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AFRICA: Adapt or face crisis, warn climate analysts

NAIROBI, 8 November (IRIN) -
Africa must learn to adapt to the world's changing climate if lives and livelihoods are to be saved, according to a report on the effects of global warming on the African continent.
Many Africans could be facing severe hunger problems as extreme weather conditions on the continent deplete food production, says the new study focusing on climate change in the Horn of Africa and East Africa.
According to Mario Herrero, co-author of the report titled 'Mapping Climate Vulnerability in Africa', farmers will need help in adapting to the frequent droughts and floods that are expected to hit the arid and semi-arid areas in the region.
Speaking at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Nairobi, Kenya, Herrero said that smallholder pastoralists were the most vulnerable to the vagaries of changing weather patterns.
"Africa appears to have some of the greatest burdens of climate change and is also generally limited in its ability to cope and adapt. Yet it has the lowest per capita emission of greenhouse gases," he said.
The changing weather patterns and varying amounts of rainfall will also affect crop-livestock farming systems in Rwanda and Burundi, added the report commissioned by Britain's Department for International Development.
"While a peasant farmer may not understand climate change, he appreciates that it is increasingly becoming difficult to time the planting seasons as rainfall is unpredictable," Beneah Daniel Odhiambo, a Geography professor at Kenya's Moi University, said.
"As a result, there is high crop failure resulting in famine in many parts of Africa. Prolonged seasons of drought also cause the migration of people to other areas and is a potential source of conflict between communities competing for scarce resources," he added.
According to Herrero, efforts to reduce greenhouse gases must be accompanied by a quest to help poor countries adapt.
"People will experience great problems unless there is investment in adaptation options," he told IRIN, adding that water conservation projects in drought-prone areas could alleviate the problem.
Andy Atkins, advocacy director of the development agency Tearfund, said governments must take into account the effects of climate change before implementing projects.
"Before governments embark on major agriculture projects, they must understand how increasingly erratic rainfall will affect water supply and crop yields," Atkins said ahead of the launch of a report by Tearfund entitled 'Overcoming Barriers'.
"By the end of the decade this climate-proofing of development must become the norm, not the exception. Without urgent action, billions of dollars of aid money could be wasted and many lives needlessly jeopardised," Atkins added.
Pastoralist communities are being urged to diversify their farming activities to limit the effects of global warming. According to Herrero, farmers need to introduce drought-resistant food crops, and rely less on livestock which could be wiped out by disease.
Adapting to climate change is high on the agenda at the UNFCCC which runs until 17 November.
According to Yvo de Boer, who heads the conference: "The urgency of adaptation has increased because of the awareness of the problem."
One of the topics under discussion is how to manage the UNFCCC's Adaptation Fund, designed to help developing countries adjust to the changing climate through changes in farming and water conservation.
Projects already underway in East Africa include the building of dams to save water in southern Kenya, and crop diversification in Tanzania.
A report published by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, and the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), climate change could make it difficult for some developing countries to achieve the millennium development goals.
Tom Owiyo, one of the authors of the ILRI report said: "Climate change presents a global ethical challenge as well as a development, scientific and organisational challenge in Africa."
Separately, "LDC's [Least Developed Countries] development objectives cannot be separated from adaptation," said Lester Malgas of NGO Climate Action Network, South Africa.
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GLOBAL: Climate change to hurt poor people most

NAIROBI, 6 November (IRIN) -
The effects of global warming threaten to reverse recent gains in the fight against extreme poverty in developing countries, Kenya's environment minister warned on Monday.
Speaking at the opening of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Nairobi, Kivutha Kibwana said: "Climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats that humanity may ever face."
Kibwana, who is also president of the 6-17 November conference, added: "We face a genuine danger that recent gains in poverty reduction will be thrown into reverse in coming decades, particularly for the poorest communities on the continent of Africa."
More than 6,000 delegates attending the conference are expected to discuss ways of limiting the effects of climate change, as well as helping countries, especially in the developing world, contain the harmful effects of global warming.
"We expect countries to take decisions in Nairobi that will enhance action on adaptation on the ground," Yvo de Boer, the UNFCCC's Executive Secretary said.
Speaking at the conference, Kenyan vice-president Moody Awori told delegates: "Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of billions of the world's poorest people. The sub-Saharan economies are the most susceptible to climate change due to their predominantly agrarian structure. More than 25 percent of the GDP of these countries is derived from agriculture [and] it is from this sector that we produce for export and feed our people."
Awori added: "Climate change will adversely affect this sector and greatly reduce the gains made in recent poverty reduction programmes, particularly for the poor communities who depend entirely on agriculture. We must therefore resolve to protect our scarce resources. Reducing the vulnerability of those most at risk from the impacts of climate change will require substantial external financial resources."
Among other issues, the management of a convention adaptation fund will be discussed. Established under the Kyoto Protocol, it is intended to finance climate change adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries.
Parties to the protocol are committed to reduce economic activities that emit harmful gases which lead to climate change.
A representative from Greenpeace International, Steve Sawyer, said funding and technological transfer were essential if Africa was to adapt to climate change.
With the impact of climate change being felt across the world, the emphasis should be on the prevention of environmental crises caused by climate change, and not fundraising in response to natural disasters related to global warming, according to Jesse Mugambi, a delegate from the University of Nairobi.
A UN report released ahead of the conference noted that Africa was the region most affected by global warming, but is the least prepared to tackle the causes of climate change.
Rising sea levels could destroy an estimated 30 percent of Africa's coastal infrastructure, according to the report, which warned that coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, Gambia and Egypt could be flooded. By 2080, global warming could lead to a 5 percent fall in the production of food crops several Africa countries the report said.
Jn/aw/jm
 
AFRICA: Continent worst hit by global warming, but least prepared to tackle climate change - UN

NAIROBI, 5 November (IRIN) -
Africa is the continent most affected by global warming, but is the least prepared to tackle the causes of climate change, experts said on Sunday ahead of a major international environment conference.
International action to reduce the effects of global warming should include helping improve Africa's climate change monitoring capacity, Achim Steiner, executive director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
"The countries on the continent can better tailor their response in areas from agriculture to health care, and international donors can better understand Africa's needs now, and in the future," Steiner said.
Rising sea levels could destroy an estimated 30 percent of Africa's coastal infrastructure, according to a new UN report on the impact of climate change on the continent. Coastal settlements in the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, Gambia and Egypt could be flooded, according to the report produced by the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
By 2080, global warming could lead to a 5 percent fall in the production of food crops, such as sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana; millet in Sudan; and groundnuts in Gambia.
Climate change could also lead to natural disasters in the form of severe droughts and devastating floods that would threaten the lives of Africa's 812 million inhabitants, the report added.
Ironically, however, Africa produces the least amount of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.
Other major concerns include the problem of water shortages, which could affect up to 480 million people. The report claims that between 25 percent and 40 percent of natural habitats in Africa could be lost by 2085.
"Part of the action, part of the adaptation response, and part of this responsibility to Africa, must include significant improvements in Africa's climate and weather monitoring capabilities," Steiner said.
An estimated 25 percent of global climate observation stations in East and Southern Africa are not functioning, while most of the remaining facilities are working in a less than an optimum manner, the UNFCCC report said.
"Africa is the largest of all tropical landmasses and, at 30 million square km, is about a fifth of the world's total land area. Yet the climate observing system in Africa is in a far worse and deteriorating state than that of any other continent," Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, said in a statement.
"There are also major impacts in highly elevated areas like Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro whose glaciers, ice caps and run-off are important for water supplies. Overall it is estimated that Africa needs 200 automatic weather stations, a major effort to rescue historical data, and improved training and capacity building on climate and weather reporting," he added.
The UN Climate Change Conference will coincide with the second session of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty committing signatories to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
More than 6,000 delegates from around the world are expected in Nairobi for the 6-17 November conference.
The full UNFCCC report is available at: http://unfccc.int/2860.php
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COMOROS: New government launches corruption probes

JOHANNESBURG, 22 June (IRIN) - A probe into more than 30 senior former public officials accused of corruption is proof of the new Comoran government's commitment to tackling graft, Vice-President Idi Nadhoim told IRIN.
Moderate Sunni Muslim religious leader Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, popularly known as "the Ayatollah", was elected president last month in the first peaceful change of power since the country's independence from France in 1975.
Within three weeks of assuming office, his government has acted on claims of corruption around several former public officials, including ex-vice president Caabi El-Yachroutu Mohamed, who was a leading contender in the recent polls. Former departmental heads of public enterprises are also being investigated, said Nadhoim.
"The difference between the new government and the old one is that the former government spoke a lot and acted little, while the new one speaks little but acts," said Nadhoim, who holds the tourism and telecommunications portfolio in the Sambi administration.
Corruption has been a longstanding problem on the fractious archipelago. According to a US State Department report on human rights practices, the previous Comoran government had allegedly awarded contracts for constructing the airport and university to a local firm linked to the then president, Azali Assoumani.
As to why Azali, a former military leader, was not a target of investigation, Nadhoim said the list "doesn't aim at political personalities" but people directly responsible for the management of public funds.
To streamline public spending, the new administration has shrunk the cabinet to eight ministers down from 13, reduced the number of advisors to the president from 40 to seven and announced a commitment to keep the size of official delegations small and limit official trips.
In an attempt to build trust between the three islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, the government has also reunified the army under one command, said Nadhoim. In the May elections Comoran troops were confined to barracks after the African Union sent hundreds of mainly South African troops to help ensure a peaceful transition.
Under the federal system, each island has a great deal of autonomy. During Azali's tenure, there was friction over the extent of the powers of the Union presidency, which rotates between the three islands, and in this election was reserved for an Anjouan national.
"The new president is in perfect understanding with the autonomous island's presidents. The question of sharing of competencies will be dealt with an open mind," said Nadhoim.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Comoros' poverty reduction efforts in the past have been hampered by fragile public finances, with the government on several occasions unable to pay salaries to its employees. Nadhoim said the situation was being addressed and civil servants who had not been paid since January this year had begun receiving their salaries.
About 45 percent of the Comoran population lives below the poverty line. In a bid to ease hardships, the new government had also decreased the price of rice, Comorans' staple food, by about one-third, said Nadhoim.
 

COMOROS: Presidential favourite clear – by a landslide

JOHANNESBURG, 15 May 2006 (IRIN) - With the votes in and counting underway, moderate Islamic religious leader Ahmed Abdallah Sambi has been tipped to become the next president of the Union of Comoros.
"The election has been a walkover for Sambi - he has taken between 70 and 75 percent of the votes on all three islands," a local diplomat commented.
Comorans across the three-island Indian Ocean archipelago went to the polls on Sunday for the last round in a presidential race aimed at ending a history of corruption, coups and inter-island strife since independence from France in 1975.
Sambi, known affectionately as 'The Ayatollah' by his supporters, stands to defeat his two rivals: retired French air force officer Mohamed Djaanfari, and long-time politician Ibrahim Halidi, whose candidacy was backed by outgoing Union President Azali Assoumani.
"We have seen results from between 80 and 90 percent of the polling stations - 70 percent of the votes have gone to Sambi," Idi Nadhoin, vice-president of Sambi's Islamic National Front for Justice party, told IRIN.
Campaigning by the three candidates was dominated by concerns over corruption, unemployment and poverty.
Sambi pledged real reform, an end to years of government mismanagement and squandering of public funds, and the creation of new jobs and housing for the poor.
"Sambi is expressing the will of the people. We are looking to start a 'state of law', to install equal justice for everyone, rich or poor. But we have no cash," Nadhoin said.
"One priority is to try to get back the money [allegedly lost because of government graft]. You can not play with public money, so we will try to find it - getting back 100 percent is difficult but if we manage 10 to 20 percent we can get started," he remarked.
Funding will be crucial: Sambi stands to inherit a civil service disgruntled by months of unpaid salaries. According to Nadhoin, "Teachers are on strike; we need to build good hospitals and repair roads, so there is an urgent need to get started."
Polling stations on Moheli, Grande Comore and Anjouan opened at 07:00 and closed at 18:00 on Sunday, "giving the estimated 310,000 registered voters ample opportunity cast their vote" at a total of 624 sites, a spokesperson for the African Union Mission for Support to the Elections in the Comoros (AMISEC) told IRIN.
Although AMISEC said voting generally went smoothly, its more than 1,000-strong team of election observers and peacekeepers reportedly arrested a number of people for fraud, including a prominent member of the National Electoral Commission (CNEC).
"He [the CNEC official] was taking advantage of his position, was arrested and has been handed over to the Comoran authorities," Francisco Madeira, AU special envoy to the Comoros and AMISEC chief told IRIN.
The three islands each have a turn to hold the national presidency, which rotates every four years. If the Comoran Constitutional Court verifies the preliminary results on Wednesday, Assoumani is expected to pass the torch to Sambi at the official inauguration on 26 May, handing the union presidency from Grande Comore to Anjouan.
Sambi topped the polls during primaries held in April, when the residents of Anjouan narrowed down their presidential hopefuls from 13 to three. Comoran security forces were confined to their barracks during the election phases.
 

COMOROS: Presidential favourite clear - by a landslide

JOHANNESBURG, 15 May (IRIN) -
With the votes in and counting underway, religious leader Ahmed Abdallah Sambi has been tipped to become the next president of the Union of Comoros.
"The election has been a walkover for Sambi - he has taken between 70 and 75 percent of the votes on all three islands," a local diplomat commented.
Comorans across the three-island Indian Ocean archipelago went to the polls on Sunday for the last round in a presidential race aimed at ending a history of corruption, coups and inter-island strife since independence from France in 1975.
Sambi, known as 'The Ayatollah' among his supporters, stands to defeat his two rivals: retired French air force officer Mohamed Djaanfari, and long-time politician Ibrahim Halidi, whose candidacy was backed by outgoing Union President Azali Assoumani.
"We have seen results from between 80 and 90 percent of the polling stations - 70 percent of the votes have gone to Sambi," Idi Nadhoin, vice-president of Sambi's Islamic National Front for Justice party, told IRIN.
Campaigning by the three candidates was dominated by concerns over corruption, unemployment and poverty.
Sambi pledged real reform, an end to years of government mismanagement and squandering of public funds, and the creation of new jobs and housing for the poor.
"Sambi is expressing the will of the people. We are looking to start a 'state of law', to install equal justice for everyone, rich or poor. But we have no cash," Nadhoin said.
"One priority is to try to get back the money [allegedly lost because of government graft]. You can not play with public money, so we will try to find it - getting back 100 percent is difficult but if we manage 10 to 20 percent we can get started," he remarked.
Funding will be crucial: Sambi stands to inherit a civil service disgruntled by months of unpaid salaries. According to Nadhoin, "Teachers are on strike; we need to build good hospitals and repair roads, so there is an urgent need to get started."
Polling stations on Moheli, Grande Comore and Anjouan opened at 07:00 and closed at 18:00 on Sunday, "giving the estimated 310,000 registered voters ample opportunity cast their vote" at a total of 624 sites, a spokesperson for the African Union Mission for Support to the Elections in the Comoros (AMISEC) told IRIN.
Although AMISEC said voting generally went smoothly, the 462-strong mission - including military and police personnel - reportedly arrested a number of people for fraud, including a prominent member of the National Electoral Commission (CNEC).
"He [the CNEC official] was taking advantage of his position, was arrested and has been handed over to the Comoran authorities," Francisco Madeira, AU special envoy to the Comoros and AMISEC chief told IRIN.
The three islands each have a turn to hold the national presidency, which rotates every four years. If the Comoran Constitutional Court verifies the preliminary results on Wednesday, Assoumani is expected to pass the torch to Sambi at the official inauguration on 26 May, handing the union presidency from Grande Comore to Anjouan.
Sambi topped the polls during primaries held in April, when the residents of Anjouan narrowed down their presidential hopefuls from 13 to three. Comoran security forces were confined to their barracks during the election phases.
[ENDS]
 
COMOROS: Primary elections show new constitution in action

JOHANNESBURG, 21 April (IRIN) -
An Islamic leader has topped the list of three candidates that will compete in May for the presidency of the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros.
Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, popularly known as 'Ayatollah', won 23.7 percent of the votes, according to a spokesperson for the African Union Mission for Support to the Elections in the Comoros (AMISEC).
Mohamed Djaanfari, a former officer in the French military, now local transport tycoon and vice-president of the national assembly, came second with 13.1 percent, followed by Halidi Abderemane Ibrahim, seen as the preferred candidate of the outgoing federal administration, with 10.37 percent.
"These elections are very important, first of all because they are perceived to be a crucial step in a long process of national reconciliation, and this is the first election under the new constitution - after the election of 2002 - that really allows what was decided on the rotational presidency to be applied," said the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Comoros, Giuseppina Mazza.
Aimed at breaking the cycle of coups and political strife that have characterised the political landscape of the three islands Union since they won independence from France in 1975, the elections are seen as Comoros' first real test of democracy.
A fragile power-sharing agreement, brokered in 2001 by the African Union's (AU) predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, gave the individual islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli their own semi-autonomous government and president, with a rotating presidency for the Union.
The Union presidency now moves from Grand Comore to Anjouan, so first-round voting on Sunday was reserved for Anjouan's 117,000 voters, who narrowed down 13 presidential hopefuls to the three candidates. They will stand in a national election scheduled for 14 May, when the total Comoros population of 670,000 will select one of them as the next Union president.
The president will have a four-year mandate, after which the torch is passed to the island of Moheli in 2010.
Results were delayed by the constitutional court - the highest electoral body - over contested results by a number of candidates who recommended that votes from 20 polling stations be withheld. The court has 72 hours to validate and announce the results.
According to the AMISEC spokesman, "of the 221 polling stations, 213 were taken into account; seven were declared void; voter turnout was 54.87 percent".
Francisco Madeira, the AU special envoy to the Comoros and AMISEC chief, noted that "there were terrible delays in Niumakele [on Anjouan] - in some places there, the elections could not start until one o'clock in the afternoon".
"These [polling] stations were kept open longer, so everyone who wanted to vote should have been able to do so," the AMISEC spokesperson explained.
Given the archipelago's history of political violence and instability, Comoran security forces were confined to their barracks and the AU sent a 462-strong force to oversee the electoral process.
"There has always been a question of confidence between the islands [that make up the Comoros]. There is mistrust between the islands, so it is important to build legitimate security to ensure the electoral process goes well," an official at the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN.
Voting day proceeded peacefully and incidents were limited to allegations of ballot fraud, delays at some polling stations and one death: the result of a political discussion between friends that got out of hand.
The two men "had known each other for a long time and were in an argument over the candidates they support - one of them beat the other to death," Madeira said.
The Comoran civil service is perceived as being rife with corruption, and the candidate who wins the election on 14 May will inherit a legacy of mistrust of political figures.
"I don't really care who wins, as long as things change - we need a new government that can stop corruption, look forward and bring real development for the people," one voter said as he waited in line to cast his ballot. "He will need to be a snake to weave through the different powers and interests in the political system."
According to one political analyst, "with the political administration in the capital [Moroni, on Grande Comore] it will be very difficult for the new president to have 'real' power, because he is from another island. All the people in public administration and institutions are from Grande Comore - the new president will have to create more balance in the civil service, in terms of representation from all three islands".
In the system of semi-autonomy for individual islands under a Union umbrella, Comoros does not only have four presidents, it has four systems of armed forces too. "Each island has its own armed security, and the Union armed forces are not accepted by all the islands. It is very difficult for them to do their job," he commented.
Some analysts have noted that future stability will require curbing the military's power. But according to a local diplomat, "it's more a challenge of the Union security forces being recognised by the individual islands, because the tendency of independence [by the islands] has led to multiplication ... the question is how to bring them together".
Another challenge, Mazza said, would be to implement and sustain the poverty reduction strategy presented to donors, the international community and the private sector at a conference in December last year, which attracted $200 million in pledges to support the action plans derived from the poverty reduction strategy.
"This was a good sign, and shows the increasing confidence the international community has in the future of the Comoros. Now it is important to affirm the vision in the strategy; to translate it into operational programmes and mobilise the money that was promised, according to the priorities that were settled," Mazza remarked.
"The country needs to invest in health, education, improve roads and general infrastructure, improve productivity in rural areas, etc," she said. "How to concretise this, how to further develop the programmes, enhance the national management capacity, and strengthen partnerships and build on a successful election to finally have the benefits, for the Comoros, of a long process - that is the challenge."
In a message to the international donors' meeting, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "the presidential elections have the potential to be a true milestone in the country's transition from instability, provided they are conducted in an open, fair and democratic manner".
[ENDS]
 
COMOROS: Court decision may determine election result

JOHANNESBURG, 19 April (IRIN) -
Voters in the Comoros went to the polls on Sunday to select final-round candidates in the race to become President of the Union, but the constitutional court - the highest electoral body - could still determine the outcome.
The ballot is aimed at breaking the cycle of coups and political strife that has plagued the three islands in the Comoros group since they won independence from France in 1975.
"These elections are very important, first of all because they are perceived as almost a conclusive step in a long process of national reconciliation, and this is the first election under the new constitution - after the election of 2002 - that really tries to apply what was decided on the rotational presidency," said the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Comoros, Giuseppina Mazza.
A 2001 power-sharing agreement, brokered by the African Union's (AU) predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, gave the individual islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli their own semi-autonomous government and president, with a rotating presidency for the Union, which now moves from Grand Comore to Anjouan.
The first-round poll on 16 April, reserved for Anjouan's 117,000 voters, narrowed down 13 presidential hopefuls to three.
An official announcement is not expected before Thursday, but "preliminary results indicate that Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, Mohamed Djaanfari and Ibrahim Halidi will go to the next round. Caabi Elyachroutu Mohamed [previously one of the favourites] will not make it," Ali Said Mdahoma, secretary of the National Electoral Commission, (Cnec) told IRIN.
According to unofficial results published by the Comoran Press Agency (HZK), a 60 percent turnout at the 221 polling stations gave Sambi, a popular Islamic leader referred to as 'Ayatollah' by his supporters, 26 percent of the votes, putting him in first place.
Djaanfari, a vice-president of the national assembly, and Halidi, seen as the candidate of the poor and the preferred candidate of the outgoing federal administration, both won around 14 percent.
According to HZK, Caabi emerged with a mere 11 percent of the votes, a result barring him from standing in the presidential election on 14 May. He has reportedly contested the outcome in the constitutional court, citing irregularities.
"Mr Caabi has sent an official recommendation to the constitutional court to withhold the votes from 20 polling stations, mainly from the region of Niumakele [on Anjouan]. If these polling stations are excluded, the preliminary results would change, and Caabi would go through. We are still investigating," said constitutional court director Mohamed Jaffar Abbas.
The African Union (AU) sent a 462-strong force, known as the African Union Mission for Support to the Elections in the Comoros (AMISEC), to oversee the electoral process. Comoran security forces have been confined to their barracks.
"No violence has been reported but there were terrible delays in Niumakele. In some places there, the elections could not start until one o'clock in the afternoon," Fransisco Madeira, the special AU representative and AMISEC chief, told IRIN.
"This led to manoeuvres to annul the voting," Madeira said. "Now, the main problem is to see whether the decision made by the constitutional court will change the results and the order of the candidates, because this might cause havoc."
The court has 72 hours after polls close to confirm the polls or declare them invalid. According to Abbas, "we will officially present the result tomorrow [Thursday]".
[ENDS]
 
COMOROS: Presidential campaigning kicks off

JOHANNESBURG, 6 April (IRIN)
- Campaigning for the presidential elections in Comoros is underway, testing the Indian Ocean islands' fragile power-sharing arrangement.
"Everything is going well. Thirteen candidates have been approved by the court and campaigning has started," Ali Said Mdahoma, secretary of the National Elections Commission, told IRIN.
Since independence from France in 1975, the Comoros have been plagued by coups - successful as well as attempted - and the more recent temporary secession of two of the three islands in the group: Anjouan and Moheli.
The Comoros constitution was amended in an agreement brokered at the end of the 2001 by the African Union's (AU) predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, giving the individual islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli their own semi-autonomous government and president.
In March 2002, Assoumani Azali from Grand Comore, the largest island, was elected federal president of the new union. According to the agreement, the federal presidency rotates between the three islands and Azali is expected to stand down and hand over to a president from Anjouan.
The first round of voting on 16 April, reserved for Anjouan's 270,000 inhabitants, will narrow down Anjouan's presidential hopefuls to three candidates, who will stand in a national election scheduled for 14 May, when the total Comoros population of 670,000 will vote in one of them as the Union president.
In a message to an international donors' meeting in December 2005, where US $200 million was pledged to help the Indian Ocean archipelago overcome chronic poverty and instability, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "the presidential elections have the potential to be a true milestone in the country's transition from instability, provided they are conducted in an open, fair and democratic manner".
South Africa, under the auspices of the AU, has sent 500 troops to ensure that they are. "There has always been a question of confidence between the islands [in the Comoros federation]. There is mistrust between the islands, so it is important to build legitimate security to ensure the electoral process goes well," an official at the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN.
In 2010 it will be the turn of the smallest island, Moheli, to hold the union presidency.
[ENDS]
 
COMOROS: AU military electoral observers for presidential election

JOHANNESBURG, 17 March (IRIN)
- At the request of the Comoran government, the African Union (AU) will send 500 troops to ensure the archipelago's upcoming elections are free and fair.

Under the general leadership of South Africa, which will provide the bulk of the soldiers, with Mozambique, Rwanda and Madagascar also expected to contribute personnel. "The force will consist mainly of military electoral observers and a small police contingency," an official at the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN.
"Within the mandate of the AU, the Comoran government requested an international presence to oversee the elections; from the 19th [of March] onwards we will gradually start deploying military observers," the official commented.
Presidential primaries are officially due on 16 April and the presidential election will be held on 14 May.
"There has always been a question of confidence between the islands [that make up the Comoros]. There is mistrust between the islands so it is important to build legitimate security to ensure the electoral process goes well," he said.
The history of Comoros has been plagued by successful and attempted coups, and the more recent temporary secession of two of the three islands - Anjouan and Moheli.
In a power-sharing agreement brokered by the AU's predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, the Comoros constitution was amended at the end of the 2001 to give the individual islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli their own semi-autonomous government and president.
In March 2002, Assoumani Azali from Grand Comore, the largest island, was elected the federal president of the new union. According to the agreement, the presidency rotates between the three islands and Azali is expected to stand down in the coming elections.
The presidency will now go to Anjouan, and the preliminary election on 16 April is reserved for its 270,000 inhabitants. They will elect three candidates to run for the Union presidency on 14 May, when the total Comoros population of 670,000 will vote.
[ENDS]
 
COMOROS: AU pre-election mission reports back

JOHANNESBURG, 6 February (IRIN)
- As the Comoros prepare for upcoming elections that will test their new power-sharing arrangement, South Africa is gearing up to do its part in ensuring the April elections are free and fair.

Following a one-week fact-finding mission to assess the archipelago's readiness and requirements for the elections, a South African technical delegation presented their findings to the African Union's (AU) Peace and Security Committee.
"South Africa has an interest in the stability of the Comoros - it would do anything in its power and contribute all necessary resources - but under the AU flag, not unilaterally," Vincent Hlongwane, a South African Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told IRIN.
He said the mission delegation, which had "a strong defence and security component", had met with government representatives of the Union and the three autonomous islands in the archipelago.
The history of Comoros has been plagued by successful and attempted coups, and the more recent temporary secession of two of the three islands.
In a power-sharing agreement brokered by the AU's predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, the Comoros constitution was amended at the end of the 2001 to give each of the islands its own semi-autonomous government with its own president, and changed the country's name to the Union of Comoros.
In March 2002, Assoumani Azali from Grand Comore, the largest island, was elected the federal president of the new union. He is expected to stand down in the coming elections when the presidency, according to the agreement, should go to one of the smaller islands, either Moheli or Anjouan.
South Africa has played an important role in mediating the long-running secessionist crisis. "It is an AU initiative, but South Africa has been involved in the dispute for quite some time and has an obligation. This is part of the process of ensuring that elections are free and fair," Hlongwane remarked.
The South African government has reportedly said it was willing to deploy military observers from its own security forces if the AU were to ask it to do so.
[ENDS]
 
COMOROS: World vanilla prices torpedo economic growth prospects

JOHANNESBURG, 16 January (IRIN) -
Bleak vanilla price forecasts on the world market are translating into equally bleak prospects for the impoverished Comoros, as the island nation is economically dependant on the commodity.

In its latest country briefing the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) considered the official Comoran forecast of 2.8 percent real growth in GDP for 2005 "over-optimistic".
According to the report, "low prices for vanilla are expected to have an adverse effect on overall real GDP growth - it seems increasingly likely that economic growth for 2005 will be closer to 1.3 percent, if not slightly lower."
In a document published in mid-September 2005, the Central Bank of Comoros (BCC) attributed a 50 percent fall in the value of the country's exports to "poor international prices for vanilla, the country's main export crop".
Vanilla prices dropped from over US $300 per kilogramme in 2003 to less than $50 in 2005. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the commodity accounts for more than 50 percent of the island nation's exports.
Price forecasts are not encouraging. "Now, supplies from India, Indonesia and Vietnam are coming onto the world market, pushing down international prices," the report noted, while "at the same time, major users of vanilla, such as food producers, are increasingly turning to lower-cost synthetic flavours, where supply is less likely to be affected by natural disasters".
According to the EIU, some analysts suggest prices will remain depressed, and predict that global supply will exceed demand by up to 50 percent during the next few years.
Political tensions over the upcoming elections and riots following a petrol price hike in September last year have also had a negative impact on economic activity, the report commented.
Since gaining independence from France in 1975, the archipelago has endured a number of political and economic crises, including around 20 coups.
Grande Comore, the main island in the group, recently experienced a volcanic eruption that left 120,000 people without drinking water.
[ENDS]
 
 
COMOROS-MADAGASCAR: EU commits aid to "invisible victims"

JOHANNESBURG, 27 December (IRIN) - The Indian Ocean Islands of the Comoros and Madagascar are to receive Euro 1.1 million (US $1.3 million) in relief aid from the European Union (EU).
EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, said in a statement that "millions of vulnerable people in Africa are exposed to natural disasters like droughts, floods and insect infestations as well as armed conflicts" that rarely made headlines in the western media.
He added that these "silent tsunamis ... still lead to great suffering".
Comoros will be allocated Euro 600,000 ($711,000) to help restore access to safe drinking water for an estimated 175,000 people.
The emergency humanitarian aid will be used for the cleaning and rehabilitation of village water tanks that were polluted by ash and debris following the Karthala volcano eruption on 24 November.
Madagascar will receive Euro 500,000 ($600,000) to aid about 150,000 people suffering severe malnutrition in the southern Vangaindrano district that was affected by repeated floods, insect infestations and drought.
The aid will include food, water and sanitation facilities, agricultural inputs and logistical support.
[ENDS]
 

AFRICA: EU creates new fund for African crises

AMSTERDAM, 27 December (IRIN) - The EU approved 165.7 million euros (US $196.4 million) on Monday for relief efforts in 10 African countries with humanitarian crises.
"[The funds are for] foreseeable needs in ongoing crises but there are also margins for unexpected catastrophes that may occur during the year," Amadeu Altafaj, the EU spokesman, said on Tuesday from Brussels.
The new fund was announced on the first anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 200,000 people.
"Millions of vulnerable people in Africa are exposed to natural disasters like droughts, floods and insect infestations as well as armed conflicts," Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said in a statement.
The funds will be managed by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid office which works with 180 implementing partners including UN agencies and the Red Cross movement.
The EU has apportioned 48 million euros ($56.9 million) of the funds for crises in Sudan and 38 million euros ($45 million) for crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The other beneficiary countries are Burundi, Chad, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda.
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Donor conference attracts $200 million in pledges

JOHANNESBURG, 9 December (IRIN) - The Comoran government has attracted pledges worth US $300 million over the next four years after presenting its poverty reduction strategy to more than 100 international community representatives.
Comoran leaders appealed to potential donors, financial institutions and investors at the one-day Comoros Donors' Conference, held in Mauritius on Thursday. The funding is crucial to the Indian Ocean nation's chances of overcoming chronic instability and poverty, and reversing a 20-year trend of negative economic growth.
Giuseppina Mazza, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Comoros, told IRIN she was "very positive about the conference outcome - this is a good sign and shows the increasing confidence the international community has in the future of the Comoros".
Approximately $140 million of the promised contributions will be paid in cash and $60 million will be made available as training, technical assistance and other 'in-kind' aid.
"Having attracted so many representatives - such as [South African President] Thabo Mbaki and [Mauritian Prime Minister] Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, who co-chaired the event - the conference was very successful for the Comoros," Mazza commented.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation quoted Mbeki as saying, "If we can't help a least-developed country of 576,000 people, the future of humanity must be very bleak."
Comoran leaders detailed their programme for upliftment in three key documents: a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), a Plan of Action covering implementation, and a Public Investment Plan.
"What is important now is the follow-up," Mazza remarked. The main challenges to implementing the PRSP will be the coordination of donor support and the upcoming election.
With the coup-plagued archipelago going to the polls in March and April 2006, "partners will insist that elections go well," Mazza pointed out.
In a message to the donors' meeting, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan commended the international community for "coming together to mobilise strong and sustained international support for the important progress taking place in the Comoros", adding that "the presidential elections have the potential to be a true milestone in the country's transition from instability, provided they are conducted in an open, fair and democratic manner".
Besides the political and economic challenges faced by the people of the Comoros, the main island of Grand Comore is currently reeling in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Poverty reduction strategy to be launched

JOHANNESBURG, 7 December (IRIN) - Representatives from more than 100 countries, international organisations and the private sector will be asked for financial support to help the government of Comoros improve the living standards of its people.
The Comoran Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) will be presented at a donors' conference in Mauritius on Thursday.
According to a statement from the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, the Comoran GPRS has identified seven objectives: public finance reform; economic infrastructure development; relaunching the energy sector; communications infrastructure development; strengthening governance and justice; improving the health of the population; human capital enhancement through education and vocational training; sound environment promotion and management; and security and combating terrorism.
South African President Thabo Mbeki and the Mauritian Prime Minister, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, will co-chair the event. The African Union Commission, South Africa and Mauritius are providing the necessary support for organising the conference.
More information on the conference can be found on:
http://internationalmeetings.gov.mu and http://www.conferencedespartenaires.km
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Rain and aid agencies bring relief

JOHANNESBURG, 5 December (IRIN) - As the first rain since Mount Karthala erupted brings desperately needed relief and the extent of the damage becomes clearer, aid agencies are scrambling to help authorities cope with the fallout.
The volcanic dust and debris covering extensive areas of the Grande Comore island have raised concerns about the health of 245,000 people living in the polluted area, as well as the effect on agriculture and livestock.
"Today it rained heavily and now the ash has almost cleared," Joseffa Marrato, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) country representative, told IRIN.
Toxic volcanic ash has contaminated the reservoirs, where water levels already low as a result of delayed seasonal rains. The authorities have called on international agencies and local organisations for support in addressing an immediate threat of inadequate access to potable water.
"Our most pressing issue is water provision - it has become contaminated and, because of the drought, most of the water cisterns were almost empty," Marrato pointed out.
As part of an emergency plan, subterranean water is being collected in the capital, Moroni, and transported by truck to affected areas. UNICEF has provided trucks, water tanks, fuel and financial resources to cover operational costs.
However, tapping into the water supplies of unaffected areas to provide for those in need was stressing available sources.
"Today we realised that the regular water system is not working - it is weak by nature. By taking water from people unaffected by the volcano we are depriving these areas of water too," Marrato remarked.
Addressing the immediate problem by redistributing water has again revealed the underlying issue of poor water infrastructure. According to Marrato, a long-term response to the issue was desperately needed.
After a rapid assessment, conducted by local authorities in collaboration with UN agencies and the Comoros Red Crescent Society (CRCS), authorities have established water, sanitation, agriculture and livestock as priorities in the coordinated response, according to a statement released by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Friday.
UNICEF is also assisting by providing resources for cleaning water tanks, sensitising populations to the health risks of drinking possibly contaminated water, and ensuring clean water supplies to schools.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is providing technical assistance to help the authorities assess public health, and water and sanitation conditions.
Since the eruption started on 24 November, "many people, especially the elderly and children," were having trouble breathing, as they have been inhaling volcanic dust, OCHA warned.
The French Red Cross Society's Regional Intervention Platform for the Indian Ocean (PIROI) has sent an emergency response team and mobilised water sanitation equipment.
The University of La Reunion has sent technical experts to assist in evaluating Mount Karthala's condition, and UNOSAT, a United Nations initiative that provides access to satellite imagery, is being used to determine the scope of the damage. [ENDS]
 

AFRICA: Beyond ABC - The challenge of prevention

[The following article is part of an IRIN Web Special on the Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation. The Web Special, Razor's Edge, is available at: http://www.irinnews.org/webspecials/FGM/default.asp]
JOHANNESBURG, 28 November (IRIN) - OVERVIEW
In theory, preventing HIV/AIDS seems simple enough: give people information on how the disease is spread, and the desire for self-preservation will, naturally, make them adopt safer sexual behaviour.
The reality has proved much more complex. Almost 30 years after it was first diagnosed, ignorance about HIV/AIDS still persists. Even more challenging is the realisation that some of those who are aware of the message are ignoring it, or are powerless to negotiate safer sex.
According to the UNAIDS Epidemic Update for 2005, http://www.unaids.org "there is new evidence that prevention programmes initiated some time ago are currently helping to bring down HIV prevalence in Kenya and Zimbabwe" but, overall, prevention efforts have a poor track record, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV.
Much of the continent has initiated treatment programmes, but experts warn that unless the incidence of HIV/AIDS is sharply reduced, treatment will not be able to keep pace with the number of people needing therapy.
HIV prevention opens a Pandora's box of issues, such as sex and sexuality, and forces people to re-evaluate societal and individual factors that may be contributing to the epidemic.
The cost of failure is clear. The Global HIV Prevention Working Group http://www.gatesfoundation.org/ estimates that if existing prevention interventions were brought to scale, nearly two-thirds of the 45 million new infections projected to occur between 2002 and 2010 could be averted.
BARRIERS TO HIV PREVENTION
Some AIDS researchers maintain that the inability to induce long-term behavioural change lies in the nature of the messages: top-down, fear-inducing lectures on safe sex by national AIDS bodies do not acknowledge that sex is about desire, love, the irrational and the illicit; cultural contexts, gender roles, and the influence of peers confound a "one size fits all" approach to awareness and motivating people to take change their ways.
'Facing the Future Together', a study by the UN Secretary-General's Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, www.unicef.org called for a departure from the orthodox prevention approach, pointing out that the ABC strategy - abstain, be faithful and use a condom - did not fit the needs of women and girls.
"The messages have been missing the mark," the report observed. One reason was the "not only widespread, but widely accepted and endorsed" prevalence of rape and sexual violence against women and girls.
In a context where men grow up believing masculinity means having plenty of sexual partners, being faithful to your husband does not prevent infection: using a condom requires a willing partner, and in a region where one in five women is physically abused, fear can undermine insistence on protection.
If prevention activities were to succeed, the task force said, they needed to be coupled with efforts, such as legal reform and the promotion of women's rights, to address and reduce violence against them.
Men have to play a role - societal norms about masculinity also make them vulnerable to HIV infection, as they are encouraged to engage in risk-taking behaviour.
Amy Kaler, a sociologist who conducted research into men and behaviour change in Malawi, found that "skin-to-skin ejaculation is the marker of a real man - one who uses condoms is being cheated out of his right to a high-grade sexual experience, or may even be the subject of gossip or ridicule".
Prevention messages emphasising safe behaviour and not taking chances did not resonate with masculine sub-cultures, she pointed out. "Playing safe is not really what you want to do as a young man", which needed to be taken on board when designing interventions.
Culture was another barrier, and UNAIDS admitted in its policy position paper on HIV prevention that "while culture can function as a vehicle for promoting HIV infection, it must be recognised that it can also constitute a barrier against HIV prevention".
MOVING BEYOND ABC
The success of Uganda's fight against AIDS has been largely attributed to its president, Yoweri Museveni, who took the bold decision to speak out publicly about what was considered a shameful disease and tell people how to combat it. Prevention strategies, including the promotion of condoms, were central to the achievement.
But in recent years the Ugandan and US governments have shown increasing interest in promoting abstinence and fidelity in marriage, with condoms given only to those who cannot manage either.
Activists argue that while abstinence until marriage and fidelity inside marriage are admirable, human weakness, transactional sex, existing gender roles and the difficulty of changing behaviour dictate that condom use must be at least as well promoted, and condoms must be easily available.
In an article in the British Medical Journal http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/, Daniel Halperin, a prevention expert with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and his colleagues pointed out that behaviour change programmes to prevent HIV transmission have mainly promoted condom use or abstinence, while the 'be faithful', or partner reduction, component of ABC had been neglected.
"We have a public health responsibility to help people understand the strengths and limitations of each component, and not promote one to the detriment of another. For example, although abstinence may be a viable option for many young people, for others it may be an unrealistic expectation. Likewise, even though prospective studies have shown that condoms reduce risk by about 80 to 90 percent when always used, in real life they are often used incorrectly or inconsistently," the article commented.
Changing human behaviour is not an overnight process. In the meantime, technologies old and new, from diaphragms to vaccines, are being investigated, in the hope that science will succeed where attempts to alter human behaviour have not done as well as anticipated.
A recent study in South Africa found that circumcised men were at least 60 percent less likely to become infected than those who were uncircumcised. Two similar trials are underway in Uganda and Kenya, with results expected later this year. If they support the Johannesburg study, male circumcision is likely to be added to the cocktail of prevention mechanisms.
Professor Alan Whiteside, director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, observed that strategies had neglected to address the distinct prevention needs of people living with HIV/AIDS, and warned that this not only posed a threat to people living with AIDS, but also to future generations.
"We have to consider the dangers of re-infection among HIV-positive people, as well as the possible emergence of new strains of HIV. This would also raise huge concerns about the ability of current treatments to fight a new and possibly stronger version of the HI virus," he noted.
"The issue of prevention, however, should not rest solely on the shoulders of government," Whiteside said, "as it has a great deal to do with individual choice."
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Grand Comore reeling in aftermath of eruption

JOHANNESBURG, 29 November (IRIN) - Seismic activity continues on Grand Comore as the island struggles to come to grips with the aftermath of Mount Karthala's eruption last week, blanketed by volcanic debris that is threatening public health.
The eruption prompted a mass exodus of villagers living in the shadow of the mountain and raised widespread fears that drinking water would be contaminated by the ash and smoke that engulfed the southern part of the island, including the capital, Moroni.
Although the smog of ash and smoke has thinned, "a lava lake is forming in the crater - it is confined within the crater but the eruption is not finished, we could have lava flow", Hamidi Soule, a geologist at the Karthala Volcano Observatory, told IRIN.
However, more than the threat of lava spilling down the mountain, a lack of clean water has become the island's biggest concern.
Deprived of any significant rivers or streams, a large proportion of the population depends on water stored in domestic water tanks. "Many are home-made and protection is very limited - contamination of the water supply raises serious concerns about the availability of potable water in the areas exposed to smoke and ash," said one UN official.
Currently in its dry season, Comoros is desperate for rain, not only to replenish its contaminated water supply but also to wash away the toxic volcanic ash covering the island.
"It has not rained yet, there is dust everywhere and with the wind it picks up and moves everywhere," World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Dr Mamadou Ball, told IRIN.
An initial government assessment on Saturday estimated that 2,000 people had fled the volcano and approximately 123,000 had no clean water supply.
Colonel Ismael Mogne Daho, who is coordinating relief efforts at the Ministry of Defence, estimated on Tuesday that 300,000 people had been affected by the eruption, but "The situation has now calmed and people have returned home," he said.
The UN Resident Coordinator, Giuseppina Mazza, said around 245,000 people were living in the area exposed to volcanic ash and, based on information from the ministry of defence, she estimated that 175,000 people could be facing shortages of potable water due to the eruption.
UN agencies are working with local authorities to deliver water supplies to affected populations. According to a UN official, the United Nations Children's Fund has provided 280,000 liters in the last two days, and the government has requested WHO support to conduct water and sanitation assessments.
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Health concerns grow as volcanic ash rains down

JOHANNESBURG, 25 November (IRIN) - Thick volcanic ash blanketed the greater part of the island of Grand Comore on Friday after Mount Karthala erupted for the second time this year.
Officials warned there was a risk of poisonous gas emissions and polluted water supplies, and urged people to stay indoors as dust and ash continued spewing out of the notoriously active volcano.
"We are expecting serious consequences in terms of health - water will be polluted and [there will be a] food shortage if it lasts longer," World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Dr Mamadou Ball told IRIN.
The risk of a full-blown eruption remains a concern, but there has been no sign of potentially devastating lava flows, and no casualties have been reported as a result of the volcanic activity that began on Thursday night.
"The amount of volcanic ash in the air has made it impossible to fly over the summit of Mount Karthala to assess the risk - it is impossible to drive, and authorities have warned people to stay home," said Giuseppina Mazza, the UN Resident Coordinator.
Comparing the situation to the eruption in April this year, when ash and other debris contaminated the island's water supplies and forced 10,000 people living in the shadow of the mountain to flee, Mazza warned, "The risk depends on the toxicity of the dust and this dust seems much heavier."
Karthala, one of the world's largest active volcanoes, is the southernmost and largest of the two volcanoes that form Grand Comore Island in the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago. It has having erupted more than 20 times since the 1800s.
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Remittances - funding luxuries rather than development

JOHANNESBURG, 18 May (IRIN) - Remittances from Comorans living abroad are seen as a lifeline for impoverished communities at home, where there is little hope that the government will be able to meet their daily needs.
With almost one-third of its population living outside the country - mainly in France - recent research has shown that, where the state has failed, contributions from the Comoran diaspora are playing a central role in providing basic services.
In terms of its dependence on remittances per capita, the Indian Ocean archipelago ranks second after Eritrea in the African continent.
According to a report released by the World Bank (WB) last year, the Comoran diaspora remitted an estimated KMF 16.7 billion (US $36.4 million) in 2003 - well over two and half times the level of merchandise export receipts, and approximately 12 percent of gross domestic product.
This did not include goods transfers, which were estimated to be worth an additional $15 million to $20 million.
But WB researchers pointed out that a large portion of the financial contributions received from abroad went into 'private consumption', with very little channelled towards savings and productive investments.
Although remittances were also used to improve nutrition, shelter, education and health, the survey highlighted that a substantial portion was spent on luxury goods, unrelated to poverty reduction.
One such 'luxury' is the 'Anda' wedding ceremonies, which are estimated to account for over half the expenditure of all remitted funds.
Anda wedding ceremonies are a series of elaborate rituals which involves an exchange of expensive gifts between the couple's families and feasts for an entire village.
The cost of the ceremony can amount to between $20,000 and $60,000, raised primarily by pooling the remittances administered by community associations.
In its report the WB observed that while investing remittances in activities such as 'Anda' served to increase individual wealth among community members in the long term, it failed to contribute in any meaningful way to the development of the island's economy.
"The share of remittances invested in actual revenue-generating activities is actually estimated to be very small, and comprises primarily the purchase of vehicles to use as taxis, and imported goods for resale," the report commented.
CONCERNS
Although existing research showed a steady inflow of remittances to the Comoros in recent years, there were concerns that this might slow down as the demography of the diaspora changed.
WB researchers argued that as the third generation of Comorans became more integrated into French society, it was likely to result in a weaker relationship with the homeland, impacting on the willingness to remit, particularly if transfers were spent in an apparently wasteful manner.
Members of the younger generation are reportedly already showing 'remittance fatigue'.
As one of the principal donors, the diaspora has the potential to become an agent for change. "The diaspora is starting to voice its own demands for transparency, accountability and, to a lesser extent, effectiveness in the spending of diaspora funds," the report noted.
Besides concerns over the apparent 'misuse' of remittances by local populations, "the continuation of autonomous investment [from abroad] also weakens the capacity of the state to intervene where it should be taking the lead - in the provision of public services", the WB said.
The assumption that contributions from the diaspora would finance activities in areas where the state was failing had particularly negative effects on the poorest parts of the country, which do not benefit from remittances.
At the same time, remittance-funded investments were often found to be highly inefficient, poorly managed and unsustainable.
World Bank research indicated that although private funds from the diaspora had built hospitals and schools, a lack of communication with the government often led to staff shortages in these facilities.
It suggested that a "closer and formalised" government-diaspora dialogue would go a long way to strengthening the role of remittances in broader economic development.
Major donors have been in the process of reviewing their assistance to Comoros, which could provide an opportunity for both the government and the international community to see how their programmes could work together, and in cooperation with diaspora community initiatives, the report argued.
Years of political instability, characterised by coups and counter-coups, have resulted in capital flight from the Indian Ocean island.
However, the World Bank pointed out that even though remittances are a defining factor in the Comoran economy, the wellbeing of the population depends on the resolution of Comoros' long-standing governance crisis.
"The degree to which Comoros will be able to avoid negative long-term effects from remittance inflows will depend far more on the nature of the domestic economy, and the general policy environment, than any policies specifically related to remittances," the WB noted.
See IRIN's global overview:
[ENDS]
 

INDIAN OCEAN: New body to promote responsible fishing

JOHANNESBURG, 5 May 2005 (IRIN) - Declining fish stocks in the southwest Indian Ocean have prompted the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to set up a panel to promote the development of fishery resources in the region.
Fish is the main source of food for thousands of African communities living along the continent's eastern and southern coasts, and a major source of revenue for countries like Mozambique, but recent research has shown that stocks are under considerable pressure.
The South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC) will function as an advisory body to promote the sustainable development and utilisation of coastal fishery resources, said panel secretary Aubrey Harris.
FAO studies have determined that 75 per cent of fishery resources in the West Indian Ocean - where SWIOFC will operate - were currently being fished to their maximum biological productivity, while the remaining 25 percent were over-exploited and required better management.
Mozambique, Madagascar, South Africa, Mauritius and Seychelles are the Southern African representatives on the new 14-member Commission, which will also promote responsible management and regional cooperation on fisheries policy.
"Fishes move - they know no country boundaries - which is why we need countries to sit at the table and constantly discuss issues around this sector," Harris noted.
At its first meeting, held last month in Kenya, the SWIOFC agreed to prepare a discussion paper on the status of fisheries development in the region during the past 20 years, and "its contribution to food security and poverty alleviation," he said.
The commission will also establish a scientific committee to focus on data collection. FAO statistical reviews showed that as much as a third of catches in the region were not identified by species, making analysis of the status of stocks and responsible management difficult.
Other issues that had been brought before the commission included concerns around "ecolabelling", Harris said. Companies voluntarily applied for "ecolabelling", an environmental performance certification that identifies a product as being environmentally friendly, and this option would also be available to the SWIOFC members.
"But there are several problems with it - many countries do not have the capacity or resources to opt for such labelling," explained Harris, which could result in discrimination against their products.
The development of shrimp fisheries in Mozambique and Madagascar, which each produce a significant 10,000 tonnes annually, had also been brought before the commission. The SWIOFC will draw up a list of strategies to help these countries maximise their profits from the sector.
[ENDS]
 

INDIAN OCEAN: Conference contributes to global study on child rights

JOHANNESBURG, 26 April (IRIN) - Delegates meeting in Madagascar this week are expected to tackle the often-neglected issue of child rights in western Indian Ocean island countries.
The three-day conference, which started on Monday, brings together child rights advocates from Mauritius, Comoros, Seychelles and Reunion to discuss ways of dealing with the causes and impact of violence on children.
Recommendations from this sub-regional meeting are expected to contribute to a global study on violence against children, mandated by the United Nations Secretary General in 2001 for completion in 2006.
Participants at the gathering, organised by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), will also review legal and institutional responses to the battle against child abuse.
"We are here to make a difference in the lives of children. We are confident that our discussions during the next three days will cover ground in an area that merits our attention," UNICEF's officer-in-charge, Bashige Bashizi, said in statement on Tuesday.
UNICEF highlighted that, although sparsely documented, family violence existed throughout the western Indian Ocean countries: a 1998 study in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, found that one in five children had suffered domestic violence.
The meeting is one of the first of a series of joint initiatives launched by UNICEF, the University of Mauritius and the Indian Ocean Observatory for Child Rights, which was set up last year to monitor the situation of children in the region.
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Controversial draft bill withdrawn

JOHANNESBURG, 25 April (IRIN) - Political analysts and rights activists in the Comoros have applauded the withdrawal of a draft law allowing Union President Azali Assoumani to vie for a second four-year term in elections next year.
"By abandoning the legislation, Assoumani has shown that it is important to respect the constitution. This has set an important precedent, especially since there were expectations that he would have insisted on another term in office," local political analyst Abdorahim Said Bacar told IRIN.
Under the archipelago's national constitution, adopted in 2001, the federal presidency rotates every four years among the elected presidents of the three islands in the Union: Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.
Assoumani, who grabbed power in a military coup in 1999, was elected Union President with 75 percent of the vote in December 2002, and is expected to give way to a presidential candidate from Anjouan in general elections set for April 2006.
Said Bacar pointed out that Assoumani would have had a difficult time getting the law passed, as the 33-seat federal assembly was dominated by opposition parties with 26 seats.
"One cannot say for sure what the real reasons were for the withdrawal of the draft bill, but Assoumani would have had a battle to face if he pushed any further to stand for re-election," he added.
Ahmed Allaoui, president of the Comoros Foundation for Human Rights, said scrapping the draft bill would help to consolidate political stability in a country that has seen more than 20 coups since 1975, adding, "We would have definitely seen some kind of protests on the streets if the legislation was passed, since the population would have seen it as some kind of betrayal."
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Affected villages get water

JOHANNESBURG, 21 April (IRIN) - About 36 villages affected by ash from the Karthala volcano on the main island of Grand Comore began receiving water on Thursday, a senior UN official told IRIN.
"About 90 percent of the cisterns in the villages contain water that is undrinkable now," said Aloys Kamuragiye, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in Comoros.
At least 38,000 people have been affected by the contamination of the water tanks.
UNICEF, which has five water tanks each capable of holding 10,000 litres, has begun supplying the villagers, many of whom had returned to their homes by Wednesday.
An estimated 10,000 people fled their homes in the eastern part of Grand Comore after Karthala began spewing ash and smoke at the weekend.
The volcano, which rises 2,440m above sea level, has shown signs of increased activity for the past week. It is known to erupt about every 11 years, with the last eruption in 1991.
According to the latest report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), returning villagers have found their homes intact, and the main area of concern was the quality of potable water.
Kamuragiye said water samples had been sent to Madagascar, which has facilities for both bacteriological and chemical analysis.
"In the meantime, we have to provide drinking water to the people. Our five water tanks are not enough, so we have hired five private trucks as well for the operation. It is not going to be an easy task, as the water will have to be transported from the capital, Moroni, on the western part of the island, to the eastern side," he added.
A team of specialists who flew over the crater of the volcano on Tuesday reported that the lava was in the process of cooling down, according to the OCHA report. Seismographic data collected by the Comoran National Documentation and Scientific Research Centre (CNDRS) has shown a reduction in seismic activity.
Life is assuming greater normality as the people slowly return to their homes. OCHA said medical services were expected to become fully operational by the end of this week as health workers returned with the rest of the population.
Children not suffering from specific problems were also likely to return to schools, which will reopen as soon as all the teachers return.
However, the authorities remained on alert, OCHA said, as the CNDRS and French specialists "have warned that the reduction of the activity of the volcano does not mean that the eruption is over, and that the situation may change rapidly."
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COMOROS: Emergency teams on standy as volcano rumbles

JOHANNESBURG, 18 April (IRIN) - Emergency teams were on standby in the Comoros after the Karthala volcano on the island of Grand Comore began spewing ash and smoke at the weekend.
An estimated 10,000 villagers, fearing the release of toxic gas, fled their homes on Sunday on the eastern part of the island - the largest in the Indian Ocean archipelego.
Karthala, which rises 2,440m above sea-level, is known to erupt about every 11 years, and has shown signs of increased activity for the past week. The last eruption was in 1991.
Comoran officials have set up an emergency team to monitor and coordinate a response to the situation, UN Development Programme Resident Representative, Giuseppina Mazza, told IRIN.
"Some of the major UN agencies are currently working together with the government to ensure that all the emergency preparations are in place. However, we still need more technical information, as it is not clear when the eruption will occur, or if it will occur at all," Mazza said.
Meanwhile, the authorities have issued a warning to residents to stay away from the area, to avoid the risk of exposure to dangerous gases.
A mobile command post has been set up to help coordinate on-site assistance operations, while UN agencies have made personnel available to strengthen the government's efforts. The UN Children's Fund has purchased 10 mt of rice for distribution to displaced people.
In its latest report the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that an overflight of the volcano on Monday morning confirmed that lava was still confined within the crater.
OCHA added that the majority of those who had fled their homes had sought refuge with family members in other parts of the island.
"The authorities have dispatched rapid assessment teams to ascertain the number of affected populations as well as their needs. The results from these assessment are not yet known," OCHA said.
Although no one was killed during the last eruption, tens of thousands of villagers left their homes.
Karthala is the southernmost and larger of two "shield volcanoes" - volcanoes with broad, gentle slopes - that form the island of Grand Comore.
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COMOROS: Govt outlines be austerity measures to IMF

JOHANNESBURG, 18 April (IRIN) - Comoran authorities are hoping that a series of belt-tightening measures will strengthen the economy and boost investor confidence.
In a letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dated 2 February, the government said it was determined to reform fiscal policy, mainly by reining in state expenditure and overhauling the tax system.
The Indian Ocean archipelago has endured two decades of internal strife, resulting in a serious deterioration of public services and large drop in donor support. Although a December 2001 agreement made the islands of Moheli, Anjouan and Grande Comore more autonomous and politically more stable, almost 60 percent of the country's 800,000 people still live below the poverty line and have limited access to clean water and electricity.
Sluggish economic performance was largely attributed to a collapse in international vanilla prices - from an average of US $251 per kilogram in 2003 to about US $50 per kilogram at present - while Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had been well below population growth in recent years.
Inflation, which had been very low in the first half of 2004, picked up in the second half of the year in response to the worldwide spike in the cost of oil. According to government forecasts inflation is expected to hover around a yearly average of 4.3 percent.
Performance in the external sector was mixed in 2004, with the impact of the drop in vanilla prices counterbalanced to some extent by travel receipts and remittances from Comorians living abroad, which rose sharply following the opening up of a new direct flight between France and Moroni, the Comoran capital.
One of the key concerns raised in the letter to the IMF was the accumulation of arrears in servicing external debt, projected at US $6.1 million in 2004; outstanding external debt at the end of last year stood at US $290 million.
Authorities said an agreement between the Union government and the autonomous islands to transfer shared revenues to a special account at the Central Bank of the Comoros would anchor fiscal policy in 2005.
"Strictly adhering to these agreements will be critical for achieving our programmes' macroeconomic objectives," finance officials remarked.
There was also a decision to import only one shipment of rice in 2005 instead of the usual two, and to discontinue the surtax of 50 Comoran Francs per kg of rice on the islands of Moheli and Grande Comore. The tax was introduced to finance the launch of the new university last year, but had weighed heavily on the most vulnerable segments of society.
The harmonisation of custom tariffs between the Union and the autonomous islands was also expected to increase revenue during 2005 by about 0.4 percent of GDP.
The 2005 budget limits primary expenditure to 14.4 percent of GDP compared with 16.3 percent in 2004. The bulk of savings will come from a 1.6 percent cut in the wage bill, brought about by not renewing the contracts of temporary personnel hired over the last two years, and applying a freeze on new hiring, except in the social sector.
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U N I T E D N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
SOUTHERN AFRICA: IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 226 for 9-15 April 2005

COMOROS: Assoumani seeks second term in office

Parliamentarians in the Comoros have expressed their dissatisfaction with a draft law that allows Union President Azali Assoumani to sidestep a constitutional provision requiring the federal presidency to rotate between the islands, and vie for a second four-year term in elections next year.
Under the archipelago's new national constitution, adopted in 2001, the federal presidency rotates every four years among the elected presidents of the three islands in the Union: Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.
More details:
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=46600
[ENDS]
 

INDIAN OCEAN: Need for coordinated response to disasters, says UNRC
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 14 April (IRIN) - Preventing loss of life and minimising shocks to fragile economies were key motivators in racheting up the early warning, disaster preparedness and response systems in Indian Ocean islands, the United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC) for Mauritius and Seychelles told IRIN.
UNRC Aese Smedler said early warning and disaster preparedness was "an area we feel is of extreme importance".
International delegates are currently meeting in Mauritius to fine-tune plans for the establishment of a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean, and Smedler believed the creation of such a system could have immeasurable benefits for island states in the southern African region.
She highlighted the impact of the recent tsunami on the Seychelles as an example of the need to have national and regions systems in place to signal impending shocks and respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters.
The Seychelles government appealed for US $8.9 million in international aid following tsunami damage to roads, fishing and tourism infrastructure in December last year. The country has learnt some hard lessons from the incident, including the need for an efficient disaster response coordinating mechanism, Smedler noted.
"The president [James Michel] himself expressed great concern that there was not a functioning system, and at his request, and as result of our own knowledge of the need for such a system, we've included that as part of our programmes for Seychelles," Smedler commented.
"I had the opportunity to participate in one of the meetings of the new national disaster committee, which is made up of all [government agencies] ... involved in one way or another in emergency activities, and they were very eager to proceed in getting organised," she said.
Although some individual sectors "already have contingency planning and early warning systems", there was not enough coordination among the various roleplayers.
"So the UN system has supported the process of evaluating the health sector response ... Another key area that has to be strengthened is outreach, where there are small emergency brigades [at local level], but in the present situation there are no clear responsibility and reporting lines," she observed.
The Seychelles disaster committee has now established a number of task forces responsible for raising public awareness and conducting education campaigns.
"The national disaster committee is housed in the president's office; this shows that the Seychelles is aware of the fact that in a disaster it has to be the highest level that directs the efforts and takes the critical decisions. But at that level, the president would need the support of different sectors, so he gets accurate and timely information on which to base decisions," Smedler added.
She pointed out that Mauritius has a "very effective system for cyclones".
"It's a scientific system that traces the cyclone and gets the warning out through radio and telecommunications, also through a system of colour codes on public buildings for people in rural areas, or working in the field, who may not have access to radios," the UNRC explained.
The radio broadcasts information on cyclones very early on - days before, when a cyclone is forming in the area and will take a normal course towards the island, the public is already informed. The information is relayed in real time to those who need to know it.
"It is a very good example, and the population knows when it's cyclone warning 1, they take certain precautions but it's not yet time to flee their homes; and as the cyclone warning [levels] escalate, they know what it means and what the appropriate response should be. This is what has to be done in all of the countries along the Indian Ocean with regard to the possibility of tsunami as well," she added.
Smedler said a UN team had recently visited the Seychelles and recommended that "we have a robust institutional arrangement, not necessarily a new institution, but clear command codes, etc ... that need to be maintained all the time, and well known to everybody".
"The UN system, in our review of the work programme for both Mauritius and Seychelles, and the Indian Ocean Commission countries like Comoros and Reunion, has decided to work on our own contingency planning. This is particularly important for the smaller islands, where there's not a large presence of UN agencies," she noted.
Another key area being discussed among stakeholders is that "during a very serious disaster, the normal functioning of society is set back, and there could be room for human rights abuses" in such a scenario.
"People under such circumstances are not protected as they normally would be - there could be trafficking [of people], as has happened in some of the Asian countries [post-tsunami], and we're very conscious of this," Smedler explained.
[ENDS]
 

INDIAN OCEAN: Nations meet to discuss tsunami warning system

JOHANNESBURG, 13 April (IRIN) - An upcoming international meeting in Mauritius this week is expected to fine-tune plans for the establishment of a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean.
The meeting, co-organised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), an international information clearinghouse that promotes policy integration and the coordination of disaster reduction activities, is expected to bring together early warning systems experts and representatives from Indian Ocean countries affected by the 26 December 2004 tsunami.
Last December an undersea earthquake off the coast of Aceh in western Indonesian generated a tsunami that hit 13 countries along the Indian Ocean rim, leaving more than 200,000 people dead. The disaster sparked a massive relief effort and prompted urgent calls for a regional early warning system.
The Mauritius conference, from 14-16 April, follows a meeting held in Paris last month, where Indian Ocean countries created a partial tsunami alert system.
Recommendations made in Paris included beefing up ocean observation systems and national tsunami warning capacities. It also established specific arrangements for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii and the Japan Meteorological Agency to transmit warning information to national contact points in the Indian Ocean region.
ISDR media relations officer Brigitte Leoni told IRIN that the 'partial system' worked well last month, when another powerful shift in the ocean floor hit Sumatra.
"Although the earthquake in Sumatra did not trigger a tsunami, many countries in the region did receive sufficient warnings as a result of the interim measures put in place after the Paris meeting. But it is extremely important that a fully-fledged regional early warning system is put in place to cater for the specific needs of the countries - the countries in the Indian Ocean should not have to depend on warning centres in Hawaii or Japan," Leoni said.
According to ISDR, geologists have warned that earthquakes along the Sumatra fault line could be part of a domino effect, setting in motion further large earthquakes and tsunamis in future.
Delegates in Mauritius are expected to clarify how national tsunami warning centres would work in a regional operational framework. The discussions would also address the role of countries in assuming responsibility for regional, sub-regional and national centres, to ensure an effective tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean.
"Effective early warning systems need strong technical foundations, but they also need sustained efforts on public awareness, education, and national disaster risk policies and planning. This will be the next challenges," Salvano Briceno, director of the ISDR secretariat, said in a statement.
Donors have already provided some US $8 million for setting up the early warning system by the end of 2006.
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COMOROS: Assoumani seeks second term in office

JOHANNESBURG, 12 April (IRIN) - Parliamentarians in the Comoros have expressed their dissatisfaction with a draft law that allows Union President Azali Assoumani to sidestep a constitutional provision requiring the federal presidency to rotate between the islands, and vie for a second four-year term in elections next year.
Under the archipelago's new national constitution, adopted in 2001, the federal presidency rotates every four years among the elected presidents of the three islands in the Union: Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.
Assoumani, who grabbed power in a military coup in 1999, was elected Union President with 75 percent of the vote in December 2002, and is expected to give way to a presidential candidate from Anjouan in general elections set for April 2006.
Chairman of the parliamentary finance committee Abeou Moumeni explained to IRIN: "The constitution does allow the national assembly to draft legislation which dictates just how the rotation should work, but it also makes it very clear that the president of the union may only serve a single four-year term in office. We are all a bit disappointed by this draft bill, because it goes against the spirit of the constitution."
Moumeni pointed out that Assoumani would have a "very difficult time" getting the law passed, as the 33-seat federal assembly was dominated by opposition parties, who held 26 seats.
"It is unlikely that Assoumani will succeed, because he doesn't have the necessary popular support in the parliament. But what we are really concerned over is that there wasn't any discussion about the issue prior to it being presented to parliament. We are all trying to work together to make sure that we have a political system that is transparent, and it seems as if there are individuals who are trying to sabotage this," he told IRIN.
Union spokesman Houmed M'Saidie said the draft law was under discussion and Assoumani would abide by whatever the majority of parliamentarians agreed upon, but noted: "We can't comment on anything because it is just a proposed law. However, the constitution, as it stands, is also up for interpretation."
Local political analyst Abdorahim Said Bacar told IRIN it was premature to assess the implications of the draft legislation on political stability in the coup-prone country.
"We have to wait and see, but the proposal does not come as a surprise, especially because the new constitution is extremely complex. What we are seeing now is that politicians are taking advantage of the loopholes, to ensure that they remain in power," Bacar commented.
The Comoros has endured more than 20 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1975.
[ENDS]
 

U N I T E D N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
SOUTHERN AFRICA: IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 224 for 26 March - 1 April 2005

COMOROS: Chronic poverty pushes Anjouanese to risk their lives

In a desperate attempt to escape grinding poverty, thousands of Anjouanese continue to risk everything to make the perilous journey from the Comoros to the nearby island of Mayotte.
An estimated 40 people a day are smuggled to the relatively well-off French-administered Mayotte, often in overcrowded rickety fishing boats that struggle to cope with the Indian Ocean's swells. Earlier this month 35 people drowned after an overloaded 'kwaaza-kwaaza' (motorised fishing boat) capsized off the east coast of Anjouan. Local NGOs say the tragedy was the latest in string of accidents in recent years.
Despite these dangers, thousands of Anjouanese still take to the sea in search of a better life.
More details:
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=46389
[ENDS]
 

INDIAN OCEAN: Concerns over tsunami readiness persists

JOHANNESBURG, 29 March (IRIN) - Although Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles have called off tsunami alerts issued after a powerful earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra, concerns remain over the preparedness of Africa's Indian Ocean island countries to handle large-scale disasters.
Tsunami warnings were triggered in the three island states after the quake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale struck late Monday off Indonesia's west coast, but government officials withdrew the alerts early on Tuesday, as meteorologists confirmed the seismic activity had not triggered outsized waves.
Last December an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Aceh generated a tsunami that hit 13 countries in the Indian Ocean rim, leaving more than 200,000 people dead.
"It's safe to say the earthquake did not trigger a tsunami this time as it would have hit by now, but even though we've cancelled the alerts, we are still monitoring the situation very closely," Mauritius Meteorological Services director, Sok Appadu, told IRIN.
He said the national weather service had sent out tsunami alerts to the coastal regions, as well as the remote islands of Rodrigues and Agalega in the Mauritius group.
"As soon as we received the news from the seismologists in the United States that the earthquake had hit Sumatra, we immediately issued warnings advising people to stay away from the shoreline. The port authority and media also helped a great deal to disseminate the alerts to tourists and fisherman," Appadu said.
Mauritius was better prepared to deal with the threat of a tsunami, he pointed out, because the December crisis had increased awareness of the need to strengthen emergency measures to cope with natural disasters.
"After the loss of life in December [in Asia] there has definitely been more emphasis on disaster preparedness. There is now a network of communication in place, which involves provincial and local authorities as well as community leaders," Appadu said.
"This means, at any given time there is someone who can be contacted in case of an impending disaster, but we still have a long way to go to ensure that a robust tsunami early warning system is in place for the Indian Ocean region. Right now, the system we have is quite fragile, as we depend on information sent via email from Japan and the US - sometimes the computers are down and it is difficult to access important information," he added.
On Monday Seychellois authorities broadcast alerts to hotels, port authorities and fishing vessels. Although this Indian Ocean archipelago off the east coast of Africa lies more than 7,000 km from the epicentre of the undersea quake that triggered the tidal waves on 26 December 2004, it suffered severe flooding and widespread damage to roads, fishing infrastructure and tourism facilities.
"Our first priority was to alert the coast guard to get the fishing boats out of the sea, to avoid any loss of human life. But since the last tsunami struck we have designed a fairly good contingency plan that involves all government departments; the last time, the National Disaster Committee immediately set up a base at the police command centre in the capital, which monitored the situation," said Francois Albert, an official at the Seychelles Meteorological Services.
Relatively well-off islands, such as Mauritius and the Seychelles, are confident that their contingency plans would be executed should disaster strike, but their resource-strapped neighbours, Madagascar and the Comoros, are unlikely to cope so easily.
The director of Madagascar's weather service, Solo Alain Razafimahazo, commented, "We have a plan, but we must admit that we do not have the capacity to carry out that plan: communicating disaster alerts is our biggest challenge because there any many villages that are very isolated. This tsunamni phenomenon is a new idea for many of these communities, and resources are needed to start public awareness campaigns."
A fundamental concern was the lack of adequate shelter to house potentially thousands of people likely to be affected by a tsunami, Razafimahazo said. "We have trucks to evacuate people from villages, and the police and army know what to do, but the question is, what happens after the rescue?"
Kenyan authorities also issued a tsunami alert on Monday, soon after the National Disaster Operation Centre (NDOP) received a report from the US embassy in the capital, Nairobi, that an earthquake had struck Indonesia, NDOP director Col Shem Amadi told IRIN.
He said the navy and other military units in the coastal region, the police, the port authority, the provincial administration, hospitals and the umbrella body of hoteliers and tour operators were all put on high alert.
"Supposing the worst had happened, we would have mobilised our national resources - you cannot have a perfect plan for a disaster, what you need is the skeleton around which you can put systems," said Amadi.
One person drowned and several fishing boats on the Kenyan coast were damaged by the December tsunami.
[ENDS]
 

U N I T E D N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
SOUTHERN AFRICA: IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 223 for 19-25 March 2005

COMOROS: Strong-arm tactics threaten political stability

Human rights activists on the Comoran island of Anjouan have accused the government of riding roughshod over basic civil liberties, which has contributed to growing hostility between the state and the local population.
The latest incident occurred in early March, when ongoing public protests over a teachers' strike left two high school students dead, amid allegations of heavy-handed police conduct. In what it claimed were legitimate concerns over national security, authorities on the tiny island imposed an immediate curfew in the capital, Mutsamudu.
More details:
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=46280
[ENDS]
 

U N I T E D N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
SOUTHERN AFRICA: IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 220 for 26 February - 4 March 2005

COMOROS: Curfew imposed after demonstration leaves two dead

A curfew was imposed on the Comoran island of Anjouan on Tuesday after clashes between police and striking teachers led to the reported death of two high school students.
A senior Anjouanese official told IRIN the curfew was imposed to prevent further instability, and dismissed accusations that the police had used heavy-handed tactics. "There is no problem on Anjouan and people can say what they want, but we must ensure that they respect the laws of the island."
More details:
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=45849
[ENDS]
 

COMOROS: Curfew imposed after demonstration leaves two dead

JOHANNESBURG, 1 March (IRIN) - A curfew has been imposed on the Comoran island of Anjouan following clashes between police and striking teachers led to the reported death of two high school students.
A senior Anjouanese official told IRIN the curfew was imposed on Tuesday to prevent further instability, and dismissed accusations that the police had used heavy-handed tactics. "There is no problem on Anjouan and people can say what they want, but we must ensure that they respect the laws of the island." He refused to confirm the deaths.
According to Abdul Kamareddine, a teacher, the students were shot and killed on Monday, allegedly by the police, after joining their teachers in a demonstration over months of unpaid salaries, which turned into violent confrontation.
Observers say the incident in Mutsamudu, the capital of Anjouan, has deepened growing concerns over the government's apparent intolerance of dissenting views.
In early January, Anjouan authorities suspended broadcasts by the main community radio station, accusing Radio Dzialandze Mutsamudu (RDM) of producing "programmes that do not conform with its statutes and internal regulations".
The international press watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said the suspension stemmed from a decision by striking doctors to air their complaints on RDM after the state-owned television broadcaster had turned them down.
Although the radio station was allowed to resume service on 29 January, government critics said the suspension signalled the government's "disregard for basic freedoms".
Abdorahim Said Bacar, headmaster of the Said Mohammed Cheik Secondary School on the main island of Grande Comore told IRIN: "There have been some concerns that Anjouan is experiencing a lack of good governance. The suspension of the community radio came as a surprise, especially since the media in the Comoros struggles to survive because of the lack of funds. But the more serious issue now is the behaviour of the Anjouanese police, which needs to be addressed at the highest political level."
The island of Anjouan has a history of secessionist agitation and in 1997 unilaterally declared its independence from Comoros. Following military action and an international blockade of the island, the authorities negotiated a return to Comoros that included establishment of the Comoros Union. The Union gives a great deal of autonomy to the three main Comoran islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli within a federal system.
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COMOROS: Expectation of aid as president visits France

JOHANNESBURG, 31 January (IRIN) - A stronger flow of development aid from France to the Comoros is anticipated as the coup-prone Indian Ocean island settles down after years of political instability.
President Azali Assoumani arrived in Paris on Monday on the first official visit by a Comoran leader since the country's independence in 1975. His tour is expected to mend relations between the island nation and the former colonial power, which cooled in 1999, the year Assoumani came to power in one of the islands' numerous coups.
Since then the archipelago has held presidential and legislative elections, leading to the establishment of a federal government of the Union of the Comoros in 2004.
"The political situation has improved considerably, and now it is time for economic recovery. France is willing to help the Comoros become integrated into international activities because the political climate is good," a senior French diplomat in the Comoran capital, Moroni, told IRIN.
French aid to the Comoros plunged from US $19.5 million to around $5.2 million per year after Assoumani took power.
"The lack of aid has meant that many sectors have suffered. Public health services are especially in need of much assistance, and government is intending to use any additional aid to improve this sector," said Bacar Salim, the Comoran charge d'affaires in South Africa.
Salim noted that Azali's visit was part of a broader government campaign to encourage international donors and investors to return to the island country.
"Access to credit from the International Monetary Fund and other organisations has been very limited and, now that our constitutional problems are over, we are looking to hold a donors' conference towards the end of the year," he explained.
France has said that it was still unclear by how much aid would be increased, adding that its contribution would complement the existing efforts of NGOs and other development agencies.
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COMOROS: Students barricade streets over teachers' strike

JOHANNESBURG, 25 January (IRIN) - Scores of students in Moroni, the capital of the Comoros Islands, took to the streets on Tuesday, demanding government action to end a teachers' strike that has closed schools.
More than 300 teachers across the Indian Ocean archipelago failed to turn up for classes at the start of the school term earlier this month, protesting accumulated salary arrears.
The headmaster of Said Mohammed Cheik Secondary School, Abdorahim Said Bacar, told IRIN the demonstration turned violent after students blocked roads with burning tyres and large stones.
"The situation began on Monday afternoon, when students started throwing rocks at shop windows and setting up barricades around the city. The police then moved in to dismantle the barricades and, in some cases, scuffles broke out. So far several arrests have been made, and a number of students injured, but I suspect that the situation could get worse if nothing is done to address the frustrations of the students," Bacar told IRIN.
After negotiating with the teachers' union last year, the authorities paid a month of arrears, but teachers have yet to receive their salaries for November and December.
"The education department said it could only afford to pay November and December salaries over the next six months, but that is completely unsatisfactory - especially since teachers don't earn a lot and are forced to work, in some cases, in private schools to supplement their salaries," Bacar added.
On average, teachers in the impoverished country receive 150,000 Comoran Francs (KMF) per month (about US $370).
The authorities have argued that insufficient funds was the main cause for the delay in payments, but Bacar countered this by attributing the current situation to recent political restructuring, which has placed a further strain on already limited resources.
After a February 2001 agreement brought a measure of stability to the coup-prone country, each of the islands - Grande Comore, Moheli and Anjouan - has its own president and legislature, with a federal president and parliament on the largest island, Grande Comore.
"A significant amount of government funds is spent on maintaining these additional institutions; this has left very little for other important sectors, such as education and health," Bacar explained. "The government needs to prioritise, and decide to spend on those areas which will contribute to the development of the country."
Union government spokesman Houmed M'Saidie downplayed the unrest, saying that the government remained opened to negotiations over teachers' salaries. He told IRIN that plans were underway to "resolve the misunderstanding", and teachers would soon return to school.
[ENDS]