‘Life-saving’ peanut paste unlikely victim of Ukraine war

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Internally displaced people seat in a tent in the makeshift camp where they are sheltered in the village of Erebti, Ethiopia, on June 09, 2022. (AFP)
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A mother washes the face of a child in the makeshift camp where they are sheltered in the village of Erebti, Ethiopia, on June 09, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2022

‘Life-saving’ peanut paste unlikely victim of Ukraine war

  • As 1.7 million children face starvation in drought-stricken Horn of Africa, the cost of these life-saving supplements is skyrocketing 
  • UNICEF says the conflict in Ukraine is making ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) more expensive to manufacture and procure

MARSABIT, Kenya: Under an acacia tree in Kenya’s drought-ravaged north, malnourished infants feed on sticky mouthfuls of a nutrient-dense peanut paste long used to prevent child starvation in disasters across the globe.
This wonder food can mean the difference between life and death for a child in hard-hit Marsabit, where aid workers say young children are perishing in conditions that border on famine.
“If we ran out of these, more deaths would be recorded very soon,” James Jarso of aid group World Vision said of the sachets being distributed by charity workers in the parched and isolated village of Purapul.
But just as 1.7 million children face starvation in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, the cost of these life-saving supplements is skyrocketing because of another crisis unfolding thousands of miles away.
The conflict in Ukraine is making ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) more expensive to manufacture and procure, says UNICEF, which buys almost 80 percent of the world’s supply.
Ukraine is a major exporter of sunflower oil, wheat and other grains. The war has affected the price and availability of staple foods, driven up fuel prices, and disrupted supply chains already off-kilter because of the pandemic.
A knock-on effect has been higher prices for powdered milk, vegetable oils and peanuts — all key ingredients in RUTF, said Christiane Rudert, a nutrition adviser for UNICEF for southern and eastern Africa.
Even the materials used to make RUTF packaging have become scarcer and costlier, she said.

A child eats a ready-to-use therapeutic food bag (RUTF) at a clinic in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. (AFP file)

UNICEF, which purchases around 49,000 tons of RUTF every year, is starting to feel the pinch.
“The cost has definitely gone up already, which affects our orders,” Rudert told AFP.
French company Nutriset told AFP it raised the cost of its leading RUTF product “Plumpy’Nut” twice in the past year, including a 13-percent hike in May.
It could not attribute this directly to Ukraine but a confluence of factors, including the war but also the pandemic, higher shipping costs, and environmental disasters, Nutriset said in a statement.
Overall the price of “Plumpy’Nut” — which reached 9.7 million children last year — had risen 23 percent since May 2021, it said.
UNICEF forecasts that by November, prices for RUTF will have risen 16 percent from pre-war levels.
Russia’s invasion has also raised fuel prices, making it costlier to deliver RUTF to where it’s needed.
The timing could not be worse.
More than 1.7 million children in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are suffering the most lethal form of malnutrition as the Horn of Africa experiences its worst drought in generations.
The rising cost of RUTF means treating those children “will cost $12 million more than it would have cost before Ukraine,” Rudert said.
It is money that is sorely lacking, she said, with donations to address the hunger crisis in the Horn falling well short of need.
“This product... is literally what saves children’s lives when they have already reached that really severe form of malnutrition.
“It’s not just peanuts and milk and sugar and oil... it’s therapeutic,” Rudert said.

Revolutionary treatment
Invented a quarter of a century ago, RUTF proved revolutionary in treating severe wasting, a deadly condition where underfed children are too thin for their height.
A single sachet of RUTF delivers 500 calories and essential vitamins and minerals.
Eaten directly from the packet, RUTF helps malnourished children quickly regain weight and energy, and requires no refrigeration or preparation by a health care worker.
This is essential in remote and impoverished regions like northern Kenya, where clean water and health workers are in short supply.
On a twice-monthly visit to Purapul, government doctor Mohamed Amin said most women and children were surviving on little else than the packs of paste he prescribed.
“It has really been a challenge,” he told AFP at a mobile health clinic, where mothers were handed two weeks’ worth of supplements to feed their children between screenings.
“At least it boosts them.”
UNICEF buys enough RUTF to feed at least 3.5 million children a year. But at current funding levels, a 16-percent price rise could mean 600,000 miss out on this life-saving treatment, Rudert said.
This would have disastrous consequences not just for the Horn but elsewhere in Africa such as South Sudan, where 300,000 children are expected to require RUTF treatment this year.
Jarso, from World Vision, said the impact of RUTF in a place like Purapul could not be overstated.
“There is no milk. There is no meat... there is no food for them. Therefore, it is life-saving.”

Indian-origin California family kidnapped on Monday found dead - Sheriff

Updated 06 October 2022

Indian-origin California family kidnapped on Monday found dead - Sheriff

  • Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was a suspect in family's deaths and was in custody
  • The victims include an 8-month-old baby, her mother, father and uncle

BENGALURU: Four members of a California family, including an 8-month-old girl, were found dead in a rural area on Wednesday after they were abducted in the city of Merced on Monday, authorities said.

The victims were identified as the baby, Aroohi Dheri, who was abducted along with her mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27, her father, Jasdeep Singh, 36, and the baby’s uncle, Amandeep Singh, 39. Police say the four were abducted on Monday morning from the family’s trucking company in Merced, about 150 miles (240 km) east of San Jose.

“Tonight our worst fears have been confirmed. We found the four people from the kidnapping and they are in fact deceased,” Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke said in a media briefing.

Describing the incident as “horribly senseless,” Warnke said that the motivation for the crime was not known yet, adding that they were alerted by a farm worker.

Authorities in Merced County said Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was a suspect in the family’s deaths and was in custody. They were attempting to speak with Salgado, who was hospitalized after trying to kill himself before being taken into custody, to determine whether another person was involved, Warnke had said during a news conference on Wednesday morning.

“We are devastated. We are shocked. We are dying every moment,” a relative who gave only his first name, Balwinder, said during that news conference.

Warnke said they had notified the family about the deaths.

“We got information from the suspect. We are going to keep that close to our chest at this point, but that suspect has in fact been talking to us,” Warnke said.

Police had shown a surveillance video from outside the trucking company showing a man whose face was obscured by a medical-style mask leading away Jasdeep and Amandeep Singh, then Kaur and her daughter.

Police were alerted to the crime after finding Amandeep Singh’s black 2020 Dodge Ram pickup truck burning on the side of a county road. While investigating, sheriff’s deputies were unable to reach the family and determined they had been abducted, leading them to the trucking business.

Authorities took Salgado into custody after the family’s ATM card was used at a nearby bank. A motive has yet to be determined, the sheriff said.

Gunman in Thailand kills 34 people at day-care center

Updated 1 min 20 sec ago

Gunman in Thailand kills 34 people at day-care center

  • Gunman kills wife and child after the mass shooting before shooting himself

BANGKOK: A former policeman killed 34 people on Thursday in a mass shooting at a children’s day-care center in Thailand, with media reporting the gunman later shot and killed himself.

The victims included 22 children as well as adults, police said in a statement.

Police colonel Jakkapat Vijitraithaya from Nong Bua Lam Phu province said the gunman went home and killed his wife and child after the mass shooting.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Thursday ordered an urgent probe after a former police officer murdered more than 30 people, most of them children, in a rampage at a nursery.

“Concerning this horrifying incident... I would like to express my deepest sorrow and condolences to the families of the dead and injured,” Prayut wrote on his official Facebook page, adding that he had told the national police chief to “fast-track an investigation.”

Earlier, police said a manhunt was under way for the shooter, and a government spokesman said the prime minister had alerted all agencies to apprehend the culprit.

Mass shootings are rare in Thailand even though the rate of gun ownership is high compared with some other countries in the region, and illegal weapons are common.

In 2020, a soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations.

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

Updated 06 October 2022

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

  • Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it

KYIV: At least two people died and five others were missing in attacks on Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, the region’s governor said Thursday, blaming Russia for the strikes.
The Ukrainian-controlled city is located in the eponymous Zaporizhzhia region, also home to the Russian-occupied nuclear plant that has been the site of heavy shelling.
Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it.
“One woman died and another person died in an ambulance,” Ukrainian-appointed governor Oleksandr Starukh said on social media.
He added that at least five people were trapped under the rubble following the attacks.
“Many people” were saved in a rescue operation that was still underway, he said.
Earlier, Starukh posted a photo of a collapsed building with smoke still rising from the wreckage.
He said there were seven attacks fired by Russian forces at “high-rise buildings.”
Last week Ukraine said at least 30 people were killed after a convoy of civilian cars in the Zaporizhzhia region was shelled in an attack Kyiv blamed on Moscow.
Putin on Wednesday finalized the annexation of four Ukrainian territories — Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — but the Kremlin is yet to confirm what areas of those regions are being annexed.
Ukraine’s presidency said Thursday that over the past day 14 people were killed in attacks in the Donetsk region.

UN concerned about ‘dramatic collapse’ of Afghan economy

Updated 06 October 2022

UN concerned about ‘dramatic collapse’ of Afghan economy

  • Up to 97% Afghan population now lives below the poverty line, UNDP official says
  • Before Taliban takeover, Afghan economy was already very small, with $20 billion GDP

United Nations: Afghanistan’s formal economy has suffered a “catastrophic collapse” since the Taliban came to power, wiping out in less than a year what had taken 10 years to build, the United Nations said in a report released Wednesday.

Before the Taliban took power in August 2021, the Afghan economy was already very small, with a GDP of about $20 billion.

But in just one year it “lost about $5 billion,” Kanni Wignaraja, director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for Asia and the Pacific, told a news conference.

“That’s about 10 years’ worth of accumulated assets and wealth that just got lost in 10 months,” Wignaraja said. “That kind of dramatic collapse we’ve not seen anywhere in the world.”

While the price of a basic food basket has increased by 35 percent since August 2021, Afghans spend “60 to 70 percent, some of them even 80 percent, of their income, household income, on food and fuel,” she said.

Meanwhile, 95 to 97 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, she said.

That figure is up from a little more than 70 percent just a year ago.

The report paints a bleak picture of the country’s economy, highlighting a collapse of the banking and financial systems, with 700,000 jobs lost by mid-2022, mostly by women, and one in five children at risk of severe malnutrition, particularly in the south.

The collapse of the formal economy has also led to an increase in the importance of the informal economy, which represents 12 to 18 percent of gross domestic product, compared to nine to 14 percent a year ago, the report said.

Abdallah Al Dardari, the UNDP’s resident representative in Afghanistan, said humanitarian assistance alone cannot compensate for the economic collapse, adding that the number of Afghans needing assistance has climbed from 19 million people to 22 million people in just 14 months.

So over the next three years, “we want to create two million jobs through a revival of the private sector, through working with local communities, through focusing on women entrepreneurs,” and by reviving agricultural productivity, micro-finance and banking, he said.

China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

Updated 06 October 2022

China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

  • Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended
  • The humanitarian costs to China’s COVID-19 pandemic approach have grown

BEIJING: Sprawling Xinjiang is the latest Chinese region to be hit with sweeping COVID-19 travel restrictions, as China further ratchets up control measures ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this month.
Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended, and passenger numbers on flights have been reduced to 75 percent capacity, reports said Thursday.
A notice from the regional government said the measures were enacted to “strictly prevent the risk of spillover” of the virus but gave no other details.
As is often the case with China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policy, the measures seemed out of proportion to the number of cases detected.
The National Health Commission announced just 93 cases in Xinjiang on Wednesday and 97 on Thursday, all of them asymptomatic. Xinjiang leaders on Tuesday conceded problems with detection and control measures but offered no word on when they planned to lift the restrictions.
Officials are desperate not to be called out for new outbreaks in their regions and Xinjiang has been under special scrutiny over the government’s establishment of a series of prison-like re-education centers in which Muslim minorities have been taught to renounce their religion and allegedly subjected to a range of human rights abuses.
Xinjiang’s vast surveillance system, relying on ubiquitous checkpoints, facial and even voice recognition software, and universal cell phone monitoring has made controlling travel among the population especially easy.
An earlier 40-day lockdown in Xinjiang left many residents complaining on inadequate food supplies.
“Zero-COVID” has been closely identified with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is expected to receive a third five-year term in office at the congress beginning Oct. 16. That’s despite criticisms from the World Health Organization and massive disruptions to the economy, education and normal life in China.
Last month, a nighttime bus crash that killed 27 people who were being forcefully moved to a mass quarantine location in southwestern China set off a storm of anger online over the harshness of the policy. Survivors said they had been compelled to leave their apartments even when not a single case had been discovered.
“Zero-COVID” has been celebrated by the country’s leaders as evidence of the superiority of their system over the US, which has had more than a million COVID-19 deaths.
Xi has cited China’s approach as a “major strategic success” and evidence of the “significant advantages” of its political system over Western liberal democracies.
Yet even as other countries open up, the humanitarian costs to China’s pandemic approach have grown. With national and some provincial borders closed, tourism has all but dried up and the economy is forecast by the World Bank to grow by an anemic 2.8 percent this year. Xinjiang has been hit especially hard because of sanctions brought against some of its officials and products over human rights concerns.
Even without nationally identified criteria, testing and lockdowns have become the norm for tens of millions of people in China from the North Korean border to the South China Sea, as local officials desperately seek to avoid punishment and criticism.
Earlier this year in Shanghai, desperate residents complained of being unable to get medicines or even groceries during a two-month lockdown, while some died in hospitals from lack of medical care as the city restricted movement. All 26 million city residents in China’s largest city and financial hub have been ordered to undergo two additional days of testing this week, despite the announcement of just 11 new cases Thursday, none of which showed symptoms.