Friday, February 24, 2017

Agency Plans To Award Mexico Border Wall Contracts By April


A truck drives near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect "a great wall" along the 2,000-mile border.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect "a great wall" along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit "concept papers" to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start "very soon" and is "way, way, way ahead of schedule." The agency's notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees' opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

It's unclear how soon Congress would provide funding and how much. The Government Accountability Office estimates it would cost on average $6.5 million a mile for a fence to keep out people who try to enter on foot and $1.8 million a mile for vehicle barriers. There are currently 354 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers, much of it built during President George W. Bush's second term.

Republican leaders in Congress have said Trump's wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Trump has suggested $12 billion. An internal Homeland Security Department report prepared for Kelly estimates the cost of extending the wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border at about $21 billion, according to a U.S. government official who is involved in border issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.

The Homeland Security report proposes an initial phase that would extend fences 26 miles and a second wave that would add 151 miles, plus 272 "replacement" miles where fences are already installed, according to the official. Those two phases would cost $5 billion.

The price tag will depend largely on the height, materials and other specifications that have not yet been defined. Granite Construction Inc., Vulcan Materials Co. and Martin Marrieta Materials Inc. are seen as potential bidders. Kiewit Corp. built one of the more expensive stretches of fencing so far at a cost of about $16 million a mile, a project in San Diego that involved filling a deep canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch.

Cement maker Cemex SAB is also seen as a potential beneficiary even though it is based in Mexico.

Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

World Donors Gather In Oslo To Tackle Nigeria Famine


One of the poorest regions in the world, it has been ravaged by eight years of violence. Schools, dispensaries and agriculture are in ruins, and people have been forced to flee jihadists on foot without any resources. File photo (REUTERS)

UN aid agencies and donor countries gathered in Oslo Thursday for a two-day meeting to raise emergency aid for millions of people threatened by famine in northeastern Nigeria, a Boko Haram stronghold.

The UN aims to raise up to 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in commitments throughout 2017 for the Lake Chad region, which comprises northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, western Chad and southeast Niger.

One of the poorest regions in the world, it has been ravaged by eight years of violence. Schools, dispensaries and agriculture are in ruins, and people have been forced to flee jihadists on foot without any resources.

Across northeast Nigeria, some 5.1 million people face severe food shortages and nearly 500,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition, even as the military makes gains against the group.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, meeting with non-governmental organisations on Thursday, called it "one of the more forgotten conflicts" on the planet.

"The displacement crisis in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region has really become unfortunately a very serious food and nutrition emergency," Brende said.

"More than 10 million people are in need of assistance... Some parts of northeastern Nigeria may unfortunately already experience famine," he added.

The medical situation has been described by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) as "the worst in the world".

Humanitarian organisations can access populations at risk only as the army progresses.

Many roads are only passable under the escort of Nigerian soldiers and ambushes are a constant threat. Other places are only accessible by helicopter, where "horrible rates of malnutrition" are observed among children.

"In the whole of the Lake Chad region we've seen the fight against Boko Haram take priority above all else, with military and political objectives directed towards this," said Natalie Roberts, head of emergencies for MSF in Borno state.

"We now find ourselves in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis," she added.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel region, Toby Lanzer, called for a response to "one of the most deadly extremist groups," referring to Boko Haram.

The inhabitants "are surviving with barely one meal a day," he warned.

"And we know that with the impending rainy season, disease will increase, malaria will become more prevalent, and shelter will be more needed," Lanzer said.

Ahmed Shehu, a civil society representative in northeastern Nigeria, spoke about the need for long-term development.

"I say (to) donors here, if we want to tackle the Boko Haram issue, let's also reflect on the underlying issue: poverty," he said.

"The second issue we fail to link with Boko Haram is climate change," he said, noting that 90 percent of Lake Chad has dried up in a few decades.

"What is the issue now? A majority (farmers and fishermen) have lost their livelihoods," he said.

Among those attending the Oslo conference are government ministers from Germany, Norway, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the head of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin.

On Friday, delegations are expected to detail their respective commitments in three-minute speeches.

US, Mexico At Odds Over Deportation As Top Officials Meet

The Associated Press
February 23, 2017

 U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is welcome by U.S. ambassador Roberta Jacobson, left,as he arrives at Benito Juarez international Airport in Mexico City, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Pool photo via AP)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's mounting unease and resentment over President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown are looming over a gathering of U.S. and Mexican leaders that the U.S. had hoped would project a strong future for relations between neighbors.

There is no shortage of tension points as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly meet Thursday with top Mexican officials. After all, it's Kelly who's tasked with executing Trump's plan to target millions for possible deportation, and Tillerson who must explain it to the rest of the world.

As the pair arrived in Mexico City, the two countries seemed much farther apart than their close geographical proximity would suggest. "I think Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly are going to have a great discussion down there," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. He called the relationship "phenomenal."

But while Spicer said the officials would "talk through the implementation of the executive order," Mexico made clear it intended to do nothing of the sort. "I want to say clearly and most emphatically that the Mexican government and the Mexican people have no reason to accept unilateral decisions imposed by one government on another," said Mexico's foreign relations secretary, Luis Videgaray. "We are not going to accept that, because we don't have to."

Videgaray added a cryptic but pointed warning that Mexico wouldn't hesitate to challenge the U.S. move at the United Nations or other global venues. The visiting Americans planned to meet Thursday with Videgaray before a working lunch with Mexican officials and a formal meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The worsening rift over deportations and illegal immigration adds to an array of disputes that have sent U.S.-Mexico relations plunging since Trump took office a month ago. Trump's insistence that Mexico pay billions for a border wall led Pena Nieto to cancel a planned Washington visit. Mexican officials are also apprehensive over Trump's pledge to overhaul the trade relationship and possible apply steep taxes to Mexican products, a move with profound impacts for Mexico's export-heavy economy.

New immigration enforcement memos signed by Kelly this week call for sending some immigrants who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally back into Mexico — even those from third countries who have no connection to Mexico. The memos also prioritize deportation for anyone charged or convicted of any crime, rather than just serious crimes, potentially subjecting millions in the U.S. illegally to deportation, including many Mexicans.

Those policies have raised fears in Mexico about the possibility of deportee and refugee camps emerging along Mexico's northern border. Mexican officials are also likely to seek answers about whether a forthcoming report ordered by Trump's administration that will list all current U.S. aid to Mexico is intended to threaten Mexico into compliance over immigration or the wall.

In a sign of how Trump's hard line is reverberating in Mexico, local media amplified Videgaray's forceful comments as Trump's envoys arrived in Mexico City, with combative headlines invoking a "long battle with the U.S." Meanwhile, in Washington, six Democratic senators dismayed by the deteriorating relations urged Tillerson and Kelly in a letter Thursday to strike a more cooperative tone than Trump.

Kelly arrived in the Mexican capital from Guatemala on a visit intended to deter Guatemalans from trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Though Kelly promised "there will be no mass roundups," he acknowledged that those caught will be removed from the U.S. much more quickly than in the past.

"My best advice is to not do it," he said.

Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman contributed to this report.

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

US To Expand Pool Of People Targeted For Deportation


In this photo taken Feb. 7, 2017, released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arrest is made during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. The Trump administration is wholesale rewriting the U.S. immigration enforcement priorities, broadly expanding the number of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who are priorities for deportation, according to a pair of enforcement memos released Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Trump administration is greatly expanding the number of people living in the U.S. illegally who are considered a priority for deportation, including people arrested for traffic violations, according to agency documents released Tuesday.

The documents represent a sweeping rewrite of the nation's immigration enforcement priorities.

The Homeland Security Department memos, signed by Secretary John Kelly, lay out that any immigrant living in the United States illegally who has been charged or convicted of any crime — and even those suspected of a crime — will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shop lifting or minor traffic offenses.

The memos eliminate far more narrow guidance issued under the Obama administration that focused resources strictly on immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes, threats to national security and recent border crossers.

Kelly's memo also describes plans to enforce a long-standing but obscure provision of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the government to send some people caught illegally crossing the Mexican border back to Mexico, regardless of where they are from. One of the memos says that foreigners sent back to Mexico would wait for their U.S. deportation proceedings to be complete. This would be used for people who aren't considered a threat to cross the border illegally again, the memo said.

It's unclear whether the United States has the authority to force Mexico to accept foreigners. That provision is almost certain to face opposition from civil libertarians and officials in Mexico.

Historically, the government has been able to quickly repatriate Mexican nationals caught at the border but would detain and try to formally deport immigrants from other countries, routinely flying them to their home countries. In some cases, those deportations can take years as immigrants ask for asylum or otherwise fight their deportation in court.

The memos do not change U.S. immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement.

The pair of directives do not have any impact on President Barack Obama's program that has protected more than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals remains in place though immigrants in the program will be still be eligible for deportation if they commit a crime or otherwise are deemed to be a threat to public safety or national security, according to the department.

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Nigerians Starved Of Electricity Turn To Solar


In this photo taken on Monday Feb. 20, 2017, vegetable sellers ply their wares by the light of locally-made lanterns in Lagos, Nigeria. In Nigeria, for the cost of powering a small generator for two hours, Dutch company Lumos offer enough solar power to light a house, cool a room with a fan and charge cell phones for about eight hours. For a country without a secure supply of electricity where people are dependent on candles, batteries, kerosene and fuel for generators, Lumos was surprised they spend more on power than solar options. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (AP)  The surprise was finding that people dependent on candles, batteries, kerosene and fuel for generators in countries without a secure supply of electricity spend more on power than solar options.

The founders of Dutch company Lumos knew they could do better. In Nigeria, for the cost of powering a small generator for two hours they offer enough solar power to light a house, cool a room with a fan and charge cell phones for about eight hours. Customers can even watch TV for a few hours.

For Nigerian government clerk Sandra Besong, it means her three children aged 8 to 17 can study and read at night.

"Before, I was using a local lamp with kerosene, but the flame wasn't bright enough for the children to read," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Masaka, in central Nasarawa state.

"We love the light!" she said. "The children appreciate it because they can read, watch TV, and they can use fans, so they are not hot. And there's none of the noise and fumes from a generator." Fans are important in Nigeria, where temperatures average 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Besong said she's also saving money. Powering a small generator for two or three hours a day cost her up to 7,000 naira ($23) a month, compared to 4,500 ($15) for solar, which provides double the time. She pays her bills through her cellphone.

Development across Africa is hampered by a lack of electricity. In 2015, 621 million people in sub-Saharan Africa — or two out of three — lacked access to power, and the numbers are growing, according to a report by the Africa Progress Panel. "It would take the average Tanzanian eight years to use as much electricity as the average American consumes in a single month," it said in a report .

Nigeria is worst of all. Just 25 percent of its 170 million people have access to regular electricity, and the West African nation has the highest outage rate on the continent, 32 a month averaging eight hours each, according to the Overseas Private Investment Corp ., the U.S. government's independent investment agency.

Such figures inspired former U.S. President Barack Obama to create Power Africa, bringing together technical and legal experts, the private sector and governments. Power Africa provided financial assistance to Lumos to produce the solar kits, which it provides to clients on a five-year subscription. A $50 million low-cost loan from OPIC and $40 million in equity will help fund another 200,000 solar kits to bring power to 1 million Nigerians by year's end, said Yuri Tsitrinbaum, CEO of Lumos Nigeria.

Lumos began selling solar kits in Nigeria in May 2014. The company, which has 30,000 customers in central Nigeria, launched nationwide this week.

Firefighter Ibrahim Momoh-Bekisu turned to solar fearing for his family's safety.

"Do you know how many families' lives have been destroyed because of fires caused by candles, kerosene, electrical fires?" he asked in a telephone interview from his home in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.

Momoh-Bekisu said his neighbors battling with darkness are now interested in getting solar power: "Their children come to my flat to come and study and watch TV."

Most importantly, "For me, this (solar power) is a life-prolonging issue, it contributes to life expectancy," he said in a country where the average person dies at 52 compared to a global average of 71 years, according to U.N. figures.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Nigerian President Disdains His Country's Best Hospital For Medical Care In Britain. But What Ails Him?

Nigeria's public hospitals are crowded and decrepit. Here, victims of a bomb attack in Maiduguri in 2015 await treatment in a public hospital. (Jossy Ola / Associated Press)

An extended medical trip for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the latest in a long line of leaders in Africa to travel overseas for medical treatment, has prompted a rash of online fake news stories proclaiming “Buhari is dead.”

Buhari, 74, who is in London for medical tests, posted photographs of himself meeting Nigerian officials in London to prove he was alive. He looked much thinner, but wasn’t bedridden and was able to stand. He tweeted that he was “grateful to Nigerians, Christians and Muslims alike, for their prayers and kind wishes for my health.”

But what was wrong with him, if anything? He didn’t say.

Nor did any Nigerian officials, as critics clamored that Nigerians had a right to know his condition. The president is awaiting results of tests, according to officials

His month-long trip continues a controversial tradition in Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent: presidents disdaining their own health services in favor of overseas medical trips often shrouded in secrecy.

Officials originally announced the trip was a short vacation that would include “routine medical tests.” The trip has been extended by almost two weeks, but no details on Buhari’s health or the nature of the tests have been released.

It is Buhari’s second extended trip to London for medical treatment, after he spent two weeks there last June. The June trip was to treat an ear infection, according to officials. At the time, critics questioned why Buhari couldn’t have been treated for such a simple ailment at the special presidential hospital State House Clinic Abuja, reputed to be the best hospital in the country.

The government upgraded the hospital in 2016 at a cost of $16 million, more than the total capital budget for Nigeria's 16 federal teaching hospitals. The hospital provides care for the president, vice president, their families and staff.

Buhari’s absence comes as the nation faces a dire economic crisis and soaring inflation, a looming famine in parts of northeastern Nigeria and continuing attacks from the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Eleven people died in a suicide attack on a convoy of vehicles preparing to depart Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, late Thursday.

His decision to consult doctors in London instead of Nigeria has angered many Nigerians, particularly after he promised last year to crack down on “medical tourism” – or foreign medical trips by Nigerian officials. The Nigerian Medical Assn. has estimated wealthy Nigerians spend around $1 billion a year on trips abroad for medical treatment.

After Buhari’s London trip for treatment for the ear infection, the association said local specialists would have been capable of treating the problem.

”The best-funded clinic in Nigeria does not suffice to treat the president’s ear infection. Nor does the president have enough confidence in the same clinic to do his ‘routine checkups’ there. Imagine, then, the fate of Nigerians who have no choice, but must seek treatment at the ill-equipped, wretchedly funded hospitals in our country. Are these Nigerians not simply woebegone, bereft of hope?” wrote novelist and political columnist Okey Ndibe on the news website Sahara Reporters.

In Madagascar, mothers weep and send their children to bed without water to drink

Those who travel overseas for health treatment are often wealthy government officials. Several former officials on trial over a series of multi-million dollar fraud cases have sought court permission in recent months to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Last September, Nigeria’s former first lady, Patience Jonathan, wrote to the nation’s corruption investigation unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to say she needed $15 million to pay foreign medical bills. Her money is in accounts owned by associates, frozen by the commission in a corruption investigation.

Nigeria’s public health facilities are run-down and overcrowded. The country spends just 3.7% of its gross domestic product on health, compared with more than 17% in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization, while vast amounts are siphoned off by corrupt government officials. Nigeria has only four doctors per 10,000 people.

Nigerians are particularly sensitive about presidential overseas visits for medical care, after a former president, Umaru Yar’Adua, disappeared for months for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia in 2009 and 2010, leaving a power vacuum before dying suddenly in office. Officials close to Yar’Adua had persistently denied to the public – and other members of the government – that his health was failing.

Many other African leaders have died suddenly in foreign hospitals, while government officials back home insisted they were healthy. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, died in a Belgian hospital in 2012 and the president of Guinea Bissau, Malam Bacai Sanha, died in a Paris military hospital the same year. Zambia’s President Michael Sata died in a British hospital in 2010, while his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa, died in a Paris hospital in 2008. Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba died in a Spanish hospital in 2009, after more than four decades in power.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 92, frequently flies to Singapore for visits described by officials as “routine eye checks.” Hospitals in Zimbabwe have been in a prolonged downward spiral, lacking medicines and basic supplies because of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

Nigerian Senate leader Bukola Saraki, one of three officials who met Buhari in London, tweeted Thursday that Buhari was “healthy, witty & himself,” adding there was no power vacuum and “no cause for alarm.”

But the lack of detailed information about Buhari’s health tests and possible ailment fueled concerns in Nigeria.

During his absence in London, Buhari spoke by phone to President Trump, who offered to sell military aircraft to Nigeria to assist in the country’s struggle with Boko Haram.

Nigerian officials said Trump had invited Buhari to Washington, D.C., and that the American president told his counterpart to “keep up the great work.” The White House made no mention of any invitation.

Some Nigerians argue that if Buhari could speak to Trump by phone, he should be able to address Nigerians.

Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, on Thursday brushed off questions as to why officials hadn’t posted videos of Buhari to prove that he was in good health, instead of still photographs.

“The fact that the president is receiving visitors, the fact that he has spoken with the American president and the fact that he has asked us to tell the world that he’s fine, I think that’s just enough,” Adesina said in a Nigerian television interview. He said the president would return soon, but gave no date.

“I wish I could give you a definite date, I really wish, but then we just have to hang on to what the president has told us.”

Aging, Depression And Disease In South Africa

By Manoj K. Pandey, Vani S. Kulkarni And Raghav Gaiha
Inter Press Service News Agency February 20, 2017

The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

CANBERRA, PHILADELPHIA AND MANCHESTER, FEBRUARY 20, 2017 (IPS) - Old age is often characterised by poor health due to isolation, morbidities and disabilities in carrying out activities of daily living (DADLs) leading to depression.

Mental disorders—in different forms and intensities— affect most of the population in their lifetime. In most cases, people experiencing mild episodes of depression or anxiety deal with them without disrupting their productive activities. A substantial minority of the population, however, experiences more disabling conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder type I, severe recurrent depression, and severe personality disorders. While common mild disorders are amenable to self-management and relatively simple educational or support measures, severe mental illness demands complex, multi-level care that involves a longer-term engagement with the individual, and with the family. Yet, despite the considerable burden and its associated adverse human, economic, and social effects, governments and donors have failed to prioritise treatment and care of people with mental illness. Indeed, pervasive stigma and discrimination contributes to the imbalance between the burden of disease due to mental disorders, and the attention these conditions receive.

The percentage of the population aged 60 years and above in South Africa rose from 7.1% in 1996 to 8 % in 2011, an increase from 2.8 million to 4.1 million individuals. The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 because of (i) a marked decline in fertility in the past few decades; (ii) the HIV and AIDS pandemic contributing to this change in the population structure, with a higher mortality of young adults, especially women of reproductive age; and (iii) a rise in life expectancy to 62 years in 2013-– a staggering increase of 8.5 years since the low in 2005.

Four in ten elderly persons in South Africa are poor. More than a third make an average living, and the rich constitute about 27%. Provincial variations show that rural provinces have higher proportions of poor elderly persons compared to those residing in the urban provinces. Racial differences show that elderly Whites and Indians/Asians occupied a higher socio-economic status than black Africans and Coloureds.

Ours is the first study that offers a comprehensive analysis of depression among the old (60+ years) in South Africa, using the four waves of the National Income Dynamics Study (SA-NIDS) (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014).

A self-reported measure of depression is used. SA-NIDS gives data on not depressed in a week, depressed for 1-2 days, 3-4 days and 5-7 days. We focus on those depressed for ≥ 3 days in a week. Referring to this as a measure of severe depression, its prevalence reduced from 15.3 % among the old in 2008 to 14.5 % in 2014, with a dip to 12.6 % in 2012.

Aging is a major factor in depression. Those in early 60s are generally more depressed than older persons in their 70s and 80s.

Old women were consistently more depressed than old men, as they are subject to violence. It is associated with conflicts over the man’s drinking, the woman having more than one partner, and her not having post-school education. Another factor is that women are typically much more likely to be overweight and obese, leading to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and subsequently higher depression . A challenging aspect of obesity prevention among black South Africans is the positive perception that both women and men attach to a large body size.

Married men and women are less depressed than others. Marriage thus serves as a barrier to loneliness and a source of support during periods of stress for old persons. However, old persons in larger households without any other old person are more prone to depression. It is not clear whether larger households result in neglect of old persons or their abuse.

Ethnicity matters. The Africans are more prone to depression than the reference group of the Whites and Coloureds. There is limited evidence suggesting that Asians/Indians/Others are less likely to be depressed.

Pensioners are less likely to be depressed despite some evidence in the literature on pooling of pensions with other household resources and denying the pensioner any financial autonomy. Although this can’t be ruled out, it is evident that the favourable effect of pensions in preventing depression is robust.

Of particular significance are the results on multimorbidity (more than one disease at a time). Two combinations of NCDs (diabetes and high BP, and cancer and heart disease) are positively associated with depression. Equally important are the associations between disabilities in activities of daily living or DADLs (e.g. difficulties in dressing,bathing, eating, walking, climbing stairs) and depression. In many cases, both sets of DADLs are positively associated with depression. The relationship between depression and body mass index or BMI categories (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) is not so robust except that in some cases overweight were less likely to be depressed than the reference category of obese.

Shock of a family member’s death (in the last 24 months) was robustly linked to higher incidence of depression. There is some evidence suggesting that this shock had stronger effects on women relative to men.

As loneliness and lack of support during a difficult situation can precipitate stress leading to depression, we experimented with measures of social capital and trust as barriers to depression, and the mediating role of preference for the same neighbourhood.

Although social capital doesn’t have a significant negative effect on depression, social trust does. Besides, the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood is confirmed in most cases. An exceptional case is that of the Africans for whom neither social capital nor social trust is of any consequence except the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood.

The burden of depression in terms of shares of depressed in total depressed has risen in the more affluent wealth quartiles-especially that of the most affluent. However, likelihood of depression remained lower among the third and fourth quartiles, implying that the likelihood of depression was higher in the poorest (or the least wealthy). It is somewhat surprising that despite marked inequalities even among the Africans, there is no wealth effect on depression.

Although older people are in worse health than those younger, older people use health services much less frequently. These patterns of utilization arise from barriers to access, a lack of appropriate services and the prioritization of services towards the acute needs of younger people.

A larger ethical issue is rationing of health care to older people on the notion that health services are scarce and must be allocated to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. WHO 2015 rejects this view on two counter-arguments: older people have made the greatest contribution to socioeconomic development that created these services; and they are entitled to live a dignified and healthy life.

Mental health care continues to be under-funded and under-resourced compared to other health priorities in the country; despite the fact that neuropsychiatric disorders are ranked third in their contribution to the burden of disease in South Africa, after HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In fact, mental health care is usually confined to management of medication for those with severe mental disorders, and does not include detection and treatment of other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

From this perspective, the proposed National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 is a bold and comprehensive initiative.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Iraqi Forces Launch Offensive To Drive IS From Western Mosul

FEBRUARY 19, 2017

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi forces have launched an operation to retake the western half of Mosul from the Islamic State group. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation early Sunday morning, Feb. 19, 2017, on state television, saying government forces were moving to "liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression forever", using the Arabic acronym for IS.

HAMAM AL-ALIL, IRAQ (AP) — U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a major air-and-ground offensive Sunday to retake western Mosul from Islamic State militants and drive the extremist group from its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

Ground units pushed into a belt of villages outside the country's second-largest city, and plumes of smoke rose into the sky early in the morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery.

"This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing," said Mahmoud Mansour, a police officer, as he prepared to move out. The United Nations warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their homes in Mosul "are at extreme risk," with dwindling fuel, food and water and scarce electricity.

Iraq declared eastern Mosul "fully liberated" last month after three months of fierce fighting, but the militants have continued to stage attacks there, including two suicide bombings against government forces on Sunday.

The battle for western Mosul promises to be even more daunting, as the half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still heavily populated. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the latest operation on state TV. Using the Arabic acronym for IS, he said government forces were moving to "liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression and terrorism forever."

Police units quickly entered the village of Athba, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southwest of Mosul's international airport, encountering only light resistance. Separately, the Iraqi Army's 9th Division moved into the village of Bakhira, also southwest of the city, the Ministry of Defense said.

The U.S.-led coalition has been providing close air support throughout the 4-month-old Mosul offensive and carried out nine airstrikes against IS near Mosul on Saturday, Central Command said. U.S. special operations forces are embedded with some Iraqi units, and thousands of American soldiers are in Iraq to provide logistical and other support.

"We are very close to it, if not already engaged in that fight," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in Abu Dhabi. He declined to go into further detail, saying he owed "confidentiality" to the troops.

Citing witnesses in western Mosul, the United Nations said nearly half of all food shops were closed and bakeries had shut down for lack of fuel and an inability to purchase costly flour. Prices of kerosene and cooking gas have skyrocketed, and many of the most destitute families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating.

"The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble," Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement. "We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes."

Peter Hawkins, of the U.N. agency for children, said: "Three out of five people now depend on untreated water from wells for cooking and drinking as water systems and treatment plants have been damaged by fighting or run out of chlorine."

The humanitarian agencies were gearing up to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee because of the fighting, the statement said. The U.N. estimates 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the Iraqi forces are an "increasingly capable, formidable and professional force." "Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge," he said in a statement.

Iraqi forces drove IS from eastern Mosul last month, but the militants appear to have left behind sleeper cells to carry out attacks. Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said a suicide bomber struck a patrol of government-allied Sunni tribal fighters in the Zihoor neighborhood, while another targeted Iraqi troops in Nabi Younis. IS claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Rasool declined to provide casualty figures. Two policemen said one Sunni fighter was killed and nine were wounded in the first attack, while the second attack wounded five soldiers. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

Iraqi special operations forces, regular army and federal police units are taking part in the offensive along with government-approved paramilitary forces, mainly consisting of Shiite militias, which are operating on the city's outskirts.

Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, and Maamoun Youssef and Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Problem Or partner? Why Nigeria Matters To The U.S.


President Trump’s phone call to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday signified the critical importance of the open and supportive relationship between our two countries. Nigeria is an important political and economic partner for the United States: it is the world’s fourth largest democracy, with a population of almost 200 million people; it runs a trade surplus and imports over $5.5 billion U.S.-originated goods per year; and is home to the Nollywood film industry, which has cultural and social influence across Africa. To forge a strong, new partnership, leaders from both countries should look holistically at how to improve Nigeria’s economic and security resiliency as well as maximize its enormous potential as a regional leader and long-term partner for the U.S.

In the call, the two presidents reportedly emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnership on security, governance and regional leadership. These three priorities are interrelated and are of critical importance to increased partnership between the two countries. Despite significant strides to address Boko Haram as a fighting force, violent extremism remains a major challenge in addition to other growing tensions between and among communities along social, ethnic, religious and economic lines.

However, the core Nigerian government policies and practices have been reactive rather than proactive in addressing vulnerability and violence. Weakness in the criminal justice system, poorly funded local government structures, corruption, and detached federal policies have eroded trust between communities and government, further diminishing the ability of government to mitigate tensions within and between communities. Dropping commodity prices and unprecedented and unpredictable inflation (18.55 percent in December 2016, up from 9.6 percent in January 2016) have underscored the shortcoming of social and economic policies, resulting in reactive responses to crises only as they explode or long after they have exploded.

The current failure by both the U.S. and Nigeria to prioritize the causes rather than the consequences of crises is bad for Nigerian and U.S. interests. Because of the urgent needs once crises have exploded, we have seen over reliance on the deployment of security forces, leading to tensions and potential flashpoints that undermine security.

In pockets of the country, large-scale violence has erupted. Decades-long agitations for resource control, development, and environmental maintenance continue to fuel militant attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta region, which slashed oil production from 2.2 million to 1 million barrels per day in 2016, leading to lost billions of dollars in oil revenue for the country. Militancy in the Niger Delta gives rise to criminality and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, where attacks on vessels and abduction of crew members disrupt interconnected shipping supply networks, not just for oil, but also for cocoa, metals, and other commodities destined for world markets. The recent rise in food insecurity, fueled by the inability to locally meet food demand, scarcity of foreign exchange, and double-digit inflation, has potential to stimulate protests and social unrest that the government has yet to prove they can handle.

A destabilized and crisis-ridden Nigeria has negative impacts for American businesses, international security, and the stability of the entire region. These crises already are expanding across Nigeria’s borders and into neighboring countries, demonstrating the ease with which Nigeria can export criminality and violence, as well as import it from its neighbors in crisis. As the U.S. pushes to eradicate ISIS and its affiliates, preventing violence from groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as the Lake Chad Basin are critical to this effort.

Yet the United States should not view Nigeria as a set of problems to be eradicated, but as an opportunity to invest and strengthen the ability of Nigeria to handle national and regional crises on its own. The U.S. must engage Nigeria as a partner and resource in the region through political, economic, development, and security cooperation. It should support Nigeria in strengthening detection and response to early warning signs, practical security reforms to improve response and community-trust, and respect and tolerance to religious freedom and ethnic diversity. Security cooperation between our two nations should focus on preventing violence at all levels, including through community-led security initiatives and investments in crisis management.

Nigeria is the trendsetter in West Africa and an important partner for the U.S. government and American businesses. Security, governance, and regional leadership are three areas where the U.S. and Nigeria must work together to address Nigeria as more than the sum of its parts. Together, our two countries need to progress our partnership beyond the reactive response to segmented crises to forge a holistic partnership that promotes the long-term growth and stability that is in our mutual interests.

Olubukola Ademola-Adelehin is a Conflict Analyst at Search for Common Ground, the world's largest dedicated peacebuilding organization. He is based in Abuja, Nigeria. Katie Smith is a Research Associate at Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Did Trump’s White House Use The Associated Press To Invent A “Fake News” Story?


Credit: Alex Wong/Getty

On Friday morning, the Associated Press published a story with frightening implications: Based on a draft of a Department of Homeland Security memo, it alleged that the Donald Trump administration was considering mobilizing 100,000 National Guard troops in 11 states to round up illegal immigrants for deportation. But almost as soon as the story went to press, White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied its accuracy, claiming there is no such plan to activate the Guard. If it sounds to you like the AP made a rare flub despite its reputation for sober and solid news reporting–well, that’s all the better for Spicer and the White House.

Trump and his cronies, of course, have been going to war with the press since day one, when the president accused reporters of lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Looked at a certain way, the flareup over the National Guard memo this morning takes on a sinister glow. The White House scored a perfect “fake news” moment with which to further undermine the media–and it’s not ludicrous to wonder whether they knew exactly what they were doing.

Spicer admonished the AP for the story while aboard Air Force One this morning. “It is false. It is irresponsible to be saying this,” Spicer told reporters. “There is no effort to utilize the National Guard to round up immigrants. I wish you’d asked before you tweeted.” An AP reporter responded by saying that the newswire had asked the White House for comment several times before the story ran, and that the White House never responded.

In an ordinary administration, if the AP were to bring bad information to the press secretary and ask for comment, the press secretary would simply inform them that their story was wrong before it went to press. Depending on the circumstances, the AP would either kill the story or include the White House’s denial in their reporting. There are only two reasons why the White House would have avoided commenting in this case. Either they thought that a no-comment would be sufficient enough for the AP to not to run with the item, or they saw a strategic opportunity in letting them publish something untrue.

The former option seems unlikely, considering the provenance of the documents: a DHS spokesman admitted that the draft memo was genuine, but said that it was a “very early pre-decisional draft” that “was never seriously considered” for implementation. But without a denial or comment of any kind from the relevant parties, there was no way for the AP to know how seriously the National Guard policy was being considered. The document was authentic, and it was all they had to go on–publishing a story was a reasonable course of action, and the White House would have known this.

The latter option–letting the AP publish a bad story, then slapping them around a bit for being irresponsible after the fact–sounds like just the kind of thing Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller could have cooked up in their little demon brains. Whatever draconian policies they do end up writing to supplement Trump’s immigration executive order will now look reasonable next to the prospect of 100,000 soldiers banging on doors from Texas to Oregon. And any opportunity to make a respected news organization look dumb is a win for Trump. As if on cue, a few hours after the fracas, the president tweeted this: