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Russia accused of falling short on Sputnik V deliveries

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A group of countries have complained they only received partial supplies of the Russian Sputnik vaccine they paid for, the BBC reported on Thursday. Earlier this year, Russian officials said their country had the “capacity to provide the vaccine to 700 million people outside Russia”. Iran, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Angola, Bolivia, Honduras and Ghana are among those with a significant number of pending doses to be delivered.

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‘Taste this, it’s salty’: how rising seas are ruining the Gambia’s rice farmers | Global development

Voice Of EU



In the sweltering heat of the late-morning west African sun, Aminata Jamba slashes at golden rice stalks with a sickle. “The rice is lovely,” she says, music playing in the background as her son, Sampa, silently harvests the grain. But even if the quality is high, the quantity is not.

While once Jamba could have expected to harvest enough rice to last the whole year, this year she reckons it will last three to four months. After that, she will have to look elsewhere for a way to feed her family and make enough money to live.

“Things are different now,” explains Manding Kassamah, a fellow farmer and mother of nine, fresh in from the rice fields, empty water can in hand. “The rains used to come in plenty. People would work and have a good harvest. Now, we work hard but we don’t get as much rice as we used to.”

Manding Kassamah, a rice farmer in Kerewan
Manding Kassamah, a rice farmer in Kerewan, says the soil began to get saltier about 25 years ago but the process has accelerated in the past decade. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/Guardian

Traditionally, rice farming in the Gambia has been mostly done by women, while their male counterparts look after the groundnuts. But for years now the female farmers have watched as the land around them becomes increasingly difficult to manage.

Here in Kerewan, on the north bank of the Gambia River, they are battling the climate crisis on two fronts. Rising sea levels are pushing saltwater further and further along the river, which snakes its way across the length of the low-lying country, and prolonged dry spells mean less freshwater to flush out the salinity. The result is that the water in the fields that used to produce rice is now too salty, and the much of the land – more than 30 hectares (74 acres) – has had to be abandoned. For women such as Jamba and Kassamah, that is a disaster.

A farmer,on an expanse of salt
Almamo Fatty, a farmer, shows the layer of salt where there used to be a rice field. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

“These women are pushed out and they don’t have many other livelihoods to turn to like men,” says Muhammed Ceesay, 27, from the youth-led organisation Activista. “It pushes them into poverty. They are very vulnerable.”

The women here are relatively lucky, as they do have an alternative source of food and income in the form of a vegetable garden. They can grow aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and onions, and know that, even if they have dwindling rice supplies, they will have something to sell or eat. “It’s our tomorrow,” says Binta Fatty. “It helps us in so many areas because it helps us stay healthy and to be able to buy small things for our children. That’s why we focus on the garden after the rice fields.”

This backup is essential. Last year’s rice harvest only lasted Fatty about six months before she had to do what in Kerewan would once have been unthinkable: buy imported rice.

In the past 10 years, this has become the norm across the Gambia. “In this community there was a time when, if they saw you buy rice from the shop, they would know there was hunger in your house. Now, it’s the order of the day,” says Almamo Fatty, 63, no close relation of Binta, although the two joke that they are brother and sister.

“I don’t think you will see anyone in this community [now] who will say: I can farm enough rice to feed my family for longer than six months,” he says.

Binta Fatty, rice farmer
Binta Fatty’s rice harvest last year only lasted her for six months, whereas it once would have lasted for the year. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

His own is no exception. His son, Kemo Fatty, a climate activist who was part of the Gambian delegation to the Cop26 climate summit, has seen how his mother has become gradually less self-sufficient. “She has to depend on my pay cheque to actually buy rice that comes from China, and this has been happening for the past couple of years now,” he says. “Imagine, from having our own rice that we grew and ate all year round to having no rice at all.”

The Gambian government knows more needs to be done to protect its farmers from the impact of the climate crisis: agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, accounting for about a quarter of GDP and employing about 75% of the labour force.

But, from low technological capacity to poor energy supplies, the challenges for farmers are daunting. Almost all food in the country comes from rain-fed fields, making farmers particularly vulnerable to changes in precipitation.

And female farmers – who are expected to shoulder the burden of caring for their families as well as earning their keep, risk domestic violence as poverty bites, and are often unable to access the contraception they need to control how many children they want – are arguably the most vulnerable of all.

The Gambian climate activist Fatou Jeng, who was also in Glasgow for Cop26, says that although they make up about 70% of the country’s agricultural workforce, women and girls “face inadequate access to basic natural resources needed for farming”.

Writing for the International Rescue Committee website, she adds: “There is a great injustice at the heart of all of this. All too often, these under-represented groups, such as women living in fragile states, understand most about what is at stake and, therefore, the solutions needed to tackle climate change. Yet women in particular have been systematically excluded from the decision-making table.”

In short, if women like Jamba, Kassamah and Fatty are left out of the climate crisis solution, the solution may never be found.

Salt held up on the tip of a machete
Almamo Fatty shows the salt encrusting what used to be prime agricultural land near Kerewan. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

Standing on the boggy banks of a tributary of the Gambia River, Almamo Fatty gestures to the ground, the clay sparkling in the sunshine. “This stuff you see shining? That is salt,” he says, shaving off a thin layer with a machete. “If you taste this, it is salty.” And it is.

“Twenty years ago, if you grew rice here it would grow like this,” he says, gesturing to his shoulder. One field would have produced 20 bags of rice. Now, there are plans for a dyke to stop the saltwater, but he knows life will never go back to the way it was before the climate crisis arrived. “This land here, it was all rice fields,” he says. “Now it’s all abandoned.”

Additional reporting by Omar Wally

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G7 to hold emergency talks on Omicron variant

Voice Of EU



G7 health ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday about the new Omicron Covid-19 variant spreading across the world and forcing border closures, as experts race to determine the level of threat posed by the new strain, The Guardian writes. The meeting was called by G7 chair Britain, which is among a steadily growing number of countries that have detected cases of the heavily mutated new strain.

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Can the Gambia turn the tide to save its shrinking beaches? | Global development

Voice Of EU



When Saikou Demba was a young man starting out in the hospitality business, he opened a little hotel on the Gambian coast called the Leybato and ran a beach bar on the wide expanse of golden sand. The hotel is still there, a relaxed spot where guests can lie in hammocks beneath swaying palm trees and stroll along shell-studded pathways. But the beach bar is not. At high tide, Demba reckons it would be about five or six metres into the sea.

“The first year the tide came in high but it was OK,” he says. “The second year, the tide came in high but it was OK. The third year, I came down one day and it [the bar] wasn’t there: half of it went into the sea.”

The owner of the Leybato hotel, Saikou Demba
Leybato hotel owner Saikou Demba has watched the Gambia’s coastline crumble over the years. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

That was in the 1980s, before most people had even heard of the greenhouse effect.

But to Demba, 71, and many others like him, it was obvious even then that things were changing. The sea was coming in further and further every year, and the coastline, bit by bit, was crumbling.

Now, the Leybato has lost not only its beach bar but, at high tide, its beach: the sea comes right up to the bottom of the terrace and splashes over the top. The erosion of the coastline is clearly visible in the cracked paving stones and exposed roots of the coconut trees. The sea grass that used to carpet the ocean floor has gone.

“Those grasses were protecting the sea, but there are no more now,” says Demba. “I also used to see turtles, big turtles. Now, none. We are in a very sad situation.”

All along the 50-mile coastline of the Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland country, hotels and guesthouses are facing similar pressures. And, in a developing country where tourism makes up about 20% of GDP and employs tens of thousands of people, it could not be more important that they withstand them.

“We have already learned the lesson from Covid-19. Tourism is very, very important [for the country],” says Alpha Saine, front-office manager of the Kairaba hotel, one of the two most luxurious in the country.

After a prolonged absence during the pandemic, European tourists are starting to return to the Gambia, even if numbers appear significantly down. Saine hopes Covid soon “becomes history”.

Erosion has exposed tree roots and the crumbling coastline is affecting the terrace of the Leybato hotel in Fajara.
Erosion has exposed tree roots and the crumbling coastline is getting closer to the terrace of the Leybato hotel. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

The threat posed to the industry by the climate crisis, however, is more formidable in the long term, and no one appears to have found a solution that works for all.

On the beaches of the Kairaba and Senegambia hotels, the beating heart of the Gambia’s “smiling coast” tourism industry, a barrier of rocks has been laid that runs for several hundred metres along the shoreline, stopping the waves from encroaching too far. When the tide is low the beach is still big and, in the age of Covid, gloriously empty – but at high tide it is a narrow strip of sand.

That is not enough to put most people off. Taking a stroll in the sunshine with the waves lapping around her feet, Ann Eady – on her 15th Gambian holiday – says the barrier doesn’t bother her at all. “They’ve got to maintain the beauty they’ve got. It would be a shame for it to go,” says Eady, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

The rocks are effective, but Lamin Komma, head of coastal and marine environment at the Gambia’s National Environment Agency, is clear about the project’s limitations. “You cannot protect the entire coast with rocks. You cannot do that,” he says.

Komma, who is developing a coastal management plan for the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, wants the country to focus more on boosting its natural defences, for example, planting coconut trees and mangroves, which can help keep sand in place and absorb carbon in the process.

The rocky barrier on Senegambia beach
The rocky barrier on Senegambia beach will hold back erosion for a time but natural defences, such as planting coconut trees and mangroves, are a longer-term solution. Photograph: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

“Putting [in] hard structures, yes, it’s fine, but it’s very expensive and it only serves maybe a period of time,” Komma says. The other thing that needs to change is the country’s expectation that donor partners will foot the bill, he adds. “We cannot keep on relying on donors. We have to have mechanisms in place,” he says.

Over at the Leybato, where Demba breaks off from an afternoon feast of watermelon to talk to the Guardian, he seems in tune with this mindset. Not for him the rock barriers, or sea walls. “I have my plan: planting coconut trees,” he says. He has already planted dozens, and there are more to come.

But although hopeful and ambitious, Demba is also angry that for more than three decades he has been seeing the climate crisis coming and nothing has been done to stop it.

“I don’t think they’re listening to us,” he says, standing beside his crumbling terrace, referring to the political leaders meeting last week at Cop26.

“That woman, from Sweden I think [Greta Thunberg], they have to listen to the message she is giving the world: not for us now – I’m 71 – but the young people. Climate change is real. The floods, the fire, they are real. But we have no power to do anything about them. We are the victims, we in Africa, and we are powerless. We just want our children to have a future.”

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