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World AIDS Orphan Day

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According to conservative estimates, over 15 million children worldwide have lost at least one parent to AIDS. That population, equivalent to the population of New York, Paris, and Bangkok combined and mostly living in sub-Saharan Africa, is vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor, prostitution, and child soldiering, and stands a greater chance of suffering from malnutrition and contracting HIV themselves. That population also constitutes a tremendous strain on communities already straining under the weight of other significant health and development challenges.

Simply put, resources are needed. As such, in 2002 FXB International founded World Aids Orphans Day, a grassroots campaign to push all nations to direct at least 10 percent of their HIV/AIDS funding to the care of orphans. So far, the US, UK, and Ireland are the only nations to do so. To join the effort, go to www.worldaidsorphans.org.

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After A Devastating Natural Disaster…

This Happens:

[World Food Program] now has more than 800 metric tonnes of food stocks available in its warehouses in Yangon, and will deliver these food resources to all areas in need, including the Ayeryawaddy Division, the largest and hardest hit of the five major divisions affected by the cyclone. WFP’s $500,000 initial emergency operation will fund the airlifts of food supplies and emergency staff deployments.

The UN refugee agency, for its part, is emptying its emergency shelter material stockpiles in neighbouring Thailand of plastic sheeting and tents for some 10,000 people for urgent dispatch to Yangon. The supplies would be distributed through a Disaster Management Committee that had been established by the Myanmar Government.

Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists in Geneva that the agency’s office in Myanmar yesterday purchased $50,000 worth of urgently needed basic supplies in Yangon for distribution, including emergency tarpaulins, plastic sheeting and canned food.

In addition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has dispatched teams to make initial assessments in Yangon, Pathein and Bago, and is positioning relief supplies. The agency says it will work with partners and the Government to provide access to clean water, safe sanitation and improved hygiene, and will seek to protect children and help them return to school as soon as possible.

UNICEF’s Myanmar field staff have started delivering urgently-need supplies to the Irrawaddy delta, and has provided medicines, first-aid kits and oral rehydration tablets to Laputta township, one of the most severely impacted areas.

It deserves mention that the UN is able to do all these things even though the Myanmar junta is obstructing the UN’s inter-agency disaster management team and other aid workers from obtaining entry visas.

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Lebanon – Gunmen supportive of Hezbollah and those of the U.S.-backed government clashed in the streets of Beirut today. Hezbollah supporters blocked the main roads with barricades made of old cars and burning tires. Yesterday the government accused Hezbollah of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty by operating its own telecommunications network, which the government has said it will shut down, and installing spy cameras at the airport.

>>Chile – The once-thought-dormant Chaitén volcano in southern Chile erupted again yesterday, blasting ash and lava dozens of miles into the air. Residents living withing a 30-mile radius were evacuated, and, with the help of navy warships, moved to Patagonia. Since it began on Friday, the eruption has covered a 60-square-mile block with 15 inches of ash, destroying farmland, rendering the air unbreathable, contaminated water supplies, and making rescue efforts difficult.

>>Myanmar – As the death toll in the wake of Cyclone Nargis (damage graphic) rises to 22,500, Myanmar’s military junta is experiencing increased pressure from abroad to further open its doors to international aid. The World Food Program has said that as many as a million people have lost their homes. Over 24 million people live in the declared disaster areas. A UN assessment team is still waiting on their visas. Some, including President Bush speaking yesterday in Washington, have also taken the opportunity to press on political reforms.

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Significant Progress in Sierra Leone

Another sign of UN success in West Africa. From the UN News Centre:

The United Nations mission in Sierra Leone has made “significant progress” in supporting the Government to consolidate peace in the country, by strengthening the security sector, by promoting human rights and the rule of law, and by helping prepare for upcoming elections, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report.

However, Mr. Ban also cautions that the “the country continues to experience political tension along ethnic and regional lines” and cites high unemployment, poor economic and social conditions, and the rising price of food and gasoline, as other factors which “have the potential to derail the peace consolidation process.”

This update on the improving situation in Sierra Leone follows similarly encouraging news out of neighboring Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. As Ban’s prudent warning suggests, however, these transitions toward peace and democracy in West Africa do not come unaccompanied by serious lingering problems and potential pitfalls. After easing violent societies into stability, the UN faces perhaps the even steeper challenge of consolidating these gains and ensuring that former war zones become politically and economically sustainable. That’s why the peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, scheduled to withdraw in September, will be replaced by a peacebuilding office.

These peacebuilding efforts will be funded out of the UN’s relatively new Peacebuilding Fund, created in late 2006 to provide societies transitioning toward peace with “a crucial bridge between conflict and recovery at a time when other funding mechanisms may not yet be available.” Despite the enormity and importance of its work, though, the Peacebuilding Fund has received less than a third of the money it needs to operate — including zero contributions from the United States.

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Bears and Bugs

The troubles of the polar bear are a great symbol of the effects global warming can have on the Earth’s mightiest creatures. The polar bear seems strong not only because of its size, but because of its ability to subsist in the harsh conditions of the Arctic. Now, as the ice disappears, so do the bears. But a new study points out that there are other species facing climate-related troubles. The Independent reported on a recent study that suggests the polar bear is not the species most threatened by a warming climate, and in fact, it is nearly the opposite type of animal.

Small, frail and subsisting in warm areas, insects in tropical climates are imminently threatened by rising temperatures. The survival of these insects is not only important for the sake of their own survival; they are essential to the survival of their entire habitat. When insect species disappear from the planet, the foundation of the food chain becomes damaged, and when foundations crumble, structures collapse. Insects also provide services like decomposition and pollination that keep the life-cycle moving, and without them, many other plant and animal species will be under extreme pressure for their survival.

Even though they are not cuddly or famous for their hugs, these species require attention. Insects are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation and act as indicators. If they cannot adapt, this does not bode well for the other planetary inhabitants.

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Obama’s Influence in Nigeria?

Nigerian rebels who have been attacking oil facilities in the Niger delta have claimed that they are mulling a ceasefire proposed by U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama. From Reuters:

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has launched five attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta since it resumed a campaign of violence in April, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to shut more than 164,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).

“The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem,” the militant group said in an e-mailed statement.

The prospect of an end to violence in the volatile region is certainly welcome, but there’s one minor hole in the rebels’ claim: as Matt Yglesias points out, the Obama campaign does not recall its candidate making any such appeal.

Writing at The Plank, Dayo Olopade provides this interesting observation.

At the time–unlike past attacks–MEND seemed to be courting American attention: “The ripple effect of this attack will touch your economy and people one way or the other and (we) hope we now have your attention,” the group said last month.

Well, oil is $120/barrel–looks like you’ve got it. The direct link to Obama, however, seems suspect. He did attempt some high-level suasion during January’s election crisis in Kenya, but I’m doubtful his grueling schedule these last six weeks has left much time for Skyping with MEND. It is notable that even the hint of the “Obama touch” has a band of saboteurs rubbing their chins about an end to a longstanding conflict.

True. And if this mysterious ceasefire appeal does indeed induce the rebels to cease their attacks, while the Obama campaign may not mind taking credit, the greatest beneficiaries will be the Nigerians suffering from violence in this oil-rich region.

UPDATE: Apparently MEND rebels have set their eyes on another American politician to broker peace — former president Jimmy Carter (as well as possibly UN Messenger of Peace George Clooney). What’s more, Carter, who attempted to mediate the region’s conflict nine years ago, seems inclined to accept.

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