Record 45 million people across Southern Africa face hunger: U.N. food agency

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday that a record 45 million people in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community faced growing hunger following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries already struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019.

Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.

“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” the WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, said in a statement.

“The annual cyclone season has begun and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year’s unprecedented storms.”

The agency plans to provide “lean season” assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi.

To date, WFP has secured just $205 million of the $489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need, it said.

In December, the United Nations said it was procuring food assistance for 4.1 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population of a country where shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.

“Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure,” the agency said.

In Zambia and drought-stricken Lesotho, 20% of the population faces a food crisis, as do 10% of Namibians.

Castro said that if the agency does not receive the necessary funding, it will have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need and with less.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Jon Boyle and Giles Elgood)

Food shortages cripple Bolivia, new elections still uncertain

By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivians languished in long lines on the streets of La Paz on Sunday to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales crippled the country’s highways, isolating population centers from lowland farms.

Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the government of interim President Jeanine Anez had established an “air bridge” to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass barricades on highways surrounding the highland capital. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

Bolivia remained in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic leftist and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote-tampering. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday. But his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

Some Morales supporters have demanded Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, resign. They have given her a deadline of midnight on Monday to step down, and have called for elections in 90 days.

As roadblocks take their toll, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighborhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook over firewood.

“I hope things calm down,” said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighborhood. “We’re not getting any food or gasoline.”

Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike Monday, raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

POLICY RESET

Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez’s government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales’ resignation.

The Anez administration on Sunday renamed the state newspaper “Bolivia.” Morales called it “Change.”

Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales’ supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.

The local ombudsman in the Cochabamba region said police had used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.

Morales, in exile in Mexico, has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days, saying he would sit out the next election in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups this week to end the violence and push for “free and transparent elections.”

The European Union ambassador to Bolivia Leon de la Torre also met with Anez Sunday.

He said the E.U. would provide support during the “transition period” and work to ensure “credible elections…under the most stringent international standards.”

The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Britain and Germany have also recognized Anez´s interim government.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)

‘I need a blanket’: Lebanon winter storm batters refugee tents

Syrian refugee children stand near tents at a makeshift camp at the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Zeina Alhoujeyri

BEIRUT (Reuters) – At a makeshift camp in the Lebanese town of Arsal, refugees are burning their clothes trying to ward off the harsh cold as storms flood their tents.

“We have no fuel at all. People are tearing up clothes, burning plastic, whatever they can find to get warm,” Abdallah Mokdeh said in the border town.

“This is the worst we’ve seen in years.”

Since 2011, more than a million Syrians have fled the war at home to Lebanon, where aid agencies say most live in severe poverty. Tens of thousands are in Arsal near the hills at the border with Syria.

“The roads are blocked. We called an ambulance and it did not come,” said Mokdeh, a refugee who acts as a caretaker for the rows of tents pitched closely together on a patch of earth.

Floods ruined mattresses and destroyed tents, forcing some people to move in with their neighbors. Many were sick or elderly. Some tents already housed three families, he said.

“The snow, the cold have no mercy.”

Mahmoud Hakouk, a 60-year-old Syrian man at the same site, has struggled to stay dry. “I need a blanket,” he said, shivering. “I swear to God I don’t have enough to buy bread.”

The U.N. refugee agency said high winds, rain and snow had “heavily impacted” more than 150 informal settlements, including some that were fully flooded or collapsed. A child was reported missing, it said on Wednesday.

The heavy storm inundated hundreds of tented settlements across Lebanon and left youngsters stranded in freezing temperatures, the charity “Save the Children” said.

“It’s miserable here, we have tents that collapsed because of the intense wind,” said Radwan Raad, standing in the snow at another ramshackle camp in Arsal.

Many of the camp’s residents did not receive U.N. aid and could not afford food every day, he added.

Helem Amer, 85, wrapped herself in a blanket in her flimsy shelter at that camp. “I can’t get up on my own, there’s no fuel, nothing, nobody to help.”

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Alison Williams)

A ‘never-ending nightmare’ for Yemenis one year since blockade

A woman holds a malnourished boy in a malnutrition treatment centre at the al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC17865BEC40

By Heba Kanso

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One year after a Saudi coalition imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports temporarily halting life-saving supplies, Yemenis are still living a “never-ending nightmare,” low on food and fuel, a senior aid official said on Tuesday.

Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, is locked in a nearly four-year-old war that pits Iran-aligned Houthi rebels against the government backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the West.

For several weeks at the end of 2017, the Saudi coalition imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports which it said was to prevent Houthis from importing weapons. This had a severe impact on Yemen, which traditionally imports 90 percent of its food.

Jan Egeland, a former U.N. aid chief who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council said since the blockade, food and fuel imports remain low and prices have soared, leaving millions on the brink of starvation as violence continues.

“The past 12 months have been a never-ending nightmare for Yemeni civilians,” he said in a statement.

Here are some facts about what has been happening inside the war-torn country:

-The brutal war has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid out of a population of around 25 million.

-The U.N. aid coordinator warned that a further 10 million Yemenis could face starvation by the end of the year. More than 8 million are already severely short of food.

-Aid group Save the Children said a million more children in Yemen risked falling into famine, taking the total number to 5.2 million.

-Fighting flared this week in Yemen’s main Hodeidah port, where most food imports and relief supplies enter, leaving thousands trapped on the southern outskirts of the Red Sea port, according to the U.N.

-Western countries, like the United States and Britain, have called for a ceasefire to support efforts to end a war that has killed more than 10,000 people.

-After international pressure the Saudi-led coalition lifted the blockade but tightened ship inspections, slowing down imports.

-Soaring prices have put some basic commodities out of reach for many Yemenis and the central bank has struggled to pay public-sector salaries on which many depend as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.

Sources: Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Save the Children, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Reuters

(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Suspected cholera cases in Yemen hit 1 million: Red Cross

A health worker reviews a list of patients admitted to a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen

DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has hit 1 million, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday, as war has left more than 80 percent of the population short of food, fuel, clean water and access to healthcare.

Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, is in a proxy war between the Houthi armed movement, allied with Iran, and a U.S.-backed military coalition headed by Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations says it is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The World Health Organization has recorded 2,219 deaths since the cholera epidemic began in April, with children accounting for nearly a third of infections.

Cholera, spread by food or water contaminated with human faeces, causes acute diarrhea and dehydration and can kill within hours if untreated. Yemen’s health system has virtually collapsed, with most health workers unpaid for months.

On Dec 3, the WHO said another wave of cholera could strike within months after the Saudi-led coalition closed air, land and sea access, cutting off fuel for hospitals and water pumps and aid supplies for starving children.

The ports were closed in retaliation for a missile fired from Yemen by the Houthis. On Wednesday, despite a fresh missile attack on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia said it would allow the Houthi-controled port of Hodeidah, vital for aid, to stay open for a month.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Half of Aleppo residents want to flee, no food, fuel, no aid

A medic holds a dead child after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Half of the estimated 275,000 Syrians besieged in eastern Aleppo want to leave, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as food supplies are running thin and people are driven to burning plastic for fuel.

Food prices are rising and supplies are running out. Mothers were reportedly tying ropes around their stomachs or drinking large amounts of water to reduce the feeling of hunger and prioritize food for their children, the U.N. said.

“An assessment conducted in eastern Aleppo city concluded that 50 percent of the inhabitants expressed willingness to leave if they can,” the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an update on the Aleppo situation.

It did not say how many of the other 50 percent were determined to stay.

The United States and other Western countries say Moscow and Damascus are guilty of war crimes in deliberately targeting civilians, hospitals and aid deliveries for more than 250,000 people trapped under siege in Aleppo. The Syrian and Russian governments say they target only militants.

Aid workers in eastern Aleppo have distributed food rations for 13,945 children under 6 years old, but a lack of cooking gas makes it difficult to cook what little food remains.

MENTAL HEALTH

“Reports of civilians rummaging through the rubble of destroyed buildings to salvage any flammable material that can be used for cooking are common,” the report said.

“Poor-quality fuel, which is made from burning plastic, is available in limited amounts.”

A liter of diesel fuel costs about 1,300 Syrian pounds or about $2.25, while a liter of petrol costs 7,000 Syrian pounds or about $13.70.

Psychological health is also suffering, the report said.

“Moreover, arguments among spouses have reportedly increased as many women are blaming their husbands for choosing to stay while it was possible to leave the city.”

Civilians are walking up to 2 km to fetch water, which is available from boreholes, and the water situation across the city is “of grave concern”, the report said.

“Local authorities in charge of the Sulaiman Al-Halabi water station shut off the electrical power to the station to prevent extensive damage should hostilities impact the water station directly,” it said.

(editing by Ralph Boulton)

Nepal Police Clear Indian Border Checkpoint by Forcibly Removing Protesters

Protesters along the India-Nepal border were forcibly removed by Nepalese police on Monday, allowing over 200 trucks who had been stuck there for 40 days to finally enter India.

The Agence France-Presse news agency reported that police used batons on the protestors and burned down tents that they were using to block the border checkpoint.

But while the trucks were cleared to enter India, trucks bringing fuel and other supplies to Nepal were being blocked by Indian customs officials. Nepal is currently under a severe fuel shortage that has brought the country to a virtual standstill, according to Time.

The large scale protests taking place in Nepal began in August after the country adopted a new constitution. Minority groups, including the Madhesi and Tharu, believe they have not been accurately represented in the new constitution because it divides the group into a number of states and dilutes their political power. The protests have also brought a political standoff between Nepal and India, as Nepal believes India is encouraging the civil unrest and protests and purposefully blocking their fuel supplies from entering Nepal.

Late last week, Nepal signed an agreement with China to refill their fuel reserves.

Since the protests began in August, 45 people have lost their lives, including an Indian man who was shot by Nepalese police on Monday. Nepalese officials report that the man was among a group of ethnic protesters who were attacking a police station with petrol bombs and stones, according to the Washington Post.

State Police and National Guard Deployed to Gas Stations in Sandy’s Wake

Tensions have reached boiling points at the few open gas stations in the northeastern U.S. resulting in State Police and National Guard being called out to protect them and keep the peace.

In New Jersey, the governor ordered State Police to be deployed to all gas stations along the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Area residents said that they needed gasoline for generators because they had no electricity. Continue reading