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China

What's Behind China's Shame-Hiding Highway Walls?

PEOPLE'S DAILY (China)

Worldcrunch

GANSU - What’s the best way to handle the unpleasant view of decrepit roadside housing and poverty? Hide it! is the answer from officials of China's northwestern province of Gansu.

According to China's People's Daily, the local authority in Zhang County in Gansu has begun to build walls to hide the rows of unsightly poor housing straggling along the 212 National Road.

On the way out of this ancient caravanserai of the Silk Road, Zhang County is one of China’s most poverty-stricken areas. In 2011, the per capita annual income of Zhang County was 2960 RMB ($470).

These odd-looking brand new white walls are two meters high with a glazed tile finish on top. “They are shame-hiding walls to spare the leaders who often drive by on this road from seeing our ugly houses,” a farmer told People's Daily.

The government had actually designated the building of these walls as part of an anti-poverty project

Worst of all is that since the walls were built the narrow country road has become even narrower. Many heavy trucks pass though with horns blaring and this raises serious road safety problems for the villagers.

When asked about the project, a Zhang County official finally conceded that “it’s part of the county’s remediation of the houses along this road, which is also undergoing reconstruction. All the neighboring counties are doing it too. The purpose is to beautify the scenery along this road.”

As for the villagers’ complaints, another official blamed ignorance: “Some of these villagers have hardly just become literate. They haven’t got a sufficient level of understanding of the necessity of beautifying the environment. Their knowledge is not yet in place.”   

People’s Daily reports that similar such shame-hiding structures have been springing up over the past few years around China.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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