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Amnesty International Urges British Government To Demand Raif Badawi’s Freedom

Raif Badawi the blogger from Saudi Arabia continues to face as long as a decade in prison and as many a 950 lashes simply for calling for free speech. So far the British government has failed to ask for Mr. Badawi’s freedom. We need to step up and demand that our government speak on Mr. Badawi’s behalf as he has effectively been silenced.

British government response has been muted

Amnesty International is pressuring the British government to call for Mr. Badawi’s release but has so far been met with a muted response. The government has only said that they disagree with Mr. Badawi’s public torture. The government is well aware of the case. David Cameron, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond amongst other government ministers have all condemned the public flogging of Mr. Badawi when the issue was put to them.

David Cameron visited Saudi Arabia and said nothing

This however is far from difficult because the UK as a policy condemns torture and corporal punishment. It needs to go further and Amnesty International is calling on the UK government to speak out not just about the punishment, but the so called “crime” with which Mr. Badawi is charged and call for his freedom. Recently David Cameron undertook a state visit to Saudi Arabia to offer condolences following the death of the country’s king, King Abdullah. Whilst the Prime Minister praised the late king he failed to make any statement on the many human rights abuses committed by the king’s government.

1000 lashes is the punishment

Mr. Badawi is a prisoner of conscience and was imprisoned simply for calling for free speech. He was lashed in public 50 times at the beginning of January and remains in prison awaiting the next set of 50 lashes. The authorities in Saudi Arabia intend to flog him once a week after every Friday prayers until he has been lashed a total of 1,000 times.

Calling for free speech is a crime

Mr. Badawi’s sentence is the result of his website ‘Saudi Arabian Liberals’ which he created to serve as a forum for both social and political debate. Mr. Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and was found guilty of breaking Saudi Arabian laws and insulting Islamic figures by creating the online forum. He was sentenced to a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal (over a quarter of a million US dollars), 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison and has been banned from using any kind of media or travelling until 2034.

Over a million people have signed a petition

As a result of public condemnation and international outcry, over a million people have now signed Amnesty Internationals petition urging Saudi Arabia to free Mr. Badawi. So far however the authorities in Saudi Arabia have refused to release him and as a result Amnesty International is urging the UK government to apply more pressure on the Saudi authorities and secure his release.

Image courtesy of Amnesty International

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Help Concern Worldwide Make A Difference In South Sudan

On December 15 2013, in the city of Juba which is the capital of South Sudan, on a pleasant winter evening, shots rang out, marking the beginning of a protracted civil war which continues to devastate the country over a year later. Estimates suggest that to date, nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting, and over two million people have been displaced. The war has also meant that people lack the means to feed themselves because they were unable to plant before the rainy season which means there are no crops to harvest.

An impending food crisis

This means there is an impending food crisis that will affect nearly 6.4 million people in South Sudan during the first three months of 2015. It is estimated that a quarter million children are presently suffering from severe acute malnutrition. This is the worst kind of malnutrition and without treatment, could result in death. Fortunately Concern Worldwide is trying to do something about it.

Concern Worldwide emergency response

Concern Worldwide has been working in South Sudan since 1994, implementing emergency programs. When the civil war began in 2013, the agency immediately responded by trying to meet the needs of those that were displaced. The organisation began work first in Juba and then expanded its program to Bentiu where some of the worst fighting is taking place.

Heavy flooding hampers efforts

The Concern Worldwide team is working at a UN base in Bentiu were nearly 50,000 people have sought refuge. The base is located on a plot of land that was never supposed to house people and during the rainy season, the camp became heavily flooded. This led to the latrines collapsing, forcing people to live knee and even waste deep in raw sewage. People have no choice but to remain however, because the fighting continues unabated around the base.

Providing sanitation

Concern Worldwide is working to deliver clean water and sanitation in Bentiu. The agency is also distributing emergency supplies and treating malnourished children. In the aftermath of heavy flooding which destroyed the camp’s latrines, Concern launched an interim measure designed to improve sanitation using “PeePoo” bags which are fully biodegradable and self sanitising.

Flood protection

Concern is also working to reduce the impact of flooding in the camp by digging a drainage canal. The agency is also raising the shelters of those who are the most vulnerable. As soon as the dry season returns, Concern teams intend to construct more robust shelters as well as take a number of other measures which are designed to prevent severe flooding.

Providing food

Relative stability has returned to the city of Juba in recent months, and every month Concern is distributing food to more than 15,000 people who live on a UN base. The agency is also treating those who have been malnourished and are living at the camp. There is still lots of work to do in South Sudan as the fighting in some parts of the country remains fierce. By providing Concern Worldwide with a donation, you could help make a difference.

Image courtesy of Concern Worldwide

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RSPCA Tips For Helping Wildlife Get Through Winter

Its freezing in the UK at the moment and the onset of really cold weather can in some cases leaves people with very little time to prepare. Whilst that may be the case, there are some things that people should really try and do in order to cut the risk to their pets and provide assistance to wildlife. Here are a few tips for helping both your pets and wildlife make it through the coldest part of the year.

Small things can make a big difference

You could for example wipe down a horse following exercise which would cut back on the risk of chill. If you have rabbits indoors then an obvious thing to do is provide a tray of grass for them. There are many other simple things that lovers of wildlife can do, and these small things can make a very large difference. You should stop to consider how the weather is affecting not just the people around you, but the animals as well.

Winter is particularly challenging for animals

Winter can be particularly challenging for squirrels, hedgehogs and birds. Anywhere between one to two thousand wild animals are taken to RSPCA shelters every year between December, January and February. These animals are usually suffering from hunger, cold and dehydration. This means it is important for people to understand how to handle situations like this.

There are lots of things people can do to help

There are lots of things individuals can do. For example, you could make your garden friendly for wildlife. This means leaving out food and maintaining your garden pond. Access to unfrozen clean water can make all the difference to whether animals in the wild are able to survive the colder months. Just melting a small hole in your garden pond can make all the difference.

Make sure your cat has access to indoor litter

If you have a cat at home, the RSPCA is recommending that you make sure you provide them with enough litter trays indoors, not just during the cold months, but throughout the year. During the icy weather, the ground outside may end up frozen and if your cat usually goes to the toilet outside, it may be put off from doing so. This means it is really very important to ensure your cat has suitable indoor toilet facilities.

Leave a little food outside for wildlife

If you own a dog, then make sure you dress them in reflective coats when taking them on walks during the night which will help both of you to stay seen and safe. Nicola White, an expert from the RSPCA says it’s the small things that can make the difference. If you leave just a little bit of extra food outside, a hungry badger or robin may be able to last the whole winter.

“We can all struggle when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and our wildlife friends are often the most vulnerable to the extremes the elements take. They just need a bit of a helping hand sometimes.”

Image courtesy of RSPCA

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Cancer Research UK Says We Need To Encourage Healthier Lifestyles

According to the results of a new study published in The Lancet Oncology an astonishing 418,000 new cancers globally were the result of an expanding waistline. The vast majority of these cases occurred in developed countries which have been plagued with an epidemic of obesity to which there is no end in sight.

Obesity related cancers could easily swell

The study was conducted by Dr. Melinda Arnold from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and found that 64 per cent of obesity related cancers were diagnosed in Europe and North America. If nothing is done to combat the growing problem of obesity, the researchers are warning that the future burden of such types of cancer could easily swell.

Women more at risk than men

The results come from data collected from over 184 countries, including the agencies own internal database known as GLOBOCAN. Tom Stansfeld of Cancer Research UK says according to the study’s results, 4.4 per cent of cancer in UK males could be attributed to high BMI. The situation for women in the UK was much worse with 8.2 per cent of all cancer cases linked to a high BMI.

Fatty tissue is the culprit

The differences seen between genders in the UK was largely replicated around the world, which the researchers think is mainly due to post menopausal and endometrial breast cancers. Obesity can be linked to a variety of other cancers and the additional risk is in response to the fatty tissue in the body producing extra hormones which impact the way cells work.

Most cases of obesity related cancer in North America

Obesity related cancers were most prevalent in North America which recorded 111,000 cases or nearly 23 per cent of new obesity related cancers globally. In last place was sub-Saharan Africa which contributed just 7,300 cases. Of the total number of European cancer cases that could be attributed to a high BMI, Eastern Europe accounted for just over a third, or 66,000 cases.

Obesity is a challenge

Dr. Arnold says the result emphasised the need to deal with the challenge posed by obesity. Obesity in adults has nearly doubled since 1980. Mr. Stansfeld agrees and said the figures illustrate just how important it is to tackle the problem of obesity which could end up helping to save lives.

“While losing weight is never easy, making lasting changes that you can maintain in the long term is the most effective way to keep a healthy weight. More than 4 in 10 cancers in the UK can be prevented through lifestyle changes like not smoking, drinking less alcohol, keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly, and enjoying a diet that is high in fruit and veg and low in red and processed meat and salt.” Mr. Stansfeld said.

We need to encourage healthier lifestyles

If we want to protect future generations from unnecessary risks, it is critical that we encourage healthy lifestyles by taking more aggressive action which will make it easier for individuals to opt for healthier choices as opposed to junk food.

Full-Figured Man by Tony Alter, on Flickr

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Concern Worldwide Doing Some Great Work In Bangladesh

Concern Worldwide is partnering with Bangladeshi parliamentarians to make sure the issues which affect the country’s most vulnerable and poorest citizens are being dealt with. The aid agency is working with two All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG’s) comprising 30 members of the Bangladeshi parliament who will prioritise the issues which affect two groups of people that are severely disadvantaged.

Concern working with two groups of people

The two groups include people who live in the disadvantaged haor regions, which are wetland areas that are particularly prone to extreme seasonal flooding. The other group consists of urban pavement dwellers. Both groups are marginalised as a result of extreme poverty which means they are under-represented by the political system. Concern is trying to ensure that the issues affecting both groups of people gain visibility politically and the agency says it is reaping positive results.

Protecting communities

The haor region can be submerged under water for nearly half the year, which means that agriculture is adversely affected. It also means that people who live there don’t have access to basic social services or communications, as a result they are in need of help. The political advocacy work undertaken by Concern has meant there has been funding of essential maintenance work to dams and embankments in advance of seasonal flash flooding.

Ensuring recognition

Concern has also successfully lobbied for pavement dwellers to be officially recognised in significant national policy papers such as the “ City Corporation Ordinance”. When the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development formally approves the inclusion of the term pavement dweller, it will ensure they get access to vital social services they so badly need.

Advocacy for the disadvantaged

The two parliamentary groups have published two books which highlight the plight of urban pavement dwellers and the people of haor. The books offer recommendations as to how the members of parliament might address the issues that are at stake. Concern is presently looking to extend the partnership for an additional three years as it seeks to build on the great work already done.

Image courtesy of Concern Worldwide

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World Vision Marks One Year Anniversary Of Typhoon Haiyan

November 8th marked the one year anniversary of the world’s strongest typhoon slamming into the Philippines with devastating force. Over the last 12 months World Vision has been working hard to enable those that survived the terrible storm to start rebuilding their lives for what will hopefully be a brighter future. The organisation has managed to provide assistance to 750,000 people, nearly three quarters of which were unfortunately children.

A sombre occasion

Andrew Rosauer World Vision’s Response Director says whilst he is proud that his team gave one hundred per cent to the response, the one year mark was a sombre occasion that is dedidcated to the emotional loss people suffered from the storm. To that end, Mr. Rosauer and his team chose to commemorate the occasion with a candlelight memorial in Tacloban.

“It is important to remember those who lost their lives this time last year, and to honour the survivors’ courage, tenacity and strength. It is also a time to acknowledge the people who are still finding it difficult to adjust with so many losing loved ones, their homes, and their livelihoods. We have had a focus on ‘building back better’, but there are still many challenges ahead as we work with the communities to restore livelihoods and to prepare for disasters yet to come.”

Long term income is the biggest problem

The biggest problem seems to be one of finding and sustaining long-term income opportunities after so many people either lost their primary income earner, or their usual sources of income in the storm. Another problem is reducing the people’s vulnerability to future emergencies and improving their resilience. World Vision has provided assistance to 2,500 households that are the most vulnerable, including single parent or child headed families as well as the elderly and disabled.

Lots of people have been helped

Aside from providing shelter, the affected families were given help with their livelihoods, education and health. The agency organised cash-for work programs that supported over 85,000 individuals, with more than 21,000 receiving benefits such as livestock distribution, business start up tool kits and skills trainings.

“This year has had so many disasters that required the world’s attention: From the crisis’ in Syria, Gaza, South Sudan, the Ukraine and the Ebola outbreak– it’s fair to say that the typhoon has been sharing the world stage with other pressing issues. But the 8th of November is a time for the typhoon to be remembered. Filipino’s are always smiling and have a remarkably positive outlook. Behind the day-to day commitment of moving on, there are many heavy hearts.” Mr. Rosauer said.

Final phase of the emergency response

World Vision has now moved into the rehabilitation stage which is really the last phase of its response. Mr. Rosauer says he understands the critical part the communities play in both physical workmanship and decision making when it comes to rebuilding, so that they have the skills to deal with any other future shocks and also feel empowered.

Image courtesy of World Vision

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WWF Concerned By Accelerating Deforestation In Amazon

Recently it was confirmed by the National Institute for Space Research that the amount of deforestation in the Amazon touched 5,891 square kilometres between July 2012 and August 2013. That represents an increase of approximately 29 per cent compared to the previous year. The deforestation rate exceeded government forecasts by 1 per cent. The government forecast was made publicly available following pressure from non- governmental organisations and with figures like that, it is hardly surprising that many people are worried.

Will Deforestation Quicken?

WWF Brazil’s Marco Lentini says he wonders whether the announcement means that in the coming years there will be an increase in the deforestation rate in the Amazon rainforest. The most recent rate may have been caused by government regulation such as the new Forest Code. However Mr. Lentini says it is only possible to confirm this hypothesis when the preliminary rates for 2013 to 2014 are made available, which should occur following the Brazilian general election.

“The government talks about ‘efficiency’ in the fight against deforestation, with a 79% reduction since 2004’. But any deforestation – particularly illegal – is totally unacceptable and should be stopped immediately”, said Mr. Lentini.

There Are Huge Consequences

Aside from the loss of biodiversity, deforestation in the rainforest means that economies and communities that depend on the Amazon face an uncertain future. There are of course consequences for the climate as well which are caused by changes in the rainfall levels and increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Lentini says it is important to strengthen the mechanisms which are used to protect and value the rainforest such as the Forest Code. There is a need to monitor deforestation across all Brazilian biomes which also contain a wide range of biodiversity and are losing their vegetation cover without people noticing.

Government Should Implement Conservation Proposals

WWF-Brazil has made several proposals designed to encourage sustainable development and defend Brazil’s natural riches that were debated by the main candidates in the 2014 election. WWF has said there should be monitoring of deforestation on an annual basis as well as the implementation of prevention and control plans for each biome which would put a halt to illegal deforestation so that the target of zero vegetation loss is achieved. With support from the Dilma Roussef government it is hoped that much of the deforestation that is threatening the Amazon rain forest will soon be curtailed.

Amazon rainforest by Nguyen Ngoc Chinh, on Flickr

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Elephant Population In Mara-Serengeti Rises Says WWF

There has been an increase in the number of elephants living in the world famous Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that straddles Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. According to the results of the latest aerial survey, the elephant population in the region has increased from 2,058 elephants in 1986 to 7,535 this year.

The wet season Serengeti-Mara aerial census report was released by Tanzania’s Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism and called for closer cooperation between Tanzania and Kenya to ensure poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in the region is kept at bay.

Poaching Prevalent Outside Protected Areas

During the survey there were a total of 192 elephant carcasses that were counted, of which 75 were found in Tanzania and 117 were in Kenya. The ratio of carcasses to live elephants was well within the normal range of what is required to maintain a stable or increasing population of elephants.

Despite the increase in elephant numbers in the region, conservationists remain concerned by the fact that 84% of the dead elephants found in Kenya lay outside the Masai Mara National Reserve. What was more worrying was the absence of tusks. This suggests that elephants that do not live in protected areas could be threatened by poaching.

Conservation Communities Want Governments to Improve Policy

The conservation community in Tanzania and Kenya are calling on their governments to improve their elephant management policies as well as make use of technology in the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife. Additionally the conservationists want there to be better management of elephants who live outside the protected areas. Both governments remain keen to partner with conservationists to achieve durable solutions to the challenges faced by endangered species including the rhino as well as the elephant.

WWF Looking To Find Long Term Solutions

The WWF and other conservation organisations are working closely with the governments to find long term solutions to the menace caused by poaching. A lot of the efforts are focused on technology and anti-poaching equipment. There is also engagement with the private sector and engaging communities though anti-poaching campaigns. Efforts are also being made to work with communities to reduce conflict between wildlife and humans and developing national and regional databases that will manage rhino and elephant populations.

According to WWF the Mara-Serengeti landscape is a priority and the organisation has focused its funding on conservation in this region. WWF is lobbying for the introduction of strong cross border cooperation between Tanzania and Kenya to manage poaching across the entire landscape.

Image Courtesy of WWF

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The Aspinall Foundation Returns Five Javan Primates To Their Original Home

World renowned conservation group The Aspinall Foundation which has had unrivalled success in captive breeding of endangered species, says that it is beginning to take the initial steps of returning a group of Javan primates to their original home land where they have nearly been hunted to extinction.

The Aspinall Foundation says it will return a total of five Javan grizzled langurs. The organisation has already flown out the animals to the Javan Primates Rehabilitation Centre (JPRC) in West Java. There were two males and three females that have been returned plus an additional three Javan ebony langurs were also sent home from the Foundation’s Port Lympne Reserve.

Back To The Wild Initiative

Returning the animals to their original stomping ground is part of the Aspinall Foundation’s “Back to the Wild” initiative. Under the program, the charity is returning captively bred animals ranging from endangered species such as gibbons, black rhino, European bison, clouded leopards and gorillas to their native homeland where the survival of these species is being threatened.

Before leaving the UK the langurs were given a battery of veterinary checks to make sure the animals were not carrying any infectious diseases. The process will continue throughout their pre-release phase whilst they are in quarantine in Java. Once the langurs are released into the wild their breeding patterns, habits and movements will be closely monitored by a team of scientists.

Rebuilding Populations In The Wild

The purpose of the Javan project is to rebuild viable populations of primates in the wild, where numbers have dropped as a result of hunting and habitat destruction. Damian Aspinall, Chariman of the Foundation said:

“It is our guiding philosophy that modern conservation must embrace the over-riding need to breed endangered species and then return them safely to the wild in order to restore populations devastated by mankind. These animals belong in their natural habitats on the planet and therefore merely breeding animals and keeping them two by two in captivity for the entertainment of the public can no longer of itself be a valid conservation aim.”

Aside from increasing the indigenous population with captively bred primates and those primates that have been rescued by the charity’s East and West Java centres, the Foundation along with the government of Indonesia is seeking to reduce the practice of poaching and trading of the species through awareness, education and information.

Image Courtesy Of The Aspinall Foundation

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WWF Condemns Seismic Testing In Virunga

Despite intense international opposition and local protests, British company Soco International PLC will begin the seismic testing phase of its hugely controversial Virunga National Park oil exploration project.

According to residents who live near the park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), parts of Lake Edwards will be shut to fishing whilst the company explores for oil reserves. If oil deposits are indeed found then the WWF says it believes the company will drill oil exploration wells on the lake

“WWF condemns in the strongest terms Soco’s unacceptable operations in Virunga National Park. It is irresponsible for Soco to disregard the national and international laws protecting this World Heritage Site. The company is putting the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation at WWF International.

The fishery at Lake Edwards is responsible for annual income of US$30 million for the people who live near Virunga National Park says WWF who commissioned a study which also found that 50,000 households depend on the lake for their drinking water.

Apart from the loss of revenue and fishing jobs, the environmental report commissioned by Soco itself suggests that exploratory drilling could result in air pollution, water contamination, pulmonary diseases, and habitat loss in the incredibly fragile ecosystem.

The British foreign office reiterated concerns by expressing its opposition to the Soco’s plan in Virunga. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has also voice strong objections as well as EU member states.

“Fishermen, farmers and local entrepreneurs who depend on Virunga are objecting vehemently to Soco’s presence in their park, and numerous members of the international community have joined them. Virunga could be a source of hope for eastern DRC if is fisheries, hydropower and ecotourism potential is developed sustainably. Soco should not be allowed threaten the future of this irreplaceable park. As a publically-traded company, Soco is accountable to its shareholders. We urge investors to reject exploration in Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse national park,” Gustavsson said.

Image Courtesy of WWF

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