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WHO Head-Quater in Geneva, Switzerland.Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot

This is the World Health Organization that Member States Created

The Associated Press got its hands on internal WHO documents that show a degree of self-criticism by top level WHO staffers about their organization’s handling of the ebola crisis. Much of the criticism focuses on the WHO’s regional office for West Africa.

This, I think, is a teachable moment about how the World Health Organization is structured–and what reforms might help streamline a response in the future. Here’s the nub of the problem:

The U.N. health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan

Dr. Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, agreed in an interview Friday that WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office.

“It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the front line,” he said at his office in London. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

It may come as a surprise to many, but the World Health Organization is not a centrally directed bureaucracy. Rather, it’s more of a confederation of regional offices that act — hopefully– in coordination with WHO headquarters in Geneva. There six of these regional offices (Washington, D.C. residents may know the American regional office, The Pan-American Health Organization located in Foggy Bottom, for its curious beehive architecture). These regional offices have a great deal of autonomy. Their directors are elected by the member states of their region and they do not report directly to headquarters in Geneva, but to their own regional member states.

In theory this regional ownership should be a good thing. The WHO regional office would best serve its region if it’s staffed with people from that region who understand local language, customs, and are motivated to respond to local health priorities. But in practice, electing a regional director by ministers of health from that region can add an unfortunate level of politics into the process. It also means that the regional director cannot be hired, fired, or replaced by headquarters. Only member states of the region can do that, which again makes this process much more political than it would otherwise be.

If member states believe that the ebola crises demonstrates that the bureaucracy of the World Health Organization needs to be adjusted to give more autonomy and management control to the Director General in Geneva, they can change the WHO’s constitution and bylaws. (The World Health Assembly, the WHO’s ultimate governing body, meets each May). But for now, this is the WHO that member states created. If member states want the WHO to be more nimble, they need to give WHO staffers the political backing (and funding) they require to do their jobs.


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A UN Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is taxiing in at Goma airport following a successful flight during an official ceremony with USG for UN Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, 3 December 2013. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

How the UN is Learning to Love Drones

It’s one of modern technology’s biggest public relations problems: the ever-increasing popularity and proliferation of drones. Drones, both those oriented towards the consumer market and those pitched towards the military and industry, hit the headlines every week – with recent reports ranging from a small consumer-level drone sparking a football match brawl between Serbian and Albanian fans, to revelations today that the UK will deploy advanced, expensive armed drones to battle ISIS in Iraq.

Most people, well-acquainted with the march of modern warfare in South Asia and the Middle East, associate these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with destruction and violence — spooky fighters criss-crossing the sky and “eliminating” targets with little regard for human life and sensibilities.

But as peaceful organizations around the world are beginning to realize, camera and sensor-equipped drones also have immense potential for non-violent uses, and the United Nations, for its part, is already exploring the possibilities.

How has the UN already used UAVs, and how will they likely work with this new technology in the future? Here’s a few recent examples, and some thoughts on how drones will likely be incorporated into United Nation’s operations in the not-so-distant future.

While drones (provided by other governments) have been used in some joint surveillance and mapping missions since 2006, the true turning point for the UN’s usage of drones came in February 2012, when UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme conducted a mapping survey of rebuilding efforts in Haiti with camera-equipped UAVs. Experts analyzed the data, looking for important points such as debris hazards, water drainage capabilities, the construction of new housing, and other relevant information.

UNOSAT deemed the effort “successful” in a press release, with mission director and UAV pilot Josh Lyons deeming the effort “incredibly satisfying,” resulting in “aerial imagery of an unprecedented spatial resolution right there during the deployment.”

The UN’S next foray into official UAV usage came in December of 2013, when the UN Security Council approved the launch of surveillance drones over the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hoping to monitor human activity in the deeply forested and hard-to-access region with the oversight of the UN peacekeeping.

Capable of flying for 12 hours and with a range of over 150 miles, the camera-equipped drones have a range of interesting uses. Equipped with night-vision enabled cameras that are also able to detect heat signatures, able to ascertain where refugees are going and for which reasons, to deal with changing environmental obstacles, and to provide previously unknown levels of situational awareness. That’s not all: it’s been shown that they act as a visual deterrent to violent armed groups, making them think twice about entering the area.

The future of drone usage in United Nations operations is guaranteed to be interesting. The UN’s two existing, approved UAV use cases have gone well, and it’s likely that more and more of these missions will be introduced in the future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a novel technology, obstacles remain in the path of a UN-led drone revolution. Some countries – including the United States – have restrictive (and often rather nebulously enforced and written) regulations on the usage of UAVs and where they can go.

In many more parts of the world, regulations simply have yet to be considered at all, meaning that humanitarian UAV users may find themselves drafting the rules as they go along – a process that could foreseeably be hastened in the event of a disaster or conflict where UAVs will prove particularly useful.

Training and expertise for UN and UN affiliated drone users will also have to keep pace with the ever-changing innovation in the industry. Both the technology and the regulations surrounding it are changing at a remarkable pace, and successful humanitarian UAV deployments will depend on flexibility and quick thinking.

Perhaps the most important barrier to the widespread adoption of drones is popular perceptions: these flying machines still make many people more than a little nervous, for both safety and personal privacy reasons. Private citizens aren’t alone: many world governments have voiced concerns over who will have access to and be able to control the data that these drones will routinely gather.

Outreach programs and other efforts to educate and comfort both the public and the decision makers granting (or removing permission) to fly will need to be created and carried out.

And permission will be key. As US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasized in her statement supporting the UN’s recent peacekeeping missions in the Congo: “This would only happen with the consent of the country or the countries where the mission would operate, and their use would not impact in any way on sovereignty.

If the UN and other peaceful organizations want to use drones as a regular part of their aid activities, they will have to take pains to make the public realize that these flying machines will not harm them — nor will they invade their privacy as their missions are carried out. International leaders will also have to be reassured that their sovereignty won’t be tacitly violated by these increasingly popular eyes in the sky

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credit: UN Foundation

How Much Money is in the UN’s Ebola Trust Fund?

$100,000. That’s it. There are millions in pledges. But so far, only $100,000 has actually been committed to a fund intended enable UN agencies to rapidly respond to an evolving crisis. “As of Thursday, $365 million had been committed by at least 28 countries, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and several foundations and corporations, according to U.N. records. But nearly all that money was donated directly to U.N. agencies and nonprofits working on the ground in the three worst affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, with just $100,000 paid into the fund by Colombia, the records show…Dr. David Nabarro, who is heading the U.N. response to the Ebola crisis, told Reuters the trust fund was intended to offer “flexibility in responding to a crisis which every day brings new challenges; it allows the areas of greatest need to be identified and funds to be directed accordingly.” (Reuters

Ebola misinformation abounds… A majority of Americans believe the Ebola virus can be spread by sneezing or coughing and more than a third fear that they or someone in their immediate family may contract the deadly disease in the next year, according to a Harvard University poll. (Reuters

Turkey Snubbed...In a surprising twist and what counts for drama at the United Nations, Turkey lost its bid for a Security Council seat on Thursday. Turkey was competing with Spain and New Zealand for two of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council and it lost to spain after three rounds of voting. (UN Dispatch


The global famine warning system is predicting a major food crisis if the Ebola outbreak continues to grow exponentially over the coming months, and the United Nations still hasn’t reached over 750,000 people in need of food in West Africa as prices spiral and farms are abandoned. (AP

A total of 4,493 people have died from the world’s worst Ebola outbreak on record, and the situation in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is deteriorating, the WHO said. (Reuters

The deadly Ebola virus has infected two people in what was the last untouched district in Sierra Leone, the government said Thursday, a setback in efforts to stop the spread of the disease in one of the hardest-hit countries. (AP


Three Ethiopian peacekeepers were killed Thursday in an attack in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the joint UN-African Union mission said, the latest deaths in increasingly dangerous peace operations in Africa. (AFP

A South Sudanese national who works for the United Nations was “kidnapped” Thursday in Malakal by men in uniform, the head of an association that represents locals who work with the United Nations said. (VOA

Niger has removed former President Mamadou Tandja’s legal immunity, his lawyer confirmed on Thursday, as it hunts for $780 million that has gone missing. (Reuters

At least 27 people were killed in overnight attacks on villages near the eastern Congolese town of Beni, a local official said on Thursday. (Reuters

International rights groups urged South Sudan President Salva Kiir not to sign the national security bill that was passed last week by parliament, saying it would give security forces excessive powers, and violates international and South Sudanese law. (VOA

State repression is on the rise in Uganda, according to the rights group Amnesty International, as it documents legislation that has been enacted during the past year and half.  Analysts say fundamental human rights are being violated. (VOA

Uganda’s HIV/AIDS control efforts have been undermined by a lack of consensus and clarity over which people constitute Key Populations to be targeted in various prevention, care and treatment efforts, say experts. (IRIN


A crackdown on dissent and restrictions on democratic freedoms is forcing the Carter center to close operations in Egypt. (AFP

Morocco’s government says a father has been detained as he tried to take his two small daughters to join the Islamic State group. (AP

Libya’s Red Crescent called on Thursday for a ceasefire in the eastern city of Benghazi to allow the evacuation of families trapped by street fighting between Islamist militants and pro-government forces supported by local youths. (Reuters

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. (VOA

Saudi Arabia is seeing “sporadic” cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, which has killed 324 people in the country, the health ministry said Thursday. (AFP

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it had delivered its first medical supplies in a year to Palestinian refugees living in a camp in the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk in Syria. (Reuters

Ground fighting alone has killed more than 600 combatants since Islamic State group jihadists launched an offensive on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Kobane a month ago, a monitoring group said Thursday. (AFP


Rescue teams in Nepal’s Himalayas continued searching for dozens of missing hikers Thursday, after the previous day’s heavy snow and avalanches killed at least 20 people. (VOA

Hundreds of Malaysian lawyers on October 16 marched towards the Malaysian parliament house demanding the government honor its two-year-old pledge to repeal the Sedition Act of 1948. (Reuters

A Myanmar court sentenced a media owner, publisher and three journalists to two years in prison Thursday in the latest ruling to raise concerns about press freedoms in the country emerging from military rule. (AP

The Americas

Despite public support for female parliamentary representation in Uruguay, some MPs have tried to undermine measures to tackle inequality. (Guardian

The Sao Paulo state water utility on Thursday assured customers that Brazil’s largest city won’t run out of water, even though a main reservoir is nearly dry. (AP

New laws and changing attitudes mean disabled persons in the Caribbean are making important gains. (AP


Some common sense on Ebola…from Fox News? (Humanosphere

The American Media Is in Full Panic Mode Over Ebola — And It’s Only Making Things Worse (Mic

Ebola hysteria is going viral. Don’t fall for these 5 myths (GlobalPost

Ebola, Economics and Equality in Africa (African Arguments

What Are Mozambique’s Prospects for Peace? (SAIIA

Do Journalists Use Double Standards When Reporting Vulnerable Subjects Far From ‘Home’? (African Arguments

Why Inequality Matters (Bill Gates

Ebola’s Other Contagious Threat: Hysteria (NY Times

Paul Farmer Diary: Ebola (London Review of Books

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ICSU paper on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published by Nature

Getting to Know the “Sustainable Development Goals”

The Millennium Development Goals are expiring in 2015 and they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals. This is a big year for international development–and humanity — as complex diplomacy is underway at the United Nations to finalize what’s called the “Post 2015 Development Agenda.”

Here with me to discuss the process of creating the Sustainable Development Goals, the substance of those goals and the key points of contention is Minh-Thu Pham of the United Nations Foundation. This is a super helpful discussion for anyone who cares about international development, global do gooder and diplomacy. Have a listen!


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General Assembly hall

And the Newest Members of the Security Council Are…

Update: Turkey lost to Spain in the third round of voting.

The General Assembly is holding elections today to replace five permanent members of the Security Council. The two year terms of Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Korea, Rwanda are expiring. They will be replaced by other members of their regional group. This means that there are two seats open for Africa and Asia, two seats open for the WEOG (Western Europe and Other Group) and one seat for Latin America.

This election would be a bit of a snoozer if not for the fact that Turkey is running in a competitive election for a seat.

The Latin American countries decided amongst themselves to nominate Bolivia for their one seat; and the African and Asian countries nominated Angola and Malaysia for their two seats. This means there’s one competitive election: Turkey, New Zealand and Spain are vying for the two seats being vacated by Luxembourg and Australia. (A candidate needs the support of two thirds of the General Assembly in order to win the seat.)

In practice this means the real drama will be whether or not the General Assembly wants to select a frontline state to the Syrian conflict as a battle rages just a mile from Turkey’s border in the Kurdish town of Kobane. And the answer is…

Now, both Turkey and Jordan — two of the countries arguably most affected by the Syria crisis — will now serve on the Security Council in 2015. In practice this may not change much. So long as veto-wielding members USA and Russia remain at loggerheads, the ability of the UNSC to determine the course of this conflict and its resolution will be limited.

But one area where this might affect outcomes is on the question of Palestinian statehood. Mahmoud Abbas is trying to gin up support for a Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for the two state solution and Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Turkey would almost certainly be one more vote in favor of this measure.

The USA is opposed—and could veto it if it needed to. But the USA would very much like to avoid having to cast a veto, which would be diplomatically costly and embarrassing. One way to avoid a veto is by lobbying the other member states to vote against or abstain from the measure. If a Security Council resolution fails to gain 9 affirmative votes, it fails. This is precisely what happened in 2011, during the last big push by Palestine at the Security Council. The measure failed to get the requisite 9 votes (they were one shy), so the vote never occurred and the USA was saved from casting a veto.

This drama will unfold again this year at the UN Security Council. With Turkey on the council, the USA is more likely to face the uncomfortable decision of whether or not to cast a veto–which, in effect, could be read by many as a veto against the two state solution, which is a policy the USA adamantly supports. So again, this could be very awkward and damaging the US credibility on the Arab-Israeli conflict and possibly undermine foreign policy priorities elsewhere.  

Bottom line: these elections matter!

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Shoddy Infection Controls in Texas

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As word comes of a second American health worker is infected with ebola, there’s news that the Dallas Hospital did not implement recommended safety measures, suggesting that even more hospital workers may be at risk. ”Health care workers treating Thomas Eric Duncan in a hospital isolation unit didn’t wear protective hazardous-material suits for two days until tests confirmed the Liberian man had Ebola — a delay that potentially exposed perhaps dozens of hospital workers to the virus, according to medical records. The 3-day window of Sept. 28-30 is now being targeted by investigators for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the key time during which health care workers may have been exposed to the deadly virus by Duncan, who died Oct. 8 from the disease.” (Dallas Morning News

Liberia health worker strike is over…for now… “The strike is over, according to all the health workers of the Republic of Liberia. Our concern is the people of Liberia.  We do not want the people in Liberia to be at risk. Because of this, all the health workers, we met today and we decided that we are going to cut off the ‘go-slow’ to listen to the international community to see how best they can come in and try to provide better incentives for the health workers of the Republic of Liberia,” said Joseph Tamba, president of the National Health Workers Association. (VOA

Quote of the Day:  “The kind of threat [ebola] poses to the American way of life essentially makes it the North Korea of peanut allergies.” –barely parody from Teju Cole in the New Yorker


As thousands of U.N. staff volunteer to work in Ebola-stricken countries in Africa, the Staff Union has called for safety measures to protect personnel on the ground. (IPS

Good on Tanzania, which said it willgrant citizenship to some 200,000 refugees from neighbouring Burundi, a move hailed by the UN refugee agency. (AFP

Experts from around the world are certain that climate change is playing a major role in the difficulties hundreds of thousands of African farmers are experiencing. (IPS

A senior official in Rwanda’s reconciliation process is calling on South Sudan to apply lessons on how Rwanda came back from the dark days of the 1994 genocide, in particular the system of the gacaca courts. (VOA

Nigeria’s government has promised to protect schoolchildren. It has been six months since 200 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram and Nigeria’s northern states continue to live in fear. (Deutche Welle

Sluggish courtrooms, swamped clinics and parents forgoing food are becoming the norm as Ebola opens cracks in Sierra Leonean society. (Guardian

Two principal recipients of malaria grants in Nigeria have been implicated in fraud and financial irregularities, following an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General, and have committed to returning some $350,000 to the Global Fund. (GFO


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said on Wednesday he had asked the European Union to grant legal entry to more Syrian refugees who are risking their lives trying to reach Europe illegally by sea. (Reuters


Thailand’s interim prime minister, who seized power in a military coup, suggested Wednesday that the country’s next elections may not occur until 2016, although he earlier set a target date of October 2015. (AP

Sri Lanka on Wednesday banned foreigners from a former battle zone, the government said, weeks after the United Nations began an investigation into alleged war crimes in the final phase of a 26-year conflict between the army and separatist rebels. (Reuters

Lawmakers here are urging President Barack Obama to put transparency in the extractives sector at the centre of an upcoming trip to Myanmar. (IPS

Organizers say concern about the spread of the Ebola virus is expected to impact attendance at China’s largest international trade fair, which kicks off Wednesday. (AP

The Americas

From January to September of this year an estimated 230 migrants died trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. (VOA

Brazilian police shut down an illegal abortion ring in the Rio de Janeiro area, arresting 47 people including doctors and police officers. (BBC

Fidel Castro has reprinted a New York Times editorial calling for the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. (AP

President Dilma Rousseff and Aecio Neves, her challenger in a tight election contest, engaged in a bare-knuckle debate that saw the pair trade accusations of corruption and fiercely argue over who could rekindle Brazil’s economy. (AP

Scores of children have been rescued in a raid on a sex trafficking ring in Colombia, including an 11-year-old girl allegedly sold for $1,000. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced that they found 55 minors and arrested 12 people on Saturday. (VOA

The CDC is putting more resources into helping hospitals prepare and handle Ebola patients. This, after a nurse treating Ebola patient Thomas Duncan in Dallas became infected with the virus. (NPR


This map shows all the countries where voting is mandatory (GlobalPost

South Africa: As World Food Day Approaches, One in Four S. Africans Are Hungry (SACSIS

Study Confirms 13,000 Dead in Boko Haram Conflict (Africa Check

Top-Notch Impact Studies On Development ‘On the Rise’ (SciDevNet

Hiring Reform at WHO (Center For Global Development

Too young to watch. Old enough to get married. (Duval Guillaume

Do African Union Governance Reviews Work? (all Africa

Women in Tanzania set for equal land rights – let’s make sure it happens (Guardian

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