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Flooding in India, 2013 : UNISDR/Brigitte Leoni

Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Flooding in Kashmir

South Asia is no stranger to horrible flooding, but the worst rains in 50 years have deluged parts of India and Pakistan, leading to dramatic rescues and heightened tensions as people question the role of government in averting such disasters and assisting those effected most. And the location of this flood–disputed Kasmhir–is making the response to this calamity all the more complicated.

One of the most militarized regions in the world, recent fighting between India and Pakistan threatened the ceasefire reached in 2003 and the flooding is doing little to ease anxiety over the possibility of renewed conflict. The militarized nature of the region is also undermining rescue efforts, as India and Pakistan exchange words of encouragement but do little to assist one another. Even as the two governments engage in disaster diplomacy, fighting at the Line of Control has not stopped, distracting the militaries of both sides from desperately needed rescue efforts.

That leaves little assistance for over a million people impacted on both sides of the border, cutting off basic services and supplies. At least 451 people have died in the floods so far as Indian officials estimate that 400,000 people remain stranded in Punjab province alone. Those fortunate enough to escape the floodwaters are facing dire conditions in displacement camps where disease is now a huge concern. As local media lauds the military as heroes, tensions on the ground between stranded villages and the Indian Air Force has scaled down rescue attempts, as  angry residents who feel abandoned by the government pelted the air force with stones.

Part of the tension is due to the feeling that the governments of both India and Pakistan should be better prepared to respond to such disasters. While monsoon rains typically wreak havoc, the past decade has seen flooding on a previously unprecedented level. Consider these incidents in the past few years.

-Flooding in 2007 throughout South Asia effected Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, killing more than 2,000 and displacing an estimated 20 million

-In 2008, Western India saw monsoon flooding in several regions with a death toll of more than 2,400.

-The historic 2010 floods in Pakistan put an estimated one-fifth of the country underwater, impacting 20 million people and killing nearly 2,000. The flooding also affected Kashmir and North India, causing billions in economic damage.

-Monsoon rains in 2011 caused extensive flooding of Sindh province, Pakistan’s primary food production region, killing more than 400 and effecting 1.5 million people.

-Record rainfall in 2012 again brought floods to several regions of Pakistan, killing over 100 people but causing less damage than previous years.

-In 2013, heavy rainfall in June melted mountain snowpack and parts of the Chorabari Glacier in North India, leading to flashfloods that killed at least 3,700 people. The floods overtook popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand, leaving thousands missing and nearly 6,000 people presumed dead. In August, flooding affected both Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing 187 and destroying acres of farmland once again.

With this backdrop, it is clear that widespread flooding is becoming a new normal for South Asia, particularly along the India-Pakistan border. Yet neither government appears to be learning lessons from previous floods. Pakistani government structure remains horribly fragmented, making disaster preparedness and response difficult even under the best circumstances. Even as substantial amounts of money are invested in flood warning and diversion systems, they suffer from lack of trained personnel to operate them or government direction regarding when they should be used. In India, similar fragmentation between the state and federal government hinders preparedness, while corruption mars the response. The end result is billions in economic damage and substantial loss of life, which as it begins to occur annually, compounds into lost development and swaths of people who essentially become permanently displaced.

Scientists believe that climate change is a significant factor to this new reality but other immediate factors also contribute to increased flood devastation. In recent years sand mining, where sand and gravel is extracted from riverbeds for use in the construction industry, has risen substantially throughout India which shifts the paths of rivers and aids in the erosion of river plains, making new areas vulnerable to flooding. Multiple government initiatives have failed to curtail the practice and civil society organizations are concerned that unless the Indian governments gets serious about the environmental impacts of such practices, the impact of flooding will only get worse. Likewise, the prioritization of profit and industry over the environment also contributes to the devastation in Pakistan. Extensive deforestation by the timber industry in Northwest Pakistan where many of these floods originate aids in the speed of water flows, creating the perfect conditions for flash floods.

Another more politically contentious issue is the widespread construction on dams on major waterways throughout the region. India is home to an estimated 3,200 medium to large-scale dams that alter the natural course of rivers. Several of these dams sit on rivers that flow through both India and Pakistan, giving the government of one side – typically India – more power in releasing and blocking water flows in times of flooding. Hardliners in Pakistan have accused India of “water terrorism” as it releases or blocks water flows to protect their own territory, often at the expense of Pakistan. This accusation is not new; Pakistan made similar during the 2010 floods. The debate highlights the potential controversy that can come with water control and its possible consequences. As the global population grows and water becomes an increasingly scarce resource in some parts of the world, the issues seen today on the India-Pakistan border could foreshadow new debates regarding natural resources and sovereignty for the 21st century.

For many of us, Kashmir is very far away but the flooding happening there now is part of a new environmental and political reality that does not appear to be abating any time soon. Besides heightening tensions in one of the most militarized regions of the world, it also threatens the economic development of the entire South Asian region. That has wide reaching implications for Asia and in a globalized world, has implications for the rest of us as well.

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Dev Banks Make Big Climate Comittment

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But a key question is whether that commitment will translate into action. And if so, how much? “The world’s six multilateral development banks promised on Thursday to do more to help emerging nations fight climate change as part of efforts to reinvigorate flagging work on a U.N. deal to limit temperature rises. In a statement before a Sept. 23 summit on global warming to be hosted by U.N.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York, the World Bank and other banks said they had delivered $75 billion in financing since they started joint tracking of funds in 2011. “We now pledge to build on our work so far and to enhance our climate finance action, in accordance with our organizations’ respective mandates, expertise, and resources,” the banks said in a statement. They did not give any target for funds. The statement was signed by the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank Group.(Reuters

September is a Big Inflection Point for the Central African Republic…A discussion about the transition to a new UN Peacekeeping mission in CAR, and what it can hope to accomplish.  (Global Dispatches Podcast:

SPOTLIGHT—>Partners In Health announced on Thursday that it is partnering with Last Mile Health in Liberia and Wellbody Alliance in Sierra Leone to lead an effort against the current Ebola outbreak. The medical organization is actively recruiting experienced clinical and non-clinical health sector workers interested in staffing Ebola Treatment Units and supporting existing community-based work. Learn more here


 The Committee to Protect Journalists called for the release of a South Sudanese reporter who allegedly has been in detention for nearly three weeks. (VOA

The United Nations refugee agency is warning that a food and humanitarian crisis is looming in Cameroon - where hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge fleeing violence in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. (VOA

Because of the Ebola outbreak, farmers are too frightened to tend their fields. Customers have stopped going to restaurants, bars and other shops. So now people in Liberia’s “breadbasket” region are depending on food donations. (NPR

The humanitarian community in Mali still needs $271 million out of a total $481 million required by year-end to meet identified needs in the country, according to the mid-year review of its 2014 Strategic Response Plan. (OCHA

Kenya on Thursday swore in a new intelligence chief who it hopes will tackle the rising threat from al Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia bent on retaliation after U.S. missiles last week killed their leader and co-founder Ahmed Godane. (Reuters

The International Criminal Court on Thursday confirmed that Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo will face trial for crimes against humanity, throwing out an appeal by the defence. (AFP

 Economic growth in Liberia and Sierra Leone could decline by as much as 3.5 percentage points as the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola has crippled the key mining, agriculture and services sectors in the two West African countries, the IMF said on Thursday. (Reuters


In August, the ICRC and its Syrian Arab Red Crescent partner provided food aid for 530,000 people across 10 Syrian governorates, including 90,000 people living in opposition-controlled areas – the largest amount they had provided in a single month since the beginning of the armed conflict in 2011. (ICRC

 The United Nations on Thursday confirmed the release of all 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been held for two weeks by al Qaeda-linked militants in the Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syrian border.

Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes by attacking three U.N.-run schools in the Gaza Strip in fighting in July and August, killing Palestinian civilians who had sheltered there.


 Two rights groups say they have collected evidence that detainees in Thailand have been tortured since the kingdom’s May 22 coup. (VOA

 Singapore has banned a documentary on political exiles whom have lived abroad for decades, saying the film undermines national security, highlighting the wealthy city-state’s uneasiness over public debate on politics. (VOA

 More than 200 garment factories have shut down in Bangladesh since the country’s worst industrial disaster prompted a massive clean-up of the world’s second-largest textile sector, an industry group. (AFP

Late monsoon rains in northern Pakistan have washed away communities, devastated farmland, and brought the risk of a “super-flood” moving across the country, leaving millions of people potentially vulnerable. (IRIN

The Americas

The destruction of the world’s largest rainforest accelerated last year with a 29 percent spike in deforestation, according to final figures released by the Brazilian government on Wednesday that confirmed a reversal in gains seen since 2009. (VOA


 Ebola Crisis Reversing Development Gains in Liberia (IPS

Analysis: Obama takes big risk in wider airstrikes (AP

 Can UN Peacekeeping Save the Central African Republic? (UN Dispatch

Interview with Justine Fleischner:  A View from War-Ravaged South Sudan (Enough Project

The era of democratization is not over (Dart Throwing Chimp

The Economist magazine has had a “Slavery Problem” since 1843 (Africa is a Country

So Is Corruption the Problem or Not? Moses Naim’s Curious Inconsistency (Global Anticorruption Blog

 Wanted: New narratives in international development communications (How Matters

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French soldiers in CAR, courtesy french ministry of defense

Can UN Peacekeeping Save the Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic is far from the headlines these days, which is unfortunate. Things are bad, but there’s a potential that the situation may improve in the coming weeks as the current African Union-led peacekeeping force is formally “re-hatted” as a United Nations peacekeeping force. I speak with Evan Cinq-Mars of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect about the situation in CAR and what the transition to a UN Peacekeeping mission may mean for the people of this conflict-plagued country.


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ISIS flag

Obama Wants to Bomb Syria. Is that Legal?

President Obama suggested very strongly last night that the USA may bomb ISIS targets in Syria. His invocation of Somalia and Yemen as possible models for a Syria intervention made explicit that the USA intends to launch strikes against individuals in Syria.

But would this be legal?

From a domestic standpoint there is some debate about whether or not the President needs to secure congressional approval for this kind of action. From an international perspective the UN charter is rather clear on the circumstances in which one country can bomb the territory of another.

There are basically three criteria that could make this legal.

1) The Security Council authorizes the intervention. Chapter VII of the UN Charter gives the Security Council the sole legal authority to authorize international interventions when the government of the territory on which the intervention is taking place does not consent to the intervention. In other words, bombing a country without that government’s consent to have its territory bombed isn’t legal unless the Security Council says so. This is why the intervention in Libya was technically legal; and why the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not.

In this case, the Security Council will almost certainly not authorize international intervention against ISIS in Syria because veto-wielding Russia would almost certainly object to such a resolution.  This is not to say that Russia is in any way aligned with ISIS–in fact, ISIS threatens Russia’s allies in Damascus. Rather, Moscow would likely object to a Security Council resolution authorizing strikes against ISIS for the simple reason that Moscow does not want to give the USA any possible pretext for eventually turning its bombs on regime targets. For the past four years, Russia has steadfastly objected to any Security Council resolution that had even the remotest possibility of leading to intervention against Assad. From a Russian perspective, if Moscow accedes to a bombing campaigning Syria, Pandora’s Box could be opened. So, this route for making a US-led bombing campaign in Syria is not likely to succeed.

2) The country asks for help to deal with a threat on its territory. This is by far the most common legal authorization for international intervention. This is how the USA justified intervention against ISIS in Iraq. The government of Iraq asked for international assistance to deal with ISIS on its territory, and the USA obliged. It’s pretty clear cut: A country has the right to ask foreign powers for military assistance against an internal threat. So will Assad give the USA consent to bomb ISIS targets on its territory? It’s not likely. The Obama administration has also consistently stated that it would not coordinate any potential strikes with the Assad regime, which the USA considers illegitimate. So, consent from the Syrian government is not being sought by the Obama administration, but neither would it likely to be forthcoming. Unless some accommodation is made, this route is probably shut.

3) “Collective Self Defense” is invoked.  Article 51 of the UN Charter enshrines the principle that countries have an inherent right of self defense, and that this extends not only to a country protecting itself, but other countries coming to the defense of the country under threat. This is called collective self defense. Here’ Article 51.

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

In other words, if the UN Security Council is not able or willing to take action, a country may defend itself from armed attack–and that includes asking other countries to help it defend itself. In this instance, it is probably a stretch to consider ISIS a threat to the United States; the execution of two American journalists does not constitute an armed attack against the USA. However, Iraq has almost certainly been attacked by ISIS elements based in Syria. Iraq is a member of the United Nations in good standing. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that the principle of collective self defense as enshrined in Article 51 applies in respect to Iraq. Iraq has a legal right to defend itself; and it has a legal right to ask other countries to help it do so.  This, of course, is more of a slippery argument than getting a Security Council resolution. But article 51 was inserted into the UN Charter for a reason–and the criteria seems to be satisfied in this instance.

Why does this matter?  The USA has sometimes excepted itself from norms applied to other countries in respect to international law. The invasion of Iraq was transparently illegal; and the US-led bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 also did not have Security Council approval. Still, many countries around the world, particularly American allies in Europe, take international law very seriously. They would be loathe to join a coalition to fight ISIS in Syria without a strong legal backing. So, in the coming days and weeks as the USA builds this coalition to fight ISIS, pay special attention to the international law the Obama administration invokes to justify its potential action in Syria.  It matters if we want to build a world where the rule of law puts limits on a country’s ability to use force against other sovereign countries. And it matters if this coalition against ISIS is to be as broad-based as possible.



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Obama's Syria Speech

The Key Passage from Obama’s Speech

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Syria is the new Somalia? The President’s speech last night did not break much new ground, except for this one passage: “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”  In other words, expect targeted airstrikes and drone strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, combined with limited humanitarian assistance. Full Text:

Conflict Mineral #Fail…A law meant to curtail the money that rebel groups in DR Congo make off the mineral trade has done more harm than good, say researchers and activists in an open letter. “Nearly four years after the passing of the Dodd-Frank Act, only a small fraction of the hundreds of mining sites in the eastern DRC have been reached by traceability or certification efforts. The rest remain beyond the pale, forced into either illegality or collapse as certain international buyers have responded to the legislation by going ‘Congo-free’.” (Humanosphere


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says it is committing $50 million to help combat the growing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (VOA


Health workers in Liberia reported being overwhelmed by new Ebola cases on Wednesday, as the epidemic was blamed for shattering economic growth in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The first case of the Ebola virus detected in Senegal, a 21-year-old student who arrived from neighboring Guinea last month, has recovered from the deadly disease, a senior official said on Wednesday. (VOA

Liberia’s national existence is “seriously threatened” by the deadly Ebola virus that is “spreading like wild fire and devouring everything in its path,” the country’s national defense minister told the United Nations Security Council. (Reuters


Zimbabwe has had to “cough up” $180 million in Chinese loan repayments or face losing its credit line, its finance minister said on Wednesday, in a sign Beijing is tightening its lending terms and expects debtors to be more accountable. (VOA

China is sending hundreds of troops to join the UN peacekeeping force in war-torn South Sudan, where Chinese companies have major oil interests. (VOA

Gambia’s national assembly has passed a bill to introduce the crime of aggravated homosexuality into the criminal code and make it punishable by life imprisonment in some cases, according to a copy of the bill. (Reuters

 Experts say that Africa’s extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. (IPS

 The Malawi government has presented its budget for the next financial year, which has been designed to regain donor confidence and encourage political stability at home. (Guardian

More than 3,000 families in Zimbabwe’s southeastern Masvingo Province who accuse the government of forcibly resettling them to small plots of undeveloped land, are facing hardships including a lack of adequate food, shelter, health and education facilities. (IRIN

A new medical study out of South Africa has found heartening news in the nation with the world’s highest burden of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  Their findings reveal that South Africans with HIV can live as long as HIV patients in the United States – provided they begin antiretroviral therapy early enough. (VOA

ICRC warns hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan are facing starvation and are in urgent need of international assistance to survive. (VOA

 A Botswana newspaper editor has been charged with sedition after a story claimed the president was involved in a car accident, prompting angry allegations of stifling press freedom Wednesday. Prominent Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone was arrested on Monday over a story alleging Ian Khama had a night-time crash, which resulted in the other driver being given a new Jeep.


A toxic chemical, almost certainly chlorine, was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in attacks on villages in northern Syria earlier this year, the global chemical weapons watchdog said. (AP

Dozens of Egyptians have begun a hunger strike to demand the release of activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, a symbol of the 2011 uprising, and others they say are being unfairly detained in an effort to crush new-found freedoms. (Reuters

 A Yemeni draft law envisaging strict penalties for those involved in trafficking migrants, including kidnapping them and demanding ransom, may finally bring an end to decades of exploitation. (IRIN


Continuing military operations in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district are disrupting the education of more than 85,000 students in state-run schools. (IRIN

One year after a violent siege terrified the southern Philippines city of Zamboanga, tens of thousands of displaced survivors feel they have been forgotten. (IRIN

Indonesia, one of only three countries in the Asia-Pacific region that is seeing a trend of increased HIV infections, must plug a $30 million funding gap in its fight against HIV, a U.N. health official said. (VOA

Myanmar’s political opening has been hailed for loosening the ruling military’s tight grip on power and allowing for more democratic rule. But some critics, like one of the monks who led the 2007 uprising known as the Saffron Revolution, says little has changed overall. (VOA

As flood-ravaged Indian Kashmir faces a communication blackout, social media posts on Facebook and Twitter are playing a huge role in tracing people stranded in the region. (VOA

The Americas

The Argentine government said Wednesday that its refusal to repay a group of US hedge funds that stand to profit on the country’s defaulted debt was vindicated by the United Nations’ support for a multilateral plan handling bond restructurings. (Reuters

The figures were published in a report that Cuba prepares for the United Nations each year in requesting a resolution urging an end to the comprehensive US. (AP

 Haiti has received a large shipment of treatment packets to help it deal with an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya amid a rainy season expected to result in a surge of new cases in the country, officials said. (AP

 Top law enforcement officials from North and Central America are forming a multinational task force to address the massive influx of child migrants to the United States. At a meeting in Mexico City with his counterparts from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to create a working group that will focus on the criminal elements behind child migration. (VOA

 Venezuela’s central bank publishes long-awaited figures showing annual inflation has reached a six-year high at 63.4%, the highest in the region. (BBC


A New European Foreign Policy in an Age of Anxiety (IPS

Three Illicit Flows Targets for the Post-2015 Framework (CGD

Covering Ebola: Fear And Love In Liberia (NPR

The danger of programs that pay for performance (Development Impact

Fresh water in a village called death (Baobab

Towards an Alternative Perspective: Against Hobbes (Why Nations Fail

 How to write about development without being simplistic, patronising, obscure or stereotyping (From Poverty to Power

The Things We Do: Shame is a Powerful Thing (People, Spaces, Deliberation


A top-level international panel called for a major shift in global drug-control policies from prohibition to decriminalisation and regulation. (IPS

Amnesty International said on Wednesday it had documented evidence of war crimes by both sides in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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The NATO Summit’s Most Important Outcome (Maybe)

More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is finding new relevance in a changing geopolitical landscape.

The decision last week to bolster NATO’s joint military capabilities, through the establishment of a new Rapid Reaction Force, is meant to demonstrate the West’s willingness to stand up to Russian interference in Ukraine. Building on previous efforts to enhance NATO’s military credibility – which is only as good as its true deterrent potential –  it puts into sharp focus the increased threat to the east of the Europe’s borders.

In June,  Roland Paris,  Director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe & Mail that “NATO must adopt a firm stance towards Russia by demonstrating its commitment to defend all its members.” The creation of this new force is meant to accomplish exactly this goal. The new Rapid Reaction Force will reinforce the existing Response Force, created in the mid-2000s. The Response Force, so far, has intervened in only a handful of crises, and currently does not have the rapid reaction “spearhead” which the new Rapid Reaction Force is supposed to create. Early details suggest that the new force, meant to be a nimble, rapidly deployable force of approximately 4,000 troops, with initial British leadership. This new force should reach operational capability by the end of the year, and is meant to send a clear message about NATO members’ resolve to confront the threats on their doorstep.

The new force represents a new attempt to fulfill the responsibilities and mandate of Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, which states that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”,  and that such an attack would trigger a collective response. Russia’s actions in the last few months in Ukraine – the annexation of Crimea, and the active presence of Russian military in the eastern part of the country, in support of separatist rebels – have seriously undermined peace and stability in the region. Ukraine, as a non-NATO member, has not been able to avail itself of Article 5, and NATO’s response has been ambiguous at best. In a speech, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen rehashed NATO’s core doctrine,  “Should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.” What this means for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, though, is unclear.

The high-level NATO meeting – one of the most significant NATO gatherings of recent years – and the creation of the new Rapid Reaction Force, are meant to be a strong signal to Putin. In addition to the new, rapidly deployable force, the NATO partners also agreed to a number of measures to boost the organization’s ability to project stability, including investing in improving intelligence and asymmetric warfare capability. Nevertheless, in spite of this strong, rhetorical commitment, the concern remains that these measures fail to offer an immediate solution against Russian interference in Ukraine. Those who would like to see “lethal force” provided by NATO allies to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia – which would be a major turning point in the conflict – are disappointed.

The failure to respond forcefully and meaningfully to Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea and military incursion in the eastern part of the country has weakened the West’s ability to provide credible military deterrence. The creation of the new Rapid Reaction Force and the development of new tools and strategies for NATO to address “ambiguous”, or asymmetric warfare, are important steps. However, they fail to address the immediate question of how Russia can be prevented from further interfering in Ukrainian affairs.

The challenge of using NATO as a meaningful deterrent against Russia highlights how effective state cooperation – even when interests are aligned – can be incredibly difficult in a world where international law – which is supposed to bind and constrain state actions –  is all too often ignored by belligerent actors.

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