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Raising cash for water: why Somalis are bypassing aid agencies in drought crisis | Global development

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The UN this week issued a stark warning on Somalia, projecting that 350,000 children could starve to death without urgent action.

The country is in the middle of a drought that is already killing people. Some regions in the Horn of Africa are the hottest they have been since satellites started recording data 40 years ago, according to an analysis by the World Food Programme.

Humanitarian aid organisations have spent billions over the years in this east African nation yet few Somalis have felt any real impact. “They spend all their money on overhead and salaries and we are left with pennies,” said Hodan Ali, director of the durable solutions unit for the Benadir regional authority, which contains Mogadishu, the capital.

Among a multitude of other costs, money has been spent on security and salaries – in dollars, in the lower six figures for non-Somali UN staff – and logistics, everything from fuel for cars and generators, to laptops, to secure conference rooms. Cash chunks have also gone to the Somali government for “statebuilding”. The government has yet to mount a coherent response to the drought, establishing a committee only in February.

All this before money reaches the bare necessities for civilians: food, water and medical supplies. Even the much-lauded direct cash transfer schemes, which many organisations now use as a better, more nimble way of getting help to those in need, come with huge costs for measuring their effectiveness. Consultants are paid in the range of $600 (£450) a day. These processes are considered necessary to prove to donors that money is not going to al-Shabaab, the insurgent group that controls swaths of Somalia and is embedded with much of the population.

Somali people fill containers from a temporary pool of water. A truck with 'clean water' written on it is in the background.
Abdulahi Abdishakur, based in the US, raises money from the Somali diaspora to buy water and sends it to remote villages. Photograph: supplied

Abdulahi Abdishakur (who goes by Nadeef) is one of a few Somalis mobilising direct aid. Like many, he feels bewilderment and anger with the UN and international aid agencies, which are seen as wasting time and money, complicit with the Somali government, and prone to misallocating resources and getting waylaid by politics.

Nadeef raises money from the diaspora to buy water from private companies that have drilled wells, and then to get it on to trucks. He does his planning from Iowa, where he settled with his immediate family in 2005, spending between $100 and $400 to organise water trucks to supply a remote village. He has relatives across Somalia and visits nearly every year.

“You can bring water for very little, but the politicians are focusing on elections,” said one Somali, referring to the protracted political crisis. They asked to remain anonymous but said they knew of water trucks that could be obtained for as little as $150, although it is now getting more expensive.

Adam Abdelmoula, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, does not deny the problem. “The absence of a functioning government for so many decades allowed humanitarian actors – including within the UN and among non-government organisations – to devise whatever interventions they deemed fit and implement them without any government oversight,” he said.

“This led to what could be described as a culture of ‘humanitarian impunity’. Given how long those practices prevailed in Somalia and the weak coordination capacities of the newly reconstituted government, some of that culture still lingers on and at times makes it difficult to bring the humanitarian and development actors to work together along the nexus lines to achieve collective outcomes for the benefit of Somalis in need.”

The Gedo drought relief committee (GDRC), a group that supports people in the west of Jubaland – in southern Somalia – has raised nearly $200,000 and funded nearly 600 water trucks, as well as distributing food, according to a member who requested anonymity for security reasons. The GDRC has been able to get the water to areas controlled by al-Shabaab, places where neither the government nor international groups can safely go.

“We the committee can raise funds for the affected,” the member said. “When we have enough cash we contact well-known clan elders and they convince al-Shabaab they [the civilians] need assistance the most. So we send them the money and they buy water and report back.”

According to the GDRC, no international aid group has been near the people it has supported, although a member does recall that one assessment was conducted last year. “They come just in time to gauge the mortality rate,” said Adam Aw Hirsi, a former senior government official who is now on the national drought relief committee, set up in February.

It is difficult to show the GDRC at work because al-Shabaab does not allow the use of smartphones. A few photos have been smuggled out, one published here, of a child in the Balanbaal area, controlled by al-Shabaab.

A child drinks water that has been brought into in an area controlled by al-Shabaab
A child drinks water that has been brought into in an area controlled by al-Shabaab

International organisations are helping only the few who reach camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in government-controlled areas, said the GDRC member.

“They are helping, but the question is, who do they have access to help? The plight caused by this drought is far greater than some few families gathered in an IDP camp. The people that really need assistance are those that are in hard-to-reach areas whose livestock have been depleted and have nothing left,” they said.

A failure to consult with people does not help, said Aw Hirsi. “The aid organisations failed to closely coordinate with the local actors on the ground and elsewhere. Close coordination will prevent a gap in aid allocation and delivery, and overlap in resources. Our committee has raised an alarm on both government and aid organisations’ shortcomings.” Drought relief money needs to go straight to “local hands-on actors” to have any impact, he said.

Politics also hampers relief efforts. The country is mired in an electoral struggle and there’s deep distrust between regions. Mursal Khalif, minister of international cooperation in Jubaland, has claimed that at least one plane loaded with humanitarian aid has not been allowed to leave Mogadishu.

Meanwhile Nadeef’s GoFundMe campaign in the US has raised more than $20,000. He has spent half on sending 70 water trucks across Jubaland, and half on food distribution.

The UN agency Unicef has not given a figure for how many water trucks it has sent out but says 110,000 of the 1.2 million people it has targeted have been reached. About 6.4 million people are in need of water and sanitation assistance. The agency says it needs $18m to meet its trucking target, and other support such as water supply systems and boreholes.

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‘There are snakes – but we attack the fires’: refugees fight flames in the Sahara | Global development

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Ahmedou Ould Boukhary knows he can get the call at any time, day or night from the local authorities in Bassikounou, a town in the south-east of Mauritania. Someone has spotted a fire in one of the villages perched on the edge of the Sahara. How soon can he and his men be there?

Boukhary leads the Brigade Anti-Feu – the Anti-Fire Brigade – a volunteer force of about 500 Malian refugees living in M’bera camp, towards the border with Mali, 11 miles (18km) from the town. When the call comes, teams of between 50 and 70 men pack themselves into the backs of pickup trucks and zoom out of the camp to deal with the blaze. Sometimes they travel up to 20 miles to put out fires.

A view from a plane of the vast expanse of Sahara close to Bassikonou and M’bera Camp where bush fires rage after the rainy season under the immense heat of the sun and the gusts of wind that spread the burning.
Malian refugees queue outside a distribution centre in M’bera camp for their allocation of food and feminine hygiene products
Two Malian refugee herdsmen watch their cattle next to a water trough in M’bera camp.
Members of the M’bera camp Brigade Anti-Feu drive to their training exercise. Before the rainy season, wildfires become a risk

With little more than axes and tree branches, the brigade helped to put out 36 fires in and around the camp since October, during the most recent dry season, which runs until June. The fires typically come after the rains, when scrubland, full of green plant life, slowly becomes a tinderbox.

Ahmedou Ould Boukhary, a founder of the 200-strong Anti-Fire Brigade who organises training for its members, at a tree nursery in the camp. A key method by which the community prevent bushfires is the creation of fire-breaks cleared of plant debris and other vegetation.

  • Ahmedou Ould Boukhary, a founder of the Anti-Fire Brigade, at a tree nursery in the camp.The brigade plants trees to replace those used for building and cooking

During a recent practice run, the trucks race into the desert. When they halt, the men jump out and start hacking at a small tree, passing its wispy branches around to use as makeshift brooms. They form a line, and start sweeping at the ground just as they would if putting out a real fire. Dust and sand billows into the hot air, which fills with the sound of excited shouts. The equipment may be modest, but branches used well are enough to stamp out many scrubland fires.

Brigade members arrive for a training exercise

“It’s a little tiring, it’s a little risky,” says Mine Hamada, one of the brigade leaders. “We have the courage to not be afraid. We’re brave – we go at midnight, we go at 1am, we go at whatever hour. We go into the bush. There are snakes, there’s everything – but we attack the wildfires.”

An influx of thousands of refugees escaping an upsurge in violence and rising insecurity in Mali since March has reduced the number of callouts this year. The hungry livestock they brought with them ate many of the shrubs and trees that would have posed a fire risk. Between October 2020 and June 2021, the teams extinguished 58 fires.

A man swings an axe cutting branchs from one of the many shrubs that litter the Sahelian landscape.
Brigade members practise a variety of different fire-fighting techniques. Some sweep, some swing and some hitting the ground aggressively with branches. In the background, a younger boy also practises. The Anti-Fire Brigade has acquired a heroic cachet. Teenagers can join once they are 18.
Members of BAF stand listening to a debrief from leader Ahmedou Ould Boukhary after the training session while dressed in long tunics and tagelmusts head scarves.
As ordered by their leader Boukhary, men walk in a diagonal line across the desert whooping and yelling as they practise a variety of fire-fighting formations

  • Clockwise from top left: a man chops long, bushy branches from a shrub – highly effective for beating back low-level fires; brigade members practise fire-fighting techniques. A younger boy also practises: the brigade has acquired a heroic cachet, and teenagers can join at 18; men practise and listen to a debriefing from Boukhary.

Founded in 2013 as an initiative between the Mauritanian NGO SOS Desert, the local authorities and the UN high commissioner for refugees, the brigade is among a number of volunteer groups that have sprung up in M’bera since the camp was established 10 years ago. The camp is home to about 80,000 Malians.

As well as putting out fires, the refugee fire brigade attempts to mitigate the risk of blazes by cutting down trees and shrubs to create firebreaks between patches of vegetation. The brigades also plant trees to replace those cut down to make homes in the camp and for cooking. These efforts are contributing towards the Great Green Wall – a massive reforestation project that aims to grow an 4,350-mile-long barrier to combat environmental degradation in the Sahel.

The men walk in a diagonal formation during their firefighting practice session, whooping and yelling

Miraculously, the brigade has only incurred one injury over the past nine years, Hamada says. Amid high winds, a man tripped and fell into a fire he was battling. His fellow firefighters were able to pull him to safety before he could be seriously hurt.

The volunteers say they take on the dangerous work, which often has them out in the field for hours at a time, because they want to protect the area in which they live. But they also do it out of gratitude – to pay back their Mauritanian hosts for the years they have spent as refugees.

“We must help les adoptants,” says Boukhary, referring to the local Mauritanians who, by accepting the Malians into their country, he suggests have “adopted” them. “We intervene to help them. Because we’re refugees on their territory. No one asked us to ‘Do this, do that’ – it’s our initiative.”

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Kiev Selling Off Country, Prioritizing Poland in This ‘Business Project’ – Russian Foreign Intel

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Previously, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Sergey Naryshkin said that Warsaw and Washington were plotting to “reunite” Poland with western Ukraine, with the statement branded “false” by the Polish secret service.

The Kiev regime has, essentially, already started selling off the country, giving priority in this “business project” to Polish neighbors, the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation stated on its website.

Poland’s aspirations are being facilitated by newly-adopted legislation in Ukraine.

“The new legal framework adopted by the Rada at the end of July offers special guarantees for Polish citizens and allows the sale of Ukraine’s industrial enterprises at a 50% discount, according to the SVR website.

Ukrainian flag and Polish Eagle on the building of the Polish Embassy in Kiev. File photo. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.05.2022

Poland Plans to Annex Western Ukraine, Former Lawmaker Claims



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The repeal of abortion in the United States leaves doctors in legal limbo | International

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On June 29, five days after the US Supreme Court struck down federal protection of abortion rights, Emily Diament, pregnant with her second daughter, was due for her 20th week checkup. Everything was going well in a pregnancy that “could not be more desired.” She will always remember it: it was Wednesday, at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the doctor told them that the fetus’s heart had stopped beating. “It was terrible. At that time, Ram [her husband] and I had to think: Where does the Supreme Court ruling leave us now? “All of this was new”, adds this 33-year-old public relations officer in an email: “a panorama full of unknowns and fears”.

The gynecologist explained the alternatives. The first, “induction,” was the least safe. It essentially means giving birth to the stillborn baby. The second, more reliable and less onerous for her, was to undergo a D&E operation, an acronym for “dilation and evacuation”. “The process is also faster,” explains Diament. The couple opted for the latter.

The couple live in New Orleans, “the best city in the world”, as Diament likes to define it. The Supreme Court ruling, which overturned the half-century precedent of 1973 by the ruling Roe v. Wade, gave power to regulate women’s reproductive health back to the States. Diament’s legislators in Louisiana, anxiously awaited the moment of a “trigger law”, ready to take effect since 2006. Three days after the ruling, a judge blocked the activation of that rule, one of the most restrictive in the country. But it was just a mirage: on July 8 abortion was outlawed in Louisiana even for rape and incest. And so it goes: after several comings and goings in the courts, the ban holds up, pending new legal battles.

Among the restrictions contemplated by the law is the veto on D&E unless the mother’s life is in danger, or the baby has already died. Diament’s case fell into the permitted categories, but her ordeal compelled her to tell her story. “After going through that process and talking to several doctors about their concerns,” she explains, “I know this happened to me at this exact time for a reason.”

Bhavik Kumar is one of those nervous doctors, pushed into legal limbo by the new rules. He is a consultant in the largest provider of abortions in the United States, Planned Parenthood, in Houston, Texas, another of the epicenters of the restrictive tsunami that hits the United States. He explains that an “induction” can last “from one to 12 or 24 hours”, carries more risks (“the same as childbirth”) and generates more hospital expenses, causing serious debt among less well-off patients. Some, however, prefer it, because “the baby comes out intact, and they can bond with it,” adds Kumar. With D&E, which uses forceps, mothers do not see the dead body.

Conversation between doctor and patient

And that is all that Kumar asks: that the matter be resolved in a conversation between doctor and patient, “without political interference.” “Since the law came into force [in Texas], the only cases in which we are allowed to intervene after six weeks is if the life of the person is in danger, or if there is no doubt that the pregnancy is not viable.”, he warns.

Kumar, like many of his colleagues, has doubts around the idea of “life in danger”. “It’s not exactly a scientific concept,” he clarifies. “Every doctor, every ER, every clinic, and every hospital may have their own theory of what that means. Now, instead of looking at the data and talking to patients to decide what’s best, doctors, hospitals and clinics have to consult with lawyers, ethics committees or administrators about what they can and can’t do. Meanwhile, they also remain in limbo. The precautions seem justified: both Texas and Louisiana threaten prison sentences of between 10 and 15 years to those who perform abortions outside the supposedly permitted limits.

A gynecologist thus defined the new dilemmas of her practice during an interview with EL PAÍS held at a reproductive health center in Des Moines (Iowa): “It’s terrible,” lamented the doctor, who asked to speak anonymously. “They make us choose between the Hippocratic Oath [the famous “Do no harm”] and the penal code.”

This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland decided to take matters into his own hands with a Justice Department lawsuit challenging a new Idaho law that, when it takes effect at the end of the month, will allow prosecutors to “indict, arrest and prosecute a doctor merely by showing that an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances.” The rule thus endorses the burden of proof on doctors (that is, to prove whether the woman’s life was in danger or not, for example, or if there was incest or rape, in cases where the law contemplates those exceptions). According to Garland, who warned that it would be the first in a series of legal actions by the Biden Administration to mitigate the effects of the new state laws, that provision conflicts with a federal regulation, The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

“D&E requires training that many physicians lack,” explains Diament. “With the new laws, it is likely that there will be doctors who prefer not to learn the technique to avoid its possible consequences. It’s not that we don’t have autonomy over our bodies, it’s that doctors can’t watch over our health either. This is not protecting life, quite the contrary. It’s completely surreal.”

“We must not forget that we are facing cases in which pregnancies are absolutely desired. First they have to accept terrible news, and then they are forced to go through a process that is very traumatic for many, and after that, a few weeks later, they have to relive the experience when the hospital bill arrives”, argues Gabriela Benazar Acosta, spokesperson from Planned Parenthood Latino, New York.

Kumar warns, for his part, that “medicine is a science with vast gray areas, no matter how hard these legislators insist on the contrary. No one better than doctors, in an empathetic dialogue with patients and their families, can know in each specific case what is the best way to act.”

These days, stories like Diament’s are emerging in the United States (“there have always existed,” says Kumar, “but now the spotlight is on them”). Stories of women who are sent home by hospitals with instructions to return when they get worse and are “really” bleeding (“And that, even when it is clear that there is no turning back,” warns the doctor). A patient in Texas whose water broke at week 18 and was advised to stay in the hospital until week 24 to keep her pregnant until then, which is when “viability” outside the womb is set to begin. Maybe then, the baby might survive (the chances, Alan Peaceman, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told NPR that the chances are “as close to zero as far as medicine is concerned”).

“All this means that some have to travel to other states because they do not want to wait to get even more sick,” adds Kumar. Since the Supreme Court toppled Roe, class and race are two factors that have surfaced in the debate on reproductive health in the United States. With this regressive wave, which comes after half a century in which women took for granted a protection that they are now denied, began an exodus of patients from their places of origin to States in which abortions can be performed. This has created yet another gap, between those who can afford to take vacation days, often unpaid, from their jobs and pay for the trip and the intervention, and those who simply cannot afford it. In the case of miscarriages, inevitable in between 10% and 20% of pregnancies, this different position in the wheel of social fortune can become, if things get complicated, deadly.

Translated by Xanthe Holloway.

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