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Coronavirus stokes Middle East boiling points

BBC:The Middle East has many reasons to fear the coronavirus pandemic, but it has one big advantage ..

BBC:The Middle East has many reasons to fear the coronavirus pandemic, but it has one big advantage when it comes to resisting it. Most people in the region are young.

A rough average is that at least 60% are under the age of 30. That makes them less susceptible to developing Covid-19, the illness that has killed so many people in countries with older populations.

Most governments in the region saw what was happening elsewhere and had time to impose curfews and social distancing measures.

But that is where the Middle East’s advantages end. Years of strife in the world’s least stable region have left weaknesses that the pandemic is sure to deepen.

Medical capabilities vary widely. The best hospitals in Israel are as good as any in the world. The healthcare systems in Yemen, Syria and Libya – never strong – have been severely damaged, and in places destroyed, by years of war.

Yemen was already in the grip, the UN said, of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Now it has cases of Covid-19, which could spread fast in impoverished, overcrowded communities.

Aden, in the south, is in political turmoil. Even after two Covid-19 deaths were announced last week local residents were reported to be ignoring a curfew, still flocking to markets and mosques.

Troubled outlook

Those same young people who have the best chance of resisting the virus were, before it hit, leading demonstrations against their governments.

Every country has its own grievances, but in the Arab Middle East the protests have centred on corruption, cronyism and reform. Corrupt elites are accused of siphoning off public money that should have gone into public services, not least hospitals.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq they forced out a president and two prime ministers. Protesters who refused to budge occupied the main squares of capital cities. In Iraq, they stayed put even after around 600 protesters were shot dead and thousands more were wounded.

Young people who refused orders to clear the streets for months will not be enjoying the irony that the coronavirus has forced them indoors.






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Lessons for Africa from devastating Mauritius oil spill

The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and i..

The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and its devastating impact is expected to last for decades. Over 1 000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked into pristine Mauritian waters, covering the nearby shore in toxic sludge and immersing the ecosystem in a desperate struggle for survival.

This environmental crisis couldnt have occurred at a worse time for Mauritius. The spill will seriously impede the recovery of a Mauritian economy highly dependent on coastal tourism and already battered by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Mauritius and other African states need to promptly review their contingency strategies and response capacities so we can start positing immediate lessons to be learnt.

The national and international response to the MV Wakashio crisis was commendable. France, India, Japan and the International Maritime Organization cooperated to support local Mauritian efforts in a race against time to pump out the fuel from the vessel, which eventually broke apart on 15 August. Meanwhile local volunteers flocked to the shore with improvised booms and barriers.

Mauritius and other African states need to urgently review their contingency strategies

While a full investigation and report is urgently required, it is possible to start piecing together a narrative of what has occurred and how it turned so bad so quickly.

The MV Wakashio left China on 14 July heading for Brazil. On 25 July it ran aground on the reefs located roughly a mile off Pointe dEsny and the Blue Bay Marine Park along the south-eastern shore of Mauritius. No oil leakage was reported at the time, and the Mauritius coast guard swiftly deployed booms and took other preventive actions. The government activated its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan the following day.

By 5 August a minor oil slick was observed surrounding the vessel. It was still assumed that the countrys contingency plan was sufficient and that the risk of oil spill was still low. But then the MV Wakashio flooded and began sinking. Oil started to spill into the sea.

On 7 August Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a national environment emergency. Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo suggested that this is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem. Mauritius called for international help once the scale of the emergency became apparent and quickly overwhelmed the resources and capacity of the countrys national contingency plan.

The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating

Some of these resources were acquired as part of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Highway Development and Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention project from 2007-2012. The project also called for the establishment of the Regional Marine Pollution Co-ordination Centre (RCC) for Marine Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Western Indian Ocean.

South Africa will host the RCC, and its establishment must now be expedited. The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating, especially when they occur in sensitive and critically important environmental areas.

Will other African countries and regional organisations develop sufficient capacity to respond to crises on the scale of the MV Wakashio without depending on international assistance? There is a great risk of oil spills and leaks occurring elsewhere in the African maritime domain in the future, especially spills that occur during bunkering.

The Cape of Good Hope route is a maritime super highway. Some countries, like South Africa, are able to swiftly respond on their own, as demonstrated in May when the potential wreck of the Yuan Hua Hu, also carrying 4 000 tonnes of fuel oil, was narrowly averted.

Theres a great risk of oil spills occurring elsewhere in Africa, especially during bunkering

Many countries such as Mauritius lack at least some of the resources or capacities needed to deal with such a disaster. Governments require up-to-date assessments to plan future responses. Better and more collective resources and skills at a regional or continental level are required.

Improved accountability mechanisms are also important. The Japanese owners of the MV Wakashio have offered, under international obligations, to pay compensation for applicable damages caused by the oil spill. Yet in other cases it might not be as easy to track the owners and determine liability (as can be seen in the investigation into the tragic Beirut port explosion of 4 August).

It is time for African maritime institutions to review their approaches and develop appropriate expertise and response mechanisms. This should ensure fast and effective regional or continental action when the inevitable oil leaks arise.

The results should be reported to key multilateral organisations – ideally to the African Union (AU) – as part of the implementation of 2050 Africas Integrated Maritime Strategy. The AU could, for instance, convene a consultative forum for experience and skills sharing with inputs from all the regional economic communities such as that hosted by the Southern African Development Community in 2018.

Disaster relief is expensive, but is nowhere near as controversial as other maritime issues such as creating security frameworks and determining boundaries. It can also foster collaboration anchored in regional AU institutions that draw on indigenous expertise and capacities.

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More than 100 children killed and injured as violence intensifies in Ituri, DRC – Save the Children

Kinshasa, August 13 – At least 83 children have been killed in the northern province of Ituri in the..

Kinshasa, August 13 – At least 83 children have been killed in the northern province of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo between April and July. Save the Children is horrified by the recent escalation of extreme violence, in which also at least 17 children were injured and 12 were sexually abused.

In the same period, around sixty schools were attacked, and 17 health facilities – two of which were supported but the charity.

“The situation for children is getting worse by the day, in a conflict they should not have a part in. We need to ensure children can return to school, that they and their families can go to health facilities if they need to, and that they are protected”, said Malik Allaouna, Save the Children country director in DRC.

“We need more resources, and call upon the international community and the Government of DRC to help alleviate the suffering of these children. We are asking all involved parties to grant unhindered access to humanitarian workers, so they can support those who are most in need.”

Since January 2020, the situation in Ituri has deteriorated significantly in the Djugu, Irumu and Mahagi territories. At least 1,315 people were killed, including 165 children. An estimated 300,000 people have been displaced since January, adding pressure to the situation in Ituri, which already hosted over 1.2 million Internal displaced people in 2019.

“Children who had to flee from the violence told us they had to leave everything behind because militias came into the area of Djugu. Suddenly, they found themselves homeless and without any food, having to sleep in schools”, said Dr Macky Manseka, Humanitarian Health and Nutrition Programme Manager at Save the Children.

Save the Children, which has been responding to this crisis for over a year, warns that displaced populations do not have access to enough food. Communities are also lacking health and nutrition services, clean and safe water and hygiene materials, as areas become increasingly cut off by violence and resources are in low supply.

“For example, there were more than 235 new cases of severe acute malnutrition in July 2020”, Dr. Manseka continued. “But because of the violence, we cant follow-up properly on sick or malnourished children. As a consequence, their treatment is disrupted, which might lead to relapses or even deaths.”

END

Note to editors:

Save the Children supports 17 health facilities, and runs programmes in support of survivors of sexual and gender based violence. It has a strong presence in the field of nutrition, and water, hygiene and sanitation. The organisation is also running education programmes in Ituri, and working to improve access to education for girls.

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GCO responds to Amnesty report on non-payment of salaries by stadium contractor

Office on Wednesday issued a statement in response to an Amnesty report accusing a company operating..

Office on Wednesday issued a statement in response to an Amnesty report accusing a company operating at the Al Bayt Stadium of not paying salaries to workers.
Here is the full statement:
In September 2019, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA) was made aware, by the Supreme Committee of Delivery & Legacy, of delayed salary payments by Qatar Meta Coats W.L.L.
The company was financially sanctioned, and operations were suspended until all outstanding salaries were paid. Financial insecurity between November 2019 and April 2020 meant that Qatar Meta Coats workforce received irregular salary payments during this period.
In May 2020, the issue was partially resolved and all salary payments from February to May were paid in full by the company. There are a small number of outstanding salary payments preceding February, which will be resolved in the coming days. Qatar Meta Coats was recently sold and ADLSA is overseeing the activities of the new ownership to rectify the neglect of the previous owner, including renewing expired residence permits and health cards.
Working with our international partners, the government has bolstered legislative and operational frameworks to improve and further protect the rights of migrant workers, while clearly setting out the legal obligations of all companies operating in Qatar. We have made it clear to all employers that, in line with legislation, incidents of non-compliance will result in strict sanctions, including heavy fines, shutting down worksites, blacklisting, and prosecuting individuals responsible for neglecting the welfare of their workforce.
Furthermore, as part of our efforts to tackle exploitative labour practices by companies, draft legislation was passed last week to increase financial and non-financial penalties for labour law violations, including those related to delayed salary payments.
The government has made significant progress in recent years to reform the countrys labour system. There are still issues to overcome, including those related to the attitudes and behaviours of a small minority. This will take time, but we remain firmly committed to the task.

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