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UNICEF urges aid for Iraqi school children

Nearly six million Iraqi children are going back to the classroom this week. While UNICEF hails the return to schools as a remarkable achievement,” the agency is also calling for more aid.

The damaging toll of displacement and the pervasive insecurity in Iraq have cost many of the country’s schoolchildren their education: according to figures released by Iraq’s Ministry of Education, only 40 per cent of final year students in Iraq (excluding the Kurdistan Region) passed their high school exams during the first examination session of 2007, compared to last year’s pass rate of 60 per cent, UNICEF said.


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“The End of a Nightmare” in Liberia

Steve Radelet, one of the guest bloggers standing in for Nicholas Kristof, today penned a column detailing the remarkable turn-around in Liberia.

It would have been nearly impossible to imagine these changes just four-and-a-half years ago. Monrovia was in chaos as rebel groups shelled the city in an effort to oust Taylor. By that point the 14-year civil war had killed 270,000 people — an astonishing one out of every twelve Liberians — and forced another 250,000 to become refugees. The economy had completely collapsed, with GDP falling by more than 90 percent between 1989 and 1996, one of the largest collapses ever recorded anywhere in the world. Children as young as ten had become pawns in the violence, with warlords abducting them from their families, stuffing them with drugs, and arming them with AK-47s.


But UN peacekeepers put an end to the conflict in 2003. Taylor first went into exile in Nigeria and is now in The Hague facing war crimes charges for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone. The UN and thousands of brave Liberians organized elections in late 2005 which resulted in President Sirleaf’s election. And she is resolutely moving the country forward by rebuilding institutions, restoring basic services, reviving the economy, and beginning to heal the deep wounds of war.

The signs of change are evident all around….Each time I come there are new signs of change: schools and clinics are being reopened, stores are restocked and repainted, the streets are ever more crowded with commercial activity, and electricity and water are being restored (there was no piped water or electricity except generators anywhere in the country for 14 years). Liberia’s “control of corruption” index, as measured by the World Bank, registered the second-largest improvement of any country in the world this year.

Radelet’s account speaks for itself, but it’s also important to note that, given the historic relationship between the U.S. and Liberia, were the UN not to have played such decisive role, the U.S. might have been forced to dedicate precious time and resources, already strained by conflicts elsewhere, to the situation. The only other choice would have been to let the nation disintegrate and threaten the fragile stability that is building in the region. This includes the peace that is being kept next door in Cote d’Ivoire, previously a supporter of Taylor, by UN peacekeepers.

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Colbert on North Korea and Diplomacy

Last night Colbert suggests, “There is a real danger that this triumph of diplomacy could make people think diplomacy can triumph.”

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Conference focuses on urban crime

At a UN backed conference, over 600 delegates from 42 countries are meeting to take on crime and violence in urban environments.

“The inexorable transition to a predominantly urban planet bears with it many opportunities and consequences,” UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Cecilia Leal Martinez told the opening session of the five-day meeting on Monday.


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How to Get the UN/AU Hybrid Force Deployed to Darfur?

That’s a good question. Fortunately, the experts at the Enough Project offer some advice.

The brutal and deplorable September 29 attack on African Union peacekeepers is a stark reminder of the threats that UNAMID — an important component of the overall solution — faces in Darfur. This attack, and the continued fracturing of Darfur’s rebel groups, also severely diminishes the prospects for success at peace talks set to begin in Libya later this month. Nonetheless, assertive diplomacy, cooperation and coordination from international donors, and the judicious use of targeted pressures can overcome the obstacles, get the force on the ground, and set the stage for the only thing that can bring an end to Darfur’s long nightmare — a viable peace process.

To my dismay, the report does not address the particulars of what would make peace stick in Darfur. And I, for one, would love to know what the report’s authors (John Prendergast, Colin Thomas-Jensen, and Julia Spiegel) have to say about the forthcoming peace conference in Tripoli. How, for example, could the international community help secure buy-in from intransigent rebels and also leverage Khartoum’s cooperation?

UNAMID cannot simply impose a peace on Darfur. And absent an underlying peace to keep, it is unclear what UNAMID’s mission will be, other than civilian protection and securing lines of humanitarian access. That said, I am convinced by the trio’s argument that, at the very least, demonstrating progress toward the deployment of UNAMID adds value to the peace process. And to that end, Enough offers specific recommendations abbout how to hasten that deployment. For starters, donor countries need to beef up pledges of logistical and financial support to UNAMID from donor nations. (Offers of peacekeepers from troop contributing countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, and India have been forthcoming. Logistical support from key developed nations and NATO has not. To make matters worse, the administration’s new budget would only pay 20% of America’s share of the mission in Darfur.) Enough also recommends that the Security Council increase pressure on Khartoum, which continues to obstruct the deployment of UNAMID through bureaucratic and diplomatic roadblocks. The Council, says the report, should consider another round of targeted sanctions.

Finally, Enough suggests that the AU should back away from insisting that the force be “all African” and let the UN assume command and control of the mission. “At the planning and operations levels,” says the report. “The resources at the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations dwarf and threaten to overwhelm the AU secretariat’s nascent peacekeeping unit. The Security Council, in particular the five permanent members and the three African members, should work assiduously behind the scenes to cement agreement from [the AU] on the participation of non-African forces and affirmation of the UN’s command and control role.”

Absent anyone of these three elements, deployment UNAMID will have a difficult time getting off the ground.

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Cholera continues to spread in Iraq

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), cholera continues spread across Iraq with more than 30,000 people having already fallen sick.

Fourteen are known to have died from the disease which is often caused by polluted water, but the low case-fatality rate throughout the outbreak that began in August indicates that those who have become sick have been able to access adequate treatment on time.


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