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GLOBAL PRESS JOURNAL
Since 2006, Global Press has built and maintained over 40 independent news bureaus in some of the world’s least-covered places, where citizens lack credible access to accurate information. Global Press Journal, the award winning international news publication is staffed by professional female journalists who are from the coverage community. Their feature and investigative journalism is published in six languages and reaches audiences across 190 countries.
Photo of Bolortuya Bekh-Ochir, right, and Jargalsuren Tungalagzaya fill a trough with water for a herd of goats outside of Dalanzadgad, Umnugovi province, Mongolia, June 5, 2022.​
Green
Uranchimeg Tsogkhuu*

As More Land Turns to Desert, Fights Over Water Erupt In Mongolia

There are too many animals for the available water supply in the Gobi desert region. The situation worsens each year.

DALANZADGAD — The scorching sun glares at them from directly above, and everything under their feet is parched, dusty and barren. The sheep and goats squeal and squeak, their nostrils sunken, their eyes glazed. Batbaatar Tsedevsuren, a herder with more than two decades of experience, knows this is how his animals behave when extremely thirsty.

He has walked with his 700 animals for several days in Mongolia’s Gobi desert in search of water and green pastures, when suddenly Batbaatar sees a well, and a fellow herder sitting on its edge. He comes closer with a smile, he later recalls, but the herder doesn’t reciprocate. “There is no water in the well,” the other herder quickly says. Batbaatar knows that isn’t true, and that the herder is just acting stingy. But he can’t afford a fight.

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In Uganda, Having A "Rolex" Is About Not Going Hungry
Economy
Nakisanze Segawa

In Uganda, Having A "Rolex" Is About Not Going Hungry

Experts fear the higher food prices resulting from the conflict in Ukraine could jeopardize the health of many Ugandans. Take a look at this ritzy-named simple dish.

WAKISO — Godfrey Kizito takes a break from his busy shoe repair shop every day so he can enjoy his favorite snack, a vegetable and egg omelet rolled in a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex. But for the past few weeks, this daily ritual has given him neither the satisfaction nor the sustenance he is used to consuming. Kizito says this much-needed staple has shrunk in size.

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Most streets and markets in Uganda have at least one vendor firing up a hot plate ready to cook the Rolex, short for rolled eggs — which usually comes with tomatoes, cabbage and onion and is priced anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Ugandan shillings (28 to 57 cents). Street vendor Farouk Kiyaga says many of his customers share Kizito’s disappointment over the dwindling size of Uganda’s most popular street food, but Kiyaga is struggling with the rising cost of wheat and cooking oil.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has halted exports out of the two countries, which account for about 26% of wheat exports globally and about 80% of the world’s exports of sunflower oil, pushing prices to an all-time high, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency. Not only oil and wheat are affected. Prices of the most consumed foods worldwide, such as meat, grains and dairy products, hit their highest levels ever in March, making a nutritious meal even harder to buy for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families. The U.N. organization warns the conflict could lead to as many as 13.1 million more people going hungry between 2022 and 2026.

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​Illustration on The Puerto Rico Weapons Act of 2020
Society
Coraly Cruz Mejías*

Puerto Rico Faces Its Own Gun Culture Problem

Gun sales have soared since a 2020 law made the process faster, easier and cheaper.

BAYAMÓN, PUERTO RICO — The Puerto Rico Weapons Act of 2020, which made legally obtaining and carrying a firearm much easier, is now over two years old — and Puerto Ricans are buying guns as never before. Nearly 100,000 gun licenses were issued in 2020 and 2021 in total, compared to around 1,200 in 2017.

While the law may have brought Puerto Rico’s gun regulations in line with the Constitution of the United States, other factors underscored the push: a perception that crime is on the rise, that the police are helpless in tackling it — and that carrying a gun is an effective self-defense measure.

Crime and police data from the past 50 years, however, show that these perceptions don’t match reality: Violent crime has been in decline for two decades in Puerto Rico, and the number of police officers per capita is well above the U.S. national average.

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Luke, 13, left, and his brother Oswald, 17, steer a wheelbarrow full of metal bars they scavenged at the Marabo garbage dump in Lusaka, Zambia.
Society
Prudence Phiri

Zambia, Trapped In A Generational Cycle Of Poverty

The pandemic has scuttled Zambia’s efforts to combat child labor and keep kids in school. The result is a generational cycle of poverty.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — A gray haze hovers above the garbage dump, a stain on an otherwise blue sky. Known as Marabo, the site unfurls across almost an acre of dirt, with mounds of plastic bags and cracked bottles baking under the midmorning sun. On the north end, dark green-and-black mud cakes the rubbish, emitting a sewer-like stench. The smell clings to the body long after one leaves.

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Photo of María de Lourdes Félix, Melissa González and Manuel Esteban Cruz of the Maizkali urban farming collective checking on their cornfield in Tepojaco, Mexico.
Green Or Gone
Aline Suárez del Real, Adriana Alcázar González*

Mexican Youth Turn To Urban Agriculture To Connect With Their Roots

When the pandemic disrupted livelihoods and supply chains, young urban Mexicans decided to learn to grow food themselves.

CUAUTITLÁN IZCALLI — Growing up in a concrete city of more than 5 million people, María de Lourdes Félix never thought she would harvest corn and worry about worms.

But during the pandemic lockdown in March 2020, the 32-year-old enrolled in an online three-month economics course offered by Instituto Mexiquense de la Juventud, a Mexican government agency. Inspired, 10 classmates started a project to plant and harvest corn, calling themselves Maizkali. They borrowed a piece of farmland that had been in one of their families for generations.

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Photo of schoolchildren entering a mud-walled classroom at Kyeihara Integrated Primary School in Sheema, Uganda.
Society
Apophia Agiresaasi*

Beyond COVID: Why Ugandan Kids Can’t Go Back To School

Severe weather and a lack of upkeep during pandemic shutdowns wreaked havoc on school facilities. Officials and parents are scrambling to rebuild.

SHEEMA, UGANDA — After nearly two years of repeated shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Benon Atwijuka was excited to return to his job as headmaster of Kyeihara Integrated Primary School in southwestern Uganda. But when he arrived, he realized that he had to do more than help his students catch up on the learning they had lost.

“During the long absence, animals roamed and grazed in the school compound and damaged buildings,” he says.

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The First Victims Of Sri Lanka's Economic Crisis: Pregnant Women
Society
Vijayatharsiny Thinesh

The First Victims Of Sri Lanka's Economic Crisis: Pregnant Women

The country's worst economic crisis in decades has toppled the government and led to soaring prices. Pregnant women struggle to access essential supplies.

INUVIL, SRI LANKA — At sunset, as her young son plays nearby and her husband has yet to return from work, Kirushna Sutharshan forages for edible plants near her home.

She bends carefully over her expanding belly — her second child is due in August — but ignores the discomfort. The prices of milk, eggs, spinach and other foods recommended for healthy pregnancies have tripled since January; the once-free iron supplements are no longer available at prenatal checkups at public hospitals; and she cannot afford vitamins at private pharmacies. Even Thriposha, a corn-based nutritional supplement usually distributed to pregnant women for free, is no longer available.

“What can I do?” Sutharshan says, adding that her doctor has warned her that her iron levels are too low. “In the current situation, I cannot afford to buy iron-rich spinach from the market.”

A step back 

Sri Lanka has worked hard to improve its maternal and infant mortality rates, through advancements in sanitation and health care access. In 1950, a year before free health care was nationalized, 10% of newborns didn’t survive past their first birthday; in 2020, the first-birthday survival rate had reached 99%. But as the country dives deeper into economic turmoil — with the president agreeing to resign, according to a statement by Parliament’s speaker, after thousands of protesters stormed his home — public health experts warn that these gains will be reversed. Foods, vitamins, medicines and medical supplies needed for safe, healthy pregnancies have become unaffordable and inaccessible.

In June, the United Nations Children’s Fund, known as UNICEF, issued a $25.3 million fundraising appeal for Sri Lanka, including funding to provide 122,000 pregnant mothers with cash or voucher assistance. “All essential health services have been severely impacted by critical shortages of medicine,” according to a UNICEF statement. There are ongoing stockouts of essential medicines affecting pregnant and lactating women and children, which are likely to continue for several months.”

For decades, Sri Lankans could obtain free medications from government hospital dispensaries or at affordable prices from private pharmacies. But in March, the National Medicines Regulatory Authority approved a 29% price increase for all medicines, followed by a 40% price increase for 60 medications in April.

Campaigning for awareness

Murali Vallipuranathan, a Colombo-based community physician, confirms that imported medications and equipment for cesarean sections and other fetal and neonatal surgeries have become more expensive and difficult to procure. Due to power outages, pharmaceuticals that require refrigeration end up having to be thrown away, he adds.

Physicians, nurses and health associations are campaigning for more attention to the growing crisis, including circulating a list of supply donations requested by the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

Balasubramaniam Manikandan, a Jaffna pharmacy owner, says business has slowed as the prices for vitamins recommended for pregnant women, including folic acid, vitamin C, iron tablets and calcium, have skyrocketed. Black market sellers are also buying and hoarding the supplies, then selling them at even higher prices, he complains.

“Because of the economic condition of the nation, some medicines are not at all available. There is a general shortage of medicines for people from all walks of life, including pregnant women, diabetics, cancer patients and children,” he says, adding that he has gone from restocking his shelves twice a month to once a month.

Humanitarian aid

In May, Japan donated $1.5 million, through UNICEF, in medicine for Sri Lankans, including 53,000 pregnant women and nearly 122,000 children in immediate need. Since then, pledges of aid and loans have also come in from Australia, China, India, the Asian Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank.

Sri Lanka’s annual drug purchasing costs are $268 million, says Keheliya Rambukwella, the minister of health. The country’s existing stockpile and the anticipated foreign aid should be enough to last until 2024, he says, but “we will have a tough time until August,” and the “priority now is to make all medicines available to the people rather than affordable prices.”

Dr. Asela Gunawardena, director general of the Ministry of Health, says discussions are also ongoing with the World Food Programme and UNICEF to provide corn, so the country can produce more Thriposha for pregnant women.

Humanitarian aid may help Sri Lanka recover, but Selvarathinam Santhirasegaram, an economics professor at the University of Jaffna, says the country needs better leadership, less corruption and more long-term investments to become less reliant on imports for food, medicine and other health care needs.

“It’s a common saying that ‘we want to taste the fruit before planting the tree,’” he says. “We need to create large-scale farms, plantations and large-scale business ventures.”

Midwives write prescriptions for pregnant women at Primary Medical Care Unit in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

Vijayatharsiny Thinesh, Global Press Journal Sri Lanka

Growing malnutrition  

Malnutrition is also a growing concern. A UNICEF survey in Sri Lanka in 2021 found that 43% of families were eating less than before the coronavirus pandemic, and that nearly 80% of families who qualified for therapeutic food aid for severely malnourished children hadn’t received the aid for over two months.

To combat these challenges, the former minister of finance, in his 2022 budget speech, expanded a nutrition voucher program for pregnant and lactating mothers from 10 months of aid to 24 months of aid. But as the economic crisis has persisted, this plan has not come to fruition, and the existing program has been suspended.

More than 80% of households are eating cheaper foods or limiting portion sizes, fueling higher rates of malnutrition, according to a joint survey by the World Food Programme and Sri Lanka’s Department of National Planning.

What we are seeing now is just the beginning, and if this situation continues, the health sector could get worse.

Vallipuranathan says he has observed more signs of malnutrition among pregnant women, as they prioritize feeding their husbands and children over themselves. He worries that the economic crisis will exacerbate the fact that 1 in 7 women in Sri Lanka is already reported to be malnourished during pregnancy and 1 in 8 children will be born with malnutrition, according to 2021 data from the Ministry of Health.

“What we are seeing now is just the beginning, and if this situation continues, the health sector could get worse. The next biggest problem we would face is malnutrition,” Vallipuranathan says. “This economic crisis may further affect middle-income pregnant women in the future.”

More and more expenses 

One such woman, Tharsini Ariharan, 36, a preschool teacher from Inuvil, and her husband, a management assistant at the state timber corporation, are expecting their third child this month. They have been spending her entire monthly income, 10,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($27.86), on the medicine and supplies she needs, she says.

“Currently, I have diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, so I can see the expenses outweighing the income,” she says.

At her last prenatal checkup, her fetus was underweight and she was advised to eat more grains. These types of foods are expensive, but Ariharan says she is trying to budget for small quantities.

For Sutharshan’s family, the 2015 government program that provides pregnant women 2,000 rupees ($5.58) per month in food assistance for 10 months had been a lifeline. But due to inflation, she was getting fewer food products for the same amount during her second trimester — and since entering her third trimester, the program has been suspended.

“I do not know whether to buy things needed for me or for my elder son or the food products needed to prepare the daily food,” she says tearfully.

Her husband can’t find more work, and her iron deficiency is not improving. Fuel shortages have also made transportation difficult, so they have decided to move in with her parents to combine resources for the sake of their child and his new sibling — due in a matter of weeks.

“I’m with my parents now,” she says, “and they are feeding my family.”

In Africa, Witchcraft Delusions Spark Deadly Mob Violence
Society
Patricia Lindrio

In Africa, Witchcraft Delusions Spark Deadly Mob Violence

In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where many people believe in witchcraft, allegations occasionally flare into violence and death.

OYAM, UGANDA — On the morning of March 4, at the invitation of her grandchildren, Albina Okoi attended services at a makeshift church different from the one she usually attends. When the prayers continued for longer than she expected, Okoi, 71, excused herself and went home to have tea.

By the time it was ready, there was a mob at her doorstep, led by the pastor and two of her own grandchildren.

“You are a witch,” they shouted, echoing an accusation the pastor made during the service. “You are using charms,” they shouted, asking why children she cared for were more successful than others.

Her grandsons tied her legs with rope and caned her. She was pulled through the dirt streets, head to the ground, for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), says her son, Ogwang Ongoda, a mathematics teacher. “She was screaming, crying, bleeding, and kept saying, ‘It is better to kill me than to keep doing this — finish me,’” he says, recounting the story as it was later told to him. “But no one listened.”

Once she was dead, the crowd scattered. Her body was left by the roadside. Ongoda says he, too, would have been killed if he had attended church that day. “I only survived because I was too busy with exam preparations.”

Accusations spilling into mob violence

Belief in witchcraft is common in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with accusations occasionally flaring into vigilante killings. According to a 2010 survey across 18 African countries by Gallup, an international polling firm, 55% of respondents believed in witchcraft, although the number was lower in Uganda (15%) than elsewhere. It’s not uncommon to attribute misfortune to malevolent forces; according to the Gallup survey, there appeared to be a correlation between people who believed in witchcraft and those who were less satisfied with their lives.

In Uganda, practicing witchcraft is punishable with up to five years of imprisonment under the colonial-era Witchcraft Act of 1957. But prosecutions are rare. Patrick Okema, police spokesperson for the North Kyoga police jurisdiction, says allegations of witchcraft are often reported to authorities. “There is, however, nothing to do because these cases are not prosecuted,” he says. “It is difficult to prove.”

This may be one reason accusations can spill into mob violence: Unable to make a case before the police or in a court of law, accusers take matters into their own hands.

Moreover, according to Kampala-based legal researcher Rukundo Solomon, most people believe imprisonment will do little to curtail supernatural powers. “A witch in prison may still be as dangerous as a witch out in public,” he says. “Victims may therefore prefer to attack the witch directly.” In 2020, according to police data, of 540 mob-instigated killings across Uganda, 21 stemmed from witchcraft accusations.

Accused witches are exiled 

Francis Okello, a clan leader in Oyam district in northern Uganda, says he settles about six witchcraft-related cases every month. In cases that appear to be teetering toward violence, he summons the police. “Witchcraft creates a lot of tension within the community,” he says. “It is a big challenge, with little help from the government and police.”

Accused witches are often excommunicated. Sometimes, fearing for their lives, they leave of their own accord. Scovia, a 53-year-old traditional healer who asked to be identified only by her first name for safety reasons, recently fled her home, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Okoi’s residence in Ajaca village, after neighbors accused her of witchcraft. “I bought a friend a drink; a few days later, he got a throat infection,” she says. “People came to my house, saying I had bewitched him, and threatened my life. I had no choice but to leave so that the situation cools down.” The friend in question, businessman Olugu Lawrence, 37, says he complained to police but was not taken seriously. He insists Scovia bewitched him.

Ongoda, too, has been forced to uproot his life, moving from place to place due to the lingering threat to his life, he says. Police have arrested one person in connection with Okoi’s death, spokesperson Okema says. “The pastor is on the run, and we are tracking him. Once arrested, he will be charged with murder.”

When religion gets in the way

Some blame religious institutions, such as the church where the mob that killed Okoi first coalesced. “Unfortunately, Ugandans are exploited in some of these cults fronting as churches,” says John Baptist Nambeshe, a member of Parliament for Manjiya County in eastern Uganda who introduced legislation in 2019 aimed at regulating religious organizations.

Rogers Atwebembeire, a director at the Africa Centre for Apologetics Research, a religious organization that monitors cults in the region, agrees on the need for oversight. “We need a regulatory body specifically dedicated to identifying the minimum standard of what a church should look like.”

Pentecostal church leaders often encourage belief in witchcraft

Nambeshe’s bill was ultimately unsuccessful. He says he faced great resistance from religious groups, especially Pentecostal churches, which considered his efforts an existential attack. Pentecostal church leaders often encourage belief in witchcraft, Solomon says, because the resulting fear leads to increased church offerings for prayers of protection and exorcism. “Pentecostal churches that peddle belief in witchcraft may not contribute to violence, per se, but they are doing little to stop it,” he says. “They can, however, function as an outlet for victims of witchcraft seeking a spiritual remedy to the problem.” It’s also common in Pentecostal services, Solomon notes, for self-declared former witches to give dramatic testimonies. Pentecostal church leaders didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Time for change

Following further consultations, Nambeshe plans on reintroducing the bill in Parliament. As for Okoi’s family, they are still reeling from the cataclysmic events of March. Ongoda, who continues to switch locations every few days, is now accusing his wife of witchcraft, claiming she poisoned their children against him and their grandmother. Meanwhile, Arac Benedict, one of his sons, is wracked with guilt. A medical officer whose studies were supported by Okoi, he fears his professional success fed village whispers about her being a witch. As a result, he can’t help but blame himself for what happened.

“My grandmother was no witch,” he says. “She was just good at realizing the potential in us and working and sacrificing to realize our goals. It was her time to realize the fruits of her labor. The death was pointless.”