Just World. The Blog.

October 30, 2014

We have five weeks to bring the Ebola outbreak under control

By Éamonn Meehan

From localised beginnings, the Ebola outbreak has rapidly grown into first a national and now a regional crisis. Health services outside of West Africa, including our own in Ireland, are on high alert to ensure that this does not become a full-blown international outbreak.

Having just returned from Sierra Leone, where I saw first-hand the potential for the virus to spread at a frightening rate, one thing is very clear: the battle against Ebola will be won or lost in West Africa.

There are currently 10,000 cases throughout the region but at the rate it is spreading, it is feared that by December there could be 3,000 new cases a week in Sierra Leone alone. If that were to happen, the country simply could not cope. We have a strict time-frame of five weeks in which to bring this outbreak under control.

Prevent the spread of EbolaPhoto caption: Fatu Sesay washes her hands at a handwashing station. In Sierra Leone, Trócaire is working with Caritas to prevent the spread of Ebola. Photo credit: Tommy Trenchard for Caritas

Sierra Leone is already a desperately poor country. The health services here were extremely weak even before this outbreak. To give an illustration of just how poor Sierra Leone is, one in five children do not reach their fifth birthday.

The weak structures that exist in Sierra Leone are desperately struggling to contain the most serious threat to the country since the brutal civil war came to an end in 2002.

There is an urgent need for more health centres, more beds and more medically trained personnel. Resources simply aren't coming on stream fast enough and the world needs to take note.

Attempts to halt the spread of the virus were hampered in the early weeks by a lack of information about how to reduce the risk of contamination. A mistrust of Government made matters worse as people did not believe what they were being told.

Trócaire is working with local leaders, both religious and civic, to get vital messages into communities. These initiatives are helping to tackle the spread of the virus.

The potential spread of the virus in the capital city, Freetown, is particularly worrying. There are over one million people living in Freetown and there are already 1,000 cases of Ebola in the city. Given how close people live together, there is a real fear that it could spread quickly.

Aside from the health risks posed by Ebola, this crisis has had many devastating side-effects. People are now too scared to go to health clinics and are dying of other diseases, such as malaria. Tens of thousands of women will give birth over the coming months without any medical assistance.

The crisis has also increased poverty. There have been redundancies due to businesses closing, while restrictions on movement have meant that farmers can't bring their crops to market. The lowest paid and most vulnerable are suffering most.

In addition, schools are closed and there is a likelihood that many children will not return to the classroom.  

Even if the Ebola outbreak was to be contained today, these long-term issues will pose enormous challenges for Sierra Leone over the coming months and years. Neighbouring countries, including Guinea and Liberia, face similar problems.

Trócaire will work with communities for long-term responses to these problems. Right now, however, the focus has to be on stopping the virus from taking any more lives.

There is a global panic about the possibility of Ebola crossing seas and continents with the same ease at which it crossed national borders. We must avoid knee-jerk reactions, however. The decision of Australia to suspend entry visas for people from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa will needlessly increase fear and stigma.

As the director of a local organisation said to me in Freetown: “Isolate the virus, but don't isolate Sierra Leone”.

October 29, 2014

How radio helps to build peace in South Sudan

By Faith Kasina

Pass by any tea kiosk or shopping outlet strewn along the roadsides, or a fleet of commuter bikes commonly known as bodaboda in South Sudan and you will notice one commonality: radio.

Whether housed in a mobile phone or public address system, radios are simply a way of life here and quite clearly a living need for people to stay informed.

“Most of us have no televisions,” says Asunta Akol, a resident from South Sudan’s Lakes State. “We have little access to newspapers or the internet so it is easier to get information from radios. They are basically our lifeline.”

Yet what citizens need to know most about - their rights and entitlements from their leaders, their country’s affairs and other important national issues, and how they can participate in the making of decisions affecting them  –is still deafeningly off-air.

Years of political oppression have severely infringed on the citizen’s right to know, resulting in an innate fear not only to express opinions or needs but also a reluctance to seek vital information on their entitlements from those appointed through the ballot box.  The fear is even more apparent in the current climate.

“Fear of being targeted means it is not easy for citizens, including some government officials, to talk openly about certain issues particularly on security or intercommunal conflict- the core issues here in Lakes State” says Luca Lueth, a Program Manager with Radio Good News, that airs a Trócaire-supported current affairs program.

“Last June we were closed down because of discussing those issues. This has limited our capacity on what we, as a broadcaster, can report. If we cannot report, the public will not know.”

Community briefing in Yambio, south Sudan
Photo caption: Community briefing in Yambio, south Sudan. Photo credit: Caritas Internationalis

‘A voice of the people’

According to an audience survey by Internews, radio emerged as the second most important information source on critical matters such as the constitution and roles of government officials. Additionally, 37% of the population own a functional radio at home.

Despite this, many media outlets including newspapers and radio stations are often unfairly gagged, which locals like Asunta disagree with.

“I can listen to our leaders and interact with them through phone calls or text on radio,” she says. “Like now, I am able to follow what is going on in Addis Ababa (ongoing mediation talks to resolve the South Sudan’s current political crisis) so I feel part of the process.”

Three key media draft laws were recently (September 2014) passed by parliament, closing in the legal vacuum that journalists in South Sudan have been working in for years.  Yet, local media professionals remain sceptical of change to their ever-souring relationship with the government.

“Authorities should see us as one of their arms, wanting to develop the same country. We are just the people’s voice,” says Luca.


Bridging the Gap

There are four main radio networks with broad coverage in South Sudan. Trócaire partners with one of these, the Catholic Radio Network (CRN) established in 2006, to air civic education programs touching on current affairs with clear messages on conflict resolution and peace-building, particularly after the December 2013 conflict.

In addition, Trócaire directly supports two radio stations- Radio Good News (Lakes State) and Voice of Hope (Western Bhar Al Ghazal State)in producing and airing weekly civic education programmes, to help people know and understand their basic rights and be able to better participate in governance processes.

The programmes are based on interviews from relevant experts on the topics being discussed. Listeners then get a chance to call in during the shows and contribute to the discussions.

“From our listeners, it is clear that people are more aware (of their rights) and are willing to express issues that they think government should be addressing,” Luca attests. “People want to talk about these issues and radio is the main outlet.”

Peter Mayor, one of the listeners, whilst contributing to a discussion on the state’s economy said “reducing taxes on everyday items as charcoal and vegetables or selling fruits or timber” can reduce people’s over-reliance on oil as a source of livelihood.

For Trócaire, a population that is aware of their rights is more capable of determining who governs them and how they are governed.

“People should be aware of their rights and entitlements so they know how they should be treated,” reiterates Niall O’Keeffe, Trócaire Governance and Human Rights Program Lead.

“It is a fundamental human right that people have a say in how they are governed and the radio provides an excellent forum for people to have these discussions.”

As one community member from Baggari area in South Sudan rightly put it, “If they (government) don’t come to us and understand our needs, there will be no solution” - radios could well be that first turn on the ignition!

October 20, 2014

Almost seven years on, where is the justice for Kenya's victims of post-election violence?

By James Mwangi, Governance and Human Rights Officer in Kenya, and Julian Waagensen, Governance and Human Rights Policy Officer 
9 October 2014: Huge crowds shout themselves hoarse along the major streets of Nairobi as the presidential motorcade slithers from the airport to the city centre.
The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Deputy, William Rutu, are in crisp shirts, riding in an open roof state limousine. These two men share more than smart dressing and state power, however. They are both suspects in the International Criminal Court (ICC), facing a variety of charges.
The crowds had gathered to welcome the country’s President back from the Hague, where he had become the first serving Head of State to appear before the ICC.
For the masses here and millions of other Kenyans, the period between December 2007 and February 2008 will forever be etched in their memory. Kenya experienced ethnic violence sparked by the hotly-contested presidential election, which saw opposition leader Raila Odinga and his supporters reject the victory of incumbent Mwai Kibaki, claiming widespread election rigging.
Peaceful protests gave way to horrific, widespread and systematic violence, which included the burning down of houses, machete attacks, beatings, rapes and police shootings. Approximately 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 people were displaced into temporary camps. 
The ICC intervened and indicted six Kenyans, including Kenyatta, who had been a close ally of Kibaki. There was a general feeling that the victims of the violence would get some closure.
The ICC cases became a campaign issue in the 2013 election. The protagonists across the political divide put all effort to derive political capital from it. Kenyatta ultimately proved successful and was elected President, following in the footsteps of his father, Jomo, who led the country following its independence from Britain.
At the ICC, the defence and the prosecution were busy exchanging legal arguments. Uhuru Kenyatta’s case has already been postponed five times. On 8th October, the prosecution was asking for an indefinite postponement on account of the Kenyan government’s non-cooperation. Kenyatta’s lawyers want the case dismissed due to lack of evidence. The opposition meanwhile believes the Kenyan government is sabotaging the case now that the suspects are in power.
kibera slums kenya
The Kibera slum in Nairobi was one of the worst affected by violence following the disputed election in December 2007. Photo: Eoghan Rice
As the political posturing and the academic debate over the finer points of international law continue, it is all too easy to forget the surviving victims of the violence, who are no closer to having the full truth about what happened and who was responsible. They have seen no justice for the crimes committed, and have seen no or little reparation (a term that includes both compensation and rehabilitation) for the crimes committed against them.
It is almost seven years since the end of the post-election violence. As it fades ever further into history, it is imperative to ensure that victims are not forgotten and that they do not continue to suffer the effects of the violence because not enough is done to ensure their right to truth, justice and reparation.
The defence, the suspects, the lawyers, the lobbyists and the political opposition continue to make all the arguments. 
In the meantime, who is mourning the dead and the rape victims?
Who will tell the story of the orphaned?  
Victims of Kenya’s post-election violence recall their experiences:
Tom Wainaina
I left home on 30th December 2007 for a toy market but before I got there I noticed people were gathering in groups and decided to turn around and go back home.
On reaching Mashimoni (a slum in Nairobi), I met a group of men and boys. One of them shouted “here is another one”. They pounced on me and in the process tore off my shirt. They started to beat me up, they tied up my hands and started asking for paraffin so that they burn me as they wanted to finish me completely.
Lucky, another group came to my rescue. They threw me into the sewage drainage to put out the fire and went to look for means to take me to hospital. They found a driver who agreed to come and I woke up to find myself in the ICU at Kenyatta National Hospital.
‘Mama Anna’
My neighbour came running telling us there was a group of youths approaching our plot and they were wielding machetes. We all rushed and locked ourselves in [but] they scaled the wall and entered. I hid under the bed. I could hear someone telling others the tribes of the occupants of the houses. They forcibly entered the house. They saw me under the bed and pulled me out.
I asked them what they were doing [and] they told me they were doing the work Kibaki asked them to do. They told me if I dared to scream they would kill me. They violated me as others held me, I then lost consciousness and I later got up and found I was stark naked.
I know my violators as they were my neighbours.  They did not turn off my phone after stealing it and when my children called they told them to go and collect my body at the mortuary.
Officers from the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) came. I gave them the names of the perpetrators. I even showed them where the perpetrators live. They were never arrested. 
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October 14, 2014

Responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa

The Ebola crisis continues to worsen, with over 4,000 people having died from the virus in West Africa. 
Trócaire is working in Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries affected by the crisis. We are responding to the crisis through our partnership with local Caritas and missionary organisations. 
In Liberia we are supporting a hospital operated by the Franciscans. This response includes funding hand-washing stations and training health workers responding to the crisis. 
Our response in Sierra Leone has focused on grassroots community awareness raising programme. This has included producing written materials, training community leaders and door-to-door awareness campaigns to raise awareness of how Ebola can be transmitted, how risk of transmission can be reduced, and how to respond to suspected cases.  This work has focused on the two districts of Sierra Leone (Kailahun and Kenema) where the outbreak originated. 
We are also helping to provide food and non-food items to people in quarantined households. In addition, we are providing psycho-social trauma counselling to survivors or Ebola and those orphaned by the virus. Stigma is a huge problem for survivors and relatives of those deceased as they often face isolation as a result of fears that they may be contagious. 
In addition to the health danger posed by the virus, this crisis will also cause problems for food availability in affected countries. Restrictions on movement have meant that many people have been unable to plant crops. Hunger is likely to rise over the coming months due to food shortages.
Trócaire is building a longer-term response to include food and agricultural support for communities affected by disruption to planting. 
Our response to the Ebola crisis is being funded through regular donations. You can support our work in response to the Ebola crisis here
Caritas Trocaire Ebola response
Top: In Sierra Leone, Caritas Freetown is teaching people how to prevent the spread of Ebola. Photo: Caritas Internationalis
Bottom: In Guinea, Caritas is distributing hygiene materials and teaching people about Ebola prevention. Photo: OCPH/Caritas Guinea
October 09, 2014

Are you ready to act on climate change?

Are you 16-18 years old? Do you want to learn more about the causes of climate change and experience its effects first hand? 
Then sign up for our ‘Climate Change Challenge Weekend’ taking place at the University of Maynooth on 14-16 November 2014. This weekend is for young people who are concerned about the effect that our changing climate is having on people and communities around the world, and want to find out how to get involved in tackling climate injustice in the developing countries.
We have four main aims for the weekend:
  1. To increase your knowledge of climate change;
  2. To help you understand why climate change is an urgent social justice issue, what we call ‘climate justice’;
  3. To assist you in making connections with experienced activists and hear stories from around the world;
  4. To give you the knowledge and skills to become a climate justice activist.
Throughout the weekend you will examine the causes, effects and possible ways to mitigate climate change through a variety of activities, for example: activist workshops; Trócaire staff presentations; special guest speaker; a disaster simulation exercise; drama; documentary viewing. 
If you are aged between 16 and 18 years old (on the 14 November), then contact for further information and an application form. The cost for the weekend is £20/€25. If this amount is not feasible for you, please do not hesitate to contact Trócaire in confidence.
The closing date for applications is 17 October 2014.
We plan to create an atmosphere built around mutual respect and understanding between you as participants, Trócaire staff and volunteers, and other agencies who join us at different times during the Climate Change Challenge. We will use a ‘Buddy System’ for the weekend, which means you will be in groups of three peers with a team leader to guide you through the different activities. Attendance is obligatory for all activities. We will support you to make choices and direct your own learning experience. All participants must remain on Maynooth University campus at all times.
Your planet needs you! Will you act? 
climate change challenge flyer