Category Archives: peace

Post-Conflict Ivory Coast: An Interview with Annie Bodmer-Roy of Save the Children

Ten-month-old Sara has been found to be malnourished, and will receive treatment to make her strong and healthy again. Even before the conflict, already one in three children under five years old in Côte d'Ivoire was suffering from chronic malnutrition (Photo: Annie Bodmer-Roy/Save the Children)

Four months have passed since the conflict in the Ivory Coast came to an end following a disputed election. But the wounds run very deep in the West African nation.

There were thousands displaced by the fighting between supporters of President Alassane Ouattara and those of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. Many of the refugees fear returning home. The conflict caused a loss of livelihoods, shelter, medical care and other basic services.

The Ivory Coast needs peace and reconciliation, as well as unity against the hunger and disease still attacking the population. Annie Bodmer-Roy of Save the Children recently talked about how the charity is taking action to help Ivory Coast recover from the violence.

What kinds of programs is Save the Children running in the Ivory Coast?

The conflict that hit the Ivory Coast following disputed elections in November 2010 had a huge impact on the population. As in conflict around the world, children have been hit the hardest. Pre-existing high levels of poverty even before the conflict – 49% of the population was living under the poverty line – were suddenly combined with large-scale loss of income as hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee their homes for safety. This has meant that thousands of parents no longer have enough money to ensure enough food for their children. Widespread violence and looting also limited families’ access to health care and children’s access to schools as health workers and teachers fled the areas of fighting, hospitals were looted, and schools used as temporary camps for those families who had fled their homes.

In response to the increased needs of children and their families, Save the Children launched a large-scale emergency program, appealing for funds to help meet the immediate needs of children affected by the conflict. We’re currently operating across eight offices and are running seven different programs, including health; nutrition; food security and livelihoods; education; child protection; shelter; and water, sanitation and hygiene. We’re also running a civil society initiative where we provide small cash grants to local NGOs and community-based organisations for them to implement projects in their communities, enabling a local response to needs identified within the community as being the most pressing for families.

As so many families lost their means to an income, one initiative Save the Children has started running is a cash transfer programme, where the families most affected by the conflict are identified by our staff, and are provided with ID cards that allow them to take out money at specific banks we’ve partnered with throughout the country. In this way, families who have been displaced, families on their way back home, or those who have already returned, can access this cash when they are on the move and once they arrive, providing a buffer that will help them get through the day-to-day as they start building back their lives. The cash provided will enable families to buy food at local markets, ensuring their children will begin getting the nutritious food they need, while at the same time improving livelihoods for local farmers and vendors. So far we’ve helped close to 2,000 families through this project – and we’re scaling up in the coming weeks to provide this assistance to an additional 8,000 families.

What is the level of malnutrition among the children?

Even before the conflict, already one in three children under five years old in Côte d’Ivoire was suffering from chronic malnutrition. One in five children under five was considered underweight. With the outbreak of conflict and massive population movement, it has been difficult to gather accurate and up-to-date information on malnutrition rates; however Save the Children and other agencies working on malnutrition have observed worrying signs of increases in malnutrition, including some areas where severe acute malnutrition has increased in a matter of weeks. Save the Children has recently started up malnutrition screening and treatment for children under five in western Ivory Coast, where some of the worst of the fighting and looting took place during the conflict.

Are there any basic health services available to children?

One of the immediate results of the conflict was the breakdown in health services as hospitals and health centres closed in many areas due to the fighting, with health workers fleeing the areas hit by violence and the centres and hospitals themselves being looted and pillaged. Medicines and medical equipment were stolen, which meant that even once health workers began returning and hospitals began to re-open, patients were unable to receive the treatment they needed.

Another major concern has been health user fees – because so many families lost their means to an income, they could no longer afford medical care and treatment. As a result of advocacy by aid agencies like Save the Children however, the Ivorian government agreed to drop health user fees, passing a decree enabling families to access free health care throughout the country.

Today, health centres are largely open and running with the support of agencies like Save the Children, who ensure regular provision of medical supplies and essential medicines, as well as support in rehabilitating infrastructures destroyed during the conflict. For areas where there are no functioning health centres or hospitals running, Save the Children and other agencies have been running mobile outreach clinics, travelling to remote villages and towns to ensure that the health needs of children and their families’ are being addressed and proper care and treatment is provided.

What has been the psychological impact of the conflict?

Children have been exposed to enormous levels of violence and many have been separated from their families when they had to flee their homes. Save the Children’s teams have spoken to children who have fled violence in the west of the country who have seen their houses burnt down and family members killed. Even today, four months after the end of the fighting and over eight months since the elections, our teams are identifying children who had to leave relatives behind when they fled – and still do not know whether their family members are alive or dead. Some of the older children have lived through the 2002 conflict and have now been exposed to heavy violence in their lives for a second time – while it is clear that this has an immediate and profound impact on children, Save the Children is also concerned about the longer term psychological impact on children.

In the past weeks, our teams have spoken to children who consider the war to still be going on – despite the end of fighting and the resolution of the political crisis. We’ve also been to villages in the West where children no longer play in the same areas they used to go play in, as they no longer feel safe there. Save the Children is running regular play activities for children in Abidjan and in the West, areas hardest hit by the conflict. Through the spaces set up for these activities, Save the Children is providing an opportunity for children to play together in a safe area, getting a chance to be children again and regain a sense of normalcy to help them recover from the difficulties they’ve faced in the past months. The spaces also give children the chance to speak to an adult they can trust, trained by Save the Children to help children talk through their problems and ensure children have someone who will listen.

How can someone help Save the Children in the Ivory Coast?

Although the political crisis sparked by last year’s elections has now been resolved, immediate needs remain for hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are still displaced from their homes even today. Save the Children is running an emergency response in the Ivory Coast to make sure that children are able to access enough nutritious food to stay healthy and strong; medical care and treatment; and clean drinking water. We’re also working closely with other agencies and the government so that children are well-protected against violence, abuse and exploitation, also making sure that children can get back into school. As families begin to return home, we are looking at transitioning some of our programmes into longer-term work to ensure that even once the immediate crisis has passed, children and their families are not forgotten, and continue to receive the assistance they need to build their lives back.

Someone who wanted to help Save the Children in the Ivory Coast can keep up to date on what we’re doing by signing up to Save the Children’s email updates, sent out regularly to supporters, providing information on what we’re doing on the ground. You can also check out our webpage on the Ivory Coast at our website and spread the word among your friends and family about what we’re doing to help children recover from the conflict. You can also donate here to help us continue our work and make sure we have the funding we need to continue to meet the needs of children and their families in the Ivory Coast.

Article first published as Post-Conflict Ivory Coast: An Interview with Annie Bodmer-Roy of Save the Children on Blogcritics.

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Filed under global hunger, Ivory Coast, malnutrition, peace, plumpy'nut, Save the Children, West Africa

Nuclear Weapons, the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain

Imagine living along Lake Ontario in the British colony of Canada. The year is 1813 and Great Britain and the United States are at war. It is a cool April morning. You peer out across the Lake to watch the sunrise. The waters are calm, the surrounding countryside quiet. You gaze up and down the Lake for American warships. There are none in sight…..but where are they?

Little do you know that a fleet of American warships is readying for battle. At Sackets Harbor in the eastern end of Lake Ontario, American soldiers are boarding warships. Crewmen prepare the rows of cannons that will be unleashing fury on Canadian forts and towns. Within hours, the American fleet will set out, heading west on Lake Ontario. Word reaches quickly up the Lake that the warships are coming. You notice a figure upon a distant hilltop, giving signals that warn of the impending attack. Soldiers prepare themselves for the coming fight and everyone else wisely heads for cover. Your heart pounding, you run to warn your family.

During the War of 1812, the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were the scene of such terror with fierce naval battles and coastal assaults. The war ended in 1814 and if you lived upon the Lakes you probably would hope never to see a warship again. You would soon be granted your wish.

Sackets Harbor, NY during the War of 1812 (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

View from the top of Mount Defiance overlooking Fort Ticonderoga and Lake Champlain. (National Archives)

When President James Monroe prepared his first annual message to Congress in 1817, he had some good news. He announced an agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain that disarmed the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. Now, with the Rush-Bagot agreement, naval warships would virtually disappear from the Lakes.

Monroe stated, “By this arrangement useless expense on both sides and, what is of still greater importance, the danger of collision between armed vessels in those inland waters, which was great, is prevented.”

President Monroe knew the Rush-Bagot agreement would spare the U.S. and Britain from a dangerous naval arms race. That objective was accomplished and went a long way toward improving British-American relations. But the story does not end there. The lessons of the Rush-Bagot agreement would also be applied during the nuclear arms race of the Cold War.

It was 1963, just one year removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis which brought the Soviet Union and the United States to the brink of nuclear war. The near holocaust placed an increased urgency on controlling the nuclear arms race. Focus shifted to achieving a treaty which would ban nuclear weapons testing, an effort started during the Eisenhower administration and carried over to his successor, John F. Kennedy. Such a treaty could improve relations between the two adversaries and place some restriction on armaments development. In July 1963, the Soviet and American negotiations produced the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in outer space. President Kennedy viewed it as”a step towards peace- a step towards reason- a step away from war.”

Nuclear Weapons Test during the 1950s. (National Archives photo)

Yet, although the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed, it still needed to be ratified by the U.S. Senate to take effect. Not everyone agreed the treaty was a step in the right direction. Some believed it would weaken America’s national security by limiting development of nuclear armaments. Back in 1817, the same argument could have been made against the Rush-Bagot agreement since it did deprive the U.S. of naval forces on the Lakes, which proved so vital to its successes during the War of 1812.

Before the Senate would vote on the Limited Test Ban, it held hearings to listen to testimony from key experts. Among those called to testify was Harold Stassen, former disarmament advisor to President Eisenhower. Stassen would invoke the lessons of the Rush-Bagot agreement to support ratification of the Limited Test Ban. Why? Stassen did so because of the Rush-Bagot agreement’s effectiveness as an arms control measure makes its lessons timeless.

Harold Stassen (far left) being sworn in to represent the U.S. in disarmament negotiations in 1955. (Eisenhower Library)

The Rush-Bagot agreement also set a precedent for including a termination clause in an arms control treaty. This would allow either nation to legally withdraw from the treaty should its national security become threatened. A termination clause was seen as vital in the case of the Limited Test Ban Treaty due to the unpredictability of the nuclear arms race.

When asked by Senator Frank Carlson about the termination clause of the Limited Test Ban Treaty Stassen replied,”I don’t think it is generally recalled that we have the right in relation to the old Rush-Bagot Treaty over the arms limitation of the Great Lakes with Canada which was in 1817, still in force, and it is the forerunner of the peaceful border with Canada. It came after the War of 1812 and there was great difficulty and fighting. President Monroe took the leadership and the military of that day, many of them sincerely had misgivings and said, how can we defend the United States if we can’t arm the Great Lakes, and President Monroe said, let’s do it but let’s put on a 6-month termination clause…it is a right within a treaty, in other words, within the terms of the contract, under which you can bring the contract to a close, and I think the Joint Chiefs are right in this kind of a world situation to have a safeguard of that kind…”

The Rush-Bagot Treaty at Fort Niagara overlooking Lake Ontario (author's collection)

The example of the Rush-Bagot agreement supported arguments for a limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Stassen was among those whose testimony helped achieve the treaty’s passage in the Senate, thereby providing a respite from the Cold War and a dramatic turnaround from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Kennedy Signs the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in October, 1963 (National Archives)

Reporters Gather Around the Limited Test Ban Treaty (National Archives)

President Reagan’s arms control director, Eugene Rostow, speaking before the Senate in 1981, used the example of Rush-Bagot as inspiration that arms control could be achieved with the Soviet Union.

Rostow stated that the Rush-Bagot Treaty was”rather dull.” But he was actually praising the agreement saying the very fact it was dull”is the most convincing evidence of its success.” Rostow added”it was by no means self-evident in 1817 that the Agreement would work. The passions of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 survived and rankled. There was great tension between the United States and Great Britain over Canada on several occasions during the nineteenth century. In these periods, the Rush-Bagot agreement was a genuine influence for restraint….where there is a general political understanding about the limits of rivalry, arms control agreements can help to prevent friction and conflict from degenerating into war.” The Reagan administration achieved the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1987. The INF Treaty eliminated both countries’ medium and shorter-range nuclear missiles which had been dangerously deployed in Europe.

Today, the Rush-Bagot concept of avoiding a dangerous and expensive arms competition will be very appealing for President Obama as he forges his foreign policy. The staggering costs of nuclear weaponry, as much as 52 billion annually according to a 2008 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report, make disarmament even more desirable. Obama is likely to start by trying to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which would ban all test explosions including underground.

When one visits Rush-Bagot memorials such as the one at Fort Niagara, NY they will learn about a key turning point in British-American relations. But it goes even deeper than that. The Rush-Bagot agreement is a pillar in the history of arms control and its lessons can be applied to the international crises of today.

Arms control and disarmament can play a role in establishing peace among nations. As John Quincy Adams said about the idea of an arms race on the Great Lakes,”the moral and political tendency of such a system must be to war and not to peace.” The Rush-Bagot agreement and its timeless lessons can help in the never-ending struggle to achieve peace among nations.

Rush-Bagot Memorial at Fort Niagara in New York (author's collection)


article published at History News Network.

Original version of article published at Fortress Niagara in June, 2004. View the article below.

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Read more of the the testimony of Eugene Rostow where he talks about the Rush-Bagot agreement. (courtesy Cincinnati Public Library)

The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Available at Google Ebookstore, Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

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Filed under arms control, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, CTBT, disarmament, Dwight Eisenhower, Fort Niagara, Great Lakes, Harold Stassen, Lake Champlain, nuclear arms control, nuclear testing, nuclear weapons, peace, Rush-Bagot Agreement, War of 1812