FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

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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Entries in UN (65)

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
Nov262012

The International Community Needs a Better Understanding of the Congo Problem - (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: DR Congo Crisis Creates Refugee Crisis/Al Jazeera)

By Frank Kagabo 

(Goma, 11/26/12) - Within one week of the capture of the Congolese city of Goma by the M23 rebels, many things have happened. Kinshasa now seems to be taking a different route in dealing with the issue. But the process or attack that led to the capture of the eastern DRC city speaks volumes about what is wrong with the DRC.

(MAP: Lerucher.org) Without doubt, something is fundamentally wrong with the geographical entity known as DRC. The current leadership in Kinshasa cannot wash its hands free of any blame. In addition to that, there is something deeply flawed about how the process of nation building, if at all we should call it that, has been undertaken in Congo over the years. Many Sub-Saharan countries are characterized as fragile states in almost all academic studies and publications, especially by western scholars and Africa area experts.

These states are seen as lacking all the basic tenets of a modern legitimate state. For DRC, as of now it is beyond a fragile state. It is on the path to a failed state in whole. Currently, in many places of the DRC, the state is simply absent.

When this is coupled with competing interests, both of local elites and many others serving foreign interests, it all becomes confusion. The centre in Kinshasa should always be able to make decisions that are of strategic value. But with a new beginning; through regional mediation, there is hope for a better outcome.

The best hope for Congo cannot be in the current noises that the 'international community', mainly influenced by interests in the West, are making. The fact that international institutions and Western governments have come to a conclusion that the current insurrection in eastern DRC is a creation of Rwanda, says much about why they should keep away.

Either they know the source of the problem and seek to callously blame a neighboring country, or they simply do not understand the underlying problems of DRC in particular and the wider Great Lakes region in general.

(PHOTO: Flags at the UN office in Geneva/UNOG)Many Western people with passing interest of Africa believe that conflicts in most of Africa are simply a symptom of the nature of the black man. That Africans have not evolved enough to be able to live harmoniously together. That such conflict is just "how they are". No need for further explanation or study!

These are people who never think that there can be just causes worth fighting for by Africans.

The kind of treatment that follows, like the heaping of blame on a neighbor etc, is all about that perception that is reserved for the African. To explain such perceptions, some Africans have bluntly said it is racism. But others fear to speak out lest they be accused of being "angry black people."

On the particular issue of the Congo conflict, it is important that the United Nations and other Western controlled international organizations seek a better understanding of this conflict before coming up with simplistic reports containing allegations that cannot stand.

They should be helped to get a clear understanding of the region. Again, there is also a need to pause and ask why missions by the UN in this region have always failed. Let's leave aside the issue of what their mandate is: The sheer size of their budgets should ideally be a reason for success. The fact that failure is always what follows such deployments or interventions calls for a radical shift in the nature of such UN operations.

(MAP: US State.gov)The best the UN and other Western-dominated international institutions can do is to support regional initiatives to resolve regional problems. And regional efforts should also be a mechanism for supporting internal process in the affected country, not coming in as an alternative foreign force, because that is also most likely to fail.

Also, the simple fact that the DR Congo army has scattered without putting up a meaningful fight is evidence enough that state institutions in Congo require an overhaul because they are largely dysfunctional.

To solve the current crisis in the DRC will require more than dealing with the original grievances of the mutiny that has now become a major rebel movement. Instead of intervening to complicate the situation, focus should only be in providing meaningful and necessary assistance to jumpstart internal mechanisms for a lasting solution to wider problems that afflict the vast DRC.

- This opinion piece first appeared at AllAfrica.com. Frank Kagabo has worked as a print journalist for four years. He currently works for The New Times Daily in Kigali.

Tuesday
Oct162012

High food prices top UN agenda on World Food Day (REPORT) 

(Video: World Food Programme)

Rome: Global governance of food security and a so-called new world food order were on the table at World Food Day talks held by the United Nations on Tuesday in the face of drought and high prices.

The United Nations focused the talks in Rome on lowering food prices which have been pushed up by droughts in Australia and the United States and a drop in harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region.

A meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization chaired by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll brought together ministers from 20 countries including major producers and import-dependent developing countries.

“The key is to ensure global governance on food issues,” Le Foll said.  “Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility,” he added.

FAO chief Jose Graziano Da Silva said: “Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term.”

He said new mechanisms for stronger global governance of food security that are being set up were part of “a new world order that needs to emerge.”

(PHOTO: YemenFoxNet)But there were divisions among participants at the meeting, with the United States voicing strong opposition to the proposal of setting up strategic food reserves in particularly vulnerable countries, to be tapped when prices spike.

Graziano Da Silva said establishing reserves could be “an instrument to avoid poor countries paying the price” of price rises — although FAO’s official position is only in favor of setting up “small emergency stocks”.

“If you bolster the size of the stocks, you increase difficulties in terms of costs and management,” said FAO’s David Hallam, who is in charge of markets.

Millions go hungry

Around 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even though gains have been made in recent years when the United Nations estimated 1 billion people on the planet were not getting enough to eat. Still, the number is troubling.

FAO said the talks were aimed at boosting “the effectiveness of measures to address food price volatility and to reduce its impact on the most vulnerable.”

Global food prices rose by 1.4 per cent last month, after holding steady for two months, as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, the FAO said earlier.

The food import bill for poor countries is therefore estimated to rise by 3.7 percentage points from last year to $36.5 billion.

The FAO estimates that about 870 million people in the world - or one in eight humans - suffer from hunger, saying the figure is “unacceptably high” even though it has gone down from more than a billion in the early 1990s.

The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said that figure rises to 1.5 billion people if you include malnourishment which hampers the physical and psychological developments of children.

(PHOTO: Agriaim)When global food prices rise as they are doing now “it is not just that there are fewer meals but the meals are also less varied,” De Schutter said, adding: “This threat is not really seen as a priority but it should be.”

Graziano Da Silva said it was vital to help small farmers as a way of combating hunger and World Food Day events highlighted the crucial role played by farming cooperatives in the developing world.

He underlined the fact that the figure of the number of people suffering from hunger had stopped going down over the past five years.  “The numbers are increasing in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

“We cannot tolerate this in a land of plenty where production is sufficient for everyone,” he said, adding that the funds for aid and agriculture budgets had gone down over the past three decades, stranding small farmers.  “They have had to fight to adapt,” he said.

Graziano Da Silva added that promises made by governments to eradicate hunger made when prices hit record highs in 2007 and 2008 had not been kept.

The non-governmental group Action Against Hunger said that “some 100 million more people have become under-nourished” due to the price rises of 2008.

In a message to mark World Food Day, Pope Benedict hailed cooperatives as “an expression of true subsidiarity” and urged the international community to come up with legal and financial mechanisms to strengthen them.

The pope also emphasized the “vital role” played by women in cooperatives.

- This article appeared in GulfNews.

Thursday
Jul192012

AIDS deaths worldwide drop as access to drugs improves (REPORT) 

(Video: UNAIDS)

Fewer people infected with HIV globally are dying as more of them get access to crucial antiretroviral drugs, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the United Nations AIDS program said on Wednesday.

The United Nations estimates that about 34 million people are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. In a report released ahead of the International AIDS Society's 2012 annual meeting set for next week in Washington, D.C., it said that the number of worldwide AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.7 million last year from some 1.8 million in 2010. AIDS deaths peaked at 2.3 million in 2005.

The decline has been fueled by greater access to medications that help more people live with the disease. An estimated 8 million people in lower-income countries are receiving antiretroviral drugs, and the United Nations has set a target to raise that to 15 million by 2015.

Funding for HIV prevention and treatment totaled $16.8 billion last year. Of that amount, $8.2 billion came from international sources including the United States, which donated 48 percent of it. The amount of money spent by poor and middle-income countries reached $8.6 billion last year, surpassing international investment for the first time. The UN estimates that another $5 billion is needed to reach its 2015 goals.

The UN is also talking with pharmaceutical companies about how to improve access to lower-cost versions of simpler HIV treatments that combine several drugs in a single pill.

(MAP: Global AIDS Infections, 2010/Payvand) "We need innovation which will reduce the cost of medicine," Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, said during a telephone interview. "If we want to maintain people on second-and third-line medicine it will not be possible with the price of the drugs we have today."

Paul De Lay, UNAIDS deputy executive director, speaking a briefing in Geneva, said overall progress in treating the disease could be jeopardized by a surge in infection seen in smaller patient groups, including in Eastern Europe and the United States.

"We are looking at an epidemic that's going to last another 40 to 50 years to get down to what we would consider the lowest possible number of infections," De Lay said.

"It reminds us that prevention must be sustained, just the way we talk about sustaining treatment. Until we have a vaccine this is still going to have to be part of all countries' health programs," he said.

Public health officials are considering wider use of HIV medications in people who are not infected with the virus but have a high risk of contracting it. Earlier this week, US health regulators for the first time approved use of Gilead Sciences Inc's Truvada drug for preventing HIV.

Such antiretroviral drugs, also sold by companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co, are designed to keep the virus that causes AIDS in check by suppressing viral replication in the blood.

Researchers are also working on using HIV-fighting antibodies to prevent infection, and they say their efforts could yield a licensed vaccine.

In the meantime, treating more people infected with HIV remains a priority. UNAIDS estimated that in sub-Saharan Africa, a region encompassing countries like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, 31 percent fewer people died from AIDS-related causes in 2011 compared with 2005.

The region "has actually been able to scale up more than other parts of the world, more than Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more than North Africa and the Middle East, and even more than Asia, with a 62 percent coverage rate of people eligible for treatment able to access treatment," said Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the HIV Department at the World Health Organization.

Access to therapy also led to lower rates of AIDS-related deaths in Latin America, the Caribbean and Oceania.

In Western and Central Europe, as well as North America, where antiretroviral therapy is extensively available, the combined number of AIDS-related deaths has varied little over the past decade, totaling about 29,000 last year, according to the United Nations.

Death rates were also stable in Asia at an estimated 330,000, while AIDS-related deaths continued to rise in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

New infections among children declined for the second year in a row amid focused efforts to protect them and their mothers against HIV. About 330,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2011, down from 570,000 in 2003

- This article originally appeared in the Buenos Aires Herald. From July 22-27, 2012 AIDS 2012 will take place in Washington D.C. The international AIDS conference is the largest gathering of AIDS activists, scientists and experts this year.

Thursday
Jun282012

Rio+20 and the road ahead (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Protestors in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20 last week/YnetNewsBy Antonio Patriota

Rio+20 is a landmark for the future. As more than 190 countries gathered in Rio de Janeiro last week for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, we witnessed a historic moment. The recent global crisis shows that old-fashioned views about development are misleading. It is now time to rethink the very foundations of how we consider development, wellbeing and wealth.

Over the past four decades, the world has increasingly realized that our natural resources are under serious pressure.

A growing awareness of the need to ensure sustainability has led a new generation to consider the requirements of sustainable development in its decisions to produce or consume. This is no small achievement. Rio 1992 was a major step forward. Important legal texts on key issues were adopted. These conventions ensured important progress that we must maintain and build on.

We now face a complex challenge. Protecting the environment is not enough. We need to encourage public and private decision-makers to incorporate environmental and social concerns into economic planning and growth strategies. This will require a new thinking from policymakers, experts, business people, project managers and many other public and private actors in order to plan and implement sustainable development initiatives.

From now on, a three-dimensional approach to development is crucial, one that combines social, economic and environmental concerns. Rio+20 is the launch pad for this new development model. This is why one of the main topics of Rio+20 was to build consensus around the need for "sustainable development goals". They offer a blueprint for international cooperation on sustainable development for years to come.

In order to achieve this result, Brazil decided to adopt new methods. Innovative tools for multilateral meetings were introduced, bringing national governments and global civil society together. Through an online platform, more than 1 million votes were cast, expressing views on 10 issues related to the conference. Topics ranged from energy and water to sustainable cities and food security. During four days in Rio, sharing the venue of the summit, experts, businessmen, activists and journalists engaged in live debates and streamlined the proposals that will be handed to the heads of state and government. It was so successful that the United Nations is now considering turning this initiative into a standard practice for future summits.

Rio+20 involves an assessment of the past 20 years and allows for a look into the next few decades. We are confident that this message will echo through the years, fostering new initiatives which can lead to a more sustainable future for all.

-- Antonio Patriota is minister of external relations, Brazil. The views expressed by the author are personal. This commentary originally appeared HERE in the Hindustan Times.

Friday
Apr132012

Too soon to lift sanctions on Burma? (PERSPECTIVE)

By Tom Andrews

(Video BBC)

Just over a week ago, international election monitors and media outlets reported a remarkable event in Burma. Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent years under house arrest, and sometimes in prison, fighting for democracy and justice - was elected to parliament, and calls have grown for all economic sanctions and international pressure on the regime to be lifted.

Heeding these calls would be a serious mistake.

I and a colleague spent election day in Kachin state, in the northernmost part of Burma. Bullets, not ballots, are the currency there. International observers and reporters are not welcome. After crossing the border from China under cloak of darkness, and making our way over bone-crushing roads, we saw why.

Tens of thousands of Kachins, a long-repressed ethnic minority in Burma, have been forced from their homes into crowded makeshift camps as more and more troops march into an area rich in natural resources. Despite President Thein Sein's promise in December to pull back the military, the opposite is happening in Kachin, where the escalation of troops, weapons and brutality continues unabated.

I met several dozen Kachin who had just escaped from their village, leaving behind their homes, crops and livestock. Some had walked for four days with only enough food for their children, carrying all that remained of their belongings on their backs.

They fled to makeshift camps that lack adequate food, sanitation and healthcare. We saw children with obvious respiratory illness and skin disease. The government's unwillingness to allow food or humanitarian aid into these areas recently gave way to international pressure. We saw five United Nations trucks delivering food. Still, relief workers told us it was only a small fraction of what was needed. A child coming down with what would otherwise be a highly treatable illness can die under these conditions. We attended the funeral of one such child, an 11-month-old who died after contracting diarrhea. The family asked that we stay as honored guests so that we, and the outside world, would know.

A farmer described being apprehended when he, his wife and father-in-law were harvesting corn. They were forced to carry the corn to a military encampment but attempted to escape. His wife was caught and he has not seen her since. A Baptist minister, father of seven, was apprehended after he tried to sneak back to his village. His wife, speaking with a toddler afoot and an infant on her back, sobbed as she said she had no idea what had become of him.

We made our way to an outpost of Kachin Independence Army soldiers, just beyond the range of the Burmese military's mortars. If we went further, we were told, our car would almost certainly become a target. As we spoke, a pick-up truck appeared carrying two elderly women.

They had abandoned their homes and village that morning. Their crops had been destroyed, they told us, and their cattle killed. They escaped carrying what they could on their backs.

(PHOTO: Aung San Suu Kyi/Telegraph) Without question, Suu Kyi's election to Burma's parliament is a remarkable achievement. But what I have seen reminds me that it is only part of the story. The other part, hidden in the mountains and valleys of Kachin state and in villages of other ethnic minorities, is vastly different. It is one that Burma's military-dominated government does not want you to see.

It is reasonable for the United States and the international community to recognize what progress has been made in Burma with measured, prudent (and reversible) rewards. But relaxing all sanctions and international pressure on this regime would be a serious mistake.

Progress did not occur in Burma because military leaders suddenly realized that they had erred. It came about precisely because of international pressure. To remove this pressure at a time when the government escalates its brutality against a long-suffering people would be unconscionable and should be unacceptable to the United States.

The Obama administration and US Congress should recognize the progress in Burma. But they should not do so by condemning tens of thousands of innocent people to the mercy of a military government entirely freed from the pressure of sanctions.

--- Tom Andrews is a former US congressman from Maine and president of United to End Genocide. This editorial originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday
Apr102012

Sahel NOW: Decisive action is needed to avoid another famine crisis (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video UN)

By Rebecca Barber

This time last year, the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned that the food security situation in the Horn of Africa was 'alarming', and that poor rains could lead to famine conditions in parts of Somalia.

As an international community, we failed to respond.  Four months later the worst was realised and the UN declared a famine in six regions in Southern Somalia. By November, 750,000 people were at risk of starvation.

It's now acknowledged that last year's food crisis in the Horn of Africa took no-one by surprise, and that we had the information needed to take cost-effective, preventive action to save lives.  An evaluation conducted late last year by the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee found that there was a 'failure of preventive action from late 2010', and a 'failure to respond with adequate relief from the time it was needed in early to mid-2011'.

We don't know exactly how many people died in the Horn of Africa, although one estimate suggests a figure of between 50,000 and 100,000. What we do know is that an earlier response which supported livelihoods, preserved household income and supported markets would have reduced rates of malnutrition, and that more substantial provision of food, nutrition, clean water and health services would have reduced the number of deaths. If an earlier response had saved even a small percentage of the lives lost, thousands of men, women and children would be alive today.

(MAP: The Sahel region in West Africa/Wikipedia)In the aftermath of the crisis, Australia has strengthened its commitment to tackling food insecurity in Africa, as well as its commitment to ensuring timely response to crises when they occur.  At the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth last year, the Australian government together with other Commonwealth member states recognised food insecurity as 'one of the most pressing and difficult global challenges of our time', and called for 'decisive and timely measures to prevent crises occurring' and to 'mitigate their impact when they do'.

This commitment is timely, because now another food crisis is unfolding in the Sahel – a belt of arid land that stretches from Senegal in the west through Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad to Sudan. This time, albeit far from the media spotlight, Australia together with the rest of the world has an opportunity to demonstrate lessons learned from the Horn.

More than 13 million people are at risk of hunger in the Sahel – a result of poor rains, a 25 per cent decline in food production across the region, a reduction in remittances from neighbouring countries, and skyrocketing food prices.  Recent assessments by Save the Children show that in some parts of Niger, communities lack nearly two-thirds of the food and cash they need to survive the year. 

In some parts of Mali, families are struggling to cope as the price of millet has risen by more than 80 per cent, while at the same time remittances have fallen by as much as 70 percent as workers return from Libya and Algeria.

One million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition – in plain language this means severely wasted. Malnutrition levels in some areas now exceed the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.  Families have already begun to adopt 'harmful coping mechanisms' such as reducing the number of daily meals, selling livestock which is usually relied on for food and income, going into debt, and taking children out of school. In the long-term this reduces resilience and food security.

In a promising demonstration of lessons learned from the Horn, a number of donors have recognised the scale of the impending crisis and made early and generous commitments to the Sahel. 

The US has pledged $75 million, Canada $41 million, France $22 million, and Germany $19 million.  Australia has pledged $10 million – an amount that pales in comparison to the $128 million contributed to the Horn of Africa last year.  It's not enough.

(PHOTO: Nomads in the Sahel/DailyMaverick) The UN estimates that it will need $725 million to tackle food security and nutrition in the Sahel, but so far just over half of this has been pledged – and even less actually committed.  The lean season (the time between harvests when household food stocks dwindle) is approaching, and the next harvest is not until October. 

The head of the Food and Agricultural Organisation warned last month that there were only two or three months to act to avoid a crisis on a scale similar to that seen in the Horn of Africa last year.  That window of opportunity will soon close.

With the indicators of crisis becoming stronger, the Australian government has an opportunity now to take decisive action and demonstrate lessons learnt from the Horn of Africa.  The consequences of failing to do so will be millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, and thousands of lives lost.

- Rebecca Barber is Save the Children's humanitarian policy and advocacy advisor. This editorial originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday
Apr032012

The World’s Happiest Countries (REPORT) 

(Happy Face/The Joy Project)(HN, 4/3/12) - On Monday, representatives at the UN took a day off from discussing the crisis and conflict engulfing the globe to talk about something totally different: how to be happy.

Holding a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly hosted by the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan - long ranked as the `Happiest Country on the Planet' - the world body looked at ways to put happiness on the global agenda at their gathering "Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm".

In partnership with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the government in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu may just have a thing or two to teach our world leaders.

The first-ever World Happiness Report, is based on Gallup World Polls over a period of 2005-2011, with respondents aged 15 or in more than 150 countries asked to evaluate the quality of their lives on an 11-point ladder scale running from 0 to 10 - with the bottom rung of the ladder (0) being the worst possible life for them and 10 being the best possible.

The report generally shows that the world’s happiest countries are all in northern Europe -- Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands took the top four spots, in that order.  Canada came in fifth, well ahead of the United States at eleventh place. The least happy countries at the bottom of the list were Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Benin and Togo.

In advanced countries, women are happier than men, while the position in poorer countries is mixed. Happiness is lowest in middle age.

Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, initiated the idea of an alternate model to Gross NationalProduct as a measurement of national progress in the 1970's and the country has famously adopted the goal of gross national happiness over gross national product (GNP). 

The 800,000-person kingdom - where the per capita income is an estimated $670 - has become the center of development economics these days as Western policymakers seeking knowledge on national happiness in the globalized world look to Bhutan for answers.

Indeed the debate is growing over how to best measure the progress of countries beyond monetary valuations; and the `Happiness Quotient' ranks high in terms of quality of life.

According to the report - co-authored by economists Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute, Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, and John Helliwell of the Economics Department of the University of British Columbia - on average, the world has become a little happier over the last 30 years; tho the rise in economic living standards has not always had a direct impact on happiness. 

(PHOTO: lovehkfilms) True - overall the happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe while the least happy countries are all in Sub-Saharan Africa; but it's not just wealth that makes people happy: political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are far more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries, according to the report.

The survey reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and more lack of misery as criteria for government and public policy making.  It also reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national status.

On a more personal level, the researchers argue that good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are all crucial to self-happiness.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon at the High-Level meeting said "I commend the Government of Bhutan for initiating this important debate on the link between happiness, well-being and prosperity."

He commented that he had received a final report recently of the Global Sustainability Panel, in preparation for the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit citing the 56 recommendations of the panel and the importance of establishing a `Sustainable Development Index', or a set of indicators to measure progress towards sustainable development, including happiness and well-being.

Ban ki-Moon noted that such thinking dates back to the earliest times, and can be found, for example, in the teachings of the Buddha and Aristotle. More recently, measuring success by wealth alone has been questioned in the groundbreaking Brundtland Report of 1987, the Human Development Index and the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, established by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

"We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development.  Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible.  Together they define gross global happiness," said the UN Secretary General. 

He called upon government ministers, policymakers, business and civil society leaders, and young people - to work together to transform our economies, to place our societies on a more just and equitable footing, and to protect the resources and ecosystems on which our shared future depends.

Connecting the dots between these issues - between water, food and energy security, climate change, urbanization, poverty, inequality and the empowerment of the world’s women - lies at the heart of sustainable development and he said, "The outcome from Rio+20 should reflect this". 

Countries in order of their `Happiness Factor' according to the report are in this order:

Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, US, Costa Rica, Austria, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, UAE, UK, Venezuela, Iceland, Panama, Spain, France, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, Italy, Kuwait, Germany, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Singapore, Belize, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Argentina, Jamaica, Colombia, Greece, Chile, Japan, Guyana, Taiwan, Malta, El Salvador, Slovenia, Uruguay, Malaysia, Thailand, Poland, Jordan, Slovakia, South Korea, Bolivia, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Bahrain, Belarus, Honduras, Mauritius, Vietnam, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Kosovo, Cuba, Paraguay, Algeria, Estonia, Portugal, Myanmar, Moldova, Russia, Peru, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Romania, Libya, Laos, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Montenegro, Tunisia, Albania, Nicaragua, South Africa, Ukraine, Lebanon, Dominican Republic, India, Djibouti, Hungary, Namibia, Iraq, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Nigeria, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Morocco, Latvia, Syria, Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique, Somaliland, China, Mauritania, Malawi, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Serbia, Mongolia, Palestinian Territory, Nepal, Armenia, Yemen, Sudan, Senegal, Cameroon, Macedonia, Uganda, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Angola, Guinea, Niger, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Georgia, Bulgaria, Congo, Tanzania, Haiti, Comoros, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Benin, Togo.

- HUMNEWS

Monday
Apr022012

India: Leading the way on polio, energy innovation (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Polio victims in Kishanganj, India/TOPNEWS.IN) By N R Narayana Murthy and Ted Turner

India celebrated an historic milestone earlier this month when the World Health Organisation announced there had been no new cases of wild polio virus for one year.

That leaves only three polio endemic countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

To understand the scope of this achievement, consider that 20% of all births worldwide today are in India. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), one child is born here every 20 seconds, and each has to be vaccinated in order to completely wipe out polio - from the most rural outposts to shanty towns in urban hubs and everywhere in between.

The achievement is a validation of the work of the United Nations, the public and private partners of the Global Polio Eradication initiative, the Indian government, and the people of India, all of whom united to solve what seemed like an insurmountable problem.

The victory over polio is also evidence that fast-growing nations like India can embrace economic development and sustainable development at the same time. India`s transformation on many fronts gives us reason to believe that nations can overcome disease and environmental degradation to become healthier, wealthier, and more environmentally sustainable.

It is estimated that India will soon surpass China as the world`s most populous country. As India grows, it is bringing millions of people out of poverty and into an emerging middle class. How India grows can show the world that harnessing innovative technologies, using sustainable energy sources, and engaging a young generation is a proven path to prosperity.

India is working with the UN to tackle these issues on a global scale. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is championing two new initiatives - Every Woman Every Child and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative - because access to energy and improving women and children`s health are fundamental to achieving all our development goals. India is an example of how a commitment to these two goals leads to results.

A bright future for India begins with increased efforts to promote safe motherhood. According to USAID, today, India accounts for more maternal deaths than any other country in the world; avoidable complications during pregnancy and childbirth kill approximately 67,000 Indian women annually. These unfortunate statistics are a reality in part because many Indian mothers are still in their teens; nearly one-third of all women deliver a child before the age of 20.

The Indian government has committed to promoting maternal health and family planning, pledging to spend $3.5 billion per year on improving health services, especially women`s and children`s health. India`s ministry of health has announced it is strengthening efforts in the 264 districts that account for nearly 70% of all infant and maternal deaths. The government is implementing a Mother and Child Tracking System, which tracks every pregnant woman by name for the provision of timely antenatal care, institutional delivery and postnatal care, and immunizations for newborns.

Innovations in health are being matched with a bold effort to find new sources of energy to meet India`s growing demand. According to the UN, more than 280 million people in India lack access to electricity, and millions more suffer from unreliable and intermittent service. When Indians don`t have access to energy, they cannot improve their health and economic opportunity.

(GRAPH: Solar roof water heater/Watersystemz.com)In Bangalore, rooftops are dotted with solar-powered water heaters - now mandatory on all new structures. Underserved communities are experimenting with clean energy solutions. The UN Foundation, for example, through its Practitioner Network for Energy Access, is working with a range of businesses and civil society organizations in India to catalyze the delivery of micro-grid and stand-alone energy solutions to communities that lack access to electricity.

In India`s rural communities, clean burning cookstoves can provide a safer way for millions of people who live off the electricity grid to cook meals without emitting harmful smoke into their homes. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has extended an invitation to the Indian government, as a leader on this issue, to be a leading national implementing partner in scaling up the market for clean cookstoves and fuels.

India`s leadership on sustainable energy is crucial because developing countries around the world want to replicate India`s success. India is now developing ways to bypass the plight of many developed countries, which rely excessively on a fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure. It also helps India fulfill its obligations to future generations for clean, sustainable energy sources.

India will have the opportunity to showcase its progress to the world in June when delegates from around the world gather in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  As governments and civil society groups gather to talk about the future we all want, there are lessons to be learned from India`s approach to development and innovation.

To be sure, India`s embrace of sustainable development will take decades to realize. The size and scale of its challenges are enormous. But India doesn`t accept these challenges as intractable, and neither should the world. There is impressive evidence that India can achieve both economic development and sustainability at the same time. That`s good news for India and good news for the world.

-- Murthy is an industrialist and Turner is a media entrepreneur and philanthropist. This opinion piece first ran in the Times of India.

 

Sunday
Mar252012

No Nukes? Or More Nukes? As the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit Begins (REPORT)  

(PHOTO: Activists attend a rally opposing nuclear power in Seoul March 19, 2012/ChinaDaily)(HN, 3/25/2012) - World leaders including US President Barack Obama Monday will launch the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit a meeting on the threat from nuclear-armed terrorists, but the atomic ambitions of North Korea and Iran are set to feature heavily.

Leaders or senior officials from 53 nations will attend the Nuclear Security Summit, with Interpol, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Union and the UN also taking part.

Participating countries, which also gathered at the 1st Washington Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 include:  South Korea, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, UK, Ukraine, USA and Vietnam.

Though not at the summit, next -door, North Korea’s upcoming rocket launch has overshadowed the run-up to the two-day meeting in Seoul, which seeks agreement on locking down fissile material that could be used to build thousands of terrorist bombs.

The nuclear-armed North says its rocket will merely put a peaceful satellite into orbit. The United States and others believe next month’s launch will test a long-range missile which could one day deliver an atomic warhead.

Gary Samore, coordinator for arms control at the US National Security Council, warned that North Korea would face a “strong response” from Washington and its allies if it goes ahead with the launch. “We will be working with other countries, when President Obama is in Seoul, to try to discourage North Korea from going ahead with the proposed satellite launch,” he told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Friday.

Obama will hold talks on the launch plan and other issues with leaders of China, Russia and host South Korea during his visit.

The IAEA, while worried about nuclear proliferation by North Korea, also suspects that Iran is bent on making nuclear weapons. Iran says its uranium enrichment activities are peaceful.  Neither Iran nor North Korea are on the formal agenda in Seoul. (Source: Wikipedia)

   NPT Nuclear Weapon States (China, France, Russia, UK, US)
   Non-NPT Nuclear Weapon States (India, North Korea, Pakistan)
   Undeclared Nuclear Weapon States (Israel)
   States suspected of having nuclear weapon programs (Iran, Syria)
   NATO weapons sharing weapons recipients
   States formerly possessing nuclear weapons

 

But leaders of five nations involved in stalled nuclear negotiations with the North — the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan — will all be present, offering an opportunity for consultations.

 Pyongyang sees the summit as a chance for Washington and Seoul to gang up on it. Any South Korean move to address the North’s nuclear program at the summit would be seen as a "declaration of war", it said.  

Seoul says the formal event is not about nations but “non-state actors” such as al-Qaeda, Nigeria's Boko-Haram terrorist group, and others groups which it fears could lay their hands on loose nukes as proliferation continues.

(via PressTV)

Obama in a 2009 speech described nuclear terrorism as “the most immediate and extreme threat to global security”, and announced a drive to secure all vulnerable nuclear material worldwide within four years, a process which led to the first nuclear security summit in Washington in April 2010.

Since then, according to a joint report by the Washington-based Arms Control Association (ACA) and the Partnership for Global Security (PGS), which campaign against nuclear proliferation, acknowledged major progress since then.

Former Soviet republic Kazakhstan secured over 13 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, while Chile eliminated its entire HEU stockpile, the report said.

The United States and Russia signed a protocol under which each will dispose of 34 tons of plutonium — enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Russia ended plutonium production. Ukraine eliminated two-thirds of its HEU and was expected to dispose of the rest by the Seoul summit.

But experts say much more must be done to end an apocalyptic threat.

“The commitments on the books will not get the job done,” said Michelle Cann of PGS, the report co-author.  “To prevent nuclear terrorism in the years ahead, the global nuclear security system must grow and adapt to new threats,” she said.

“There is a danger that early successes of the summit process will lead to complacency.”

The ACA says there have been 16 confirmed cases of unauthorized possession of HEU or plutonium documented by the IAEA since 1993, mainly in the former Soviet Union.   Alexandra Toma of the Connect US Fund, which promotes nuclear non-proliferation, said a sophisticated extremist group could plausibly take advantage of such lapses.

“It takes only 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of highly enriched uranium to make a crude nuclear bomb” the size of a grapefruit, she told a Seoul forum Thursday.

The summit agenda has been expanded to cover the securing of radioactive material, freely available from hospitals and other sources, which Stanford University expert Siegfried Hecker told the forum Thursday would be the most likely nuclear threat as a “dirty bomb... a weapon of mass disruption” since radiation sources were everywhere.

The meeting will also discuss the link between nuclear security and nuclear safety after Japan’s March 2011 Fukushima disaster.   Experts say the accident showed terrorists could create the same conditions as a tsunami did, by damaging cooling systems and cutting off power.

 -- HUMNEWS. An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in The Arab Times

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Friday
Mar232012

A New World {Bank} Order? (REPORT)

(Video, The White House)

(HN, March, 23, 2012) - And then there were two.  When US President Obama nominated his World Bank candidate Jim Yong Kim today just hours before the deadline, the choice was a surprise.  

(The World Bank Logo) The deadline for nominations to replace the current president, Robert Zoellick, is 18:00 (6:00P) Washington time (22:00 GMT) tonight.

"I am nominating Dr. Kim to be the next president of the World Bank", said Obama.  "I can think of no one more able to help families, communities, and entire nations break out of poverty, which is the stated goal of the World Bank," he said.

Obama pointed to Dr. Kim's international experience in his statement "He has worked in rural villages and squatter settlements just as he has worked in the halls of power and privilege."

Dr. Kim is a US academic who currently heads Dartmouth College and is by career, a doctor and former director of the HIV/Aids department at the World Health Organization. Dr. Kim also co-founded the health organization `Partners in Health' in 1987 along with Dr. Paul Farmer; and has been lauded on innovation lists from Time to Fast Company.

Paul Farmer, chair of the Department of Global Health at Harvard University, praised the nomination.  "It is time for a development professional to lead the world's leading development agency," he said.

The pick for one of the world's leading development banks could have also gone to another well-known American who openly campaigned for the job, global economist Jeffrey Sachs.

(PHOTO: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs/The Earth Institute) Earth Institute founder, UN advisor, emerging market government consultant Jeffrey Sachs announced his own bid for the World Bank presidency last Fall saying, "The inside process has produced 11 out of 11 politically-orientated appointments.  Not one of them has been a development professional. It has been seven bankers, three defense or military officials, and one congressman."

But following Dr. Kim's nomination, Sachs announced his withdrawal from the race tweeting,   "Jim Kim is a superb nominee for WB. I support him 100%. I thank all who supported me and know they'll be very pleased with today's news".

Sachs had support from several developing countries of the G20 including Costa Rica, Kenya, Haiti, Jordan, Malaysia, East Timor, Bhutan, Guatemala and Chile who openly backed his bid.

Dr. Kim, 52, had not been among the names rumored to be under consideration by President Obama, which included former White House adviser Larry Summers, Pepsi head Indra Nooyi,  UN ambassador Susan Rice, economist Laura Tyson, Senator John Kerry and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"This is one of the most critical institutions fighting poverty and providing assistance to developing countries in the world today," Dr Kim said in a letter to students at his university.

AFRICA'S CHOICE

The nomination has set up a two person race for the Bank's top spot as three African countries - Angola, Nigeria and South Africa have pledged their support to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Finance minister and a respected economist, diplomat and former World Bank managing director, as their World Bank choice.

(PHOTO: Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala/The Nation) Of the competition Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has said: "I consider the World Bank a very important institution for the world, and particularly for developing countries deserving of the best leadership, so I look forward to a contest of very strong candidates.  And am I confident? Absolutely."

It was also believed that Brazil was set to nominate former Colombian finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, but on Thursday, Colombia's current finance minister, Juan Carlos Echeverry, said the country was instead focused on a bid for the presidency of the International Labor Organization which it felt it could win.  Mr. Ocampo had agreed to stand for the World Bank post, but Brazil, needed Colombia's support to proceed.  It is unclear if they will nominate someone else by tonight's deadline.

HOW DOES THE WORLD BANK CHOOSE ITS LEADERS?

A US citizen has led the Bank since it was founded in 1944, but developing nations say it is time for change.  The World Bank presidency is chosen by the organization's board, which has 25 representatives of the Bank's 187 member countries.  Some, like the US and the UK have their own seats, like the UN Security Council. Others are grouped by constituencies.

The goal is to choose a new president by consensus, but a simple majority will do. Votes in the World Bank - and in the IMF too - are weighted by financial contribution.  The US accounts for 16% of the vote; EU countries have 29% and Japan as the next largest voting partner.

The World Bank has 13,000 staff in more than 100 countries, and loan funding is expected to reach $26 billion this year.

G8 ECONOMIC DOMINANCE

In recent years the emerging markets of the world have loudly voiced their opinion that the 'monopoly' of G8 dominance over the world's economic system must be changed to incorporate the fastest growing, largest populations of the world such as Asia, Africa and Latin America into the decision making process.

The United States will now face its first unprecedented challenge to its hold on the World Bank presidency with at least one candidate in opposition; setting up the first contested bid for the top job at the global development lender.

The rise of emerging economies such as China, India, Russia and Brazil has put pressure on the United States and Europe to throw open the selection process for both the Bank and the IMF tho these giants have quietly accepted the situation. Mexico, to its credit as this year’s chair of the G20 did not hesitate to make a bid for the IMF leadership last year.

(PHOTO: Christine Lagarde/Wikipedia) The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were created at the conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944 as a way to standardize trade between nations after the devastation of the Great Depression and World War II.  An unspoken agreement has  traditionally seen a US national head the World Bank and a European run the IMF - currently France's Christine Lagarde.

And it seems the `Geographic Gap' (tm) countries (*HUM research) have support in their arguments for more inclusion.  Recently three former chief economists of the World Bank - Francois Bourguignon, Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz wrote an editorial saying about the World Bank selection process, "To say it is merit-based, and to choose an American repeatedly, shows scant respect to the citizens of other countries". 

Other critics - from academics to non-governmental organizations - have long argued that the World Bank is ineffectual and even damaging to developing countries because of its emphasis on free market economics. 

The current president, Robert Zoellick, is to step down from his role at the institution when his five-year term comes to an end on 30 June.

(PHOTO: Paul Wolfowitz/Wikipedia) Mr. Zoellick, 58, was nominated for the role in 2007 by then US President George W. Bush, following an employee relationship scandal between then World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz who resigned when it was discovered he had negotiated preferential compensation treatment  for his girlfriend Shaha Riza with the US State Department, shortly after he became bank president in 2005.

The deadline for nominations is 6 p.m. Washington time (2200 GMT). Then the World Bank board of member countries will shortlist the names of two or three candidates and finalize its choice by the time of IMF and World Bank semi-annual meetings on April 21.

--- HUMNEWS, (c) 2012

RELATED:  Kenya, End U.S. Monopoly Over World Bank (Perspective)

RELATED:  Claude Smadja, An emerging-market coalition (Perspective)

Thursday
Mar222012

Brazil Prepares for the UN Rio+20 Conference in June (REPORT) 

By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter, The Rio Times

(RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL) - Twenty years after the inaugural 1992 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – the Earth Summit - was held in Rio, the city will once again play host to the event. Now Rio is gearing up for the “Rio+20” (June 20th to 22nd), and on March 9th Conference Secretary-General, Sha Zukang was in Brazil to discuss the logistics with Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira.

The organizers are expecting representatives from 193 member states to attend, from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders.

The Brazilian Rio+20 Commission, which was set up in 2011, is responsible for coordinating the hosting of the event. The conference itself is an intergovernmental process, directed by United Nations Member States and overseen by the UN.

The debates will focus on two principle themes: the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development, which will look at ways to strengthen the effectiveness of global sustainability resolutions.

(PHOTO: In Sept 2011, International Youth met in Mollina, Spain to decide what future they want/Human Impact Institute) According to the organizers, its objective is to renew political commitment to sustainable development, by assessing the progress made on the goals set at previous major summits – including the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit – and identifying gaps in implementation.

On March 9th, Teixeira said the elections in other countries should not hinder the presence of heads of state at Rio+20, stating that 79 delegations have confirmed their presence so far. She also reinforced that the goal of the conference is to come up with concrete decisions, and not just to debate. “[Rio+20] is a conference for stamping documents and saying that we approve.”

The organizers say, “[It] should help define the sustainable development agenda for the coming decades.”

The event will be built up in three stages, the first of which runs from June 13th to 15th,in advance of the official conference dates. This will be a Meeting of the Preparatory Committee to unite government representatives from around the world and negotiate the documents to be adopted at the Conference.

During the second stage, from June 16th to 19th, a series of events has been scheduled for the participation of civil society. So called “major groups” who are registered with the UN, are invited to take part, including: non-governmental organizations, business groups, indigenous communities, local authorities, community groups, and the scientific and technological community, as well as individuals.

The third and final stage is the High Level Segment of the Conference, scheduled for June 20th to 22nd, in which Heads of State and Government of various United Nations member countries will meet to agree on the conference outcomes.

Riocentro conference center, in Barra da Tijuca, will host the intergovernmental agenda and other event locations have yet to be decided. The Sub-Secretary General for Energy and Technology at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said at a public hearing at the beginning of the month that, “The conference itself is extraordinarily complex [to coordinate].”

However, he considers the event an important demonstration of Brazil’s commitment to being a key player in solving world issues, saying – “It is a renewal of our commitment to multilateralism as a legitimate way of solving global problems.”

- This article first appeared in The Rio Times

Saturday
Mar102012

One Year Anniversary of Japan Tsunami Commemorated With 'Healing Anthem' (REPORT)

(PHOTO: DemocraticUnderground.COM) 

(HN, March 10, 2012)  From Tokyo - On the one-year anniversary of the tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan, noted Japanese soprano Tomoko Shibata will perform a Japanese translation of the American healing anthem “Towers of Light” at her memorial concert at the prestigious Yamaha Hall in Tokyo. The event on Sunday evening will commemorate the victims of last year’s Japanese tsunami and earthquake. 

Towers of Light” was composed by noted New York clinical psychologist and well-known radio and TV personality, Dr. Judy Kuriansky and international composer Russell Daisey.  Inspired by the two beams of light which shine on each 9/11 anniversary at the Ground Zero site where the Twin Towers fell, the song promotes healing and commemorates the heroes of that day. 

Through the unique friendship and shared vision of healing between the American and Japanese writers and performer, “Towers of Light” will now be featured by Tomoko Shibata in her ‘Songs of Hope’ concert.

The New York composing team of Kuriansky and Daisey are in Tokyo for the premiere of their song in Japanese at the concert and will make introductory remarks at the event.

Shibata produces and performs ‘Songs for Hope’ concerts at the earthquake zone in Japan and also around the world.

Says Shibata, “I passionately believe that music gives hope and lifts spirits of people in trauma.” 

(PHOTO: Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Russell Daisey performing in Tokyo/DRJUDYK)Fear of another quake is ever-present in Japan, she explains, and people around the world also experience trauma and need comfort. 

“My heart expands and people feel like crying when I sing the ‘Towers of Light’ song,” Shibata says. “So I wanted to make a Japanese version so the Japanese people can appreciate the warm feeling and healing.” 

Shibata first sang the “Towers of Light” anthem with Dr. Judy and Russell in September 2010 for the highly acclaimed series of Hiroshima Hibaku (Survivor) Piano concerts in New York City. Subsequently, she sang it for the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 at the 'Annual 9/11 Japanese Floating Lantern Ceremony’ on the East River, NYC.

Over the past few years, Dr. Judy, Russell and Tomoko have performed the song together and through their friendship and creative collaborations the song has been translated into Japanese by Tomoko as “Souls Become Stars.”  Given their shared vision, this endeavor for peace has expanded and transcended the song’s initial inspiration, to encompass a connection between the two monumental tragedies of 9/11 and 3/11, as well as fostering healing for survivors of both catastrophes. 

Kuriansky and Daisey are co-founders of the Stand Up for Peace Project (SUFPP), an initiative that promotes peace, understanding and healing worldwide. They have performed the healing ballad “Towers of Light” internationally at peace festivals, United Nations conferences, Global Harmony concerts, peace seminars, and music and peace tours throughout Japan, Mexico and Haiti, as well as at the First Hiroshima International Peace Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, for Nobel Peace Laureates, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Betty Williams.

“Powerful, very powerful,” said the Dalai Lama when he first heard the song.

“As an international psychologist and an NGO representative at the United Nations, it is powerful to me that our song to help heal from 9/11 is now in Japanese and helping people heal from 3/11.  The intensity of that cross-cultural connection brings me to tears," says Kuriansky.

The humanitarian, who represents psychological organizations at the United Nations, has provided psychological first aide after the 9/11 terrorist attacks at Ground Zero and at the Family Assistance Center, as well as after other disasters including the Asian tsunami and earthquakes in Haiti and China.  She teaches psychology at Columbia University Teachers College and runs peace workshops world-wide. 

SUFPP co-founder Daisey is an internationally acclaimed pianist/singer/songwriter who has played command performances for American presidents and world dignitaries, including Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and the Chiniya Lama of Kathmandu, Nepal.

On Monday, the day after the concert and 3/11 anniversary, Kuriansky, Daisey and Shibata will travel to the Miyagi area, to do a workshop and music concert for several schools.  They will be joined by famous Japanese pop star Shinji Harada. All have been working on recovery and global harmony projects separately and together for years in varying parts of the world.

--- Dr. Judy Kuriansky is a member of HUM's Board of Advisors

Friday
Mar022012

UN-Leashing the Power of Women (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Kate Holt, IRIN) (HN, March 2, 2012) -- This week, the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women opened on Monday at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It's special focus? The development of `Rural Women'. 

For the next two weeks, leaders - men and women alike - are meeting  to focus on women's visibility, contributions, and empowerment, in poverty and hunger eradication, development, climate change adaptation, conflict resolution, gender inequality, technology and energy access, and ending female genital mutilation and sex slavery.

The session, led by Chile's former President and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, is also preparing the agenda for the UN Rio+20 Conference that Brazil will host in June. The Commission was established by ECOSOC resolution 11, June 21, 1946; just a year after the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945. Of the 160 signatories, only 4 were women - Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), Virginia Gildersleeve (United States), Bertha Lutz (Brazil) and Wu Yi-Fang (China).

(PHOTO: Minerva Bernardino/Archive) The Commission's mandate was expanded in 1987 to include the functions of promoting the objectives of equality, development and peace at the national, sub regional, regional and global levels. Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its program a follow-up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.

45 member states of the UN serve as members of the Commission at any one time. The Commission consists of one representative from each country elected by the Council on the basis of equitable geographical distribution: 13 members from Africa; 11 from Asia; 9 from Latin America and Caribbean; 8 from Western Europe and other States and 4 from Eastern Europe. Members are elected for a period of 4 years(SEE BELOW FOR FULL LIST)

In her opening speech to delegates, UN Deputy Secretary General Aisha-Rose Migiro welcomed attendees from around the world which included government officials, rural women, representatives of the UN and civil society; the media and the private sector to review progress, share experiences, good practices, analyze gaps and agree on actions to empower rural women.

(PHOTO: Opening session of the 56th UN Women's Conference/UN News Centre) Migiro, called for `systematic and comprehensive strategies' to empower women and girls in rural areas as `key agents of change' by maximizing their `potential to combat extreme poverty and hunger for themselves'.   "If rural women had equal access to productive resources", she said, "Agricultural yields would rise and hunger would decline".

Further, "They are leaders, producers, entrepreneurs and service providers, and their contributions are vital to the well-being of families, communities and economies, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals".

World population demographics put the number of women and men in the world as roughly equal (with men just slightly ahead by a few hundred million). The idea is that women are becoming the most effective catalysts of sustainable development, and they must be supported.  

Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), said empowering women, "Requires a transformation in the way governments devise budgets and make and enforce laws, policies and land rights; including trade and agricultural policies, and how businesses invest and operate.  Private sector partnerships are crucial”, she said.

"Let us be clear. This is not just hurting the women.  It is hurting all of us”, said Bachelet.  "It's a matter of human rights, equality and justice on behalf of women.  

According to a UN Women's report released last week, rural women and girls comprise 1 in 4 people worldwide and they constitute a large share of the agricultural workforce.

(PHOTO: UN Multimedia) The gathering squarely noted that not only do women face gender inequality - despite progress; they also face blowback from Mother Nature too. How to bring women online while also creating sustainable solutions is a major focus of the conference.   

Some 86% of the global rural population of both genders derives a livelihood from agriculture,  with an estimated 1.3 billion people engaged in small scale farming or working as `landless laborers'.  Increasingly, almost 70% of agriculture laborers are women, producing the majority of global food grown; while playing key roles in rural economic activities, such as planting crops, saving seeds and selling their produce. Not to mention, performing virtually 100% of household labor.

In South Sudan, women farmers are working with a host of civil society groups like the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Norwegian People's Aid, Catholic Relief Services and Concern Worldwide, organizing themselves to engage in climate-resilient crop production and sustainable pursuits like goat rearing and bee keeping.  The women grow food drought-tolerant crops such as cereals, legumes, sorghum, bulrush or pearl millet and vegetables in order to improve their children’s overall nutrition and bring in a small, market-based income.

In Mexico, rural women have organized themselves to struggle against financial and environmental crises. In many cases, local NGOs have assisted in this process by building formal structures and developing capacities.  39% of Mexican households are rural.

(GRAPH: Poverty in the world, darker is worse/PRB.ORG)But still, generally worldwide, women continue to face lower mobility, less access to training, market information, and financial resources.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, rural women can tap just 5% of the services and facilities  including bank credits, public services, welfare, employment and the market; a mere 3% of the $7.5bn in official allocations for rural advancement and agriculture between 2008-2009 were assigned to gender equity.  Additionally, rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population and while women have equal property ownership rights in 115 countries and have equal inheritance rights in 93, gender disparities in land holdings persist worldwide."

The conference platform posits that if rural women had equal access to productive tools such as seeds, tools, and fertilizer; and laws were loosened -  agricultural yields would rise by up to 4% and there would be 100 million to 150 million fewer hungry people worldwide.  

Mobile is Key

Mobile phones are changing lives and strengthening economic enterprises, providing information about credit, markets, weather updates, transportation or health services - changing the way rural women and men obtain services and conduct business. 

In a recent global survey, 93% of women reported feeling safer because of their mobile phone, 85% reported feeling more independent, and 41% reported having increased income and professional opportunities.

(PHOTO: UNH WC Superhero/UNH) Sisters Doing it For Themselves

Women on the ground in the global South aren't waiting. They are already busy deploying a combination of indigenous techniques and adaptive agricultural methods to stave off the impacts of climate change, and in June on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, UN Women will join the Government of Brazil in convening a high-level meeting on women and sustainable development.

It All Starts With Education

"Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people," the UN said and, "Just 39% of rural girls attend secondary school". Far fewer than rural boys (45%), urban girls (59%) and urban boys (60%).  A lack of a high school education can mean poverty and even earlier death, and even a lack of local schools is a reason fewer girls attend high school. 

"Data from 68 countries indicates that a woman’s education is a key factor in determining a child’s survival," according to UN statistics. "Every additional year of primary school increases girls’ eventual wages by 10–20 percent. It also encourages them to marry later and have fewer children, and leaves them less vulnerable to violence."

(GRAPH: Girls, Women global education levels/PRB.ORG) If Women Ruled The World There Would Be No War

In a study of 24 major peace processes since 1992, UN Women  found that women composed only 2.5% of peace signatories, 3.2% of mediators, 5.5% of witnesses and 7.6% of negotiators.  

War is always most devastating to women and children who are often the victims of rape, abuse, and sexual slavery during and after conflict.   But when women's interests are not represented at the negotiation tables, in the post-resolution restructuring process, or in the governance bodies established after the war, the interests of children and families are almost always omitted from discussions.  The UN recognized this 12 years ago when it voted to "ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels; urging governments to `adopt a `gender perspective'".

For instance, in Egypt, rural women are receiving identity cards so they can obtain social services, and are able to vote and can have a say in shaping the future of their country.  In India, more than a million women are now members of local village councils.  This has changed their lives for the better, and also the lives around them.

(PHOTO: Martine Perret)From Costa Rica to Rwanda, where quotas have been used, more women are in positions of decision-making. They are using their voices to secure land rights, to understand political processes, to engage with governance and policy issues, to tackle domestic violence, to improve healthcare and employment, and to demand accountability.  

But in other parts of the world, a recent study which covered 17 countries in Asia and the Pacific showed that the proportion of elected representatives in rural councils who are women ranged only from 0.6 percent to 37%.

In her speech UN Women's Bachelet pointed the finger at her own organization, the UN too, saying, "Here in the United Nations, we must lead by example. From 2007 through 2010, the UN experienced an unprecedented increase in women at the most senior levels - from 17% to 29% at the Under-Secretary-General level, and from 20% to 25% at the Secretariat at the Assistant Secretary General level".

Last December the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Member States to take concrete steps to increase the political participation and leadership of women, including the follow through on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Labor Organization conventions,  the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the report on the Social Protection Floor, that UN Women launched last year.

(PHOTO: FAO) Still, despite all the progress of the global women's empowerment movement, many conference speakers have lamented the need to `reality-check' the situation by reminding delegates that currently in the world: "925 million people were chronically hungry, of whom 60 percent were women.  Moreover, 884 million people in the world lack access to potable drinking water; 2.6 billion people do not have access to sufficient sanitation facilities; and 1 billion people do not have adequate access to roads and transportation systems."

What future will we leave our children?

The African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) is a bold political initiative that aims to put women at the centre of development on the continent. Launched in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2010, with roots traceable to the UN First World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975. However, the disheartening reality is that very few women in Africa actually know about the Women’s Decade and the policies set out to be implemented during this decade.   

What's clear from this 56th Conference on Women is that women worldwide want change, they want to have their voice be heard, and they are impatient for equality and solutions to their own problems.  Out of sheer survival, many women are taking circumstance into their own hands and making progress despite the world.

Because these life situations, cannot stand:  In Afghanistan - 87% of women are illiterate; in  Pakistan 90% of women face domestic violence and more than 1,000 women and girls are victims of honor killings every year according to the Human Rights Commission.  In the DRC  420,000 women are raped every year; while in India, 100 million people, mostly woman and girls are victims of traffickers.

Before they go though from UN Headquarters next week, the commission will agree on urgent actions needed to make a real difference in the lives of millions of rural women by making recommendations for other policy forums, such as the Rio+20 and, they will celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th.  A celebration indeed.  

Full List of Current UN Women's Commission Members:

Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Comoros, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, US, Uruguay, Zimbabwe.

---- HUMNEWS (c) 2012

Tuesday
Feb282012

Four Years to Doomsday: Checking In on The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (REPORT)

(VIDEO: IlluminatiOrderNWO/YOUTUBE)

By Ross Andersen

For its fourth birthday, Svalbard will receive seeds from war-torn Syria and celebrate years of success preserving our inheritance from Neolithic times.

The world's agricultural hard drive, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, turns four years old today.

(PHOTO: The Svalbard Seed Vault/Richard Wagner) The vault was a media sensation when it first opened in 2008, but it hasn't been in the news much since. I figured it was time to check in and see how these first four years have gone. An awesome technology by any measure, the vault is a steely compound tunneled five hundred feet into an icy mountain in the Norwegian Arctic, just 600 miles from the North Pole.

It is designed to last a thousand years, and to withstand a wide range of global disasters, including climate change, nuclear war, and even an asteroid strike. Over the past four years the vault has amassed some 740,000 seed samples and eventually it may house every crop seed ever used by a human being. 

The vault stores duplicates of the holdings of local seed banks all over the world, insuring against seed loss in the event of a local or global catastrophe. It functions like a safety deposit box; samples can be accessed by their depositing seed banks, but if researchers or plant breeders wish to access the seeds, they must request samples directly from those banks. 

(PHOTO: interestinEngineering.com) Security at the facility is state of the art and fully automated---there is no full-time staff and no single person has all the codes necessary for entrance. Nor is there much traffic inside, for new seeds are only accepted a few days a year. Today's fourth anniversary will bring several new seed shipments to the vault, including an ancient grain called amaranth, a favorite of the Aztecs and Incas, and a malting barley from the Pacific Northwest called "Klages," which is used in many craft beers.

Cary Fowler is the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which maintains the vault in partnership with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center.

I talked to Cary about the vault's anniversary, its importance, and the future of agriculture.

When I think about the seed vault, the first thing that stands out to me is that it's really a technology of deep time, a way of coping with the kinds of events that happen on very broad time scales.

Q:  Do you see any other technologies or institutions outside the world of agriculture as playing a similar role as yours?

Fowler:  I haven't given it a lot of thought, so I guess I would say no. We tried to design this facility to last as far as we could see into the future. We didn't actually plan this to be what some in the media have called it, which is a doomsday vault. We're not people who run around with signs saying "repent the end is near." In fact we realized that unfortunately the vault was probably going to be used sooner rather than later. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, there was a fire in the national gene bank in the Philippines and two years before that they experienced a flood, so you don't have to have some kind of global catastrophe for this thing to be useful. We're losing biodiversity right now, and it isn't necessarily because of some global catastrophe.

But of course I have to acknowledge that even though we weren't planning for doomsday, the facility is such that it would provide a lot of protection for many large catastrophes depending on where they occurred, but that wasn't the original impetus for the project.

(PHOTO: Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust/MEMPHISFLYER) Q:  You first opened for seeds in 2008, which means you've been at this for four years now. What's the most surprising thing you've learned in that time?

Fowler:  Things have moved a lot faster than I expected. I think most people thought that the day we opened we would have every seed that we wanted or needed, or that it would come shortly thereafter, but those of us in the field know that that's not the way it happens. The seed banks themselves are typically not sitting on such large quantities of seeds that they can just immediately divide them and send them up to the vault in Norway. Even though it's for safety purposes, they still have to multiply the seeds and clean them and package them up and send them, and that takes time, and so it's been a nice surprise to see how quickly things are moving.

The other surprise is that we've had no bad surprises. When you plan something this  complicated you figure something is going to go wrong. During these past four years we've had seeds come from all over the world and it's been a gigantic coordination process to try to get seed boxes from all of these locations, a lot of which are in developing countries---Africa, Asia and Latin America---and to try to get them up to Oslo and then up to Svalbard on roughly the same day, so you don't have them sitting out on some tarmac in the hot sun. It's also surprising that we haven't lost a single box of seeds in transit. It's a miracle.

Q:  Where does the seed vault rank on the list of agricultural innovations, from the first crude stone sickles to the more sophisticated technologies of industrial farming?

(PHOTO: Inside the Svalbard Seed Vault stacks/WIRED) Fowler:  It's hard to say. What we hope to do is to provide robust and secure conservation for what's left of agricultural diversity. This is the inheritance of the Neolithic times and our time and everything in between, and so I guess I see it as a library, a library of life, that gives the history and culture of agriculture and protects it, but it's also a resource for the future. And so I'm not sure where it ranks, but I do think it's extremely important given the challenges that agriculture is facing right now, but it's not in and of itself a solution to those problems and it's not the only thing we should be doing.

Q:  As you see it what are the biggest challenges agriculture is facing right now?

Fowler:  Climate change is obviously the big one, but there are others; water availability is a big problem, so is nutrient availability, particularly phosphorous. And all of this is in the context of growing demand, both from increased population and from development pressures. As people get wealthier they tend to gravitate towards more meat-based diets, and it requires a lot more agricultural crop production to produce that meat. So we have all of those things happening and at the same time we don't have huge increases in agricultural investments, and so in a way we're really behind the game in terms of producing new crop varieties that are going to be adapted to these conditions. We need our crops to produce more on less land, with less water and less nutrients, and in a changing climate. Any one of those problems could be extremely daunting, but we're facing all of them at the same time. 

Q:  Are there scenarios you can envision that would render the earth's environments entirely inhospitable to seeds?

(PHOTO: Journalists waiting outside the Svalbard Seed Vault/The Atlantic) Fowler:  No. If the projections are correct it's certainly going to get more inhospitable, but not entirely inhospitable. The issues that I mentioned before---nutrient and water availability and climate change---are going to cause some fairly radical readjustments in agriculture if you look down the road any distance. And that's one of the things that differentiates us, the people involved in the seed vault from others, we do tend to have a long view of what's going to happen and we're trying to plan for that.

We expect that agriculture would even survive something like an asteroid strike; after all, plants survived the last one. What we're really trying to do up in Svalbard is preserve options. We're not saying that we have a crystal ball and that we know what's going to happen and we know what's needed, but we do know that the diversity we have represents an immense number of untapped options, and what we're trying to do is keep all of those options. I think it was Paul Ehrlich who said "the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts," and that's what we're trying to do.

Q:  Earlier you mentioned that these seeds represent an inheritance from Neolithic Age, and it got me thinking about a different sort of inheritance. At the seed vault do you also store the intellectual and cultural capital of agriculture?

Fowler:  In a sense we do. We don't have archives at the seed vault, but we do have a record of what is there, and even though in a sense the seed vault is a kind of safety backup for existing seed banks and their collections, you could also look at it the opposite way, which is to say that the seed banks that contribute to the seed vault are actually performing backup for the seed vault. There is redundancy in our system. Everything that's in Svalbard can be found somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the main manager of that particular portion of diversity, and those institutions maintain extensive databases that describe everything they know about the traits and characteristics of every single sample. We link back to those and in that sense we have a very good record.

(PHOTO: Tunnel leading into the Seed Vault/Seed Trust) Also, at the Global Crop Diversity Trust, we're working with some other partners to put together a large international database called Genesys which will essentially unite all of these seed banks around the world so that researchers or plant experts who, for instance, may want to take a look at the whole diversity of rice or wheat can go onto one website and see what's available and where it is and how to get samples of it and things like that. A lot of that information, characteristics and the history and so forth, is missing in some of the seed samples, but for the samples that do have it, it's quite valuable and we try to maintain it.

Q:  Why is it that Norway was chosen for this project? Is it just the geography or is there something particular about Scandinavian culture reflected in the seed vault?

Fowler:  I think it's both. There are a lot of reasons for that particular location. One of them was historical; the Nordic countries, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, were storing backup copies of some of their seeds in an abandoned mine shaft up there, so there was a precedent.

But apart from that, Norway is special. Historically there have been a number of controversies around these genetic resources, questions of ownership and access and so forth, and I think Norway was at the top of the list in terms of the countries that everyone in the room trusted. They didn't have a commercial seed industry so there was no sense of a conflict of interest or of a private interest being involved. Norway is just an unusually generous and collaborative country. When I headed the committee that undertook the feasibility study for the seed vault, and when we presented it to the government, their attitude was "if this is a valuable natural resource and Norway is the place to safeguard it, how can we say no?" And they jumped right in and built the facility at their cost.

(PHOTO: An artists rendering of the vault/interestinengineering.com) Q:  Some of your methods make it clear that terrorism is a special concern for the Seed Vault. I know that new seed shipments are screened with an airport x-ray scanner to make sure that none contain bombs. Is that because you see terrorism as just one of the many contingencies that could occur over the next thousand years, or do think the Vault might be a likely target for terrorism?

Fowler:  I don't think it's a likely target, but of course one can never know. No political or religious group is against what we're doing so I don't think it's a target in that sense. When the vault was being built we performed a security assessment in order to assess the likelihood of it being a target, or the likelihood of it being under any kind of threat, and the Norwegian government deemed the threat to be extremely low. But, at the same time we thought that if we're going to go to all the trouble to build this place in the middle of a mountain in the Arctic then we might as well go the whole distance, and we think that increases the trust and confidence in what we're doing, the fact that we have thought through all of these contingencies even though we don't think many of these things are ever going to happen.

I remember when we were constructing the facility and I was talking to the local Governor in Svalbard who's responsible for security on the island, and he said to me "Cary, if anyone so much as writes graffiti on this thing we'll know who it is." After all it's just a small village there, and really what's neat is that the villagers are remarkably proud and protective of the vault. They know it's there, and they're proud of it and that gives us an extra security blanket out there because the locals see everything that's going on---walking around up there I've had any number of people stop me and say "we're protecting that vault of yours."

Q:  I know that you have some interesting seed shipments coming in association with the anniversary. Are you particularly excited about any of them?

(MAP: Svalbard and Jan Mayen/MAPQUEST) Fowler:  Two of them, actually. There is a very important, very historic dwarfing wheat variety coming from the United States. The short stature of modern varieties of wheat is very important, because it allows the wheat to carry more grain on the top without falling over. That's a huge event in agricultural history that we'll be able to preserve.

The other one we haven't publicized too much, because we didn't want to draw too much attention to what is a very sensitive situation---we're getting a large shipment in from ICARDA, an international agricultural research center in Syria. It's not a Syrian government organization, it's an international center and it's completely independent from the government. Obviously, there are a lot of troubles in that country right now and that center, ICARDA, has been safety duplicating its material all along, as a good professional team will do, but the fact that this shipment is coming up right now in some ways points to the utility and value of the seed vault. One would not expect a seed bank, even in Syria, to be a target, but unfortunately  there is a recent precedent: seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan were destroyed or severely damaged over the course of the wars there, not because they were blown up or anything but because in the context of chaos and the breakdown of law and order, people have come in and looted them. So we're pretty happy to have that collection at the vault.

Q:  There seems to be a real cultural fascination with the vault. Have you had many interesting visitors in the four years it's been up and running?

Fowler:  Oh yeah. The surprising thing about the visitors is how many artists we've had come up and try to take a look at it. I get the sense that the seed vault must be the subject of many different art projects. Now it's not a tourist attraction; we don't just open it up for people all the time. In fact there's no permanent staff there; we only go up to put the seeds in a couple of times a year. We do have a lot of monitoring there with people in the local community going up to check on it daily, but we monitor the facility remotely and they aren't authorized to take anyone in.

(PHOTO: Svalbard Seed Vaault view/SSV) But, given enough advance notice and enough time to see who a person is and if there's a real interest in them seeing it, we do have visitors there. We've had a number of political leaders, including Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. I think the most interesting tour, and it's one I gave myself, was to former President Jimmy Carter and a group that he brought along, which included Madeleine Albright and a few others. I have a lot of admiration for him after having done that tour. Carter is famous for being a peanut farmer in Georgia, but not a lot of people know that his farm was devoted not just to producing peanuts but for producing peanuts for seed, so he knew the seed business very well. As I was giving the tour people in his group were asking all of these questions, and he was answering half of them.

But as far as visitors go generally, when people go to the vault they seem to get very emotional; people feel something in there, and maybe it's because they're standing in the room with the greatest amount of biodiversity in the world, and the rich human history associated with that, people can feel that something important is happening. It has a big impact on people when they see it. 

----This piece originally appeared on The Atlantic 2.28.12