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UNICEF supports flood-stricken Bangladesh

One month after floods devastated Bangladesh, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is still providing food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and shelter to those affected.

UNICEF has also deployed 10 mobile water treatment plants for communities needing safe water in concert with the country’s Department of Public Health and Engineering.

The agency said in its latest update, released yesterday, that deaths resulting from diarrhoea have been avoided to date – despite 15,000 reported cases – thanks to the availability of oral rehydration salts to treat dehydration.

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An Irresponsible Optimism

I just came across Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics post from Monday suggesting that man-made tornadoes or some other silver bullet will likely be the cure for climate change; we needn’t fret. His reasoning:

Technology and human ingenuity have solved just about every problem we’ve faced so far; there is no obvious reason why global warming shouldn’t succumb as well.

“Just about” is a little generous. The world still suffers under a host of diseases, inter- and intra-state conflicts, and nature’s hardships, none of which we can reasonably expect to tame through technology or human ingenuity in the near future. The human race has, without a doubt, achieved remarkable progress, but the idea that we have, for the most part, subdued nature (human or otherwise) is way off the mark.

Moreover, just because we’ve demonstrated the ability to overcome major roadblocks in the past, it doesn’t follow that we can expect to be handed the easy solution in this instance. The dinosaurs also managed to survive every roadblock until they met the one they couldn’t.

Levitt’s post may seem like a harmless one-off showcasing a quirky idea, but there is a real danger in underestimating the scope of the effects of climate change or relying too heavily on a silver bullet. The risks associated with not appropriately stepping up to the plate are unparalleled in scope and impact. (The IPCC’s reports have sobering on this point.) And, any comprehensive solution would have to be massive in scope and absurdly quick in development. According to the Scientific Experts Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, unless we level off greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and cut them by two-thirds by 2100, we risk crossing a global “tipping-point,” which “could lead to intolerable impacts on human well-being, in spite of all feasible attempts at adaptation.” Does Levitt actually believe that any one technological solution powerful enough to shift the climate of our planet can be developed on so short a time frame?

To be sure, technology and human ingenuity will be absolutely necessary for mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. But, more than a mythical silver bullet, we will need to build massive amounts of political will. Propagating ideas to the contrary is simply irresponsible.

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Conference aims to stop maternal deaths

In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 16 women will die in pregnancy or childbirth. In Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, pregnancy and birth complications kill one in every six women. To take on the millions of maternal deaths worldwide, the UN is backing a landmark global conference set to take place in London this October.

At Women Deliver, more than 2,000 people will come together to strategize new ways to save women’s lives and tackle other issues that impede women’s access to care such as poverty.

Delegates from more than 75 countries will include cabinet ministers, heads of United Nations and other multilateral agencies, senior government officials, health professionals, researchers, economists, and reproductive health advocates.

“Every minute of every day a woman dies needlessly during pregnancy and childbirth,” said conference Honorary Chair Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights and former President of Ireland. “That’s ten million women in every generation. Most of these deaths are in the developing world, and most are preventable.”

To find out more about Women Deliver, click here.

For more facts on maternal health, click here.

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Reengagement Tops ’08 Foreign Policy Agendas

Today, in the Council on Foreign Relations’ Daily Analysis, deputy editor Robert McMahon does a good job summarizing a common thread that runs through the foreign policy agendas of the leading ’08 candidates:

What is striking so far about the candidates’ foreign policy presentations is the consistent desire, expressed by Republicans and Democrats alike, to have the United States improve and deepen its engagement with the world.

Although the suggested methods of engagement differ, it is clear that the candidates are tapping into the sentiments of American voters, who are becoming increasingly tired of costly, and largely ineffective, unilateral action.

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Climate and Conflict

Writing in Foreign Policy, Idean Salehyan takes umbrage with this weeks-old op-ed by Ban Ki-moon in which the Secretary General cites climate change as a contributory factor to the violence in Darfur. The author doesn’t doubt the science behind climate change, rather Salehyan quips that pointing out the relationship between conflict and climate change is bad politics. Talking about this link, says, Saleyhan is tantamount to excusing belligerents for starting armed conflict:

[A]rguing that climate change is a root cause of conflict lets tyrannical governments off the hook. If the environment drives conflict, then governments bear little responsibility for bad outcomes. That’s why Ban Ki-moon’s case about Darfur was music to Khartoum’s ears. The Sudanese government would love to blame the West for creating the climate change problem in the first place. True, desertification is a serious concern, but it’s preposterous to suggest that poor rainfall–rather than deliberate actions taken by the Sudanese government and the various combatant factions–ultimately caused the genocidal violence in Sudan. Yet by Moon’s [sic] perverse logic, consumers in Chicago and Paris are at least as culpable for Darfur as the regime in Khartoum.

First, Ban never said that climate change, alone, is to blame for the conflict in Darfur. This is what he wrote (emphasis mine.) “Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” These are important qualifiers.

But more importantly, Salehyan questions the political utility of highlighting the ecological roots of conflicts like Darfur. I think the answer is a resounding yes, for doing so adds another layer of urgency to international efforts to redress climate change. It is entirely appropriate, for example, for delegates at the coming UN summit on climate change to note that progress they make has real-world consequences for global security.

Simply stating the truth of the matter–that desertification of the sahel has sparked new competition of over resources in Darfur–does not excuse Khartoum and rebel groups for causing a humanitarian crisis. It does, however, help bring to light that our actions on climate change can help mitigate future crises.

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Ban speaks out on gender parity

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke out on gender parity at all levels of the United Nations at a ceremony welcoming the first-ever all-female class of security officers.

“We need to be exemplary and to be the first organization to keep the internationally-agreed commitment of having full gender balance,” Ban said.

In his April report on UN system-wide coherence, he said that it is crucial that gender equality “remain the mandate of all United Nations entities.

Also in attendance at today’s ceremony was Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who said she was heartened by the entry of an all-female class of security officers.

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