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About that Phosogene

When news outlets reported that a chemical weapons agent named phosogene was found in a storage facility maintained by UNMOVIC–the UN weapons inspection team for Iraq–the regular herd of UN bashers used this seemingly embarrassing story to advance their own anti-UN agenda.

Take Claudia Rosett:

[t]here is, of course, much more to the UNMOVIC story itself. Along with such questions as who carried phosgene into the U.S., and then into the UNMOVIC office in midtown Manhattan, and how, I keep wondering what on earth these weapons inspectors for Iraq have been doing for most of the past decade?

[snip]

Whatever else this phosgene flap is about, it’s one more glaring example of why it’s insane to give any more money to the UN before demanding a full, independent stock-taking that would tell us, for the first time ever, what they’re really doing with what they’ve already got.

Of course, today we learn the answer to Rosett’s first question about who brought the phosogene to New York: no one. The “chemical agent” was really just an over the counter commercial cleaner.

The answer to Rosett’s second question about what UNMOVIC has been up to since the invasion of Iraq is easily researchable. UNMOVIC, you see, has to brief the Security Council quarterly. And in its last report [pdf] to the Security Council before UNMOVIC’s mandate was terminated in June, we learned that UNMOVIC had 34 staffers, including some of the world’s foremost experts on WMD detection. Among other things, these experts have been busy briefing the US government on bio-weapons detection systems, conducting multiple weapons inspection training courses throughout the world, and monitoring the use of chemical agents in terrorist attacks in Iraq. So, contra Rosett it would seem that in the past five years since the invasion of Iraq, UNMOVIC had, in fact, found things to do.

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Ban speaks to displaces persons in Darfur

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with just a few of the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur, bringing a message of “hope, peace, security…and water.”

Mr. Ban spoke with Rodolphe Adada, the Joint UN-AU Special Representative to Darfur and the head of the current AU mission to the region (known as AMIS), after arriving earlier today in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters. Mr. Adada will then head the hybrid force (UNAMID) once it takes over from AMIS at the end of this year.

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Envoy on children and armed conflict visits Côte d’Ivoire

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has began a visit to Côte d’Ivoire; she will focus on the follow-up of action plans aimed at releasing children from armed groups and reintegrating them into their communities.

Ms. Coomaraswamy will also examine the issue of sexual violence against children in the aftermath of the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, which has been split between the Government-controlled south and the Forces Nouvelles-held north since 2002.

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Provisional GA Schedule Released

The provisional list of speakers for the general debate of the 61st Session of the General Assembly has been released. With 15-minute allotments, it’s easy to figure out when your favorite Head of State (HS), Head of Government (HG), Deputy Foreign Minister (DPM), or Foreign Minister (FM) will speak. See the schedule after the jump.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

Brazil

United States

Pakistan (HS)

Uganda (HS)

Kazakhstan (HS)

Honduras (HS)

Qatar (HS)

France (HS)

Nicaragua (HS)

TFYR Macedonia (HS)

Malawi(HS)

1.Portugal (HG)(EU)
Evening (3pm-7pm)

Sri Lanka (HS)

Paraguay (HS)

Republic of Korea (HS)

South Africa (HS)

Argentina (HS)

Iran (HS)

Indonesia (HS)

Croatia (HS)

Panama (HS)

Afghanistan (HS)

Slovakia (HS)

Ghana (HS)

Monaco (HS)

Ukraine (HS)

Somalia (HS)

Estonia (HS)

1. Japan (HG)

2. Lesotho (HG)
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

Latvia (HS)

Chile (HS)

Switzerland (HS)

Morocco (HS)

Finland (HS)

Turkmenistan (HS)

Costa Rica (HS)

Benin (HS)

Lithuania (HS)

Zambia (HS)

El Salvador (HS)

Iraq (HS)

Botswana (HS)

1.Cuba (FM)(NAM)
Evening (3pm-7pm)

Swaziland (HS)

Venezuela (HS)

Bosnia and Herzegovina (HS)

Mozambique (HS)

Cyprus (HS)

Nigeria (HS)

Haiti (HS)

Georgia (HS)

Zimbabwe (HS)

Poland (HS)

Burundi (HS)

Bolivia (HS)

Sao Tome (HS)

Namibia (HS)

Madagascar (HS)

1.Germany (HG)

2.Czech Republic (HG)

3.Canada (HG)

Thursday, 27 September 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

Palau (HS)

Rwanda (HS)

Ecuador (HS)

Serbia (HS)

Senegal (HS)

Colombia (HS)

Tanzania (HS)

Dominican Republic (HS)

Angola (HS)

Timor-Leste (HS)

Ecuatorial Guinea (HS)

Guatemala (HS)

CAR (HS)

Kiribati (HS)
Evening (3pm-7pm)

Liberia (HS)

Guinea-Bissau (HS)

Togo (HS)

Micronesia (HS)

Sierra Leone (HS)

Nauru (HS)

Comoros (HS)

Gambia (HS)

1.Italy (HG)

2.Slovenia (HG)

3.Bangladesh (HG)

4.Norway (HG)

5.Andorra (HG)

6.Thailand (HG)

7.Papua New Guinea (HG)

8.Albania (HG)

9.Grenada (HG)

10.Belize (HG)

Friday, 28 September 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

Seychelles (HS)

Lebanon (HS)

Marshall Islands (HS)

1.India (HG)

2.Samoa (HG)

3.UK (HG)

4.Jamaica (HG)

5.Malaysia (HG)

6.St. Vincent (HG)

7.Mauritius (HG)

8.Tonga (HG)

9.Sweden (HG)

10.Antigua and Barbuda (HG)

11.Montenegro (HG)

12.Palestine (HG)
Evening (3pm-7pm)

1.Solomon Islands (HG)

2.Cape Verde (HG)

3.Guinea (HG)

4.Dominica (HG)

5.Fiji (HG)

6.Kuwait (DPM)

7.Turkey (DPM)

8.Russian Federation (FM)

9.China (FM)

10.Egypt (FM)

11.United Arab Emirates (FM)

12.Austria (FM)

13.Tunisia (FM)

14.Bahrain (FM)

15.Singapore (FM)

16.Belarus (FM)

17.Greece (FM)

18.Saudi Arabia (FM)

Monday, 1 October 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

1.Israel (DPM)

2.Gabon (DPM)

3.Cambodia (DPM)

4.Oman (FM)

5.Philippines (FM)

6.Syria (FM)

7.Netherlands (FM)

8.DR Congo (FM)

9.New Zealand (FM)

10.Niger (FM)

11.Liechtenstein (FM)

12.Holy See (FM)
Evening (3pm-7pm)

1.Vanuatu (DPM)

2.Moldova (DPM)

3.Luxembourg (DPM)

4.Vietnam (DPM)

5.Hungary (FM)

6.Australia (FM)

7.Yemen (FM)

8.Brunei Darussalam (FM)

9.Belgium (FM)

10.Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (FM)

11.Iceland (FM)

12.Algeria (FM)

13.Malta (FM)

14.Jordan (FM)

15.Myanmar (FM)

16.Romania (FM)

17.Peru (FM)

Tuesday, 2 October 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

1.Laos (DPM)

2.Bulgaria (DPM)

3.Mongolia (FM)

4.Kenya (FM)

5.San Marino (FM)

6.Uruguay (FM)

7.Eritrea (FM)

8.Uzbekistan (FM)

9.Spain (FM)

10.Mauritania (FM)

11.Saint Kitts and Nevis (FM)

12.DPR Korea (FM)
Evening (3pm-7pm)

1.Bahamas (DPM)

2.Chad (FM)

3.Denmark (FM)

4.Burkina Faso(FM)

5.Ireland (FM)

6.Kyrgystan (FM)

7.Mexico (FM)

8.Bhutan (FM)

9.Cameroon (FM)

10.Suriname (FM)

11.Saint Lucia (FM)

12.Tajikistan (FM)

13.Guyana (FM)

14.Congo (FM)

15.Trinidad and Tobago (FM)

Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Morning (9am-1pm)

1.Tuvalu (DPM)

2.Cote d’Ivoire (FM)

3.Barbados (FM)

4.Mali (FM)

5.Armenia (FM)

6.Ethiopia (FM)

7.Sudan (FM)

8.Nepal (FM)

9.Maldives (FM)

10.Azerbaijan (FM)

11.Djibouti (CD)

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How PDAs Are Saving Lives in Africa

By Joel Selanikio, MD, co-founder of DataDyne.org (UNF-Vodafone partnership)

Masaiti District, Zambia, July 2007 — The vaccination assessment team from the capital city of Lusaka listens intently as a village official describes local participation in the recent measles vaccination campaign. He believes that all eligible children in the village were taken to the vaccination posts, but urges the team to verify this for themselves.

In a nation where many households have no phone and no address, collecting health data is a daunting task. It means getting out into some of the most remote districts, like the Masaiti District, and going from house to house, asking “Did your children get vaccinated? May I see the vaccination card?” This kind of fieldwork can generate hundreds of pages of paperwork: multiple sheets of information for each household multiplied by the hundreds or even thousands of households that are visited.

But through a year-old pilot program, Zambia is replacing paper-based health surveys with those used on PDAs (personal digital assistants). This means no data entry, no cumbersome clipboards, and most importantly no waiting weeks or months for data entry clerks to enter stacks of paper into a computer for analysis.

Zambia today is helping to lead a public health revolution that has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people in the developing world. By switching from paper-based to mobile-enabled digital health systems, Zambian health workers are empowered with new ‘eyes and ears’ in the field-devices that increase the speed and accuracy with which vital health information can be collected and recorded. These PDAs, sometimes more powerful than laptops of the recent past, quickly are becoming a vital public health management tool.

DataDyne.org, the non-profit organization I co-founded, is helping to forge this promising new path. Through the course of my work as a Wall Street IT consultant, a pediatrician, and a medical officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I developed an interest in applying computer science to the public health domain. The result is EpiSurveyor–a free, easy to use, open source software solution.

Prior to the use of EpiSurveyor, handheld data collection was gathered using commercial software that required expensive consultant programmers every time a new form was needed, or an old form needed to be modified. Now, with support from the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation, and in partnership with the UN World Health Organization and national governments, EpiSurveyor is putting effective health data-gathering tools in the hands of country health officials.

EpiSurveyor operates using a Java-based engine and a Windows-based Designer application that allows fast and easy creation of forms and data systems. It allows anyone with average computer skills–the ability to use a word processor or email, for example–to create and share mobile data collection systems in minutes, and without the need for consultant programmers.

In keeping with its mission to break down the barriers that block access to health data in developing countries, EpiSurveyor is free–anyone with internet access can download the program. EpiSurveyor is also open source, enabling those with higher-level programming skills to manipulate the program to respond to health needs as they arise. Finally, EpiSurveyor is built to run on mobile devices, providing maximum mobility and ease-of-use for health workers who spend most of their time in the field. Pilot project training is conducted using the Palm Zire.

So far, year-old pilot projects in Zambia and Kenya are showing that data received from the field has streamlined the inoculation of children against measles, collected information on HIV, and has even helped to contain a polio outbreak. For some, PDAs are mostly a convenient way to check email and keep up with schedules. In the developing world, these devices perform many of the same tasks–but when equipped with EpiSurveyor can help save lives.

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UN Sponsoring Rebel Unity Talks in Darfur

Today’s New York Times write-up of Ban’s first visit to Sudan underscores a dilemma faced by the proposed African Union-United Nations hybrid force for Darfur. Namely, that for the peacekeepers to deploy to Darfur, there must first be some semblance of a peace to keep. Of course, this requires foremost the cooperation of the central government and Darfuri rebels. But in Darfur the peace process is complicated by the fact that the militias opposing the central government are fractious.

When the rebellion broke out in Darfur in 2003, the rebels were largely unified. But since then, the rebels have split into various factions with disparate leadership and command structures. For a comprehensive peace agreement with Khartoum to take hold, the rebels first must make peace among themselves. To that end, the Times reports that Ban offered UN support for talks on rebel unity.

Mr. Ban said he would extend an invitation to the eight major rebel groups involved in the fighting in Darfur for a “full-fledged peace conference” this fall. The groups met last month in Arusha, Tanzania, and came up with a framework for sharing power and resources that the United Nations says lays a basis for talks with the government.

The UN is certainly the right platform to convene such a meeting. But member states too should be ready and willing to make this conference successful by incentivizing rebel unity. It is only when a political process between the rebel groups is underway that talks between the government and Darfuri rebels can make real headway.

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