Restricted Hajj hits Somalia’s struggling livestock economy

Restricted Hajj hits Somalia’s struggling livestock economy
Villagers buy sheep and goats for Eid Al-Adha at a livestock market in Mogadishu. A fall in demand amid Hajj restrictions and coronavirus fears has cut the country’s animal exports. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 01 August 2020

Restricted Hajj hits Somalia’s struggling livestock economy

Restricted Hajj hits Somalia’s struggling livestock economy
  • Dramatic plunge in animal prices leaves traditional herders, traders facing ‘real crisis’

MOGADISHU, Somalia: The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah is a time for celebration, not least among Somalia’s livestock herders and traders who export millions of livestock to feed pilgrims.

But this year coronavirus restrictions mean the Hajj is a small, largely Saudi affair, and Somalia’s economy is suffering.

“Business is bad,” said Yahye Hassan, who works in the capital Mogadishu’s largest livestock market where the pandemic has suppressed trade.

“The effect of coronavirus is apparent,” said Hassan. “The Arab countries are not in need of animals from Somalia, and the nomadic people who would bring the livestock to town for trading are reluctant due to the fear of infection.”

“There is a major decrease in demand,” confirmed Nur Hassan, another Mogadishu-based livestock trader, who said the shortage of domestic and foreign buyers was catastrophic, while supply had also seen a dip as herders stay away.

The Hajj, which began last week, is mandatory for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to undertake at least once in their lifetime and involves pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah and its Grand Mosque.

But this year Saudi authorities have restricted the Hajj to those already inside the country — fewer than 10,000 domestic pilgrims are expected, compared with the 2 million mostly foreign visitors who attended last year.

Saudi demand accounts for nearly two-thirds of Somalia’s annual livestock exports, according to the World Bank, which reports that more than 5 million sheep, goats, camels and cattle were shipped northwards from Somali ports through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia in 2015.

Exports are predicted to be sliced in half this year, primarily due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“The Hajj cancelation has massive implications on the lives and livelihoods of the Somali population,” said Ahmed Khalif, Somalia country director at the Action Against Hunger charity, adding that livestock accounts for around 60 percent of household income in the largely rural country.

“It is a blow to the Somali pastoralist households particularly, who heavily survive on livestock exports to Saudi.”

Up to three-quarters of Somalia’s export earnings come from livestock, said Khalif, making the foreign sale of animals a crucial lifeline for Somalia’s economy.

The annual Hajj is normally a reliable boom time for herders, but not this year.

“The livestock exports happen all through the year, but the majority — 70 percent of live animals — happen during this Hajj season,” said Khalif.

The evaporation of exports has meant an oversupply in local markets where prices have dropped dramatically, with camels going for $500, half their usual price, according to Khalif.

Good news for a relatively small number of well-off consumers, but a disaster for the majority of livestock-keepers who rely on sales to buy food, pay back debts and cover basics such as school fees.

Making matters even worse, keeping animals for longer than expected is a drain on limited resources, said Isse Muse Mohamed, a livestock trader in the port town of Eyl, who warned of “widespread effects” for the economy.

“Keeping hundreds of goats and sheep for an extra year will obviously incur costs, including the salary of the keepers,” he said. “This is a real crisis.”

Falling incomes, increasing costs and the loss of the Hajj market are hitting owners such as Adow Ganey, in the southern town of Hudur.

“When the family wants cash for necessary items, like sugar and clothing, we used to take one or two goats to the market,” he said, “but this year things have changed: we have to sell more goats to get the cash we need.”

For some of Somalia’s livestock herders and traders, already assailed by decades of conflict and political instability, ever tighter cycles of drought and an ongoing locust plague, the cancelation of the Hajj may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“We have never seen such a situation,” said Abdqadar Hashi, a livestock exporter in the city of Hargeisa. “It’s affecting everybody.”


Sweden charges Iranian for alleged 1988 ‘war crimes’

Sweden charges Iranian for alleged 1988 ‘war crimes’
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Sweden charges Iranian for alleged 1988 ‘war crimes’

Sweden charges Iranian for alleged 1988 ‘war crimes’
  • Case against Hamid Noury, arrested in Sweden in 2019, concerns his alleged part in prisoners’ mass killings during 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq
  • Sweden's Prosecution Authority said prisoners had been linked to the "People's Mujahedin of Iran"

STOCKHOLM: Swedish prosecutors said Tuesday they were charging an Iranian man for “war crimes and murder” over the execution of more than 100 political prisoners in 1988 in Karaj, Iran.
The case against 60-year-old Hamid Noury, who was arrested in Sweden in 2019 when he came to visit relatives, concerns his alleged part in the mass killings of prisoners toward the end of the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.
Human rights groups have been campaigning for years for justice for what they consider to be the extrajudicial execution of thousands of Iranians, mostly young people, across the country.
Sweden’s Prosecution Authority noted in a statement that the prisoners had been linked to the “People’s Mujahedin of Iran,” a political organization seeking to overthrow the clerical leadership whose armed branch had launched several attacks against Iran.
In the summer of 1988, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini “issued an order to execute all prisoners held in Iranian prisons who sympathized with and were loyal in their convictions to the Mujahedin,” the authority noted.
According to the authority, Noury held the position of “assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison,” on the outskirts of Karaj, west of Tehran.
“The accused is suspected of participating, together with other perpetrators, in these mass executions and, as such, intentionally taking the lives of a large number of prisoners, who sympathized with the Mujahedin and, additionally, of subjecting prisoners to severe suffering which is deemed torture and inhuman treatment,” the authority said.
In the charge sheet, seen by AFP, prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson noted that these actions constituted a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Noury’s lawyer told AFP that he denies the charges against him.
Following the mass executions, and after a cease-fire between Iran and Iraq was enacted, the Iranian leadership also decided that other political prisoners “who sympathized with various left wing groups and were regarded as apostates by the Iranian leadership, should be executed.”
Prosecutors said Noury, in his role at the prison, was also complicit in the killings that followed.
“These acts are classified as murder according to the Swedish Penal Code since they are not considered to be related to an armed conflict,” the authority said.
In May, a group of more than 150 rights campaigners, including Nobel laureates, former heads of state or government and former UN officials, called for an international investigation into the 1988 killings.
The case remains sensitive in Iran as activists accuse officials now in government of being involved.


UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days

UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days
Updated 27 July 2021

UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days

UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days
  • Recorded infection rates across the UK have dropped for six consecutive days
  • Despite the turnaround ministers are warning the long-term situation remains uncertain

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for caution Tuesday after Britain registered nearly a week of lower coronavirus case numbers, a decline that has surprised officials and experts.
Recorded infection rates across the UK have dropped for six consecutive days, with 24,950 new cases announced Monday compared to 46,558 last Tuesday — a fall of 46 percent.
The reversal after weeks of rising rates has coincided with the removal on July 19 of nearly all pandemic rules in England, including legal requirements for social distancing wearing a mask in public indoors.
It has confounded the government and scientists, who had previously warned cases would likely surge to 100,000 a day in the weeks ahead after the restrictions were eased.
Despite the turnaround, which comes after the start of summer school holidays, ministers are warning the long-term situation remains uncertain.
“I have noticed that obviously we have six days of some better figures but it’s very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about this,” Johnson said during a visit to a police station in southeast England.
“People have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government,” he added.
Johnson ended 10 days in self-isolation late Monday after being in close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month.
The prime minister argued that Britain’s successful vaccination campaign — which has fully vaccinated 70 percent of adults — allowed for the relaxation of legal curbs last week.
But the move attracted widespread criticism, with fears the National Health Service could again come under severe strain from rising caseloads, even if many fewer people are now dying of Covid.
Experts have struggled to explain why infections appear to have declined so dramatically since early last week.
The end of the Euro 2020 football tournament — which was blamed for a spike in cases among younger men gathering to watch games — as well as the school holidays and a heatwave have all been mooted as factors.
“The recent fall in cases in England is great news, but also puzzling given that progressive relaxation of restrictions has occurred,” said Stephen Griffin of Leeds University’s School of Medicine.
But, echoing Johnson’s call for caution, he added: “I would be surprised if we are likely to see a continuation of this decline.”


COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney
Updated 27 July 2021

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney

COVID-19 curbs to end in Australian’s Victoria state, continue in Sydney
  • Victoria’s 5 million residents will be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen
  • Highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the New South Wales capital of Sydney

CANBERRA/SYDNEY: Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday it will end lockdown after curtailing the spread of COVID-19, but neighboring New South Wales faced a four-week extension of restrictions according to media reports after new cases hit a 16-month peak.
More than half of Australia’s near 26 million population has been in lockdown in recent weeks after an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the New South Wales capital of Sydney and spread to three states.
New South Wales reported 172 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, up from 145 a day earlier, with at least 60 spending time in the community while infectious.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a decision whether to lift the five-week lockdown will be taken this week, and local media later reported the state would announce a four-week extension of the order on Wednesday. With less than 13 percent of the state’s population fully vaccinated, curbs are expected to stay.
“We know we’ve put in the hard yards for five weeks and we don’t want to waste all the good work that we’ve done by opening too early and then having the virus spread again,” Berejiklian told a media conference.
A spokesperson was not immediately available to confirm the media reports about the planned lockdown extension.
In contrast, Victoria state said most restrictions imposed on July 15 will be removed from Wednesday after recording just 10 infections of people already in quarantine.
“All in all, this is a good day,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Victoria’s 5 million residents will be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen, though households will not be permitted to have visitors.
South Australia said it will also lift a lockdown on Wednesday after it recorded zero COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.
Lockdowns have raised the prospect of Australia recording its second recession in as many years, though Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday talk of this was premature.
Frydenberg said last week the country’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy is expected to shrink in the latest GDP figures, with lockdowns costing about A$300 million daily.
Easing lockdowns will soften the economic toll, but New South Wales is Australia’s biggest state economy and accounts for about a third of national output.
Swift contact tracing, tough social distancing rules and lockdowns have helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers low, with just under 33,100 cases and 920 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in early 2020.
The outbreak in Sydney, however, has seen a wave of hospitalizations and 10 deaths in recent weeks.
New South Wales said 169 people are in hospital with the virus, of which 46 are in intensive care.
Amid heightened concerns about hospitalizations of younger people, Australia has urged people to take AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after struggling to secure enough supplies of Pfizer’s inoculations.
Authorities had previously recommended only over 60s should take the AstraZeneca shot after rare but serious blood clotting cases.


Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases
Updated 27 July 2021

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases

Olympic host Tokyo hits record 2,848 COVID-19 cases
  • The rise in cases threatens to further erode support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
  • It also spells trouble for the Olympics, as many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the event could add to the surge
TOKYO: Tokyo’s 2,848 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday were the Olympic host city’s highest since the pandemic began, officials said, as media reported that authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients as the Delta variant drives the surge.
The rise in cases threatens to further erode support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose ratings have slid to their lowest level since he took office last September, in large part because of his haphazard handling of the pandemic.
It also spells trouble for the Olympics, as many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the event could add to the surge. About 31 percent in a survey by the Nikkei daily on Monday said the Games should be canceled or postponed again.
“It’s the Delta variant,” said Kenji Shibuya, a former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, explaining the swift recent surge.
Shibuya added it was impossible to quantify to what extent the Olympics contributed to the surge but blamed the global sports showpiece as “one of the major driving forces.”
“The government has sent signals that people are supposed to stay home at the same time they celebrate the Games. It’s a totally inconsistent message,” said Shibuya, who is now running the vaccine roll-out in a town in northern Japan.
Japan has avoided the devastating outbreaks suffered by other nations such as India, Indonesia and the United States, but the fifth wave of the pandemic fueled by the Delta variant is piling pressure on Tokyo’s hospitals.
By Sunday, only 20.8 percent of the Japanese capital’s 12,635 COVID-19 patients had been able to obtain hospital treatment, government data showed. A government advisory panel says that if the ratio falls below the threshold of 25 percent, a state of emergency should be triggered.
In anticipation of the surge and considering the tough hospital situation, Tokyo has already declared a fourth state of emergency this month to run until after the Olympics.
In a last-minute change of heart, Japan also made the unprecedented decision to hold the Games, postponed from last year by the pandemic, without spectators to stem the spread of the virus.
As hospitals admit more patients, the city aims to boost the number of beds to 6,406 by early next month from 5,967 now, broadcaster TBS said.
Hospitals should look at pushing back planned surgery and scaling down other treatments, the broadcaster said, citing a notice to medical institutions from city authorities.
Health experts had warned that seasonal factors, increased mobility, and the spread of variants would lead to a rebound in COVID-19 cases this summer.
While vaccinations boost protection for the oldest citizens most likely to need emergency care, just 36 percent of the population has received at least one dose, a Reuters vaccination tracker shows.
The inoculation push has recently ebbed amid logistical snags after having picked up steam last month from a sluggish start.
Voter support for Suga slid nine points to 34 percent, its lowest since he took office last September, a July 23-25 Nikkei business daily survey showed on Monday.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the country’s rollout of coronavirus vaccinations was not going well.
Suga’s term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president expires in September and his LDP-led coalition faces an election for parliament’s powerful lower house, which must be held by November.
About a third in the Nikkei survey wanted the Games postponed again or canceled, while more than half said Japan’s border steps for incoming Olympics athletes and officials were “inappropriate.”
Despite tight quarantine rules for the Games, 155 cases have emerged involving athletes and others.
A strict “playbook” of rules to avoid contagion requires frequent virus testing, restricted movement and masks worn in most situations.

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site
Updated 27 July 2021

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site

Five people missing after explosion rocks German chemicals site
  • Police in nearby Cologne said they did not have any information on the cause or size of the explosion

BERLIN:  Five people were missing and several injured after an explosion rocked an industrial park in the western German city of Leverkusen on Tuesday, sending up plumes of smoke and prompting police to ask nearby residents to remain in their homes.
The explosion happened at 9.40 a.m. local time (0740 GMT), causing a fire at a fuel depot at Chempark, an industrial park for chemicals companies including Bayer and Lanxess , Chempark operator Currenta said.
Several staff were hurt, with at least two seriously injured, and five people were missing, Currenta said, adding it was not yet clear what caused the explosion and the subsequent fire.
Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency's mobile phone app warned citizens of "extreme danger".
Police asked nearby residents to remain indoors and keep doors and windows closed. Currenta said they should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gas.
Several nearby motorways were closed, and police said drivers should take detours to avoid the area.
More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro, Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, according to its website.
Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets for an enterprise value of 3.5 billion euros ($4.12 billion).