Around 90% of Tigray’s People Depend on International Aid for Survival

GENEVA – A United Nations overview of conditions in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray province after more than nine-months of civil strife finds a society of staggering devastation, of ruined lives and livelihoods.

Thousands of people have been killed and two million internally displaced since Ethiopian troops invaded Tigray on November 4 to retake the province from rebel forces.

The United Nations reports millions of people are suffering from acute hunger, with some 400,000 on the verge of famine. Malnutrition is soaring, putting thousands of children’s lives at risk

Spokesman for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, says 5.2 million people—around 90 percent of the population–are now dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.

“There is extremely limited time left to halt the rapid deterioration of the food security situation,” said Laerke. “Trucks should be arriving into Mekelle every day.  Aid organizations estimate that at least 500 trucks of supplies are needed each week to meet the needs of people in Tigray.  That is not happening.”

Laerke notes only one 50-truck convoy of aid supplies has been able to enter Tigray since late June.

Newly appointed UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffith is halfway through a six-day mission to Ethiopia.  He is expected to travel to Tigray to assess the humanitarian situation for himself.

Observers say he will find a desolate landscape, full of traumatized people.  Laerke says civilians have been victims of multiple atrocities and abuse by the warring parties.

“Horrific violations against civilians have been reported throughout the conflict,” said Laerke. “This includes the widespread and systematic use of rape as a tactic of war.  More than 1,600 cases of sexual and gender-based violence have been reported since the conflict began…Health facilities have been targeted, attacked, and looted.  Only 16 out of 40 hospitals in Tigray are fully functioning.  Women and girls who have survived sexual violence have few if any place to go for medical help.”

Laerke says U.N. and private agencies are operating within an extremely dangerous environment.  He notes at least 12 aid workers have been killed in Tigray. This includes the brutal murder of three staff from the charity, Doctors Without Borders, on June 24.

The OCHA spokesman says money also is a problem.  He says U.N. agencies require more than $430 million to implement their life-saving operations through the end of the year.


Source: Voice of America

Uganda Lifts Some COVID-19 Restrictions

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Uganda has lifted some COVID-19 restrictions after 42 days, while others stay in place.  The lockdown of schools remains until, the government says, some essential workers including health workers, security personnel, teachers, and those over 45 years old, are vaccinated.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni Friday night announced the partial lifting of the COVID-19 lockdown after 42 days.

Museveni says the decision was made by the National Task Force after considering a decrease in cases, positivity rates and hospital admissions.

Among other factors, the task force also considered the degree of adherence to safety, procedures by the population and the effects of a continuous lockdown on the economy and on residents. However, there are still restrictions even with this partial lifting of the lockdown.

“Curfew time is maintained at 7:00 p.m. Number two, boda bodas are now allowed to move up to 18:00 hours,” Museveni said. “They are now allowed to carry one passenger. Schools should remain closed until sufficient vaccination of the eligible population of children aged 12 to 18 years old has taken place.”

Business centers are now required to clear pathways through rented kiosks and places of worship remain closed for another 60 days. In addition, outdoor sports events will be held without spectators, and bars and indoor sports activities remain closed until the population is sufficiently vaccinated.

With this partial lifting of the lockdown, Museveni says the National Planning Authority and task force officials project that cases could be reduced to 85 per day by the third week and 66 cases per day by the 28th day.  Officials are urging the population to observe standard safety procedures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

As of July 29, Uganda had registered 252 new cases with 29 deaths in the previous 48 hours.  Cumulative confirmed cases stand at 93,927.

Public transport has been allowed to resume with half the normal number of passengers and private vehicles are only allowed three occupants.

Ugandan Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng says the COVID-19 mass vaccination program was slowed down by the global shortage of vaccine because the demand outweighs production.

Aceng says the Ugandan government has issued a list of vaccines that can be used in the country including AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer-BioNtech, Sinopharm, Sinovac, Sputnik V, Sputnik Light and Moderna, adding that Health Ministry officials are doing everything possible to obtain vaccine.

“Government of Uganda’s strategy is mass vaccination of the eligible population of 22 million people, representing 49.8% as a means of optimal control of the pandemic and full opening up of the economy,” Aceng said. “In addition, consideration will be given to children aged 12 to 15 years with comorbidities.”

In his address, Museveni said schools should continue teaching online, something that has kept many schools and poor students out.

Ismail Kisule, a private school teacher says the past year has been difficult since his income has been cut.

“Since the first lockdown, we have not got any hope of going back to teach. Which means we have not been getting paid,” Kisule said. “So, when the government says they are going to wait until they vaccinate more people so as to allow us resume work, will worsen our situation and force us to drop teaching.”

Uganda has concluded the legal requirements with the COVAX facility to acquire 9 million AstraZenca vaccine doses. Additionally, an order of 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been requested from the African Union and a downpayment of $3 million has been made.

Uganda has received 1,725,280 doses of vaccine in the past week from China and Norway. It is still not clear when those vaccines will be distributed.


Source: Voice of America

COVID Infections Reach Record High in Tokyo

Tokyo’s metropolitan government said new coronavirus infections surged to a record high Saturday as the city hosts the Olympic Games.

The government reported 4,058 new cases, topping 4,000 for the first time.

The new record was set one day after Japan extended a state of emergency for Tokyo through the end of August to contain the spread. The extension also applies to three prefectures near Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka.

A new record for infections also was set nationwide Saturday. Public broadcaster NKH reported 12,341 new cases, 15% higher than the day before.

“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday in Geneva about the global COVID-19 outbreak that is now being driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox and that infections in vaccinated people may be as transmissible as those in the unvaccinated.

“WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year,” the WHO chief said, but added that the realization of the goals is “a long way off.”

“So far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only three countries have vaccinated 70%,” Tedros said.

He recalled that WHO had earlier “warned of the risk that the world’s poor would be trampled in the stampede for vaccines” and that “the world was on the verge of a catastrophic moral failure” because of vaccine inequity.

“And yet the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust,” Tedros said.  “All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa.”

“Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived,” he said. “Less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa,” with only 1.5% of the continent’s population fully vaccinated.

The WHO chief said his organization was “issuing an urgent call” for $7.7 billion for the launching of the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, a response to the delta surge that would provide tests, treatments and vaccines.

He also said COVAX; which provides vaccines to lower-income countries, needs additional funding.

“The question is not whether the world can afford to make these investments,” Tedros said,” it’s whether it can afford not to.”

U.S. President Joe Biden announced Thursday that civilian federal government employees must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing and wear masks.

On Friday, a reporter asked Biden as he was leaving the White House whether Americans should expect more guidelines and restrictions related to the coronavirus. “In all probability,” he said.

Biden also noted that on Thursday almost a million Americans received COVID-19 vaccinations and said, “I am hopeful that people are beginning to realize how essential it is to move” in response to the coronavirus threat.

The White House said the average number of people getting their first shot of the coronavirus vaccines this week was up 30% over last week.

Also Friday, Walmart joined a growing number of U.S. companies issuing mandates for its workers to be vaccinated, saying the policy would apply to all employees at its headquarters along with managers who travel within the United States.

The Broadway League said Friday that audiences will be required to show proof of vaccination to watch Broadway performances and will be required to wear masks.

Vietnam said Saturday it would extend travel restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City and 18 other southern cities and provinces for another two weeks to contain its worst outbreak to date, according to Reuters.

The extension begins Monday in a country that contained the virus for much of the pandemic but reports a total of 145,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths, 85% of which were reported in the last month.

A weekend lockdown has been imposed in India’s southern state of Kerala as it grapples with some 20,000 new cases daily, Reuters reported. Federal authorities sent experts to the area to monitor developments in the state that accounts for more than 37% of the nearly 32 million cases reported by India’s health ministry.

Australia’s third-largest city of Brisbane said it would begin a COVID lockdown on Saturday amid rising case numbers. Neighboring areas will also be subject to the stay-at-home orders.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that 80% of adults must be vaccinated before the country will consider reopening its border.

In Israel, health officials began administering coronavirus booster shots Friday to people older than 60 who have been fully vaccinated in an effort to stop a recent spike in cases.

Italy’s Health Institute announced Friday that the delta variant accounted for almost all new COVID-19 cases in the country at nearly 95% of cases as of July 20.

German officials announced Friday that unvaccinated travelers arriving in the country will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Saturday reported there have been more than 197 million global COVID infections.


Source: Voice of America

International Aid Cuts Could Affect Millions Across Africa

KAYA, BURKINA FASO – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to cuts in foreign aid from donor nations such as Britain, which this month slashed its aid budget by $5.5 billion. The funding loss is being felt in Burkina Faso, where it could shut down a group that helps thousands of survivors of gender-based violence and rape.

Britain has cut its annual aid budget, and so have other countries, such as Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

The largest international nonprofits say the shockwaves of the cuts will be felt by people across Africa in all kinds of situations and will result in deaths.

“For countries like the U.K. and others to be cutting their aid budgets in a global pandemic is extremely shortsighted, and we know it will put the fight back against poverty by many decades. So, the U.N. secretary general, for example, has called these cuts a death sentence, and it really is that stark for many people,” said Sam Nadel, Oxfam government relations chief.

MSI Reproductive Choices, a group offering family planning to countries in crisis, such as Burkina Faso, where over 1.3 million people have been displaced by conflict, is primarily supported by British aid money.

The cuts will affect large numbers of women, says the head of MSI-Burkina Faso, Dr. Toumbi Sissoko.

Overall, MSI has been able to assist more than 500,000 beneficiaries over two years, she says. She points to Burkina Faso’s context of insecurity, which she says makes women even more vulnerable.

“Alice,” whose name has been changed to protect her identity, received help from MSI after she fled her village in northern Burkina Faso when gunmen attacked.  She trekked through the bush for three days, seeking refuge, but then was seized by a group of terrorists.

Alice says they told her to put her daughter down before one of them hit her with the butt of his gun, knocking her to the ground. Six of them raped her, then discussed whether they should kill her but, she says, they concluded it was useless to kill a woman. They got on their motorbikes and left.

When she reached the relative safety of Kaya the next day, she was directed to MSI-Burkina Faso.

Alice OK? says a woman from MSI immediately gave her morning-after pills and advice. She was still traumatized and could neither eat nor breast-feed her daughter. She said that the woman at MSI encouraged her to eat and told her that her life was still worth living.

Flora Guibere works for MSI. She thinks that with the aid cuts, beneficiaries will be left on their own, and the funding to support them won’t exist, and many of her organization’s workers will be out of a job.

For women who fall victim to gang rape, like Alice,OK? it will mean they may no longer receive emergency birth control or support.


Source: Voice of America

Turkey Evacuates Panicked Tourists by Boat From Wildfires

ISTANBUL – Panicked tourists in Turkey hurried to the seashore to wait for rescue boats Saturday after being told to evacuate some hotels in the Aegean resort of Bodrum because of the dangers posed by nearby wildfires, Turkish media reported.

Coast guard units were leading the operation and authorities asked private boats and yachts to assist in evacuation efforts from the sea as new wildfires erupted. Video showed plumes of smoke and fire enveloping a hill close to the seashore.

The death toll from wildfires raging in Turkey’s Mediterranean towns rose to six Saturday after two forest workers were killed, the country’s health minister said. Fires across Turkey since Wednesday have burned down forests and some settlements, encroaching on villages and tourist destinations and forcing people to evacuate.

The minister of agriculture and forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli, said Saturday that 91 of the 101 fires that broke out amid strong winds and scorching heat had been brought under control. Neighborhoods affected by fire in five provinces were declared disaster zones by Turkey’s emergency and disaster authority.

Government assistance

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inspected some damage Saturday from a helicopter.

Speaking from the town of Manavgat, Erdogan announced that the Turkish government would cover the rents for people affected by fire and rebuild their homes. He said taxes, social security and credit payments would be postponed for those affected and small businesses would be offered credit with zero interest.

“We cannot do anything beyond wishing the mercy of God for the lives we have lost, but we can replace everything that was burned,” he said.

Erdogan said the number of planes fighting the fires had been increased from six to 13, including planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and that thousands of Turkish personnel, as well as dozens of helicopters and drones, were assisting the firefighting efforts.

At least five people have died from the fires in Manavgat and one died in Marmaris. Both towns are Mediterranean tourist destinations. Tourism is an important source of revenue for Turkey, and business owners were hoping this summer would be much better than last year, when pandemic travel restrictions caused tourism to plummet.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 400 people affected by the fires in Manavgat were treated at hospitals and released, while 10 others were still hospitalized for fire injuries. In Marmaris, 159 people were treated at a hospital and one person was still undergoing treatment for burns.

In southern Hatay province, flames jumped into populated areas but later apparently were brought under control.

Common occurrences

Wildfires are common in Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions during the arid summer months. Turkey has blamed some previous forest fires on arson or outlawed Kurdish militants. Erdogan said Saturday that authorities were investigating the possibility of “sabotage” causing fires.

Meanwhile, a heat wave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean.

Firefighters on the Italian island of Sicily battled dozens of blazes Saturday fueled by high temperatures, prompting the region’s governor to request assistance from Rome. Some 150 people trapped in two seaside areas in the city of Catania were evacuated late Friday by sea, where they were picked up by rubber dinghies and transferred to Coast Guard boats.

Temperatures in Greece and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius (more than 107 Fahrenheit) Monday in many cities and towns.


Source: Voice of America