Animals no safer inside Kenya’s parks than outside

Wildebeests, antelope, and other iconic African animals are declining just as quickly in Kenya’s parks and reserves as in the country’s unprotected lands.

That’s the finding of a recent study that questions a central tenet of Kenya’s wildlife conservation strategy.

Based on existing data, the team estimates that key animal populations have fallen by 40 percent over the past 30 years both inside and outside parkland.

The work seems to confirm what Kenyan environmentalists have suspected for years:

Aside from a few success stories, such as elephant and zebra conservation programs, efforts to sustain wildlife numbers in Kenya seem to be failing due to poor monitoring and enforcement.  Read more.

National Geographic Research Projects for 2009!

National Geographic is currently running a feature on their website that provides information on upcoming field projects for 2009.  Two in particular caught my attention:

The Human Origins Project

The Human Origins Project is the most ambitious and comprehensive undertaking of its kind, and researchers have high hopes for its outcomes. Goals of the mission include creating a Web resource that contributes to our understanding of human origins; educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists; providing means of research for global and indigenous paleontologists, geologists, scientists, and students; creating a collaborative community and virtual meeting space for anyone interested in human origins; and presenting a prehistory of early humans. Scientists in the field and in the lab are working hard to ensure the vast potential of the Human Origins Project is realized.

The Genographic Project

The Genographic Project is seeking to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. In this unprecedented and of real-time research effort, the Genographic Project is closing the gaps of what science knows today about humankind’s ancient migration stories.

The Genographic Project is a five-year research partnership led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Dr. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers, are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. The three components of the project are: to gather field research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world; to invite the general public to join the project by purchasing a Genographic Project Public Participation Kit; and to use proceeds from Genographic Public Participation Kit sales to further field research and the Genographic Legacy Fund which in turn supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects. The Project is anonymous, non-medical, non-profit and all results will be placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.

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I took part in the Genographic Project in 2006 and can happily say it was one of the most interesting and rewarding things I have done.  Aside from contributing to a global database to help deepen our understanding of human migration, you are learning about yourself and your ancestors.  After a couple months, you’ll receive the results of you DNA analysis (either maternal or paternal) along with a map of your family tree, tracking your ancestors all the way back their common root in Africa through the mutations in your genetic makeup.  Tell me that isn’t cool?

The Genographic Project Participation Kit is available here.

Which way ‘out of Africa’?

 


New evidence provides an alternative route ‘out of Africa’ for early humans.

The widely held belief that the Nile valley was the most likely route out of sub-Saharan Africa for early modern humans 120,000 year ago is challenged in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team led by the University of Bristol shows that wetter conditions reached a lot further north than previously thought, providing a wet ‘corridor’ through Libya for early human migrations. The results also help explain inconsistencies between archaeological finds.

While it is widely accepted that modern humans originated in sub-Saharan Africa 150-200 thousand years ago, their route of dispersal across the hyper-arid Sahara remains controversial. The Sahara covers most of North Africa and to cross it on foot would be a serious undertaking, even today with the most advanced equipment.

Well-documented evidence shows there was increased rainfall across the southern part of the Sahara during the last interglacial period (130-117 thousand years ago). The Bristol University team, with collaborators from the universities of Southampton, Oxford, Hull and Tripoli (Libya), investigated whether these wetter conditions had reached a lot further north than previously thought.

Anne Osborne, lead author on the paper said: “Space-borne radar images showed fossil river channels crossing the Sahara in Libya, flowing north from the central Saharan watershed all the way to the Mediterranean. Using geochemical analyses, we demonstrate that these channels were active during the last interglacial period. This provides an important water course across this otherwise arid region.” The critical ‘central Saharan watershed’ is a range of volcanic mountains formerly considered to be the limit of this wetter region.

The researchers measured the isotopic composition of snail shells taken from two sites in the fossil river channels and from the shells of planktonic microfossils in the Mediterranean. Despite being hundreds of kilometres from the volcanic rocks in the mountains of the Saharan watershed, these shells had a distinctly volcanic ‘signature’, very different from the other rocks surrounding the sites. Water flowing from these volcanic mountains is the only possible source of this signature.

Dr Derek Vance, senior author on the paper, added: “The study shows, for the first time, that monsoon rains fed rivers that extended from the Saharan watershed, across the northern Sahara, to the Mediterranean Sea. These corridors rivaled the Nile Valley as potential routes for early modern human migrations to the Mediterranean shores.”

The similarities between Middle Stone Age artefacts in places like Chad and the Sudan, with those of Libya, strongly support this theory. “We now need to focus archaeological fieldwork around the large drainage channels and palaeo-lakes to test these ideas” said Nick Barton, a contributor to the project from the University of Oxford.

Full story available at Bristol.ac.uk

ICROSS Updates

ICROSS parade in Nakuru

As part of the ICROSS support programme Sophie Ligondo, ICROSS Project manager walks with ICROSS carers and health teams in Nakuru.  The event with other partners was to create awareness and advocacy for stigmaticed groups.  ICROSS works with many people who have been victims of violence,  HIV AIDS patients and those terminally ill.

Our Nakuru projects are expanding throughout the next few months and we plan on reaching even more vulnerable children by early 2009.

Ilkilorit Clinic Update

We have begun work on a new ICROSS project to provide health services in a new area of Maasai land. The  clinic will immediately benefit up to 12,000 people from 2,000 homesteads. There is a chronic lack of health access in the area, with many people having to travel 10 -15km to the nearest dispensary.

This lack of direct access to health facilities has a short as well as long term negative impact on the wellbeing of these communities, with many children not being able to attend schools due to regular illness and lack of appropriate medical care within their area.

ICROSS has mobilized the community to support the undertaking by using local labor and contributions (i.e. raw materials) to help build the clinic, which will be undertaken at a cost of approximately £21,000, including the staff house which will accommodate the resident doctor.

The results of building a clinic in this area will be both immediate and long term.

Access to local health care and health education will provide immediate aid to those who otherwise would have limited or no access;  there will an increase in school attendance for children (the clinic is a short distance from a local school); and we aim to reduce disease within the area and lower the mortality rate from 32% to under 8%.

The ICROSS team led by Sarune Ole Lengeny has been working with the community for  months planning the exciting new initiative, another  locally owned and planned idea.

With the help of the Global fund ICROSS will extend its services to new locations presently.

Five Year Plan

ICROSS has finalised the updated five year plan for the International programmes and public health strategy. The five year plan is in line with latest Global health policies and International developments. The Five year plan, which is evaluated and updated regularly has made adjustments in the light of shifts in International markets, the Global financial changes and the latest evidence regarding medical demographics and health priorities.

As ICROSS continues to learn and respond to ever changing dynamics, our programme development team has scaled up innovative training and reorganisation. With your help ICROSS continues to strengthen local communities and respond to the poorest of the poor in a creative and fresh set of initiatives. Working with our partners in communities and with the Ministry of health we are working on new low cost responses to the changing needs and challenges facing Africa.

The full plan is available for viewing and download here.

Africa and the global financial crisis: Disaster or opportunity?

By Dr. Michael Meegan

ICROSS.ie

Africa has seen dramatic shifts over the past 20 years. It has always been a continent of dynamic change and turmoil. The last few weeks in International markets have shaken the Globe and the chain reaction will affect us all, especially the poorest.

Despite very real challenges there are signs of hope. International attention has focused on poverty, corruption poor economic growth, AIDS and famine.  Media has rarely highlighted other trends and patterns that show another side to Africa.  Markets are opening, new industries are emerging and global shifts are encouraging.  The impact of the global financial crisis on Africa has been cushioned by its limited holdings of stock share capital. Most essential credit lies with secure multi and bilateral structures like the World Bank and IMF, Governments and nonprofit institutions. 

Given the downturn in global markets, many investors will be reluctant to increase African investment or explore trade relationships in a climate of declining credit. The notable exception in Africa has been China, this too may change. China depends on exports but if demand slows as consumers spend less the slump will impact all of South East Asia. As part of the chain reaction Africa will have its own industries hurt as Westerners choose cheaper holiday destinations, import less and become more careful with spending.

While Africa has a long way to catch up with other areas like South America and India there are encouraging signs.  There are less people living in absolute poverty than thirty years ago though the gap is greater than ever.  There are less people seriously malnourished the twenty years ago but famines continue to be often man made like Darfur.

Many African countries like Tanzania and Kenya are seeing a slow increase in economic growth with those experiencing decline (like Somalia and Zimbabwe) being trapped in power traps and control feuds. Most of the Continent is moving, though rarely on its own terms towards integrated democracy. Western models of political management are not always ideal even in Europe, our own Governments struggle with local politics and corruption as well. The difference has always been scale and acceptance of open dishonesty at every level of society from the educational system to judiciary.

Global economy has dramatically shifted in the last decade; fast emerging economies like Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and China are shifting global trade balances. With China exporting far more than it imports it is fast becoming one of the richest economies in the World. The impact on Africa has been the opening of new trading relationships with many countries turning away from often poor trade relationships with western trading blocks to more favorable partnerships with middle income economies. While the Global crisis will have negative effects on Growth in the short term, Western Governments have already begun restructuring in order to protect the financial systems from further collapse.

While there is likely to be significant cutbacks in spending, there is a realization that the world economy is truly global and interrelated. This recognition alone means that no trading block can thrive if another is in decline. The World stock exchanges are so closely linked that share prices followed mirror patterns throughout the past weeks. African Governments followed European central banks to protect their vulnerable economies Nigeria changed the interest rate from 10.25% to 9.75%, the liquidity rate from 40% to 30%, and cash reserve requirement from 4% to 2%. The policy adjustments are designed to pump N150 billion into the system and improve liquidity. Nigeria is seen as the country best prepared to manage the present crisis.

South Africa’s central bank governor Tito Mboweni warned that slowing economic growth linked to the financial crisis risked pushing tens of millions into poverty in Africa. The IMF warned on Wednesday that Sub-Saharan Africa would see slower growth this year and next as the region suffers from the global financial turmoil and a sharp spike in inflation pressures.( AFP)

Africa has made great strides over the last decade with improved Governance , widespread efforts for improved Governmental transparency and political reform.  While there are many challenges throughout the continent, the UNICEF indicators have improved over the past decade. Apart from   setbacks in life expectancy in many countries largely due to to HIV related deaths there are signs of improved health services, long term changes in infant mortality in the Sub Sahara as well as improved quality of life.

One of the key elements to the exponential success of South Americas rise out of poverty into middle income economies has been its economic diversity. South East Asia also moved from poverty in the 1950s and 60s into highly effective diversified markets by the early 1980s. The educational systems of countries like the Philippines provide useful examples of how poor countries can develop curricula that prepare their work force internationally. The Philippines realized how useful it would be to have children speaking English and like India they were outward looking in their strategic vision. Africa too has an opportunity of incorporating some of the lessons learnt from countries that have   moved from being low income to middle income economies. 

South African finance Minister Trevor Manuel said in an interview with Business Day newspaper that it will probably be a year or more before the impact is seen fully. The Ugandan Government called for increased regional trade to lessen dependency of overseas markets.

The African labor force has never been as prepared with a record number of University graduates. Investment while small has been growing. If African countries could follow examples like India and proactively nurture IT, computer and communication industries new opportunities may open up as they have in Asia.

Communication and transport have seen dramatic progress in the last five years with street hawkers, shepherd and farmers part of the mobile phone revolution. A traditional pastoralist mother can now phone her daughter miles away even though the family may have no electricity at home.  The mobile phone age has leap frogged communication into rural communities who could never have dreamt of phones five years ago.  Mobile phones and computers are increasingly affordable and with them new possibilities for commerce.

The Aid industry worth billions of dollars may be affected by a short term decline in funding as Governments curb new funding, the most vulnerable group in many African countries will be the new emerging middle class.  In countries like Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, this rapidly growing percent of the work force have helped strengthen thriving economies and seen the start of western style suburbs and spending habits.  These tax payers have made a major contribution in stabilizing especially urban growth in cities across Africa.

This new middle class will be nervous as they often work in industries most tied to International business like export, tourism, finance and insurance.

UNECA chief Abdoulie Janneh was reassuring taking an optimistic view, “It is frightening, but I am optimistic that the process of fixing the problems has begun, and at the end of the day, we hope this continent would be better off.”(Peter Heinlein, Voice of America, Addis Ababa, 10 October 2008).

Many economists agree that Africa will be among the least affected by the crisis, but it may slow down AID and development funding for a period while markets recover.

The setbacks and challenges range from endemic corruption and poor planning to pockets of poverty of those not part of the new growth. Many cities in Africa are surrounded by slums which can easily be ignited as we saw in Kenya and South Africa earlier this year.

As always it is the most vulnerable who are most at risk.  Countries like Kenya are beginning to take initiatives to tackle rising slum populations and improve opportunities and living conditions. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya has launched an ambitious programme to replace the ghettos and confront the poverty trap that millions find themselves in.  If it works, it will be an important model of coping with urban slums in Africa, starting with Nairobi’s one million slum dwellers.

Another challenge is that the wealth of natural resources in Africa rarely filters down to the poor, even wealthy countries like Nigeria has areas of   poverty despite considerable oil exports.
 
How Africa uses its natural wealth depends on its ability to learn how to manage its very vulnerable economies. Some countries are better at  marketing than others, south Africa and Egypt have  highly successful overseas policies to promote investment and tourism, others like Sudan and Zimbabwe have further to go.

Nelson Mandela often said that the future of Africa lay in investing in the children, in education.  This human resource is perhaps the key to Africa’s future.  The Western World needs to have a donor shift; a change of model regarding Africa. Ultimately the last few weeks have been a wakeup call for the World.  A reminder that we are all fragile and our world can easily fall apart.  It will fall apart unless we are all working together, together as equal partners.  Western Governments might learn a little humility from the lessons of the Global melt down.  They might listen more and trust more, and   adopt greater real partnership.  The days of donor driven policies and agendas are at an end , the great wisdom of the  capitalist consumer model has been shown to be a dangerous illusion, and more honest transparent  strategies will be needed as the World begins  reforming and regrouping.

For Africa this is an exciting opportunity, a real chance to be more engaged as equals in a global economy realizing we are interdependent.  The rich may not always be rich and poor may not always be poor; the best we should be is a community of equals working towards a common future learning from mistakes and building on success.

Update from ICROSS: Nakuru District Football Tournament

The ICROSS Nakuru District team hosted a football tournament as part of our growing outreach and health awareness work.

The Nakuru street boys are a tough bunch, most are HIV orphans and substance abusers, living both with the disease and the impact it can have on an already fragile family structure.  A lot of healing and community help is needed in practical support, nutritional care and team building. With the help of Francis Mwangi – a former street boy, now ICROSS community health worker – we organized a series of tournaments and community activities; we are spreading out these activities to more areas this month. The ICROSS staff put a small collection of their own money together, and this goes towards the event costs.   Local women in the community are paid the equivalent of a day’s wages to cook a large meal that on the day manages to feed between 60 and 70 kids.  This scheme not only benefits the boys, but also the local mothers, many of whom don’t have an income, and are also living with HIV.  The food is all bought locally.

Everyone helps out and contributes.  This is at the core of the ICROSS spirit; making sharing fun. As part of the events, basic needs are identified by the team and connections developed. Our long term relationship with community groups, villages and slum areas builds on trust, working together and finding practical solutions to problems.  Working through sports, drama, innovative training and competitions are useful ways of developing these long term relationships in our HIV outreach programmes.

 

Photos by David Leigh Delport

ICROSS and SODIS work to improve water quality

UNICEF and the WHO estimate that more than 1 billion people around the world are without year-round access to safe drinking water. Each year more than 1.5 million children under the age of 5 years die as a result of waterborne disease in Africa and Asia. Solar Disinfection (SODIS) is a technique for making contaminated drinking water safe where transparent bottles are filled with contaminated water and placed in direct sunlight. The water is safe to drink after 6 hours exposure to the sun.

70% of East African Hospital visits are caused by contaminated water. Over 40,000 deaths occur every week from unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation, 90% are children under 5 years old. Over a Billion people do not have access to clean water, most live in the poor world. ICROSS has a long term programme to improve water quality, prevent water borne disease and protect water sources.

The Solar Disinfection of contaminated drinking water is a low cost method of purifying water. The early research in SODIS was done by the RCSI / ICROSS research team in the mid 1990s. This important way of improving water by making it safe to drink has been scaled up and the SODIS project has been extended to South Africa , Zimbabwe, Cambodia and other countries. The aim of the SODISWATER project is to demonstrate that solar disinfection of drinking water is an effective intervention against a range of waterborne diarrheal diseases at household level and as emergency relief in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters.

ICROSS programmes in Kenya are extending SODIS as part of a comprehensive community health strategy to reduce water borne disease. With your help we can do even more.

Please take the time to visit:

http://www.rcsi.ie/sodis/