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A worker at Thuru Lodge in the semi-arid Kalahari Desert inspects a carcass in January 2020. Even the desert-adapted endemic species are dying after several years of extreme drought in the region.
A worker at Thuru Lodge in the semi-arid Kalahari Desert inspects a carcass in January 2020. Even the desert-adapted endemic species are dying after several years of extreme drought in the region. (Photo by Guillem Sartorio/via AFP)

A study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change found that global efforts to track and research heat waves have largely ignored sub-Saharan Africa, and that they’re biased in favor of developed countries. This scientific blind spot is all the more egregious considering that Africa is the hottest continent, with millions of people facing growing dangers from heat waves and rising temperatures.

Climate models project temperature increases higher than the global mean temperature increase for sub-Saharan Africa, as well as longer and more frequent heat waves.

 

The Need to Adapt

A 2014 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged that heat waves and heat-related health effects were only beginning to attract attention in Africa. One of the conclusions was that data and research gaps hamper decision making in processes to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and plan and implement adaptation strategies.

Correcting this will require developing climate models specifically tailored to Africa, and compiling more historical climate data to observe trends and map heat spots more accurately.

Pilot programs are under way in The Gambia and Ghana, where hospitals, epidemiologists, and researchers are collaborating to study the direct effects of extreme heat on people’s health. This is a positive step, but the immediacy of the danger posed by escalating heat waves on African populations demands more urgent action.

 

Cassava, also called manioc, is one of the DRC’s staple crops. The leaves and the tuberous root are used in a variety of dishes. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP)
Cassava, also called manioc, is one of the DRC’s staple crops. The leaves and the tuberous root are used in a variety of dishes. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP)

Researchers at the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have successfully formulated a new type of fertilizer that they claim can enrich soil for 400 years and help to increase agricultural output.

Professor Adrian Mwango, who supervised the research, says the fertilizer contains charcoal and organic matter. The fertilizer was tested in a banana plantation, and the researchers will continue to monitor its efficacy.

 

More than 65 percent of the population are employed in the agricultural sector

 

If this fertilizer were to prove even half as effective as claimed, it would make a significant difference to millions of citizens’ livelihoods. More than 65 percent of the country’s population are employed in the agricultural sector, according to 2019 World Bank data. It would also improve self-sufficiency in the DRC, which has seen sudden spikes in the price of foodstuffs during the COVID-19 pandemic as supply lines have faltered and cross-border trade has been disrupted.

 

President Félix Tshisekedi
President Félix Tshisekedi

In a televised address, President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that the national COVID-19 state of health emergency will be lifted starting July 22. It was declared on March 24 and extended six times Most daily activities are set to resume immediately; educational facilities will open on August 3; and borders, houses of worship, and other public venues will open on August 15.

 

Reported new daily cases remained below 100 for a week

 

The lifting of restrictions comes as the DRC reported that new daily cases remainted below 100 for a full week, with new daily deaths numbering just one or two over the same period. It also arrives one month after the World Health Organization announced that the Ebola outbreak in the country’s east, the second deadliest in world history, was officially over.

As the country contends with a massive and ongoing measles outbreak, severe flooding, and continued violence in North and South Kivu provinces, the lifting of the state of emergency can be regarded as a small victory for the beleaguered Congolese people. President Tshisekedi acknowledged, however, that the end of the state of emergency did not mean the end of COVID-19. He emphasized the need to adhere to safety measures to prevent infection.

 

A gas flare burns at the Batan flow station, operated by Chevron under a joint-venture arrangement with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)
A gas flare burns at the Batan flow station, operated by Chevron under a joint-venture arrangement with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

Nigeria’s Niger Delta has some of the world’s richest oil reserves and largest petroleum exportation terminals. Oil has generated spectacular wealth for some, but has also drastically impoverished people of the region who live and work in one of the most polluted places on the planet.

Young men in particular find themselves in an untenable position of economic exclusion and persistent militant violence, conditions that feed a cycle of poverty and violence.

 

Limited Prospects

Modesta Tochi Alozie, as part of her research at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute, explored this relationship and how it directly impacts the lives of young men. Broadly speaking, Nigerian men are expected to obtain a steady paying job, marry, and provide for the household. However, more than half of all Nigerians aged fifteen to thirty-five are unemployed, and for those living in the Niger Delta, the paradox of being poor in a region that produces the majority of Nigeria’s wealth helps to sustain a resentment that has developed into a full-on insurgency.

Starting in 2003, militias began attacking oil pipelines and kidnapping employees for ransom, sometimes even launching assaults against Nigerian military forces protecting drill sites. A Post-Amnesty Program launched in 2009 provided monthly payments of US$400 in exchange for disarmament, which helped to reduce the violence somewhat, but also incentivized more young Nigerian men to become militants and entrenched the power of militia leaders.

The prospects for those who avoid the violent route remain rather dim. Some relocate to cities in search of a better life, and others become activists campaigning for tighter regulation, for companies to be held to account for livelihoods lost due to oil spills, and for restoration of polluted land. This environmental injustice is rarely addressed by Nigeria, the United Nations, or oil industry watchdogs.

 

Dr. Givano Kashemwa Migabo
Dr. Givano Kashemwa Migabo

Dr. Givano Kashemwa Migabo, program manager for Global Strategies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was awarded the AIDS 2020 Women, Girls, and HIV Investigators’ Prize at the twenty-third Annual International AIDS Conference.

Dr. Kashemwa won the prize for a paper he presented at the virtual conference about a data-collection tool that tracks the use of post-exposure prophylactics, or PEP, antiretroviral medication taken immediately after potential exposure to HIV to prevent infection. The tool was developed by Global Strategies, which empowers communities to improve the lives of women and children through healthcare, and the Panzi Foundation, an organization founded by Nobel laureate and world-renowned gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has treated thousands of victims of sexual violence. By tracking the use of PEP in real time, it is possible to quickly ascertain the degree of sexual violence committed in a conflict zone and coordinate the response, ensuring victims have timely access to treatment and care.

Dr. Kashemwa shares the award with Jacqueline Wambui Mwangi, a researcher from Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Sexual violence is used as a strategic weapon of war

 

Since the First Congo War began in 1996, various rebel groups active in the eastern DRC have used sexual violence as a strategic weapon of war. Tens of thousands of women, girls, and young men have suffered abuse. Such violence not only inflicts horrific mental trauma on the victims but also contributes to the deterioration of public health as sexually transmitted diseases spread among populations that are already vulnerable, such as refugees and internally displaced people.

 

Former child soldiers who were embroiled in the Central African Republic’s civil war have now become frontline aid workers in the country’s fight against COVID-19. As part of UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) relief program, which began in 2015, the former soldiers are hired to provide safe drinking water by manually drilling wells and laying pipes. So far, they have installed wells for about 25,000 people, a critical service, especially during the pandemic.

 

The program offers a path to rehabilitation

 

Years of civil war devastated the Central African Republic’s already fragile healthcare system and left about half of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. For the child soldiers, the WASH program offers a path to rehabilitation; it has given them the opportunity to learn valuable skills and to earn a living. It helps to minimize the chances of them relapsing into fighting by joining one of about a dozen armed groups operating in the country.

 

A soldier stands guard as former Anti-Balaka child soldiers wait to be released from a camp in Batangafo, Central African Republic, on August 28, 2015. (Edouard Dropsy/AFP)
A soldier stands guard as former Anti-balaka child soldiers wait to be released from a camp in Batangafo, Central African Republic, on August 28, 2015. (Edouard Dropsy/AFP)

 

It also encourages communities to accept these former child soldiers back into their communities. Rejection is another motivating factor for recidivism, even though the country’s militias agreed in 2015 to free all child soldiers and end child recruitment.

 

Morocco, which maintained one of the strictest border lockdowns in response to COVID-19, will begin to reopen its borders in phases starting next week. Moroccan citizens and expatriates will be allowed to return in the first phase beginning July 14, but only after presenting results from both a PCR (polymerize chain reaction) test and an antibody test. Foreign citizens stuck in Morocco will now finally be able to return home as well.

The severe border closures imposed on March 15 left many Moroccans stuck in foreign countries, including 500 in Spain, some without resources to support themselves during this forced exile.

 

A Royal Air Maroc Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner lands at Morocco’s Ben Slimane Airport on February 2, 2020, reportedly carrying repatriated Moroccan citizens from Wuhan, China, after the city was locked down to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. (Fadel Senna/AFP)
A Royal Air Maroc Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner lands at Morocco’s Ben Slimane Airport on February 2, 2020, reportedly carrying repatriated Moroccan citizens from Wuhan, China, after the city was locked down to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

 

A resumption of travel may help Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s state-owned national airline, alleviate some of the major losses it sustained after cancelling all routes due to the pandemic, though it is unlikely to return to its former fleet size as the pandemic persists.

 

Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko acknowledges his supporters at his closing rally in Brazzaville on March 18, 2016, ahead of the presidential election won by Denis Sassou Nguesso. (Marco Longari/AFP)
Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko acknowledges his supporters at his closing rally in Brazzaville on March 18, 2016, ahead of the presidential election won by Denis Sassou Nguesso. (Marco Longari/AFP)

In the Republic of the Congo, concerns persist over the health of Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former military chief and opposition politician who has been in prison since 2016, when he was arrested with others after refusing to accept the re-election of Denis Sassou Nguesso as president. In 2018, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison for undermining state security.

His health has suddenly deteriorated. He tested negative for COVID-19, and according to the latest press release he has acute malaria, aggravated by hypertension. Several NGOs and Congolese civil society organizations have called for Mokoko to be placed under house arrest so he could be treated by his family doctor. The authorities have not yet responded to these repeated calls, despite condemnation from other African heads of state and the United Nations.

 

A video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup

 

Prior to his imprisonment, Mokoko served as adviser for peace and security to President Denis Sassou Nguesso, before quitting his position in February 2016 to run against Nguesso in the March presidential election. A few days after Mokoko had announced his candidacy, a 2007 video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup to overthrow Nguesso with a French intelligence agent.

The polemic around Mokoko’s imprisonment reflect a broader discussion occurring across Africa as the continent grapples with the dangers involved in keeping prisoners behind bars, where cramped and often unsanitary conditions increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.

 

Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 300 kilomters (186 miles) north of kenyan capital, Nairobi on January 22, 2020. "Ravenous swarms" of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, already unprecedented in their size and destructive potential, threaten to ravage the entire East Africa subregion, the UN warned on January 20, 2020. The outbreak of desert locusts, considered the most dangerous locust species, is “significant and extremely dangerous” warned the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, describing the infestation as an eminent threat to food security in months to come” if control measures are not taken. TONY KARUMBA / AFP
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, about 300 kilometers north of Nairobi, Kenya, on January 22, 2020. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

Before being struck by a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, the Horn of Africa was already contending with a locust plague the likes of which hadn’t been experienced in several generations. A second, larger wave of the destructive desert locusts has been making its way across Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, threatening food security for millions of people and costing the region (along with Yemen) up to US$8.5 billion according to the World Bank.

 

The fungus has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects

 

The effectiveness of chemical pesticides to control locust swarms has been limited, at best, due to the swarms’ quick pace and size, along with limited resources as these nations and foreign donors focus on COVID-19. Thus, it fell to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), an international research institute housed in Nairobi, Kenya, to devise more innovative and environmentally friendly means of tackling the locust problem.

One approach has been the use of a biopesticide developed from the Metarhizium acridum fungus, which has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects.

Commercial brands use this kind of fungus in their powder products. Such powders are mixed with oil and sprayed onto fields from planes or trucks. The fungus then penetrates the locust’s hard outer layer and starts feeding on the insect, sapping away

Another tactic homes in on locust pheromones, disrupting their biochemistry to break up swarms before they form and encouraging cannibalization among immature locusts before they gain the ability to fly.

A third approach is to introduce the protein-rich locusts as a foodstuff—either cooked or crushed—for people and animals. ICIPE is developing nets and backpack-vacuums to capture large numbers of locusts. 

 

Burundi's new prime minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni attends the national funeral of late Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, who died at the age of 55, at the Ingoma stadium in Gitega, Burundi, on June 26, 2020.  TCHANDROU NITANGA / AFP
Burundian prime minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni attends the state funeral of Burundi’s late president Pierre Nkurunziza at Ingoma Stadium in Gitega on June 26, 2020. (Tchangrou Nitanga/AFP)

Burundi’s swearing-in ceremony on June 30 for new ministers of the National Assembly was accompanied by a statement from newly elected President Évariste Ndayishimiye pledging renewed efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the small East African nation. Among the new policies is a 50 percent reduction in the price of soap and reduced rates for drinking water in Burundi’s urban areas.

This is a marked change from his predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, who was much more blasé about the threat of the virus to Burundi. Whereas other African countries were in some form of lockdown, Burundi kept restaurants, bars, and sports events open to the public, and top officials defended Nkurunziza’s lax attitude as a sign of his evangelical faith and belief in God’s protection.

 

They suspect the former president succumbed to COVID-19

 

Officially, Burundi has 170 confirmed cases, 115 recoveries, and one death, but they are likely undercounted. Nkurunziza’s death at the beginning of July was declared to be the result of cardiac arrest, but opposition leaders and foreign observers suspect the former president succumbed to COVID-19. There is concern that several members of Burundi’s political leadership may have been exposed to and are currently infected with the virus.

 

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