A few moments ago, I finished taping a blogging heads segement with Charli Carpenter. Among other things, we talked about the United Nations’ new outreach efforts to Hollywood. Sure enough, the UN’s Creative Communtiy Outreach Inititiative just put together this highlight reel of television and movie scenes that incorporate the UN into its story line.
I think next up, the UN should engage musicians for lyrical references. Eddie Cochran wrote his lyric in the Dag Hammerskjold era (and when Vampire Weekend was but a twinkle in their grandparents’ eyes.) They might want to keep their distance from Lou Reed, though. And Dave Mustaine. Actually, stay very far away from him!
Ed note: We want to welcome our newest contributor to these pages. Penelope is a Franco-American national living in Toronto. She has a BA from Tufts University (go Jumbos!) and an MA in International Affairs from Sciences-Po. Her interests lie primarily at the intersection of international affairs, economic development and foreign policy, with a particular focus on African issues and post-conflict reconstruction. She has worked for the Clinton Foundation and is co-founder of The Niapele Project, an NGO focused on improving the livelihoods of vulnerable children through grassroots initiatives in West Africa. Without further ado…
A striking BBC news headline piqued my interest the other day: “UN says 227m people escaped slums in past decade”. I clicked through the potential “good news” story, hoping to brighten up my day with some statistics about the shrinking size of the global slum-dwelling population. However, the headline was misleading. While UN Habitat’s newest report, State of the World Cities 2010/11: Bridging the Urban Divide, notes that “a total 227 million people in the world have moved out of slum conditions since 2000”, its authors also quickly add that the total number of slum dwellers has actually increased by 55 million, “from 776.7 million in 2000 to some 827.6 million in 2010.”
What’s particularly interesting is that the UN is touting this number as an achievement of one of the Millennium Development Goals, MDG 7d: “Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020”. Yes, the 227 million figure suggests that governments and organizations working on this issue have collectively surpassed the target. However, the fact that the slum population continues to grow – in spite of these advances – means that while progress has been made, a lot still needs to be done. It’s estimated that, “short of drastic action”, the global slum-dwelling population will continue to grow by six million a year, hitting 889 million in 2020.
Across the world, a number of initiatives are being developed to improve quality of life in slums and shanty towns. China and India’s efforts in reducing hardship in urban areas have been particularly critical: “Together”, the UN Habitat report notes, “they have lifted at least 125 million out of slum conditions between 1990 and 2010.” In addition to the initiatives undertaken by governments, private entrepreneurs are also seeking to reinvent slum life – if you can’t take the slum dweller out of the slum, or eliminate migration from rural areas, then you can redefine slum life and improve it.
That’s what a group called Urban Think Tank is working on. The group wanted to create a public transportation system in the barrios of Caracas that would serve the community without destroying thousands of homes to build roads – they also offer design services to the community for next to nothing, and are attempting to shift urban planners and politicians’ paradigm about slums and their potential. The public transportation they are currently building – Metro Cable – is a 2.1 km cable car system (integrated with the Metro System of Caracas) which employs gondolas holding 8 passengers each. Metro Cable’s capacity allows for the movement of 1,200 people an hour in each direction.
This is the type of visionary undertaking that will really address the issue of slums in the 21st century. Rural migration, population growth and the expansion of cities are inexorable trends that are – and will continue to be – very difficult to thwart. One way of looking at the issue is searching for possibilities to improve infrastructure, service delivery and availability in scalable, realistic ways. Urban Think Tank is among the first to seize the opportunity (and risk) of envisioning and implementing a vision for more humane, more livable slums.
Probably one of the scarier and generally under-reported global health stories of the past few years has been the emergence of new strains of Tuberculosis that are resistant to regular treatment regimens. According to a World Health Organization report out today, in some areas of the world one fourth of all new cases of TB is of the hard-to-treat (and easy to spread) multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) variety.
The report estimates that 440,000 people around the world had MDR-TB and about one third of those people succumbed to the disease in 2008. Almost 50% of the MDR-TB cases occurred in China and India. In Africa, there were an estimated 69,000 cases of MDR-TB in 2008.
How bad is this disease? Three years ago, the acclaimed photojournalist James Natchwey turned his lense on this disease — which, incidentally, is how I came to learn of it. The images are chilling.
The WHO report says MDR and XDR TB can be effectively contained with the right amount of focus and funding. Unfortunately, many of the 27 countries in which M/XDR-TB is most prevelant countries lack both.
The WHO estimates that there will be 1.3 million new cases of M/XDR-TB in these countries between now and 2015. The Stop TB Partnership’s goal is to diagnose and treat 80% of new M/XDR-TB cases. To do so will cost an estimated $16 billion over six years. Currently, only $280 million is available to fight M/XDR TB worldwide. This funding gap is problematic, to say the least. Unless we direct more funding toward fighting this disease it may proliferate — perhaps even reaching donor countries.
You loved him in Philadelphia, saw his performance lacking in The Mask of Zorro, now, Antonio Banderas will take on his next role: goodwill ambassdor for the United Nations Development Program. From the UN News Center:
Mr. Banderas will advocate for the poor and push for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight globally-agreed targets with a 2015 deadline to halve world poverty, with a focus on Africa and Latin America.
“Poverty robs us of our potential as a people, preventing us from being all that we can be,” he said, underscoring the importance of mobilizing all efforts to tackle the scourge.
Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a new report, entitled Keeping the Promise, in which he unveils a new action plan aimed at getting governments, civil society actors, private businesses, philanthropy and the multilateral system to act “efficiently, effectively and collectively.”
With just five years to go before the 2015 deadline, he said that progress has been uneven and without an accelerated action plan several Goals are likely to be missed in many countries.
“Despite hard economic times, despite lagging progress on many fronts, we can still achieve the Millennium Development Goals by our target date of 2015,” he told reporters at his monthly press conference in New York.
With a decade of efforts towards achieving the MDGs already under the world’s belt, “we know what works and what doesn’t,” with lessons learned on how to best utilize new technologies, national development policies and better governance, he noted.
As Goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Banderas hopes to raise the profile of the MDG Achievement Fund, set up in 2006 with a $700 million contribution by Spain to accelerate progress on reaching the Goals.
My understanding is that Ban Ki Moon’s introduction of Banderas went something like this:
In 2008, a tribunal of the South African Development Community (SADC) ruled that the Zimbabwean government’s policy of taking over white-owned farms was illegal. Despite the ruling, official harassment of white farm owners and the thousands of workers employed at their farms continued. This 25 minute film, titled “House of Justice,” documents the farmers and farm workers struggle against the government of Zimbabwe. It also shows, in stark terms, how top government officials used torture to intimidate farm owners and their workers. The film’s producer, Gertrude Hambira, is the General Secretary of the General Agricultural and Plantation Union of Zimbabwe. She was forced into hiding shortly after its release. She remains in hiding to this day.
It’s almost always painful to watch when TV shows try to stretch to make a statement, and SVU is only the second best Law & Order on NBC, but rape as a weapon of war gets such weak attention and I’m interested enough in John Prendergast’s involvement that I’m willing to tune in to NBC tonight (Wednesday, March 17, 10pm ET).
After a witness to a sexual assault reveals that she is a refugee from Congo, her story begins to unravel into something that goes beyond Manhattan. A survivor of sexual violence herself, she brings to light the complexity of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The team works hard to keep her safe in the US after hearing her horrific story, but will soon learn that this case will affect more lives than they had ever imagined.
SVU‘s Benson penned a post on Huffington today with Prendergast explaining the broader issue:
Eastern Congo is the world’s deadliest conflict globally since WWII. Widespread rape is used as a strategy of war and an instrument of communal terror, making this region the world’s most dangerous place to be a woman or a girl. Armed groups compete to control lucrative mines and smuggling routes. Rape becomes their principal means of terrorizing local populations into passive compliance, so they can steal the mineral wealth without opposition.
The punchline of the piece is a call to urge industries not to use these minerals. We’ll jump on that bandwagon too.
The SG: The SG delivered the annual Sergio Vieira de Mello lecture in Geneva today, noting that Sergio Vieira de Mello and the colleagues who died with him in Baghdad proved that the UN remains dedicated to fulfilling its humanitarian imperative.
The SC: The Security Council today held its last consultations under the Council Presidency of ROK. Tomorrow, Russia will take over the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for March under Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.