Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan


A medical and humanitarian crisis is burgeoning in South Sudan, as hundreds of thousands of people face mass famine after months of deadly conflict.  Julian Omidi discusses the reaction of representatives from Doctors Without Borders to the United Nations peacekeeping response to the devastating events in South Sudan.

In South Sudan, the peacekeeping operation initiated by the United Nations came under critical fire from representatives from the international medical nonprofit Doctors Without Borders, due to the gruesome conditions in the Tomping compound, located in Juba, the capitol of South Sudan.  There are currently 21,000 refugees sheltering in the compound, which has become a massive public health hazard.[1]

The United Nations has worked with Doctors Without Borders providing aid in numerous nations in crisis states, and both organizations have served South Sudan throughout its turbulent history.  Currently, South Sudan is in the middle of a catastrophic humanitarian event, made worse by the rampaging violence.

Nearly 4 million people face starvation, and several hundred thousands find themselves without shelter save what is provided by the United Nations.

Doctors Without Borders has released a statement lambasting the reaction of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (known as Unmiss) during this crisis.  In the statement, the UN is accused of ignoring the pleas to assist with improvements at Tomping, which is currently situated in low ground.  During the rains, latrines were overturned, and the waters flooded the compound with sewage, causing the immediate threat of water-borne illnesses.  The compound is surrounded by barbed wire fencing, and just beyond the fence is higher, dryer ground with warehouse space.

The refugees within the compound are experiencing an overwhelming flood of diarrheal, respiratory, and skin infections all due to the bacteria-laden water in which the inhabitants are situated.  The Doctors Without Borders staff say that such diseases account for over 60 percent of the illnesses reported in the compound.

The fact that the UN has refused to allow the residents to relocate has confounded the relief workers, particularly since better conditions are relatively close by.

Representatives from the UN insist that the camp will be closed by the end of April, and that they acknowledge that the compound has turned into a massive health hazard and have already relocated approximately 1,300 people.

Nevertheless, it is not clear if the remaining refugees can be moved before the rainy season begins.  According to the UN, there is simply not enough space for all of the inhabitants in the Tomping compound, but the aid workers insist that better, dryer conditions are so close by, that they are actually within eyeshot.

In addition to the crisis in sanitation for the Tomping refugees, the displaced residents, unable to tend to crops after facing months of unimaginable violence, could potentially face starvation.  According to the United Nations South Sudan relief coordinating officer, the region needs approximately $230 million in order to combat what could be the most devastating example of mass starvation since the famine in Ethiopia.

By Julian Omidi


[1] Gladstone, Rick: U.N. Ignores South Sudan Camp Crisis, Charity Says 4/9/2014 New York Times

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Leslye Borden – Founder of Handmade Especially for You


Julian Omidi profiles the founder of Handmade Especially for You, Leslye Borden.

Sometimes, having someone make a kind and thoughtful gesture, even if it is small, can make all the difference in our feelings of self worth.  People who have suffered years of abuse might have been conditioned to believe that simple kindness is something they will never either experience or deserve, but one organization, Handmade Especially for You, seeks to give people without hope a ray of handmade sunshine.[1]

Leslye Borden’s organization Handmade Especially for You, gives battered and abused women heartfelt, hand-knitted comfort scarves, which might be one of the few pieces of clothing the women have managed to retain after fleeing their dangerous conditions.  These scarves are colorful, lovingly packaged and created by groups of volunteers from all over the world.  Ms. Borden works with legions of recruits from church groups, retirement communities and community centers in order to produce the brightly patterned, cheerful scarves.  Since the organization’s inception in 2008, more than 57,000 scarves have been knitted and distributed to women in abuse shelters all over the United States.

Ms. Borden’s organization was founded shortly after she sold her stock photo business in 2007.  An avid knitting enthusiast, she spent her days knitting gifts for her grandchildren.  Scarves, sweaters, slippers, mittens, hats; any item of clothing that could be fabricated with yarn and needles.  When the number of articles began to overwhelm her family, she began donating the items to local shelters, and actively seeking organizations that needed knitted clothing.  When she found a Chicago shelter looking for knitted scarves for the rape survivors it helped, the concept of Handmade Especially for You was born.

Many of the volunteers are abuse survivors themselves.  Domestic abuse survivors are underrepresented members of society; they have little political or economic clout, so they are woefully unserved.  Organizations such as Handmade Especially for You bring the problem of domestic violence to the fore by encouraging survivors, witnesses of domestic abuse and those who haven’t been personally affected to work together to give a neglected segment of society a gift and a helping hand.

Handmade Especially for You is currently seeking facilities to house the supplies and scarves, as well as serve as a workshop for volunteers.  Currently, Ms. Borden keeps the supplies and donations in her home, which, thanks to the generosity of benefactors and volunteers, is becoming overwhelmed.

There are several satellite workshops where people can gather to knit and inspect scarves in accordance with Handmade’s specifications.  However, for those whose schedules or obligations do not allow them to visit one of the organized workshops, Handmade has patterns and kits for people to use when working on their own.  The organization has been highlighted by, as being a worthy volunteer opportunity for people who want to serve a charity from home.

We at Civic Duty would like to applaud Ms. Borden and her organization, not only for the invaluable service they provide to a vulnerable segment of the population, but also for bringing the problem of domestic abuse to greater public consciousness.  Handmade Especially for You also gives survivors as well as people untouched by domestic violence the opportunity to gather together and learn about each other, which is essential if we are going to increase empathy and understanding of this tragic problem.

By Julian Omidi


[1] Lubinskey, Annie: Local ‘Hero’ Offers Comfort to Abused Women Palos Verdes Peninsula News 3/5/2014

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Doctors Without Borders Removed from Myanmar


Myanmar Protesters surround Sittwe in Rakhine late February – Photo credited to

In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the expulsion of Doctors Without Borders from the Rakhine region of Myanmar.  The organization was dismantled due to the government’s assertion that Rohingya Muslims were being favored over the Rakhine Buddhists, but tensions between the two groups extends far beyond access to medical services.  Julian Omidi is cofounder of the organization No More Poverty with his brother, Dr. Michael Omidi.

The activities of the nonprofit organization Doctors Without Borders have been suspended in Myanmar, due to governmental accusations that Rohingya Muslims were receiving preferential treatment over Rakhine Buddhists.  The two ethnic groups have been in conflict since the British colonial era, and the hatred of the Muslim population is widespread and generally accepted.  It has been theorized that, by shutting down Doctors Without Borders, there will be fewer international witnesses to violent outbursts against Rohingya Muslims.[1]

The medical services provided by Doctors Without Borders are the only treatments available to the Rohingya Muslims.  They have been denied citizenship in Myanmar by order of law, and in 2012 were forced to relocate to internment camps and ethnic ghettos.  Although Doctors Without Borders has been accused of giving Muslims special favor, there are no medical facilities available to the Rohingya Muslim population, as the government-run clinics are situated outside of the districts in which the Muslims are allowed to live.

Although the International Red Cross is still permitted to operate, Doctors Without Borders is the largest healthcare provider in the Rakhine region.  More than a quarter million people receive treatment from Doctors Without Borders facilities.  Since the restriction of services began, it has been estimated that 150 people have died due to having been denied medical care.

Doctors Without Borders was the only resource for chronically ill Rohingya Muslims.  Those with tuberculosis, malaria and H.I.V. who have depended upon medications supplied by Doctors Without Borders might not have a reliable supply for the foreseeable future.  Government officials have stated that medications donated by Doctors Without Borders will continue to be distributed, but exactly how this is to be achieved has not been made clear.

For the past several years, anti-Muslim actions have been intensifying.  Monks regularly include anti-Muslim rhetoric in their sermons; local politicians are lobbying to prohibit the Rohingya from identifying themselves as such on the national census for fear of confirming the numbers are higher than governmental estimates.  However, the most disturbing trend is the violence against whole families – including children.  One gruesome incident involved the slaughter and decapitation of 10 Rohingya men, whose heads were left in a water tank.  While the violence is not technically sanctioned by the government, little has been done to prevent it or punish those who have perpetrated it.

Because Myanmar is working to gain international acceptance, it is critical that the United Nations as well as both western and eastern governments make it perfectly clear that ethnic cleansing will neither be encouraged nor tolerated.  The lessons of Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan have been recently learned – we can only hope that they have also not been quickly forg [1] Perlez, Jane: Ban on Doctors’ Group Imperils Muslim Minority in Myanmar New York Times 3/13/2014 By Julian Omidi

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How Donated Unusable Medical Equipment Impacts Under Developed Regions


Julian Omidi discusses the impact the donation of unusable equipment has upon medical clinics in under developed regions.

Many hospitals and private organizations donate their unused supplies and medical equipment to clinics and nonprofit health initiatives in remote, undeveloped locations in order to give them the opportunities to perform the best and most modern treatments that they can.  Without these donations, many medical centers in poor regions wouldn’t have access to life saving drugs, gloves, sterilization tools, swabs, bandages and numerous other items that are essential for proper medical care.

However, there are many items that, although delivered with the best intentions, wind up being thrown away.  These items clog up landfills, waste valuable time for volunteer workers who have to sort through the equipment and cost quite a bit of money in shipment fees.[1]

Medical supply companies and hospitals who wish to donate equipment more often than not believe that health care centers are glad to get anything they can.  While this is largely true, it is unfortunate that the donations aren’t given much consideration.  Heavy electronic devices are sent without their instruction manuals, or even with all of the appropriate parts and accessories.  Machines that require consumables – fuel, water and electricity, which simply aren’t available in extremely deprived regions – are sent and are never operational.  Machines that are operational can’t be fixed when something goes wrong, and there is no one qualified to make repairs.  As a result, clinics are overrun with heavy equipment that is, essentially, junk.

Even the equipment that is useable can put tremendous strain upon delicate operations.  Clinics that operate with generators or old electrical systems can have most of their useable power eaten up by energy-sapping equipment.  This can actually put people’s lives in jeopardy.

In a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), it was found that only between 10 and 30 percent of all donated equipment is ever used by the receiving hospitals.

How can foreign hospitals and medical suppliers ensure their donations are put to good use?  They can send only what all clinics, without exception, need.  Gloves, crutches, bandages, sanitation materials, feminine hygiene products, bandages and other supplies that developed world hospitals take for granted are desperately needed in the undeveloped world.

Another way donators can save themselves and the recipients time and money is to go through all of the equipment slated for donation and determine whether or not it actually works, if the parts and accessories are available and if the instructions are included.

The third and most effective method for donating successfully is asking the healthcare workers in the clinic exactly what they need and what equipment their facilities can handle.  If the donating party knows that the region has no one available to repair nonfunctioning equipment, or if the repair service is only qualified to work on the devices from a certain manufacturer, then they won’t waste resources shipping devices that cannot be maintained.

Many health centers in the developing world exist using exclusively donated equipment and supplies, so it is crucial that hospital and medical supply services keep giving.  However, it is no less important to donate only what can be used effectively.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Jones, Andrew: Medical Equipment Donated to Developing Nations Usually Ends Up on the Junk Heap Scientific American 5/6/2013 http ://www. scientificamerican .com/article/medical-equipment-donated-developing-nations-junk-heap/

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In the Spotlight: Dan Wallrath – Founder of Operation Finally Home


Julian Omidi discusses the work of Dan Wallrath, founder of Operation Finally Home, an organization that builds and remodels homes for United States Service men and women.

United States armed forces men and women face unimaginable challenges every day of their services.  The stress and anxiety of performing their duties along with the terror of realizing that every new day might bring some circumstance that might forever change – or even end – their lives, is more than many of us could bear.  However, if a soldier finds himself seriously injured, he could face a series of difficulties for which he might not be prepared.  This is where Dan Wallrath comes in.[1]

For three decades, Mr. Wallrath build and remodeled the homes of wealthy clients.  When Mr. Wallrath met the father of a 20-year-old injured marine in 2005, he saw first hand the struggles of American veterans with coping with day-to-day realities.  The veteran had once been a large, hale, and hearty marine, but his injuries had depleted him to the point where he weighed approximately half of what he did when he enlisted.

The veteran’s father wanted to construct a wheelchair ramp and other amenities so that his son could access the family home more easily, but he didn’t have the money to do so.  Mr. Wallrath volunteered his services, and convinced several other contractors to contribute their resources to the effort.  After the project was finished, Mr. Wallrath decided that there were service men and women all over the country that could be facing the same thing, and Operation Finally Home was born.

To date, Operation Finally Home has built 44 homes for injured veterans.  The homes are mortgage-free, and the organization even pays the taxes and insurance fees for one year, while the veteran goes back to school, or establish new careers.  The time allows the veterans to become financially stable enough to take the reigns, and begin whole new lives.

In addition to the 44 homes already built, Operation Finally Home has 42 homes currently under construction.  The organization works with carpenters, plumbers, electricians and builders’ associations in 17 states.  The economic downturn has made the home building and remodeling services even more vital.

Mr. Wallrath has retired from his home building profession in order to devote all of his time and effort to his crusade.  According to Mr. Wallrath, “It really broke my heart to think (about) these young men and women.  It was like someone hit me upside the head with a 2×4. … I just felt like this is what God wants me to do.”

Mr. Wallrath’s contribution to these men and women is more than just material – it gives them the chance to give their lives a much-needed boost.  We at Civic Duty salute Mr. Wallrath and his organization, and we hope that his efforts continue to bring hope and stability to these men and women who couldn’t be more deserving.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Toner, Kathleen: Building Free Homes for Wounded Vets 12/18/2013

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Conflict in South Sudan


In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the conflict in South Sudan.

Since civil war erupted in South Sudan in December of 2013, thousands of people have fled to refugee camps in the Sudan and to the United Nations base, leaving their homes, all of their possessions and their livelihoods.  The hundreds of thousands of refugees are facing additional crises, as humanitarian organizations believe that, as fields go unplowed and crops are left to rot, millions could starve.  Moreover, the violence has grown to such an extent that there is no one who isn’t considered a target – including aid workers and people convalescing in hospitals.[1]

The fighting is atrocious. The soldiers, of both the national army and the anti-government forces are conducting their battles in particularly brutal fashion. Hospitals have been ransacked, and patients beaten, raped and killed in their beds. According to the organization Doctors without Borders, the attacks on hospitals is a part of a strategy meant to completely debilitate entire communities down to the most helpless. Entire hospitals have been burned to the ground, and those that remain standing are ransacked, with most of the valuable supplies either stolen or rendered utterly unusable.  The volunteer physicians have been forced to flee to the bush for their own safety.

The soldiers have been destroying civilian homes and livestock in addition to the killings.  The people will likely continue to suffer from the conflict for years to come, even after the active fighting has stopped.  The refugees are vulnerable to any number of infectious diseases, and with medical aid being actively targeted by fighting forces, the casualties from illness could be massive.

South Sudan is an extremely poor nation, with a huge segment of the population on the verge of going hungry even when there is no active warfare.  The infrastructure, previously weak, has been destroyed since the conflict, and necessary provisions will have a great deal of difficulty being delivered long after the fighting stops.

Although a cease-fire agreement was signed in January, it has been observed by neither side.  Doctors without Borders were stationed in Leer, the hometown of the former Vice-President and rebel leader Riek Machar.  Because Mr. Machar still has relatives living in Leer, the national army has specifically made it a target, killing civilians and plundering thousands of homes, and making it impossible for the aid workers to provide needed medical care.

The regions of Sudan and South Sudan have been locked in conflict for more than 50 years.  The Second Civil War fostered a generation of Sudanese “Lost Boys,” who were orphaned children (boys and girls) and former child soldiers.  Many of these children received asylum in other countries, and have since grown up to be advocates for the people of their former nation.

There are Sudanese people who, in middle age, have never known a life that wasn’t threatened or compromised by war.  It is unclear how this conflict will resolve itself, but since the region has known nothing but war for more than a half century, the sad fact is that there will likely always be some measure of unrest in that region.  Hopefully, the returning “Lost Boys,” (many of whom received educations in the United States and Europe) will help their nation overcome its strife, and give their countrymen and women the first glimmer of hope for a peaceful world that they might have ever had.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Kulish, Nicholas: Reports of South Sudan Fighting, Despite Pact, Prompt Worry and Warnings New York Times 2/12/2014

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Food Cooperatives in Under-served Neighborhoods


The desire to create healthy food resources in urban areas has led to the sprinkling of food cooperatives in under-served neighborhoods, but will the residents bite?  In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the attitudes about food co-ops in previously underserved regions.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that underserved communities are among the most malnourished.  In poor urban areas, the U.S. government has a designation for areas with limited access to fresh food: Food deserts.  The resources for these areas are typically fast food restaurants and convenience stores, where the only accessible categories of food are processed, rather than whole.  As a result, the inhabitants have far higher incidences of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. But are food cooperatives, with their organic produce and hip culture, the answer?[1]

Many urban areas are now undergoing a kind of resurgence. These neighborhoods are called “transitional neighborhoods,” but long-time residents consider it gentrification.  In Brooklyn, Oakland, Detroit and other major metropolitan cities, neighborhoods that were primarily inhabited by poor African American and Latino residents now have an influx of food cooperatives, many of them heartily endorsed by local governments and community organizations.  However, the food cooperatives are mainly frequented by the newer and more affluent residents, while being abjured by the long-time citizens.

It isn’t surprising that many locals aren’t going to the food co-ops – the brands are unfamiliar; the produce is organic (and more expensive); co-ops charge membership fees.  The fact that co-ops aren’t open to the general public and require an investment of funds and – often – labor, doesn’t sit well with the old guard.

These co-ops are situated next to familiar convenience stores and dollar shops, some of which sell a smattering of produce that is considerably cheaper than the free-trade, organic co-op alternatives.  Moreover, the culture of the co-op is alien.  Cooperatives are community owned, and therefore the community has a direct responsibility for the operation of the establishment.  For a person with two jobs who travels to and from work by bus, the obligation to devote additional hours to the upkeep of the new store might not be especially appealing.

The core issue is the convergence of two cultures that may not cohere, or even endure.  When a historically low-income community suddenly sees an influx of young professionals, the result isn’t typically the forging of a new kind of community spirit – it is the raising of rent and the systematic exodus of the old residents.  How then, can healthy foods be introduced into a deprived neighborhood without giving the impression that the people are being pushed away?

Hopefully, community organizations can develop relationships with the new neighborhood co-ops, and help their new neighbors understand their value.  If the co-ops are viewed as everyone’s resource and not merely a shop for the hip and privileged, then maybe they will flourish, and become valued parts of an evolving society.

By Julian Omidi

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Research Finds Helping Coworkers Makes Us Happier at Work


Julian Omidi discusses an article about how more and more research illustrates the power of altruism, the practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.

According to a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Altruists in the office are more likely to be committed to their work and are less likely to quit their jobs, but the biggest benefit is that those who help others are happier at work than those who don’t prioritize helping others. [1]

“More and more research illustrates the power of altruism,” Donald Moynihan, a professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said in a statement. “Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.”

The study looked into two large-scale longitudinal studies to make the connection between helping others at work and happiness. Researchers examined the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which surveyed 10,000 Wisconsin high school graduates from the class of 1957. The found that people who said in their mid-30s that helping others in their work was important were apt to report being more satisfied with their lives nearly three decades later. [2]

Researchers also found a link between happiness and helping others at work in cross-national data from the General Social Survey, which includes data from 49 countries around the world.[3]

“It’s exciting that in both tests, our measures of altruism had relatively large effects on happiness,” said professor Moynihan. “Being motivated to help and believing your work makes a difference is associated with greater happiness in our analysis.”

A number of studies have also brought to light the value of friendship in the workplace, suggesting that strong social support can boost an employee’s productivity and make him or her feel more passionate about their work as well as be less likely to quit. [4]

“Camaraderie is more than just having fun,” wrote University of Kentucky management professor Christine M. Riordan in a Harvard Business Review blogs, “We All Need Friends At Work”. “It is also about creating a common sense of purpose and the mentality that we are in it together. Studies have shown that soldiers form strong bonds during missions in part because they believe in the purpose of the mission, rely on each other, and share the good and the bad as a team.”[5]

But that’s not all! Healing others may cause a ripple effect that makes not only those who are performing the good acts happier, but may also raise the happiness among other members of the community.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Virtue rewarded: Helping others at work makes people happier 7/29/2013

[2] Wisconsin Longitudinal Study

[3] GSS General Social Survey

[4] Why You Should Care About Having Friends At Work 7/17/2013

[5] We All Need Friends at Work 7/03/2013


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Julian Omidi – The Endangered Species Act


Julian Omidi discusses the Endangered Species Act, and the attempt by Republican lawmakers to shift conservation responsibility and regulations onto the states, rather than the federal government.

Human beings are apex predators; we are at the top of the food chain. We are also the most varied types of predators, and do not have other species’ hardwired instincts for what is necessary prey and what isn’t. No other animal kills for sport and recreation to the extent that we do, nor do other animals kill unintentionally in the service of another aim (unless we count the spread of disease). As a result, humans have decimated incalculable animal species, and would continue to do so unchecked without established regulations.[1]

The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 as a response to the hundreds of years of expansion and industrialization that eliminated and nearly eliminated Native American animal species. Widespread Bison hunting for nothing more than pelts nearly destroyed the entire population, which was in the tens of millions in the beginning of the 19th century.

The Whooping Crane dwindled down to 16 in the early 1940s. The American Bald Eagle population diminished to only several hundred in the entire United States, having been largely sterilized by the wide use of DDT pesticides and hunted by Alaskan livestock farmers. Before the Endangered Species Act was passed, animal conservation efforts were largely concentrated on the prevention of hunting threatened species, without focus on the habitat or ecosystem. The Endangered Species Act endeavored to protect both the animals and the lands, which are necessary for their survival.

While the Endangered Species Act was roundly applauded by environmentalists, conservationists and wildlife advocates, it has been maligned by industrialists whose attempts to develop on sites near species on the endangered list have been undermined. Republicans have, historically, been unenthusiastic about the impediments to business expansion – logging industries have had to yield to the spotted owl and refineries have had their development thwarted by the sage grouse.

Moreover, only 2 percent of the species originally listed in 1973 have been removed, after billions of dollars have been put towards the effort. Now, Republican lawmakers are attempting to give the responsibility of protecting endangered species to the individual states, and limit the authority of the federal government.

This is a tricky proposition. While individual states might have a better grasp of the needs of their native animals, it is also very possible that the states could put economic considerations before environmental ones.

Is the chasm between industrial and environmental ideologies unbridgeable? On one side, there is the rebuilding of the economy, the development of land and the creation of jobs. On the other, the protection of our most valuable resource – the environment. We must embrace large-scale, environmentally responsible production if we, and wild animals, are to thrive in the long term.

We cannot ignore our own culpability in the potential extinction of animals – humans have encroached irrevocably upon animal habitats, threatening and, in some cases, destroying them. No one would argue that it is to anyone’s benefit to develop and industrialize without regard for the environmental consequences.

However, we are living in an age of economic uncertainty, and economic growth is paramount to a significant segment of the population. Human beings have expanded far and wide – how do we not house and employ them? There are certainly no easy answers. All we can do is encourage conscientious development, care for animals and respect for the planet.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Brown, Matthew: AP NewsBreak: Changes sought for endangered act Yahoo News 2/4/2014

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Chinese Ivory Trafficker Get Record Fine in Kenyan

Kenyan-ElephantsKenyan authorities arrested and convicted the first ivory trafficker since new smuggling laws were enacted at the end of 2013. Julian Omidi discusses the new ivory trafficking and elephant poaching penalties, as well as the ivory trade itself.

In a blow against illegal wildlife poaching, a Kenyan court sentenced a Chinese ivory trafficker to seven years in prison or 20 million shillings (about $230,000). The trafficker, Tang Yong Jian, was the first conviction under the newest anti-poaching laws in Kenya.

He was apprehended while carrying 7.5 pounds of ivory in a suitcase while on a stopover in Nairobi between Mozambique to China. If he is unable to pay the fine, he will be forced to carry out his seven year prison sentence.[1]

Previously, the trafficking of a relatively small amount of ivory would have resulted in a mere fine, a maximum of $465. Since Kenya passed new laws regarding wildlife poaching, the penalties have become significantly steeper.

In cases of smuggling contraband ivory or rhino horn, the sentence is a minimum of one million shillings or a jail sentence of five years – or both. In cases of killing endangered animals, it is possible to be sentenced to live imprisonment.

The Kenyan Wildlife Service applauds the new penalties for wildlife poaching and ivory smuggling. Wildlife rangers often risked their lives enforcing weak laws that only amounted to small fines to the guilty parties. Now that theses sentences have been strengthened and could result in spending a lifetime behind bars, incidences of trafficking are expected to decline dramatically.

Kenya is home to some of the most famous and expansive wildlife reserves in the world. Much of their tourism revenue comes from wildlife safari tours, which are jeopardized by the illegal ivory trade. The elephant population in Africa is believed to be approximately 500,000, down from more than 1 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900. In 2012, 22,000 elephants were poached.

Although the ivory trade has been banned in Kenya since 1989, the practice is still widespread. Compared to international poachers, the Kenyan Wildlife Service rangers are wholly outmanned and out gunned. Poachers have evolved since the mid-twentieth century, when they largely travelled on foot and had only machetes and perhaps the odd rifle. Today, they are equipped with military-grade weaponry, and have even been known to use helicopters and shoot down elephants from the sky.

The ivory and rhino horn trade is a business that grosses $10 billion annually. In China, rhino horn is ground into traditional medicines, and ivory jewelry and home accents are highly prized.

Hopefully, the stance taken by Kenyan authorities will be emulated by other nations whose elephants are in danger of being slaughtered for their tusks. If the cost of killing elephants is spending a lifetime in a foreign prison, poaching could very well be a thing of the past. The elephant is the earth’s largest remaining land animal; the fact that it is routinely killed for a vanity item is absolutely abhorrent.

By Julian Omidi

[1] BBC: Chinese ivory smuggler gets record Kenyan fine BBC 1/28/2014


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