FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday - April 26, 2017

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

(Kosovo's Majlinda Kelmendi. © AP)For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Saturday
Aug062016

Refugee Olympic Team makes history at Rio Games

1st ever Refugee Team makes 2016 Rio Olympics debut (C) UNHCR, Benjamin Loyseau

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – To tumultuous applause, ten refugee athletes made history on Friday evening marching into the famed Maracanã Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio2016 Olympics. Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a 23-year-old South Sudanese runner, led the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team into the stadium behind the banner of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to cries of support from an ecstatic crowd. The young athletes, originally from South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia, have won friends and admirers in Brazil with amazing tales of triumph over adversity.

Rose was eight years old when she fled war and found safety in the remote Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya and has lived there ever since.

Rose Lokonyen trains in Kenya before heading to Rio (C) UNHCR Benjamin Loyseau “I feel very excited. This is the first chance for the refugees to participate in the Olympics and to give us hope, for us to encourage the young generations of fellow refugees who are remaining in the camps maybe to continue their talent,” she told UNHCR in an interview before the ceremony.

“Being a refugee doesn’t mean you are not a human being.”

President Obama sent the refugee athletes a message of support shortly before they took to the stadium floor ahead of the host nation Brazil. "Tonight, the first-ever #TeamRefugees will also stand before the world and prove that you can succeed no matter where you're from," he declared.

For Rose and her teammates, the prospect of an appearance at the Olympic Games – the pinnacle of sporting achievement – was a very distant and unlikely dream only a few months ago.

“For us it started just few months ago, so we cannot compare our times with those who are high level but we shall try our level best… Being a refugee doesn’t mean you are not a human being like others even though they undermined us. We can do what others can do,” she told UNHCR in a recent interview after a gruelling training session.

The Opening Ceremony kicked off with a spectacular celebration of Brazilian art and culture. With an estimated billion people watching worldwide, Brazil showcased its famous music and dance.

2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony, (C) Morry Gash, GettyThe show featured some of Brazil’s top musicians, including the composer Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, the pop singer Anitta, the funk musician Ludmilla and MC Soffia, a 12-year-old rapper.

It began with a spectacular sound and light show tracing the origins of the life in the Brazilian jungle, with Portuguese explorers arriving on sailing ships among the indigenous tribes, followed by a section that depicted the arrival of millions of African slaves over 400 years.

It went on to show the rise of the cities in the 20th century, featuring a tightly choreographed scene in which athletes performed acrobatics on blocks piled up to resemble skyscrapers. It ended with a warning about the dangers of global warming. The young athletes, originally from South Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia, have won friends and admirers in Brazil with amazing tales of triumph over adversity.

When Rose’s family in Kakuma refugee camp heard the news, they expressed delight.

“Am so happy she will be the one holding the flag,” said Rose’s younger brother Tom Namilo. “I will be happy to see my sister carrying the refugee flag.”

A year ago, her teammate Yusra Mardini was swimming for her life when the inflatable dinghy she boarded to cross from Turkey to Greece started sinking in the Aegean Sea. Now, in a scarcely believable change of fortune, the 18-year-old from Syria is competing against the best in the world.

Yusra training at the Oympic Pool, (C) UNHCR, Benjamin Loyseau“We do not speak the same language (and) we are from different countries, but the Olympic flag unites all of us together and now we are representing some 60 million people around the world. We are really happy together, as a team. We want to do our best to show everyone that we can do everything we can for being good athletes and good people,” she told UNHCR in a recent interview.

“I’m not going to think about who is next to me or what nationality they are. The only thing I’m going to think about is how I’m going to swim… It is in my head that I’m a swimmer.”

Earlier this week, IOC President Thomas Bach presented the entire 10-member team one by one to all members of the IOC and paid tribute to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, for having stood by the athletes and helped create the teams in a 20-year-long association with the Olympic body.

“These athletes set the example of peaceful coexistence in the whole world. They show that it is possible to engage in competition and live in peace together at the same time. This is the true spirit of Olympic unity and diversity,” he declared.   He thanked UNHCR for helping make the team a reality.

“Without its (UNHCR’s) assistance it would not have been possible to select, train and make them (the refugees) travel to be here today. Their participation in the Olympic Games is a sign of hope to all refugees worldwide. They did not have a country or a flag to compete with. But now they have,” he said.

The 10 members of the Refugee Team at a Rio press conference, (C) UNHCR, Benjamin Loyseau “People think we do nothing in a refugee camp.”

Rose’s compatriot, Yiech Pur Biel, 21, also a runner, has been a refugee for half of his life. He said he considered the IOC and UNHCR to be like the parents he barely knew.

“People think we do nothing in a refugee camp, but we do. We can never forget what IOC and UNHCR made for us, being like a mother and a father. We feel we belong to the community, as equal human beings. This (the Olympics) is the beginning of life and will change our life forever. Thank you all and God bless you.”

Amid tears and smiles of joy, the athletes have been feted since arriving in Rio for the Games. On Thursday, they received a visit from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He wished them well and said they were making history for refugees all over the world.

The Pope joined millions of other people around the world wishing the Refugee Olympic Team the best of luck.

“I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio – that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity. Through you may humanity understand that peace is possible,” he wrote in a message of support.

Honorary IOC President Jacques Rogge, one of the main architects of the team, has spoken passionately about the importance of sports in the lives of young refugees and displaced people.

“These are young people, for the most part. They have a lot of assets to gain in life, and they have the right be considered as normal citizens,” he said.  

By: Jonathan Clayton (READ MORE AT: UNHCR)

Tuesday
Jul302013

Reunion Island bans surfing, plans massive shark kill (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Controversial measures enacted at popular tourist destination after 2nd fatal attack in 3 months & 5th since 2011./SURFER MAGAZINE)

(HN, 7/30/13) - Reunion Island, located in the Indian Ocean, is known for its world-class waves, pristine swimming beaches and, in recent years, shark attacks that are tarnishing the image of this idyllic tropical paradise. Surfing lineups are empty now that the government has banned surfing in the wake of deadly shark attacks.

Now, in the aftermath of a fatal attack on a 15-year-old girl earlier this month (the second deadly attack in three months and fifth since 2011), the French-controlled island has embarked on an extreme plan in the hope of ending the bloodshed—or at least making locals and visitors feel safer.

Surfer magazine reported Monday that the government has banned swimming and surfing in all but the island’s shallow lagoon through October 1. Anyone violating the ban will be fined $50.

Perhaps bigger news, though, is that between now and October 1, the government plans to kill 90 sharks (45 bull sharks and 45 tiger sharks).

This plan was announced Friday and the news is so fresh that an outcry among environmental groups has yet to materialize.

They’ll argue, rightly, that removing apex predators will harm the marine environment, and that the threat of shark attacks will exist regardless of how many sharks the government might kill.

Meanwhile, surfers are livid - but mostly because they’re being ordered to stay out of the water.

“I think it’s stupid. I’m shocked that they banned surfing in the area,” resident Damien Ferrere, 16, told Surfer. “If we want to surf, we risk [the fine] and possible prison time. If I want to surf, I will.”

Reunion Island, which is located east of Madagascar, remains a popular tourist destination despite 11 shark attacks, five of them fatal, since 2011.

Nobody is sure why so many attacks occurred in such a short span, but some speculate that the sprawling new marine reserve is growing fish populations, which in turn are attracting more sharks.

(MAP: Reunion Island, Indian Ocean)Last year, after a fatal attack on a popular bodyboarder, about 300 surfers demonstrated outside the local police station, demanding a shark cull. The government ended up removing 20 sharks from the reserve.

The two most recent fatal attacks involved the teen earlier this month, in very shallow water, and a honeymooner, while his wife was watching from the beach, in May.

The three-pronged plan was announced Friday during a press conference, at which the prefect Jean-Luc Marx outlined the elements:

- The ban on swimming and surfing in all but the shallow lagoon and supervised areas as determined by the Prefecture.

- The shark kill “as part of the scientific Ciguatera-Program to assess the marketing objectives of sharks in Reunion Island.”

- And a new website dedicated to inform the public about shark risks on Reunion Island, to be launched in October.

The Ciguatera-Program is a shark-fishing program that was launched last August in what was said to represent an evaluation of the island’s food safety policy. The sale of most shark meat is banned in local markets because it might contain a toxin known to cause a food poisoning called Ciguatera.

But the program could also be perceived as an attempt to mask an ongoing shark cull by using the science label to justify the removal of sharks.

(VIDEO of Surfer Julian Wilson doing his `air wave' moves off Reunion Island/RedBull)

Shark-culling efforts are controversial because sharks help maintain balance in the ecosystem, and because while killing lots of sharks might reduce the likelihood of attacks in the short-term, it does not eliminate the threat.

When October 1 rolls around and Reunion Island’s shores are cleared for surfing and swimming, for example, there’s no guarantee that a fatal shark attack will not occur the same day. But the perception will be that the waters are safer, and perhaps that’s what Reunion Island is striving for.

Surfers, meanwhile, are going to be seriously tempted to paddle out after the arrival of each new swell. It’d be interesting to learn how much the government collects in fines.

- This article, written by Pete Thomas, originally appeared in Surfer Magazine. Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter. 

 

Tuesday
Jul092013

Great Lakes women leaders meet in Burundi (NEWS) 

(PHOTO: A woman with her baby leaves Ngululu, 80km NW of Goma, DR Congo after the village & others nearby were attacked & burnt by members of the Congo Defence Front./NATION MEDIA GROUP)

(HN, 7/9/2013) - A three-day conference bringing together 100 women leaders from across the Great Lakes region is set to start in Bujumbura on Tuesday.  The Burundi meeting aims to develop a road map for the engagement of women in peace processes.

The conference, which has been organized by the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region in Africa, Mary Robinson, in partnership with Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

It is also expected to look at ways of implementing the “Peace, Security and Cooperation” (PSC) Framework and the United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in the Great Lakes Region.

The PSC Framework is a milestone in national, regional and international efforts to bring peace in the Great Lakes region and in particular in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where sexual violence continues at appalling levels and is regularly used as a weapon of war.

The framework was signed on February 24 by 11 African countries and was the fruit of a concerted effort between the UN, ICGLR, the South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

(PHOTO: Mary Robinson at the WEF, 2013)The conference will also consolidate an integrated regional approach for the effective participation of women in conflict resolution and peace building through the implementation of a Regional Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 in the Great Lakes region.

“A common plan will help to ensure that women’s voices are heard “from the bottom up and adhered to and implemented by Governments from the top down,” Ms. Mary Robinson, the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region in Africa, said in a statement.

- This article was originally published in the Africa Review and was written by Sandra Chao in Nairobi, Kenya.

Monday
Jun242013

Blame game over haze in Southeast Asia (REPORT) 

(Video via TODAYdigital)

As Indonesia steps up efforts to extinguish forest fires that have choked the region in thick haze, criticism from neighboring countries is mounting. Environmental lawyers accuse Jakarta of breaching international law.

As images of the thick haze shrouding Singapore were beamed around the world last week, a diplomatic tussle got underway between the leaders of Singapore and Indonesia, where hundreds of illegal forest fires continue to rage.

(PHOTO: Singapore on June 18, 2013/Edward Su)Singapore demanded "definitive action" from Jakarta to put out the fires, only to be chided for its reaction to the haze. The Indonesian Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono claimed the small island city-state had behaved "like a child" as it bore the brunt of the smog.

Economic impact

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed the 400 mark on Friday (June 21, 2013) a record reading that is deemed "hazardous" to human health.

Apart from the health implications, Singapore's reputation as a major business hub and one of the world's largest offshore financial centers is at stake. If the haze continues, as expected over the next few weeks, it could put off international investors.

But the haze issue across Southeast Asia is nothing new. Since 1997, air quality in Singapore and Malaysia has regularly suffered, due to Indonesian plantation fires that occur during the June to September dry season. The problem was even addressed at the regional grouping ASEAN a decade ago.

Failed haze treaty

The 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was meant to ensure nations prevented, monitored and tried to combat deforestation activities. But observers say the way the pact was negotiated effectively "watered down" Indonesia's commitments. Despite being weakened, Jakarta has still not ratified the agreement.

"As the principal cause of the fires and smoke - the elephant in the room if you like - Indonesia's staying out completely undermines the agreement," said law professor Alan Khee-Jin Tan from the National University of Singapore. "Jakarta's refusal is linked to the view that if Indonesia were to accept it, it would constitute an admission of guilt for the fires," he stressed.

'Indonesia has little to fear'

(PHOTO: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; June 17, 2013/picture-alliance)Tan, who sits on the Executive Committee of the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, told DW that the agreement is largely technical, with few onerous demands on states. "It has nothing, for instance, that would make Indonesia liable to pay compensation to injured states," he added. "So in that sense, there is little for Indonesia to fear."

Other experts think Singapore and Malaysia could have done more to pull their weight in negotiations over the agreement, especially as they are the main victims of the haze.

Jakarta says that despite not ratifying the agreement, it is still meeting its obligations under the treaty, a claim one environmental group described as "highly superficial and lacking in regional accountability."

"Ratification would essentially mean that a country acknowledges the terms and conditions of the treaty, abides by them and is fully aware of the implications if it contravenes the terms of the treaty," said Jose Raymond, Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council.

Firms face fines

While the Indonesian government may not face compensation claims, local agricultural companies might.

Ironically, some of the firms allegedly responsible for the illegal fires are either headquartered in Singapore or are owned by Singaporeans. On Sunday and Monday, the thick smog moved northwards towards the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur compelling a more assertive response from the Malaysian government.

That in turn led to accusations from Indonesia that eight Malaysian firms were contributing to the pollution. Both Singapore and Malaysia have promised to go after any local companies responsible for the fires where farmers use traditional "slash and burn" methods to prepare large areas of land for plantation.

Concerted efforts

(MAP: Satellite data show over 800 fires burning in Indonesia, many in former peat forests near Pekanbaru. Many hotspots are in concession areas of some of the world's largest palm oil & pulp & paper companies/GoogleEarth)"We're fully supportive of the government's intentions to name and shame the companies involved. In fact, it was us who made the call to name and shame. Moreover, guilty companies should be made to face severe financial penalties and redress the environmental damage caused,” Jose Raymond, the SEC's Executive Director told DW.

The NGO thinks that while intergovernmental efforts should continue, ministers and environmental groups should engage the businesses affected and those who own large plots of farmland in Indonesia. "The real impact will be made when we work with the landowners, farmers and even provincial governments. They are the people who will make the difference over the long term. But it will take time and investment," said Raymond.

Facing corruption

While some experts say Indonesia's laws against burnings are effective and the threat of substantial penalties is in place, many think corruption is preventing firm action from being taken.

Observers say local politicians allow deforestation to continue at an increasing rate for their own gains. Environment lawyer Tan said he had no doubt that by not taking the necessary steps against illegal fires, Indonesia had breached international law.

He said "customary international law," not necessarily found in treaties, still obliged states to make commitments to one another about activities in each others' territories. "But the reality is that it cannot be compelled to appear before an international court or tribunal without its consent - such is the nature of international law," he said.

Singapore and Malaysia, he added, could go after their own companies; but without Indonesia going against all the other plantations, there would be little overall effect.

Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said the government had been dealing with the problem for years and claimed that "improvements have been made." Officials say they have been educating locals about alternatives to 'slash and burn' methods and that large companies subcontract a lot of the work out to small impoverished farmers.

Cloud seeding operations - to chemically induce rainfall - were postponed on Monday due to a lack of cloud cover in the affected areas. However, water bombing operations continued to quell several hotspots in Riau province.

- This article by Nik Martin originally appeared in Deutsche Welle

Wednesday
Jun052013

Brazil tries to defuse conflicts with Indigenous people over land (REPORT) 

(VIDEO:  This is a visit to the Kaingang people in the Paraná state. By rcazangi, 12/1/12)

(HN, 6/5/13) - Lawmakers from the Brazilian farm state of Mato Grosso do Sul asked President Dilma Rousseff's government to send troops to end land invasions by indigenous people claiming their ancestral territory.

Justice Minister Jose Cardozo said a request for troops would have to come from the state governor and announced he will meet with the indigenous people on Thursday in a bid to reach a settlement. The government is seeking to defuse mounting conflicts with indigenous tribes over farm land and hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

(PHOTO: Brazil Justice Minister, Jose Cardozo/BrazilPortal) troops MERCOPRESSAir Force planes flew 144 Munduruku Indians to Brasilia for talks to end a week-long occupation of the controversial Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, a huge project aimed at feeding Brazil's fast-growing demand for electricity.

Tensions escalated last week on a farm in Mato Grosso do Sul that was invaded last week for a second time by Terena Indians angered by the fatal shooting of one of their tribe's members.

"We must avoid radicalizing a situation that goes back a long way in Brazilian history. We're not going to put out the flames by throwing alcohol on the bonfire," Cardozo told reporters after meeting the lawmakers.

In Rio Grande do Sul state some 2,000 Kaingang and Guarani Indians were blocking roads to protest the government's decision to put on hold the granting of ancestral lands to indigenous communities, a concession to Brazil's powerful farm lobby.

"The government has abandoned us. Dilma isn't supporting indigenous peoples," Indian chief Deoclides de Paula said by telephone from a blocked highway.

(PHOTO: Panoramic view of Curitiba, Brazil/Wikipedia)In Curitiba, the Parana state capital, 30 Kaingang Indians invaded the offices of the ruling Workers' Party on Monday and only agreed to leave 10 hours later when they were promised a meeting with Rousseff's chief of staff, Gleisi Hoffmann.

Hoffmann, who will run for governor of Parana next year, said May 8 the role of the government's Indian affairs office, Funai, in land decisions would be restricted.

Cardozo, however, stressed on Tuesday that Funai will not be gutted and would continue to play a central role as the main institution that defends Indian rights, though others will be brought in to improve the process of deciding ancestral lands.

(PHOTO: Munduruku Indians, many of who are flying for the 1st time, board a Brazilian Air Force plane to fly to Brasilia for talks with the government, in Altamira June 4, 2013/Lunae ParrachoThe policy change has fueled protests across Brazil and the government is scrambling to avert more violence after a 35-year-old Indian man was shot as police evicted 200 Terena from the disputed cattle ranch of a former congressman.

Angry Terena Indians armed with sticks, bows and arrows reoccupied the property on Friday and set fire to fields.

Late on Monday, a local judge extended for 36 hours the eviction order, allowing more time for a peaceful resolution.

Brazil's indigenous land policy, established in the country's constitution, is considered one of the most progressive in the world, with about 13 percent of the huge South American nation's territory already set aside for Indians.

Farmers say Funai is trying to create reservations on land that has belonged to European-descended settlers for 150 years.

In another move to ease tensions with the indigenous population, one of Rousseff's ministers, Gilberto Carvalho, met in Brasilia with Munduruku Indians, who are from the Tapajos, the only major river in the Amazon basin with no dams. They want the government to shelve plans to build a dozen dams there.

Last week they paralyzed work at one of three building sites at Belo Monte, slated to become the world's third-largest dam capable of producing 11,233 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to about 10 percent of Brazil's current generating capacity.

(PHOTO: CGI rendition of the main dam, Belo Monte/Wikipedia)Belo Monte, a pet project of Rousseff that was the target of international criticism by environmental groups, has become a stage for Indians from other parts of the Amazon.

"We went to see for ourselves what a hydroelectric dam is and we saw that it has nothing good in store for us," a Munduruku leader told Carvalho, adding that promised development had not benefited the Indians of the Xingu. "We saw Indians being humiliated and we do not want that for our region."

 - This article originally appeared in the Buenos Aires Herald.

Tuesday
May212013

The World Health Organization's `World Health Assembly' - Takes Place in Geneva this Week (REPORT) 

Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly:  daily notes on proceedings  

Notes: Monday, 20 May 2013

World Health Assembly opens with focus on the Post Millennium Development Goals Agenda 

The Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly opened this morning with the election of Dr.  Shigeru Omi, Special Assistant for International Affairs, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, as its new president. Five vice-presidents were also appointed from Angola, Haiti, Oman, Ukraine, and Nepal, representing their respective regions.

Last 1,000 days for MDGs and the path forward 

In his message, which was read by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon drew attention to the positive effect the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have had on the global health agenda. He noted that the Health Assembly will discuss a number of MDG-related issues, such as implementation of the Global Vaccine Action Plan and recommendations from the UN Commission on life-saving commodities for women and children. He described the pressing challenge presented by the rise in non-communicable diseases, highlighting the role of universal health coverage in ensuring equitable access to health services. He emphasized the continuing need for WHO to handle unforeseen global health events, such as newly emerging viruses.

Dr. Omi observed that reform of WHO, the topic of tomorrow’s plenary discussion, aims to make the Organization more relevant, more effective and more dynamic.

Watch the President’s speech on video

Opening address of the WHO Director-General

In her opening address, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan reiterated the importance of transparent reporting and vigilance in disease outbreaks, including recent cases of novel coronavirus and influenza H7N9, whilst at the same time maintaining the momentum made in addressing long-standing health issues such as tuberculosis, HIV, malaria; the emerging problem of non-communicable diseases; and eradication of polio.

Dr. Chan reiterated WHO’s refusal to work with the tobacco industry. However, she did not exclude the opportunity for cooperation with the food and beverage industry to address non-communicable diseases, while supporting existing safeguards which ensure no conflicts of interest.

Read the Director-General’s address to the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly

Watch the Director-General’s address

Health in the post-2015 global development agenda

Member States then moved into a plenary discussion about health in the post-2015 global development agenda, noting the critical links between health and sustainable development. Delegates spoke of the need to both build on existing progress made towards the Millennium Development Goals and to address evolving health challenges, notably non-communicable diseases. Many focused on the need to better address equity issues, echoing the UN Secretary General and WHO Director-General’s comments about the potential for universal health coverage to reduce inequities. Many also referred to the importance of measuring for both quality and quantity when monitoring progress.

Delegates began discussions on a draft global action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (A66/9). The action plan comprises a set of actions which, when performed collectively by Member States, UN organizations and other international partners, and WHO, will set the world on a new course to achieve nine globally agreed targets for NCDs (A66/8), including a reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 25% in 2025. The action plan also contains a monitoring framework, including 25 indicators to track mortality and morbidity; assess progress in addressing risk factors, and evaluate the implementation of national strategies and plans.

A drafting group, co-chaired by Pakistan and the United States of America, will negotiate the final text of a resolution and discuss outstanding issues of the draft action plan. The Assembly will resume discussions on this issue later in the week.

----For more visit the World Health Organization website.

 

Tuesday
Mar052013

Dengue Fever: 200,000 cases confirmed in triple frontier = Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil (REPORT)

 

(Video DengueInfo)

(HN, 3/5/13) - Paraguay, north Argentina & Brazil are in dengue fever alert following the confirmation of over 200,000 cases of the mosquito transmitted viral disease so far this year. The situation is considered worse than in previous years because of a deep rise in the confirmed cases, the circulation of all four sero-types (strains) of dengue (1, 2, 3 and 4) having been detected - and this also means the disease keeps expanding.

Paraguay has admitted 14,987 confirmed cases and at least 17 deaths in the first two months of the year with the tendency to increase. The situation is similar in Argentina particularly in the northern provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Cordoba, Santa Fe, Chaco and Formosa, plus the confirmation of the four serotypes. There are no official figures in Argentina since local officials are reluctant to release them fearing a panic situation.

Brazilian figures suggest that more than 200,000 people were infected in the first seven weeks of 2013 compared to 70,000 in the same period last year with the southern state of Matto Grosso do Sul the hardest hit.

Officials said the cases were likely to increase as the rainy season advances the risk of reproduction of the mosquito which transmits the disease, Aedes Aegypti.

However Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha revealed that despite the higher incidence, the cases had been less severe than those recorded last year. He said 33 people had died from the flu-like disease in the first seven weeks of 2013 compared to 41 last year.

According to Mr. Padilha, these figures showed that the authorities were following the right strategies in their fight against the fever. He said extra training given to health care professionals and improvements to the network of basic care providers had clearly paid off.

But Mr. Padilha warned state authorities not to let down their guard as the rainy season could exacerbate the situation, with standing water providing an ideal breeding ground for the mosquitoes carrying the disease.

(MAP: World Health Organization) Apart from Mato Grosso do Sul, seven other states across southern and central Brazil have been affected by the epidemic. More than half of the cases have been caused by the Den-4 strain of the virus, which was first detected in Brazil in 2011.

Mr. Padilha said that because the strain was still relatively new to the country, more people were susceptible to infection. There are four known types of dengue fever (strain). Once people are infected by one type, they become immune to that variation, but not to other strains.

Dengue causes a flu-like illness, occasionally lethal and is the leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries. There is not specific treatment, but early detection, medical care reduces fatality rates of dengue/severe dengue to below 1%.

The disease is spread in tropical and sub-tropical climates, mostly urban and semi-urban areas. The global incidence has grown dramatically and now about half the of the world's population is now at risk.

(Read more at Mercopress)

Monday
Jan142013

Millions of Hindu's take to the Ganges for Maha Kumbh Mela (REPORT) 

(Video, IndiaTV)

(Allahabad, India - The Maha Kumbh Mela began this morning with lakhs of devotees as well as ascetics and religious leaders of various orders converging on the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati in Allahabad for a holy dip on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.

The inaugural day of the two-month-long congregation, often described as the “greatest show on earth”, was marked by the first “Shahi Snan” of 13 “akharas” wherein Naga Sadhus - a martial order of ascetics who move about either naked or scantily clad with matted hair and ash smeared bodies - marched to Sangam in processions with their leaders perched atop ornately decorated elephants, horses and chariots and musical bands in attendance in a unique blend of austerity and opulence.

PHOTO: 'Nirvani Akhara' participates in the Shahi Snan/Indian Express)The first to move out were Mahanirvani and Atal Akharas, followed by Niranjani and Anand and then Joona, Awahan and Agni.

They are to be followed by Nirvani Ani, Digambar Ani and Nirmohi and Naya Udasin, Bara Udasin and Nirmal akharas in the same order fixed during the British period following a violent clash among ascetics of different akharas at a Kumbh congregation.

The akharas have been allotted fixed time, ranging from 30 minutes to about an hour depending upon the size of their respective procession, for bathing with routes for going to and returning from Sangam so separated as to ward off possibility of members of rival akharas coming in contact with each other.

Devotees from across the country had started pouring in since last evening and the influx continues despite cold weather and elaborate security arrangements on account of which devotees are being made to park their vehicles several kilometres away from the holy confluence and reach the Sangam on foot.

Vehicular traffic has been banned on most of the roads in the city from yesterday till tomorrow to facilitate movement of people.

(PHOTO: A group of the Alakh sadhus making way towards Akhara for taking alms at Sangam arriving for Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad/Brijesh Jaiswal)The “Shahi Snan”, which is a star attraction of the event, began at around 6 AM as curious, awestruck onlookers gathered on both sides of the over-a-kilometre-long road of metallic chequered plates on which the processions of “akharas” proceeded towards the Sangam.

The crowds were separated from the procession with the help of barriers.

Security personnel kept a steady, though anxious, watch on the movement of the “Naga sadhus” along the route, from watch towers and by monitoring CCTVs as their processions have sparked off violent clashes in the past.

The Mela, held every 12 years, will go on for next two months and will conclude on Maha Shivaratri on March 10.

The administration is expecting a nearly 10 per cent rise in pilgrims attending the mass Hindu pilgrimage this year compared to the previous Maha Kumbh held here in 2001.

Exceptionally large crowds are also expected on Mauni Amavasya (February 10, 3 crore) and Basant Panchmi (February 15, 1.9 crore).

Besides, spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ramdev and Asaram Bapu, also have planned their visits.

The huge turnout of people, visits of high-profile gurus in addition to the presence of naga sanyasis have increased the pressure on police and administration for smooth functioning of the Kumbh Mela.

A lurking fear of a terrorist strike has further heightened the challenges in recent years.

(PHOTO: Devotees in boats as they gather at Sangam for taking baths on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankaranti & the start of Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad/Brijesh Jaiswal)“More than 7,000 personnel of central paramilitary forces, including companies of the Rapid Action Force and the National Disaster Response Force, have been pressed into service,”  IGP (Allahabad) Alok Sharma, designated as the nodal officer for security arrangements during the Maha Kumbh, had said.

--- This article first appeared in The Hindu

Wednesday
Jan022013

As attacks on aid workers continue, Pakistan progress jeopardized (REPORT) 

(Video: UTubeMaill)

(HN, 1/2/13) - Thousands of villagers on Wednesday held a mass burial for seven health workers - five of them women, who were gunned down by militants, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swabi district, Pakistan, on Tuesday. The killings are the latest in a series of persecution of aid workers in the contentious tribal area.

The dead had been working for the private Pakistani aid group Support With Working Solution, in the northwestern district Swabi, at an immunization centre where children are given anti-polio vaccination. The police said two men on a motorbike followed a van taking the workers home, intercepted it near the village of Sher Afzal Banda where militants opened fire with assault rifles. One child, aged 7 to 8 years, miraculously survived.

Nobody has owned responsibility for the attack, though its suspected that Pakistani Taliban could be behind the strike, since they oppose the vaccination campaigns and Taliban militants affiliated to the Al Qaeda global terror network have been attacking charity and aid workers across the country in recent weeks.

Last year, 15 health and aid workers were killed in Pakistan, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world for aid workers, according to the British-based group Humanitarian Outcomes. Most were women. Development sector experts now express concerns that those working on the ground will shy away from assignments. 

MAP: Swabi district, Pakistan/Wikipedia)“In the past, local volunteers, be they teachers, medical workers or social mobilizers, considered themselves safe and worked hand in hand with foreign aid workers and paramilitary personnel in even the most dire of circumstances,” says Hassan Belal Zaidi, a development and communication specialist, based in Islamabad. “But now, it would not be unreasonable for them to think twice and even refuse to travel to remote parts of the country if they know there is a chance they may get shot.”

Support With Working Solution has suspended its activities. The organization runs dozens of health and education projects, including polio vaccinations, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Health and education programs, particularly those for girls, are seen as being at particular risk.

Fazal Dad, whose daughter was among the dead, said she always proclaimed, 'Father, if I am not guilty no one can harm me'.

The attack comes days after nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot dead in a series of attacks and forced the United Nations to temporarily recall staff and suspend an immunization campaign from Pakistan, one of just three countries in the world in which polio remains endemic - at least 57 cases were registered in 2012, and there are now concerns about a record number of deaths from measles in the south.

The World Health Organization last year warned Pakistan that it could face travel and visa restrictions and sanctions imposed by other countries if polio continues to spread.

An umbrella organization of 200 aid groups Wednesday demanded greater protection in Pakistan, and they vowed to continue working in order not to encourage “those who are opposed to progress”.

“We have to stand up and foil the nefarious designs of anti-state elements who are bent upon destroying the fabric of civil society,” said the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network; asking for government protection for charity workers “vulnerable to the menace of terrorism”.

(Video: No stranger to tragedy, on July 11, 2012 the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network buried another.)

Additionally, on December 22, Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and eight others were killed in a suicide attack on a political meeting claimed by the Taliban. More than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country in the last twelve years.  

Imtiaz Iltaf, police chief of Peshawar, said officers were preparing a strategy to protect aid workers.  “We are in a state of war. The whole country is facing an insurgency, so we are revising the present security steps and working on a new strategy,” he said.

The recent attacks are likely to further frighten people from working with foreign and Pakistani aid and development organizations, says Bushra Arain, chairwoman for the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Welfare Association, which counts more than 100,000 registered members.

“We are the backbone of Pakistani health sector. If the attacks continue, with the state showing the inability it currently is demonstrating in stopping us from being targeted, we will stop working,” Ms. Arain says.

“If the attacks by the Taliban continue, there will be widespread de-motivation amongst aid workers, which I am already witnessing,” Mr. Hussain of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network says.

--- Reporting based on sources, agencies, HUMNEWS.

Saturday
Dec222012

"Pointing the Finger" - (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: Newsxlive)

By Karan Thapar

(December 22, 2012) - Last week’s protests on the streets of Delhi against the despicable gang rape of a young 23-year-old girl were, no doubt, impressive but they missed the point. Rape doesn’t happen because the police permit it or are absent and unable to prevent it. Rape doesn’t happen because politicians won’t strengthen the law and are insensitive to the victims. Rape doesn’t happen because the courts are slow in meting out justice or the legal process humiliates the victims.  Rape happens because men rape.

That’s the key point the protests forgot.

Rape happens because Indian men don’t respect women and treat them as play-things. And let’s face it, this is a direct result of the way we bring up our men and the way we encourage them to think of women.

The problem begins with parenting. We treat boys like little Gods and daughters as a curse. And when I say we, I really mean mothers who spoil their sons whilst disregarding their daughters. Attitudes inculcated in childhood lead to adolescents, young men and, finally, adults treating women with disrespect and even violence. So the fault begins at home. It begins with our mums and dads. In fact, hurtful as it may sound, it begins with mum.

Saturday’s protestors, courageously facing teargas and water-cannons, should have first ventilated their anger on Indian men. When you hear of elderly women of 80, or baby girls of 3, who have been raped you have to ask: have Indian men become barbarians?

But the anger needs to go further. We need to focus on the way our families bring us up. We need to question the attitudes society encourages. In fact, we need to ask why do so many, who are capable of thinking for themselves, unthinkingly follow suit.

Pause and consider this: why do the police blame the victims before they start to prosecute the rapists? Why do they believe the way a woman is dressed, or the fact that she is out at night, invites rape? The answer is simple. It’s because we as a society do.

Here women are as much to blame as men. After all, it’s mothers and aunts who conclude from a young girl’s dress she’s behaving like a tart. They are the ones who claim that to be seen with a single man is to suggest you are available.

No doubt they’re like this because their mothers before them were the same. The danger is their daughters may not be different.

So I say to the tens of thousands, in fact tens of millions, demanding justice that you are perfectly right to do so but if you really want it question your brothers, uncles, fathers — indeed, question every male you know.

Then, question the society we live in but are also creatures of. We look upon the victims of rape as women who have been shamed. Actually, it’s the rapist who is shameful. But how do we move to a position where women who have been raped are treated with special care and honour whilst the rapist is made an outcast?

Our politicians and the police can’t provide the answers. They can’t show the way. We have to find it ourselves. By changing our thinking and attitudes. By changing the way we are.

So whilst I applaud the protestors, their dedication, energy and anger, I can’t help feel these should be better directed.

Views expressed by the author are personal and first appeared in the