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Environment conference begins in Belgrade

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) has started a ‘carbon-neutral’ environment conference in Belgrade.

“Ministers and other high-level representatives will discuss environmental policy, including measures to tackle global warming. But they will not have contributed to climate change by meeting in Belgrade,” the Commission said.


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Milliband Defends the UN

The new (and young) UK Foreign Minister David Milliband is blogging and appears to be doing it well. He’s making an effort to directly connect with other bloggers. As Blake noted, he sat down with Steve, Sameer, Blake, and I at an event coordinated by UN Dispatch when he was in town for the opening session of the UN General Assembly. And, he’s directly responding to comments.

Yesterday, he defended the UN.

Quite a few of the comments on the blog so far have attacked the UN for various failings. It’s not a perfect institution — shock. It should be reformed — of course. But don’t fall for the argument that because it’s not perfect it is not valuable.

The UN deploys the second-largest number of troops and police (over 80 000) and in operating 15 peacekeeping and political missions around the world. It organises peace negotiations for the some of the most difficult places — Darfur coming up. Its development fund has sponsored projects in over 100 countries for women’s health and safety. It raises more than $2 billion a year for devastating natural and humanitarian disasters. It oversees criminal tribunals on Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Lebanon. Immunisation rates for the six major vaccine-preventable diseases are up to over 75%. And it has unique authority to speak for decent opinion around the world.

To add to that, the UN peacekeepers he mentions are most often deployed to some of the world’s most complex conflict zones — including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern Sudan, and Liberia. Were the UN unable to undertake these missions, the U.S., the U.K., and our allies would either be forced to do so themselves or allow the conflicts to fester and, in most cases, destabilize entire regions. The UN not only raises massive amounts of money for humanitarian relief, it undertakes often dangerous missions to conflict zones like southern Lebanon and souther Sudan and in the wake of earthquakes, tsunamis, and droughts to deliver that aid.

In addition to their unmatched vaccination work, the WHO and other UN agencies are also coordinating national and regional programs in over 100 nations to fight HIV/AIDS, working to halve the world’s malaria burden by 2010, and monitoring and coordinating responses to possible global epidemics, including avian flu. The UN eradicated smallpox in 1979 and has nearly done the same to polio.

The UN has monitored elections for over half of the world’s nations and has also coalesced the world behind a set of robust goals to reduce poverty and promote development. It inspects nuclear facilities in over 140 nations. And, perhaps most importantly, while it is sometimes difficult for the UN Member States to arrive at a consensus, when they do that consensus carries the weight of the world behind it.

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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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