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Crisis’ to watch in 2010

Forgotten crises to watch in 2010
12 Jan 2010 11:46:00 GMT
Written by: AlertNet correspondent

An Ethiopian woman holds her malnourished child in a hospital in the eastern region of Ogaden which borders Somalia, Jan. 16, 2006. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens
An Ethiopian woman holds her malnourished child in a hospital in the eastern region of Ogaden which borders Somalia, Jan. 16, 2006. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens

LONDON (AlertNet) – Amid frequent headlines about conflict-ridden Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan, it is easy to overlook less well publicised emergencies in other parts the world. Yet some of these forgotten crises are likely to intensify in 2010, aggravating human suffering. Here is a selection of some of the under-reported humanitarian emergencies at risk of deteriorating this year. The list is by no means exhaustive nor is it any kind of ranking.

THAILAND’S RESTIVE SOUTH Drive-by shootings, a gun battle and three bomb blasts have ushered in another year of a violent and intractable – yet little-reported – conflict in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, where Muslim insurgents are fighting for autonomy in the predominantly Buddhist country. Since violence flared up in early 2004, close to 4,000 people – most of them civilians of both faiths – have died in the provinces, just a few hours’ drive from Thailand’s popular beaches. The number of attacks increased in 2009, unabated by martial law and an emergency decree which has in fact fuelled abuses by security forces, analysts say. Violence, such as last year’s deadly raid on a mosque during evening prayers, has become more brutal and bomb-making more advanced, the International Crisis Group said in a recent report. “For nearly six years, no security officials involved in human rights abuses have faced criminal prosecution,” the group added. Observers see no solution to the crisis in the near future, especially in the light of protracted political instability in the country, and expect relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Thailand to deteriorate, propelling the conflict. More background

VIOLENCE IN THE PHILIPPINE MINDANAO A push by the Philippines government and the country’s biggest Muslim rebel group to sign a deal by April to end four decades of conflict is unlikely to bring immediate peace to the Mindanao region where feuding clans, rampant corruption and easy access to arms have also fuelled a cycle of violence and displacement. Violence is likely to rise in the resource-rich southern island ahead of presidential, parliamentary and local elections in May – as prominent clans, backed in some cases by civilian militia, vie for some of the 17,500 local positions up for grabs, observers say. The outlook, therefore, for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence in Mindanao is still precarious. Aid workers say that since peace talks resumed last month, the government has started closing some evacuation centres, moving displaced to areas that lack water, sanitation and proper shelter. They say the government is keen to show it has a handle on the situation and has delivered some results from the drawn-out peace process. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, grouping U.N. agencies and international aid groups, said in its November 2009 to February 2010 outlook that the conflict in Mindanao would continue to lead to high levels of hunger and malnutrition with more than 1 million people needing food aid. It said continued humanitarian assistance would be required for more than 230,000 internally displaced and members of host communities. More background

FOOD SHORTAGES IN NEPAL In 2010 millions of people in Nepal are likely to face serious food shortages as a result of poor harvests last year, high food prices and political turmoil, aid workers say. The impoverished Himalayan nation is emerging from a decade-long civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels that killed 16,000 people and devastated the economy. The conflict ended in 2006 but the number of people at risk of hunger has tripled since then to more than 3.7 million. Sustained high food prices, erratic monsoons and a 400,000-tonne cereal deficit have already forced poor families in the Mid- and Far-Western Regions of the country to skip meals, borrow money and sell off assets in order to survive. Political turmoil – played out in almost daily strikes by former Maoist rebels – often paralyses parts of the country, blocking roads and preventing supplies reaching areas where food is scarce or stopping people getting to markets. Aid workers say the crisis is a “silent emergency” where most of those threatened by hunger are poor or landless farming communities in remote, inaccessible areas. They warn that the number of people living with hunger is likely to rise further this year. “With prices for food staples like lentils and potatoes more than 60 to 100 percent higher than 18 months ago and a lack of economic opportunities, household food stocks in many areas are dwindling,” the Office of the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator (OCHA) in Nepal said in a statement. More background

INDIA’S MAOIST REBELLION In India, tens of thousands of tribesmen and women living in areas occupied by Maoist rebels in central and eastern parts of the country are likely to face increased persecution and violence as security forces step up an assault against the rebels. The insurgency, waged mostly from dense forest areas, has increased dramatically since early 2005 leaving tens of thousands of villagers displaced and hundreds killed, tortured or persecuted by both sides. The leftist guerrillas, who say they represent the poor and landless and want to build a Communist state, are accused of forcibly recruiting children, of widespread extortion and of using landmines and improvised explosive devices. But rights groups say there are also “widespread abuses” by government-backed vigilantes and security forces, who in previous anti-Maoist drives, have conducted arbitrary arrests, torture and killings. In late 2009, security forces began “Operation Green Hunt” – a targeted offensive against the leftist guerrillas in states such as West Bengal and Chhattisgarh. As this offensive gets fully underway in 2010 and a security assault spreads to other Maoist-occupied states, arbitrary arrests, persecution and increased violence against women are all likely, analysts and activists say. “The Maoist insurgency and the government counter-insurgency efforts can place civilians at serious risk if there is escalation of violence,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. More background

HUNGER IN GUATEMALA Guatemala is struggling to feed its citizens. It is a country with the fourth-highest child malnutrition rate in the world and almost half of its children chronically malnourished. The crisis shows little signs of abating in 2010. A prolonged severe drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, rising unemployment and persistent high food prices, combined with a decline in money sent by Guatemalans working abroad, mean that more people in the country are likely to face hunger this year. “The continuing fall in remittances means many families are not receiving the $100 to $200 dollars they used to receive every month, which is an important factor affecting the amount of food the poorest families have,” said Alejandro Lopez, a spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP). The situation is “critical” in the worst-affected area known as the dry corridor of Guatemala bordering Honduras and El Salvador, the European Commission humanitarian aid department said in a recent statement. Around 2.5 million Guatemalans are at high or very high risk of running out of food, according to government figures. Aid agencies warn this figure could rise if harvests fail this year. Families living in impoverished rural farming communities, already struggling to feed their children, face a knock-on effect from the previous poor harvests. “The last harvests were very poor with some farmers losing up to 90 percent of their production. This means thousands of families don’t have food stocks, a buffer, or any back-up to see them through to the next harvests in May,” said WFP’s Lopez. “If the next harvests fail, then people will face even worse food shortages and a very difficult situation indeed.” More background

OGADEN CRISIS IN ETHIOPIA The humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region is worsening, yet the Ethiopian government continues to deny aid agencies access. Ogaden is mainly populated by Muslim Somali-speakers. The area does most of its trade with Somaliland, Somalia and the Middle East, rather than the rest of Ethiopia. Formed in 1984 amid a resurgence of separatist sentiment in the Ogaden region, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is rebelling against the central government in a sporadic armed conflict. The true picture of the humanitarian crisis in Ogaden is faint but according to Amnesty International’s 2009 report, both government forces and ONLF fighters perpetrated human rights abuses against civilians. Last year’s drought destroyed crops and pastures, and water became scarce for the mainly pastoral communities there. “The aid community in Ethiopia is deeply concerned (by) the denial of access to the people affected by the conflict and the worst drought in the region,” said an aid worker who declined to be named. The aid worker said the Ogaden crisis is not only forgotten but “hidden by the government”. Analysts say Ogaden’s fate is tied with the situation in neighbouring Somalia, largely controlled by Islamist and extremist rebels, and Eritrea’s border dispute with Ethiopia – both crises that seem far from over. More background

MALNUTRITION IN WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA High malnutrition rates in West and Central Africa will likely worsen in 2010 due to drought, poverty and poor nutrition policies, aid agencies say. They say late and insufficient rainfall in West Africa’s Sahel belt may lead to food shortages, which would increase hunger in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and northern Nigeria. “We may not have situations in which whole countries are hit but we shall face sharp (food) crises in specific parts,” said Herve Ludovic de Lys, who heads the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in West Africa. The U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF estimates that in West and Central Africa, 6.6 million children under five suffer from life-threatening acute malnutrition and 23.9 million from chronic malnutrition which stunts growth. “We have areas in West Africa with high rates of malnutrition although they are actually bread baskets,” de Lys said. More background

CONFLICT IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC The humanitarian outlook for conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR) in 2010 is bleak but the country will continue to struggle to get the attention that its troubled neighbours receive, relief organisations say. Armed groups freely cross CAR’s borders from Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Fighting is likely to continue between the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and Ugandan Special Forces charged with hunting them down on CAR’s soil. Parliamentary and presidential elections set for this year could lead to more violence over ethnicity and politics. Relief workers are also finding it increasingly difficult to access people affected by the conflict and have become targets themselves. “The recent kidnapping of two aid workers in the east of the country (last November) will further restrict the areas where humanitarian workers can or are prepared to work,” Muriel Cornelis, of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO), said on the organisation’s website. CAR’s economy has been further weakened by the global financial crisis, which has contributed to a decline in humanitarian assistance. This could undermine any collective response to CAR’s needs, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the population this year, a United Nations report said. “CAR remains comparatively neglected on the international agenda, receiving less funding per head than any country in the region,” said Nick Willson, the Regional Programmes Manager for Central Africa at medical relief organisation Merlin. “Countries in crisis, such as CAR, need adequate levels of sustained support from donors and international stakeholders,” he added. More background

CHAD’S WILD EAST The security situation for aid workers in Chad’s volatile northeast could worsen in 2010. The number of attacks on humanitarians in the area doubled last year, according to the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency (OCHA). Two Medecins Sans Frontieres workers were kidnapped and released in 2009 while an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC) remains hostage. Aid groups and security analysts fear kidnappings could become a trend. Security will be stepped up with the arrival of additional troops for the U.N. Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). Some relief agencies, however, believe the extra troops will be insufficient since bandits also target escorted convoys. In December, they opened fire on a U.N. protected convoy and injured an officer of the local U.N. trained police force. With parliamentary elections due in November and presidential elections planned for early 2011, some humanitarians fear an onslaught by rebels. The last major rebel incursion was in February 2008 when rebels nearly took over the capital N’Djamena and caused over 30,000 people to flee across the border into Cameroon. “We all think there is going to be a rebel attack in the next few months,” an aid worker who did not want to be named told AlertNet. Spillover from the conflicts in Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR), armed opposition to the Chadian government, inter-communal and inter-ethnic tensions all contribute to the insecurity. Banditry also flourishes, thanks to the availability of weapons from renegade rebels. Aid work is vital to provide relief to tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees and internally displaced Chadians. More background


One response

  1. Your doing amazing work here, so glad to see this!

    Thank you for the mention, hugs

    We have chat rooms for disscusions for social change and building – please come use them to discuss ideas and projects with your members here.


    Thank you again, hugs


    February 15, 2010 at 11:54 PM

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