ANJEKY BEANATARA, Madagascar: With precious few trees left to slow the wind in this once fertile corner of southern Madagascar, red sand is blowing everywhere: onto fields, villages and roads, and into the eyes of children waiting for food aid parcels.
Four years of drought, the worst in decades, along with deforestation caused by people burning or cutting down trees to make charcoal or to open up land for farming, have transformed the area into a dust bowl.
“There’s nothing to harvest. That’s why we have nothing to eat and we’re starving,” said mother-of-seven Tarira, standing at a remote World Food Programme (WFP) post near Anjeky Beanatara, where children are checked for signs of malnutrition and given food.
More than a million people in southern Madagascar currently need food handouts from the WFP, a United Nations agency.
Tarira had brought her four-year-old son Avoraza, who has been struggling to put on weight, to collect sachets of a peanut-based product known as Plumpy, used to treat malnourished children.
“There are seven, so there wasn’t enough food. The Plumpy wasn’t enough for him,” she said, holding Avoraza by his thin arm.
(Open https://reut.rs/3KQ90Tj to see a picture package)
Like many others in the region, Tarira and her family have sometimes been reduced to eating a type of cactus known locally as raketa, which grows wild but provides little nutritional value and gives stomach pains, she said.
The world’s fourth largest island and one of its most diverse ecosystems, with thousands of endemic species of plants and animals such as lemurs, Madagascar projects the image of a lush natural paradise. But in parts of it, such as its far southern regions, the reality on the ground has changed.
“We used to call Madagascar the green island, but sadly now it is more of a red island,” said Soja Lahimaro Tsimandilatse, governor of the southern Androy region.
PRAYING FOR RAIN
The food crisis in the south built up over a period of years and has interconnected causes including drought, deforestation, environmental damage, poverty, COVID-19 and population growth, according to local authorities and aid organizations.
With a population of 30 million, Madagascar has always known extreme weather events, but scientists say these will likely increase in frequency and severity as human-induced climate change pushes temperatures higher.
The United Nations’ IPCC climate change panel says increased aridity is already being observed in Madagascar and forecasts that droughts will increase. At the height of the food crisis in the south, the WFP warned the island was at risk of seeing “the world’s first climate change famine.”
A study by international research collective World Weather Attribution said models indicated a small shift toward more droughts caused by climate change in southern Madagascar, but said natural variability was the main cause for the second one-in-135-year dry event since 1992.
Theodore Mbainaissem, who runs WFP operations in the worst-hit areas in southern Madagascar, said once-regular weather patterns had changed beyond recognition in recent years and elders in the villages could no longer figure out the best time to plant or harvest.
Mbainaissem said that after months of intervention by the WFP, other aid organizations and the local authorities, the worst of the food crisis was over. He said rates of severe malnutrition among children had dropped from about 30 percent a few months ago to about 5 percent now.
“When you look in the villages, you see children running left and right. That wasn’t the case before,” he said.
Communities and aid groups are already trying to move past the emergency phase and focus on forward-looking projects, such as a large-scale effort in the coastal town of Faux Cap to stabilize sand dunes by planting.
But in rural areas where people live in dire poverty, some of the trends that contributed to the crisis are still present.
For recently married Felix Fitiavantsoa, 20, who was burning down a wooded area to start cultivating it, the long-term consequences of deforestation were a secondary concern.
His urgent need was to grow food to feed his young wife, and his main worry was whether it would finally rain so he could get started.
“If there’s no rain, I don’t know what we’ll do. We’ll pray to God,” he said.
Sahel military coups only help terrorists, say security analysts
A new junta led by a young military officer seized power in Burkina Faso last week, the second such power grab since January amid extremist insecurity in the Sahel region
Updated 9 sec ago
PARIS: Burkina Faso’s new rulers say they seized power to better fight terrorists, but history in the Sahel suggests the coup will merely stoke turbulence and division, benefitting the insurgents, analysts say.
The poor, arid region has been wracked by extremist insecurity since 2012.
It began in northern Mali then in 2015 spread to its center and neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, claiming thousands of lives and prompting more than two million people to flee their homes.
A new junta led by 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore seized power in Burkina Faso last week, in the second such power grab since January blamed on failures to quell terror attacks.
It followed two similar coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021.
The latest takeover comes during a struggle for influence between France and Russia in the former French colonies, whose leaders appear to be increasingly turning to Moscow to help battle the terrorists.
But analyst Yvan Guichaoua said the coup would only serve the interests of the terrorists — the Al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the local branch of Daesh.
“The big winners are not the Russians or the French, but GSIM and Daesh,” said Guichaou, an expert at the Brussels School of International Studies. “What a disaster.”
Organizers of coups in the Sahel typically promise improved security, but these pledges are misleading, analysts say.
A putsch typically “destabilizes the army structure and divides members of the military into supporters and opponents of the coup,” said Djallil Lounnas at Morocco’s Al-Akhawayn University.
“It means instability, division and purges.”
Coups only compound problems in countries where the armed forces are already accused of inefficiency and mismanagement, and security forces are often under-equipped, he and others said.
Alain Antil, a Sahel expert at the French Institute of International Relations, gave the example of more than 50 Burkinabe gendarmes killed by jihadists in November last year.
Two weeks earlier, they had warned headquarters they were running short of supplies.
“They were hunting gazelles in the scrubland to eat,” he said, and were in no position to take on the insurgents.
“You can’t go and fight such determined adversaries with this kind of logistics problem.”
Disgruntled junior officers led by Traore forced out junta leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, whom they accused of failing his country.
Traore was declared president on Wednesday, three days after Damiba fled to neighbouring Togo following a prolonged standoff at the weekend.
But, said Antil, nothing indicates Traore will be any more successful.
“The myth of the enlightened military man able to fix problems ... very rarely holds up,” he said.
Soldiers are “often less well-equipped than the civilians they replace to understand” non-security aspects of a crisis.
GSIM this week mocked Burkina’s latest change of leader.
“Let the tyrants know that the repeated coups will not avail them,” it said in a statement.
Mauritanian journalist Lemine Ould Salem, who has written a book on jihadism, said political turmoil gives credibility to extremist talk that “delegitimises state institutions.”
“They say, ‘look, there is no democracy, no state, no constitution’,” he said.
Military coups in the Sahel have also weakened regional cooperation in the fight against the terrorists.
Since its takeover, Mali had a bustup with France, the country’s strongest foreign ally, which withdrew its last troops from the country in August.
The junta has brought in Russian operatives it describes as military trainers, but which western countries say are mercenaries from the Wagner group.
Mali has also quit a regional anti-jihadist force dubbed the G5 Sahel and antagonized its southern neighbor, Ivory Coast, by detaining 46 Ivorian soldiers in July.
Bamako “risks ruining all cooperation, including for security,” Antil said.
The Soufan Center think tank in a note this week said France had “served as somewhat of a ‘bogeyman,’ or an excuse to account for the growing strength of terrorists in Burkina Faso and the Sahel more broadly.”
Michael Shurkin, a US historian specialised in the French army, said there were also “many who believe in conspiracy theories according to which the French arm the terrorists.”
They “simplify a complex reality and enable people to avoid having to understand their own responsibility and find their own solutions,” he said.
MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from the southern Pakistani district of Mirpurkhas, Sindh province, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week, complaining of anxiety, and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
In August, Khan’s home and livestock were washed away in deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed almost 1,700.
The father of four has since been living with his family at a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst hit by the floods, where water and vector-borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normality is months, if not years, away.
Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said that intensifying climate change impacts, from fiercer heatwaves to flooded homes, were driving a growing mental health crisis around the world.
“Before the floods, I did not have any psychiatric issues,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent swatting mosquitoes and days with little food. “Now, I feel scared for my and my family’s future.”
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change, has highlighted the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading water-borne diseases due to stagnant water, urging the developed world to accelerate funding for a disaster that she said has no parallel in known history.
But little to no attention is being paid to the psychological toll of the catastrophe.
Already, the damage from the floods is reflected in a jump in the number of people reporting mental health problems. Over 2,000 people came to the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas between June and September this year to seek psychiatric treatment, at least a 10 percent increase from the past four months, according to data from the facility.
“At Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas, the number of patients coming to the psychiatric outpatient department has increased by 10 percent as compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” Dr. Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, told Arab News.
“The increased number of cases are flood-affected people who have faced trauma due to the widespread devastation.”
Mental health patients, most of them male, were also arriving at the hospital from the nearby Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added. Diagnosed mental health problems were caused by financial stress, as well as a lost sense of security.
The Sindh Mental Health Authority said the surge in mental health cases was mostly due to uncertain and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in the wake of the floods.
It would take months, according to the body, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province, where over 750 people have been killed, 2 million homes damaged and 435,000 livestock lost.
Officials say more than 2 million acres of agricultural land have been flooded countrywide, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.
“This monsoon and floods affected farming communities’ dual crops, standing and upcoming. It also washed away their houses and uprooted them,” SMHA Chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.
“At this stage quantifying the number of mental health patients related to Sindh flood devastation is difficult and the SMHA will conduct a study after the floodwaters recede close to the end of the year.”
Stagnant floodwater in agricultural fields means a large number of farmers are likely to miss the coming winter cultivation season, Khawaja said.
With the next cultivation season beginning in March 2023, many farmers will have no livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that is triggering mental health problems.
Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was assessed at 42 percent, while 85 percent of the 1,494 people surveyed had anxiety.
Among the participants, 10 percent were reported to have received a psychiatric diagnosis.
“Since the COVID pandemic is still continuing and so are its impacts, the devastation from floods has added to the mental health impacts (already) present in the society,” the SMHA chairman said.
“Floods have caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak because of poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”
The province also faces a shortage of doctors to deal with the surge in mental health concerns, Khawaja said.
“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”
Canada to ban leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards from entry
Canada plans to expand targeted sanctions measures and establish a sanctions bureau
Updated 23 min 53 sec ago
OTTAWA: Canada on Friday said it would ban the top leadership of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from entering the country and promised more targeted sanctions over the treatment of women in Iran and the downing of a civilian airliner in 2020.
Iran has faced increasing international condemnation and nationwide protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police. An Iranian coroner’s report on Friday denied she died due to blows to the head and limbs while in custody.
Ottawa is also still pressuring Iran over the Ukrainian International Airlines plane shot down in January 2020. As many as 138 of the 176 people killed on the flight had ties to Canada.
Canada plans to expand targeted sanctions measures and establish a sanctions bureau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his deputy Chrystia Freeland announced at a news conference on Friday.
The IRGC, a powerful faction that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces in Iran, has been accused by Western nations of carrying out a global terrorist campaign. Iran rejects that.
“The IRGC is a terrorist organization,” said Freeland, although the government stopped short of formally listing it as such.
The group will be classified under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a measure used by Canada against regimes accused of the most serious war crimes.
The move includes banning the top 50 percent of the IRGC leadership, more than 10,000 officers and senior members, from entering Canada.
“This is the strongest measure we have to go after states and state entities,” said Trudeau.
Listing the IRGC as a terrorist organization would have been an act of the domestic criminal code, risking unintended consequences and would have been impractical, a government source told Reuters.
Trudeau’s administration has been attacked by the opposition Conservatives for not doing so.
“1,000 days ago, IRGC terrorists shot down a commercial flight killing more than 50 Canadians,” New Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said on Tuesday. “Trudeau Liberals still won’t officially list the IRGC as a terrorist group.”
Why gains from Ukraine grain deal will not end Middle East’s food security crisis
The Black Sea Grain Initiative freed up blockaded Ukrainian exports, but food prices remain stubbornly high
As the value of the US dollar has increased, the cost of food and fuel imports in poorer countries has risen
Updated 07 October 2022
DUBAI: As food-insecure households in the Middle East, Africa and Asia continue to pay a high price for a war raging thousands of miles away, forces beyond the control of any single government or international authority are compounding the problem.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and the resultant blockade of the latter’s southern Black Sea ports, skyrocketing food prices raised the specter of increased hunger and malnutrition in many countries.
Despite an easing of that crisis following a four-way agreement in Istanbul on July 22, rising inflation worldwide and global supply-chain disruptions now pose a new threat.
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in mid-September with the aim of bringing down the rate of inflation in the US. But in the process, the value of the dollar has soared, which is causing prices of food and fuel imports to rise in less-wealthy countries whose currencies are plunging.
These new pressures come at a time when food prices were supposed to be under control, in part thanks to an agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey to create a safe maritime humanitarian corridor from three Ukrainian ports.
To implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a Joint Coordination Center was established in Istanbul that includes senior representatives from Russia and Ukraine, along with mediators from Turkey and the UN.
Implementation of the deal to resume exports of grain, foodstuffs, fertilizer and other commodities from the Black Sea basin — often referred to as Europe’s breadbasket — has been halting since it was signed in July.
Nevertheless, it has helped to lower the prices of staples such as bread and cooking oil in developing countries that had been pushed to the brink of debt default and starvation.
“In the month following the outbreak of the conflict, the price of wheat flour rose by 47 percent in Lebanon, 11 percent in Yemen, 15 percent in Libya, 14 percent in Palestine and 10 percent in Syria,” Abdel Mageed Yahia, the World Food Program’s country director in the UAE and representative for the GCC region, told Arab News.
“Global price fluctuations will not immediately dent domestic inflation in countries facing a toxic mix of tumbling currency values and high inflation. While there is no single solution to the food-security crisis in these countries and around the world, the (Black Sea grain deal) is an exceedingly positive development and a step in the right direction.”
Given that Ukraine was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wheat prior to the conflict, the blockade of its ports was costing the country billions of dollars in lost revenues and, at the same time, pushing up global food prices to alarming levels.
Before the invasion, Ukraine exported about 6 million tons of food every month. That figure had fallen to an average of just 1 million tons a month before the Black Sea Grain Initiative took effect.
As a result many countries, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa that import more than 40 percent of their wheat and almost 25 percent of their vegetable oil from Russia and Ukraine, faced a double blow in the form of acute food shortages and soaring prices.
The grain deal, described at the time by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a victory for diplomacy,” is designed to maintain Ukrainian food exports of 5 million tons a month.
“There is no solution to the global food crisis without ensuring full global access to Ukraine’s food products and Russian food and fertilizers,” Guterres said during a visit to Ukraine in August.
The agreement has undoubtedly helped millions of people who were struggling with the rising cost of living, as well as Ukraine’s embattled farmers. But according to experts, it alone cannot solve the wider problems of famine and food insecurity, the causes of which are much more complex and range from drought and climate change to bad governance and state collapse.
More than two months after the grain deal was signed, famine continues to stalk the most food-insecure regions of the world, particularly Yemen and parts of East Africa, where commodity prices remain stubbornly high, hunger-relief operations face disruption and drought are destroying crops and livestock.
The prices of imported goods and commodities have been rising in the Middle East and North Africa region since early 2021, linked to growing demand as economies began to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Domestic food prices have risen by more than 15 percent in more than 50 countries, while inflation is running in triple digits in Lebanon, Venezuela, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index, which measures monthly changes in the cost of a basket of key food items, prices hit an all-time high in March this year. By the end of April, the international price of some varieties of wheat had reached $477 a ton — an increase of 53 percent on 2021 figures.
“These rising global prices got transferred to local economies, particularly in import- and aid-dependent countries, compromising the access of already vulnerable populations to an affordable diet,” said Yahia.
A recent report from Deep Knowledge Analytics, titled Global Food Security Q2 2022, found that 868 million people in 25 countries are at “high risk and deteriorating,” based on an evaluation of their food systems and economic resilience.
* 345m people in 82 countries face acute food insecurity.
* 50m people in 45 countries are on the brink of famine.
Among the lowest-ranking countries are Syria (148th) and Yemen (160th), both of which are in the grip of multiple, overlapping crises fueled by war.
The report also found that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a 25 percent increase in the number of countries that have restrictions on food exports in place.
By the end of March this year, about 53 new policies directly affecting the food trade had been adopted globally, of which 31 restricted exports in general and nine limited wheat exports specifically, contributing to a further spike in prices.
Simultaneously, the price of fertilizers has risen by 30 percent since the beginning of this year, contributing to reductions in crop yields worldwide.
Despite all these supply-side challenges, there are at least signs the supply of Black Sea grain is stabilizing.
“Since Aug. 1, more than 4.3 million metric tonnes of food have been moved, bound for 29 countries across three continents,” Amir Abdulla, the UN coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, told Arab News.
Currently, the Black Sea Grain Initiative facilitates exports from three Ukrainian ports, feeding into the global food market while at the same time freeing up the country’s silos to accommodate the next harvest.
“Although the war had an impact on agricultural production, there is still a lot of grain, other foodstuffs and ammonia to be exported in the coming months,” said Abdulla.
Ukrainian grain silos held an estimated 20 million tons of grain in August this year. An additional 19.5 million tons of harvested wheat was expected over the remainder of the summer and 38.2 million metric tons of feed grain is expected in the fall.
“This means that storage and silos must be urgently emptied of last year’s harvest,” said Abdulla.
The grain initiative gives Ukrainian farmers restored access to export markets at competitive prices, as well as incentives to plan for the 2023 harvest, which will be critical in efforts to avoid another global grain shortage.
As of mid-September, about 140 vessels had sailed from Ukraine’s ports carrying more than 3 million tons of food, including critical grain supplies such as wheat, corn and barley, sunflower and other oilseed products, and soya beans.
Among them were four vessels chartered by the WFP to transport about 128,000 tons of grain destined for Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
As an aid agency that sourced 40 percent of its emergency wheat supplies from Ukraine, the WFP’s humanitarian response was severely disrupted by the Russian invasion.
Understandably, therefore, the “WFP has supported the Black Sea Grain Initiative, providing expert advice on shipping and logistics during negotiations,” Yahia said.
The MV Brave Commander was the first ship chartered by the WFP under the initiative. It transported about 30,000 tons of wheat — enough to feed 1.5 million people for a month — to Ethiopia, where prolonged drought and civil conflict have pushed millions into acute food insecurity.
“In total, WFP has already procured some 300,000 metric tons of wheat grain from Ukrainian suppliers since the signing of the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” said Yahia.
While the initiative has provided a much-needed respite, most indicators suggest the UN Sustainable Development Goal of achieving “zero hunger” will not be achieved by the end of the decade.
In fact, experts say much of the progress that had been made in this area in recent decades is being undone by unforeseen setbacks and crises.
Underlining this point, Yahia told Arab News: “The world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.
“And the crisis may not yet have reached its peak; 2023 could be worse if we do not get ahead of the situation.”
‘We may suddenly arrive one night’: Erdogan threatens Greece, ‘annoying’ countries
Said Greece should take warnings about Turkey’s response to any threats seriously
Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country was open to a dialogue with any neighboring country
Updated 07 October 2022
PRAGUE: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Greece, and other countries that “annoyed” him, understood Ankara's message when Turkish officials said “we may suddenly arrive one night” — a comment that Greek and some other Western officials have condemned as a threat to a neighboring state.
Erdogan added there was nothing worth discussing with Greece at the moment and, at the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community, he accused Athens of basing its policies on “lies.”
He continued, at a press conference in Prague: “They are not where they are supposed to be, their entire policy is based on lies, they are not honest. We have nothing to discuss with Greece.”
He said Greece should take his warnings about Turkey’s response to any threats seriously, and also told the summit that he expects the EU “to call on Greece for dialogue on a bilateral basis instead of supporting illegal initiatives masquerading as unity or solidarity.”
In return, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said his country was open to dialogue with any neighboring country.
“Greece never provokes, and it always responds with confidence when provoked,” Mitsotakis said ahead of Friday’s meetings.
“It does not make sense to accuse Greece of raising the tension in the Aegean when Turkey even raises issues of the sovereignty of the islands.
“Greece is not closing the door to dialogue, we are sure that we have international law on our side,” he added.
Leaders from across Europe started meeting Thursday in Prague for the inaugural summit. The first gathering at the grand Prague Castle complex brought together a disparate grouping of 44 nations from the Caucasus in the southeast to Iceland in the northwest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not invited, loomed over the meeting as discussions focused on the economic and security turmoil sparked by his invasion of Ukraine.