstinence and being faithful are "A" and "B".

However, on Wednesday (January 23) IRIN reported that a new "Uganda cares" campaign is causing controversy because of how it bluntly focuses on condoms when an individual is neither abstaining or being faithful, in other words when they are cheating. AHF seems unfazed by the reaction: it tweeted a link to the story noting that its campaign is "making waves". Read the IRIN story below. - World and Media


[KAMPALA] A new Ugandan HIV-prevention campaign that frankly addresses sexual infidelity is generating heated debate over the direction the country's HIV strategy should take.

Billboards erected in various parts of the capital, Kampala, by Uganda Cares - a programme of the US NGO AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) - bear the image of a broken heart and the lines "Cheating? Use a condom" and "Cheated on? Get tested".

The campaign aims to address the growing vulnerability to HIV of couples in long-term relationships. Studies show that some 43 percent of new HIV infections in Uganda occur in such unions.

Irish Aid working to reduce conflict in Karamoja

Agnes Ocitti works on social justice issues in the Irish Aid offices in Kampala, Uganda. Irish Aid’s work in Uganda has been concentrated in an part of the country that has seen reduced conflict over the last five years.Reduced conflict in the east of Uganda, a key programme area for Irish Aid, is opening the way for more investment.

A recent study by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) found conflict between pastoral groups in the Karamoja Cluster has reduced over the last five years.

This area covers north-eastern Uganda, and also the cross-border region with Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia. On-going violence linked to cattle-raiding had caused internal migration and prevented the region from developing in line with other areas of Uganda.

This is exacerbated by natural disasters as the region is also prone to heavy flooding and drought.

The Karamoja region is where Irish Aid’s work in Uganda is concentrated. When I visited their office in Kampala, head of development Keith Gristock told me they had decided to focus on certain areas.

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WorldandMedia's Niamh Griffin in Uganda

Patients' familiesMoses OmaraSarah
Drs. Alema, Ogwang and OkelloPower of Guinness AwardMulago Hospital
Dr Jane FualalDr Kintu LuwagaDr John Sekabira
SchoolforSurgeons.netEbola posterKeith Gristock of Irish Aid

Patients' families

St Mary’s Hospital, Gulu, Uganda. Photo by Worldandmedia reporter, Niamh Griffin, on a trip funded by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. Read her work in the Africa News section.

Moses Omara

Moses Omara's daughter has been in the children’s ward at St Mary’s Hospital Lacor, Gulu, Uganda for 7 months. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

Drs. Alema, Ogwang and Okello

Surgical staff at St Mary’s Hospital Lacor, Gulu, Uganda. From left: Dr Nelson Alema, Dr Martin Ogwang, Dr Tom Okello. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

Power of Guinness Award

St Mary’s Hospital Lacor (also known as Lacor Hospital), Gulu, Uganda was awarded the 'Power of Guinness Award' in 2001 for fighting Ebola. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

Dr Jane Fualal

Dr Jane Fualal supervises surgery, Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Daudi Ssebaggala.

Dr Kintu Luwaga

Dr Kintu Luwaga scrubs in for surgery. Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Daudi Ssebaggala.

Dr Kintu Luwago reading a Royal College of Surgeons Ireland designed training website, Mulago Hospital, Uganda. Photo: Daudi Ssebaggala.

Ebola poster

Patients wait beside a poster warning of Ebola, Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Daudi Ssebaggala.

Keith Gristock of Irish Aid

Keith Gristock, Head of Development, Irish Aid Uganda. Photo: Niamh Griffin.