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All Hail the Potato

From ABC Rural:

The United Nations has hailed the potato as a potential solution to solving the looming global food shortage.

With wheat and rice supplies declining, the UN is encouraging low-income countries to grow more potatoes to cover the food shortfall.

It’s also declared 2008 as the International Year of the Potato to try and raise awareness of how important the humble spud is to agriculture and the economy.

The International Year of the Potato also happens to have a fantastic website, from which I learned many facts dispelling my previous assumption that the potato consisted simply of “empty carbs.” For instance,

They have the highest protein content (around 2.1 percent on a fresh weight basis) in the family of root and tuber crops, and protein of a fairly high quality, with an amino-acid pattern that is well matched to human requirements. They are also very rich in vitamin C – a single medium-sized potato contains about half the recommended daily intake – and contain a fifth of the recommended daily value of potassium.

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Nutritious, delicious, and potentially life-saving.

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Here We Go Again

Will tomorrow finally be the day that ends 20 long years of war and terrorism in Northern Uganda? According to Reuters,

Uganda’s fugitive guerrilla Joseph Kony will meet mediators on Saturday on the Sudan-Congo border and may even sign a final peace deal, a rebel negotiator said on Wednesday.

But the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) still wants more details on how Uganda’s government plans to use traditional reconciliation rituals to help him avoid prosecution for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

But after spurning the peace process a month ago, ostensibly for very much the same reasons, Kony’s credibility — already at the level of an indicted mass murderer — is, to say the least, suspect. Moreover, it is unclear how the “peace vs. justice” stalemate has advanced in the last month: the Ugandan government — and even some of Kony’s victims — are willing to drop the ICC indictments in favor of means of traditional justice, but the ICC insists that Uganda is legally obliged to hand over Kony. Kony is calling for a “workshop” to address the issue, but it is unlikely that he will be appeased by anything less than getting the ICC out of the picture entirely.

In a new report, the ENOUGH project proposes the option of offering Kony exile — while using ICC indictment as a credible stick to end his nefarious influence in the region. ENOUGH is rightly skeptical of Kony’s intentions, and the report prioritizes restoring peace and security over securing a formal peace deal with Kony, which, in light of his past unreliability, seems a very sober strategy.

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Burmese Junta, Now Impounding Aid

Spencer Ackerman says it well, “The Burmese Junta does what juntas everywhere do…using the catastrophe that killed perhaps as many as 100,000 people — a death toll too large to be comprehensible — as a shakedown opportunity.” Tragic, but true. Consider this:

“Burma’s ruling military junta today impounded United Nations food shipments bound for the storm-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta, and U.N. officials said they would suspend further aid to the country in response.

Two planes carrying about 76,000 pounds of high-energy biscuits landed in Rangoon today, but were forced to offload into a government-controlled warehouse, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the U.N.’s World Food Program in Bangkok. Risley said UN officials were told that only Burma’s minister for social welfare could release the aid for distribution.

It gets worse, BBC just reported that the World Food Program has suspended all new shipments to Burma until the aid is freed from impound. Like I said yesterday, this is criminal behavior. For a view closer to the ground, check out Burmese Bloggers Without Borders.

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UN Envoy: Women’s Rights Critical to Liberian Development

As Liberia recovers from a decade of civil war, the country’s top UN official is not only pushing for an advancement in women’s rights, but also saying that women’s empowerment is critical to improving peace and development:

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Addressing participants at the start of a five-day national women’s conference in the capital, Monrovia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia, Ellen Margrethe Løj, yesterday highlighted the need to take the message of women’s empowerment and the advancement of human rights to the community level.

‘When discussing these issues, ensure that they are not only discussed with intellectual women in Monrovia; make sure that all women of Liberia are involved in these efforts,’ she told the gathering, which included UN and Government officials, diplomats, local women leaders, female traditional and religious leaders and members of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Løj also addressed women’s participation in agriculture in reference to the rise in food prices, as well as the prevalence of rape in Liberia, which is currently the single most frequently committed serious crime in the nation.

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Burma/Myanmar and the Responsibility to Protect

Imagine that a crowded building is on fire, that people are dying inside, and that a guy with a gun is standing outside the door to prevent firefighters from entering. Now multiply that by a couple million times or so and you can get a feel for what is happening in Burma right now.

The junta has never had a reputation for caring much about its own citizens, but the fact that they are erecting all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles to prevent life saving relief from reaching their own citizens is downright criminal. Given this behavior, I wonder if the Security Council should invoke the “Responsibility to Protect” and authorize the violation of Myanmar’s sovereignty by other member states? (This is the principal, agreed upon by UN member states in 2005, that the international community is permitted to violate the sovereignty of a country when that country is unwilling or unable to prevent mass atrocities from being visited upon its own citizens.)

It seems that at least one P-5 member, France , thinks so. The proposal was aired by Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister and founder of Doctors Without Borders, but quickly shot down by China and Russia. The UN’s Top Humanitarian Official, John Holmes, also derided the proposal, saying “I’m not sure that invading Myanmar would be a very sensible option at this particular moment. I’m not sure it would be helpful to the people we’re actually trying to help.”

True, the immediate goal is to get relief to Burmese citizens as fast as possible. Right now, this means working with the military junta. But if this kind of obstructionism on the part of the Burmese government is not overcome soon, invoking Responsibility to Protect should not be too far outside the realm of possibility.

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Myanmar – The first aid supplies are on their way to Myanmar in a UN plane as the military junta continues to drag its feet on large-scale international aid. The first shipment includes high-energy biscuits, medical kits, and tents. The World Food Program says that two more planes are expected to follow. The UN is still waiting for visas for 40 of its disaster relief experts. The U.S. embassy in Myanmar stated yesterday that the death toll could be as high as 100,000, and France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has suggested the UN bypass the junta to deliver aid, evoking the “responsibility to protect” clause.

>>Burundi – A day after the Forces for National Liberation, the remaining active rebel group, agreed to implement a peace deal, Burundi’s army killed 50 FNL fighters in a gun fight outside of Bujumbura. Both sides claim they were provoked. The people of Burundi have suffered under a decade-long civil war between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority that has left over 300,000 dead.

>>Israel – Celebrations have begun in Israel to mark its 60th anniversary. President Bush will visit next week. Palestinians, on the other hand, are holding solemn marches in the West Bank to mark the day they call al-Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.” The celebrations are also overshadowed by a continuing corruption probe against Prime Minister Olmert, which prompted him to cancel the customary interviews granted to local media on independence day.

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