Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Iraq today to discuss ways to expand the UN’s on-the-ground presence there. In Baghdad, a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was interrupted when a rocket struck an adjacent building. No one was hurt, but the video is fairly compelling.
Following up on Cordell’s post below, the scarcity of water in western Sudan is often cited as a catalyst of the conflict there. Over the past twenty years, desertification in western Sudan had increasingly pitted historically nomadic Arab tribes in competition for water and arable land with the so-called “black African” tribes of Dafur. The ruling elite in Khartoum used this underlying tension to its advantage when it hired militias from the ethnic Arab tribes to crush rebellious “black African” militias in Darfur.
Even today, as the UN plans for a possible peacekeeping force in Darfur, the scarcity of water sources in western Sudan presents a huge logistical problem. If the force ever gets off the ground, water must either be imported, or else a number of water bores must be drilled to sustain the peacekeepers.
Today the world observes World Water Day, a moment dedicated to a widespread, but often-overlooked issue. The UN’s 2007 World Water Day website delivers some sobering statistics:
In an industrialized city with plenty of water, flushing the toilet in an average household can send up to 50 litres of water down the drain every day. Yet more than one in six people worldwide — 1.1 billion — don’t have access to 20-50 litres of safe freshwater daily, the minimum range suggested by the UN to ensure each person’s basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Two people in five lack proper sanitation facilities, and every day, 3,800 children die from diseases associated with a lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation.
Both water use and the world population are growing, which means that water will only grow more scarce. And, the implications of that scarcity are not limited to humanitarian concerns, though those concerns are great (guaranteeing water security is central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals).It is a vital resource, and there isn’t enough to go around. As such, nations and groups will take action to ensure access. For example, this Guardian article gives an overview of water as a central security issue and a vital component of posturing in the Middle East. Two of the issue’s many facets:
[R]elinquishing control of the [Golan] Heights could cost Israel about one-third of its fresh water if the flow into the Sea of Galilee becomes contaminated, deliberately or otherwise.
The Palestinians accuse Israel not only of plundering their water but polluting it. Some Jewish settlements pump raw sewage into the streams of neighbouring Palestinian villages, contaminating water once used for drinking, cooking and irrigation.
Yesterday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, commemorating March 21, 1960 when police in apartheid South Africa fired on peaceful demonstrators.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that while the world has made strides in fighting against racial discrimination, there is still work to be done.
“Racist practices hurt their victims, but they also limit the promise of entire societies where they are tolerated…They prevent individuals from realizing their potential and stop them from contributing fully to national progress. They perpetuate deeply embedded social and economic inequalities. Where unaddressed, they can cause social unrest and conflict, undermining stability and economic growth.”
In the new issue of the World Policy Journal, Ian Williams offers the final word on the often discussed, but little understood, Oil For Food program. The article is a study in how a small number of determined right-wing pundits in the United States turned their vendetta against Kofi Annan into an easily swallowed media narrative about rampant corruption at the UN.
For most of the UN staff, the OFF program was about feeding Iraqis. For Washington it was about starving the regime of funds for rearmament. It needs reiteration that in both contexts it was hugely successful. By the end, the program was providing essential food and medical supplies for over 80 percent of the Iraqi population, and, as was subsequently proved by both Hans Blix’s UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission inspectors and their American successors, it was also successful in stopping Iraqi rearmament…
How Success Turned to Scandal
Within a year of the Iraq invasion, the anti- UN media in the United States began to trumpet the “UN Oil for Food Scandal,” which was, according to the neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, “the biggest financial scandal in the history of the world.” Some of the wilder pundits claimed it involved the mismanagement o “hundreds of billions of dollars.” The real target of the attacks was the United Nations itself, and, especially, the reputation of the secretary general…
The chorus grew louder following the leak of a letter in which Annan cautioned the U.S.-led coalition against a frontal assault on Fallujah. Fox television’s Bill O’Reilly declared that “it’s becoming increasingly clear that UN chief Kofi Annan is hurting the USA.” On November 24, 2004, the National Review declared “Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not.” And, on December 1, 2004, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Norm Coleman called for Annan’s resignation…
[Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker's] team found no evidence that the Secretary General had in anyway been involved in the procurement scandal but held that he had not treated these allegations seriously enough. Annan had asked for the advice of his(U.S.- appointed) undersecretary general for management, and of his undersecretary general for legal affairs, who told him that since he had no contact with the procurement process, he did not need to take further action. And, though Volcker countered that he should not have believed his son and authorized a major inquiry, the published report effectively cleared Annan and the UN of the vast majority of the corruption charges leveled by the conservative media.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.