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Top of the Morning: Measles Infections in USA Reach Record High

Top stories from DAWNS Digest 

Measles Infections in USA Reach Record High… Parents are opting out of vaccines and threatening children everywhere. “The USA now has the most measles cases in 20 years and the most since homegrown outbreaks were eliminated in 2000, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. The confirmed case count for 2014, as of May 23, was 288 and growing, the CDC says. That number includes 138 cases from Ohio, where the biggest outbreak is ongoing – and where the actual count is 166 as of Thursday, according to the state health department.” (USA Today

New Study issues Big Warning Global Obesity Rates...The Lancet study also finds that obesity in children has risen by 47% since 1980. “Today, 2.1 billion people – nearly 30% of the world’s population – are either obese or overweight, according to a new, first-of-its kind analysis of trend data from 188 countries. The rise in global obesity rates over the last three decades has been substantial and widespread, presenting a major public health epidemic in both the developed and the developing world.” (IHME

The investigative report that brought down Somaly Mam and forced her resignation from the anti-trafficking organization she founded. (NewsWeek

From Mark’s Podcast: What Obama Left Out of his Big Foreign Policy Speech (Global Dispatches Podcast

Image credit CDC

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Map of the Day: Where Obeisity Carries the Highest Burden

The Lancet published a new Gates-backed study examining rates of obesity and overweight worldwide.  The results are not encouraging. While the rate of obesity has slowed down in the developed world since 2006, the developing world is now catching up. It also finds that an astounding 30% of the world is overweight–and 13% of all overweight people in the world live in the USA. In all, the report finds that overweight and obesity cause an estimated 3.9 million deaths worldwide.

Some other key findings, from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation: 

Key findings:

  • More than 50% of the world’s 671 million obese live in 10 countries (ranked beginning with the countries with the most obese people): US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
  • The US, United Kingdom, and Australia are among the high-income countries with large gains in obesity among men and women.
  • Over the 33-year period of research, the Middle East showed large increases in obesity. Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait were among the countries with the largest increases in obesity globally.
  • In six countries, all in the Middle East and Oceania – Kuwait, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, and Samoa – the prevalence of obesity for women exceeds 50%. In Tonga, both men and women have obesity prevalence over 50%.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the highest obesity rates (42%) are seen among South African women.


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The toll that these conditions inflict on the health of individuals is substantial: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension are all associated with overweight and obesity. The burden that these conditions takes on health systems can be profound, particularly in the developing world. Being overweight and obese is expensive for the individual and society. It’s an obstacle to personal health and economic development.


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What Obama Left Out of His West Point Speech

President Obama’s commencement address to West Point Graduates this week was billed by the White House as a major foreign policy address. But there were some conspicuous absences from the talk. What was notable about this speech? And how does this fit into Obama’s overall foreign policy legacy? Here to put the talk in context is Matt Duss of the Center for American Progress.  

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Previous episodes

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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Top of the Morning: UN Wants to End Open Defecation by 2025

Top stories from DAWNS Digest 

UN Sets Goal to End Open Defecation by 2025...The MDG target of providing basic sanitation will probably not be reached, but the UN is going all in.  “It is time to talk about open defecation,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, “and to discuss the facts, the consequences and the solutions.” And it is time to talk about the many countries around the world where community members, local leaders and politicians are taking positive action to end this practice, he added. According to the United Nations, about 82 percent of the 1.1 billion people practising open defecation live in just 10 countries: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal, China and Mozambique. By 2025, the practice of open defecation must be totally eliminated, the United Nations has vowed. (IPS

Obama Proposes 5 billion in Counter-Terrorism Aid for Africa...In his big foreign policy address to  West Point graduates, President Obama unveiled a new policy initiative to train security forces in frontline states, and singled out the Sahel. ““Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines,” Obama said. “These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaeda, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya, and facilitating French operations in Mali.” (WaPo

Image via A Better Toilet

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Ukraine; Security Council; South Sudan

Ukraine: The SG congratulated President-elect Petro Poroschenko by phone this morning and said he was pleased with his commitment to de-escalation and peaceful dialogue.

Security Council: The SC adopted Resolution 2155 yesterday, reprioritizing the UN Mission in South Sudan’s mandate with a focus on protecting civilians and monitoring human rights.

South Sudan: WHO and UNICEF are calling for $26 million to respond to the cholera situation where the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Toby Lanzer says limited vaccines and water purification tablets are exacerbating the situation.  So far, about 800 cholera cases, and 30 deaths have been reported—mostly in Juba—according to OCHA. Also in South Sudan, UNMISS continues to struggle with overcrowding at protection sights, with over 90,000 seeking protection and shelter. A new site, which can hold 13,000, opened today in Juba.

DSG Call to Action on Sanitation: The DSG launched a campaign to end open defecation this morning in support of his Call to Action on Sanitation, which launched last year. Panelists at the press conference included DPR of Singapore Mark Neo, Director of UNICEF Programs Nicholas Alipui, and Amanda Marlin of the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council. The campaign is focused on ending the taboo associated with defecation, which affects more than a billion people (15% of the global population). The DSG said improving sanitation advances MDG’s 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, as access to toilets allows for better health, privacy for women during menstrual cycles, higher school attendance, and economic opportunities. Panelists discussed the specific impact of open defecation on women and girls, adding that World Toilet Day this year will target this issue. For the private sector’s part, the DSG said businesses can help provide technology solutions while the DPR of Singapore added that sustainable, market-based and bottom of the pyramid solutions are what’s most needed.

Syria: Syria has suffered $144 billion in economic losses as a result of the ongoing war according to a recent quarterly report from UNRWA, UNDP and the Syrian Centre for Policy Research. Also on Syria, the SG condemned the attacks on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) fact-finding team in Syria and expressed his continued support for OPCW’s work in a phone conversation with the Director-General today.

CAR: Following a joint visit to CAR with the Special Envoy for the AU for Women, Peace and Security and the Special Representative for the Economic Community of Central African States, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcukacalled for more funding in CAR to protect women and girls.

Haiti: The UN and the Haitian Government held their first meeting of the ‘High-level committee for the elimination of Cholera in Haiti’ in Port-au-Prince. So far, local and international efforts have been successful in reducing cases by 75% compared to last year and death rates have fallen below 1%.However, WASH continues to be a dire issue for Haiti and a third of the population has no access to safe water.

Shark Guide: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched an ID guide on deep-sea sharks today in an effort to help fishers’ by-catch reporting—since survival rate is extremely low after re-release.

International Peacekeepers Day: Tomorrow is International Day of UN Peacekeepers and several events will be held at UNHQ.

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A Far-Right Resurgence In Europe. What Does it Mean?

The opinion polls were right: the far-right made a strong resurgence during the European elections last week. In France, the UK, and Denmark far-right parties obtained more than 20% of the vote. In other countries, mainstream and leading parties came in behind far-right or populist groups. In the Netherlands for example, the Dutch Prime Minister’s liberal party came in behind the anti-Islam Freedom Party. In Austria, the far-right party jumped from 12% in 2009 to nearly 20% of the votes. Despite the predictability of these results, Europeans are wringing their hands, wondering what happened, and now trying to understand what the real impact of this vote will be – not just at the level of the Union, but at the national level as well.

>> To view the full results of the 2014 election, as well as comparisons with 2009 results, check out the European Union’s multimedia tool

As the French far-right National Front party leader, Marine Le Pen, appeared, beaming, in front of posters reading Front National – Premier Parti de France (“National Front – First Party of France”), French media almost ran out of metaphors on Sunday evening to describe the enormous gains made by the National Front, historically considered extremist – a tidal wave, a political tsunami, an earthquake, a shock, a europhobic wave.

Similarly, in the UK, the far-right UKIP party won their bet to be the dominant party in these elections, and British media also spun the victory as a political shock. But, as mentioned last week, these results were not unexpected – and neither was the mediocre participation rate in the elections, reaching – across the European Union – a paltry 43%. Symbolizing the disconnect between the European institutions and its citizens – in particular, in the most recent countries to have joined the EU – less than 30% of voters participated in the election in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, .

Representative of this trend, only 43% of French voters cast a ballot in the election, while in the UK, the turn out rate was a measly 36%, leaving many to wonder if the far-right surge could have been avoided had a majority of voters participated in the polls. And while these numbers suggest that, overall, support for far-right politics is somewhat overestimated in these countries, this unfortunately doesn’t alter the fact that in both countries – which contribute large numbers of members to the EU Parliament – far-right parties can legitimately claim having won their first national level elections, dealing a serious blow to mainstream, historically dominant parties. In France, the National Front is calling for the French Parliament to be dissolved. Toeing a careful line, Marine Le Pen declared that President Francois Hollande “has no more legitimacy“, but stopped short of asking him to step down.

What does this mean for the institutions of the European Union? First, it’s important to remember that mainstream parties continue to clearly dominate the European Parliament, and that the dramatic gains by far-right parties are not translating into major changes as far as the composition of the parliament is concerned. Indeed, the two dominant parties – the European People’s Party and the Social-Democrats, representing, respectively, center-right and center-left sensibilities, went from sharing 470 seats among them to 405 of the total 751 seats. Meanwhile, far-right parties surged from a few dozen seats to well over 100 – significant gains, to be sure, but likely not enough to sway voting patterns in the parliament.

Still, there could be some controversy over who gets to be the next head of the European Commission.  Traditionally, this post has been an appointment, based on the recommendations of the Council of the EU, composed of the heads of state and government of member states. The Treaty of Lisbon, which amends the Treaty of the European Union, was enacted in late 2009. One of the many changes to the political structures of the Union instigated by the new treaty is that the appointment of the head of the European Commission – a powerful role at the heart of the EU’s executive branch – must “take into account” the results of the parliamentary elections. There is a certain degree of vagueness associated with this provision – what will taking the results of the recent election into account look like when the time comes to appoint the head of the European Commission?

This will be the battleground to watch in the EU in the coming weeks, as appointments are slated to take place by the end of June, prior to the summer break. Until then, expect far right parties to use their new megaphone to tout their far right ideologies. But do not expect much to change in the day-to-day workings of the EU.

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