July 4th a chance to mark US-Irish co-operation on tackling child hunger

Hilary Clinton and Tom Arnold, CEO, Concern at the launch of the ‘1000 days’ partnership between the US and Ireland in New York. Photo: Concern.A joint US-Irish partnership is mobilising governments in order to put hunger at the forefront of international development policies, writes Paul O’Brien, Overseas Director, Concern Worldwide.

As the United States celebrates its independence day, it offers us here in Ireland an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between our two countries.

President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Ireland highlighted once again the strong bonds that exist. Nowhere is this more evident right now than in the global fight against hunger. As President Obama noted in his speech on College Green “Ireland is working hand in hand with the United States to make sure that hungry mouths are fed around the world – because we remember those times. We know what crippling poverty can be like, and we want to make sure we’re helping others”.

This is an immensely important partnership between the US and Ireland. Chronic hunger, or undernutrition, contributes to the deaths of three million children under five each year.

Trauma of AIDS orphans neglected – Irish missionary seeks to decriminalise suicide

Brother Aidan Clohessy on the site of new psychiatric college in Mzuzu, Malawi. He is now planning a refuge for homeless AIDS orphans in the capital, Lilongwe. Photo by Amy Colley.An Irish missionary is setting up a refuge to rescue hundreds of AIDS orphans from the streets of a major African city. County Tipperary native Brother Aidan Clohessy of the St John of God order is currently fundraising for the €2m facility in Lilongwe city in Malawi where one in eight adults live with the deadly virus.

The 70-year-old believes kids who lose their parents can be driven to depression and even suicide if they don’t get access to professional counselling and treatment. He said: “Kids who lose a mother or father to HIV or AIDS are at a very vulnerable stage of their lives and their immediate priority is survival. “But at the same time they are suffering from post traumatic stress as well as going through a grieving process for their parents. There is a trauma there that is not being treated and you see behavioural problems such as depression, dropping out of school and they may fall into alcohol abuse or smoking marijuana or even suicide.”

Mission Accomplished? How Africa views Irish missionaries

Picture of the first Missionary Sisters of St Columban to go to China in 1926, with Columban Fathers. Photo: Columban Father's Archive.The view from Africa of Irish missionaries who worked on the continent is overwhelmingly one of “great gratitude” and “affection”, according to a panel of speakers from Africa at a debate in the Irish Aid offices in Dublin to celebrate Africa Day on 25th May.

Rather than evaluating the legacy of the missionary movement from an Irish perspective, the debate, entitled “How Africa views Irish missionaries”, invited Africans themselves to discuss how they see the work of Irish missionaries in Africa.

“Our view of missionaries is usually mediated through the Irish media or missionary congregations themselves and this evening we are trying to turn the lens around and look at Irish missionaries from the African view,” explained Joe Humphreys, Irish Times journalist and author of God’s Entrepreneurs: How Irish Missionaries Tried to Change the World, who chaired the event.

Salome Mbugua, a native of Kenya and currently Director of the migrant network AkiDwA in Dublin, praised Irish missionaries for their pivotal role in promoting health and education across the continent. This success, said Ms Mbugua, rested with the fact that Irish missionaries shared the experience of being a colonized people with Africans.

Opposition to urbanisation is misguided – academic

Nigeria cityscape. Photo: World BankEN | ES [LONDON] Growing urbanisation does not have to spell disaster for either human health or the environment, and both research and underused technologies can help mitigate its negative effects, a conference has heard.

Developing nations must accept that urbanisation is inevitable, and invest in research and infrastructure to support their growing populations, Cecilia Tacoli, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), told delegates at the Population Footprints conference in London last week (25–26 May).

The conference, organised by University College London and the Leverhulme Trust, both based in United Kingdom, looked at the effects of population growth and dynamics on health and climate change.

Much of the world’s population growth will be in cities in Asia and Africa, whose urban populations are set to double between 2000–2030 to 3.4 billion, according to the 2007 UN Population Fund’s report ‘State of World Population: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth’.

Yet developing countries refuse to engage with the process of urbanisation and keep passing policies that hamper migration to cities, Tacoli told SciDev.Net. Their urban infrastructure is therefore poorly equipped to provide basic services such as healthcare, food, water and fuel.

Sensationalism or silence in the Congo: rape, death and the media

En route to Panzi Hospital in South Kivu, DRC. According to journalist André Thiel, this Congolese woman was kidnapped and raped for six years by Hutu rebels. Despite family support, she and her daughter have been rejected by villagers. Photo: Flickr/andré thiel.Rape and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are in the news. Like the daily global toll of avoidable death and illness, wars which do not obviously involve Americans, Europeans or Israelis usually struggle to be noticed.  However, the DRC media coverage has not been universally welcome.

However one looks at it, media coverage of the Democratic Republic of Congo has not been good. A study by the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) across the DR Congo between January 2006 and April 2007 estimated that 45,000 extra people were dying each month from preventable diseases and starvation as a legacy of conflict.

In the global media covered by the Alertnet world press tracker, between September 2006 (when the press data begins) and April 2007, there were 1,327 stories on the DRC, whereas Israel-Palestinian, Afghanistan and Iraq conflict generated 19,946, 29,987 and 43,589 stories respectively.

Irish Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to co-host forum on hunger in Africa

Irish Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D. (right) to discuss global hunger with US Secretary of State Clinton during visit to aid programme in Tanzania, 9 to 12 June 2011. Photos: US Department of State and Flickr/infomatique.It is estimated that almost one billion people do not have enough food to meet their daily requirements. Up to three and a half million children under 5 die each year from lack of adequate nutrition.

The number of undernourished dropped in 2010, recovering from the 2008 food price crisis. Food prices have since hit a new peak, however, and world food prices are set to remain high into 2012, according to the latest FAO analysis.

On Sunday 12 June, Irish Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Eamon Gilmore, T.D., and US Secretary of State Clinton will co-host a High Level Forum in Dar es Salaam on the fight against hunger in Africa. This is part of the ongoing cooperation between Ireland and the US to tackle global hunger and malnutrition, and which was highlighted by President Obama during his recent visit to Ireland.

Mr Gilmore will visit Tanzania, one of the priority countries for the Irish Government’s aid programme, from 9 to 12 June 2011. While there, the Tánaiste (i.e., Deputy Prime Minister) will assess the impact of Ireland’s aid programme in the fight against poverty and hunger. He will meet senior members of Government, and will co-host with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, a High Level Forum on the fight against hunger.

Are missionaries accurately represented in the media?

Dubliner Fr Tony Byrne, a Holy Ghost priest known as the “Green Pimpernel” for running a daring airlift operation into Biafra during its civil war with Nigeria.Are missionaries being fairly and accurately represented in the media? This was one of the questions discussed at the second of three public debates examining the past, present and future of Irish missionaries. The debate took place this month at the Irish Aid Centre in Dublin.

The chair was Joe Humphreys, Irish Times journalist, advisor to worldandmedia.com and author of God’s Entrepreneurs: How Irish Missionaries Tried to Change the World. He remarked that much of what the public knows about the missionaries has been through religious and secular literature, documentaries and press coverage.

He asked whether we have an accurate picture of missionary work and indeed whether missionaries wanted us to have one. He gave the example of an incident from the preface to his book. A fellow journalist had spent an extraordinary day with a nun in South Africa in a high security prison where she worked, meeting prisoners, many on death row, only to be told “now, you know, you can’t write about any of this. I don’t want my name in the paper.”

Humility is not the only reason why many are wary of journalists. However, Fr Gerry O’Connor, CSsR, told worldandmedia.com that if the Irish missionary movement is to have a future, it needs to be asked difficult questions: “The only way change comes about is if people ask questions you don’t want to hear.”

Thailand elections: poverty dominant issue, as nearly 1 in 5 live on a dollar a day

Children playing in a mountain village in Thailand. In spite of strong economic growth - about 4 per cent annually - almost one in five people work for less than the minimum wage and live on about 1000THB (€23/$33) a month. Photo: Flickr/Liv Unni Sødem.Elections are a dry business in Thailand. Sales of alcohol are forbidden from the evening before voting until polls close.

This weekend, Thais vote in a general election shadowed by rumours of a military coup or the return of an exiled politician. The alcohol ban is enforced to lessen road deaths as millions travel home to vote.

“There may even be a coup. It has happened many times in Thailand. We say we are a democracy but in fact we are not at all,” says monk Phra Sang Pen, visiting Dublin to discuss Ireland’s first Thai-Buddhist temple.

About three thousand Thai people live in Ireland. Head of the Thai-Ireland Association, Wichit Isarotaikul has lived in Dublin for 30 years. But he keeps a close eye on the country where many of his family live.

Tension at the ‘vineyard of peace’, the border crossing between Israel and Gaza

Palestinians sifting through rubble for metal. At 45%, the unemployment rate in Gaza is among the highest in the world.Ruairi Kavanagh, a journalist who specialises in security and military affairs, visits Kerem Shalom, the only currently functioning crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip and reports that the economic plight of the people of Gaza is a sub-plot of the current impasse between the Jewish State and the Hamas regime which governs Gaza that has repeatedly vowed to bring about the destruction of Israel.

The border crossing at Kerem Shalom is a tense place. The manager of the facility, Amos (not his real name), shows me around the tightly fortified plazas which are filled with trucks delivering cargo, which is then scanned and examined by teams of customs and security workers before, if allowed, being transferred to Gaza side of the crossing, which is run by Hamas. The fact that Hamas and Israel jointly run the crossing, albeit under a small UN monitoring presence, only adds to the surreal nature of the place, which is situated just a mere stone’s throw from the Egyptian border.

The process of allowing goods into and out of the Gaza Strip is a tightly orchestrated and seemingly fluid affair. A truck arrives, its goods are unloaded. They are then examined by the Israelis for banned items of ‘dual purpose’, such as building materials destined for private companies in Gaza. Approved items, the list of which the Israelis say has greatly increased, are then loaded onto a sterile truck and driven to another plaza where they are then loaded onto another truck for delivery into Gaza itself. Walls and barriers, and weapons, are everywhere in Kerem Shalom. Human contact is minimal but according to Amos, this is the way it has to be and this is the way it works.

Analysis: including men in sexual health programmes

Fewer than a third of men in many developing countries know that condom use and either abstinence or having only one, uninfected partner prevent STIs. Photo by Phuong Tran/IRIN: Patients wait in line at the CDTI Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.At a population conference held in London in May, Babatunde Osotimehin, head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), called for action on family planning to curb the growing global population, which is set to hit 7 billion this year.

But Osotimehin isn’t just concerned about the burgeoning population. Poor sexual and reproductive health can have serious consequences. Every day, 1,000 women in developing nations die in childbirth or botched abortions. And in 2009, 1.8 million people became infected with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.

The UN will draw attention to these concerns on 11 July, World Population Day, calling on policymakers to strengthen their commitment to sexual and reproductive health.

Excluding men

Most reproductive-health programmes target women, but some experts say that this strategy is flawed — sidelining men could mean that such programmes are doomed before they even begin.