4 countries face famine threat as global food crisis deepens

Somalis displaced by drought arrive at makeshift camps in the Tabelaha area on the outskirts of Mogadishu, on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 01 April 2017
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4 countries face famine threat as global food crisis deepens

LONDON/WASHINGTON: Global food crises worsened significantly in 2016 and conditions look set to deteriorate further this year in some areas with an increasing risk of famine, a report said on Friday.
“There is a high risk of famine in some areas of north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen because of armed conflict, drought and macro-economic collapse,” the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) said.
FSIN, which is co-sponsored by the UN food agency, the World Food Programme and the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the demand for humanitarian assistance was escalating.
FSIN said that 108 million people were reported to be facing crisis-level food insecurity or worse in 2016, a drastic increase from the previous year’s total of almost 80 million.
The network uses a five-phase scale with the third level classified as crisis, fourth as emergency and fifth as famine/catastrophe.
“In 2017, widespread food insecurity is likely to persist in Iraq, Syria (including among refugees in neighboring countries), Malawi and Zimbabwe,” the report said.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has boosted the US military’s authority to step up airstrikes in the fight against insurgents in Somalia, the Defense Department said on Thursday.
According to a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the new leeway accorded to the military will mean they no longer will have to justify a decision to launch airstrikes, potentially leading to more aggressive bombardments on militant hideouts.
This broader authority would allow the US to carry out offensive strikes against Al-Shabab militants even if the militants were not attacking partnered forces, the officials said.
They said rules to avoid civilian casualties would not be loosened.
The expanded powers also will give greater autonomy in decision-making on airstrikes to the head of US forces in Africa, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser.
“The president has approved a Department of Defense proposal to provide additional precision fires in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali security forces operations,” said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement, released on Thursday.
The decision mirrors one the White House made in January this year when it declared parts of three provinces in Yemen an “area of active hostilities,” allowing the military greater flexibility to target Al-Qaeda militants there.
The forces are fighting to defeat Al-Shabab militants who were forced out of the capital in 2011 by African Union (AU) troops but still controls parts of the country.
“The additional support provided by this authority will help deny Al-Shabab safe havens from which it could attack US citizens or US interests in the region,” Davis said.
The decision is in line with the Republican Trump administration’s policy to expand the authority of the military, particularly in authorizing more aggressive airstrikes in certain countries.
The military had accused the previous Democratic administration of President Barack Obama of micromanaging combat operations.
Obama notably kept tight control over armed drone strikes, which his successor is pursuing in Somalia and Yemen.
Last Friday, Gen. Waldhauser said that greater ability to fight the militants would lead to more flexibility and quicker targeting.
In recent months, the US has carried out more than 40 strikes against Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, which lies just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.
As many as 12 civilians, some of them women and children, were killed along with a US commando in a January raid in southern Yemen. The US has said that raid gathered valuable intelligence.
Al-Shabab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to AU peacekeepers supporting the Somali government. The group’s insurgency aims to drive out the peacekeepers and topple Somalia’s Western-backed government.
The US has a small presence in Somalia and is allowed to carry out strikes in defense of partnered forces.
Two US defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said parts of Somalia had been declared an “area of active hostilities” for at least 180 days by the White House on Wednesday night. The capital Mogadishu was not included.


Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

Updated 24 September 2018
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Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Polling booths in the Maldives closed Sunday after voting hours were extended in a controversial election marred by police raids on the opposition and allegations of rigging in favor of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen, who is expected to retain power, has imprisoned or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Critics say he is returning the honeymoon island nation to authoritarian rule.

The process is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations. The European Union and US, meanwhile, have threatened sanctions if the vote is not free and fair.

Many voters across the Indian Ocean archipelago said they stood in line for over five hours to cast their ballot, while expatriate Maldivians voted in neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

The elections commission said balloting was extended by three hours until 7 p.m. (1400 GMT) because of technical glitches suffered by tablet computers containing electoral rolls, and officials had to use manual systems to verify voters’ identities.

An election official said the deadline was also extended due to heavy voter turnout, and anyone in the queue by 7 p.m. would be able to cast their ballot.

“Eight hours & counting. Waiting to exercise my democratic right! Let’s do this, Insha Allah!” former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

Maumoon, who is also the estranged niece of Yameen and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, cast her vote at a booth in the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called “illegal activities.” There were no arrests.

Yameen’s challenger, the relatively unknown Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also cast his vote.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but who now lives in exile, urged the international community to reject the results of a flawed election.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago — famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons — were eligible to vote in an election from which independent international monitors have been barred.

Only a handful of foreign media have been allowed in.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign was heavily tilted in favor of 59-year-old Yameen.

Local observers said the balloting itself went off peacefully and most of the delays were due to technical issues. Results are expected by early Monday.

The government has used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom have been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

Yameen told supporters on the eve of the election he had overcome “huge obstacles” since controversially winning power in a contested run-off in 2013, but had handled the challenges “with resilience.” 

The crackdown attracted international censure and fears the Maldives was slipping back into one-man rule just a decade after transitioning to democracy.

The US State Department this month said it would “consider appropriate measures” should the election fail to be free and fair.

The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve.

India, long influential in Maldives affairs — it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt — also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

However in recent years Yameen has drifted closer to China, India’s chief regional rival, taking hundreds of millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects.