Friday, September 28, 2007

The Brave Journey Home

When violence erupted in Togo in April 2005 following the installation of the son of the late Gnassingbe Eyadema as Togo's president, tens of thousands of Togolese fled the country. Nearly 9,000 of those people sought refuge in neighboring Ghana. But with the easing of social and political tensions in their home country, many now want to return.

The UNHCR is aiding in this process, giving priority to some 176 refugees who wish to take part in the October 14 parliamentary elections. The refugees will travel to Danyi prefecture in Togo's plateau, then on to their respective homes. They will be returning with some needed return packages from the UNHCR and their partners. The packages will include a $120 cash grant per adult and $60 per child, clothing, mosquito nets, mats, buckets, soap, hygiene kits and food rations for two months.

Commenting on the repatriation of these Togolese, UNHCR's Ghana chief Aida Haile Mariam stated, "today marks a new beginning...While Togo is still in the process of political reform, these 176 Togolese refugees have decided to avail themselves of the opportunity to return to their home country..."

And that, is a brave journey home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Climate Change is in the Air

Yesterday wrapped up the largest-ever meeting of heads of state or government to discuss the issue of climate change. Top officials from 150 nations attended the one day event at UN headquarters in New York, where Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, explained,

"The current level of effort will not suffice."

Mr. Ban urged the creation of a coalition to encourage global response to climate change and to support the major summit that will be held in Bali, Indonesia in December. All of this corresponds with the launch of the 2007 Human Development Report which focuses on climate change.

In regards to climate change and developing countries, Mr. Ban noted that better global collaboration is needed to help developing countries to increase low carbon and renewable energy: strategies that could lead to better economic growth.

The Kyoto Protocol which is the current framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions expires in 2012, and Mr. Ban stressed the need for a post-Kyoto agreement at that time. However, at an event called, “Global Voices on Climate Change” that same day, former Vice-President and environmental activist, Al Gore, had a stronger message. He explained that a new agreement must be in place by 2009--not 2012, as stated by Mr. Ban. He stressed the importance of multi-lateral meetings every three months until a new agreement is in place. “We simply cannot wait longer, we cannot continue business as usual,” a statement that is both provocative and worrisome. It's time to stop the apathy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Much Needed Day of Peace

"Peace is the United Nation's highest calling," Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared on the lawn of the UN headquarters in New York. He marked the 26th annual International Day of Peace by ringing the Peace Bell, a gift from Japan. The day was first established by the UN General Assembly in 1981 as a day of global ceasefire. In hopes of promoting conflict resolution and peace building, UN staffers throughout the world are observing a minute of silence in the name of peace.

However, it's difficult to remain optimistic in a time of increasing global hostilities. The UN has deplored a record number of more than 100,000 peacekeepers to restore stability throughout the world. Today's front page of the BBC News online addition features stories about the murder of an anti-Syrian Lebanese member of Parliament and the extradition of Peru's former president for charges of human rights violations. In times like these, it's enough to make the most idealistic of pacifists lose hope.

Perhaps that is why now, more than ever, we must celebrate this international day of peace, not just today, but everyday. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that while the country has seen an increase in violence, thousands of people participated in the biggest peace effort the country has ever seen. Large scale rallies took place in various cities, from Herat to Jalalabad. If a country so torn by conflict and violence can stop to appreciate the importance of peace, well that's something to be hopeful about.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Put your skills to better use

UNDP in South Sudan gets it right again. The brand new Lologo Regional Prison Training Center was inaugurated this past week in an effort to reform the corrective system and ensure that peace and stability in the region continues to hold.

UNDP is essentially hitting two birds with one stone with this new initiative by creating a new Prison Service training program that simultaneously rehabilitates former Sudanese soldiers.
The center, constructed under UNDP's Foundational Support to the Prison Services of Southern Sudan, will provide a 3-month orientation session in order to train former soldiers of the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) and aid their reintegration into society.

UNDP's logic is the more soldiers take care of prisoners, the less opportunity they will have to join rebel groups and resume fighting. And the best part is, their new job builds upon the skills they developed during their last.

Check out the UN in Sudan for general news and humanitarian updates.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

He’s got 99 problems and the Water Crisis is One.

The statistics concerning the world’s water crisis are staggering: 1.1 billion people have no access to safe water, every day 4,400 children under the age of five die because of unclean water and sanitation, and five times as many children die each year from diarrhea than from HIV/AIDS. It’s no surprise that it is the developing world that feels the brunt of this crisis.

So what is fueling this global problem? Many poor people live outside the scope of the water infrastructure, and lack the legal rights to demand an adequate water supply. General scarcity, corruption, and global warming further perpetuate this problem. However, late last year, the water crisis was tackled by a seemingly unlikely character – hip-hop mogul Sean Carter, better known as Jay-Z. And when Jay talks, the world’s youth listen. With the help of the United Nations and MTV, Jay-Z is launching a worldwide concert tour called "Water for Life" to draw attention to the water crisis and aid support programs to end the global issue. Most of the concerts are located in developing countries, where Jay will not only perform, but give talks about the necessity for an improved water system. While meeting with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss his plans, Jay explained,

"It's a huge responsibility, and humbling at the same time."

Jay-Z has personally provided funds to help build “play pumps,” which resemble Merry-Go-Rounds that pump clean drinking water when they are spun, and has enlisted the help of his celebrity friends to do the same. But perhaps Jay’s greatest accomplishment will simply be educating the MTV generation of the fact that issues affecting the developing world, are really issues that affect everyone. A celebrity with a social conscience, now that’s refreshing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

You Reap what you Sew

Violent crime, drug cultivation, and fighting between rival armed groups continue to plague Colombia. As a result, more than 2.2 million Colombians have been internally displaced, with many others seeking refuge in neighboring Venezuela. Rosa*, who comes from the particularly violent northern region of Colombia, Norte de Santander, was forced to flee with her family to Venezuela when her father was murdered in 2002. Afraid and unhappy, they quickly returned to Colombia and began living in a swettlement in Cucuta, which lacked proper health and sanitation facilities.

As part of a project to empower the displaced refugees of Colombia, the UNHCR helped Rosa restart her life by providing her with a sweing machine and knitting equipment. Rosa exclaims,
I make purses, belts, earrings, blouses and even bathing costumes.
People buy my clothes and my mother helps me by selling them in Cucuta...I
cannot complain.

The UNHCR project is linked to the Mexico Plan of Action, which aims to protect refugees and displaced people in Latin America, and has been adopted by nearly two dozen governments in the region. The UNHCR hopes that this program will encourage self-sufficiency and local integration, while also improving social and economic development of internally displaced Colombians. Rosa is quite hopeful that this program will do just that.

*Name changed for protection