Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Haiti faces food crisis due to El Niño draught (Feb. 10, 2016)

Haiti is facing its most serious food crisis in a decade an a half, according to the United Nations World Food Program. About 1.5 million Haitians are considered severely insecure when it comes to food, more than double the figure from a government assessment in September, reports the Associated Press.

This is a subset of the approximately 3.6 million Haitians facing food insecurity, explains the New York Times.

The U.N. agency is launching an $84 million appeal to combat deaths and malnutrition in the country, reports the Miami Herald. The El Niño weather phenomenon is responsible for a drought that has left some farmers with a 70 percent crop reduction. 

Without rain for this spring season, many farmers could lose their fourth consecutive crop in a country where agriculture employs half the working population, notes the NYTimes.

News Briefs

  • Shopping malls in Venezuela will have to cut back hours in order to comply with new electricity rationing, reports the Associated Press. The measure will help the country battle problems at hydroelectric plants caused by El Niño.
  • A report released yesterday by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team said there is no evidence to support government investigators' initial conclusions that 43 students who disappeared in southern Mexico in 2014 were incinerated at a trash dump. It is the second independent report to reject the Mexican government's main finding from a little over a year ago regarding the whereabouts of the students, who were taken by police in the nearby city of Iguala on Sept. 26, 2014, and allegedly handed over to local members of a drug gang for slaughter, reports the Associated Press. The team found nothing to suggest there was a fire in the Corcula dump that night, nor any evidence to conclude that the 19 bodies found there are linked to the missing students, reports the Guardian. The team's findings also cast doubt on other evidence presented from the dump by prosecutors, reports Animal Político (the piece has graphics presenting the conclusions from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the Centro ProDH). (See posts from September 25 and September 28, 2015.)
  • The White House requested $450.6 million for fiscal year 2017 to support Colombia's anti-narcotics campaign and peace-building efforts, reports the Miami Herald. The funding is aimed at the revamped Plan Colombia, renamed Paz Colombia. (See last Friday's post.) The money will be divided almost evenly between economic and social programs and anti-drugs efforts.
  • Earlier today the FARC promised to stop enlisting minors, a gesture aimed at hastening a final peace agreement with the government, reports Reuters
  • Honduras' Congress will continue trying to elect new supreme court magistrates today, after the fourth election yesterday failed to obtain two-thirds majority for any of the candidates, reports El Heraldo. (See yesterday's guest post by David Holiday.) The seven main candidates came just a few votes shy of receiving enough support.
  • A Vietnam vet living in Cuba is suing the U.S. government for his veterans pension, which was cut off when he moved back to the island in 1980. His lawyer believes the legal changes stemming from the past year of rapprochement between the two countries will permit the reinstatement of his benefits. If so, the case could have implications for other Cuban-Americans who move back to Cuba in the coming years and want to receive U.S. government benefits, reports the Associated Press.
  • Organic honey has become Cuba's fourth most valuable agricultural export behind fish products, tobacco and drinks, reports Reuters. As bees in other areas have been declining, possibly due to pesticide use, Cuba's market could see significant growth once exports begin to the U.S.
  • The arrest of a very prominent social activist in Argentina is generating friction between President Mauricio Macri and Pope Francis, reports the Guardian. (See Jan. 20th's briefs.) Milagro Sala's arrest last month has the Catholic Church concerned that the government is taking on social movements, which often provide social aid in poorer provinces where the state is absent, writes Uki Goñi.
  • Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's America's Director, calls on the Pope to ensure rights violations in Mexico are emphasized during his upcoming trip. "Mexico's current human rights record is actually so atrocious that it is on par with some of the worst times in the country’s recent history," she writes in a Guardian op-ed.
  • The pontiff's six-day visit to Mexico will end with a highly symbolic act when he stands on the fortified border with the U.S. to show solidarity with the migrants trying to cross it, reports theWall Street Journal. He will hold a cross-border Mass in Ciudad Juárez next week, which is expected to draw about 200,000 people on the Mexican side and another 50,000 across the Rio Grande in Texas.
  • Families of U.S. citizens murdered by drug gangs in Mexico are suing HSBC. They say the bank let cartels launder billions of dollars to operate their business, reports Reuters.
  • World Health Organization experts cautioned against linking the Zika virus with the rare Guillain-Barré nerve disorder. Health officials in Colombia have blamed the syndrome, which they say was caused by Zika for three deaths, reports AFP.
  • The Zika epidemic, and accompanying panic in Latin America, has the effect of exacerbating already existing problems such as illegal abortions in Brazil, gang violence in Central America and acute medical supply shortages in Venezuela:
  • Abortion activists looking to use Zika to further the cause in Brazil face entrenched opposition among the very same poor population the reform seeks to benefit, reports Reuters. (See Monday's briefs.) Polls show that Brazilians oppose such reform, in a country where two-thirds of the population is Roman Catholic and Evangelical support is growing. Hopes of change will likely be thwarted by a conservative Congress, with Evangelical Christians who are very opposed, according to the piece. An additional complication is the late date at which microcephaly can be detected in a fetus.
  • As Venezuela's government runs out of dollars, imports, including medicines, have been drastically cut back, reports the Guardian. Though the government doesn't give out exact figures, private estimates say as many as 400,000 people have been infected in the country.
  • Battling the mosquito-borne virus in Central America is a daunting task made more difficult by armed and well-organized street gangs, reports the Associated Press.
  • On a broader level, violence in Central America is fueling a looming refugee crisis as people attempt to escape to safety. The Guardian has a feature on migrant families in Mexico.
  • And the Los Angeles Times reviews the rather stale list of problems facing Rio de Janeiro authorities ahead of August's Olympic games. The piece mentions Zika, economic and political woes and unsolved environmental hurdles that could impact the sports competition itself. Tired though the genre is, expect more this year. 
  • Urban policy highlight: the Guardian reviews La Paz's "subway in the sky," which he highest, longest urban cable car system in the world. Nearly two years after its inauguration the aerial transportation service is popular among locals and is lauded as an example of policies aimed at bridging the geographic and economic distance between Bolivia's indigenous poor and mestizo middle class.

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