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The Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo can be brought under control and is not an international public health emergency, experts advising the World Health Organization said on Friday.

Earlier in the day the WHO had said the first confirmation of Ebola in Mbandaka, a city of about 1.5 million people, had prompted it to declare a “very high” public health risk to the country and a “high” risk to the region.

Three new cases of Ebola were later confirmed in Mbandaka on Friday, in a part of the city next to the Congo River.

The ministry said in a statement late on Friday that the new cases had been reported on Thursday in the neighbourhood of Wangata, next to the river, and samples tested positive for Ebola. Another suspected case surfaced on Friday.

The outbreak, Congo’s ninth since the disease made its first known appearance near the northern Ebola river in the 1970s, has raised concerns that the virus could spread downstream to the capital Kinshasa, which has a population of 10 million. The WHO’s Emergency Committee of 11 experts said the rapid response had mitigated the risk from the outbreak, which was declared 10 days ago and has killed 25 people since early April.

“Interventions underway provide strong reason to believe that the outbreak can be brought under control,” the committee said in a statement.

They decided not to declare a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC), a formal alert that puts governments on notice and helps mobilise resources and research. However, committee chairman Robert Steffen said the “vigorous” response to the outbreak must continue.

“Without that, the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly,” he told a news conference in Geneva.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity and an infectious diseases expert, said the decision not to declare an emergency was “the right one for the time being,” but should be kept under review.

“We can’t predict how the outbreak will progress, and the WHO must keep the situation under frequent review and not hesitate to declare a PHEIC if the situation shows signs of deteriorating,” he said in a statement.

CONTACTS

The WHO was heavily criticised for being too slow to declare an international emergency during an outbreak in West Africa in 2013 to 2016. That epidemic spread mainly through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It killed more than 11,300 people and infected 28,600. One of the problems then was locating people who had been in contact with Ebola patients to stop them spreading the deadly virus.

This time, a vaccine is being deployed to try to halt the outbreak.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the vaccine would encourage people to come forward, making him confident that very few of around 532 contacts identified so far would go missing.

WHO’s head of emergency preparedness and response Peter Salama said the contact tracing rate was “extremely high” in the city of Mbandaka and “very high” in Bikoro, the small town where most of the 45 confirmed, probable or suspected Ebola cases have occurred since April 4.

More challenging were the small peripheral villages, reachable only by motorcycle, where the first cases went initially unrecorded last month. Tedros said emergency response teams planned to start vaccinating frontline health workers in Congo by Sunday, but Salama said the date had not been fixed.

“As early as Monday we’ll start,” he said.

The plan involves vaccinating “rings” of contacts around each Ebola patient, and then a second ring around each contact. The WHO is sending 7,540 doses of the vaccine developed by Merck, enough to vaccinate 50 rings of 150 people. Salama said 8,000 to 10,000 people would be vaccinated in the first phase. He said the WHO was also in talks about a second vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson and that it wanted to get Congo’s approval to use ZMapp, an intravenous treatment for Ebola.

 

(Reuters)

Kenya will start the small scale export of crude oil from its fields in the far northern county of Turkana in June after an agreement on how to share the revenue, averting delays, the presidency said on Saturday.

Tullow Oil and its partner Africa Oil discovered commercial reserves in the Lokichar basin in 2012. Total has since taken a 25 percent stake. A row had broken out after President Uhuru Kenyatta cut the share of the Turkana county government to 15 percent and that of the local community to 5 percent, leaving the rest to the national government.

He then met officials from Turkana at State House in Nairobi to strike a new deal, which will raise the county government’s share to 20 percent and cut the national government’s to 75 percent.

“We now have an understanding that can put Kenya on the map of oil exporting countries,” Kenyatta said in a statement. 

The deal will allow a long-delayed law on oil exploration and production to clear parliament, letting exports begin.

“We will intensify our exploration efforts not just in Turkana but in the rest of the country now that we have a legal instrument that can help guide how oil and gas will be handled in our republic,” the president said.

The deal was struck after the national government agreed to eliminate a cap on the revenue due to the county government and the local community, said a senior government official. Officials in Nairobi had proposed to cap the annual allocation from oil exports to Turkana, arguing that the local economy could not absorb a sudden influx of too much cash.

“The clincher was the removal of the cap,” said Andrew Kamau, the principal secretary in the ministry of petroleum and mining.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Saturday that he will proclaim the 2018 election date at the end of May.

Addressing a rally in Mutare, Manicaland province marking the start of the ruling ZANU-PF election campaign, the president said the party will intensify its campaigning once the election date is proclaimed.

According to the country's constitution, the elections must be held between July 21 and August 21. Zimbabwe's parliament last week passed the Electoral Amendment Bill which now awaits presidential assent to become law.

The bill seeks to give legal effect to the bio-metric voter registration system that was done by the national electoral body for the first time. As political parties gear up for the polls, ZANU-PF has finished selecting its candidates while the main opposition party the MDC Alliance is still to conclude candidate selection.

President Mnangagwa, who took over from former president Robert Mugabe in November last year, will fight it out with the youthful leader of MDC Alliance Nelson Chamisa in the presidential poll. As the nation edges towards the polls, voters' roll inspection opened on May 19 and will run until May 29.

About 5.4 million people in Zimbabwe are registered to vote in the elections.

 

Source: Xinhua

Worldwide, areas suitable for cocoa production are predicted to shrink by up to 20-30% over the next 30 years. This is because cocoa trees are already struggling to cope with drier, hotter conditions – attributed in large part to climate change.

Chocolate, one of the most popular and widely consumed products in the world, comes from cocoa trees. These trees produce pods that contain beans which are harvested, fermented, dried and turned into cocoa powder or butter. They grow in the humid tropics where temperatures ranges from 20°C-35°C, annual rainfall is over 1200 mm and the dry season is less than two months long.

In 2016 the global chocolate market was valued at USD$99 billion. And demand for cocoa is likely to keep increasing as more and more people eat chocolate bars, drink hot chocolate or eat chocolate ice cream.

Over 60% of the world’s chocolate is produced by smallholder farmers in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. They will suffer as a result of climate changes, producing less cocoa per unit area on their farms. They will get less money for their hard work as their profit share, along the cocoa supply chain, is unlikely to increase.

This will have a huge impact on the livelihoods of about 25 million people. It will also have an impact on the economies of some cocoa producing countries, like Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, that rely on cocoa for a large part of their export income.

Our research shows that agroforestry is an excellent strategy to help smallholders cope with climate change and to avoid further deforestation in new cocoa producing areas. But it must be done wisely as the shade tree species must suit the local context and farmers’ needs.

Trees and cocoa

Shade trees – such as Erythrina, Inga or Gliricidia in Latin America or Terminalia, Ricinodendron or Albizia in West Africa – are advocated as a key adaptation strategy against the negative effects of climate change.

Shade trees buffer cocoa plants from heat and water stresses, and create conditions that benefit the cocoa tree growth. Other advantages include:

  • enhanced soil fertility due to leaf shedding and pruning residues. These enrich the soil in organic matter and recycle nutrients.

  • reduced soil erosion because the leaf litter, which covers the soil, prevents surface run-off.

  • improved pollination by creating a more favourable climate for pollinators.

  • enhanced biological control of pests and diseases by creating a more favourable environment for natural enemies.

In addition, farm households benefit economically from using agroforestry. Their revenue streams are diversified, as they get fuelwood and timber, and food from fruit trees.

Farmers can manage their cocoa plantations, with permanent shade, in a variety of ways:

  • thinning down the original forest canopy and keeping forest trees of interest;

  • planting fruit and timber species;

  • protecting the growth of valuable trees which grew naturally.

Context matters

While the number of trees and tree species per hectare can vary widely, the trees being planted must be suited to the local context and farmers’ needs. It’s not worth trying to promote tree species that farmers do not want, are not suitable locally; there is no single tree species that can provide all the services needed. For example, some tree species have shallow root systems, which means they are well suited to wet areas, but will compete with cocoa plants for soil water in drier conditions. This was seen in our recent study in Ghana.

Scientific knowledge has to be combined with farmers’ knowledge of tree species because rural communities have valuable experience with many local trees. This can be turned into decision-sup port tools, like the Shade Tree Advice Tool, which are becoming increasingly available and can help farmers make the right choices.

More steps

Agroforestry is getting more attention. Locally, the increasing impact of climate change means more awareness of the benefits of trees to cocoa farms, landscapes and communities. Globally, increased consumer awareness of environmental and food safety issues means that cooperatives, like Ghana’s Kuapa Kokoo, are successfully promoting agroforestry and environmentally sound cocoa production.

But more steps need to be taken to promote the use of trees.

Policies have to be put in place that give rural communities and farmers incentives to adopt climate-smart practices on their farms and landscapes. This includes passing laws and regulations that secure land tenure, encouraging farmers to invest in that land. Farmers also need to have ownership over trees, giving them the right to plant and nurture them, but also to fell them for revenue. Finally, farmers will more readily adopt agroforestry if they get economic incentives for various schemes; for examples, premium prices for eco-certification, payments for provision of environmental services at local level (water, scenic beauty) and at global level (carbon sequestration, climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation).

 

Philippe Vaast, Senior Coffee and Cocoa Agroforestry Scientist from CIRAD seconded to the, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Kenyan government has clamped down on the production of charcoal, which it blames for environmental damage. A three-month ban on trading is in force in a number of counties. The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Mary Njenga about the crackdown.

Why has the government clamped down on charcoal trading?

The government is concerned that charcoal production is leading to the destruction of Kenya’s environment.

Charcoal is made when wood is burned in a low oxygen environment and burns off compounds like water, a process that can take days. Some tree species, like Acacias, are preferred as their charcoal burns longer. But once these preferred tree species are all used up, producers will fell any tree. When trees are cut down, and the land is left bare, rain water runs off the surface eroding fertile topsoil. Groundwater supplies are also affected because tree or vegetation cover ensures water seeps into underground wells.

That said, there are some big misconceptions about the charcoal sector and its role in environmental damage. The production and use of charcoal is not a bad thing in itself. Trees are a form of renewable energy. Secondly, charcoal receives most of the blame for the loss of trees, but other factors – like the clearing of land for agriculture or pasture – are also to blame.

Kenya has imposed a charcoal ban before. The bans are largely based on the assumption that charcoal is acquired from government land. But most charcoal in Kenya is sourced from privately owned and managed land. This makes the bans ineffectual.

How is the ban being enforced and is it sustainable?

The measures include a ban on production and restrictions on transportation and trading. These are unlikely to resolve the problem and may create new ones. It’s important to get the approach to charcoal right because so many producers and users rely on it.

Wood energy has been used for millenia. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 62% of global charcoal production. In Kenya, the charcoal sector is worth about USD$427 million each year – almost the same size as the country’s tea sector. And about 80% of urban households depend on it for cooking.

Most people who produce charcoal live in drylands and do it as a source of income. Drylands make up over 80% of the land in Kenya. In some of these areas, about 50% of the households depend on charcoal as their main source of income.

The important issue is that, despite the high dependency on charcoal, existing regulations for a sustainable charcoal sector production are not being applied in a sustainable manner. The majority of producers don’t have tree replanting schemes. They also use wet wood in earth mould kilns to convert wood to charcoal. This produces a low conversion of wood to charcoal, meaning wood is wasted, land is degraded and air polluted.

Who is most affected by the crackdown?

The ban mostly affects the users – who are middle and low-income households, mostly in urban centres.

Charcoal prices have gone up by 27% in the past month. It now averages 107 shillings (about USD$1) for less than 2kg of charcoal. One person uses about 1.9kg of charcoal a day. When earning less than USD$2 a day, this means sacrifices have to be made.

If people can’t afford charcoal they turn to unsafe cooking methods, like burning plastic. This can have a huge negative impact on health as the most affected urban dwellings are usually small and poorly ventilated.

If the ban is successfully implemented will it have a significant impact on the environment?

No. Far too many people rely on the charcoal industry to rule it out, so it must be made sustainable. A number of reputable organisations in Kenya, such as the World Agroforestry Centre, Food and Agriculture Organisation and Kenya Forestry Research Institute, have demonstrated how charcoal can be produced efficiently and effectively.

The first stage of the supply chain is sustainable wood production. There are different methods of sustainable wood production including tree plantations and community managed woodlands. There is also tree inter-cropping where farmers grow trees alongside crops or in a separate woodlot. A rotation system can be used where trees are cut in a specific order or mature branches harvested, ensuring constant standing biomass. Farmers could also harvest some trees then let the area naturally regenerate, protecting young shoots from being eaten by livestock.

If dryland communities sustainably managed woodlands, charcoal that currently threatens these ecosystems would turn into a livelihood strategy. Unfortunately, these options have not been widely adopted – a factor that could be contributed by low government budgets in charcoal and firewood programmes.

Cookswell jikos.

The next stage is to use efficient kilns to convert wood to charcoal. In most places people use kilns that convert just 15% of the original wood weight into charcoal. Yet there’s a lot of research and development in kiln technologies – with some achieving over 30% conversion efficiency. One of the main reasons why these efficient kilns aren’t being used is a lack of awareness and cost. If charcoal production was effectively supported, it would inform producers on the benefits of better kilns and encourage them to invest.

And then there are markets. Central areas for collection and transport of larger quantities would reduce costs and emissions. This should be put into place by county governments.

Finally, it’s important to address the end use of charcoal. Households often use more charcoal than necessary, due to stoves which have low energy conversion efficiency – sometimes less than 15% . They need to use improved stoves, with over 35% energy conversion, to reduce household charcoal demand. Commercial enterprises that use charcoal should also follow suit.

The reasons these technologies haven’t been implemented is that Kenya, like other African countries, needs a perception shift. Government, researchers and the public need to understand that charcoal can be made sustainable. A pro-firewood and charcoal shift will see the development of technologies for sustainable wood-based energy in the country. Once we have that, the budgets will come through and it’ll be properly rolled out.

 

Mary Njenga, Research Scientist, Bioenergy, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Uganda communications regulator and telecom companies are in discussions to decide the fate of airtime scratch cards ahead of their impending ban, which comes into effect on June 30.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), in a notice in March, banned the sale of airtime through scratch cards. The ban followed a spate of murders and kidnappings that the regulator blamed on unregistered Sim cards and open sale of airtime.

MTN chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout said on Monday they will comply with the directive to phase out the paper scratch cards by the June deadline. MTN said they would instead be selling airtime through electronic means such as mobile money and online dealers. 

“It is a directive issued by UCC to phase out scratch cards which I believe is a good thing because nobody will be littering pieces of scratch cards,” he said. However, Mr Prentout could not provide nominal figures of the plausible gain or loss to the telecom ahead of the ban.

Earlier, he had said a number of telecoms still had scratch cards some which were in transit at the time of the ban. He, however, said that not much would be lost by MTN given that most stock ups had arrived after the announcement of the ban.

Open sale of airtime

Mr Prentout indicated that telecoms were still in negotiations to see how they will handle scratch cards that are still in circulation after the June 30 deadline.

“This is not completely addressed to date with the regulator [UCC]. I believe it will be phased out periodically. It is still under discussion but I presume they will give it some time to phase out,” he said.

Ms Annie Tabura, the MTN sales and distribution general manager, said electronic airtime will give agents an opportunity to expand their commission income, which unlike scratch cards is much higher. For selling an airtime scratch card of UShs10,000 (USD2.69) an agent is entitled to about UShs300 (USD0.080) in commission.

In an email last week, Airtel informed agents that it was realigning commission for online airtime dealers to match mobile money and e-airtime dealers, among others.

For instance, the email indicated, the commission for distributors would drop from seven per cent to five per cent, while retailers would get four per cent down from six per cent on an airtime transaction.
Ms Faith Bugonzi, the Airtel public relations officer, Tuesday told the Daily Monitor in a phone interview that they had been encouraging dealers to sell airtime through mobile money ahead of the deadline.
“We are still talking to the regulator [UCC]. There will be several meetings to check what we still have in stock,” she said in reaction to what amount of airtime the company still had in stock.

The Monitor could not get a comment from UCC as Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the regulator’s executive director, was held up in a meeting.

Criminal activities
In March notice banning the sale of airtime scratch cards among other mobile phone related items, UCC had argued that they were being used by criminals to terrorise Ugandans.

The ban followed the murder of Susan Magara, who had been kidnapped for almost 27 days. UCC claimed that criminals were using a lax in the registration of Sim cards and the open selling of airtime to propagate crime.
A number of Uganda are employed as telecom agents to sell airtime across the country. Many of them have, however, moved to selling airtime through electronic means such as mobile money. 

UCC also banned the sale of Sim cards, which has since been lifted, after the regulator announced that government had secured machines that telecoms will use to identify fake national IDs used for registration..

 

Source: Daily Monitor Uganda Uganda

Health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed a case of Ebola in Mbandaka, a city in the northwest of the country that’s home to about 1 million people.

The person carrying the viral disease was one of two suspected cases in Mbandaka that were tested, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said in a statement emailed Wednesday from the capital, Kinshasa. Prior to the confirmation of the latest case, only two other people had tested positive for the disease near the remote town of Bikoro, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Mbandaka by road.

“We are entering a new phase of the Ebola epidemic,” which now “includes one urban health zone,” Ilunga said.

Congo confirmed the latest outbreak of Ebola on May 8, the ninth occurrence of the disease in the central African nation since it was first discovered there in 1976. The Health Ministry reported 42 suspected cases of Ebola on May 15. Of the 20 people considered probable carriers, 18 have died.

Mbandaka is situated on the Congo River, which links the area to the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 12 million, and Brazzaville, the capital of neighboring Republic of Congo. The other towns of Equateur province, both upstream and downstream, have been “placed under surveillance,” according to Ilunga.

‘Major Outbreak’
“A major urban outbreak” in Mbandaka is “an immediate risk,” Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s deputy director-general for emergency response, said on May 11. “Once Ebola gets into urban areas, especially poor urban slums, it’s very difficult to get rid of the disease.”

The Health Ministry on Wednesday received an air consignment of thousands of doses of an unlicensed VSV-EBOV vaccine dispatched by the WHO from Geneva. The treatment was trialled successfully in Guinea during a major outbreak in West African that killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016. Congo’s government authorized the use of the vaccine last week.

The doses are being stored in Kinshasa until authorities are sure the vaccine can be transported to Mbandaka and Bikoro -- and kept there -- at a sufficiently low temperature. Electricity supply in the region is unreliable.

The ministry and its partners plan to launch a targeted program to vaccinate individuals, including health workers, who have been in contact, directly and indirectly, with patients confirmed to be infected with Ebola. So far, more than 500 people have been identified.

“Changing our behaviors, even our deepest values and traditions” will be required to stamp out the epidemic, Ilunga said, urging the population in affected areas not to touch sick people or wash the bodies of the deceased.

 

Source: Bloomberg

Politicians and the media expend inordinate amounts of energy debating migration, often using nativist, populist and xenophobic rhetoric. This is despite the fact that, as of 2017, only three out of every 100 people – a mere 3.4% of the world’s population – have left their home nations to migrate to a new country.

The message from people like US President Donald Trump and the UK’s “Brexiteers” is that migrants should be kept out at all costs to “save” their economies. Yet many scholars have argued that attracting and keeping migrants is essential to economic competitiveness in a globalising world. Some countries are responding positively to such arguments, embracing the benefits migrants can offer to their economies. Others – African countries among them – are far behind the curve.

Many developing countries are immigrant-sending countries which can have some negative effects. In 2017, 74% of all immigrants were of working age. It makes sense that losing this vital demographic can damage a country’s economy – and that gaining these workers can help grow another’s. This is borne out by history, too: in the 19th century, migrant-receiving countries like the US grew faster than migrant-sending countries like Italy and Ireland because these migrants added to their host country’s workforce and left their home countries with fewer workers.

In my research on migration I have found that countries like Vietnam, India and China are actively trying to recruit people from their diasporas – those living outside the region where they or their ancestors were born – to help build their economies.

My research focuses on frontier migration: the movement of people, technology, ideas and capital from a “developed” to a “developing” economy. Among them are increasing numbers of frontier return migrants who were born and raised in one country, leave it for some time but are now opting to return home. Researchers used to assume that once people migrated to the West, they and their children would stay there. But this is increasingly not the case. Another category I focus on are frontier heritage migrants; those raised in the diaspora who return to the land of their ethnic heritage.

Globalisation has spurred increasing numbers of all types of frontier migrants. One of the unexpected consequences is that developed countries might lose out as more and more frontier migrants set their sights on emerging market economies.

The US is losing out

The world’s most powerful country and its largest economy, the US, was until recently known as a country of immigrants.

Since 2017, the Trump administration has championed a number of measures to keep immigrants and refugees out: building a wall on the country’s southern border with Mexico, limiting refugees and even deleting the phrase, “nation of immigrants” from an official mission statement. But this shift didn’t begin with Trump: it started in earnest after the events of 11 September, 2001.

Migration and tech researcher Vivek Wadhwa has warned for years that putting up barriers to immigration will reduce the US’s innovative, technological and economic edge. After all, many US businesses are started by immigrants, and just over half of the country’s one billion dollar startup companies had at least one immigrant founder.

Wadwha’s research among STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduate students who came to the US to study for advanced degrees revealed alarming shifts. Before 2001, most of these sorts of graduates would remain in the US after completing their degrees. After 2001, hostile immigration policies “pushed” them to become frontier return migrants, going home to countries like India and China.

The US was forced to change policy to counter the trend towards STEM students’ return migration.

India and China, meanwhile, have also realised the value of attracting their own diasporas back home, and drawing talent from elsewhere in the world. They’ve developed several new policies to make this easier.

For example, China recently changed its visa policy so that “overseas Chinese” can have multiple-entry visas valid for five years instead of just one. A number of other initiatives have also been introduced to entice skilled migrants to China.

Robin Li, the billionaire entrepreneur behind the internet company Baidu – often referred to as China’s Google – is one of those who’ve pointed out that the US’s loss could be his country’s gain, saying

this is a good time that China stand up and say, ‘Hey, come to us, we welcome immigrants…’

China and the US are in a battle over which nation will dominate the 21st-century technologically and immigration is at the heart of this battle.

However, it is not only technology migrants who add value to an economy. Workers with all different skill sets are necessary. For example, US agriculture largely relies on foreign workers and Japan, a highly industrialised country with an ageing population, will need to bring in more and more young foreign workers to survive.

Policy benefits for Africa?

African countries are not seizing the opportunity presented by the migration-economic nexus.

Only a handful of African countries – among them Liberia and Ethiopia – have actively worked to bring in more migrants.

I have found that people in general and people of African descent in particular, both in Africa and the West, are particularly interested in moving to South Africa to work. This is because South Africa has a well-developed infrastructure and offers what many migrants refer to as “lifestyle” – a good quality of life.

South Africa is trying to position itself as the gateway to the African continent and needs a strong economy to do so. The country would therefore benefit tremendously from a more migrant-welcoming policy.

Building a robust economy has always required migrant workers of all types. That’s not going to change any time soon. The country with the most open immigration policy will be best positioned to succeed in the global economy.

 

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, Research Associate, Centre for Indian Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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