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Friday, 26 August 2011

A Crisis In Need Of Attention

The Horn of Africa is facing the biggest drought it’s seen in years, with a current estimate of twelve million people in urgent need of aid. Yet the problems do not stop there. A recent report by the Amnesty International has stated that the number of children being exploited, injured, killed, kidnapped, being trained as soldiers and abused is dramatically increasing, especially in Somalia.

The number of war-wounded children was nearly 46% of reported injuries in the month of May alone, compared to only 3.5% in April. The severe increase shows the harshness of the situation in Somalia which has, unfortunately, not received a lot of media or political coverage and as such, despite Somalia's Transitional Federal Government being on the UN list of shame as a party recruiting, using, killing and maiming children in armed conflict, very little is being done about it. Somalia has committed to respect children's rights; however, this is clearly not happening.

Roughly 3000 people leave Somalia every day, claiming refugee in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and those children who do get out of Somalia and manage to get to what they assume to be safe ground at refugee camps face further problems as due to the camps being completely exhausted of resources and space, there is an increasing number of reports of child abuse and children being kidnapped to be trained as soldiers for al-Shabaab, a group of Islamist militants fighting to overthrow the government of Somalia.

There are reports that al-Shabaab have been kidnapping children from towns and from families en-route to refugee camps. al-Shabaab has also placed bans on education, especially for young females. Children who have spoken to Amnesty International have reported stories of al-Shabaab coming in to schools and kidnapping other students and murdering their teachers. Many schools have also been destroyed, and if the school has been lucky enough to survive the attacks by al-Shabaab, the staff and students are frightened going to and from a place which should be a safe zone where education can happen freely, without fear.

The stories being told by children are difficult to stomach, they show just how truly dire the situation is and the emotional turmoil which will face the next generation is difficult to estimate but not impossible to understand. One child reported the death of his two brothers to Amnesty International workers: “Two of my brothers were killed in February 2010. One day they were going to Bakara market and war broke out. They got caught in the cross-fire. Their names were Abdullahi, who was 18 and Ahmed, who was 14. When the fighting stopped we had to run to the market to pick up their bodies.”

Two brothers who did make it to the refugee camps explained why they left their homes: “We came here with our mother and five other people. We came from Karan district in Mogadishu. We left because of the bullets. We had to run away from the big bombs. Our village was constantly being bombarded from the other side. We couldn’t even get home sometimes.” These two brothers, only 10 and 13 years old, face the challenge of growing up in a community destroyed by civil war and in a country which has currently no food or water to provide for its people.

Somalia has been suffering from problems for many years and since 1991, the country has been divided between clans and groups of warlords, including al-Shabaab. An estimated 7.5 million people from Somalia, a quarter of the entire population, are thought to have been uprooted before the start of 2011. This number has increased, with an estimated further 10 million people affected in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia by increased insecurity and civil wars, as well as drought, which has resulted in the situation in the Horn of Africa being described as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today”

Children are not the only people in need in the affected countries. The high number of refugees is only expected to rise since rain is not forecasted for anytime before October, and even this is not guaranteed. The situation needs to be focused on, and although the African Union says that $35 million has been raised for aid relief, this is only a fraction of the $2.5 billion that is estimated to ensure that every vulnerable person has access to aid and to the chance to life.

You can donate to UNICEF here:

Thursday, 7 July 2011

It's People Power What Done It

The NoW scandal that has been happening all week has finally resulted in NoW closing and stopping production on Sunday 10th July.

168 years of history has come to a dramatic end but the potential fall out of the NoW acts and accusations of phone hacking will continue, and rightly so, until the responsible people are punished accordingly.

NoW has always been a popular Sunday newspaper, and has in the past been responsible for harnessing the power of the people to change laws, with Rebekah Brooks personally pushing for Sara’s Law, yet it seems that people power has turned on the NoW to ensure that it has finally accepted its wrongdoings.

The NoW was one of the first newspapers to sponsor sport, it has most recently broken the story of corruption in the Pakistan cricket team, and has had a very high reading ratings every Sunday since it was first published nearly 170 years ago.

There have been in the past few days outrage by fellow journalists, politicians, and the general public about the phone hacking scandal surrounding the end of publication of the NoW, most notably with a Commons debate which lasted over 3 hours, and with online campaigns by organisations such as Aavaz to stop Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB.

People power is an important factor to include when understanding why the NoW finally crumbled, as once the public displayed it’s outrage via social networking sites such as Twitter, advertisers realised that they did not want to be associated with an organisation that has caused such outrage across the UK and also globally. A newspaper with no advertisers cannot survive, and as the traditional version of newspapers in a printed form has in recent years been struggling to survive, with many newspapers creating online versions of the newspaper through subscription only, the decision to remove advertising from NoW papers by giant corporations such as NPower and Asda made the decision to close NoW pretty much inevitable.

NoW has had an impact on the British public for many years, with iconic headlines and some cases of respected investigative journalism, and although there are rumours that the Sun will now become a 7 day newspaper to help counteract the fall of NoW, the NoW will be noticeably gone for good.

Davis V Wind Turbines: What The Outcome Could Mean.

Earlier this week, a two week landmark High Court case was started between Jane and Julian Davis and Fenland Windfarms, EDF Energy PLC and Fenland Green Power regarding the level of noise that wind turbines make, and how much this has affected the lives of Jane and Julian Davis.

The Davis have started this legal process as they have moved out of their home into rented accommodation blaming wind turbines for this essential move as the noise was unbearable and made their life a “nightmare”, It has also been reported that the couple used alcohol and sleeping tablets in order to block out the noise.

A reported published in 2000 by RenewableUK states that the noise from a wind turbine further than 300m away from the source is equivalent to the same level as noise from a flowing stream about 50-100 metres away or the noise of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze.
The Davis’ disagree. They argue that the noise levels are more accurately described as “helicopter whirring” and as such are filing for compensation of £2.5 m.

The difference in opinion is substantial and does warrant further investigation. RenewableUK have a high level of respect and authority within the UK – and have global recognition that their reports are generally the most scientifically accurate going – yet their report and the Davis’ account of living in Lincolnshire over 300m from the wind turbine are very different.

According to the claimants, the wind turbines are located 930 metres from the Farmhouse, which is downwind of the predominant wind through the turbines; the turbines are about 500m from the Claimants’ land boundary. They have stated that their lives have been a “nightmare” since the introduction of the wind turbines in 2006, and want to receive either £2.5 million in compensation or the total removal and shut down of the wind turbines located near them.

If the Davis’ are awarded compensation or the wind turbines are removed, then this could spark a trend of law suits regarding wind turbines and noise pollution, which could damage the reputation of a highly valued and important renewable energy source.

Jane Davis, a qualified nurse, said one in five wind farms cause noise problems for the local people. "All I know is the amount of health problems people have suffered since [the turbines were put up] seem to be excessive in relation to what was happening," she said. "Those symptoms include sleep deprivation, tittinus, vertigo, depression, raised blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart beat), needing to go the lavatory at night more often than you would normally, pneumonia, ear infections, stomach disorders and psychological stress."

There have in the past been fears that wind turbines can cause health problems, yet these have not caused a substantial amount of damage to the wind turbine industry, but if the Davis’ claim that their lives have been dramatically affected by the implantation of wind turbines over 500m away from their house, then this land mark law suit could indeed be damaging to wind turbines and their future.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Can We Break The Taboo?

Rape and sexual assault of any form are not topics that are comfortably talked about, due to a variety of reasons, but are the reasons justifiable, or should we just be honest with ourselves and bring this topic well and truly into the frontline of discussion?

Since Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on suspicion of rape on 13th May 2011, the topic of rape was once again in the public arena, yet as the case has developed, media coverage of the event turned from focusing on the potential wrong doings of the ex-IMF chief to covering the life and times of the 32-year-old Guinean immigrant claiming that she knew convicted criminals and that her story of events regarding the alleged rape were not potentially viable in court.

Since being released from house arrest, another woman, Tristane Banon, has come forward claiming that she has also been a victim of rape by Strauss-Kahn in 2002.

It is not possible for someone outside of the situation, without verifiable facts to make judgements or decide if someone is innocent or guilty, nor is it their place to do so, yet, unfortunately, figures suggest that the general public in the UK believe otherwise as “nearly a third of people (30%) say a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk” according to a Fawcett survey.

Rape and sexual assault are events in individuals lives that should be treated with great sensitivity and understanding, free from judgement and bias, and since a high proportion of rape and sexual assault go unreported it is difficult to ascertain just how many people are victims of these crimes, but latest figures suggest that at least 47000 women per year are victims of rape alone, and as these figures do not include male victims, nor unreported cases. The closest estimate to how many men are affected by rape or sexual assault by ManKind is that 3 in 20 men are sufferers of some form. This is a staggering statistic yet, again, it is impossible to know how truly accurate this is as so many rape and sexual abuse crimes go unreported.

The victims of rape are often assumed to be female, and their attackers’ male, yet there are cases of female victims with female attackers, and male victims with female or male attackers. There are no rules of conduct during this vicious crime, and victims can be of all ages, races, gender and sexual orientation, yet stereotypes mean that in society a young woman is seen to be the victim, with a man the attacker. This stereotype is often blamed as to why men find it difficult to come forward regarding the attack, as they fear they may not be believed, or that people will dismiss the event as “men can’t be raped”.

The impact of rape and sexual assault on any individual vary, and each victim should be treated as an individual, not as a statistic, yet less than ¼ of all local authorities in the UK have any sexual assault or rape centers for individuals to access, and so many victims access the internet to gain support. Detailed at the end of this article are links to some of the specialist resource websites available for any victim or family/friend of a victim.

The crimes that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been accused of have provided the public and the media the another opportunity to discuss rape and sexual assault once again, and although this is not the first time, and is unlikely to be, the last time the topic is in the public arena, perhaps this time we can use it to discuss this taboo subject properly and encourage victims to come out and confront their attackers, or to get support from family, friends and the Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) for victims of rape.

Useful links:

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Just appearing to be a stable democracy isn't enough.

India is now apparently one of the most dangerous places in the world for women, which is initially confusing since there are a high number of female figures in politics, including the President, the Head of Congress, the head of the opposition party, and there are also a high proportion of women in charge of large businesses and corporations, so why is India being classed as the fourth most dangerous state for women?

Reported today, there has been a sharp increase in genitoplasty, an operation which fashions the female sex organs into a penis, with the child also being injected with male hormones. This is a dangerous procedure which is traditionally used for children born with both male and female reproductive organs, yet parents in India are paying up to $2000 for their child to be surgically changed to a gender which they believe is more valuable. There are high risks with this operation, not only physically as it could leave the child impotent and infertile, but also psychologically as the child may suffer from severe mental health issues including depersonalization disorder.

Female foeticide, abortions based on gender of the child being female, is also common place as families fear the cost of weddings and high levels of dowries that they may have to pay.  This worrying trend adds to the gender balance issue which has resulted in over 7 million more boys than girls aged under the age of six in the country.

If a girl is born, they then face even more danger, with  common stories of girls dying from “natural causes” as their parents do not care for them effectively and in some cases place them in severe risk, with stories of young female babies being wrapped in cold bed sheets out in the cold and then taken to hospital, where they are given medication, yet the parents do not give the child medicine and the child dies, and as such, the death is recorded as “natural causes”. This female infanticide is common place among the middle classes, and it is common place for parents to be assisted by doctors and lab technicians to ensure that these deaths are not investigated by authorities.

The risk facing young girls doesn’t end there. There is also a high risk of being trafficked, especially in sex trafficking, with money being used for the benefit of the male members of the family, and it is estimated that between 25 to 60 million girls have been victims of trafficking in India. It is also not uncommon for girls to be sold as brides, sometimes for as little as £15.

All of these factors added together can help with understanding why India has been classed as the fourth most dangerous state for women, yet unlike in Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan (the only three more dangerous states in the world above India) where the states are currently in a state of political confusion and unrest and so the suffering of women is at least more easily explained, India is a country which is supposedly politically stable and is predicted by some political analysts to be one of the next world leading super powers.

A country in which, according to Indian Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta , 100 million people, mostly women and girls, are involved in trafficking in one way or another, and where up to 50 million girls are "missing" over the past century due to female infanticide and foeticide, alongside 44.5 % of girls getting married before the age of 18 is undoubtedly dangerous for women, and the political elite appear to be doing nothing about it, despite the leaders of political parties, the government and the Congress also being female.

This problem is growing, and unless it is dealt with through educating people about the importance of having females within society, not only for reproduction reasons, but also for a healthy and balanced state – which India keeps trying to appear to be – then they will struggle to free their country from a devastating issue and will reduce the chances of becoming an effective democracy involved in world politics.

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Monday, 27 June 2011

Bachmann to the rescue! Maybe...

(This article is part of a forth coming series on the Republican Presidential Candidates and their policies)

Michele Bachmann, a Republican Presidential candidate from Minnesota, is a strong, outspoken individual on many issues, including Gay rights, abortion, anti-American conspiracies, and the environment is not an issue Bachmann is shy of talking about.

However, her views aren’t to everyone’s taste. Bachmann does not believe in global warming, and instead insists it is a “hoax”, perhaps it is part of another anti-American conspiracy that keep happening in the world. As she doesn’t believe that global warming is anything other than “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax," she doesn’t agree that something should be done about climate change and as such her voting record in Congress has reflected this view.

The belief that global warming is a hoax leads to her other views and actions in government legislation, such as in 2010 she supported and signed the Contract from America, which is a pledge by Congress to ensure that federal cap-and-trade programmes reduce carbon emissions is stopped as Bachmann wanted to “Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation's global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.”
Bachmann wants to stop costly regulations, which is a shared thought in the UK also, yet the regulation that Bachmann wants to cut would directly influence the environment and the environmental standards in the US. Bachmann believes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be the first regulation to be cut. “I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA....It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

During 2009-2010, Bachmann received more than $70,000 for her campaign from contributors from the energy sector, with over ¾ of that money coming from gas and oil interests. Perhaps this money helps to influence her already formulated, strong views on the environment and the attention that it deserves.

The list of issues that Bachmann has concerning the environment does not stop there, there are many more, yet if popularity ratings are anything to go by as she is only polling at 7% popularity, America and the rest of the World will not be affected by Bachmann and her skewed views.

Worryingly, Bachmann is not alone in having strong views about the environment, the current front runner in the polls for the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney (currently leading the poll at a staggering 14%) sees the environment in purely economical terms, which is his general attitude to all other topics, and does support green energy, to a degree, as long as there are financial benefits involved.  Romney is currently described as “unsure” about climate change claiming that "we should not take extreme measures when we are unsure of human role in global warming” following the argument that the world has throughout history become warmer and colder and the actions of humans on earth are doing nothing to change this. Although Romney has been an advocate of pro-climate change policies, his decisions to support these have been based on economical reasoning alone. 

There is, thankfully, one candidate who seems to have their head screwed on right when it comes to the environment, Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has a good prior record in environmental action and in 2007, he was ranked by Greenopia as the fifth greenest Republican governor in the country and the 19th greenest overall. He has been a supporter of green policies, yet doesn’t appear to be too happy about EPA writing in a letter to government that  the “EPA should offer input regarding complex energy and environmental policy initiatives, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but feel that these policies are best developed by elected representatives at the state and national level, not by a single federal agency.” Pawlenty has solid opinions regarding the environment; however, they may not be favoured by other GOP members or voters. 

Pawlenty looks unlikely to become President, or even the Republican candidate, as he is polling at under 8% and there are rumours that a large majority of his top aides are working for little or no pay, which may lead to the aides jumping ship to a candidate who can actually pay for their time and effort.

The environment is an issue which each Republican candidate has an opinion on, and rightly so, yet no one candidate appears to be the full rounded person needed to be a good challenge to Obama in next year’s election.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Man From DECC

Speaking at the Social Liberal Forum on Saturday 18th June, Chris Huhne laid out his ideas for improving environmental standards which he believes has a “win, win, win” formula as with his proposed changes, Huhne claims that competition can increase, thus leading to lower prices for the consumer and in turn, can benefit the government by helping them to reach the standards required in the EU and worldwide.  The three important “priorities” to enable this to happen include:
   *Encouraging consumers to shop around more, perhaps using a well known market comparing website, this in turn will increase competition and save consumers money.
·      * The Government needs to create a clear set of incentives to develop renewable energy –  apparently a proposal concerning the electricity market will be unveiled soon.
·     *And lastly, apparently “more fundamental” is to get society and the economy away from   fossil fuels and their price catch.

Reviews of Huhne’s speech have been mostly focused on the attacking spirit that Huhne has shown, the full transcript of his speech can be found here yet  this is not the first time that Huhne has shown a fighting spirit only to back down again, as it was only a few months ago that there were rumours he may resign if Lib Dem lost the AV vote – they did lose, and he didn’t resign.

Ministers are currently considering the amount of regulation in place with the UK and are encouraging people to contribute to this discussion via a project called the “red tape challenge”  which acts a little like an x-factor competition – if enough people call for an item to be scrapped then it will be removed. This list includes over 270 environmental regulations. Huhne’s attack on the governmental plans to scrap plans of deregulation of policies such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Climate Change Act seems to be part of a common theme within government at the moment, where the Coalition government have toned down a variety of policies, most notably the NHS in recent weeks after continual pressure from the Lib Dems.

Huhne makes it clear that he is not against removal of any regulation or “red tape” as he points to the astounding figure of over 4300 new regulations implemented by the Labour government of 1997-2010, and it is understandable that as Environment Minister he should be protective of his own departmental area, however Huhne’s attack on the “deregulation zealot” takes away from the point he is trying to make and instead focuses attention on the internal conflict within the Coalition government, rather than encouraging people to support him in protecting vital regulations for the environment.

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