43,000 estimated dead in Somalia drought last year
A new report says an estimated 43,000 people died amid the longest drought on record in Somalia last year and half of them likely were children. It is the first official death toll announced in the drought withering large parts of the Horn of Africa. At least 18,000 people are forecast to die in the first six months of this year. “The current crisis is far from over,” says the report released Monday by the World Health Organization and the United Nations children’s agency and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya are facing a sixth consecutive failed rainy season. The U.N. and partners earlier this year said they were no longer forecasting a formal famine declaration for Somalia but called the situation “extremely critical” with more than 6 million people hungry in that country alone.
‘Eat chicken feet’: Egypt’s govt recommendation faces vehement criticism from citizens
A recommendation from Egypt’s government – to eat chicken feet – has come under vehement criticism from the country’s citizens. Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, is currently experiencing a record currency crisis and the highest inflation in five years, which has made food so costly that many Egyptians are no longer able to purchase chicken, a staple item. The most recent dietary advice from the state recommended preparing chicken feet, a protein-rich part of the bird that is often kept for dogs and cats, according to a BBC report published yesterday. Egypt is one of the countries suffering the most from skyrocketing inflation, which surpassed 30 percent in March. Read More: Argentines struggle to make ends meet amid 100% inflation Cooking oil and cheese, which were once reasonable necessities for many, have become unaffordable luxuries. Some product prices have doubled or tripled within a matter of months. The BBC report quoted Wedad, a mother of three in her 60s, as saying: “I eat meat once a month, or I don’t buy it at all. I buy chicken once a week.” Egypt is under a lot of strain in part because it relies significantly on imported food rather than homegrown agriculture to support its over 100 million-strong population. Even the grain used to feed the chicken is imported. Read More: Why another high inflation report may not cause Fed to hike In comparison to the US dollar, the Egyptian pound lost half of its value over the course of a year. As the government depreciated the currency once more in January, the price of imports such as grain rose dramatically. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi frequently attributes his country's present economic troubles on the chaos that preceded the 2011 Egyptian revolt and fast population growth. In addition, he mentions the epidemic that followed the conflict in Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine had a devastating effect on Egyptian economy. Egypt is the second largest wheat importer in the world, and the two countries were its principal suppliers. As a result of the disruption of exports due to the war, price of wheat and bread skyrocketed. Russian and Ukrainian tourists used to visit Egypt in droves; the tourism industry has also suffered financial losses. Tourism, which used to account for around 5% of Egypt’s GDP, has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Read More: In the EU’s inflation crisis, the humble egg takes the cake Egypt has requested a bailout from the International Monetary Fund four times in the previous six years due to its economic difficulties. These debts, which account for 90% of GDP, consume nearly half of the state’s revenues. Gulf nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have purchased state assets and are aiding Egypt, but they have also toughened their requirements for future investments.
In Zimbabwe’s rainy season, women forage for wild mushrooms
Zimbabwe's rainy season brings a bonanza of wild mushrooms, which many rural families feast upon and sell to boost their incomes. But the bounty also comes with danger as each year there are reports of people dying after eating poisonous fungi. Discerning between safe and toxic mushrooms has evolved into an inter-generational transfer of indigenous knowledge from mothers to daughters. Rich in protein, antioxidants and fiber, wild mushrooms are a revered delicacy and income earner in Zimbabwe, where food and formal jobs are scarce for many. Beauty Waisoni, 46, who lives on the outskirts of the capital, Harare, typically wakes up at dawn, packs plastic buckets, a basket, plates and a knife before trekking to a forest 15 kilometers (9 miles) away. Also Read: Zimbabwe, Uganda launch first satellites Her 13-year-old daughter Beverly is in tow, as an apprentice. In the forest, the two join other pickers, mainly women working side by side with their children, combing through the morning dew for shoot-ups under trees and dried leaves. Police routinely warn people of the hazards of consuming wild mushrooms. In January, three girls in one family died after eating poisonous wild mushrooms. Such reports filter through each season. A few years ago 10 family members died after consuming poisonous mushrooms. To avoid such a deadly outcome, Waisoni teaches her daughter how to identify safe mushrooms. “She will kill people, and the business, if she gets it wrong,” said Waisoni, who says she started picking wild mushrooms as a young girl. Within hours, her baskets and buckets become filled up with small red and brown buttons covered in dirt. Women such as Waisoni are dominant players in Zimbabwe's mushroom trade, said Wonder Ngezimana, an associate professor of horticulture at the Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology. “Predominantly women have been gatherers and they normally go with their daughters. They transfer the indigenous knowledge from one generation to the other,” Ngezimana told The Associated Press. They distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous ones by breaking and detecting “milk-like liquid oozing out,” and by scrutinizing the color beneath and the top of the mushrooms, he said. They also look for good collection points such as anthills, the areas near certain types of indigenous trees and decomposing baobab trees, he said. About one in four women who forage for wild mushrooms are often accompanied by their daughters, according to research carried out by Ngezimana and colleagues at the university in 2021. In “just few cases” — 1.4% — mothers were accompanied by a boy child. “Mothers were better knowledgeable of wild edible mushrooms compared to their counterparts — fathers,” noted the researchers. The researchers interviewed close to 100 people and observed mushroom collection in Binga, a district in western Zimbabwe where growing Zimbabwe's staple food, maize, is largely unviable due to droughts and poor land quality. Many families in the Binga are too poor to afford basic food and other items. So mushroom season is important for the families. On average, each family made just over $100 a month from selling wild mushrooms, in addition to relying on the fungi for their own household food consumption, according to the research. In large part due to harsh weather conditions, about a quarter of Zimbabwe's 15 million people are food insecure, meaning that they’re not sure where their next meal will come from, according to aid agencies. Zimbabwe has one of the world's highest rates of food inflation at 264%, according to the International Monetary Fund. To promote safe mushroom consumption and year-round income generation, the government is promoting small-scale commercial production of certain types such as oyster mushrooms. But it appears the wild ones remain the most popular. “They come in as a better delicacy. Even the aroma is totally different to that of the mushroom we do on a commercial aspect, so people love them and in the process communities make some money,” said Ngezimana. Waisoni, the Harare trader, says the wild mushrooms have helped her put children through school and also weather the harsh economic conditions that have battered Zimbabwe for the past two decades. Her pre-dawn trip to the forest marks just the beginning of a day-long process. From the bush, Waisoni heads to a busy highway. Using a knife and water, she cleans the mushrooms before joining the stiff competition of other mushroom sellers hoping to attract passing motorists. A speeding motorist hooted frantically to warn traders on the sides of the road to move away. Instead, the sellers charged forward, tripping over each other in hopes of scoring a sale. One motorist, Simbisai Rusenya, stopped and said he can’t pass the seasonal wild mushrooms. But, aware of the reported deaths from poisonous ones, he needed some convincing before buying. “Looks appetizing, but won’t it kill my family?” he asked. Waisoni randomly picked a button from her basket and calmly chewed it to reassure him. “See?" she said, "It’s safe!”
Hundreds dead as Cyclone Freddy wrecks Malawi, Mozambique
The devastating Tropical Cyclone Freddy which has devastated southern Africa in a rare second landfall has killed at least 216 people in Malawi and Mozambique since Saturday night, with the death toll expected to rise. Heavy rains that triggered floods and mudslides have killed 199 people in Malawi, authorities said Tuesday. President Lazarus Chakwera declared a “state of disaster” in the country's southern region and the now-ravaged commercial capital, Blantyre. Some 19,000 people in the south of the nation have been displaced, according to Malawi’s disaster management directorate. “Power and communications are down in many affected areas, hindering aid operations,” said Stephane Dujarric, the U.N. Secretary General’s spokesperson at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. The most affected regions remain inaccessible so the full extent of the damage is so far unknown. Reports from Mozambique’s disaster institute on Tuesday confirmed that 17 people have died in the country and 1,900 homes have been destroyed in the coastal Zambezia province. Tens of thousands of people are still holed up in storm shelters and accommodation centers. Freddy will continue to thump central Mozambique and southern Malawi with extreme rainfall before it exits back to the sea late Wednesday afternoon, the U.N.’s meteorological center on the island of Réunion projected. Human rights group Amnesty International has called on the international community to mobilize resources and boost aid and rescue efforts in the two countries. Relief efforts in the nationsare strained and were already battling a cholera outbreak when Freddy struck. “It is clear that the official death toll will rise in both Malawi and Mozambique, as will reports of wrecked infrastructure,” saidTigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s east and southern Africa director. “The affected countries must also be compensated for loss and damage caused by the cyclone." In November last year, nations agreed to compensate countries affected by extreme weather exacerbated by human-caused climate change. Cyclones are wetter, more frequent and more intense as the planet heats up, scientists say. “Mozambique and Malawi are among the countries least responsible for climate change, yet they are facing the full force of storms that are intensifying due to global warming driven mostly by carbon emissions from the world’s richest nations,” Chagutah added. Cyclone Freddy has been causing destruction in southern Africa since late February. It also pummeled the island states of Madagascar and Réunion last month as it traversed across the ocean. The cyclone has intensified a record seven times and has the highest-ever recorded accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which is a measurement of how much energy a cyclone has released over time. Freddy recorded more energy over its lifetime than an entire typical U.S. hurricane season. Freddy first developed near Australia in early February and is set to be the longest-ever recorded tropical cyclone. The U.N.'s weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record set by Hurricane John in 1994 of 31 days.
44 dead as Cyclone Freddy pounds Malawi, Mozambique
An unrelenting Cyclone Freddy that is currently battering southern Africa has killed at least 44 people in Malawi and Mozambique since it struck the continent for a second time on Saturday night, authorities in both countries have confirmed. At least 39 people in Malawi's commercial hub of Blantyre have died with several others missing or injured, the city's chief executive officer told The Associated Press on Monday. Authorities in Mozambique reported that five people were killed in the country since Saturday. The deaths in Malawi include five members of a single family who died in Blantyre's Ndirande township after Freddy's destructive winds and heavy rains demolished their house, according to a police report. A three-year-old child who was "trapped in the debris" is also among the victims, with her parents among those reported missing, authorities also said. "We suspect that this figure will rise as we are trying to compile one national report from our southwest, southeast and eastern police offices which cover the affected areas," Malawi police spokesperson Peter Kalaya told the AP. The cyclone lashed over Mozambique and Malawi over the weekend and into Monday. It's the second time the record-breaking cyclone — which has been causing destruction in southern Africa since late February — made landfall in mainland Africa. It also pummeled the island states of Madagascar and Réunion as it traversed across the ocean. The cyclone has intensified a record seven times and has the highest-ever recorded accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which is a measurement of how much energy a cyclone has released over time. Freddy recorded more energy over its lifetime than an entire typical U.S. hurricane season. Freddy first developed near Australia in early February and traveled across the entire southern Indian Ocean. Its set to be the longest-ever recorded tropical cyclone. The U.N.'s weather agency has convened an expert panel to determine whether it has broken the record set by Hurricane John in 1994 of 31 days. Freddy made landfall in the seaport of Quelimane in Mozambique on Saturday where there are reports of damage to houses and farmlands, although the extent of the destruction is not yet clear. Telecommunications and other essential infrastructure are still cut off in much of the affected Zambezia province, impeding rescue and other humanitarian efforts. French weather agency Météo-France's regional tropical cyclone monitoring center in Réunion warned Monday that "the heaviest rains will continue over the next 48 hours" as Freddy barrels on. Mozambique's central provinces and Malawi have been identified as especially vulnerable to "floods and landslides in mountainous areas" by weather monitors. Much of the damage experienced in Malawi is in homes built in areas prohibited by law such as in mountainous regions or near rivers where they are battling landslides, unprecedented flooding and rivers bursting their banks. The cyclone has forced the Malawian government to suspend schools in 10 districts in its southern region "as a precautionary measure." Freddy is expected weaken and to exit back to sea on Wednesday, according to Météo-France.
IS group says it killed more than 35 ‘Christians’ in Congo
The Islamic State group has issued a statement claiming responsibility for killing more than 35 people and wounding dozens in eastern Congo. In the statement, posted Friday by Aamaq, the militants' news agency, it said it killed “Christians” with guns and knives and destroyed their property in Mukondi village in North Kivu province. It also published a photo of the houses on fire. The announcement comes after local authorities confirmed that at least 45 people were killed last week in several attacks on different villages by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces, a militia with links to IS. Also Read: Bomb kills 1, wounds 5 at press award event in Afghanistan Conflict has been simmering in eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups fight for power, influence and resources, and some to protect their communities. The ADF has been largely active in North Kivu province but has recently extended its operations into neighboring Ituri province and to areas near the regional capital, Goma. Efforts to stem the violence against ADF have yielded little. A nearly year-long joint operation by Uganda and Congo’s armies did not achieve the expected results of defeating or substantially weakening the group, said a report in December by a panel of U.N. experts. The ADF rebels are accused by the U.N. and rights groups of maiming, raping and abducting civilians, including children. Earlier this month the United States offered a reward of up to $5 million for information that could lead to the capture of the group’s leader, Seka Musa Baluku. On Thursday, AP reporters saw bodies lowered into a mass grave in Mukondi. Community members shoveled dirt over the bodies against a backdrop of destroyed houses and said the government wasn't doing enough to protect them. “As you see in Mukondi, it is always the same. ADF, which is always ill-intentioned against the Congolese," said Col. Charles Ehuta Omeonga, military administrator for Beni region. “We lost many of our brothers,” he said. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo has condemned the killings and is urging Congo’s authorities to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
Recycling lake litter, Ugandan makes innovative tourist boat
Flowering plants rise as if by magic from Lake Victoria onto a wooden boat, giving it a leafy ambiance that enchants many visitors. The initial attraction becomes more compelling when tourists to Uganda learn that the greenery emerges from an innovative recycling project which uses thousands of dirt-encrusted plastic bottles to anchor the boat. Former tour guide James Kateeba started building the boat in 2017 in response to the tons of plastic waste he saw in the lake after heavy rains. He realized the vessel could serve as an example of a sustainable business on the shores of Lake Victoria: a floating restaurant and bar that could be unmoored to drift for pleasure. Also Read: Zimbabwe, Uganda launch first satellites Many who come to relax here in Luzira, a lakeside suburb of Uganda's capital, Kampala, know nothing of the boat’s backstory. Kateeba insists it’s first and foremost “a conservation effort,” one man’s attempt to protect one of Africa's great lakes from degradation. Lake Victoria is the world’s second-largest freshwater lake and spans three countries. Yet it is plagued by runoff waste and other pollution, sand mining and a decline in water levels due in part to climate change. Layers of plastic waste float near some beaches during the rainy season, a visible sign of the pollution that's a worry for fishing communities heavily dependent on the lake. “The fact that we had a problem of pollution as a country ... I decided to design something out of the ordinary,” Kateeba said, surveying the lake horizon tinged with a green substance that indicates contaminants from a nearby brewery. Also Read: China's ZTE, local telecom firm start 5G technology trial in Uganda He started by asking fishermen from nearby landing sites to collect plastic bottles for a small fee. He received more than 10 tons of bottles within six months. Batches were tied up in fishing nets and daubed with solid dirt, creating the firm bases upon which the boat is moored and that are also fertile ground for climbing tropical plants. Today, the boat, marketed as the Floating Island, can comfortably serve 100 visitors at a time, Kateeba said. “This is morning glory,” he said proudly, caressing a vibrant flowering vine one recent afternoon as he prepared to unmoor the boat for the enjoyment of his customers. Elsewhere on the boat, a group of TikToking teenagers danced. Upstairs, a carpenter was building a new wooden sun deck. Jaro Matusiewicz, a businessman visiting from Greece, said he had “never seen a place like this,” praising the boat's “accommodative” atmosphere as he dug into fish and chips. “This is a very good idea,” he said. “If he’s collecting the bottles and using them, it’s fantastic! ... You are not only cleaning the environment but also providing something unique, very unique.” A similar project was launched in 2018 on the beaches of Kenya, where a small boat, known as the Flipflopi, was built entirely from recycled plastic that once littered sandy shores and towns along the Indian Ocean. In 2021 the Flipflopi went on a voyage on Lake Victoria “to raise awareness of the pollution plaguing the region’s most critical freshwater ecosystem, ” according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Kateeba said he hopes his boat is exemplary. “I am sure, with some bit of experience that we gain from this, we should be able to encourage other people to design things,” he said. “Other methods, not necessarily this type ... of trying to deal with plastic pollution on Lake Victoria.”
Egypt sentences 14, including activists on terrorism charges
Egypt on Sunday sentenced 14 people, including rights activists, to prison terms ranging between five and 15 years on terrorism-related charges in a trial deplored by rights groups as unfair. The verdicts — the latest mass sentencings in Egypt — were reported by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the country's most prominent human rights. The suspects were arrested in 2018 as part of a wide-ranging crackdown by authorities on dissent. Two activist lawyers — Ezzat Ghoniem of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms and Mohamed Abu Horarira — were sentenced to 15 years in prison each. They were convicted of joining and funding a terrorist group, which is government parlance for the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian authorities designated the Islamist group a terrorist organization in 2013, the year the military removed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Brotherhood, from power after a year of divisive rule. Also Read: COP27: Momen thanks Egypt for focusing on "loss and damage" issue Abu Horarira's wife, Aisha el-Shater, who is also the daughter of Khairat el-Shater, long seen as the Brotherhood’s most powerful leader, was sentenced to 10 years on charges that also included disseminating false news on allegations of rights abuses by security forces. Huda Abdel-Moneim, another lawyer and activist, was handed a five-year sentence. The court added a five-year probation period at the end of each sentence of those convicted, which includes a travel ban and an order to regularly report to a police station. Amnesty International and other rights group have decried the arrest of the 14 and said their trial reflected “gross violations of their right to a fair trial.” Sunday’s verdicts are not subject to appeal and only the country’s president has the authority to pardon or throw out the sentences. Rights groups have repeatedly criticized mass sentencings, common over the past years in Egypt in trials related to the Brotherhood or dissent, and called on authorities to ensure fair trials. Egypt’s government has in recent years jailed thousands, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled the country's longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
Doctor in embattled Somaliland city says at least 145 dead
The director of a hospital in a disputed city in the Somaliland region says at least 145 people have been killed in more than two months of fighting between anti-government fighters and Somaliland security forces after local elders declared their intention to reunite with Somalia. Abdimajid Sugulle, with the public hospital in Las-Anod, told The Associated Press on Saturday that more than 1,080 other people have been wounded and over 100,000 families have fled the city of Las-Anod since late December. Most civilians have fled, he said. The director accused Somaliland forces of destroying the hospital’s laboratory, blood bank and patient ward in mortar attacks. “The Somaliland forces who are positioned outside the town have been shelling civilian residents and medical facilities indiscriminately. No single day passes without shelling and casualties,” he told the AP by phone. Somaliland’s defense ministry has denied shelling the hospital, and the government has asserted it has a “continuous commitment” to a cease-fire it declared on Feb. 10. “Indiscriminate shelling of civilians is unacceptable and must stop,” the United Nations and international partners warned last month. Somaliland separated from Somalia three decades ago and seeks international recognition as an independent country. Somaliland and the Somali state of Puntland have disputed Las-Anod for years, but the eastern city has been under Somaliland’s control. The U.N. mission in Somalia and the U.N. human rights office had said the violence in Las-Anod killed at least 80 people between Dec. 28 and Feb. 28 and more than 450 noncombatants were wounded, including medical personnel. The U.N. has called for respect for medical workers and unhindered humanitarian access. The conflict in Las-Anod began when an unidentified gunman killed a popular young politician in Somaliland’s opposition party as he left a mosque. Protests followed against Somaliland officials and forces in the city. Somaliland’s government has blamed the unrest on fighters with “anti-peace groups and terrorism” and alleged that the al-Shabab extremist group, affiliated with al-Qaida, has supported some attacks.
Nigeria's Bola Tinubu declared winner of presidential vote
Ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu was declared winner of Nigeria's presidential election early Wednesday, with the two leading opposition candidates already demanding a revote in Africa's most populous nation. Election officials' overnight announcement was likely to lead to a court challenge by his main opponents Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi. Abubakar also finished second in the last vote in 2019, then appealed those results before his lawsuit ultimately was dismissed. On Tuesday, the two leading opposition parties had demanded a revote, saying that delays in uploading election results had made room for irregularities. The ruling All Progressives Congress party urged the opposition to accept defeat and not cause trouble. Tinubu received 37% of the vote, or nearly 8.8 million, while main opposition candidate Abubakar won 29% with almost 7 million. Third-place finisher Obi took 25% with about 6.1 million, according to the results announced on live television by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Also Read: Nigerian delegation discusses Dhaka-Abuja trade potential with BGMEA Tinubu "having satisfied the requirements of the law, is hereby declared the winner and is returned elected,” said the country’s election chief, Mahmood Yakubu. The announcement came after 4 a.m., but celebrations already had started late Tuesday at the ruling party’s national secretariat where Tinubu’s supporters had gathered in anticipation of his victory. “None of the others matches his record!” said Babafemi Akin as he chatted excitedly about the prospects of a Tinubu administration. “I am sure he will do well.” Tinubu, 70, is the former governor of Lagos state, home to Nigeria's megacity of the same name. However, he lost the state in Saturday's election to Obi, who drew a strong following among younger voters eager for change. The parties now have three weeks to appeal results, but an election can be invalidated only if it's proven the national electoral body largely didn’t follow the law and acted in ways that could have changed the result. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has never overturned a presidential election, though court challenges are common, including by outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, who doggedly fought his past election losses for months in vain. Nigeria’s presidential election has been closely watched as the country is not only the continent’s largest economy but it is also one of the continent’s top oil producers. Observers have said Saturday’s election was mostly peaceful, though delays caused some voters to wait until the following day to cast their ballots. Many Nigerians had difficulties getting to their polling stations because of a currency redesign that resulted in a shortage of bank notes.