Post-harvest food losses: a priority for Africa

Around a third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. In Africa, the figure is estimated to be as high as 50%. In developing countries, this happens mainly because of poor crop harvest and handling practices early in the value chain.

A report by Global Knowledge Initiatve (GKI) calls for investment into ‘quick wins’ that show promise for immediate impact – one example of that would be ColdHubs, which is providing affordable refrigeration to farmers in Nigeria. ColdHubs sells access to refrigeration hubs on a pay-as-you-store basis, solving the problem for individual farmers of large upfront investment in their own equipment.

“A 20 kg crate of tomatoes sells in Nigeria for US$40-50 [€32-40] during the peak season,” says Nnaemeka Ikebwuonu, CEO of ColdHubs. “That’s the price from 7am until about 1pm. By this time, rot has set in and it is sold for 50% less. By 5-6pm, it will be sold for 80% less. But ColdHubs enables farmers to store that 20 kg crate for US$0.50 [€0.40].” In other words, if a farmer has surplus tomatoes, an affordable €0.40 investment per crate will enable them to stagger sales and prevent a substantial loss in income.

US start-up company Evaptainers is taking a traditional refrigeration technique – evaporative cooling – and using it to manufacture pre-built, lightweight mobile refrigeration devices. Its EV-8 is a collapsible box made with a synthetic fabric, and users just pour water into the space between the inner and outer layers to activate the cooling process. It will sell for €20-28 and a pilot project using 300-500 units is planned in Morocco this year, with a view to an eventual wider roll-out in other countries.

Sara Farley, chief operating officer and co-founder of the Global Knowledge Initiatve explains: “Sometimes, innovations that seem more incremental in nature are also capable of ushering in large-scale and long-term change.”

[Read full article]

Syrian government and rebels reach evacuation agreement for Damascus

An agreement brokered by Russia to evacuate neighborhoods in southern Damascus has been reached between the Syrian government and rebel groups controlling the enclave of southern Damascus.

The parties agreed to evacuate trapped civilians and fighters in southern Damascus in exchange for sending away civilians and fighters in the two towns of Fua’a and Kafriyeh, predominately-Shiite towns under the government’s control in rebel-held Idlib province.

Mattar Ismael, a journalist based in southern Damascus, told VOA that people started preparations to leave southern Damascus, and the first convoy of civilians is expected to be bused out Tuesday morning.

[Voice of America]

Migrants-at-risk blocked from crossing US border near Tijuana

A group of Central American asylum seekers spent Monday languishing on the ground outside a border crossing after U.S. officials said they did not have space to process them. On one side of the standoff are 220 migrants, who cite their right to seek shelter from persecution back home and have traveled through Mexico in a caravan to highlight the suffering of asylum seekers. On the other side is the Trump administration, which is trying to crack down on illegal immigration and says many asylum claims are fraudulent.

Trump tweeted last week that he had ordered the secretary of homeland security “not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country,” adding, “It is a disgrace.” But under international treaties it has signed, the U.S. government is obliged to allow foreigners to apply for asylum.

The San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego has detention space for about 300 people. U.S. officials have not said how many people are being held there. Asylum seekers are typically detained until officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conduct interviews to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution or torture if they are sent home. Many of the migrants say they face threats to their lives in their native lands.

Suany Rodriguez, 6, who had been running to the bathroom all day with a bad case of diarrhea, grabbed a Barbie before sitting down in the street in front of a pharmacy. Her mother, Irma Rivera, 31, said that the girl had woken up sick after a bitterly cold night at the border. The family had left Honduras after Rivera’s husband was killed in a cornfield…She said she received anonymous phone calls stating that … other members of her family would be slain. That’s why she’s seeking asylum.

“We’re asking for them [U.S. authorities] to be fair. You don’t leave your country because you want to. The violence makes you leave,” Rivera said. “My life is at risk and so are the lives of my children.”

[Washington Post]

Challenge of getting South Sudan’s former child soldiers back to school

More than 200 child soldiers, all under 18, have been freed from armed groups in South Sudan. The children were part of a civil war that broke out in the Republic of South Sudan two years after it was granted independence from Sudan. The ongoing conflict has ripped the country apart, making the living conditions for most South Sudanese worse than ever before.

About 19 000 child soldiers are thought to be part of the conflict and so the release of any is great news. But it’s not guaranteed that they will reintegrate successfully.

Education isn’t accessible to most children in South Sudan. In 2016 only 50% of children aged 6-13 were enrolled in primary education and just 3.5% aged 14-17 were enrolled in secondary education. There are challenges in finding a school and being able to afford to go to one. This is even harder for demobilized child soldiers who are often traumatized and stigmatized.

A recent report states that there have been 293 military attacks on schools, affecting over 90,000 children. Due to this security concern, education isn’t readily available in many home communities and so shortly after the former child soldiers are reunited with their families, they leave.

The children will also have to pay for school. Even though most of the schools are meant to be government funded, teachers are often not paid and so the students pay fees to give the teachers a little income. But with few resources and no support system, the children struggle to do this and run the risk of not attending or not having teachers.

[Read full News24 article]

Gains against malaria at risk from US cuts and donor complacency

Zambia’s multipronged effort against malaria is making headway, at least in some parts of the country. In Eastern Province,  parasite prevalence among small children is down almost by half, to 12 percent. Efforts in Southern Province have been even more successful –prevalence is now below one percent. The national death rate declined by around 80 percent from 2010 to 2017. However, the results have been uneven. Many parts of the country have seen increases in prevalence, with some areas as high as 32 percent.

A big chunk of the funding for Zambia’s anti-malaria programming comes from the United States. Begun under former president George W. Bush, the fight against malaria is often cited as one of the US government’s most successful global health campaigns. But that could all change with President Donald Trump’s threat to cut foreign assistance around the globe.

The United States is such a massive player in global health, accounting for more than one third of total anti-malaria funding expenditures worldwide, that even relatively minor cuts would have a significant impact. The current global budget for malaria is less than half of what is needed to meet global malaria targets of reducing malaria by 40 percent by 2020, according to the World Health Organization.

Malaria experts warn that a reduction in that effort would be more than a minor setback: if malaria has been suppressed in a region and then resurges, the results can be devastating since natural immunities will be lowered and death and disability can rise sharply.

Globally, the trend is worrying. A recent WHO assessment found that progress around the world had stalled for the first time in a decade.


Failure of international donors puts millions of Syrian children at risk

The failure of international donors to meet the UN’s funding target for Syrian refugees will put the lives of millions of children at risk over the coming year.

A $5bn shortfall will impact not only upon Syrian refugees themselves but also on the host communities in which they now live. New research carried out by Plan International in Lebanon – which hosts close to 1.5 million Syrian refugees – reveals shocking statistics on child marriage and child labor among the Syrian community in particular.

In North Lebanon and North Bekaa, child labor is rife: 42% of Syrian boys aged 15-17 are currently employed. Research also revealed that 16% of girls aged 15-17 were either engaged to be married or already someone’s wife.

These figures should act as a wake-up call to the international community, says Colin Lee, Regional Programme Director for Plan International in the Middle East.

“The situation for refugee children caught up in the Syrian crisis is desperate. Families are struggling to meet basic needs, forcing them to marry off daughters and send sons out to work. Although this means one less mouth to feed and a little extra money to put food on the table, it is having a devastating impact on the lives of their children.

“If the gaping funding gap that this conference has left us with is not closed, we will be unable to reach the millions of people who are most desperately in need of assistance. We’re now into the eighth year of this conflict and the international community must not turn its back on the children caught up in this crisis.”

[Plan International]                                    See also More Misery for destitute Syrians

Cash and vouchers the new vogue in humanitarian aid

The popular image of humanitarian aid in public consciousness is of trucks loaded with essential foods being handed out to refugees. But increasingly, humanitarian organizations have been turning away from transporting bags of commodities to crisis areas, and are instead focusing on giving refugees the means to buy their own food.

The UK-based Overseas Development Institute estimates that cash and vouchers now account for around 6% of total humanitarian spending, up from less than 1% in 2004. That is still a small amount but the United Nations World Food Program says cash now accounts for just over a quarter of its assistance.

Cash and vouchers are particularly popular in urban areas and have been extensively used to support Syrian refugees. That often means vouchers that can be used at supermarkets or even cash wired directly to those in need.

Aside from the dignity and choice that cash and vouchers offer, they are also seen as a more effective method of supporting the local economy. Traditional in-kind assistance – like soap, blankets, rice – is often sold by refugees below market price, to get something they need more. Cash allows them to keep the full value of the support they receive, and to prioritize according to their needs.

Vouchers are also popular with the donor community because it is easier to track and trace their use.


UN encourages more females in the tech industry

From Switzerland to Somalia girls are creating their own apps; they are programming the robots they build. On Girls in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Day, the United Nations is urging more girls to pursue careers in the fast-paced science and tech industry, generally regarded as a ‘boys-only’ club.

“Each time we introduce more women to the world of ICTs, not only do we take one more step towards achieving gender equality, but we accelerate socio-economic development for all,” said Brahima Sanou, the Director of Telecommunication Development at the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“In many countries, we are starting to see International Girls in ICT Day initiatives moving from one-day events to sustained, on-going programs to teach girls about ICTs throughout the year.”

Held annually on the fourth Thursday in April, the International Day recognizes the importance of young women in science, technology, engineering and math, and to inform them of the vast potential in these fields. Since its inception, over 300,000 girls and young women have taken part in more than 9,000 celebrations of International Day in 166 countries worldwide.

“The International Girls in ICT Day has become a global movement in which more girls and young women are learning about the wide range of fascinating opportunities ICT careers can offer,” said Houlin Zhao, the Secretary-General of ITU. It is essential that the public and private sectors, as well as academia, and civil society seize the momentum created by the International Day to leapfrog the number of girls pursuing careers in technology.”

[UN News]

Twice a refugee

Amira is 61 years old, each wrinkle on her face reflecting a sorrow, a heartbreak. Amira had a normal life in Syria not that long ago; she was happily married with six children before the Syrian Civil War came and tore apart her country and her family.

When a rocket exploded outside her family’s apartment in Aleppo, Amira’s husband went to help the injured. A second rocket exploded, killing her beloved husband and father of her children.

The next year Amira’s son died during a missile attack where people were waiting for water. To add sorrow to sorrow, soon another son would die, leaving behind his wife and four orphan children.

The following year the husband of Amira’s newly-married daughter was killed, leaving behind another orphan, a daughter who has meningitis.

2016 brought an intensified bombing campaign of eastern Aleppo, and with it untold pain, suffering and misery. The UN’s humanitarian chief warned that eastern Aleppo was being turned into “one giant graveyard” as the rebel-held area was being overrun. During this nightmare, Amira’s grandchild, the fourth child of her widowed daughter, was injured when a bomb blast threw her against a wall, smashing her skull.

So Amira left Aleppo through an established safe corridor to Idlib, hoping to recover from the horrors she has lived through. But in September and October of 2017, the hospitals where she had been taking her grandchildren for treatment were bombed. In early 2018, the fighting in Idlib and Afrin displaced thousands more and she decided to join the thousands of Syrians willing to risk their lives to reach Turkey.

Amira arrived in our city on the first of February with her family of 12: herself, a daughter with an injured child; her disabled son, his wife, and their daughter with meningitis; her youngest son, aged 13; and her widowed daughter-in-law with four kids, the youngest with a damaged skull. She moved in temporarily with her sister in a clean but over-crowded abode in a crime-infested slum area.

We met brave Amira one week after her arrival. Her brother lives here in Turkey; an injured man in immense pain with part of his head badly damaged. Amira just wants to find a safe haven for her remaining family, far from the sounds of war. You see the deep insecurity in her children, having fled Aleppo in 2016, and now, a year or so later, having to run for their lives again from Idlib. It is hard to imagine what these children must be going through, living in war zones for most of their lives and having to move twice already while still so young.

It seemed beyond our totally volunteer team’s capability to adopt a new refugee family, with our limited resources and so many other families to assist. Yet how could we not help them and try to take them under our wings?

An angel from abroad sent us $1000 to secure housing for Amira. A friend from the UK gave a generous gift for the mothers to purchase new clothes. We returned the next day with clothes for all the children, courtesy of a local Foreign Woman’s Club. Other friends went on a crusade to gather as many household items as they could.

Fast forward three weeks. They now have a new house in a better part of town, with a green area nearby where the children can play. Recently we did our second delivery of household items. The Foreign Women’s Club delivered two carloads and a truck of aid and we gave a nice bed and mattress from our former home.

We were also able to register them all to get their ID cards –in a single day! For those who work with refugees, you know that this process can take weeks and at times even months. The authorities bent over backwards to help us do this. We are in regular communication with the police here about our work with the refugees. We often enter neighborhoods that even the police usually do not enter. Our good relations with the authorities have paid off as they have been a big help to us.

Seeing Amira and her family’s utter joy as we delivered the different donations was such a reward. In a matter of three weeks I personally went from feeling overwhelmed to an overwhelming happiness in seeing how our donors in the West have once again risen up to the occasion to help others.

More misery for destitute Syrians

Syria’s seven-year conflict continues to fuel the world’s largest refugee crisis, with more than 5.6 million people forced into prolonged exile in neighboring countries. Each year sees families driven deeper into penury, with the vast majority of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon now living below the poverty line and unable to meet their basic needs.

In Lebanon, where 58 per cent of the nearly one million registered Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty on less than US$2.90 per day, cash assistance helps to support some 33,000 of the worst-off families.

Now hundreds of thousands of impoverished Syrian refugee families in the Middle East risk losing their main financial lifeline, due to expire from May, unless urgently needed additional resources are found to plug a US$270 million funding shortfall.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, currently provides much-needed cash assistance to the most vulnerable families – mainly in Jordan and Lebanon – to help them cover the cost of shelter, heating, healthcare and other essentials. But with current funding for the program set to run out from May onwards, almost a million people face losing this vital assistance.

The warning comes ahead of a major EU and UN donor conference in Brussels on April 24 and 25, aimed at securing fresh funding pledges to support Syrians and the main refugee hosting countries. Total requirements for 2018 are set at US$5.6 billion, but as of the end of March the UN appeal was only 27 per cent funded.

Cash assistance is a key element in UNHCR’s response to the crisis. By enabling refugees to prioritize spending on their most pressing needs, it offers greater dignity and freedom of choice while also providing a boost to the local economies in areas shouldering the burden of hosting large numbers of refugees.