Nigeria’s roads: ‘My son died in a car accident – now I control traffic’

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Monica Dongban-Mensem (centre) received training from authorities to qualify as a traffic officer

During her free time, Nigerian Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem controls traffic in the capital, Abuja, eight years after her son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.

On the day I met her she was clad in her blue traffic vest, feet spread apart, sweaty arms slicing the air at a frantic pace, as she directed cars in 38C (100F) heat fuelled by the idling cars.

Around her was the busy chaos of the Berger roundabout in the city’s central area.

The cars that were not moving were hunched on their front axles, horns blaring, impatiently waiting for her to say “go”.

She was clearly in charge.

“Many Nigerians are impatient and it shows in their driving,” Justice Dongban-Mensem told me.

She did not know who was responsible for her son’s death but wanted to tackle some of the poor driving she witnessed.

She started going to bus stations to speak to drivers about road safety in Nigeria.

What she found shocked her.

Most of the drivers had not received proper training and were not familiar with the traffic rules.

Such ignorance might have caused the death of her son and she was determined to change that.

The 62-year-old has set up a non-profit organisation named after her late son – Kwapda’as Road Safety Demand – to educate motorists about safety and she also plans to establish a driving school for potential commercial drivers, where they can receive training free-of-charge.

Not content with that, Justice Dongban-Mensem wanted to play a role in controlling the traffic herself. After weeks of training with the road safety commission she qualified as a traffic warden.

It was not until 2016, five years after the accident, that she felt able to visit the scene of her son’s death in the central Nigerian city of Jos.

“My mission was to find someone who could just tell me or describe to me how my son died.”

But once she got there, she was left terrified, sad and angry by the chaos she saw.

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50728800

Ninety-year-old “chef of the poor” cooks it up for Rome’s homeless

Screenshot_2020-02-11 Ninety-year-old chef of the poor cooks it up for Rome's homeless
Dino Impagliazzo stirs a saucepan of soup for homeless living in Rome and outside the Vatican colonnades, Italy, January 18, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

ROME, – Dino Impagliazzo dices onions like a master chef and makes a mean vegetable soup, but most of his loyal “customers” can’t afford to buy even a bread stick.

Sprightly despite his 90 years, Impagliazzo is known as Rome’s “chef of the poor”.

Three days a week, he and other volunteers of the RomAmoR (RomeLove) association he founded make the rounds of food markets and bakeries for contributions from retailers who help him live out his dream of feeding the homeless.

It all began 15 years ago when a homeless man at a Rome train station asked him for money to buy a sandwich.

“I realized that perhaps instead of buying one sandwich, making some sandwiches for him and for the friends who were there would be better, and thus began our adventure,” he said.

Now the RomAmoR volunteers cook the food on the other four days of the week and serve it in various places in the city, mostly near train stations.

“We try to involve more and more people so that Rome becomes a city where people can love each other, you know?” he said while preparing soup in a professional kitchen. “It’s solidarity”.

On Saturday nights, they set up under a portico outside St. Peter’s Square to feed the growing number of homeless who sleep in the area, where Pope Francis has also opened medical and bathing facilities for them.

Impagliazzo, who once worked for Italy’s social security department, launched his mission to feed the needy with a handful of fellow pensioners.

They quickly graduated from making sandwiches to cooking hot meals, first at home and then in a convent, and the group now numbers 300 volunteers, both young and old, and uses its own fully equipped kitchen.

Impagliazzo, who received a honorific award from Italian President Sergio Mattarella recognising him as a “hero of our times,” never dreamed his initiative would become so successful, or generate such good will.

On a recent Saturday night near the Vatican, four extra volunteers showed up.

“I am happy because we never tell anyone ‘we don’t need you tonight’,” he said. “They stay among us.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200206110537-ha6f2/

 

Healthcare networks launch anti-human trafficking training

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Stock image. Credit: HTWE/Shutterstock

– A new partnership is aiming to expand training for medical professionals on how to identify and assist victims of human trafficking.

Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking (Global Strategic Operatives) announced a new collaboration and partnership with the Selah Way Foundation, a global network of leading anti-sexual exploitation service providers at a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 30 in Washington, D.C.

Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski, one of the co-founders of Global Strategic Operatives, told CNA that the organization decided to go into the medical field because studies have shown that about 88% of victims of human trafficking seek medical treatment at some point while they are being trafficked.

As a member of the Order of Malta, a lay Catholic religious order, O’Hara-Rusckowski said she considers her work in combating human trafficking to be an ideal way to live out the three charisms of the order: caring for the sick, caring for the poor, and defending the faith.

“My whole life right now is living out my faith,” she said. “I can’t think of any better way of taking those charisms and really combining them to live out my faith.”

A pilot program has already begun at six hospital systems located around the country–Baptist Health in Florida, Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois, Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, Harris Health System in Texas, Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, RWJ Barnabas Health in New Jersey, and Northwell Health in New York. These locations were chosen due to higher-than-average rates of human trafficking in their areas.

Staff members at hospitals in these healthcare systems have been trained to spot signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking.

Representatives from each of the six hospital systems, Homeland Security Investigations (a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), as well as Congressmen Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Ross Spano (R-FL), spoke at the press conference in praise of Global Strategic Operatives.

Karen Stanford, the manager of the emergency department at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, told CNA that the reality of human trafficking was brought home to her after her daughter was approached by a potential trafficker two years ago. Her hospital is part of the Advocate Aurora Health system.

“We live in a gated community, and so it was a bit of a shock,” she said. The experience prompted her to reach out to Paula Besler, vice president of Selah Freedom, looking to bring some sort of educational program to Lutheran General to better identify survivors of human trafficking.

“Then we had this awesome opportunity to partner with CommonSpirit Health, who brought some of their tools forward. And then we were able to fly in survivors to provide us with education and disbanding some of the [misconceptions] that were barriers to identifying,” said Stanford.

CommonSpirit Health is a Catholic health system that received a grant in 2019 to help combat human trafficking. It partners with Global Strategic Operatives.

As a healthcare professional, Stanford told CNA that there is a tendency to be “non-judgemental,” which has resulted in some red flags going unnoticed.

“If somebody comes in [to the emergency room] who we are suspecting is using drugs or prostituting, we’re oftentimes thinking that it is a choice, when the reality is, and what we’ve learned so very much around here, is that’s not necessarily true. It’s because they’re being forced into it,” said Stanford.

Since the training was put in place at her hospital, Stanford said that there have been increased identifications of people who were trafficked, and next month, the entire health system will launch a task force to further expand the program to 25 additional sites.

“I’m really excited to help that move forward,” said Stanford. “Now that there’s this recognition, there’s a great amount of momentum in emergency medicine to start the education and planning.”

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/healthcare-networks-launch-anti-human-trafficking-training-49853

Elderly black women in S. Africa win property rights in landmark ruling

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Elderly black women in S Africa win property rights in landmark ruling
ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman washes her dishes in Durban December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

JOHANNESBURG, – Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women.

Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law.

“This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988.

“If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Across South Africa, a quarter century after racial segregation and white minority rule under apartheid officially ended through a negotiated settlement, land and property ownership remain sensitive topics.

Sithole’s legal victory in the eastern city of Durban could help an estimated 400,000 women by giving them more economic freedom, said the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a human rights organisation that helped Sithole take her case to court.

Black women in rural South Africa face a “double whammy” said Claassens, as both apartheid and customary laws – where land is handed down from father to son – have deprived them of property rights.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years.

Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust.

Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, a prestigious human rights prize, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

“This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane, 74, who has faced death threats for her activism. “Women can take decisions if they own property. They can have equality.”

Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die.

Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon.

“The symbolism of this judgment is important … hopefully, if enough women know about it they can begin asserting their rights,” said Claassens.

“But unfortunately, since (the introduction of democracy in) 1994 we have seen the space for change continue to be undermined by new patriarchal laws,” Claassens said, highlighting legislation that has bolstered the power of traditional leaders.

The LRC plans to hold workshops in rural areas to educate women, chiefs and the courts about the ruling.

“This will require a lot of hard work and buy-in from other non-profits to show women how they can benefit from this legal change,” said Sharita Samuel, an LRC attorney who worked on Sithole’s case.

For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women.

“We know the courts can protect women,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129111914-05t8e/

 

Climate change linked to African locust invasion

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Climate change linked to African locust invasion
Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Lemasulani village, Samburu County, Kenya January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129162104-dctmm/

 

Transport Secretary vows to stamp out ‘modern slavery’ of human trafficking

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Woman grabbing fence. Stock image vis Shutterstock

– The Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, has announced several new initiatives aimed at combating human trafficking, vowing to stamp out use of American transport routes for “this modern form of slavery.”

“It is shocking to learn that in this day and age, something so horrible as human trafficking exists, and there are so many people who don’t believe it,” Chao said Jan. 28.

“But it is happening, and it’s happening in the United States, in our cities, in our suburbs, in our rural areas.” said Chao at the agency’s “Putting the Brakes on Human Trafficking” summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

Chao was joined by members of Congress, officials from multiple states, law enforcement personnel, and leaders of the transportation industry on Tuesday at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C.

USDOT launched its new “100 Pledges in 100 Days” initiative to increase the number of transportation companies promising to train their employees to recognize suspected cases of human trafficking.

Chao called on leaders of transportation companies—in the airline, shipping, trucking, and locomotive industries—to take the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Pledge” to train their employees.

Currently, there are commitments to train more than one million employees to fight human trafficking, according to USDOT, and Chao listed anti-trafficking initiatives already underway at the agency, with the strategies of “detection, deterrence, and disruption.” More than 53,000 agency employees have received mandatory counter-trafficking training, including special instructions for bus and truck inspectors, she said.

The agency is also partnering with the Department of Homeland Security on the Blue Lightning initiative for the airline industry, providing anti-trafficking training for more than 100,000 airline employees.

The Department also announced an annual $50,000 award for individuals or organizations for “innovative” solutions for combating trafficking, as well as $5.4 million in grant selections

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has authored five laws combating human trafficking, also spoke at the event.

Smith drafted the International Megan’s Law, named for 7 year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton, New Jersey, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a repeated sex offender in 1994. The law requires convicted child sex offenders to register with the U.S. government before travelling abroad. The government in turn notifies their destination countries, which can refuse to accept the offender.

“Human trafficking is a barbaric human rights abuse that thrives on greed, secrecy, a perverted sense of entitlement to exploit the vulnerable and an unimaginable disregard for the victims,” Rep. Smith said.

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/transport-secretary-vows-to-stamp-out-modern-slavery-of-human-trafficking-27459

Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe

Screenshot_2020-01-29 Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe
A man pumps water from a borehole to feed his wilting crops as the region deals with a prolonged drought in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2020. Picture taken January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe,  – In Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo, Abraham Kavalanjila and his two sons give up waiting for the water to come back on and trek out into the maize fields to draw on an open well.

They know it is risky drinking untreated water from a borehole used by so many other people. “We have no option. This water is dangerous as you can see, just check,” says Kavalanjila, pointing to a pile of human waste nearby.

City authorities say they have had to shut down water supplies for 96 hours a week – more than half the time, often in two-day blocks – to cope with a sharp fall in reservoir levels caused by the country’s worst drought in years.

The shortages have exacerbated an economic crisis marked by shortages of foreign exchange, fuel, medicines and power that has triggered protests and political unrest.

Kavalanjila says the cut-offs often go on for longer than scheduled in his Luveve township.

He carries the well water home in buckets and containers then his wife Rumbidzai boils it before using it for bathing, flushing toilets and, sometimes, cooking.

“At times you see there will be little organisms in the water and even when you are bathing you feel your body itching,” Rumbidzai told Reuters in the local Ndebele language while her nine-year-old son had a bath to get ready for school.

“So if you boil the water it gets better.

DELAYED DAM

Bulawayo city has decommissioned two of its dams after water fell below pumping levels, according to the city’s director of engineering services Simelani Dube.

The remaining four dams have an average capacity of 35% and falling, he added. “We are projecting that in the next three to four weeks we might lose the third dam. It’s currently sitting above 10% in terms of capacity.”

Authorities say the long-term answer is for Bulawayo to build a new dam 100km (60 miles) away to draw water direct from the Zambezi River.

But the project, first mooted in 1912 by white colonists and finally started in 2004 is still is only a third complete.

Cassian Mugomezi, a sprightly 84-year old pensioner who has lived in the Luveve township for more than five decades, said the water cuts were some of the worst he could remember.

“If it does not rain this year I don’t know what we are going to do,” he said.

Like Kavalanjila, he has had to rely on open wells and other privately-run projects. A nearby church pumps out clean water through its own borehole. Today, though, it is shut down in one of the city’s regular power cuts that can last up for 18 hours.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200127062548-grn4d/