3.7 million in South Sudan face severe hunger crisis | 

Woman sits with food aid, in the north of South Sudan.
Woman sits with food aid, in the north of South Sudan.
ECHO

Hunger looms over South Sudan. World leaders have spent the past few weeks trying to raise the alarm to garner enough public attention and funding to prevent a hunger crisis.

Some 7 million people are at risk of food insecurity. The UN launched a $230 million appeal in early April to respond to the problem. Then there are the 3.7 million people, nearly one out of every three people in South Sudan, that are at severe risk of hunger.

Fighting in South Sudan since December is responsible for displacing more than 1 million people from their homes. The upcoming rainy season is a vital time for food security because it is when crops are usually planted. It is also the period when food stocks from the previous harvest season begin to run out.

The ongoing fighting and instability has disrupted the country, meaning that some will miss the planting season due to a lack of resources or other factors. A missed or poor planting season would put people already struggling at greater risk, especially young children.

UNICEF warned that as many as 50,000 children could die if the international response in South Sudan does not gain the necessary support. A total of $1.27 billion is necessary to respond to the totality of the crisis in South Sudan, says the UN. Only 36% of the funding has been raised so far. The pleas to act now to prevent hunger hope to revive funding for the response.

The US, EU and UN rushed to sign a call to action for the country in Washington over the weekend. Representatives from the three groups gathered to pledge $80 million for South Sudan. That is in addition to the $100 million that was pledged in the prior week. The money will be used to reach the nearly 5 million people who need assistance because of the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.

“We know that if we work together we can deal with this challenge,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, at the signing. “But we also know that without improved and significant resourcing now, we face a situation next year where South Sudan is in an even worse situation than it is right now.”

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Why did Congolese soldiers kill a surrendered militia leader? | 

Congolese military (FARDC) members.
Congolese military (FARDC) members.
Radio Okapi

The death of a Congolese militia leader who surrendered to the military is raising serious questions.

A brutal militia leader known as Morgan surrendered to the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Saturday. He was joined by somewhere around 40 of his militia members.

He was killed during a firefight while being transported to be taken in by the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo. According to the government, Morgan and some of his men tried to escape from the soldiers providing escort.

“He caused a shootout which resulted in the deaths of two army soldiers and two of his own men. He tried to flee but suffered a serious injury,” said government spokesman Lambert Mende to Reuters on Monday.

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Private health care for diarrhea in Africa kills 20,000 kids annually | 

A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.
A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.
UNICEF

Children in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from diarrhea are receiving lifesaving treatment at a lower rate when visiting private hospitals as compared to public ones. Closing that gap would save an estimated 20,000 lives each year.

When a child present signs of diarrhea, hospitals are supposed to instruct parents to give the child oral rehydration salts (ORS). The basic mixture of water with a little bit of sugar and salt prevents the child from dying from dehydration. It’s wide use over the past few decades has saved millions of lives. However, it is not always available nor is it recommended in every case.

“Clearly the private sector is not following public health guidelines in the way that the public health sector is doing,” said Zachary Wagner, co-author and doctoral student in public health at the University of California, to Humanosphere.

The findings from his research, with Neeraj Sood, PhD, the study’s senior author and director of research at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, were published yesterday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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Gates Foundation won’t take a stand on universal health coverage | 

A funny thing happened at the World Bank the other day.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim  gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington,  Thursday, April 10, 2014.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington, Thursday, April 10, 2014.
AP

The international financial institution devoted to fighting poverty and advancing economic growth in the poorest parts of the world held an event last week, Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

That wasn’t the funny part. What was funny (or, well, funny-strange maybe) was watching the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation work so hard to avoid taking a position on this goal of ensuring all people have access to affordable, basic health care.

As Humanosphere has noted, there’s a lot of enthusiasm around the world today for universal health coverage. Even many of the hard-pressed health and finance ministries of poor and middle-income countries are enthusiastic, largely because a number of analyses and expert studies have shown that getting everyone reliable access to basic health services contributes to long-term economic development, social stability and poverty reduction.

“There’s a consensus out there that universal health coverage is a critical development goal,” said Robert Marten, a global health policy expert for the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading

Conflict minerals advocates win and suffer setback in appeal decision | 

A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
AP Photo/Marc Hofer

A US appeals court determined on Monday that a US Securities and Exchange Commission rule compelling public companies to disclose whether or not their products contain “conflict minerals” is a violation of their free speech rights.

The rule, Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, has been controversial from its inception. It’s intent is to track where minerals that appear in everyday electronics, such as cell phones, are fueling conflict and supporting armed groups. The corporations that extract the minerals say the new rules place an undue burden on their work and violate their rights.

The court partially agreed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules were not entirely struck down by the ruling. It does represent a minor set-back for the advocates who have campaigned for transparency in the mining sector in conflict-affected countries. The real losers are the corporate lobby groups that brought forward the lawsuit.

“At the end of the day this is a huge loss for the National Association of Manufacturers,” said Laura Seay,  assistant professor of Government at Colby College, to Humanosphere. ”They still have to file through the SEC whether their supply chains were audited and free of conflict minerals. What has changed is that these companies do not have to disclose to their investors whether or not they are using conflict free minerals. ”

The Enough Project, a Washington DC-based advocacy group who took an active role in crafting and campaigning for 1502, called the ruling a ‘step backward for atrocity prevention.”

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Catholic liturgical musician arrested as terrorist in Rwanda | 

Much of the world took note last week of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, with most of the news reports focusing on Rwanda’s stunning improvements made over the past few years – and on how the West failed to stop the slaughter of perhaps a million Rwandans.

What Humanosphere took note of is the rising awareness of the need for a more accurate narrative of modern day Rwanda – as a place making great gains on health and welfare, but at the expense of political and democratic freedoms. Some allege the government of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame even engages in assassinations of political opponents.

Now, Kizito Mihigo, a musician who specializes in Catholic liturgical music has been arrested and charged with terrorism. Some say the arrest is for writing a song that contends some of the atrocities of the 1994 genocide were commited by Kagame’s forces as well (a contention supported by many independent studies and reports). As Rwanda’s New Times reports, Mihigo, a radio journalist and another man have been arrested and charged with subversive activities.

Here’s a video of Kizito performing one of his liturgical songs:

Mihigo and others are accused by the Rwandan police of carrying out grenade attacks and planning terrorist acts. Others, on social media today, suggest Mihigo’s arrest was prompted by the lyrics in his songs – and his faith-based compulsion to work for peace and stability in Rwanda by encouraging all sides to acknowledge wrong-doing.

“I sing peace and forgiveness, I launch a permanent call for reconciliation,” Mihigo says.

Safe drinking water keeps Cambodian kids in school | 

Children walking to school, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
Children walking to school, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
Karen Murphy

If you build it, he will come. In the case of Cambodian schools it is more like: if you provide safe drinking water, kids will go to school.

When schools provided treated water in containers, the rate of absence for students dropped. That is what research published in the health journal PLOS One last month finds.

What makes the study notable is that it shows that the water itself, not necessarily the health gains, are what get kids come to school.

The association between safe drinking water and school attendance is strongest during the dry season. Why students in Cambodia are not going to school during the rainy season is not entirely known.

Paul Hunter, professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, the study’s lead other and his co-authors surmise that it is due to the farming season.

“There were also strong seasonal effects as absenteeism in several of the schools increased dramatically during the wet season, irrespective of water delivery. We were informed that this increase in absenteeism during the early wet season was partly because children were frequently kept off school to help in the fields,” they write in the study.

What is almost entirely certain is that providing safe drinking water gets kids to go to school during the dry season. They know this because of a delivery problem at one of the schools.

The design of the program was for every class to have one 20 liter bottle of safe drinking water each day. School children then had the opportunity to take water as they wanted, each day. Roughly each student had a half liter of water available each day, costing less than half of a penny per day for each student ($1.40/yr).

The school where deliveries of water were inconsistent saw student attendance react to whether or not the water was at the school. The researchers determined that there was a 2.9% reduction in absenteeism for every container of water delivered at the school. Students were more likely to go to school because of the safe drinking water, not necessarily because of how the water may make them healthier.

The water provided may also have mattered. The 1001F water distributed at the schools was filtered and disinfected by UV light. The use of chlorine is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to treat water, but some people complain that the water does not taste good. The researchers posit that the choice of water may have contributed as an additional incentive for kids to attend school.

“Any scheme to increase drinking water provision in the classroom that does not ensure that that water is safe to drink is likely to put the children at risk of waterborne disease. However, providing safe water in the school environment does not necessarily mean children will drink it,” conclude the authors.

“Indeed taste appears to be a major determinant affecting whether or not people continue to use safe drinking water sources.”

Like most other research, the study concludes that more research is needed. There is a recommendation for a randomized control trial to get a better sense of what is happening and how much credit safe drinking water deserves for keeping kids in school.