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Top of the Morning: Midwives Means More Lives Saved

More midwives means more lives saved…A new UN-backed report shows that as many as two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths can be averted by increasing the training and number of midwives in 73 key countries. “Midwives are the unsung heroes of maternal and newborn health. Indeed they are the unsung heroes of global health,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin on a press call. (Humanosphere

The Toilet Shortage, Gender Based Violence Nexus…Those two young girls who were raped, murdered and left hanging from a tree in India last week were assaulted as they walked at night to relieve themselves before bedtime. This is a common problem. “Nine of out of ten women and girls say they have faced harassment when going to the bathroom in Bhopal, the capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, according a report by WaterAid in 2012. About a third said they have been assaulted, the survey said, without saying how many women it interviewed. “When women go to the fields they are easy prey for men,” said Shaibal Gupta, an economist at the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna in the eastern state of Bihar. “I struggle to describe it. It’s one of the most dastardly acts imaginable.” (Bloomberg

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Human Rights Watch has reacted angrily to Rwandan allegations of bias in its reporting on the central African nation, saying it has been “misrepresented” and its staff “disparaged.” (AFP

South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union is considering a government proposal to resolve a five-month platinum strike and will table it to its members this week, union president Joseph Mathunjwa said. (Reuters

Nigerian protesters seeking the return of more than 200 girls kidnapped by Islamist group Boko Haram said on Tuesday they would challenge a ban on their daily protests in court. (Reuters

200,000 Ugandans have signed up to a company believing it will cure all their illnesses and help them make a fortune. But it is more likely to do the opposite. (Think Africa Press

Foreign mining company personnel have left the country while others are undergoing body temperature screening at work sites, company officials said Tuesday as the death toll from an Ebola outbreak inSierra Leone rose to at least five victims. (AP


The United States says it intends, for now, to work with the new Palestinian unity government, including continued foreign assistance. (VOA

Egypt’s interim president has revoked amnesties for 52 people pardoned by ousted president Mohamed Morsi, state media reported, including Islamists affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. (Reuters

The president of the World Bank warned Tuesday that Lebanon is reaching “breaking point” in terms of its ability to deal with the massive influx of Syrian refugees. (AP


Thailand’s military is threatening to arrest those using a three-fingered salute from “The Hunger Games” movies to express opposition to last month’s coup. (VOA

An index of consumer confidence in Thailand jumped in May on hopes a military government that seized power promising to impose order after months of political chaos will drag the economy back from the brink of recession. (Reuters

Bangladesh’s leather tanneries are notoriously filthy, exposing workers and neighbours to toxic chemicals. And recent studies show that poultry feed produced from industry scraps may also be putting the health of millions throughout the country at risk. (IRIN

Swathes of India’s most populous state plunged into darkness for 12 hours a day last week as temperatures in Delhi hit their highest in 16 years, with the disruptions underlining the tough challenge a new government faces in keeping the lights on. (Reuters

The Americas

In the past 15 years, China has gone from being a relatively insignificant economic partner in Latin America to the number-one trading partner of some of the largest economies in the region. (IPS

President Barack Obama says the growing number of unaccompanied children travelling illegally to theUS has created an “urgent humanitarian situation”. (BBC

US federal law seeks to keep sexual assault victims from paying for forensic exams, but in some states they may have to cover tests and treatment for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. (NPR


Malawi elections: Banda defeated by corruption and hunger (African Arguments

Global Prosperity Wonkcast: Deforestation by the Numbers (CGD

Why governments don’t like private schools? (Roving Bandit

Malawi: Joyce Banda Never Existed (Think Africa Press

Inclusive capitalism must fairly reward those on the bottom rung of the ladder (Guardian

Queer in Africa – Confronting the Crisis (Daily Maverick


A new report says while the need for social protections is widely recognized, many people around the world don’t have them. The International Labor Organization says less than 30-percent of the population has guaranteed access to such things as healthcare or unemployment safeguards. (VOA

Due to malnourishment, some 200 million toddlers in poor countries have under-developed brains. A study in the journal Science suggests more play time with mom can dramatically reverse the damage. (NPR

Majority of Inaugural Conflict Mineral Reports Are Inadequate (Global Witness

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Image credit: State of the World’s Midwifery report, UNFPA

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Ban Ki Moon and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Find a Tie that Binds


UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at City Hall yesterday.  The two seemed at ease in each other’s company, hopefully setting the stage for the continued relationship between the city and its extraterritorial inhabitant. New York and the UN have sometimes had a rocky relationship, but if this meeting is any indication it looks like Mayor de Blasio will take a cue from his predecessor Michael Bloomberg and forge an alliance with the United Nations over a common cause: climate change.

Things have not always been so chummy between the UN and New York City. Before the September 11 attacks, Rudy Giuliani had a particularly testy relationship with his Turtle Bay inhabitants, with Giuliani telling the New York Times that pre-2001 his relationship with Turtle Bay “consisted of trying to get them to pay parking tickets.”  Still, in 2004, he had kind words regarding the UN in light of the “potent strain of isolationism” that had taken root in his Republican party in the wake of the Iraq war beginning. 

Bloomberg came into office in an equally tough time for the city and the world. Initially  a Republican, Bloomberg, like Giuliani, did not subscribe to some of the party’s voices on de-funding and dismantling the UN.  For the most part, the Mayor stayed out the disaster that was John Bolton’s turn as U.S. Ambassador to the UN and chose to focus of city operations and 9/11 clean up, only becoming a more vocal supporter after the Ambassador’s resignation was announced. Independently wealthy and independent politically, Bloomberg was not beholden to fundraisers and UN critics the way Giuliani may have been and was able to distance himself a bit during the Bush administration’s fury over the UN and the Iraq war.

Bloomberg used the ‘New York Strong’ sentiment to build his vision of ‘New York, Sustainable.’ Climate change action and ‘greening’ the city with bike lanes and LEED-certified construction became a priority issue for Bloomberg and common cause helped bring Turtle Bay back into the fold of the city. It didn’t hurt that Ban Ki Moon had also taken up climate change as a singular issue right about the same time. By the end of his term, the relationship became so close that Bloomberg was appointed Ban Ki Moon’s Special Envoy on Climate Change and Cities by the Secretary General.

De Blasio is now running his leg of that relay. Yesterday, he said that the UN’s Climate Summit in September is “literally one of the moments where we believe there’s an opportunity for real progress on what is arguably one of the most fundamental issues facing the entire globe.”  Ban invited de Blasio to attend the Summit — as he has wisely decided to include more than just diplomats in the process, but also mayors of cities around the world.

With this meeting coming on the heels of the President’s announcement on new carbon emissions rules for power plants, it was readily apparent from the tone in conversation that Ban and de Blasio consider each other as true partners on the issue of urban climate change action.    “Big cities like New York generate and create some problems,” Ban said. “But at this home of innovation, we can find solutions from this great city.”

Photo credit: Mythili Sampathkumar


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Syria’s Sham Election Will Change Nothing

It goes without saying, but the elections now underway in Syria will have precisely zero effect on the conflict’s overall dynamics. This includes at the Security Council.

There are basically three priorities for Syria at the Security council.

The first is the quarantine of Syria’s chemical weapons. The most recent report from the Secretary General indicated that the June 30 final deadline for destruction of chemical weapons will not be met. Still, over 92% of Syria’s stockpiles have been taken out of the country. What remains are precursors that remain beyond the reach of the UN monitors because of security concerns.

The second is humanitarian access. The last big Security Council push on increasing humanitarian access to Syria occurred just before the Ukraine crisis exploded. Resolution 2139, passed unanimously in February, called for unfettered humanitarian access to Syria’s besieged populations. The situation improved for a short while, but has steadily deteriorated. Now, the humanitarian situation is as bad as it has ever been since the start of the civil war.  

The third are the international diplomatic efforts to end the fighting.  This is also at a standstill. The joint UN/Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi resigned last month after it became increasingly clear that his efforts were futile. So long as Russia continues to provide diplomatic cover to the Assad regime at the Security Council, there is no meaningful way to compel the Syrian government to enter into good faith negotiations with the opposition.

The elections today will do nothing to change these fundamental dynamics; the re-affirmation of Assad’s grip on state power through sham elections will not sway Moscow or Washington one way or the other.  Meanwhile, the situation on the ground is getting worse by the day.  There are some 2.8 million refugees, 6.5 million internally displaced, and 9.5 million people in need of humanitarian relief. Nothing about the elections today suggests that those numbers will decrease anytime soon.


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Top of the Morning: RIP to a Latin American Polio Warrior

Brazilian Epidemiologist Ciro de Quadros, whose work helped eradicate polio and eliminate other vaccine preventable illnesses in Latin America has died at the age of 74. “Dr. de Quadros was relatively little known outside the loosely affiliated web of national and international health authorities that track and combat communicable diseases. But as a director of one of those groups, the Pan American Health Organization, he was widely credited with carrying out one of the boldest — and seemingly least likely — projects in modern epidemiological history.”  (NYT

Police Fire Water Cannons at Indian Women Protesting Violence Against Women….The protests were in connection to yet another horrific rape, and alleged police coverup. “Officials say five men have been arrested in connection with the rape of two girls, 14- and 15-year-old cousins, who went missing May 27 after going to a field to relieve themselves because their homes have no toilets. Two police officers, being held on suspicion of attempting to cover up the crime, were among the five.  (VOA

And how these rape and murders expose India’s caste faultines. NPR

Global Dispatches Podcast: International Crisis Group chief and human rights pioneer Louise Arbour tells Mark about her amazing journey from law school in Quebec to the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda —  and how one dark episode of Canadian history propelled her to fight governments that abuse their citizens.

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Despite a raft of legislation dealing with the environment, African countries are still falling short when it comes to enforcing the legal instruments that respond to challenges posed by climate change, researchers say. (IPS

African Union peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo operating in the Central African Republic have been accused of abuses, including torture, killings and detentions, Human Rights Watch said. (Reuters

Malawi President Peter Mutharika said economic stability and national unity would be the focus of his government as he became the fifth leader of the southern African state following a disputed election. (Reuters

Recent bombings in Kenya have dented President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plans to boost tourism and undermined his pledge to restore security after last year’s Westgate shopping mall attack. (Reuters

Health officials in South Sudan were scrambling to contain a cholera outbreak as the death toll from the diarrheal disease rose and infections were reported beyond the capital, Juba, and in other parts of Central Equatoria state and in distant Upper Nile state. (VOA

Somalia is again facing growing food insecurity. The UN’s FAO blames it on late rains, a poor harvest and ongoing conflict. It’s estimated 800,000 Somalis currently are in need of food aid. (VOA

Protests by supporters of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram have been banned in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, police said on Monday. (AP


Young mothers who fled Syria’s war for dismal refugee camps in Lebanon struggle to imagine a future for their babies, even though they find their newborns a rare source of joy. (AFP

The conflict in Syria has cost Lebanon $7.5 billion as it struggles to cope with hosting more than a million refugees from the neighbouring country, according to World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim. (AFP


A law passed in Pakistan’s Sindh province shows that despite religious opposition, steps taken to outlaw child marriage are taking effect. (Guardian

Consumer products giant Unilever scrambled to remove advertising banners from shops in western Myanmar that prominently displayed the symbol of the Buddhist extremist movement blamed for a wave of bloody attacks against minority Muslims. (AP

The dramatic deal to free soldier Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for Taliban prisoners ignited criticism after the insurgents’ leader declared a “big victory”, but also raised hopes for peace as the US prepares to leave Afghanistan. (AP

The Americas

It’s not just fans traveling to the World Cup who should be worried about the looming demonstrations — but the players too, says a leading researcher into one of Brazil’s main protest groups. (CNN

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is fighting fierce conservative opposition to allow abortion for women and girls who are raped, carrying non-viable fetuses or facing life-threatening pregnancy complications. (AFP


Is this the most evil Aid program in the world? (Campaign for Boring Development

Mexico Underlines Transformation in Global Climate Change Debate (IPS

David Miliband’s aid goals ignore evolution of humanitarian industry (Guardian

The Dangers of Digitising Land Data (SciDevNet

Is Africa Prepared for the Harsh Realities of Climate Change? (New Times

The Global Impact of Obama’s Climate Change Proposal (UN Dispatch

The world’s new number 2 spot for migration: Germany (Humanosphere

A Woman I Regarded as a Hero, and New Doubts (NYTimes


Sweden will give four Western Balkan countries 400 million euros ($546 million) in aid to carry out reforms needed to qualify to join the European Union, the Swedish ambassador in Bosnia said. (AP

Hungarian government agents on Monday raided the offices of three non-government organizations that help distribute Norwegian grants in a conflict that has soured bilateral relations. (Reuters

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The Global Impact of Obama’s Climate Change Proposal

The Obama administration unveiled a bold new scheme to reduce carbon emissions from American power plants by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030. The policy that was rolled out by the Environmental Protection Agency contains a number of  mechanisms by which the USA can achieve this goal–but in practice this is a war on coal fired power plants.

Compared to the global scale of the problem, the 30% target is probably not bold enough. But it is still the most impressive climate change proposal ever for the United States.

The USA is responsible for about 17% of emissions (making it the second biggest emitter  after China, which is responsible for 26% of global emissions.)  Currently, power plants make up about one third of Americas’s green house gas emissions.  Cutting those emissions by 30%  would clearly make a dent in the global fight against the catastrophic effects of climate change.

But it is also no where near as big a dent as we need. It’s generally agreed that global emissions need to be cut by at least 80% by 2o50 in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.  That can only happen through concerted international cooperation–which is why there is so much at stake with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Still, this policy is a step in the right direction –and its being welcome around the world. It’s symbolically important, too. Particularly in the run up to the next round of international climate change negotiations in 2015.

Here’s the top UN climate official Christina Figueres

“News that the United States will unveil a significant strategy on Monday (2 June 2014) to combat climate change is a welcome development in 2014—the Year of Ambition”.

“The decision by President Obama to launch plans to more tightly regulate emissions from power plants will send  a good signal to nations everywhere that one of the world’s biggest emitters is taking the future of the planet and its people seriously”.

“It is also a good signal for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September and towards securing a new  and more importantly meaningful climate agreement by the UN convention meeting in Paris in late 2015”.

“I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action—action that can set the stage  and put in place the pathways that can bend the global emissions curve down in order to keep world-wide  temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius this century”.


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Episode 19: Louise Arbour

International Crisis Group chief Louise Arbour is on the line this week. Ms. Arbour is a true human rights pioneer, perhaps best known as the war crimes prosecutor who served Slobodan Milosevic his indictment for genocide.  In this episode, she tells me about her amazing journey from law school in Quebec to the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and how one dark episode of Canadian history propelled her to fight governments who abuse their citizens.

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Previous episodes

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk


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