Somalia hit by worst desert locust invasion in 25 years

By Giulia Paravicini

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Desert locusts are destroying tens of thousands of hectares of crops and grazing land in Somalia in the worst invasion in 25 years, the United Nations food agency said on Wednesday, and the infestation is likely to spread further.

The locusts have damaged about 70,000 hectares of land in Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia, threatening food supplies in both countries and the livelihoods of farming communities, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

An average swarm will destroy crops that could feed 2,500 people for a year, the FAO said.

Conflict and chaos in much of Somalia make spraying pesticide by airplane – which the FAO called the “ideal control measure” – impossible, the agency said in a statement. “The impact of our actions in the short term is going to be very limited.”

Ashagre Molla, 66, a father of seven from Woldia in the Amhara region 700 km (435 miles) north-east of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said he had so far received no help from the government.

“I was supposed to get up to 3,000 kg of teff (a cereal grass) and maize this year, but because of desert locusts and untimely rains I only got 400 kg of maize and expect only 200 kg of teff.

“This is not even enough to feed my family,” he said.

The locust plague is far more serious than the FAO earlier projected and has been made worse by unseasonably heavy rainfall and floods across East Africa that have killed hundreds of people in the past several months.

Experts say climate shocks are largely responsible for rapidly changing weather patterns in the region.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw; Editing by Maggie Fick and Giles Elgood)

Malnourished Venezuelans hope urgently needed aid arrives soon

Yaneidi Guzman, 38, poses for a picture at her home in Caracas, Venezuela, February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Shaylim Valderrama

CARACAS (Reuters) – Yaneidi Guzman has lost a third of her weight over the past three years as Venezuela’s economic collapse made food unaffordable and she now hopes the opposition will succeed in bringing urgently needed foreign aid to the South American country.

Guzman’s clothes hang limply off her gaunt frame. The 38-year-old is one of many Venezuelans suffering from malnutrition as the once-prosperous, oil-rich OPEC nation has seen its economy halve in size over the last five years under President Nicolas Maduro.

Yaneidi Guzman poses for a picture next to her daughters, Esneidy Ramirez (R), (front L-R) Steffany Perez and Fabiana Perez, at their home in Caracas, Venezuela, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Yaneidi Guzman poses for a picture next to her daughters, Esneidy Ramirez (R), (front L-R) Steffany Perez and Fabiana Perez, at their home in Caracas, Venezuela, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Venezuelans’ diets have become ever more deficient in vitamins and protein, as currency controls restrict food imports and salaries fail to keep pace with inflation that is now above 2 million percent annually.

Growing malnutrition is one of the reasons Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido has moved ahead with his plans to bring supplies of food and medicine into Venezuela by land and sea on Saturday, despite resistance from Maduro.

Maduro, who denies there is a humanitarian crisis, has said it is a “show” to undermine him.

On Thursday, crowds cheered as Guaido led a convoy of opposition lawmakers out of Caracas on a 800-km (500 mile) trip to the Colombian border where they hope to receive food and medicine. Guaido has not provided details on how they would bring in the aid.

In response, Maduro denounced the aid, saying in televised comments that he was considering closing the border with Colombia and would close the border with Brazil.

Aid has become a proxy war in a battle for control of Venezuela, after Guaido in January invoked a constitutional provision to assume an interim presidency, saying Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent.

“I hope they let the aid in,” said Guzman, who despite holding down two jobs cannot make enough money for the tests, supplements or protein-rich diet that doctors have prescribed her. She and her husband make less than $30 per month and prioritize feeding their three young children.

Maria Guitia washes her son Yeibe Medina at home near San Francisco de Yare, Venezuela, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Maria Guitia washes her son Yeibe Medina at home near San Francisco de Yare, Venezuela, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

While there is a vacuum of government information, almost two-thirds of Venezuelans surveyed in a university study called, “Survey on life conditions,” and published last year, said they had lost on average 11 kilograms (24 lbs) in body weight in 2017.

On the wall of Guzman’s home in the poor hillside district of Petare in the capital Caracas, hangs a wooden plaque with the psalm “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”

Yet her fridge is empty except for a few bags of beans.

Sometimes she wakes up not knowing what she will feed her family that day. Mostly they eat rice, lentils and cassava.

While Guzman says she would welcome the aid, she is concerned the one-off shipment would be a drop in an ocean given Venezuelans’ needs. “You don’t only eat once,” she said.

Some political analysts say Saturday’s showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty towards Maduro, by daring it to turn the aid away.

LENTILS AND PLANTAIN

Some aid agencies like Catholic relief agency Caritas are already on the ground providing what help they can.

In San Francisco de Yare, a town 70 km (45 miles) south of Caracas, Maria Guitia’s one-year-old baby’s belly is distended and his arms thin. The pair live with Guitia’s five siblings and parents in a one-room tin shed with a dirt floor and no running water.

Work is scarce and they live off payments for odd jobs and a monthly government handout of heavily-subsidized basic food supplies. They have taken to inventing meals with what little they have like lentils with plantain from the trees in their backyard.

Guitia, 21, said her son had lost weight over the past five months until Caritas gave them some nutritional supplements.

The United Nations and Red Cross have cautioned against the politicization of aid.

The United States, which is pushing Maduro to step down, sent aid for Venezuela to a collection point in neighboring Colombia in military aircraft, in a show of force.

Guzman dreams of living once more not off foreign aid or government handouts but her own work.

“It’s not that I want to be rich, or a millionaire,” she said. “But I do want to give my children a good future, to make sure I can take them to the doctors when they get ill … and that they eat well.”

 

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Shaylim Valderrama in Caracas; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Diane Craft)

Too little too late? No-deal Brexit planning shakes service suppliers

FILE PHOTO: Protesters demonstrate against the possible stockpiling of medicines and food in the event of a no-deal Brexit in London, Britain. Aug 22, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

y Elisabeth O’Leary

LONDON (Reuters) – From Britain’s hospitals and schools to its prisons and armed forces, firms supplying essential public services have been asked by the government to outline plans for a no-deal Brexit.

But with exit day set for March 29, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to strike a deal to leave the European Union which is acceptable to parliament, leaving the companies worried that the government is doing too little too late.

“The government has written to some of us asking us ‘what are you doing in preparation for a no-deal?’ – which is timely, at eight weeks to go,” one industry source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I have never been in such an unknowing place in all of my corporate life,” the source added.

Private firms including Babcock, Capita, Serco, G4S, Mitie and Compass play a central role in providing Britain’s public services, which means they have to procure medicines, toiletries, food, spare parts and labor, much of which come from the EU.

Britain began outsourcing in the 1980s and private firms now carry out work with contracts valued at 250 billion pounds ($324 billion) for the government each year.

But their role has come under scrutiny since the collapse of Carillion last year, sparking a debate about how much public work should be done by private contractors.

Britain’s government has allocated 2 billion pounds funding to support Brexit preparations for 2019/20 which reaches across 25 government and arms-length bodies for both “deal” and “no-deal” scenarios. 

NO-DEAL NERVES

While the government says it is confident it will strike a deal with the EU, companies worry that may not be the case. If Britain exits abruptly, new customs checks could lead to major delays at ports with a knock-on effect on the supplies needed for them to provide day-to-day services.

“Companies are getting more and more nervous (about a no-deal Brexit),” a second industry source said, echoing fears raised by Serco’s CEO Rupert Soames who in December described the British business climate as “bad and getting worse”.

“I am increasingly worried we are now in a place where people are talking about supply chains and trying to guarantee them. But beyond stockpiling, nobody actually knows what no-deal might mean,” another source in the sector told Reuters.

A survey last week showed that factories had stockpiled goods in January at the fastest rate since records began in the early 1990s in case of a chaotic Brexit.

“Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority – but in December, we took the decision to step up no deal planning to ensure we are fully prepared,” a government spokesperson said of its plans.

Providers of services for the defense sector are among those who have been asked to share contingency plans.

Three sources said they had received a letter from the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Forzani last week asking about their efforts.

“As part of our no deal preparations, we are talking to suppliers to ensure any potential challenges or impacts are addressed. This is routine contingency planning,” an MoD spokesperson said.

($1 = 0.7710 pounds)

(Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Alexander Smith)

Economic downturn, Islamist attacks cause hunger to spread in Nigeria

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s economic slowdown, compounded by Boko Haram attacks, could mean 5.5 million people needing food aid in the volatile northeast by next month, double the current number, the United Nations warned on Friday.

As government troops advance against the militants, the somewhat better access for aid workers under military escort to Borno and Yobe states has exposed “catastrophic levels” of suffering and a “vast regional crisis”, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Inflation and soaring food prices come at a time when people have little left from the last harvest, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said.

“Because of Nigeria’s economic downturn, the number of hungry people could double in the northeastern states that are already so heavily afflicted by the conflict,” WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told a news briefing.

“Our experts are warning it could go as high as 5.5 million people by next month,” she said. “The drop in oil prices and sharp rise in the cost of imported staples has compounded the years of violence that these poor people had to suffer.”

WFP has delivered food to 170,000 people in northeastern Nigeria, but hopes to reach 700,000 by year-end, Luescher said. It is also providing aid to 400,000 people in the three other Lake Chad Basin countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Nigerian Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said on Thursday that the OPEC country’s crude output had fallen to 1.56 million barrels per day (bpd) as persistent militant attacks have taken out around 700,000 bpd.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in late July that severely malnourished children are dying in large numbers in northeast Nigeria, the former stronghold of Boko Haram militants where food supplies are close to running out. The aid agency warned of “pockets of what is close to a famine”.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said on Friday the situation remains dangerous and volatile, following an attack on an aid convoy last month. “There have been frequent ‘hit and run’ incidents by militants, including suicide bombings, attacks on civilians, torching of homes, and thefts of livestock.”

Armored vehicles and military escorts are urgently needed to provide protection for aid workers, he said.

“We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, and children with swollen faces and hollow eyes and other clear indications of acute malnutrition,” Edwards said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)