News Briefs 7/28/2019

Workers of Kampala Capital City Authority remove garbage under a campaign encouraging people to keep their neighbourhood clean on July 10 in Makindye Lukuli area of Kampala, Uganda. Africa faces a population boom unmatched anywhere in the world, with millions of people moving to fast-growing cities but the decades-old sanitation facilities are crumbling under the pressure.

Africa’s booming cities

face a severe toilet crisis

MAKINDYE-LUKULI, Uganda | The darkening clouds are ominous for many in this urban neighborhood, promising rushing rainwaters stinking of human waste from overflowing septic tanks.

As Africa faces a population boom unmatched anywhere in the world, millions of people are moving to fast-growing cities while decades-old public facilities crumble under the pressure.

Sewage is a scourge for residents of this community on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. There are no public toilets for some 1,200 people. Mud tinged with feces washes into homes during heavy rains.

The sanitation crisis echoes that of cities across the developing world. Some 2.5 billion people, most of them in Africa or Asia, lack access to an adequate toilet, United Nations figures show. Governments are increasingly depending on private businesses and philanthropic groups to help manage human waste in cities that were never planned to handle so many people.

One of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kampala is home to at least 1.5 million people but authorities say over 3 million pass through daily, usually for work. Yet there are fewer than 800 pay toilets and only 14 free ones, many of them dilapidated with walls often smeared with feces.

Trump proposal to crack down on food stamp ‘loophole’

Residents signing up for food stamps in Minnesota are provided a brochure about domestic violence, but it doesn’t matter if they even read the pamphlet. The mere fact it was made available could allow them to qualify for government food aid if their earnings or savings exceed federal limits.

As odd as that might sound, it’s not actually unusual.

Thirty-eight other states also have gotten around federal income or asset limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by using federal welfare grants to produce materials informing food stamp applicants about other available social services. Illinois, for example, produced a flyer briefly listing 21 services, a website and email address and a telephone number for more information.

The tactic was encouraged by former President Barack Obama’s administration as a way for states to route federal food aid to households that might not otherwise qualify under a strict enforcement of federal guidelines. Now President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing to end the practice — potentially eliminating food stamps for more than 3 million of the nation’s 36 million recipients.

Russian police arrest more than 1,000 in Moscow protest

MOSCOW | Russian police cracked down fiercely Saturday on demonstrators in central Moscow, beating some people and arresting more than 1,000 who were protesting the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for Moscow city council. Police also stormed into a TV station broadcasting the protest.

Police wrestled with protesters around the mayor’s office, sometimes charging into the crowd with their batons raised. State news agencies Tass and RIA-Novosti cited police as saying 1,074 were arrested over the course of the protests, which lasted more than seven hours.

Along with the arrests of the mostly young demonstrators, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the council were arrested throughout the city before the protest. Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling an unauthorized protest.

South Sudan tries to protect wildlife after long conflict

BIRE KPATOUS GAME RESERVE, South Sudan | Charles Matthew secures his beret, slings a rifle over his shoulder and prepares a team for an overnight foot patrol in Bire Kpatous, one of South Sudan’s game reserves that survived the country’s civil war but are now increasingly threatened by poachers and encroaching human settlements.

Matthew, 45, said he’s proud of his work after years of being a soldier and has learned a lot about wildlife. “I didn’t even know the names of species like aardvark, pangolin, crocodile and chimpanzee,” he said of his knowledge when he started as a ranger 14 years ago.

But he worries about the reserve: “When poachers come and are well-armed, we can’t get there in time.”

South Sudan is trying to rebuild its six national parks and 13 game reserves, which cover more than 13% of the country’s terrain, following the five-year civil war that ended last year after killing nearly 400,000 people. A fragile peace deal still has key steps to carry out.

— From AP reports

The fighting stripped the country of much wildlife and the parks are rudimentary, lacking lodges, visitors’ centers and roads. There is no significant tourism; the parks department does not even keep statistics on the number of visitors.

“Given these challenges, the biodiversity of South Sudan is in peril,” said DeeAnn Reeder, a conservationist and professor at Bucknell University who has done research there. She called conservation efforts “significant but relatively small in scale given the vastness of the country” that still has the potential for surprise. The documentation of forest elephants in South Sudan was a “very significant find.”

That biodiversity remains rich with more than 300 mammal species, including 11 primates. The country boasts one of Africa’s greatest annual antelope migrations.

Now the biggest threat to the country’s wildlife is poaching, the scourge that afflicts parks and reserves across Africa.

Bire Kpatous, near the Congo border and a convergence point for flora and fauna from Central and East Africa, has one of the region’s “forgotten forests,” as some conservationists call them. It is home to animals such as bongo antelopes, badger bats, African golden cats, forest elephants and forest buffalos.

The spread of unlicensed firearms, however, threatens to decimate wildlife while the resources to combat it are scarce. South Sudan’s government allocated nearly $6 million for the parks and reserves last year, a figure considered woefully inadequate by some local authorities.

Western Equatoria state, where Bire Kpatous is located, has just one car for the 184 rangers overseeing three game reserves and one national park.

Some donors are stepping up. South Sudan last month received a pledge of $7.6 million from the United States Agency for International Development and another $1.5 million from the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect the parks.

Insecurity remains a challenge as unrest from the civil war continues. Western Equatoria state’s national park, Southern Park, has been almost completely cut off from rangers’ patrols since opposition fighters occupied parts of it in 2015, said Jonathan Nyari, former state director for wildlife services.

Bire Kpatous is also threatened by encroaching human settlements. Residents already burn swaths of land surrounding the park to clear it for cultivation. Rangers are working to foster support for the parks among local residents, who sometimes go out on patrol with rangers.

“Whenever we patrol the forest we sleep separately. In case we’re attacked by poachers at least one person might survive,” said Masimino Pasquale, a resident working with the rangers.

Residents say they often hear gunshots in the park but are without transport to investigate, said Samuel Apollo, the community’s chief.

Another resident and wildlife advocate, Philip Michael, said he was threatened with death last year by people who blamed him for not “allowing them to kill animals.”

The Britain-based Fauna & Flora International is teaching rangers and community members how to use a GPS, set camera traps and establish sustainable practices. The group also is trying to help South Sudan develop conservation tourism as an alternative source of revenue for a country whose economy is almost entirely dependent on oil.

While progress is slow, several rangers said they are seeing more signs of animals during patrols than they did last year.

Local teacher Isaac Pisiru said he wants to organize field trips to the park so his students will learn the importance of protecting animals.

“If I don’t teach them about protecting animals, people will start destroying them,” he said. “It’s important for children to see animals physically and not just in books.”