Monthly Archives: June 2009
The UN Refugee Agency just posted this video of Angelina Jolie speaking at an event in Washington, D.C. yesterday to commemorate World Refugee Day.
The fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban insurgents that has already displaced more than two million people has now moved into the Federally Administered Tribal Area of South Waziristan (just south of the already affected province of Lower Dir). 40,000 people have already started moving out of the area.
South Waziristan is not a hugely populous area, and the latest wrinkle to Pakistan’s unprecedented displacement crisis is that many in South Waziristan evidently — this was a surprise to me — have “second homes” to avoid the typically harsh winters. Add that to the dynamic whereby 80%-plus of displaced Pakistanis are being taken in by other Pakistani families, rather than taking shelter in camps, and you have a situation that is just sustainable enough to be direly unsustainable.
This whole situation also really puts in perspective the rhetoric that used to be tossed around about “fighting terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” For millions of Pakistanis, “over there” is right here.
Joseph Chez at TPM Cafe makes a point that I have heard elsewhere in the last week:
What is needed is for the United Nations to issue a strong declaration, warning the Iranian government, including clerics, that they will be held personally responsible for the safety of the civilian population and for the opposition leader.
For the record, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said basically this on Friday. “The legal basis of the arrests that have been taking place, especially those of human rights defenders and political activists, is not clear,” she said. “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that militia members and regular law enforcement agencies do not resort to illegal acts of violence.” This is probably as tough a statement as can be expected from the United Nations secretariat or its agencies. There is a line between standing up for human rights — which is the right and proper roll of the UN — and meddling in the electoral politics of a member state. I think Pillay’s statement dances that line quite artfully.
Your UN ambassador-related gossip from over the weekend:
Chile’s U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz will head a six-month U.N. inquiry into the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Friday.
Munoz is an upstanding diplomat and a fine choice; he is best remembered for his presence on the Security Council in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, pushing the United States to give UN weapons inspectors more time to do their job.
His new mission may prove even tougher than trying to dissuade the hawks in the George W. Bush administration from launching a preventive war (and possibly even trickier than captaining a soccer team of fellow UN diplomats). These sort of investigations can turn into a long-lasting adventure (the original inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for example, took just a month, but the whole investigation has continued for over four years) and encroach onto very sensitive political territory. Munoz’s commission is a fact-finding one, though, so he has the somewhat good fortune of being able to turn the results over to someone else to figure out what to do with them.
A potentially good sign: another member of the “Bhutto Commission” is the Irishman Peter Fitzgerald, whose experience includes having led the Hariri investigation.
It’s worth noting that with all this triumphant talk about the Twitter revolution in Iran – especially when it’s about a lesser-of-two-evils candidate – we can’t summon a fraction of the energy and passion to save abused, raped and battered women across the globe. Nor can we muster the same attention and will to deal with the plight of children who are dying of hunger, deprived of the bare necessities of life.
Here are the brutal facts:
* Millions of women and girls (our mothers, sisters and daughters) endure one or more of the following: intimate partner violence; sexual abuse by non-intimate partners; trafficking, forced prostitution, exploitation, debt bondage, sex selective abortion, female infanticide, and rape.
Perhaps it’s boiling frog syndrome, the fact that global hunger and women’s rights are ongoing tragedies/travesties without sudden spikes of interest. Or perhaps it’s the futility of confronting these intractable issues, a sense that we’re powerless to change such pervasive problems.
That’s not to say that there aren’t many courageous and dedicated people working to alleviate hunger and protect women’s rights. There are. But where is the massive outrage, the worldwide focus, the grainy images, the Twitter-mania, the color-coded avatars? Most importantly, where is the urgency, the immediacy?
Clearly, something is happening in Iran with technology that signals a new era in global activism. This is the first period in human history when so many individuals, friends and strangers, can speak to one another simultaneously, on equal footing; there’s never been a time when ten million people could converse at once, on the same topic, using the same platform.
That also means they can shout and raise the alarm about injustice together. And as we’re seeing with CNN, those millions of impassioned people can pressure the media to get on board, further increasing the level of attention.
So why isn’t this happening for oppressed and abused women or hungry and starving children, when their aggregate pain and suffering is far greater and the threat to them more severe than to the (brave) Iranian demonstrators? Where’s the intense coverage, the excitement over the potential of Twitter and Facebook to alter the course of history?
I’m not calling for less focus on Iran, but more, much more, on the mortal threat so many women and children face.
I’ll conclude with a clip from Channel 4 News in the UK, where I was asked to comment on Gordon Brown’s statement that because of the Internet, there will be no more Rwandas. My answer: what about Darfur?
The Lancet medical journal has a pair of articles out this week about global efforts to fight diseases like AIDS, Malaria, TB in the developing world. The first study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, purports to be the first comprehensive accounting how much money governments, NGOs, and intergovernmental bodies have invested in so-called Development Assistance for Health (DAH). The study finds that this number has quadrupled from $5.6 billion in 1990 to $21.8 billion in 2007, totaling $196 billion.
The study shows that this influx of resources is not just from public sources, but also from private philanthropy. Also, it shows that most of the money is earmarked for disease-specific efforts: that is, investing in AIDS treatments, TB vaccination programs, or anti-malaria campaigns.
This is where the second study, by the World Health Organization, comes in. Simply stated, it finds that that these investments have yielded variable returns – the key variant being whether or not a country’s health care system can handle the sudden attention to a specific disease. For example, a donor may invest millions to purchase anti-retrovirals, but if there are not enough community-based nurses to monitor the distribution of these drugs progress against the disease may be limited.
Accordingly, WHO study’s top recommendation is for donors to get serious about strengthening the health care infrastructure of the developing world. Specifically, it recommends that donors “infuse the health systems strengthening agenda with the sense of ambition and speed that has characterized [disease specific efforts.]“
This is a pretty reasonable conclusion. And it is an important one. Somehow, though, headline writers seem to think this is a searing indictment of the United Nations. Doug Bandow, who is apparently back at Cato, says this is further proof that the UN can’t do anything useful. The Fox News headline reads “Studies Say $196 Billion Wasted on United Nations Health Programs.”
On the contrary, The Lancet articles show how the marginalization of the UN is the primary source of concern. The Lancet’s lead editorial explains:
The past two decades have seen dramatic shifts in power among those who share responsibility for leading global health. In 1990, development assistance for health—a crude, but still valid measure of influence—was dominated by the UN system (WHO, UNICEF, and UNFPA) and bilateral development agencies in donor countries. Today, while donor nations have maintained their relative importance, the UN system has been severely diluted. This marginalisation, combined with serious anxieties about the unanticipated adverse effects of new entrants into global health, should signal concern about the current and future stewardship of health policies and services for the least advantaged peoples of the world.
The [WHO's] influence might have been eroded during the past two decades. But thanks to WHO’s technical leadership (forcing evaluation back onto the global agenda) as well as mistakes by GHIs (ignoring their own performance), the need for a strong, well-funded, and politically supported WHO has become a much sharper and convincing argument today than for many years.
The point is, some GHIs have tended to focus on specific diseases without specifically addressing the effect on health systems while UN agencies would prefer a more holistic approach. As the editorial and the studies show, this is all the more reason to invest in UN efforts to improve global public health.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.