Thursday, November 29, 2007

Will Peace Prevail?

President Bush opened the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland today, stating formal negotiations to create a Palestinian state would begin next month. The diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, made up of the United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and United States, has voiced its full support of the conference.

The Quartet said that it "welcomed the commitment of the Israeli and Palestinians leaders to launch bilateral negotiations toward the establishment of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be attending the conference and voiced his hope that the talks will aid in negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But in a briefing to an informal meeting of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Ban said he remained concerned by the prevailing humanitarian situation inside the Gaza Strip, where the economy has deteriorated since many border crossings into Israel were closed earlier this year in response to intra-Palestinian fighting.

Still, the Quartet welcomed the parties' continuing efforts to fulfill their respective commitments under Phase One of the Roadmap, an outline peace plan, and urged the international community to continue its support. Principals took note of the broad international support for the Annapolis Conference, and looked forward to the December Paris Donors' Conference to muster international financial backing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Indifference Kills

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

WHO doesn't like the flu?!

At the opening in of the Intergovernmental Meeting on Pandemic
Influenza Preparedness in Geneva yesterday, World Health Organization
(WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan explained that,
"vulnerability is universal," with the flu pandemic, and it will reach
every corner of the globe.

Dr. Chan stated that "countries need to brace themselves for a
situation where up to 25 per cent of the workforce may be ill at a
given time. They have to brace themselves for a possible meltdown of
basic municipal services and a slowdown of economic activity. And
this situation will be occurring globally."

Dr. Chan also expressed the need for better access to vaccines, citing
them as the best protection against a serious pandemic. The meeting
will also address the sharing of viruses for medical research, which
Dr. Chan pointed out serves public health in ways that go beyond the
development of pandemic vaccines, including by providing "the first
clues, the first early warning that the virus may be evolving in a
dangerous way."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UN brings relief to the Caribbean

Tropical Storm Noel has become the deadliest Caribbean storm this year, killing over 100 and displacing hundreds of thousands in the region. Then United Nations has been quick to respond to these people in need. The World Food Programme (WFP) is rushing aid to 70,000 people affected by massive floods in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco, and has also deployed a team specializing in logistics and emergency assessment. The agency will be working closely with other UN agencies to support the Government following the flooding, which has affected up to 1 million people.

Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, urgent distribution of WFP high-energy biscuits made its way to more than 130 isolated communities affected by the heavy rains and floods. The helicopters were provided by the United States Coast Guard and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

In Haiti, where Tropical Storm Noel also caused extensive damage, WFP is providing food to shelters and continuing its assessment of needs and food distributions where access is possible. So far, WFP emergency teams have been able to assist 19,000 of the worst affected.

UN affiliates are making available funds for the rebuilding process. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has launched a joint appeal for $14 million to help those affected by the floods in the Dominican Republic over the next six months. The World Bank is making available up to $60 million for the Dominican Republic and Haiti by redirecting funds from existing projects. It is also preparing an emergency loan of up to $100 million for the Dominican Republic.

We get by with a little help from our friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Innocent Victims

Yesterday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) marked the first-every Global Day of Action Cluster Munitions, urging governments to create a legally binding international agreement banning deadly arms that pose a great threat to civilians, especially children. The agency explained that children were especially susceptible to these weapons because of their natural curiosity and desire to play. Cluster munitions often look like balls or canisters, while others are brightly colored, making them even more attractive to children.

One third of cluster munitions casualties in Afghanistan were children, while during the Kosovo war, more children were hurt by cluster munitions than by anti-personnel landmines. Tragically, children continue to fall victim to cluster munitions years or even decades after the end of a conflict in countries such as Bosnia, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, Serbia and Vietnam.

Children who survive cluster munitions blasts are often permanently disabled or suffer from sight or hearing loss. In countries where cluster munitions are most prevalent, most parents rarely have the ability to afford both medical and school bills, thus causing great hardship for the entire family. “Too many tragic stories show that cluster munitions cannot be used in populated areas without jeopardizing a child's right to life, to health, to play and to a safe environment,” the agency said in a press release.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Human development, just one click away

UNDP is moving with the times, especially when it comes to technology. Last week, the UN, Google and Cisco launched a new resource designed to track the progress of the Millennium Development Goals.

But MDG Monitor is far more interactive and user friendly than the wealth of information that already exists online. In the place of complex reports, this brand new resource offers users the opportunity to track progress on any of the MDGs in any given region of the world. Indicators ranging from health to education to socioeconomic factors are readily interactive and available.

Next time you're surfing the net, take a moment and visit MDG Monitor. Pick any country in the developing world and immediately find out what challenges they face, where progress has been made and what still needs to be done. Human development with just one click.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Know your reproductive health!

Reproductive health remains a top concern across the world, and especially in Asia. Experts, advocates and activists meeting at a United Nations-backed meeting in Hyderabad, India addressed this issue on Wednesday. In an opening session subtitled, “An unfinished agenda,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane noted that Asia continues to have “high rates of unintended pregnancies, high rates of maternal death and disability, increasing numbers of new HIV infections, and persistent and widespread violence against women and girls,” despite the region's progress in reducing poverty.

Participants of the meeting cited external pressures, outmoded laws, and regulatory structures undermining reproductive health as the root of these reproductive health issues. The participants vowed to push for greater resources and awareness in a better attempt to achieve the goals of the Fourth Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights, which is an ongoing review series since governments pledged in 1994 to make reproductive health services accessible to everyone by 2005. Clearly, that goal has yet to be accomplished.

This UN-backed meeting comes at the heels of UNFPA denouncing the practice of son preferences in Asia. Preference for sons is deeply rooted in many Asian countries for both cultural and economic reasons, but UNFPA explains that prenatal son selection in several Asian countries could result in severe social consequences – such as a surge in sexual violence and trafficking of women.

Thursday, November 1, 2007