Improving the Living Conditions of Refugee Host Communities in Mauritania

Nouakchott – The Hodh Ech Chargui region of Mauritania faces challenges linked to access to water and animal health, with livestock being the only means of subsistence. More than 50,000 refugees who live in the camp and the host communities as well as the host populations are cattle farmers.

To address some of these challenges, Mauritanian government officials, UN agencies and NGOs gathered on 11 April 2019 to answer the question: How can governments and the international humanitarian community improve the living conditions of refugee and host communities?

During the meeting, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) presented the results of the three-phase project, a project critical to providing support to both refugees and host communities, reduce tension over scarce resources like water and the health of livestock.

In Mauritania, IOM has established a presence in the Hodh Ech Chargui region to respond to the influx of Malian refugees after the outbreak of the crisis in 2012. IOM’s activities in the region include community stabilization and community dialogues.

Implemented since 2015, the project allows refugees to substantially improve their livelihoods and help host populations by establishing mechanisms to prevent and manage conflicts of scarce resources. In total, around 20,000 refugees � and 35,000 members of the host population � have benefited from support for income-generating activities, access to water, support for family rearing and inter-community dialogue, through this project.

“Our understanding of proven approaches would allow us to have an impact in our way of serving and assisting populations in need in Mbera, in the Hodh el Chargui, and beyond,” stressed the Ambassador of the United States of America to Mauritania, Mr. Michael Dodman.

“The constant support provided by the United States of America through PRM demonstrates its understanding of the vital needs of refugees and host populations in the Hodh Chargui, who today need more than ever to improve their livelihoods and prevent conflict over natural resources. I take this opportunity to launch a call for contributions from donors to fill the important gaps in the livelihoods sector in and outside the M’bera refugee camp,” said Laura Lungarotti, IOM Mauritania Chief of Mission.

Increasing Livelihood Opportunities for Malian Refugees and Selected Host Communities in Hodh Ech Chargui is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and implemented in Mauritania.

Source: International Organization for Migration

African Union: High-Speed Rail Network on Track

NAIROBI, Plans are on track for a high-speed rail network connecting the continent’s borders by 2063, the African Union’s Development Agency says. The ambitious multibillion-dollar project aims to ease the movement of goods and people across African borders, but the AU warns that corruption could derail that goal.

Road, rail, and air traffic connections are so poor between some African countries that it is better to transit through Europe than to travel directly between neighbors.

Intra-African trade is less than 15% of total trade, says Adama Deen, the head of infrastructure at the AU’s Development Agency.

“You cannot have integration without connectivity, whether it is road or rail connectivity, especially when we are talking about the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, where you need a single market and connectivity to move goods, persons within the market,” Deen said.

During a two-day meeting this week in Nairobi, AU experts discussed linking all African capitals and commercial centers through a high-speed rail network by 2063.

The Africa Integrated High Speed Network would ease the movement of goods, people and services across African borders by building on and improving existing national railways to link Africa’s 54 countries, constructing at least 12,000 kilometers of new tracks.

The aim is for 20% of the pilot phase to be completed in the next four years, says the technical committee’s Cleopatra Shiceka Ntshingila.

“In terms of the pilots that we have looked at � which ones can readily work in terms based on existing infrastructure, existing studies. And this is why we will take it one tranche at a time, and that is why we think we will have at least one project up and running,” she said.

Six corridors have been designated for connecting Africa by high-speed rail.

Three of them include linking Kenya’s Mombasa port city to Uganda’s capital, Kampala; South Africa’s Durban to Botswana’s Gaborone; and the Ivory Coast’s Abidjan to Burkina Faso’s Ouagadougou.

China’s role

In the past five years, Chinese loans have funded Kenya’s first phase of the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi and from landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti.

But critics say Chinese loans are risking state assets and saddling African nations with heavy debts that Beijing can use for political leverage.

The CEO for the AU Development Agency in Kenya, Daniel Osiemo, says the continent should look to funding from within.

“For example, look at the pension funds, all over the continent we have pension funds that have been established, but which have not been channeled to productive investments,” he said. “So, if these are harnessed and put into this kind of investments, in a little time to come, they will be able to pay everybody. It will be a win-win for everybody.”

But Osiemo says there are other challenges to meet the 2063 railway goal.

“Then there are political challenges, you know � Central African Republic, South Sudan � political instability to work in such countries requires extra effort at the highest level to have these corridors facilitated and the links established.”

Corruption

AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development, former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga, worries corruption could be the project’s biggest obstacle.

“I will you give an example of railway, you go to Ethiopia and the rates are different, you go to Nigeria they are different, you come to Kenya, you go to Tanzania � they are different � yet you find that the same companies [are] doing them. That has a lot to do with investment environment in those countries and this is an enemy of Africa, which must be fought,” he said.

How many of those battles are won will determine just how quickly Africa’s first cross-continental, high-speed train rolls out of the station.

Source: Voice of America

Vatican Holds Spiritual Retreat for Peace in South Sudan

ROME, Pope Francis has told leaders of South Sudan that peace is possible and urged the country’s leaders to seek what unites and overcome what divides.

At the end of a two-day meeting in the Vatican, the pope shocked those present by kneeling and kissing the feet of South Sudan’s former warring leaders.

At the end of the two-day meeting in the Vatican, originally proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Pope Francis told South Sudanese leaders to recognize the enormous shared responsibility they hold for the present and future of their country.

Those attending the meeting included South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents.

The pope called on them to commit themselves to the building of their nation.

The pope said, “People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: remember that with war, all is lost! Your people today are yearning for a better future, which can only come about through reconciliation and peace.”

The pope said this meeting was “something altogether special and in some sense unique,” as it was neither an ordinary bilateral nor diplomatic meeting between the pope and heads of state, nor an ecumenical initiative involving representatives of different Christian communities. Instead, it was a spiritual retreat.

South Sudan’s civil war, which broke out in late 2013, has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 4 million South Sudanese from their homes. A peace deal last August has reduced but not stopped the fighting.

One of the South Sudanese religious leaders attending said these were days of intense prayer and deep reflection and of open and frank dialogue and spiritual conversation.

“The leaders leave here renewed and committed to the task of working for peace, striving for reconciliation and seeking justice for the 13 million people, the South Sudanese, whose prayer and hope they all carry.”

Pope Francis told them how he learned last September that a peace agreement for the country had been signed and congratulated political leaders for “having chosen the path of dialogue.” He urged them to implement what has been agreed on.

The pope expressed his heartfelt hope that hostilities would finally cease, that the armistice would be respected, that political and ethnic divisions would be surmounted, and that there would be a lasting peace for all those citizens who dream of beginning to build the nation.

After his speech at the end of the retreat, Pope Francis kissed the feet of the former warring leaders and told them their people are waiting for their return home, for reconciliation, and a new era of prosperity.

Source: Voice of America

OECD: Aid Drops for Some of World’s Neediest Countries

PARIS The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said aid from donor nations fell last year, compared to 2017, with some of the neediest countries feeling the pinch. The OECD’s new report, which raises concerns about meeting United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The OECD report released Wednesday finds that official donor aid among its member states was down 2.7 percent in 2018. One of the biggest declines was in humanitarian assistance � down 8 percent compared to 2017. Aid to African countries fell 4 percent.

Trends are a concern

The OECD’s head of development aid statistics, Yasmin Ahmad, says if support to refugees is taken out of the equation � in some cases because of fewer arrivals � the overall aid figure would remain unchanged. Ahmad, however, says the message is still alarming.

“The OECD considers these trends quite worrisome because it shows that most donors are not actually living up to the commitment that they made in 2015, which was to increase their aid, Ahmad said.

Ahmad said separate OECD findings also show foreign direct investment to developing countries dropped by about one-third from 2016 to 2017, among other downward trends.

“What is particularly concerning as well is that (U.N.) Sustainable Development Goals which are global, are supposed to happen � and this drop in aid does not look good for being able to achieve these goals by 2030, Ahmad said.

Reasons vary

The reasons for the downturn vary. In Europe, some countries spent less on refugee assistance because fewer refugees arrived last year. Russian assistance dropped by more than 14 percent, reflecting an overall decline in its aid program. The United States cut foreign aid by 5 percent last year, including to Africa, although it remains the biggest donor.

“However, this amount only represents only 0.17 (percent) of its gross national income, which places it well below the average of the (OECD) Development Assistance Committee � the average being 0.31 percent, Ahmad said.

The OECD report finds a few bright spots. More than half a dozen countries worldwide met the U.N. aid spending target of point-7 percent of GDP. And several, including France and Turkey, have increased development assistance.

Source: Voice of America

UN Chief Calls for Cease-Fire in Libya

UNITED NATIONS U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the fighting that erupted last week between Libyan political rivals for control of the capital, Tripoli.

It’s still time to stop. It’s still time for a cease-fire to take place, for a cessation of hostilities to take place and to avoid the worst, which would be a dramatic bloody battle for Tripoli, Guterres told reporters late Wednesday after he met behind closed doors with the 15-nation U.N. Security Council for more than two hours.

It is still time to recognize there is no military solution. Only political solutions can apply to situations like the one in Libya, he said.

Guterres visited Libya last week. Just hours after he departed the country, forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar advanced from their positions in the east on Tripoli, which is controlled by the U.N.-backed Presidential Council and Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj. Guterres met with both men during his mission.

It is obvious that my appeal for an offensive not to take place and for the hostilities to stop was not heard, the U.N. chief said. But I think that when one looks at the situation today, it is clear that we have a very dangerous situation, and it is clear that we absolutely need to stop it.

National conference canceled

The fighting has scuttled U.N. plans for a national conference Sunday to bring the warring parties together. The U.N. said Tuesday that it is postponing it, as violence is overshadowing the political process.

On Wednesday, fighting centered on the suburbs south of the capital, with thousands of civilians fleeing their homes for safety. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says more than 5,800 people have been displaced in this latest round of violence.

Residents in the city report Haftar’s warplanes were buzzing neighborhoods and firing at them. Fighting was also reported at what had been the country’s international airport.

The U.N. has expressed concern at the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas and called on the parties to abide by international law and to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

Fears for region

U.N. officials fear the violence in Libya could destabilize the entire Middle East by sending more refugees fleeing to Europe across the dangerous Mediterranean, disrupting oil production, and allowing terrorist groups such as Islamic State to take advantage of the chaos.

South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Jerry Matjila, told reporters after the meeting that the Security Council is united in supporting the U.N. chief and his special envoy, Ghassan Salame, to get the parties back to the negotiating table.

Matjila also expressed concern about how the worsening situation could reverberate on the African continent.

Fears for Africans

Also, our concern is Africans, about what might happen in the Sahel if the issue is not resolved, he said. We are also concerned about migrants who are trapped in some cities in Libya, and we need to give those migrants at least a corridor to go out to safety.

There are thousands of African migrants who have tried to transit through Libya across the Mediterranean to Europe. Many are in overcrowded detention centers in Libya.

Libya has been in political and economic chaos since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011.

Source: Voice of America