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HIV/AIDS In LiberiaAround 4.9 million people are currently living with HIV in western and central Africa, including a percentage of those living in the small African country of Liberia. With a population of 5.1 million, roughly 1.5% of Liberians aged 15-49 live with HIV/AIDS. While this sounds like a small percentage, this equates to an estimated 47,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS in Liberia, including 3,600 children.

HIV/AIDS in Liberia

While the percentage of HIV/AIDS in Liberia is lower than in surrounding countries and other regions of Africa, the country still struggles with treatment plans, education on the disease and breaking down stigma that could help prevent further spread. In 2019, UNAIDS released a comprehensive report detailing the spread and effect of HIV/AIDS in the country. The report states that only 33% of those living with HIV are receiving ART treatment. This amounts to 15,000 people currently receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), a daily medication that reduces HIV in the system. Persons with HIV who do not receive ART treatment are more likely to develop AIDS and spread the virus. Of the 15,000 receiving treatment, 763 are children, which amounts to only 21% of all infected children in the country.

Additionally, only 58% of those living with HIV know their status. Lack of education on HIV testing and little access to testing centers has led to only a little more than half of those infected knowing their status through accurate testing. This lack of education heightens the threat of further spread, putting the health and safety of the entire population at risk. HIV/AIDS is not limited to sexual encounters. It also spreads through shared drug injections and even spreads to infants through breastfeeding. Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination continue to prevent progress.

According to UNAIDS’ 2019 report, roughly 53% of those surveyed in Liberia answered no when asked if they would purchase produce from a vendor who was HIV positive. This kind of stigma and cultivated ignorance around HIV and AIDS further inhibit people from getting tested as they may fear public ridicule. The fear of a positive test prevents the country from creating accurate and beneficial response plans.

Programs and Progress

In 2017, the African Union, in partnership with UNAIDS and others, implemented a series of “catch-up plans” for countries in western and central Africa to combat these issues. These plans included a 90-90-90 goal by 2020, meaning 90% of the people will know their HIV positive status, 90% of HIV positive people will have access to ART treatment and 90% will have viral suppression. The UNAIDS’ full 2020 report for Liberia is not available yet but the 2019 report already showed improvements in the country’s fight to eradicate the disease.

Compared to a 2016 report, the percent of children receiving ART treatment rose from about 17% to 21% in 2019.  Additionally, the percentage of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving ART treatment has increased from 19.3% in 2015 to 90% in 2019. This massive increase helps prevent infants born with HIV and decreases the risk of spread through sexual partnerships. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has supported the African Union and UNAIDS’ efforts in Liberia and significantly aided in the reduction of HIV-related issues. Therefore, PEPFAR supports health and treatment facilities in four Liberian counties and supported ART treatment for 15,000 HIV-positive persons in 2020.

All these improvements show progress toward the eradication of HIV/AIDS in Liberia. These advancements bring optimism as hope for an HIV/AIDS-free country remains strong.

– Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

Africa Medical Supplies Platform
African countries have a new tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: an online marketplace for medical supplies. The site makes COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment more accessible. On June 18, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), describing it as the “glue that is going to bind the continent together.” The World Health Organization reported that, by July, there had been more than 380,000 COVID-19 cases and 9,500 deaths in Africa. AMSP, a non-profit initiative, aims to help save lives while saving African countries billions of dollars.

Fighting COVID-19 by Connecting the Continent

The African Union, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Export-Import Bank and ECA, along with other organizations, collaborated to create Africa Medical Supplies Platform. The online marketplace works much like eBay and Amazon, enabling African Union Member States to access COVID-19 medical supplies efficiently. N95 masks, hand sanitizer, ventilators, surgical gloves, face shields, surgical masks, thermometers, oxygen concentrators, isolation gowns and diagnostic test kits are all available for purchase. The website also prioritizes products that are made in Africa. If healthcare providers want to obtain PPE or medical equipment, AMSP will connect them to reliable suppliers as well.

AMSP suppliers are reputable, and the procurement of medical supplies will be transparent and equitable. AMSP also allows African countries to better contain COVID-19 without competing with stronger health systems around the world. Additionally, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airways have committed to ensuring that supplies will be delivered expediently.

On July 17, African Union special envoy Strive Masiyiwa announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will support efforts to provide dexamethasone to Africa. The drug functions to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients in the United States and Europe. In Africa, dexamethasone will aid in the treatment of roughly one million people. Furthermore, the MasterCard Foundation has provided the African CDC with $15 million to purchase PCR tests through the platform. After African Union Member States register on the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, they will be able to access these medical supplies.

AMSP’s Potential Impact on Mass Testing

The ability to obtain and utilize a large number of COVID-19 test kits is a key component of containing COVID-19. Increased testing allows countries to better understand which precautions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many African countries lack sufficient resources to administer mass testing. Commercial tests can be expensive and therefore difficult to distribute widely in lower-income countries.

According to Masiyiwa, about 0.17% of people in Africa had been tested for COVID-19 as of June. This rate is notable, especially in comparison to 3.16% in the United Kingdom and 4.41% in the United States. Mass testing can protect health workers and provides information about the groups most vulnerable to the virus. It can also help show whether lockdown measures and social distancing are effective. Masiyiwa attributes the African continent’s low testing rates to global shortages of test kits. AMSP was created in part to address this issue.

Lockdowns, another aspect of COVID-19 containment, are also harming African countries economically. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) estimates that the continent loses about $65 billion every month as a result of stay-at-home measures. Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the ECA, has stated that Africa Medical Supplies Platform “could save [Africa] $40 billion” because it allows for increased testing, which could reduce the need for strict lockdown rules. Less strict lockdown rules would also allow some people to go back to work and earn an income.

AMSP Helps Contain COVID-19 and Works Against Poverty

According to a recent AMSP press release, demand for medical equipment has been high since the Africa Medical Supplies Platform was launched in June. “Member States of the African Union, leading international non-governmental organizations as well as international and African foundations” have all used AMSP. This platform is helping African countries contain COVID-19 and boost their economies. It will also supply the COVID-19 vaccine, once available.

The World Bank estimates that the coronavirus pandemic will push 71 million people into extreme poverty, and people in India and Sub-Saharan Africa will be most affected. By helping combat the spread of COVID-19 and allowing health systems to function at lower costs, AMSP can also reduce the pandemic’s negative impact on individuals and prevent people across Africa from falling into extreme poverty.

Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

mobile STEM labsSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes train the innovators of tomorrow to cultivate their problem-solving abilities and to be curious about the world around them. In remote villages throughout the continent of Africa, however, students often go through school without access to rigorous STEM training. As a result, many lack the tools to succeed in higher education and in the modern workplace. Mobile STEM labs have now presented a solution to this problem.

STEM on Wheels

Mobile STEM labs travel to schools in custom vehicles that can accommodate up to a full classroom of students. The labs often specialize in topics that under-resourced communities struggle to provide. Some of the most popular topics include electronics, computer skills and even 3-D printing.

The organization STEMpower manufactured its first mobile STEM lab in Ethiopia. The lab’s inaugural visit to a public high school 45 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa. During the visit 14 students participated in a three-hour Arduino microcontroller training session. Meanwhile, 22 others learned coding on laptops provided by STEMpower.

STEMpower reports that the students engaged in the lab programming with enthusiasm and perseverance. In addition, it found that the mobile experience closely mirrors that of stationary STEM centers. As it begins to prepare for expanded coverage and a sustainable future, the organization hopes that the next mobile lab will run on solar power.

More than Microscopes

Many labs also extend their work beyond the classroom. When the Togolese-owned company MOBILELABO travels to under-resourced schools and conducts experiments with the students, for example, it prioritizes community outreach as well. The company hosts science fairs, launches science clubs and sponsors radio/television series dedicated to answering scientific questions.

While the mobile labs themselves eventually move onto other villages, each leaves a lasting influence in its wake. MOBILELABO alone has installed permanent laboratories in 10 schools. Additionally, the organization has sold over 500 science kits demonstrating the basic principles of physics, chemistry and biology. The company also provides rigorous teacher training in each school that it visits.

As of now, MOBILELABO has prompted over half a million disadvantaged students throughout Togo and Benin to pursue the sciences. Founder and director Dodzi Aglago says that his company will continue to work toward its goal of reaching as many communities as possible and establishing permanent laboratories in all African schools.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a temporary halt to STEM lab travel, many lab teams have shifted their focus to designing and distributing medical equipment to local hospitals. They hope to resume full operation in schools as soon as possible.

STEM and Economic Growth

Mobile STEM labs have paved the way for new opportunities across the continent. The African Union (AU) recognizes the importance of STEM education as a means to promote long-term economic growth. According to Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063, the organization intends to reform classroom curricula as part of its 50-year development plan. These changes will highlight hands-on learning and the real-world applications that mobile STEM labs emphasize.

Continuing the work of mobile STEM labs across the continent, the AU aims to see students armed with the tools to lift themselves and their family members up out of poverty. In the future, the organization hopes that more African graduates will start taking positions in STEM industries.

As STEM education begins to take off in African school systems, leaders envision generations of students animated with creativity, curiosity, self-reliance and a desire to make their world a better place.

– Katie Painter 
Photo: Wikimedia

Data Privacy in Africa

In the developed regions of the world, data privacy has been a topic of public discourse for some time. From the European Union’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to smaller laws that have passed in many U.S. states, the developed world has recognized that data privacy laws are important to modern digital society. Now, as the burgeoning tech industries in many developing countries push them into fast-paced versions of the West’s digital revolution, many developing countries are also beginning to put similar laws into effect. In particular, data privacy in Africa has become a major concern as the region steps into the digital age.

Data Privacy in Africa

In June of 2019, leaders from across Africa gathered in Ghana for the groundbreaking Africa International Data Protection and Privacy Conference. At this conference, African leaders such as Ghanaian Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Right to Privacy Joe Cannataci, and Chairperson of the Information Regulator of South Africa Pansy Tlakula spoke about ways to advance data privacy in Africa. Topics ranged from convincing African nations to fall in step with international laws about data privacy to integrating data privacy laws with religious groups in Africa.

This conference came at a crucial time in the development of data privacy in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to add more than 250 million internet users by 2025, and the Sub-Saharan mobile industry is expected to add $185 billion to GDP by 2023. Despite this growth in internet use, the continent is currently behind on data privacy laws. Only 17 out of 54 countries in Africa have passed data privacy laws, and 15 African countries have yet to ratify the African Union’s Convention on Cybersecurity and Data Protection. The leaders assembled at the conference hoped to change this. “Data protection in Africa is a prerequisite” to joining the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Hon. Vincent Sowah Odotei, Ghana’s deputy minister of communications, in his final remarks of the conference.

Improved data privacy in Africa has several benefits. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, improving data privacy, “allows countries to trust each other and enforcement bodies to cooperate. In turn, this can boost the economy by allowing data to flow within the region and it is more attractive for external investors who prefer not to be confined to keeping data in one place.”

How a Lack of Data Privacy Harms Poor Communities

Beyond large-scale economic benefits, improved access to data privacy will have specific benefits for low-income Africans. A 2017 study from Washington University in St. Louis found that poor people are more vulnerabilities when it comes to data privacy, facing vulnerabilities such as a greater likelihood of having their personal data used against them and more devastating consequences from identity theft. Poorer people are also much less likely to have basic digital literacy skills, thus increasing their vulnerability to digital threats, with 64 percent of poor Americans reporting that they do not have a good understanding of how the privacy policies of websites they visit apply to them.

Michele Gilman, one of the authors of the study, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that data privacy is tantamount to improving the lives of those in poverty. Gilman said, “Technology can be a tremendous resource for people living in poverty to access services and opportunities as a ladder out of poverty—but without controls or regulation, it can also further entrench poverty.”

Gilman pointed out that identity theft can wreak particular havoc for people living in poverty. When people living in poverty are victims of identity theft, according to Gilman, their lack of a social safety net coupled with the sudden loss of most of their financial assets can lead to dire consequences. Because poor people tend to lack the resources to undo the consequences of identity theft, the American Bar Association reports that they are more likely to be wrongfully arrested and hounded by collection agencies for crimes they didn’t commit and loans they didn’t take out. This is all in addition to the usual consequences of identity theft, which can take months to resolve. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in the U.S., 43 percent of households that were victims of identity theft made less than $75,000 per year. In South Africa almost half the consumer population either has been, or knows someone who has been, the victim of identity theft.

Gilman also illuminated the broader threat that a lack of data privacy can pose for those in poverty. Big data coupled with societal discrimination can lead to low-income people systematically being denied access to resources and they are more often targeted by government surveillance. For instance, 40 percent of colleges and universities use applicants’ social media profiles to make decisions through a process known as social analytics, where algorithms go over applicants’ social media behavior as well as who they are friends with in order to determine their qualifications to enter.

Up to 27 percent of poor social media users don’t use any settings at all to make social media profiles private, and because poorer students tend to rely more on financial aid, there is a concern that social media analysis will allow universities to selectively avoid recruiting low-income students. In a similar vein, police departments have begun to use a process known as threat scoring, where they analyze crime statistics to determine how likely a given individual is to commit a crime using data from social media and other sources, essentially creating guilt by association.

Effectiveness of Data Privacy Laws

In places where data privacy laws have already taken effect, the results have been significant. Since the passing of the GDPR, record numbers of data breaches that otherwise would have gone unreported, have been reported to the relevant authorities, with 36,000 breaches reported in 2018 compared to between 18,000 and 20,000 in 2017. Countries around the world, from Brazil to Hong Kong, have passed GDPR-like bills, and many other countries are looking to follow suit. The implementation of these laws has not been without hiccups—many businesses in the EU have struggled with the implementation of new regulations, and the EU has been slow to actually enact fines for companies that break GDPR rules—but in the end, these laws will help to dismantle the structures that keep people in poverty.

Data privacy laws protect low-income people from negative consequences such as identity theft and algorithmic discrimination. The creation of laws to increase data privacy in Africa, therefore, will increase protection for Africans who are being kept in poverty by lenient data privacy regulations. As the region’s tech develops, its laws are also developing to ensure that increased access to technology also means increased possibility to alleviate poverty.

– Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

African Union
Intergovernmental cooperation provides a multi-faceted approach for tackling regional and global issues. African multilateral institutions allow governments to work together on developing, unifying and improving livelihoods throughout the continent.

There are a variety of roles that these institutions can play: from increasing trade, improving infrastructure, peacekeeping, promoting good governance, developing technology, providing health and education. Intergovernmental cooperation can also serve a cultural role.

The challenges that Africa is facing at the moment are unique to the culture and political history of the continent.  African multilateral institutions can provide more endogenous solutions – ones that arise from within Africa by Africans.

The African Union (AU) is perhaps the biggest and most ambitious multilateral institutions in Africa. Founded in 2002 out of the previous Organization for African Unity, the AU aims to politically and socio-economically integrate Africa. The AU also promotes peace and stability and norms of good governance. Within the AU, The pan-African Parliament functions as a forum that allows delegates from each country to present key issues and bring back advice for heads of state.

There are several subdivisions and committees the AU oversees that focus on reducing poverty and sustainable development. For example, the New Economic Partnerships for African Development (NEPAD) uses funding from Western nations to improve economic and government institutions.

The African Union is also instrumental in promoting democratic processes. They utilize a unique volunteer Peer Review Mechanism, in which states that choose to participate agree to have their political processes evaluated by experts. The AU also send observers to cover all elections in African countries.

With the creation of the Peace and Security Council in 2004, the AU plays an increasingly important role in African security. Contrary to its predecessor, the African Union is able to intervene during conflicts. This can occur through authorizing peacekeeping missions or in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity through deploying military forces.

The AU intervention after the civil war in Sudan broke out was one the most rapid and influential responses from the international community and helped create peace through a self-determination referendum after South Sudan seceded. In Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, the AU successfully resolved post-election violence. In Somalia, the sizeable AU peacekeeping mission used a comprehensive strategy to decrease the effects of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab and stabilize the country.

As the largest economic organization on the continent, the African Economic Community is another influential African multilateral institution. It consists of all African countries that have formed eight smaller blocs based on geographical proximity: Economic Community of West African States, East African Community, Economic Community of Central African States, Southern African Development Community, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Community of Sahel-Saharan States, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and Arab Maghreb Union.

These regional organizations help integrate Africa’s economy and facilitate trade. The East African Community, for example, is the most integrated of these trade blocs, with free trade and plans for a common currency. The Economic Community of West African States does not only serve as a trade bloc but also engages in peacekeeping activities and has a formal judicial arm that aims to prevent human rights violations.

Together, these African multilateral institutions tackle the difficult challenges in development that the continent faces, from various angles and with multiple approaches.

– Liesl Hostetter
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Burundi
Burundi is a small, landlocked country in Eastern Africa with a population of 8 million people. It also stands to be one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, ranked 184 out of 188 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. While aiding the struggling country, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Burundi as well.

Burundi’s Political Climate

Burundi suffered a civil war in 1962 and since then has been plagued by ethnic and political conflict amidst continuing efforts to recover as a nation. Poverty has increased due to the spike in violence since the election of Pierre Nkurunziza in 2005. Nkurunziza has since bypassed constitutional limits on his electoral eligibility through announcing a law permitting him to remain in office until 2034.

With the instability in Burundi, continued funding to the country ensures the wellbeing of its citizens. However, the European Union suspended funds to Burundi in March after declaring the president had not done enough to resolve the ongoing political and economic crisis.

But this is not the time to suspend funds to Burundi, for it would do more harm than good. For example, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Burundi in a multitude of ways.

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Burundi: Peacekeeping

The foreign aid provided to Burundi would help support America’s goal of peacekeeping in other nations. Burundi is the second-highest contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which focuses on regional peacekeeping.

Through Burundi’s 5,432 troops participating in AMISOM, it is slowly restoring stability around the continent as far as the Horn of Africa.

However, with continued unrest, Burundi faces recalling its deployed troops within and surrounding the country. In this case, the rate of violence and instability will increase not only in the country of Burundi but also in surrounding regions.

Without receiving the foreign aid, Burundi’s military would be unable to assist in peacekeeping throughout the continent, which would most likely lead to the deployment of more American troops onto African soil.

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Burundi: Boosting the Economy

Another method for how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Burundi is by pouring financially into the economy of Burundi, which in turn would boost America’s economy.

U.S. investments to Burundi ensure the country can climb the economic ladder, and therefore provide more income for the people of Burundi. When the people of Burundi have higher incomes, they are able to contribute more to the economy of the country.

This benefits American businesses by providing connections with new customers and suppliers. It also prevents additional markets that could be potential competition.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Burundi through economic growth and development, political stability and respect for human rights; therefore, it is important to continue funding the nation of Burundi.

– Adrienne Tauscheck

Photo: Flickr

Unite AfricaDuring the 27th African Union (AU) Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, a new electronic passport was presented that would allow AU citizens that have passports to travel throughout all member states without a visa. The hope is that this plan will further unite Africa.

The first of these passports were presented to Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Idriss Deby, President of Chad and acting chair of the AU. The ultimate goal is for all citizens to have access to the new passport by 2018.

Many are fearful that it will be easier for drugs, disease and terrorism to cross borders, because of this new passport. David Zounmenou, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies, debunked these suspicions when he told CNN, “One key advantage is that we will have centralized records to show who is going where.”

The positives far outweigh the negatives for the e-Passport, or all-Africa passport, which plays a major role in Agenda 2063. The AU describes this initiative as “a call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa.” Agenda 2063 is considered one of the continent’s most crucial initiatives.

Presently, travel from one country to the next is quite difficult in Africa. The Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, published by the Africa Development Bank, states Africans need visas to travel to 55 percent of other countries and Africans can get visas on arrival in 25 percent of other African countries.

Leaders of the AU believe that the passport will break down borders and unite Africa by creating new avenues of trade and travel. Countries in Eastern and Western Africa with high visa openness, such as Mali and Mozambique, have seen great economic success. The Africa Visa Openness Report 2016 stated that in 2014 10.1 percent of Mali’s and 7.0 percent of Mozambique’s GDP came from travel and tourism.

The e-Passport hopes to build on the accomplishments of these countries by creating greater integration across the entire continent.

Liam Travers

Photo: Nigerian Times

gender_and_poverty
As the United States grapples with the gender gap, countries abroad deal with an even larger one. Women abroad face economic, political, social and structural barriers that prevent them from succeeding in a competitive market, revealing a correlation between gender and poverty.

ONE, an international campaign and advocacy organization, has addressed an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Both leading women will hold meetings at the upcoming G7 Summit in Germany and African Union Summit in South Africa. In both meetings, there will be one agenda: women’s empowerment.

This year, a blueprint will be drawn up for the new global goals, which will influence investments for the next 15 years. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals, the plan aims to target its efforts on eradicating global poverty by 2030. With this in mind, ONE’s goal to address gender and poverty is crucial. The letter addresses the critical need to raise awareness for women’s rights in regards to global poverty, especially in African governments.

“The poorest women are often barred from owning and inheriting land and other property, opening a bank account, or accessing education. Women in the developing world are far more likely to die giving birth, become child brides (and suffer abuse from their husbands), or suffer from chronic health problems,” ONE reports.

These issues also extend to women’s opportunities in agriculture, which has been reported to be the most effective at reducing poverty. According to the “Poverty is Sexist” report, agricultural productivity for females is 23 to 66 percent lower than males. With the lack of access to labor, tools, extension services and financing, these problems persist. However, if efforts were refocused on women and poverty, it is projected that agriculture could increase by 20 to 30 percent, feeding 100 to 150 million additional people.

How can efforts be refocused on this gender-sensitive subject? When women are placed at the forefront of the new development agenda, better targeted investments are made in health, education and economic empowerment. These investments have specific challenges and opportunities; however, by reducing the gender gap in poorer countries, strides can be made.

“Reducing differences in the employment rate between men and women by 2017 could generate an additional $1.6 trillion in global output,” says ONE.

In addition, stronger health systems that benefit women could decrease maternal and child deaths; reliable energy could allow women and girls to spend less time collecting fuel (increasing time for economic pursuits); and quality education could create an economic and social benefit for the entire world.

Influential women around the world have already signed ONE’s petition to raise awareness for women in poverty—including Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Meryl Streep. The petition can be signed here.

Briana Galbraith

Sources: Billboard, ONE 1, ONE 2, ONE 3
Photo: Miami Agent Magazine

According to a United Nations report released on July 27, malnutrition in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has reached alarming numbers.

Aid agencies in the region are incapable of meeting the needs of 350,000 malnourished people due to insufficient funds, recent drought and conflict.

The Somali government is comparing the crisis to a 2011 famine that killed approximately 260,000 people.

“Alarming rates of malnutrition have been observed among displaced communities in Mogadishu,” said the report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released over the weekend.

Somalia’s malnutrition rates actually hit a low point just last year, after the rebuilding and humanitarian aid  that followed the 2011 famine. Today, nearly one-third of Somalia’s population is considered “stressed,” meaning their food security remains fragile. Citizens in this classification struggle to meet minimal food requirements for their families and remain vulnerable in times of famine or environmental crises that may result in more food insecurity.

As of last year, more than 200,000 children under the age of 5 were malnourished. Many impoverished families in Somalia rely on cereal stocks and crops which suffer tremendously when the nation experiences periods of very little rain. Many poor households choose to use their incomes to purchase water during dry seasons, which means children and other members of these households become more malnourished during droughts.

The U.N. in part blames the unstable, impoverished conditions in Somalia caused by decades of fighting and conflict in the country. Most recently, Al Shabaab rebels, who look to topple the Western-backed government of Somalia and impose their own strict Islamic laws, staged a series of attacks in Mogadishu during the month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

Because of this continuing conflict and the recent drought, the report said that food shortages were expected to worsen in the south and southeast of the country.

“The humanitarian community is mobilizing resources to address the serious situation, but the significant shortfall in funding for humanitarian activities has undermined the capacity to respond,” said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report regarding the recent crisis in Mogadishu.

Earlier this year, after the Al Shebaab rebel attacks, African Union forces launched a new campaign to drive the militants out of Somali towns and cities. Many citizens fled their homes during outbreaks of fighting. One major obstacle for aid organizations and convoys is reaching newly retaken towns with supplies and food for the malnourished.

The U.N. has allocated approximately $21 million in emergency funds to support humanitarian aid and rebuilding in Somalia. They have also allotted some funding to fight a recent outbreak of measles in the country.

OCHA estimates that it will need around $933 million for relief work this year. The money will pay for food, health care services and basic education for children.

– Paige Frazier 

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Star, Relief Web
Photo: Disasters Emergency Committee

au summit
On the eve of the 23rd Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, a bomb exploded in an Abuja shopping center, killing 21 and wounding 52. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan returned early from the AU session–held in Equatorial Guinea–in order to address the attack, which comes at a time of great violence for Africa’s most highly populated country. Unfortunately the attack also reinforces the need to confront the security issues of AU nations, which has become the unofficial second theme of the summit.

The attack came only as the first major drama that forced delegates to stray from the official theme, “Year of Agriculture and Food Security.” Experts believe the agricultural sector in Africa could end extreme poverty on the continent within one generation, but not without modernization.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed UN support for the AU objectives, stating, “We will assist in ensuring universal education, achieving gender equality and empowering women. We will help advance respect for human rights… We are doing all of this as part of our overall efforts to achieve sustainable development.”

In spite of any such intentions, the AU summit exposed seemingly endless controversy. Beginning with the host country, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema spoke to the former Spanish colony’s desire to restructure its relationship with the West in order to foster development, calling the current relationship “…a neo-colonial system which perpetuates the old colonial one… Africa should renegotiate relations with [the] developed world.” Yet having seized control over three decades ago, Nguema paid a hefty sum to host what critics have deemed an opportunity to showcase his €580 million Sipopo Conference Center whilst concealing the grave inequality in a country ruled by an oil-rich elite.

Nguema has also severely restricted freedom of speech for Equatorial Guinea’s small population, especially in terms of criticism. Furthermore, the President’s son and potential successor now holds government posts that have been investigated for money laundering abroad; the government official status protects him from prosecution.

Certain summit guests have triggered debate. The International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir limits potential summit locations to non-signatory countries. Equatorial Guinea also invited Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose visit has reignited old tensions.

Even more awkward was the early exit of an invited group of American Jews who left the meeting after certain African delegations refused to proceed with their presence. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki then spoke at the inaugural session with harsh words for the state of Israel.

Amid the turmoil, delegates were able to adopt a budget for the 2015 year of over $520 million–still far less than the cost of the building in which they negotiated their draft. The body tabled the popular version of Agenda 2063, a plan to gear Africa toward sustainable development over the next 50 years. The AU seeks increased grass-root participation in the creation of the Agenda, and has urged national governments to raise awareness among their citizens.

The leaders will meet again for the 24th Session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2015. Perhaps next year the AU will be better prepared to focus on the theme “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”

– Erica Lignell

Sources: All Africa, All Africa 2, BBC, Reuters, Human Rights Watch, UN, EIN News Desk, African Union Commission Facebook
Photo: African Union