Company pulls out of running to take over damaged northern Manitoba rail

WINNIPEG — A company that announced a surprise bid earlier this month to revive a troubled rail line in northern Manitoba has pulled out.iChurchill accuses the federal government of not taking its bid seriously and of focusing on a competing bid that includes many of the communities in the region.Severe flooding a year ago washed out the rail line to Churchill, Man., which is the only land link to the subarctic community of 900 on the shore of Hudson Bay.Since then, prices for food and other items have risen and the tourism industry of Churchill, a community known for polar bears, has been hit hard.The railway’s owner, Denver-based Omnitrax, has said it cannot afford to repair the rail line and wants, with government help, to transfer ownership to local communities.Omnitrax has been in negotiations with One North, a consortium of northern Manitoba communities.The federal government filed a lawsuit last year against Omnitrax, that says the company is obligated to maintain the rail line.Ottawa has also announced millions of dollars in economic diversification and research money to help the Churchill region’s economy.“We finally met last week with the government of Canada’s negotiator on the file, Mr. Wayne Wouters, and he made it clear that the government is willing to deal only with one specific company,” iChurchill CEO Louis Dufresne said in a written statement Tuesday.“We can’t understand why this is, given that our partnership meets all of the government’s stated criteria to support the restoration of rail service to Churchill.” read more

Annan arrives in Niger to assess humanitarian needs following drought locusts

Mr. Annan touched down in the southern town of Zinder, located in one of the hardest-hit regions and about 750 kilometres east of the capital Niamey, where he was welcomed by Niger’s President, Mamadou Tandja. “I have come here to see for myself what is happening so that I can discuss with the President and the Government what we can do together to improve the situation not only in the short term, but also in the long run,” he told reporters. Accompanied by his wife Nane, he visited the National Hospital of Zinder and a feeding centre run by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF), both places crowded with malnourished children, most of them under five years old, and mothers. He thanked MSF for the good work it is performing. He also saw cereal banks and fertilizer cooperatives in the village of Madera. The Secretary-General then travelled to Niamey for meetings with the UN country team. He will also visit a hospital, a feeding centre and speak to UN and other aid workers. UN agencies have already launched a nearly $81 million appeal to tackle the situation arising from drought and the worst invasion of crop-devouring locusts in 15 years, aiming to get food assistance to all at-risk areas to avoid an increase in hunger among the 2.65 million people most at risk. Both the Government of Niger and UN agencies raised the alarm about a looming crisis last November, but international donor response only gained momentum last month after images of malnourished children began appearing on television around the world. “Only now has the world at last woken up to the reality that thousands of children in Niger could soon die,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland wrote in an opinion piece two weeks ago. “Once again, it has taken horrific images of starving children to do so. “This crisis could have been averted had political will and resources been available early on. We could have saved children from malnourishment for as little as $1 per child per day. Now it will cost many times more. Aid agencies are racing against time to save lives. But they may be too late, especially for the young children,” he said.“Let us learn from the tragedy in Niger. Early funding and early action save lives and help prevent a deadly spiral of disease, hunger and displacement from spinning out of control,” he added, noting that in recent years nearly half of all global humanitarian funding has come in the last quarter of the year.“These delays are deadly. So, too, is the absence of a predictable pool of money to draw upon immediately in an emergency,” he declared, urging support Mr. Annan’s proposal for a 10-fold increase in UN emergency funds to $500 million to enable aid agencies to jump-start operations. read more