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Ravaged by Ebola and War, Congo Named Most Neglected Crisis of 2018

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With an Ebola epidemic raging and millions caught in a forgotten “catastrophe” of conflict and hunger, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was the most neglected crisis of 2018, according to an annual Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of aid agencies.

This year’s survey was unusual for the high number of “most forgotten crises”, with experts also listing the Central African Republic, Lake Chad Basin, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria and, for the first time, Venezuela.

But Congo’s “mega-crisis” barely made headlines, they said, even as the country gears up for landmark elections on Sunday which some fear could stoke further unrest.

“The brutality of the conflict is shocking, the national and international neglect outrageous,” said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“I visited Congo this year and have seldom witnessed such a gap between needs and assistance.”

Congo, where 13 million people in a population of 82 million need help, also topped the annual Thomson Reuters Foundation poll in 2017, but agencies said the situation had deteriorated.

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Six of 21 agencies polled named Congo as the most neglected crisis, including WFP, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, ActionAid, International Rescue Committee, and Christian Aid.

ActionAid’s humanitarian advisor Rachid Boumnijel urged the international community to redouble efforts to end years of conflict characterized by sexual brutality.

“It’s been a catastrophe for the country, and for women and girls particularly,” Boumnijel said.

EBOLA

Christian Aid’s head of humanitarian programs Maurice Onyango said the violence had caused “large-scale trauma”, with children witnessing parents and siblings being murdered.

An upsurge of fighting in the east of the mineral-rich country has also exacerbated the spread of the world’s second largest Ebola outbreak, agencies said.

The Central African Republic, where armed groups control much of the country and 60 percent of the population needs assistance, came a close second in the poll.

Listed as the most neglected by OCHA, UNICEF, MercyCorps, Plan International, and Caritas, the country has been racked by violence since mainly Muslim rebels ousted the president in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian militias.

Armed groups are increasingly targeting schools, hospitals, mosques and churches, while attacks on aid workers have impacted a “chronically underfunded” humanitarian response, they said.

U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said thousands of children had been trapped in armed groups or subjected to sexual violence.

“The crisis is growing increasingly desperate and resources are at breaking point,” added UNICEF emergencies director Manuel Fontaine.

U.N. appeals for both DRC and CAR are less than 50 percent funded.

“Central African Republic is in a death spiral,” said Caritas Secretary General Michel Roy. “While governments and the world’s media have turned their backs, we must not. It’s the only hope CAR has left.”

Plan International said the media neglected complex crises like CAR and DRC because they lacked the shock factor of a sudden disaster like Indonesia’s huge earthquake in September.

“MASSIVE FLOOD”

Yemen, at risk of the world’s worst famine in 100 years, was highlighted by Muslim Hands and World Vision.

“With three quarters of the population needing assistance, I can’t see how Yemen isn’t at the top of everyone’s list,” said World Vision emergencies chief Mark Smith.

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International Medical Corps warned the disaster in Lake Chad basin, where climate change and a prolonged insurgency by Boko Haram and Islamic State have left 11 million needing help, was also set to worsen next year.

Action Against Hunger said millions caught up in the “almost invisible” crisis – affecting Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon – faced poverty, hunger, sexual violence and child kidnapping.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the world’s biggest relief network, said hunger and disease following major flooding across Nigeria threatened to create a second protracted crisis in the country.

“I’m shocked by how little attention (this) has received. The figures are staggering,” said IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy, adding that nearly 2 million people were impacted, more than 200,000 uprooted and swathes of cropland destroyed.

“This massive disaster has gone largely unnoticed by many donors and journalists,” he added.

This year was the first time Venezuela featured in the poll.

About 3.3 million people have fled political turmoil and economic meltdown in the Latin American country – many driven by hunger or violence – and another 2 million could follow next year, according to U.N. estimates.

The United Nations has launched a $738 million appeal to help nearby countries cope with what one U.N. official called a “humanitarian earthquake”.

CARE said evidence on the ground suggested the real number fleeing was far higher than the U.N. figure.

“Given its scale, it’s incredible how neglected the situation in Venezuela is,” said CARE humanitarian expert Tom Newby. “The world needs to wake up to this crisis.”

Afghanistan was ranked the most neglected crisis by Islamic Relief Worldwide, and South Sudan by Save the Children. The UNHCR named Burundi while mixed migration was highlighted by the Danish Refugee Council. -Reuters

  • Emma Batha

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Coca Cola South Africa Improves SME Role In Value Chain

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Coca Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) launches an R20 million fund for small supplier development and procurement, annually, for the next five years.

This was announced by the Financial Director, Walter Leonhardt at Gallagher Convention Centre at the third annual Supplier Development Conference.

CCBS is the South African-based subsidiary of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA).

Leonhardt said the purpose of this fund is to assist young upcoming black entrepreneurs in the Coca-Cola value chain.

“We are, today, launching the CCBSA supplier fund of access to funding. To address the issue of access to funding which most SMEs experience,” said Leonhardt.

This will enable the entrepreneurs’ procurement process to be easier.

“It is to help them buy equipment, fund working capital and to help them overcome something we have identified as a challenge for upcoming businesses, which is access to capital on quit lenient terms,” said Leonhardt.

Budding entrepreneurs can visit their website to find out how they can access the funds.

There were over 120 suppliers of CCBSA in attendance.

Managing director of CCBSA Velaphi Ratshefola said they spent R2.35 billion last year, supporting 567 black-owned suppliers, of whom, 265 were black female owned suppliers.  

“So for me, it is clear that this is working. We have helped create a very inclusive economy. We need to play our part and we need to ensure that only through an inclusive growing economy we can create a stable environment where businesses can flourish.

“If we do not have a stable environment, a stable economy, we will have a lot of disturbances which are never good for business,” said Ratshefola.                      

“So for all of us, we should not do it just for social reasons, we must do it for the success of businesses and imperative,” said Ratshefola. 

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Zimbabwe Central Bank Borrows $985 Million From African Banks

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Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank has borrowed $985 million from African banks to purchase fuel and other critical imports with current reserves covering imports for just four weeks, underscoring the severity of dollar shortages, governor John Mangudya said.

The southern African nation last month ditched a discredited 1:1 dollar peg for its surrogate bond notes and electronic dollars, merging them into a lower-value transitional currency called the RTGS dollar.

Mangudya said the central bank borrowed $641 million from the African Export and Import Bank, $152 million from Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, and $25 million from Mozambique’s central bank, among others.

The loans, which would be repaid from future gold earnings, have a tenure of between three and five years and attract an interest of up to 6 percent above the Libor rate, Mangudya said.

Gold is Zimbabwe’s single biggest mineral export earner, accounting for a third of its $4.2 billion earnings last year after a record output, central bank data shows.

“These loans are well structured facilities contracted last year. They will be paid from future (gold) export receivables,” Mangudya told a parliamentary committee.

The central bank takes 45 percent of dollar sales from gold producers and half from other miners to fund imports like fuel and power and repay foreign loans.

But the miners only have 30 days to keep their dollar balances in local foreign currency accounts, after which they must sell them. The companies have asked the central bank to extend the period they may keep their dollars to 90 days, according to mining executives.

OVERDRAFT LIMIT

Unable to get funding from foreign lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank due to arrears of more than $2.4 billion, Zimbabwe has looked to financiers from the continent and local banks to shore up its budget.

The central bank chief said Zimbabwe had just $500 million in reserves, enough to purchase four weeks’ worth of imports.

Mangudya said government borrowing from the central bank reached $2.99 billion in December, about three times its permissible overdraft limit.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has promised to curb borrowing in 2019 under reforms to revive the southern African economy, after the budget deficit soared last year following a spike in spending ahead of elections.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said last week that the local RTGS dollar, Zimbabwe’s new de facto currency, will be backed up with fiscal discipline and the government would allow it to fluctuate but would manage excessive volatility.

On the interbank forex market on Monday, one U.S. dollar fetched 2.5 RTGS dollars, the same rate as on Feb. 22 when the central bank sold some dollars to banks. That compares to a rate of 3.5 RTGS dollars per U.S. dollar on the black market. -Reuters

-MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Volvo To Limit Car Speeds In Bid For Zero Deaths

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Volvo Cars said on Monday it will introduce a 180 km per hour (112 mph) speed limiter on all new vehicles as the Swedish automaker seeks to burnish its safety credentials and meet a pledge to eliminate passenger fatalities by 2020.

While Volvo, whose XC90 flagship SUV currently has a top speed of 212 km/h, has made progress on its so-called “Vision 2020” target of zero deaths or serious injuries, Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said it is unlikely to meet the goal without additional measures to address driver behavior.

“We’ve realized that to close the gap we have to focus more on the human factors,” Samuelsson said. Volvo did not elaborate on the data but said its passenger fatalities were already well below the industry average before the goal was announced in 2007.

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In addition to the speed cap, Volvo plans to deploy technology using cameras that monitor the driver’s state and attentiveness to prevent people driving while distracted or intoxicated, two other big factors in accidents, Samuelsson said.

The company is also looking at lower geo-fenced speed limits to slow cars around sensitive pedestrian areas such as schools, while seeking to “start a conversation” among automakers and regulators about how technology can be used to improve safety.

Volvo, which is owned by China’s Geely, announced the new speed limitation policy on the eve of the Geneva auto show, where its new Polestar performance electric-car brand is showcasing its second model, the Polestar 2.

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While Volvo buyers often choose the brand for its safety, Samuelsson conceded that the speed cap could be a turn-off for a few in markets such as Germany, where drivers routinely travel at 200 km/h or more on unrestricted autobahns.

“We cannot please everybody, but we think we will attract new customers,” the CEO said, recalling that the roll-out of three-point seat belts pioneered by Volvo in 1959 had initially been criticized by some as intrusive.

“I think Volvo customers in Germany will appreciate that we’re doing something about safety,” he said. -Reuters

– Laurence Frost; additional reporting by Esha Vaish

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